Stranger Things: (Real Life) Eighties Horror

Stranger Things
works a lot of well-tilled plots, familiar riffs from countless 80s horror and (predominantly) sci-fi films.
But it also taps into real-life horrors that were playing out in the media in the early 1980s; the highly-publicized abductions of children,  the rise of conspiracies over child trafficking, organized pedophilia and government coverups and 
the role of 24-hour TV news in feeding the fear over what seemed like a new plague descending over the country.

This is the unspoken backdrop that animates the tension over Will's disappearance, for any of you who might think that Winona Ryder's performance was a bit over the top.

And if you look carefully the producers inject some none-too-subtle symbolism in the scenes surrounding Will's captivity in the Upside Down, symbolism that signals to more salient horrors than extradimensional tulpas.

So if you wonder why so many American parents seem overprotective and paranoid these days, realize that many of them were kids themselves during the early 1980s when this media firestorm arose over the series of shocking kidnappings and/or murders of young children.

These took place in an already-heightened atmosphere of social anxiety, in large part fed by an endless deluge of slasher and serial killer movies and a series of Satanically-inspired crimes and serial murders.  

There was also the fact of Satanism popping up again and again in crimes and abuse cases. While there is an ongoing controversy over the existence of Satanic Ritual Abuse on an organized scale, there's widespread agreement that it's common among individual abusers.

Certain investigators involved in the Cropsey case (which we looked at in the previous post) believed that there was ritual aspects to it and other high-profile abduction cases in the New York metropolitan area in the 1980s.

JZ: Frank Saez is one of the most knowledgeable detectives when it comes to the missing children cold cases in New York City, and he was very instrumental in bringing the Etan Patz case to trial. It is believed that Etan was taken by an individual and passed along to a cult of sorts, so he’s very sensitive to the idea that a cult could be behind the disappearance of a child. I don’t think however we’re talking about “devil worshipping cults” per se, but more as cults that engage in pedophilia. 
It just so happens that of one of the cults mentioned in the film, The Church of the Process, the former leader lives in Staten Island, so the proximity of that cult definitely put the police in high alert as to the possibility that one could be behind the disappearance of these kids.
There was also the steady stream of Satanic-themed movies, books and records following in the wake of the creation of the CIA's Project MKOFTEN, coinciding with the rise of emotion-based, anti-intellectual movements within Christianity such as Pentecostalism and Charismaticism, which were also fed and financed by elements in and around the intelligence community.

Many of these movements fed their congregants a steady diet of anti-occult paranoia and sensationalist televised "exorcisms", creating a heightened climate of fear and vigilance. 

What inevitably resulted was an explosive social tension, a culture being buffeted by powerful internal pressures.

To top it all there was the constant ratcheting up of tension between the governments of the United States and the Soviet Union in the early 80s, instilling widespread nuclear anxiety all across the world.

So when kids began disappearing, and doing so under the specter of clandestine Satanic forces (many of which hinted at much greater conspiracies lurking like sharks beneath a placid surburban surface) the panic that followed was not only not irrational, it was in fact inevitable.

One such case was the 1981 abduction and murder of six year-old Adam Walsh by the serial murderer- and avowed Satanist- Ottis Toole.

Toole lured Walsh from a department store, then repeatedly raped the boy before he murdered and decapitated him, incinerating the body and discarding the severed head, which was later found by fishermen.

Toole was the sidekick of Henry Lee Lucas, a prodigious serial killer whose death sentence was inexplicably commuted by Texas Governor George W. Bush. 
Walsh's father would become an anti-crime crusader and host of the long-running TV show, America's Most Wanted.

There was also the case of Rachel Runyon in 1982:

Three-year-old Rachael Runyan was abducted from the city playground behind her home in Sunset, Utah on August 26, 1982 by a black man driving a blue midsize car. Twenty-one days later, her body was found dumped in a creek off a dirt road in Morgan County. Years later, a disturbing message was found in a bathroom of a local business. The author claimed responsibility and suggested that the murder was part of a Satanic ritual or cult.  

Police intially dismissed any connection to Satanism until a disturbing event a couple years after the girl's abduction:
(W)hen Rachael’s father visited her grave, an unexplained black rose lay on the stone. Then, two and a half years after the murder, the following message appeared on a stall door in a 24-hour Laundromat: “I’m still at large . . . I killed the little Runyan girl! Remember Beware!!!!” Below it was an inverted cross with three number sixes, one at each arm and the head of the cross. Psychologists associated with the case said the real killer quite possibly wrote it.

Then there is the long-running and puzzling case of Johnny Gosch, well-known to most in the conspiracy and parapolitics communities. This case would become a major news story, thanks mostly to the tireless work of the boy's mother.

Gosch would become one of the first kids to appear on a milk carton, and would later connect to the Jeff Gannon controversy during the George W. Bush Administration :

On September 5, 1982, 12-year-old paperboy Johnny Gosch arose before sunup and set about his work delivering the Sunday Des Moines Register to the good folks of sleepy, suburban West Des Moines, Iowa. Most times young Johnny would roust the elder John, his father, to accompany him on his route, but Johnny was 12 now and the time had come for him to test his mettle and go it alone…  He hasn’t been seen since. 
American parenting hasn’t been the same since, either. Johnny’s disappearance triggered mass hysteria and moral panic among parents nationwide….The abduction marked the advent of “stranger danger,” and in the aftermath, a story would unfold as chilling as it was unbelievable, and one that haunts families in Iowa to this day…

What later became obvious was that there was a predator with a paperboy fetish, prowling the streets of Iowa:

Barely two years later, the case takes an unexpected, if not nightmarish turn, when 13-year-old Eugene Martin is plucked off a Des Moines street while delivering papers in the early hours, a bag left behind, half-full of abandoned newspapers, the lone proof that he was ever there. 

The local police department's behavior was so phenomenally, so stultifyingly, inept it can't help but feed into coverup theories. The local chief of police was especially obstructive, so much so that the Goschs would threaten the township with a major lawsuit (leading to the chief's firing) and later accuse him of involvement in the kidnapping.

The FBI wasn't any better. The Feds' stonewalling, as captured in the documentary film Who Took Johnny?, is so blatant and unapolgetic you can't help but wonder what exactly is lurking beneath the surface here. 

Ultimately, the Gosch family were so frustrated by the lack of cooperation from law enforcement that they were forced to hired private detectives to help find their son.

But nine years after the boy's disappearance there'd be a major break in the case.

(C)onvicted sex offender, Paul Bonacci, who comes out of nowhere in 1991 to claim he was there when Johnny was abducted, working as an accomplice, and that he knows for a fact that Johnny is still alive. While imprisoned in Lincoln, NE, Bonacci goes on tape to tell investigators he helped physically subdue Johnny, forcing him into the car, before chloroforming him to unconsciousness in the back seat. 
This wasn’t merely a criminal confessing his crime, however. Bonacci’s sudden admission from behind bars pulls back the curtain on an endlessly layered, labyrinthine conspiracy that would implicate high-level power-brokers around the country.  
(Bonacci) tells police that his role in Johnny’s kidnapping was only one of countless crimes he’d been coerced into at gunpoint by his own abductor, a man known only as The Colonel. 
The Colonel, it turns out, is the nom de guerre of a high-level operative in a vast organization of predatory pedophiles operating a very lucrative human trafficking operation.  

At first blush, this might sound like typical smoke blown by a convict looking for a deal, but Bonacci was able to provide Noreen Gosch with details about Johnny and the abduction that were not released to the media. 

And to tie this all back to the overarching context of OFTEN and its tentacles, Bonacci would identify the Colonel by name:

According to Bonacci, the abduction was ordered by Lt. Col. Michael Aquino, who later picked Gosch up at a farmhouse he was being held at and delivered him to a buyer in Colorado. For years, both boys were used for the pedophiliac pleasures of high-ranking government officials.

Michael Aquino was a Psychological Warfare Specialist in the US Army from 1968 until 1990, when he was involuntarily discharged as a result of investigations into his involvement in the ritual sexual abuse of children at the Presidio Day Care Center in San Francisco.
Throughout this same time, he has also been a devout satanist and self-confessed neo-Nazi. He joined Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan in 1969, staying until 1975 when he left to start his own Temple of Set, which has been in operation ever since.
For his part, Aquino would assiduously deny all of these claims, going so far as to write a book to deny them and similar claims of involvement in abuse (you can read Aquino respond to charges against himself in the comments section here). And Aquino is a relatively public figure who makes for an easy target. 

But there's far too much smoke around him for there to be no hellfire. 

Aquino's involvement in all of this may actually be to play the designated villain, a visible target meant to draw fire away from other offenders who might compromise players further up the chain of command. 

The original target in the Presidio scandal was a Baptist minister named Gary Hambright.

Why does this matter? Read on:

Assessing the veracity of Paul Bonacci’s story requires a close look at an explosive scandal unfolding in Omaha, Nebraska between 1988 and 1991, contemporary with Bonacci’s confession…
Prominent businessman and political figure, Lawrence King, was head of the Franklin Community Federal Credit Union in Omaha from the late eighties to the early nineties. (King)  was also a rising political figure, holding various prominent positions within the Nebraska GOP, even appearing twice at the Republican National Convention to sing the National Anthem. …In hindsight, it must have been apparent that he had some secondary income, and he did — $38 million’s worth, all embezzled from the credit union he was tapped to run. 
According to several witnesses and alleged victims, King was the facilitator of an enormous pedophile operation. Franklin Credit Union had been established as a benefactor of Omaha’s Boys Town, a hallmark of the city widely lauded as one of the world’s best charities for disadvantaged youth. 
Accusers claimed that King used the partnership with Boys Town to pimp out poor, homeless adolescents to wealthy donors and shot-callers. 
Nothing ever came of the Boy's Town accusations and several investigators and interested parties declared there was a systematic and thorough coverup of the scandal, involving many of the region's most powerful and influential personalities.

Remember that this scandal- as well as the Presidio scandal- was a long time before the wave of abuse scandals that would rock the Catholic Church. For many, abuse by members of the clergy would be unthinkable.

Consider this: what if a highly visible, loathesome, visually distinct and unforgettable cartoon villain like Michael Aquino was conveniently onsite to draw fire away from a Baptist minister and the priests who ran Boy's Town, ensuring that the boat would not be rocked and that business would carry on as usual?

Meaning of course that the supply chain of vulnerable children to abusers would not be disrupted. After all, most Satanists don't have ready access to kids. Clergy do.

Nothing much would come of the accusations against Aquino and he'd later shrug it all off as the product of scapegoating and witch-hunting. 
Remarkably effective diversionary tactics, when all is said and done. You'd almost think it was the brainstorm of someone involved in psychological warf… 


Speaking of diversionary tactics, we will see in a future post that the widely-controversial "Satanic Panic" of the 1980s and 90s directly coincided with a growing panic within the Catholic Church over priestly abuse.

In fact, a decades-long study had produced a 1985 report within the Church alerting leadership that they were sitting on a timebomb.

The Satanic Panic not only helped to divert attention away from the abuse cases that were beginning to emerge in local media in the 80s and 90s, it would also discredit the use of hypnosis and recovered memory in treatment of adult survivors of childhood abuse and intimidate many individuals into silence.

Cui Bono?, indeed.


Furthering his credibility as a witness, Bonacci would later take a camera crew from America's Most Wanted to the ranch where he said kidnapped kids were being warehoused. 
(Bonacci) leads the film crew into a scene shown exactly as he’d described it; a pit dug beneath the home, where he says he was stowed away for safe keeping until the next buyer showed up. What Bonacci showed American viewers next was even more harrowing: names and messages carved into wooden joists, which he claimed were desperate breadcrumbs left behind by the victims of commercial pedophilia. 
But that wasn’t all. There was another alleged victim there that day, a runaway by the name of Jimmy. Jimmy had previously described the house in fine detail, said he too had been stashed there, and bore a branding on his skin to prove it. Known as “The Rocking X,” the brand was seared into the flesh of trafficked children. Bonacci had previously mentioned it to investigators, well before they’d ever heard of Jimmy.

A similar story- including branding and Satanists using Christian institutions as cover for procuring children- would emerge from England during this period as well. From 1982:
 A judge today jailed  two  couples  after hearing how they indulged  themselves  in  devil  worship  and  a  "web  of  sexual corruption" with young children. 
One of the men  believed  he  was  the devil incarnate and found handmaidens in his former Salvation Army wife and sister-in-law, Northampton Crown Court was told. 

Malcolm and Susan Smith of  Southgate Sutton Hill Telford,and Albert  and  Carole  Hickman  of  Chockleys  Meadow  Leegomery Telford, all pleaded guilty to a series of serious sexual offences against young  children.
 One 15  year  old  girl  who  was  brought  in  became  so convinced he was Satan that she  allowed  him  to brand her with a hot dagger, he said.

Present-day Satanists reactively chafe at any mention of this sort of thing, dismissing any discussion of satanically-motivated crime as hysteria and sensationalism. They'll insist they are rationalists and atheists and that the sturm und drang ritualism and is purely symbolic. 

Which is exactly what Anton LaVey said 50 years ago.

Unfortunately, it didn't take very long for it all to filter down to Satanic serial murder once it left the smug and smarmy precincts of upscale San Francisco.

You see, the problem with Satanism is not the Bohos and hipsters flirting with Satan for the lulz and the shock value, the problem is when the inherent Satanic implication of absolute license and transgression crosses over from irony to action.  

More often than not this happens with the more marginal and lower-educated, but there's all kinds of evidence that Satanic depravity can effect the rich, jaded and bored with an equal intensity (see Savile, Jimmy et al). And there's all kinds of evidence that Satanism often dovetails 
with- and feeds into- extreme right politics as well.

This implied license is embedded into every scrap of Satanic symbolism, iconography, scripture and lore. This is what the unconscious mind actually processes. It's why I personally find Satanic imagery so hard to digest.

Never mind LaVey's (or whoever) half-hearted bromides and commandments, look at the track record. 

I'm not talking about the Occult (Satanism has never struck me as particularly occultic, actually), or witchcraft or whatever else gets lumped into the Satanic woodpile. 

After all, nothing gets labeled as Satanic by amateur devil-hunters more enthusiastically than that other church across the street there.

I'm not even talking about "Luciferianism", whatever exactly that means (and it can mean anything because it doesn't actually objectively exist). 

I'm talking about Satanism

You see, what I'm trying to say is that in an atmosphere of economic decline, war, social disintegration, terrorism, racial tension and general pessimism about the future, maybe this mainstreaming of Satanism- after-school clubs and all the rest- isn't really what we need to be playing with right now. 

It very much feels as if someone is pouring kerosene on a pile of well-cured kindling. And old newspapers and oily rags. 

It's just itching for a match.

Uncle Sam's Secret Sorcerers VI: Exorcised

The Exorcist
is suddenly everywhere these days- there's now a theme-park attraction and FOX TV series based on the film. The Exorcist's new star expressed her hopes for new show on NBC's Today:

Geena Davis on ‘Exorcist’ TV series reboot: We want it to be as ‘life-scarring’ as original 
Geena Davis, who stars in the new television series reboot of the classic horror film “The Exorcist,” tells TODAY that the original movie was “life-scarring, and we’re trying to do that to a new generation.” She says she doesn’t have trouble sleeping after working on the show because “we’re just trying to make it so YOU can’t sleep.” 

What an interesting choice of words. What exactly does that mean? What exactly do the producers intend to achieve here?

"Life-scarring", she says. A slip of the tongue? Hyperbole? Or a mission statement? 

The trailer isn't giving much away. It looks like more Hollywood folk-demonology with a heavy dose of telegenic Catholic ritualism. But that's been a proven audience-repellent in the past. What exactly do they hope to achieve this time?

"Life-scarring." Huh.

Do I need to remind you that Geena Davis played a mind-controlled CIA assassin involved in a false-flag terror operation in The Long Kiss Goodnight?

Probably not.

The Exorcist joins Lucifer, FOX's buddy-cop mangling of the Vertigo Comics series (yes, I said buddy-cop), based in Neil Gaiman's Endless Universe, as an apparent anchor for a newly Satan-centric fall lineup.

Lucifer is based in Neil Gaiman's Endless Universe, unlike his Books of Magic series, which Harry Potter bears absolutely no resemblance to at all, so don't bring it up again.* 

Based on the video taken there I can't exactly say the Exorcist maze is 'life-scarring', but the movie doesn't seem so traumatizing in the cold light of day either. Which brings us to our next update...

In the previous installment we looked at the Exorcist phenomenon, and the extraordinary reactions to the film during its initial theatrical release. This is no small thing- it was a major news story at the time and papers and reports have since been written studying the film and its effects.

What many academics may overlook is William Peter Blatty's work as a Psychological Warfare expert for the military, and his subsequent work as a propagandist for the USIA.

Remember that the film was released during a very troubled time; the US was losing the war in Southeast Asia (which had spread to Cambodia and Laos), wars between Israel and its neighbors triggered an oil price war that caused major gasoline shortages in the US, the country was on the verge of a constitutional crisis as a result of the Watergate scandal and the peace and love vibes of the Sixties had darkened considerably as the drugs got cheaper and nastier.

Many planners in the Pentagon felt the question of a hot war with Russia or China was a question of when, not if. 

Given the fact that far worse human experimentation took place in far more placid times, it's not hard to conceive of a blockbuster film being used to roadtest some of the latest silent weapons for quiet wars. 

The range of effects that The Exorcist seemed to produce in its initial run sound very much like the result of sonic weaponry, in this case the use of infrasound.

From an article entitled 'The psychoacoustic effect of infrasonic, sonic and ultrasonic frequencies within non-lethal military warfare techniques':

The term ‘infrasound’ defines itself as the inaudible frequency range below the human bandwidth of around 20Hz...Beyond the use of infrasound detection, this frequency range, of which is inaudible to us, has been researched throughout the decades to investigate it’s effects on the human body. One of which is it’s application to military usage.

Throughout the 20th and 21st century, there has been a vast amount of research collected and interest gained in the use of non-lethal weapons (NLW), which are intended to immobilise or impair targets without causing permanent or severe damage to the human body.
As technologies have developed, it’s apparent that military bodies within the world seek to create weapons resulting in “war’s without death” (Scott & Monitor, 2010). 
And the effects of these weapons seem to sync up quite nicely with the symptoms many viewers of The Exorcist complained of during its first release:
Exposure to levels above 80db between 0.5Hz and 10Hz causing these possible vibrational movements within the ear’s functions, are said to cause psychological changes such as fear, sorrow, depression, anxiety, nausea, chest pressure and hallucinations (ECRIP, 2008). 
It is the result of this effect in the middle ear, that (Goodman, 2010 p. 18) cites as being discovered by military personnel during World War 1 and World War 2.
When dealing with topics like MKULTRA and MKOFTEN it truly is a question of the Blind Men and the Elephant, seeing that so much of the original documentation was destroyed.

But given the fact that The Exorcist was released in 1973, we have a smoking gun on the field testing of psychoacoustic weapons- and their intended emotional and psychological effects- that very same year. 

The effect of emotional and psychological change as a result of infrasonic exposure can later be found during the second Indochina war. In 1973, The United States deployed the Urban Funk Campaign, a psychoacoustic attack during the war with the intention of altering mental states of their enemies (Goodman, 2010). 
The device utilised both infrasonic and ultrasonic frequencies, which emitted high decibel oscillations from a mounted helicopter onto the Vietnamese ground troops (Toffler, Alvin, & Toffler, 1995).  
Interesting "coincidence", don't you think?

It's interesting to note once again that William Peter Blatty's next major project would be The Ninth Configuration, a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-type character study set in a military hospital for patients suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The studio would make its own Exorcist sequel in 1977, which would go down in cinematic history as one of the worst movies ever made, and certainly the worst sequel ever produced. 

Blatty would write a sequel to The Exorcist titled Legion, which he intended to make into a film with William Friedkin. However, the two fell out over creative differences and Blatty would direct the film, retitled The Exorcist III, himself.

An exorcism scene would be tacked onto the last act of the film at the studio's insistence. The movie wasn't a hit, but would become a cult classic on video.

And strangely enough, Legion/Exorcist III would bring us straight back into the netherworld of MKOFTEN. Allegedly.

In this case, we'd revisit the media sensation around the Zodiac Killer:

In the film Police Lieutenant Kinderman (George C. Scott) has been haunted by the death of his friend Father Damien Karras. Now, on the 15th anniversary of the exorcism that claimed the priest’s life, Kinderman’s world is once again shattered when a boy is found decapitated and savagely crucified.  
It’s just the beginning of a nightmare series of bizarre religious murders which bear the hallmarks of the infamous Gemini Killer… who died in the electric chair fifteen years ago. 
In discussing the Zodiac case, I floated the suggestion that perhaps there wasn't a Zodiac Killer, but a team of killers, given that there are so many dedicated researchers convinced that different suspects were each the Zodiac.

In his sequel, Blatty seems to pick up that particular ball and run with it.

Telling tales out of school?

 In LEGION, which picks up 12 years after the events of THE EXORCIST, Kinderman is back. He’s investigating a series of killings that parallel those of the long dead “Gemini” killer who terrorized San Francisco years earlier. 
The only thing is, the recent killings appear to have been committed by several different people, even though the murders all bear remarkably similar markings and patterns…almost as if the perpetrators were demonically possessed by the spirit of the Gemini killer. 
This all leads Kinderman to a mental patient locked up in a secluded wing of a local institution, and a supernatural confrontation twelve years in the making. 
Institutions again. Blatty wrote about them quite a bit. Did he have a lot of experience in them? I've always gotten an MKULTRA vibe out of Ninth Configuration, with its hallucinations and alternate realities, so I can't help but wonder what kind of work Blatty actualy did in the Psychological Warfare unit.

As Legion story goes on, we segue from the Zodiac to the Son of Sam killings, exploring the concepts of demonic possession that David Berkowitz would claim were the animating force in the shootings:

 The Gemini's spiritual "master", who had possessed the girl Regan MacNeil, was furious at being pushed out of the child's body and is exacting its revenge by putting the soul of the Gemini Killer into the body of Father Karras. Each evening, the soul of the Gemini leaves the body of Karras and possesses the elderly people with senile dementia elsewhere in the hospital and uses them to commit the murders.  
Like Jack the Ripper, the Zodiac wasn't a particularly prodigious serial killer but made a major impression on the public through his/their expert manipulation of the news media, a trick that the Son of Sam would pick up on a few years later.

And claims that the Process Church- or at least a Process spinoff- were involved in the Son of Sam slayings would add a terrifying hint of conspiracy, that much worse was to come.

The Process would resurface in a strange fashion in the New York metropolitan area a few years after the Son of Sam killings, with the so-called Cropsey abductions (and in one case at least, abduction and murder), which would haunt the streets of Staten Island in 1980s. 

As with both the Zodiac and the Son of Sam, Andre Rand, the culprit arrested for the Cropsey crimes- and convicted for two of the abductions- liked to write cryptic letters (if you have a Netflix account, do watch the Cropsey documentary), even going so far as to write a collective valentine to the "mothers of Staten Island", filled with unsubtle intimations of early death:
Printed in a meticulous, draftsman-like hand on ruler-drawn lines, Rand, 67, wished a "Happy Mother's Day" to "all the ladies on Staten Island who supported 'prosecutorial vindictiveness' against an innocent person!" 
"Should I become a millionaire, it would be my true nature to grant all of you with each, an envelope full of seeds, to plant and cultivate a rosebush (shrub) that produces roses every season, as a token of my heartfelt forgiveness (year after year), rather than bouquets of rosebuds which blossoms and shortly dies-out," wrote the drifter and one-time handyman. 
"It is only a tiny 'rosebud' -- A flower of God's design; But I cannot unfold the petals with these clumsy hands of mine," Rand wrote. "The secret of unfolding flowers is not know to such as I -- The flower, only the "Spirit of God" opens, in my hands would fade and die.

I  get the strong impression that Rand is taunting his readers- particularly law enforcement -with these letters of his, which seem embedded with clues (the random Bible passages especially), perhaps as to where his victims are buried.

I especially get that vibe with the letters he sent to the makers of the Cropsey documentary, and generally get a heavy Zodiac vibe from the guy. 

In a strange twist, a local Catholic mystic would write to police claiming that a sect of the Process Church were involved in the abductions. There would be evidence of cult activity around the area but nothing would emerge publicly as to its connection to the crimes.

However, there would be some evidence emerged that the one victim that had been found may have been moved to her burial site from another location.

By sheer dint of coincidence, Process leader Robert De Grimston had moved to Staten Island in the early 80s and was living there during the Cropsey abductions. 

Staten Island. What a fascinating path that man has traveled.

And such bad luck to be in the midst of so much mischief and mayhem.

The Cropsey film is rife with hints of cultic involvement - particularly from law enforcement- but the producers never bother to follow up on them. They seem to be of that mindset that such things are not possible. Media conditioning is a powerful thing.

A particularly horrific hospital for the severely mentally-handicapped, euphemistically named Willowbrook State School, enters the story as well. In fact, it plays a very crucial part in the entire Cropsey drama.

The appallingly-inhuman abuse and neglect at Willowbrook would be exposed by a young and ambitious reporter named Geraldo Rivera. The outrage would lead to major reforms in the entire care system for the severely handicapped.

But not before patients at Willowbrook would be intentionally injected with the hepatitis virus during human experimentation trials in the 50s and 60s.

Not too long after the Cropsey abductions a new Zodiac Killer would emerge in New York:
As the notorious "Zodiac," Heriberto Seda, a ponytailed Bible quoting oddball, had to kill his victims because, "they were bad. They were evil people". 
He terrorized New York City with two crime sprees -- a short summer ordeal in 1990 and a prolonged one spanning from 1992 to 1993 -- that left three dead and five wounded. 
A consummate media whore, Heriberto picked his moniker from the elusive "Zodiac Killer" who stalked San Francisco between 1966 and 1974 and claimed to have killed more than 37 people. He also sent letters to the police boasting of a demented plot to slaughter people purposefully selected by their astrological sign, one for each of the dozen signs. At first, the police thought it was a hoax. 
On March 8, 1990, he proved them wrong. 
 Then began a reign of terror that lasted for several years, and Seda shot several more victims, selected by their astrological signs. Like the original Zodiac- and like Son of Sam- Seda taunted the press with cryptic letters:
It was not until a letter sent to The New York Post in August of 1994 that these attacks were linked to the "Zodiac" rampage of 1990. At first authorities were dubious that the letter was from the same attacker. However police concluded that it was not a hoax but were unsure if it was written by the same person or someone who knew of the assaults.
What a strange mixture, a killer who combined Biblical moralism and occult symbolism. Now where have I heard about that particular combination before?

Funny old thing, though- the Process moves from London to San Francisco- with stops in between such as New Orleans- and a couple years later a 'Zodiac Killer' pops up in the Bay Area. 

Fast forward a couple decades and DeGrimston moves to the outer boroughs of New York and lo and behold, another Zodiac Killer pops up there. I'll tell you, trouble followed that guy around like a lost dog.

Bonus factoid: the program launched to catch the new Zodiac was called "Operation Watchdog."

Sync Log Epilog: A couple days after I posted the piece on The Exorcist movie, news came that the Vatican's legendary exorcist Father Gabriel Amorth had passed away at the age of 91.  Amorth, who claimed to have had performed tens of thousands of exorcisms, was very much an old school kind of Catholic:
Modern and popular cultures are permeated with spiritualistic and possibly demonic influences, he proclaimed, pointing to the “Harry Potter" novels by J.K. Rowling. He criticized how in the novels the author falsely makes a distinction between black and white magic (bad and good magic), which “does not exist because magic is always a turn to the devil. By reading ‘Harry Potter,’ a young child will be drawn into magic and from there it is a simple step to Satanism and the Devil,” he said.   
(Amorth) also indicated yoga as a step to Satanism. He reasoned that because it leads to the practice of Hinduism, “and all eastern religions are based on the false belief in reincarnation,” then “practicing yoga is satanic; it leads to evil just like reading ‘Harry Potter.’”

NEXT: Stranger Things and the Johnny Gosch Enigma. Real Eighties Horror.

And don't ask about a settlement because no such thing exists. And if it did it was quite sizable, thank you very much. It's entirely coincidental that Lucifer scribe Mike Carey turned around and created The Unwritten, an unapologetic Harry Potter analog-slash-parody.

Uncle Sam's Secret Sorcerers V

In 1969, screenwriter and novelist William Peter Blatty began work on a new piece of fiction. His previous book, Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane!, wrestled with existential issues of life and faith and was set in a military-operated mental institution (it would be made into a film in 1980, retitled The Ninth Configuration). There was more than a vague whiff of MK-ULTRA about the project.

With Satan in particular and diabolism in general infecting the atmosphere (especially in the wake of the media frenzy over Anton LaVey, Charles Manson and the hit film Rosemary's Baby), Blatty set about to fictionalizing a case he had heard about from a Jesuit priest during his school days at Georgetown University:
Recent investigative research by freelance journalist Mark Opsasnick indicates that Blatty's novel was based on an actual 1949 exorcism of a young boy from Cottage City, Maryland, whom Opsasnick refers to using the pseudonyms Robbie Mannheim and Roland Doe. The boy was sent to his relative's home on Roanoke Drive in St. Louis where most of the exorcism took place.
Blatty had a specific agenda in mind in the creation of The Exorcist. He intended it as a work of evangelism:
“It’s an argument for God,” he says today of the novel more often considered an entertainment. “I intended it to be an apostolic work, to help people in their faith. Because I thoroughly believed in the authenticity and validity of that particular event."
If so, it's a very strange argument. God doesn't seem to be around very much in the novel and less so in the film.

But with "God is Dead" theology a hot topic in seminary dorms and the Second Vatican Council reforms draining the church of its ancient mystery, many felt that the issue of existential evil was no longer being addressed by contemporary religion. Whether in response to the popularity of Blatty's novel or not, the Pope himself chose to tackle this topic of evil:
(I)n November 1972, Pope Paul VI urged Catholics to return to the study of the Devil: ‘Evil is not merely a lack of something, but an effective agent, a living spiritual being, perverted and perverting. A terrible reality...’ 

One thing a lot of fans of The Exorcist may not realize is the character of "Chris MacNeil" is based on a real person too, in this case the actress and New Age figurehead Shirley MacLaine (oh, the irony). And the character of Regan may or may not be based on MacLaine's daughter Sachi, depending on whose story you believe. 

And despite MacLaine's claims that she was a late-comer to the New Age-- she'd write of her alleged "conversion" in her 1983 book Out on a Limb-- Sachi claims that her mother was already well-immersed in esotericism in the late 1960s- as was William Peter Blatty:
Every summer, Sachi visits her famous mother Shirley MacLaine in Los Angeles. Shirley is already deeply immersed in exploring her spirituality, channelling spirits from here, there and everywhere: Tibet, Atlantis, Ancient Egypt, the lot. 
To relax, Shirley likes to invite William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, around to chat with the spirit world on a Ouija board.
Indeed, according to Sachi, MacLaine is prone to stretching the truth to its reasonable limits:
Sachi, who became an actress and is a mother of two, says Mac-Laine doesn't exactly lie in her books but engages in "artful stretches of the truth. With her, a simple trip to the supermarket becomes a search for spiritual enlightenment". 
When Sachi was 17 MacLaine informed her that her father was not Steve Parker but a mystery man named Paul. "Right now, he's in outer space," MacLaine told her. "He's on a mission for the government. A secret mission, sweetheart. All I know is, he's in the Pleiades. The Seven Sisters," she said, pointing to the stars. 
And Sachi claims her mother confided that: "Steve was created by the government. He's a clone."
Well, let's hope that's an exaggeration.

But apparently Blatty also modeled Chris MacNeil's vicious temper on MacLaine as well:
And MacLaine could be ferocious, claims Sachi. When she thought her daughter was lying, she allegedly locked Sachi in her room without food for three days.
MacLaine would later claim that the cover photo on the first edition hardcover of The Exorcist was a photo Blatty had taken of Sachi. 

MacLaine would turn down a role in the high-profile adaption of The Exorcist but instead would accept one in a low-budget knockoff released the year before the film came out. There's something very strange about this career move here but I can't quite put my finger on it yet. 


As fate would have it, The Exorcist didn't set the world afire when first released. 
According to Blatty, his book was initially a disaster. It was so bad that his publisher went so far as to treat him to a farewell lunch. But in the middle of lunch, Blatty got a call from The Dick Cavett Show. They had lost a guest at the last minute and wanted him to fill in. 
"I came out onstage, and Dick Cavett said, 'Well, Mr. Blatty I haven't read your book.' I said, 'Well, that's OK, so I'll tell you about it,' " he recalls. "I got to do a 41-minute monologue. That was it." 
The next week, Blatty picked up a copy of Time magazine at the airport and found that his book was No. 4 on the best-seller list. Not long after, it reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list — and it stayed there for 17 weeks.
Dick Cavett is one of these old time show business personalities whose apparent ubiquity totally mystified me when I was young. I could never quite work out why he was famous. He seemed to pop up all over television, but never struck me as being particularly talented or charismatic. But he always seemed able to land the plum gigs, regardless. Maybe he was a gas at parties.

Cavett would struggle as an actor, but was given a role in a production financed by the Army Signal Corps (who we've met time and again around these parts). Finally, he seemed to make his name as a talk show host when Watergate broke.

But he had enough of an audience to launch The Exorcist when it had been struggling. And the rest was history. (Strangely enough, Cavett began his career as a stage magician)


Up-and-coming director William Friedkin (The French Connection) was chosen to direct The Exorcist movie, which would star Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller and Max Von Sydow. Child actress Linda Blair beat out a small army of applicants for the role of Regan.

And expert opinion would be sought in order to ensure doctrinal accuracy. In fact there were a number of key consultants from the Society of Jesus involved in The Exorcist (Blatty himself was Jesuit-trained personnel), which is rather unusual for a secular film filled with such vulgarity and horror:
The project was sufficiently plausible for three Jesuits to give their services as technical advisors to the film; two of them, William O’Malley SJ and Thomas Bermingham SJ, even acted in it (playing Father Dyer, a friend of Karras, and the president of Georgetown University respectively).
The same attention to detail would apply to the production itself. Friedkin, another Hollywood young turk who peaked too early, was at the height of his powers as a filmmaker. It was his visual sophistication that sold a story that could otherwise have come off as extremely silly. The film still holds up today as a piece of cinema, thanks to his remarkably subtle yet insidiously creepy visual vocabulary:
The characters all live and remain in a state of mutual alienation. By failing to deliver emotional resolution, the film successfully keeps viewers ill at ease. The city in which the characters live is introduced as an emotional desert: the camera first cuts to Georgetown from the prologue amid desert ruins in Iraq, as sounds of dogs fighting and an evil screeching blend into what is clearly meant to be their modern equivalent, the traffic noise of a contemporary American city.
But perhaps it was too successful. Because The Exorcist would have the same effect on adult audiences that the matinee showings of Night of the Living Dead had on children.

And did so even before the film was released.
When William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was released back in December of 1973, audiences simply did not know how to handle it. They vomited. They fainted. They ran from the theater in terror. It was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon, instantly immortalized as the scariest movie of all time. 
And actually, it achieved that status BEFORE it was even released.
The so-called "banned trailer" nearly sunk The Exorcist with theater owners before it even hit the streets. The trailer is more than a little misleading- a stark sequence of harshly strobed, high contrast images (that don't actually appear that way in the film), accompanied by a screeching soundtrack composed by Lalo Schifrin. The combined effect instills an immediate sense of alarm in the audience:
(T)his trailer literally made audiences sick when it was shown. It’s unclear if the sounds and images were simply upsetting or if the flashing images actually caused seizures in some viewers.  
The combined effect of the intense strobing, disturbing imagery and the music- undoubtedly played at very high volume- seems engineered to play on the brain waves of the viewer, if not alter the brain chemistry itself. It looks very much like the kind of thing you read about in MK-ULTRA horror stories.

In fact, it's not entirely dissimilar to this brainwashing reel from A Clockwork Orange.

And it seemed to have a powerful effect:
By March 1974, the film had sold 6 million tickets in the United States and was poised to sweep the world. At one level The Exorcist phenomenon was just a skilfully mounted spectacle, stretching the limits of a newly liberal Hollywood. Yet the scale of the reaction suggests that the film – like William Peter Blatty’s 1971 novel of the same name, and on which it was based – had hit a nerve.

The Exorcist touched on issues that were all too alive for the world of 1973. This was not a coincidence. It was more than a product of its time; it actively sought to shape that time.
If that was its intent, then it certainly succeeded:
(F)ans waited in lines that stretched around city blocks to catch the first screenings; some even tried using battering rams to force their way into theaters.
But many who made into the theaters would wish they hadn't:
Media alarm ranged from criticism of the relaxed ‘R’ certificate attached to the American release, to lurid accounts of viewers being driven to breakdowns and suicide. As a result, the film was picketed by some clerics...
Soon mental health professionals were being consulted with as to the film's effects on its viewers:
Many others who have seen the film experience nightmares, hysteria and an undefined, but nevertheless profound apprehension. “It is dangerous for people with weak ego control,” explains Dr. Vladimir Piskacek, a Manhattan sociologist and psychiatrist, “but it would not cause psychosis.” Small children may suffer from hallucinations after seeing The Exorcist, but Dr. Piskacek doubts that the film would permanently impair even an immature mind.

In fact, reaction to The Exorcist would become an even bigger story than the movie itself. Unlike the overblown, largely mythic reaction to Orson Welles' radio adaption of War of the Worlds, The Exorcist's effects on it audiences were real and widely documented. And would become the topic of later academic studies:
Following the distribution and release of the movie, "The "Exorcist," much publicity concerning the psychiatric hazards of the film was reported. Numerous cases of traumatic neurosis and even psychosis were supposedly noted. This report confirms the hypothesis that traumatic "cinema neurosis" can be precipitated by viewing the movie in previously unidentified psychiatric patients. 
This movie seems to be directly related to traumatic neurosis in susceptible people. Classical symptoms and disability were observed following viewing the movie. There are elements in the movie, such as possession with resultant loss of impulse control, that are likely to threaten people with similar problems, and to exceed their "stimulus barrier."  Cinematic neurosis following "The Exorcist",  Bozzuto, JC.
But was it simply the film itself? More and more work is being done on the psychological effects of trauma experienced through recorded media on the brain. Despite the usual protests from filmmakers and their apologists, the parade of increasingly explicit and sadistic gore in horror films that followed in the wake of Night of the Living Dead had measurable psychologic effects, particularly on borderline personalities.

But curiously, later audiences (the film would enjoy a number of revivals) wouldn't experience the same reaction to The Exorcist. Were they simply jaded?

Or was there something else at work, something encoded or embedded into the film, that created such hysteria?

Certainly the trailer is not only unusual, but it seems to be somehow weaponized. Was this intentional? And were similar- yet more subtle- techniques used in the original release of the film? It's worth making note of this story:
At one showing, a woman was so frightened she passed out in the theater and broke her jaw when she fell. She later sued the filmmakers suggesting that subliminal messages caused the accident. 
Warner Brothers settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Now why would they do a thing like that?

Probably because there were subliminal images encoded into The Exorcist. Several of them. And it wasn't just imagery, it was also sound.
The terrified squealing of pigs being slaughtered was mixed subtly into the sound track. The buzzing sound of angry, agitated bees wove in and out of scenes throughout the film.
That's what we've been told about, or has been discovered by fans. What don't we know about?

Was The Exorcist in fact a movie or an experiment?

This is probably a good time to look a bit more closely into William Peter Blatty's background. It's very...interesting:
(Blatty) interviewed with the FBI and the CIA, he says, but didn’t get far because the sheer number of address changes before college rendered a background check impossible.

He enlisted in the Air Force...He spent four years in uniform, landing in the Psychological Warfare Division, where his bilingual skills made him valuable.

By the mid-’50s, Blatty was stationed in Beirut as an editor for the US Information Agency. 

"Psychological Warfare."


The thing that's always bothered me about The Exorcist-- although I recognize what a well-written story and well-made film it is-- is how it portrays the nature of Good and Evil.

Ask yourself, who seems like the winner in the battle between Pazuzu (the possessing demon) and pretty much everyone else?

Good seems pretty weak and impotent in the face of Evil, as we see both exorcists easily killed by Pazuzu, who seems to vacate Regan more out of simple boredom than anything the priests had actually done. The priests and the doctors - Faith and Science- seem very much like helpless bystanders in the presence of this demon, who can pretty much do whatever the fuck he wants.

Quite an advertisement for demons, if you really get down to it.

Statue of Pazuzu installed at London's ICA:
There's some comforting symbolism for you

And like so many of these landmark horror films, The Exorcist comes complete with its own curse:
Shooting was delayed after the set caught fire destroying what was supposed to be the MacNeil’s home. During filming, actress Ellen Burstyn, who played Reagan’s mother, was actually injured when the possessed Reagan throws her to the ground.   
Actors Jack MacGowran, and Vasiliki Maliaros both died while the film was in post-production. What makes their deaths strange is that their characters died in the film as well. 
Other deaths that occurred during the filming of THE EXORCIST include Linda Blair’s grandfather and Max Von Sydow’s brother, who died on Max’s first day of shooting…the son of Jason Miller who played Father Damien Karras, was nearly killed when a motorcycle hit him… after the film’s release, Linda received so many death threats that the studio had to hire bodyguards to escort her for the next six month… 
Mercedes McCambridge, who played the demonic voice of Pazuzu, was the victim of a horrific tragedy when her son murdered his wife and children before taking his own life. 

William Friedkin would never equal the artistic or commercial heights he reached in The Exorcist. His next film, Sorcerer, went directly up against Star Wars and was virtually ignored. Cruising, an Al Pacino vehicle about a serial killer stalking Greenwich Village's gay S/M underground, would run into a brick wall of protests, bad reviews and disappointing box office.

He'd survive a heart attack in 1981 but his career as an A-list director was finished.

So with all of this death, trauma and manipulation in The Exorcist's jacket, what could you possibly do for an encore?

Don't ask questions you don't want to know the answers to.
At Universal Orlando Resort, guests will see, hear, feel – and even smell – every iconic levitating, head-spinning, vomit-wrenching, skin-crawling moment from the film. 
They’ll be paralyzed with fear as they witness the power of the supernatural, scream uncontrollably as they become part of Regan MacNeil’s possession and run in terror as they try to escape the horrific battle between innocence and evil. 
Universal Studios Hollywood’s “The Exorcist” maze will resonate as a real life interpretation of the demonic film, daring “Halloween Horror Nights’” guests to live the nightmare experienced by a tortured Regan and her determined mother. 
The maze will recreate some of the film’s most haunting scenes, ushering guests into its unparalleled terror as if their very souls were possessed by the devil.