The Hellraiser Puzzle Box: History and Influence of the Iconic Artifact

Shivering with sweat in a dark room, a man kneels on bare floorboards. Illuminated by candles, he works feverishly to solve the puzzle box in his hands. An ornate construction, made up of sliding panels and mysterious chambers. The air flexes with a distant tolling bell as polished pieces click into place. Out of it, a banal melody plays on a hidden mechanism. The din is reduced to a naked scream as the gates of hell open.

What is your pleasure, sir?

Clive Barker’s horror novella, The Hellbound Heart was first published in 1986. Dissatisfied with other film adaptations of his work, Barker made his directorial debut with Hellraiser in 1987. An almost verbatim adaptation of the novella. The film was the beginning of a multimedia franchise expanding on The Hellbound Heart. With each sequel peeling away more layers of Barker’s dark dreamscape. The doors of which are opened by a 3-inch cube called the “Lament Configuration”.

The box was originally called “the Lemarchand Configuration” in Barker’s novella. Known to most humans as only a rumor on the lips of a derelict. Several boxes were thought to exist but few were willing to track one down. Described as charts of the interface between the real and realer still. A box would break the surface of the trivial delights of human condition. The novella mentions one being locked away in the vaults of The Vatican. Another said to have been used by the Marquis De Sade while imprisoned in the Bastille

All boxes were said to be created by a French craftsman, Philip LeMarchand. Previously famed for creating mechanical birds, he constructed a tool in the form of a toybox. A puzzle that to solve would mean to travel across the schism. LeMarchand’s background would develop later in Epic’s Hellraiser comic series that ran from 1989-1993 with the support of Barker. In them, LeMarchand was described as a mass murderer using human fat and bone in the construction of his boxes. The film Hellraiser IV: Bloodline would portray LeMarchand as an ingenious toymaker hired by an aristocratic occultist. The crafting of lament configuration would curse LeMarchand’s bloodline.

The existence of multiple boxes seems to have found its inspiration by way of the occult world. Some suggest it is reminiscent of the 13 Crystal Skulls mythology. Or more seriously, The Key of Solomon, a Renaissance grimoire of seals that command spirits. Barker once explained wanting access to hell in the book and movie. “Explored by something rather different than drawing a circle on the floor with magical symbols around it.” The idea of a puzzle came from childhood memories of his grandfather. A ship’s cook, having returned from a trip to the Far East with souvenirs. After one particular trip, Barker was given a carved wooden puzzle box.

In The Hellbound Heart, the Lemarchand Configuration was described as smooth, black lacquered faces with hidden pressure points. A surface reflecting faces of souls caught up in the obsession. Inside were the mirrored innards of fluted slots and oiled pegs. The cinematic version of the Lament Configuration was made of polished wood and brass. Special effects designer, Simon Sayce had studied ancient writings and symbolism from North Africa to China. He notes the inlaid characters of box’s brass work were inspired by surgical tools from an exhibit at the Pitt Rivers Museum. Later to be seen in the film as the disembodied torture devices summoned by the box.  

The instructions to solving the Lament Configuration were part pragmatic and part metaphysical. The puzzle requires a cunning mind and nimble fingers. But to truly open it requires a dark desire for knowing. Desperate individuals seeking pleasure beyond mortal understanding. “You have to become aware of the Lament Configurations”, claims Doug Bradley. Longtime friend of Barker and actor that portrayed lead cenobite, Pinhead. “And then you have to find one, and then solve the puzzle. It’s not just the physical act of opening the box. It’s the motivation behind it.”

Barker’s Configuration has lent its inspiration to the modern urban legend/Creepypasta called The Devil’s Toybox. Part of a Halloween roadside attraction in rural Louisiana. It is described as a single room shack with 6 inward facing mirrors. The attraction’s challenge is to step inside for as long as possible without losing your mind. Another inspired object of the same name is used by paranormal investigators. These Devil’s Toy Boxes are much smaller mirrored contraptions. Popularized by Joshua P. Warren on Coast to Coast AM, it is believed to create an endless loop of energy. Some claim it attracts spirits and demons. Others utilize it to trap and remove negative entities.

The puzzle box remains an iconic artifact. Possessing an intricate mythology splashed across the pages of books, comics, and the big screen. Inspiring artwork, jewelry, toys, and a wide variety of other replicas. Many online merchants peddle puzzles that might offer access to paradise instead of hell. What kind of doors can you unlock with your own Lament Configuration? What is your pleasure?

Originally published Spring 2021

Additional Links:

Horror de Lucha Libre: A Brief History of Mexico’s Luchador Films

The roots of lucha libre are believed to have begun during the Second Franco-Mexican war. A free-style form of Grego-Roman wrestling was developed and became regionally popular in the 1900s. The Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre was founded in 1933, giving the sport a national foothold and is the oldest professional wrestling promotion in existence. The beloved sporting event became a national obsession in the 1950s following regular television broadcasts. Inspiring devoted followings and subcultures that immortalized wrestlers in comic books and cinema. These luchador movies would transform the high-flying athletes into crime fighting folk heroes. Ripening lucha libre into an undisputed part of Mexico’s cultural heritage.

Behind The Mask

The most well-known luchador star of the ring and the screen is El Santo. Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta’s professional wrestling career would span 5 decades, using the name “El Santo” for the first time in 1942. Initially reluctant to appear on film, Huerta would relent in 1958 to great commercial success. Starring in 52 films, Santo would become a Mexican symbol of justice.  

Legendary wrestling rival of Santo is Alejandro Muñoz Moreno. Professionally known as The Blue Demon since 1948, Moreno began his career in the ring as a heel. In 1952, Santo defeated and unmasked his tag team partner, prompting Blue Demon to become a good guy. Producer of luchador movies, Enrique Vergara, sought to bring another wrestler into pictures. After discovering Moreno, Blue Demon would go on to star in 25 action and fantasy films. Of those, Santo would co-star in nine of them.

In 1966, Vergara would then discover Aarón Rodríguez Arellano, an international heavyweight luchador. Arellano was offered the role of Mil Mascaras, the first character created specifically for the movies. Mil Mascaras would star in 20 luchador movies, in which he’d make several costume changeups as the man of a million masks.

Not to be outdone by the dudes in the ring, Las Luchadoras were a rotating troop of wrestling ladies. Appearing in 6 films, the gals would face off with Satanists, mad scientists, and sometimes each other in the ring. Perhaps the most recognizable actress of the Las Luchadoras films is Lorena Velázquez. Iconic femme fatale of Mexican cinema, her roles in luchador movies evolved from side parts in Santo flicks to leading villainesses. Velázquez would also appear as Gloria/Loreta Venus in 3 different wrestling films. 

Mexican Horror

Mexico’s horror genre got its proper start in the 30s with the films of Juan Bustillo. But it wasn’t until 1953 that it would outshine the dramas and westerns in most of the country’s movie houses. The success of Chano Urueta’s El Monstruo Resucitado had audiences begging for more. Officially ringing in the golden age of Mexican cinema. The movies would echo the iconography of Universal and Hammer horror. Gothically stylized scenes with expressionist cinematography, injecting local lore like The Aztec Mummy and La Llorona.

With television of the ‘50s dominated by the popularity of lucha libre, big screen adaptations were a natural transition. The flashy pageantry of costumed heroes in action would blend perfectly with fantasy story lines. Hardboiled detective plots and crime rings of luchador movies began to take on more supernatural and science fiction elements. Proving to be enormously popular, they remained a staple of Mexico’s commercial cinema until the mid-1970s.

American producer, K Gordon Murray, launched Mexican horror to a wider audience through his distribution of foreign films. The exploitation maven would rewrite and overdub his movies for English-speaking audiences at Soundlab Inc. While his catalog contained many adult and children’s films, over half of the titles were horror from Mexico. Murray was particularly fond of luchador movies and contributed to the success of 2 of the most popular, Santo VS The Vampire Women and The Wrestling Women VS The Aztec Mummy

Films of Note 

There is no shortage of mad scientists and reanimated corpses in luchador movies. Santo Vs. Los Zombies (1962) is considered the first real Santo movie where he is established as a crime fighter. A crazed doctor reanimates dead murderers and thieves to do his bidding. Only Santo can stop these minions from robbing jewelry stores and setting fires to orphanages. 

Las Luchadoras Vs. El Médico Asesino (1963) offers up an evil surgeon experimenting with brain transplants and needing more specimens. Kidnapping women and creating a mindless lady wrestler that Gloria Venus and Golden Rubi must defeat in the ring. Director, Rene Cardona, would reimagine his own film twice in 1969. Las Luchadoras Vs. El Robot Asesino would have an identical plot and borrow aesthetic from the British television series, The Avengers. Again, the same year would follow the surreal Night of The Bloody Apes. A similar movie with a devil-themed luchadora and featuring footage of open-heart surgery. 

Alien invasion was a common trope among luchador sci-fi films. The campiest of which was Santo Vs. La Invasion De Los Marcianos (1967). All of Mexico’s TV transmissions are interrupted by 3-eyed aliens in gold lamé costumes. Sick of humans’ nuclear weapons, they demand peace and brotherhood through fear and destruction. Blue Demon would get a few alien invasion films of his own. In true B-movie style, Aranas Infernales (1968) brings spiders from space, seeking brains to feed their dying queen. Naturally, mankind’s fate is settled in the ring, complete with a were-spider transformation and hand puppets. 

While several luchador movies would feature Count Dracula going toe to toe with masked fighters, the vampire woman trope proved much more successful in the genre. Santo Vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro (1962) give the audience a clan of vampire women seeking a successor for Queen Zorina. But the clan needs human blood for a proper glow up and decided to avenge an ancestor while they’re at it. Mil Mascaras’ lady vampire movie, Las Vampiras (1969), finds him running afoul of a clan following a plane crash. As bodies pile up, he must defeat the vampire women as they fight amongst themselves with interpretive dance and dueling fire poi.

Mummies and werewolves were incredibly popular in luchador movies, showing off their direct inspiration from Universal horror films. Along with the monster mashups that double billed multiple heroes like Santo y Blue Demon Vs. Dracula y El Hombre Lobo (1973). While the films that pitted masked men against different descendants of Dr. Frankenstein are representations of Hammer Film influence. Such as Santo Vs. La Hija De Frankenstein (1972) and Santo y Blue Demon Vs. Dr. Frankenstein (1974). Lastly, the homage to gothic horror is best represented in La Sombra Del Murcielago (1968). A luchador version of Phantom Of The Opera where a disfigured wrestler kidnaps a beautiful singer and Blue Demon must come to the rescue. 

From The Ring To The Screen

Though low-budget and mass-produced, luchador movies falling into the horror genre have maintained their popularity into modern times. For lovers of exploitation, these films continue on as throwbacks or updated gritty formats. Mil Mascaras concluded a film trilogy in 2015 with Aztec Revenge. 2006’s Wrestlemaniac honors its raunchy roots with Rey Misterio Sr. as an insane luchador slasher.

Just as lucha libre is the direct inspiration for the flair and showmanship of WWE, luchador movies have influenced today’s athletes. Duane Johnson and Dave Bautista are now A-listers and casting pro-wrestlers in horror films is more commonplace than ever. Horror and professional wrestling entertain through anxiety and suspense. The union of both within cinema is a sensational delight with a rich heritage.  

Further Reading 

The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography by Robert Michael “Bobb” Cotter

The films of Chano Urueta

The films of Rene Cardona

Life and career of K. Gordon Murray

Prescribed Nightmares: Healthcare in Horror Cinema

Medical quackery, mad doctors, and unorthodox lab experiments are the stuff science fiction nightmares are made of. The medical horror trope is rich with enough sub-genres to petrify patients for decades. With an endless supply of entries, this article gives a routine examination to notable healthcare horror films. Side effects may include chills, paranoia, and trouble sleeping. Currently, there is no known cure. 

Human Guinea Pigs

Healthy bodies and unhealthy bank accounts often find themselves on the doorstep of pharmacology. Fortune favors the brave when renting out physical autonomy for experimental drugs. Yet the transparency of chemical messiahs should always be considered when the hazards of medicine are in play. The Biotrial Rennes clinical of 2016 resulted in 1 death and 5 injured. The 2006 UK med trial for TGN1412 caused organ failure in 6 men. The latter incident would inspire Ian Clark’s healthcare horror film The Facility. Seven volunteers enroll in a 2-week research project at a remote medical lab. Injected with a new drug called Pro-9, some of the first side effects to manifest are disconcerting, to say the least. The tension is ratcheted up by nightfall when the facility locks down. Most of the horror happens offscreen in this claustrophobic siege as test subjects fight to survive. This film could easily register as a prequel to 28 Days Later. Released the same year with a bigger budget is the Canadian-American horror film Bloodworx. College friends decide to earn side money for a spring break trip by signing up for pharmaceutical testing. RXZ-19 is a new allergy drug with regenerative side effects that are dangerously addictive. The lead researcher quickly loses control of her subjects. Primitive instincts are reactivated and the patients turn on staff and each other. But not all human lab rats get the choice to participate. Sometimes it’s mandatory in detention centers. In Patients of a Saint, also known as Inmate Zero, St. Leonard’s Island is a repurposed prison for the world’s most violent criminals. Extreme medical trials are conducted on prisoners and the experiment quickly goes wrong. Guards and inmates must unite to survive as the infection spreads in the penitentiary. Will zombie island stay on lock down?

The Doctor is In…sane

Medical professionals have always been a goldmine for the horror genre. Bringing us the world-renowned vivisectionist, Dr. Moreau, and the kinky side of Dr. Henry Jekyll. These psycho practitioners have some of the most intimate access to us. Oblivious patients willingly put their lives in rubber gloved hands. In The Surgeon, little Julian is a witness to his younger brother’s murder at the hands of a doctor. Traumatizing him into a career of mad science, he utilizes terminal patients for experiments until he’s reported by colleagues. Returning to the hospital that condemned his work, he takes revenge by harvesting the humors of the staff. Anyone that has gone to urgent care would agree that the mean girls from high school grow up to be nurses. Yet nobody considers these career paths being revenge driven. Lisa Zane stars in The Nurse, a cold-blooded home caregiver that slithers into a paralytic patient’s family. Holding him responsible for her father’s death, she slowly destroys his world from within. With all the high contrast grime of a 90’s slasher, Larry Drake is Dr. Giggles. An escaped mental patient is about to make a house call to the town that destroyed his family practice. Fixating on a teenage girl with a heart condition, he slashes through her friends as they begin their summer vacation. A healthcare horror comedy that can be downright slapstick at times, Drake steals the show as the demented doc. Delivering Freddy Kreuger-esque one-liners with a straight face, Dr. Giggles is tragically under-rated. When the Mid-Aughts’ grindhouse revival finally got its hands on nurse pulp fiction, it had to be 3D. Nurse 3D is referred to as the film that ruined Paz De la Huerta’s career. This healthcare horror casts her as Abby, nurse by day and serial killer by night. Seducing and butchering unfaithful husbands before deciding to mentor a recent nursing school graduate. A trashy throwback to 90’s erotic thrillers but with all the sleaze and splatter of a drive-in b-film.

I’m Afraid It’s Terminal

The patient is a role of vulnerability we all step into at some point. The anxiety from exposure and dismissal is the most common form of everyday healthcare horror. Medical gaslighting can separate us from the narrative, leading to distrust of the body and doubting perceptions. The Power puts these institutional ‘pecking-orders’ on full display. Set during the politically complicated UK power outages of the 70s, running parallel is a young nurse working her first night at the East London Royal Infirmary. A paranormal revenge tale taking notes from The Exorcist, Nurse Valery is haunted by hospital secrets as well as her own. Particularly vexatious with themes of abusing power and voices silenced by any means necessary. In the 80s slasher, X-Ray, a divorced mother is given the run around with her new insurance. Attempting to collect physical exam results from a hospital with a bad reputation on Valentine’s weekend. Susan is led through a medical labyrinth of humiliation, bouncing from doctor to doctor. No one ever bothers to tell Susan what’s wrong with her, nor do they listen to her cries for help as she’s strapped to a gurney and prepared for emergency surgery. Little does she know her records are being tampered with by a psychopath in scrubs! The psychological thriller, Visiting Hours, focuses more on developing the dark profile of the antagonist, yet speaks volumes on inherent misogyny in medicine. Following being attacked in her apartment, an outspoken reporter finds herself in the hospital. Barely allowed any rest by detectives and well-wishers, she receives a visitor that seeks to finish what he started. Knowing she’s in danger, her pleas are regarded as symptoms of stress as nurses and patients start dropping like flies.

Secret Society Sanitariums

From the Asclepius cults of ancient Greece to the Knights Hospitallers, occult elements of healing remain integrated in modern-day hospitals. These sanctuaries for the sick and injured are the ultimate liminal space on earth. Between birth and death, hospitals become imprinted with the intensity of human emotion. It’s no wonder there seems to be an endless supply of haunted hospitals across the world. But with faith comes followers, and sometimes they’re dogmatic edge lords. Secret societies and cults hiding within the medical profession gives us some of the best healthcare horror. Larry Cohen’s The Ambulance is a comedy thriller emulating hardboiled detective film noir. An aspiring comic book artist meets the woman of his dreams in the streets of New York City, just before she collapses. Quickly whisked off by an outdated looking ambulance, the artist discovers she hasn’t been admitted to any nearby hospitals. Others have started disappearing in a similar looking ambulance and they all have diabetes. Is it a human trafficking ring or a mad science conspiracy? It’s Victor from The Young & The Restless and his laboratory hidden above a disco. Anatomie is a German horror film starring Franka Potente (of Run Lola Run fame) as a medical student. Awarded a highly coveted scholarship to the University of Heidelberg, she recognizes the cadaver in her anatomy class. Upon investigating his mysterious death, Potente uncovers an ancient secret society that performs experiments on ‘undesirables’. On top of everything else, her grandfather is a highly celebrated professor. The Canadian horror film, The Void, is set in a half burned out hospital running on a skeleton crew. When a chaotic bloodbath begins, the radios go out and the hospital becomes surrounded by robed figures armed with weapons. Someone has opened a gate in the hospital’s basement that leads to another dimension. All the hidden medical experiments begin to mingle with the Lovecraftian abominations crawling out of the portal.

Alternative Medicine

Those repulsed by allopathic medical practices often explore their other options of healthcare horror. Opening themselves to esoteric healing and mysticism that was popular with the Universal Medicine cult and The Source Family. At the height of the neon fitness craze of the 80s, it’s no pain no gain at the Death Spa. Beefcake Michael owns and operates a high-tech health club with his brother-in-law. But when Michael’s new girlfriend becomes a member, his late wife rises from beyond to possess the gym equipment. About as schlocky as it gets with bumbling detectives and weight machines mangling juice heads. Featuring Ken Foree in a side part, better known to the genre from Dawn of The Dead and From Beyond. 2016’s A Cure For Wellness is based on Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel, The Magic Mountain. A financial services CEO vanishes to a Swiss “wellness center”, built upon an aquifer. Lockhart, an executive, is blackmailed by the board to retrieve him before a company merger. He discovers the eel infested institution has a dark history of incestuous bloodlines and medical experiments. Trapped among brainwashed patients, Lockhart realizes they’re all willing subjects for Dr. Volmer. Best described as a less lovable Dr. Phibes, operating from the Poolrooms. If you’ve ever believed the medical industry keeps people sick to financially drain them, this film will get to you. The British healthcare horror comedy, Horror Hospital, jumps right into treatments as 2 bandaged patients running through the woods are mowed down by a bladed Rolls Royce. When a young songwriter is kicked out of the band, he decides a holiday to Brittlehurst Manor might do him good. A pseudo “health farm” located in a gothic castle surrounded by an acid swamp. Michael Gough plays the head of the hospital, Dr. Storm, heavily stylized after Bela Lugosi. The faucets run with blood and dinner guests are prone to screaming fits. The film was an obvious favorite for Richard O’Brien. Hippies beware! Your health retreat might end with a lobotomy!

Inconclusive Results

Over the course of the pandemic, it has become near impossible to trust the healthcare system. Devolving into a purgatory of bureaucracy and generating corporate profits, the amount of unnecessary evils makes it difficult to heal. While your chances of being a victim of mad science in this day and age are slim, they’re not exactly zero. Yet in the face of an emergency we have little options but to trust medical professionals with our lives. Stay vigilant and get well soon.

Further Reading

The Pathology of Horror (Medical Horror Films) – IMDb

“The Darkside of Medicine: 5 Doctors Who Became Serial Killers” – MDLinx

“My Life As a Full-Time Human Guinea Pig” – VICE

Coming of Age With Last House on the Left and VHS Bootlegs

Wes Craven’s debut is widely regarded as one of the most gruesome films in the horror genre. Last House on The Left pre-dated the modern slasher and set a standard in grindhouse cinema. Intended to be a commentary on the violence in media surrounding the Vietnam war, the outrage sparked almost destroyed Craven’s career before it began. Bizarrely, the controversy was the driving force in ticket sales at theaters and drive-ins. While the moral value of Last House is still debated to this day, it continues to serve as a grim warning to blossoming youth.

Multi-Generational Trauma

My mother graduated in 1972 and embarked on a life beyond the disapproving gaze of her god-fearing parents. Openly admitting to hitch-hiking to antiwar demonstrations, she recalls meeting a young man in the late summer requesting a date. Slightly older and handsome she referred to him as a “fly by night” boyfriend. My mom would agree to an evening at the Highway 2 & 65 Drive-In in Corydon, Iowa for a double feature. Little is recalled of the first movie, due in part to trying marijuana for the first time. The drive-in’s second feature was a different story. Wes Craven’s Last House on The Left would invoke a terror in my mother, too grisly to look away from the screen. Scenes of torture and humiliation would haunt her dreams for decades. Leaving to rethink choices made as a young adult with their first taste of freedom.

Exploitation’s Fountainhead

The gritty viscera of Last House on The Left follows Mari Collingwood on her 17th birthday. With her gal pal, Phyllis, they travel to the city to attend a rock concert. Trying to score some “grass” before the show, the girls approach a lonely looking hippie. Completely unaware that he’s a strung-out errand boy for a gang of serial killers who just escaped from prison. Captured and tortured, to say the least, Mari realizes she’s just a short distance from her own front door. There her parents await her return, having planned a surprise birthday party for their daughter.

Wes Craven would develop Last House with Sean S. Cunningham, who would later go on to produce Friday the 13th. The film was shot “guerilla-style”, bringing a documentary quality that blurred the lines of reality and fiction. This disorientation for the audience would spawn promotional taglines like “To avoid fainting, keep repeating ‘It’s only a movie’…”. Craven would play up the shock factor by intercutting the confrontational gore with inappropriate slapstick scenes of bumbling police. Barely skirting by with an R rating after numerous cuts, the film was never released in Australia and outright banned in the U.K. Rumors circulated of projectionists cutting up film reels and even audience members stealing copies to be destroyed. Resulting in many different versions of Last House existing with lost or rare scenes.  

A Horror Fan Is Born

The tender buds of my own puberty had blossomed in the mid-90s, and I was devastated. The chrysalis between a feral child rolling in the dirt to a teenage Frankenstein was traumatic. I found comfort in horror films, observing victims of the supernatural and relating to monsters. Becoming a regular of the horror aisle at the local video store, I’d arrive with parental notes giving permission to rent another R-rated tape. Blessed with folks that took interest in my hobby, dad and I would watch creature features on Saturday nights. While my mom would take me to the movies for some milder horror cinema. Like The Blair Witch Project or the time we incorrectly assumed From Dusk Till Dawn was a heist movie. During conversations about the genre, she’d reference a film that had traumatized her the most. More than Deliverance or Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the flick that had altered her perception of the world was Last House on The Left. Unable to describe the horrors of the real world, mom believed it was best if I viewed this movie myself. A warning of the dangers that lie beyond my rural hometown.

Tracking It Down

Not surprisingly, the family-owned video store did not carry a copy of Last House. So we went to the video stores in the city; Blockbuster, Family Video, and even Suncoast at the mall. Who knew the controversial film would be so inaccessible in the Bible Belt? It would end up being a thrift store outside of Des Moines that would lead us in the right direction. A box of donated magazines would introduce me to the last breaths of underground tape trading. The classifieds of Fangoria, Midnight Video catalogs, and stacks of tattered fanzines gave a brief glimpse into this dying fan system of bootleg circulation. By then most of the heavy weights had moved online, though some still offered PO Boxes to send a few bucks for a list of what was available. My mom decided to write a letter to Shawn Lewis of Blackest Heart Media, the independent publishing roots of RottenCotten and Eibon Press. While Blackest Heart mostly dealt in comics, soundtracks, and t-shirts, they did still sell tapes. I think we might have paid a $12 money order and waited about 6 weeks before the tape arrived. The VHS cassette had a very plain black label on a white background that read in all capital letters “Last House On The Left”.

There was an ominous seriousness about it. Lewis had sold us one of the more complete versions to exist at the time. A bootleg from Japan with subtitles burned into the bottom. Our private mother-daughter screening was as solemn as a funeral. It was more traumatic than the birds-and-bees talk years prior and I didn’t sleep well for a while. As years went on, I would share the VHS with cousins and certain friends. Late night horror-thrills with a full disclaimer before pressing the play button. Those that sat through Craven’s debut in its entirety would become grim and unwilling to discuss scenes after. I recall one male friend asking, “Your mom let you watch that movie?”

Horror Nerds of The Future

There are still specific scenes from Last House on The Left that have stayed with me after all this time. It has been well over 15 years since I’ve watched the original, with no desire to do so in the immediate future. I can’t say if the film’s message conveyed any kind of natural instinct within me to avoid danger. I still made many stupid decisions that should have left me as a cold case file. Last House was a rite of passage, not one of survival but a precursor to evolving my horror fandom. The World Wide Web connected gore hounds from around the globe and made the rarest video nasties more accessible, but it also sucked a lot of the fun out of collecting. Blogs and news feeds have replaced fanzines and word of mouth. Bootleg VHS trade continues to limp along but only as a nostalgic hobby to preserve the rich history of horror nerds for the next generation.

Last House on The Left celebrates its 50th anniversary August 30th 2022.

Further Reading

Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine

Eibon Press

Oven Fresh Hell: The Relationship Between Pizza and Horror

February 9th is National Pizza Day and to celebrate, let’s get delivery and a rental. Little compares to the combination of pizza and a horror movie. Whether a Friday night-in or a Saturday sleepover, every weekend begs the addition of ‘za and a fright flick. A throwback to unsupervised youth on a Blockbuster night, staying up too late, and consuming junk food. The resulting nightmares would traumatize adolescents and influence horror media forever. Reminding the audience that nothing is sacred in scary movies, not even your slice.

Sometimes You Eat the Pizza, Sometimes the Pizza Eats You

Rivalries of regional styles rage on to this day. But whether you favor Chicago or New York, even bad pizza is still pizza. The worst pizza in the universe is Pizza The Hutt. Intergalactic mobster that drives the entire plot of Space Balls. Disgusting and delicious, he directly inspired the animated villain Pizza Face from the 2012 TMNT series. Hypnotizing the hungry into his parlor to eat as calzones. Simultaneously unveiling the vulnerability of the voracious. The original Ninja Turtle animated series gave us Pizza Monsters from Dimension X. Almost gremlin-like, they hatch from meatball shaped eggs when heated up. Just add water to grow into yellow Xenomorphs that rearrange positions in the food chain. The cannibal slasher, Offerings, has an escaped psycho courting a teen with body parts. Beginning with a stack of “sausage” pizzas on her doorstep, nobody notices the missing family dog. Freddy Krueger has an appetite for soul food in Nightmare on Elm Street 4. On a dream date in a diner, the meatball toppings resemble victims screaming for mercy. Every time Freddy eats a soul, he gains another slimy mole. The moment in the franchise when fans notice how much Krueger’s skin resembles pizza. You are what you eat in House IV, where Kane Hodder makes an uncredited cameo as The Human Pizza. Singing delivery has everyone humming until they open the box to a grinning pie. Ruining dinner by spewing gory marinara and attacking with cheese tentacles. But if the food doesn’t kill ya, the service will.

Little Pizza Shop of Horrors 

Urban legends of haunted red sauce joints exist all over. Possibly as continuations of the old trope of fronts for the mob. In the Killer Pizza horror novel series by Greg Taylor, the titular business is a front for a monster hunting organization. It’s like the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense was slinging slices on the side. Not necessarily needing a cover to bring the paranormal into your personal pan, some restaurants simply make unfortunate decisions regarding location. The pizza horror comedy Slice is centered around Perfect Pizza Place, an eatery built on top of a portal to Hell. Inciting more than bad Yelp reviews, a coven of witches wreak havoc to gain access. But a fate much worse than bad service is having an in-house monstrosity dining on you. Namely, the horrific animatronics of pizza chain restaurants. Any nostalgic attendee of family fun in its heyday were captivated and terrorized by the robots. Popular horror game series Five Nights at Freddy’s brought these childhood fears to life with machines moving freely at night. Possessed by vengeful spirits that punish all trespassers. In the same vein, 2018’s Huluween film festival featured the pizza horror short, The Hug. Pandory the Panda is a lone robot in his restaurant and needs to feed between performances. Also being a demon, Pandory prefers children. This short would give way to the 2021 Nicholas Cage pizza horror film, Willy’s Wonderland. A serial killer cult inhabits the animatronic characters and demands human sacrifice. This redefines the notion of businesses struggling to keep customers. However, ordering to-go isn’t always the safer bet, especially if you’re making the deliveries.

Pizza is Gonna Send Out For You 

Slinging pizza is a respectable hustle but with considerable risk involved. These liminal laborers walk between worlds and enter unknown situations repeatedly in a single night. Adventurous drivers might take a chance outside of their delivery zone like in Satanic Panic. A pizza horror film featuring a delivery girl served up as a sacrifice to Baphomet at the hands of Satanist glitterati. In Slumber Party Massacre, the delivery boy is dead on arrival at a slashing in progress. Awaiting help, the teens help themselves to the cold pizza lying next to his corpse. The perfect comfort food to stress eat when stalked by a homicidal maniac. In the Indian horror movie, Pizza, the supernatural orders out for the pizza guy, Michael. Trapped in a haunted bungalow looping its trauma, this pie is extra bloody with ketchup and murder. The pizza profession requires grit as behind each door lies a potential occupational hazard. A single order could be a family of zombies craving deep dish brains, like in Dance of The Dead. Jimmy makes his last delivery of the night and realizes he’s on the menu. 

Pizza Horror as a Subtrope 

What makes pizza horror truly terrifying is that it’s too real. Whether you’re an employee or a customer, pizza is a bullseye for the weird. We lower our defenses when taking in sustenance. Fueling that long run from the chainsaw man wanting to eat you. Consider how you invite chaos into your life every time you grab a slice.

And always remember to tip. 

Further Reading 

Tales From The Crust: An Anthology of Pizza Horror by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing 

Horror Movie Screams Photoshopped With Hot Pizza 

The Strange Role of Food in Horror