Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Devils Gate, Pasadena, Los Angeles County

At Devil's Gate Gorge in Arroyo Seco there sits a large rock outcrop that many believe is shaped like Satan's head, hence the name of the location. Factual information about the location's history is hard to come by, having been buried in tall tales and folklore, and these have, in turn, influenced much of what people say and have written about it in the tight circle of fact and nonsense that is human collective memory.

Holy crap, I read what I just wrote and realize that I have been listening to a lot of Aaron Mehnke's podcast* lately.

Regardless, what become common belief tends to color what people wish to write about and tends to change stories that we hold to be true of older stories. So, keep in mind that, especially when talking about Tongva beliefs below, there is a fair chance that the story is more nonsense than sense. But it's entertaining nonsense, and in the end, isn't that the highest form of truth?  The answer is no.

Okay, I promise that I have all of that out of my system now.

As noted above, the rock formation, from one angle, looks like a devil's head.  See what you think:

Local stories holds that the sounds of the river moving through the gorge sounds like laughing, which was allegedly thought by members of the local Tongva ethnolinguistic group to be the culture hero Coyote laughing**. Some telling shold that the Tongva felt that the location was supernaturally powerful and to be avoided, and others that it was the gateway to the afterlife and therefore to be shunned by the living. I am skeptical of the claim that the Tongva had these story, especially the variations about avoiding the location - this sort of embellishment is often added to ghost stories to make them seem more authentic, but is almost always false.

In 1920, the gorge was dammed to create a reservoir and control flooding in the Los Angeles river system. However, the Devil's Head remained above water and continues to be visible

As time went on, the place began to collect other stories, the most entertaining of which involve Alastair Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard, and their friend, Jet Propulsion Laboratory c-founder and scientist and all around really weird guy, Jack Parsons.  According to the story, Ol' Al , Ron, and Jack were convinced that the Devil's Gate Gorge was a gateway to Hell (one of specifically seven) and full of all manner of supernatural power. Some folks have claimed that the location of the Jet Propulsion laboratory was intended to use power from the Devil's Gate, and is tied in to the various occult movement that have become popular in Los Angeles and Hollywood during the 20th century. While these stories tend to breakdown into incoherency pretty quickly, they are fun to hear and tell.

Among the stories are claims that Hubbard and Parsons too part in rituals at the gorge with the intention of tapping into the Hell gate's energy, possibly to create a Moon Child, a being that would embody a feminine divine force. Parsons and Hubbard did, in fact, engage in rituals for this purpose in 1946, though whether they did anything at Devils Gorge is not reported anywhere.

In the 1950s, a series of children went missing in the area, including 13-year-old Donald Lee Baker and 11-year old Brenda Howell in 1956, and 8 year-old Tommy Bowman in 1957 and 6-year-old Bruce Kremen in 1960. Bruce Kremen is especially baffling, as the boy was attending a YMCA camp, and left the counselors to walk 300 yards back to the camp lodging, only to vanish. The 1956 disappearances were explained years later when serial killer Mack Ray Edwards was caught. The later disappearances are still unsolved, and may have been tied in to Edwards, or may be due to some other cause. Regardless, they have added to the grisly history of the area.

Modern L.A.-area ghost hunters like too claim that these rituals opened the gate, allowing evil entities into our world. And they flock to the location hunting for these entities (I wonder what the OSHA requirements for protective equipment are? A Mojo hand? a gris-gris bag?).  Stories for the location include the (disappointedly mundane given the history above) usual orbs in photos and phantom voices. In one case, someone did report hearing singing coming from the metal gate shown in the picture above, and seeing red eyes peering from the back of the tunnel.

The folks at Offbeat L.A. provided a short and enjoyable description of the area, though they refer to mysterious wood structures that, to this individual who deals with utilities, look exactly like transmission line structures, so, you know, grain of salt and all.

*Which, if you haven't been listening to it, I have to ask, what is wrong with you? If you like the sordid tales that I post here, Aaron Mehnke's providing you the stronger stuff, and in excellent, if sometimes very wordy, format.

** I am not a specialist in Tongva mythology, but I am a professional archaeologist and anthropologist that works in California, and this explanation of allegedly local Native American belief sounds to me more like a 20th-century white-person claim than an actual part of the local Native Folklore, but, again, as I am not an expert on the stories of this particular region (my graduate research was performed farther north in the Santa Barbara area, and my professional life has been primarily in the San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevadas), I may be wrong and it is possible that this place was forbidden in the Tongva belief system. Incidentally, as I refer to utility companies later in this entry, I am an archaeologist employed currently by a utility company to help them comply with federal and state cultural resources laws - so I help protect archaeological sites, historic buildings, and spots important to Native Americans - yep, it's an actual job with a good career path and decent pay, so if you decide to get a Masters degree in archaeology, yes you can actually have a good job, no matter what all of those condescending assholes will imply.

Commentary: Naturally, the ghost hunters who visit the area are looking for the "norm" of our time - orbs, cold spots, and the like. Which is disappointing given the allegedly deep supernatural meaning of this place. I have to admit that, in reading LA Ghost Portal's write-up, I was a put off by their description of trying to reach out to the spirits of missing and dead children. That just seemed really tasteless to me. On the other hand, I included them in my description here, so perhaps I am guilty of the same tastelessness.

What I like about this story is the way that it weaves numerous different strands present in other ghost stories together. Appeals to Los Angeles supposed hedonism?  Check! Reference to a cult? Check, and bonus (both Crowley's temple and Scientology make an appearance!)! Reference to dark rituals?  Check! Reference to Native American sacred sites?  Check! Turning the mundane (a gate) into something creepy?  Check!

The story is, undoubtedly, mostly bullshit, though, wonderfully, the one element that might be true is the most outlandish - while I can't confirm that Parsons and Hubbard ever engaged in rituals at the Devils Gate, it would not have been any weirder than things that these two were confirmed to have gotten up to around that point in time.

Source: Atlas Obscura, LA Ghost Portal, Timeout, Offbeat L.A., Weird U.S.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

An Evil Gnome in Tulare County

A family moved in to a farm house near the Tule River in the area around Porterville, in rural Tulare County, California.

After moving in, the mother, Tammy, began to feel on edge, as if she was always being watched. And one location, in particular, made her uneasy: the barn. Even the family's animals (pets as well as fowl such as geese and chickens) avoided the barn, and everyone got the creeps when near it. They could never put a finger on what bothered them, but knew that something was not right.

One night, when returning home from the grocery store with one of her children, Tammy heard a sinister chuckling and saw movement out of the corner of her eyes. Turning, she saw a small (2-3 feet tall), gnome-like creature. It as wearing a red hat, a gold-colored shirt, and black pants, and when it "smiled" at her, it revealed to rows of brown, decayed, and sharp teeth.

Tammy ushered her child into the house, and they huddled inside as the creature waited outside. They said that they could see it's red hat through the kitchen window, which would have required it to climb the wall, grow, or hover, as that window is a good ten feet off of the ground. The creature eventually left. Although Tammy and her family would occasionally hear the creature chuckling, they never saw it again, and eventually moved off of the property.

Eventually, a woman named Charlie and her family moved into the house, and it all began again. They noticed that animals, both domestic and wild, avoided a building that they called "the shack" (presumably the barn that made Tammy uneasy). On at least one occasion, Charlie felt so unnerved while walking near the shack that she picked up her two young children and broke into a sprint to get away from it.

And then, one day, things picked up and became much more frightening.

Charlie heard what sounded like a car fighting with something inside the shack. When her husband went to investigate, he found a cat alright, entirely skinned on one side and with a huge bite taken out of its neck. He stepped out to clear his head, and when he stepped back in, the cat was gone.

A short time later, at 3 a.m.*, Charlie and her husband woke to a guttural, eerie singing coming from the back yard. Looking out their window, they saw the same creature. It was looking at them as they looked through their window at it. It pulled a fish out of the koi pond that Charlie had installed, and smiled as it ate the fish and stared at the couple. Charlie's husband yelled out the window that he was going to call the police, an the gnome flipped them off** and then walked away, laughing the entire time. When the police arrive,d they found nothing but child-sized foot prints.

The creature returned every night at 3 a.m., messed about with their lawn ornaments (mostly gnome and fairy ornaments, naturally) and eating the fish in the pond. Finally, the family locked the ornaments away and put the fish into a tank in the house. When the creature showed up the following night, it was pissed. It proceeded to scream in it's odd, guttural language, while running in circles around the house. Charlie ran downstairs to find the dogs barking at the dog door, which she quickly secured from the inside before running upstairs to lock all of the windows.

The family left shortly thereafter. When a writer introduced Charlie and Tammy to each other, they went back to look in on the property. The barn/shack was gone, but when they went to speak with the current resident, they were rudely rebuffed and sent packing. A commenter claiming to be Tammy claimed that she would later learn, however, that others in the area had been terrorized by the creature for years, and that, some years later, the creature seemed to follow her to her new home. Some web commenters from the area claim that, while they never saw anything, they always felt uneasy in the vicinity and avoided the property in question.

* I make a point of noting the time only because 3 a.m. plays a prominent role in modern ghost folklore. This seems to be a development of the last few decades, with midnight being important in earlier folklore. Initially, the 3 a.m. time, from what I have read, comes from the three numbers that mark "the beast" in the book of revelations, which has come to be the "number of the devil" in popular folklore, and so the fact that there are three numbers have made 3 a.m. (get it get it?) important to many people who like a religious bent to their ghost stories. I have also heard that as this is three in the dark, it can be a dark reflection or parody of the holy trinity.  Personally, I have always thought this was a rather silly conceit that generally just makes me roll my eyes, but that's me.

** Well, rude hand gestures ARE the universal language, after all.

Commentary: While not specifically a ghost story, I feel like this one falls more on the weird spirit side of the spectrum than the cryptozoological one, so I decided to add it here.

That said, the story fits very nicely into the tradition of the western European Faerie stories. Although we tend to use the term "fairy tale" nowadays to describe something both fantastic and gentle if not childish, the actual folklore from which the term "fairy" comes were, in fact, more often dark and molevolent (indeed, if you were to tell a 10th century person that they were "fae" they wouldn't think that you were calling them feminine, they would think that you were saying that they were doomed to a horrible fate at the hands of the supernatural). When Black Sabbath sang about fairies in boots dancing with dwarves, they weren't trying to call up a cartoonish image, but were, instead, trying to describe something otherworldly and terrifying.

So, the idea of a malicious gnome terrorizing a family in an isolated farmhouse is absolutely in keeping with these older traditions. That said, the description of the creature in the story doesn't match that of a gnome so much as it does a faerie (later Christianized as a demon) from northern Europe known as a Redcap - these creatures looked in many respects like the garden gnomes that we appreciate so much, but were vicious murderers whose hats were red with the blood of their victims. Should their hats dry out the redcap would die (or be sent back to Hell, or be banished from the material plan, etc. etc.). The redcaps wore iron boots (unlike other such folkloric creatures, they weren't afraid of iron), but nonetheless ran faster than any human could. They were vile, often dirty, and enjoyed the pain and suffering of others.

It is interesting to me, as a resident of the San Joaquin Valley, where this story takes place (Tulare County is just south of Fresno County, where I currently live) that this story is reliant on northwestern European faerie mythology, and not the more common Latino folklore that permeates much of our local ghost folklore (in fact, I went for a walk this afternoon along a trail said to be haunted by a La Llorona spirit). Given the tendency for many neo-pagan groups to rehash selective elements of Celtic and Germanic folklore, it may be that this is the source of this, or it may be something else.  Regardless, it makes for an interesting story.

Naturally, the internet being the internet, on the web pages where this story was posted there is a lot of speculation as to what happened, ranging from discussions of fairies to speculation that the little man might have been an escaped mental patient. And in one web forum the there is an active debate as to whether or not one more fervent evangelic Christian poster is justified in calling this thing a demon.

The text of the story at Weird Fresno is taken from Mysterious Universe, so they may seem redundant, but the blog comments at Weird Fresno are worth a look.  First, off, there is someone who claims to be the "Tammy" from the story, further describing her experiences.  Secondly, there is a commenter who claims to have seen the same type of creature at another location in another state.  As stated above, this story bears more than a passing resemblance to some of the faerie folklore from which gnomes are derived, so it seems only fitting that others would claim similar encounters.

Sources: Weird Fresno, Mysterious Universe 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

White Rock Lake

Sit back and buckle in for an interesting variation on the vanishing hitchhiker, from the Lone Star State!

Drivers on the roads around White Rock Lake near Dallas, Texas, may encounter a young woman, soaked to the bone and wearing what appears to be a white evening gown from the 1920s. If the driver decides ot be a good samaritan and stops to offer help, the young woman will ask to be driven to an address on Gaston Avenue. In some versions of the story, the young woman explain that there has been an accident and her car has fallen into the lake, while in others she is barely verbal due to a stupifying state of shock. Upon arriving at the destination, the driver will discover that the young woman has vanished, but that there is water covering the seat where she had been sitting. 

In some versions of the story, the woman will specify that the house to which she has asked ot be driven belongs to her father. On arrival, the driver will observe that the young woman has fallen asleep, will go to the house and knock on the door. The door is then opened by an elderly man who is angered when this stranger claims to be bringing the elderly fellow's daughter home - you see, she had dided years earlier when her car plunged into the lake, and he doesn't appreciate these sorts of jokes. It is at this point that the driver returns to the car to find that woman is gone and the seat is wet.

The identity of the woman is not known, nor is why she is trying to reach the house on Gastone Avenue. 

There is one other variation on the story, one which is much, much creepier and bears no resemblance to the hitchiking ghost story outside of the presence of a young woman in an evening gown. In this version, people boating on the lake or out at the docks at night report seeing a body floating face down, carried (seemingly by the currents, though we know better) towards the observers. It appears to be the body of a drowned young woman in a fancy evening gown.  As the body come close to the observers, it turns over, and those present can see that the skin is bright white, as if drained of bloood. As it reaches the observers, the eyes spring open and the body emits a ghastly, disturbing shriek. Allegedly, those present always run away at this point, because, let's face it, so would you and I. 

Commentary:  There really are two separate ghost stories here, whether or not they have the same origin is unclear.  The first is a standard vanishing hitchiker story, but with the ghost leaving behind water rather than a jacket or sweater (which, when you get down to it, is just really damn rude on the ghost's part).  The second is a much stranger and more sinister story that has some truly creepy and disturbing elements.  I suspect that this is a case where elements from one story (woman drowning when a car plunges into a lake) were adopted into a new story because, let's face it, the vanishing hitchhiker story is ubiquoutous to the point of becoming a bit boring.  Another possibility is that the creeepier story, of the floating corpse, is the original tale, and that it was adopted into the ubiquoutous vanishing hitchiker story by people getting their stories a bit garbled. Regardless, while I appreciate the hitchiker story as a form of folklore, I am much more likely to tell the latter story should I be sitting with friends around a campfire. 

The ghost story has also become an element of one of Dallas's odder pop-culture moments. In October of 1967, local radio personality Chuck Boyles decided to invite his listeners to join him at White Rock Lake in order to search for the phantom and try to solve the mystery behind her (lest you are inclined to think of this as a serious investigation, keep in mind that he was a radio DJ given to the self-promotion necessary to that profession and that this was likely intended as a goofy lark).  While he likely expected to result in a few dozen people coming out (he set the meeting for the very early hours of the morning, likely to discourage many people from joining him), something in the neighborhood of 1000 people (mostly under the age of 25) arrrived.  This, in turn, resulted in the police coming out, hoping to prevent a riot. While there was a bit of mischief, it was, ultimately, anti-climatic and nothing happened.  However, the city government was sufficiently displeased to put Boyles in a position where he felt the need to make an on-air apology a few days later.

And that, my friends, is how you ensure the continuation of a piece of folklore. My gratitude goes ot Chuck Boyles, even though those living near the lake were likely less than please with him.  

Sources: Wikipedia, iO9Phantom SeekersDark Haunts

Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia

Chuuk Lagoon, also known as Truc Lagoon (let's hear it for languages with semi-compatible phonemes!) is a natural harbor in the Caroline Islands.  The Japanese navy used it as a home base during the second World War.  This came to a sudden end on February 17, 1944, when a two-day battle began, resulting in the destruction of the base. More than 50 ships and hundreds of aircraft were destroyed, and thousands of Japanese soldiers lost their lives (400 of which are said to have been trapped in the hold of a ship which sank, drowning the men.
Since the war, the lagoon has become a popular destination for scuba divers who want to explore sunken wrecks (some sources place credit for this popularity with a 1969 documentary by Jacques Cousteau).

Although a significant number of bodies were eventually recovered and returned to Japan for burial, many remain in the depths of the lagoon. Many of those who have dived at the lagoon report supernatural goings-ons.

Several of the ships that sank were cargo ships, including at least one loaded with trucks, and divers have reported hearing the sound of automobile engines starting and idling under the water. Similarly, many divers have reported hearing machine-like grinding noises coming from the engine rooms of some of the sunken ships.

Divers have also reported hearing human voices emanating from the water, and rumor holds that the locals consider the islands to be haunted, with a television crew (from the inaccurately-named "Destination Truth") claiming to have heard stories about floating lights near the caves on the island, disembodied human voices heard throughout the island (though especially in the lagoon area), and one of the crew claiming to have been touched on the shoulder when nobody else was present.

By the way - you should check out the diver's photos available here.

Commentary:  Considering that battlegrounds across the world attract ghost stories, it is only natural that the same be true of a naval battleground (battlewater?), especially considering the volume of dead and the difficulties of recovering bodies from the water as compared to dry-land battlegrounds.  While the Japanese government has made efforts to recover and bury bodies from the lagoon, it is still common for divers to find human remains while exploring, which says more about the nature of massive shipwreck sites than about the efforts of the Japanese government.

I wonder about a few things here, though.  The first is whether or not the locals truly consider this place to be haunted, or if that is a European/U.S. story that we place on the location because in our ghost story traditions it seems like it should be haunted (haunted burial grounds, which is what this place has become, though a standard part of European and therefore U.S. folklore, are not a universal part of human views about burial places).  I don't know, and if any of the readers have had reason to visit Micronesia, perhaps you could inform me. If they do consider it haunted, I then wonder if this is a native view, or if it is something imported with wreck-diving tourism in the 1970s and later.  Again, I genuinely don't know, and would be grateful if any of my readers could fill me in.

Similarly, I know that many non-competitive sports sub-cultures have developed their own superstitions and supernatural beliefs common throughout (try talking to a surfer some time, or a mountain climber, and you will see exactly what I mean).  If so, then I would wonder whether or not those beliefs have fed this growing legend. I have already begun contacting divers that I know in order to ask them - if they get me any information, I will update this entry accordingly. (Edit to note: I have spoken with a couple of divers so far, they both think that this is likely a dead-end. While they have encountered supernatural divers, they have not encountered a supernatural view common to divers).

One final note - I have observed that, as with many other ghost stories of more recent vintage, the haunting of Chuuk lagoon is one that appears across the internet, often with the exact same information repeated over and over again, not quite word-for-word, but without much variation - so it's not the copy-and-paste style of folklore spread that I have noted for other ghost stories, but it is something close to that.  If you type Chuuk lagoon (or Truk Lagoon) into Google, you will pull up many web pages, but I only cite three below, because, frankly, no matter how many I went through, I never found anything new pertaining to the ghost stories, so I just included the first three that I found. Again, I have to wonder whether or not this suggests that the over-use of a few specific sources may be resulting in stagnation of folklore.  I also noticed that none of the sources cited primary print references for the ghost stories, instead relying on hearsay, other websites, and a relatively recent television show - this makes me wonder whether or not this legend may be more recent, originating in the 1990s or later, as the internet made sharing details of dives easier.  If this is the case, then perhaps this is a story that is emerging, rather than stagnating.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Manchac Swamp, Louisiana

Manchac Swamp, in Lousiana, is home to two separate supernatrual stories. The first is that the swamp is home to the rougarou (apparently a local dialect version of Loup Garou, which is the American South version of the werewolf). This beast is said to haunt the swamp, looking for victims to tear apart.

But, the actual ghost story comes courtesy of the legend of an alleged Voodoo priestess named either Julie White or Julie Brown. She lived in a small town in or near the swamp in the early 20th century, and apparently liked frightening her neighbors for fun.  Amonf her activities was her frequent statement that "one day I'm gonna' die, and I'm takin' alll of you WITH ME!" I like to think that this was followed by her rubbing her hands and cackling. She was also known to routinely predict disasters, including the destruction of neighboring towns, only to have her predictions come true in short order. The neighbors took to calling her "the oracle."

Well, in 1915, she died, and a hurricane struck New Orleans, destroying (some sources say burying) her town...taking it all with her.

Since then, people entering the swamp have reported hearing her singing her song (if it is Julie Brown, I hope that song is "Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun"), and often hearing a woman's voice scream eerily, echoing thoughout the swamp. It is said that those who have entered the swamp to test the spirit routinely leave as terrified believers in the paranormal.

Commentary: I looked this story up on multiple websites, but each of them had the same story, sometimes almost word-for-word, so I linked to only the most relevant sources below. This lack of variation (and lack of detail) is a bit irritating. But this is often a frustration in seeking out ghost stories.  I also was disappointed that details of the werewolf story were typically light, though I didn't persue that as much as I might have, since I am more interested in ghosts than monsters.

This story is the source of local tourism, with Cajun Pride tours taking people to the cabin where the alleged priestess once lived, as well as the cemetary where she is supposedly buried. While I am skeptical of the story and the motives behind it being spread, I am nonetheless glad that I heard it. It may be a by-the-numbers voodoo story, but it is still fun.

Sources:, iO9, Abondoned! blog,

Arch Duke Ferdinand's Car

The assasination of Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, Bosnia, triggered World War I...and if you didn't already know that, please go back to high school and try to pay attention.

The vehicle, unlike the world, went away from the assasination unscathed. It's subsequnet owners, drivers, and various passengers and bystanders, however, were reportedly not so lucky. It's first post-war owner, the Governor of Yugoslavia, was involved in four collisions, losing his arm in one of them.  This allegedly led to him wanting the car destroyed, but it nonetheless ended up with his friend Dr. Strikis...who apprently died when the car somehow overturned and crushed him.  The car then continued it's winning streak when it was owned by a Swiss race car driver, and it threw him out during a drive through the mountaisn (whether this occured during a race or a pleasure drive is unclear). Next, it was bought by a farmer, and whent he car was being towed (after stalling during a drive) it's engine roared to life, the car kicked into gear, and it caused a collision that killed the farmer and the man driving the towing vehicle (NEVER doa  favor for the owner of a haunted car). Finally, a new buyer decided that the problem wwasn't the obvious demonic nature of the vehicle, but the paint job (it is often described as "blood red"), so he painted it blue, and as a sign of gratitude, the car went and got itself into a damn head-on collision, killing the new owner and his guests as they drove to a wedding.

Now, one would think that being the mobile site of the spark that set Europe on fire, throwing much of the world (as Europe's colonies did become involved) into blood and fire would be enough. But some evil, demonic vehicles apparently have to be over-achievers. Apparently this one just wanted to say "in your face, Christine!"

Commentary: If this all sounds a little too much like the stories involving James Dean's famous "Little Bastard" car...well, there's probably a reason for that. You see, the stories involving the car can't really be traced to earlier than 1959, four years after James Dean's death. Moreover, the story was popularized (and possibly invented) by professional tall-tale teller Frank Edwards in his book Stranger than Science. It is, of course, possible that the story was circulating in some form prior to 1959 - the curse involving the car that was present for one of humanity's most destructive bouts of collective of insanity is, after all, just begging for frightening tales - but the timing of Edward's publication seems just a little too close to the beginnings of the "Little Bastard" story.

It should also be said that most, if not all, of the story is obvious B.S. For starters, post war, there was no governor of Yugoslavia, as it was a kingdom.  Also, how could the car be through that many collisions and yet be relatively unscathed (the intact car is on display of the War Museum in Vienna)? Then there is the lack of specifics regarding many of the incidents.  It all seems rather hard to accept.

Sources: Jalopnik, athingforcars.comSmithsonian Mag

Return to Babylon, Haunted Film

The film Return to Babylon is a bit of an interesting oddity, a silent film released in 2012 (similar to The Artist), it tells the tales of Hollywood's early years, focusing on the scandals that made and broke the stars of the silent film era.

According to the director, Alex Monty Canawati, he had wanted to make a silent film in the style of those from the 20s, and, one night, found a bag on a sidewalk in Hollywood. The bag contained 19 rolls of unused black and white 16 mm film. Canawati decided that, with this, he'd make his movie.

The film was shot on a shoe-string budget, despite having a number of well known stars in its cast. It never found a distributor, thanks in part to the sheer oddness of making a silent film in the modern era (though, yes, The Artist was successful), and so it took a while for people to see Return to Babylon...but when people did begin to see it, they saw something disturbing - not the content of the story, but things that were happening on screen.

In some scenes, the fingers of characters elongated into inhuman, possibly claw-like appendages. In others, the faces of the actors appeared to change into the faces of demonic monsters or desiccated corpses. In one case, an actor opens their mouth, and fangs appear.

The film makers insist that there were no special effects, and that they did not design these weird changes. The usual take is that the special effect that could do this is one referred to as "morphing", which would not have been feasible on the film's miniscule budget.

In interviews, cast and crew described numerous spooky happenings: feeling watched, feeling people poking or shoving them, hearing strange sounds without a clear source, and so on. Jennifer Tilly, who plays Clara Bow, has been especially vocal about this.

What was the source of these strange phenomenon? The film was shot in the homes and other favored places frequented by the stars whose fates the film dramatizes. Perhaps these locations are haunted, and this showed up on film. Maybe it's the film itself, those canisters that mysteriously came into Canawatti's possession - did some mysterious power want these images unleashed on the world and make the film available as an avenue for this?

Whatever the answer, the film remains a creepy mystery for now...

Commentary: ...or perhaps not. While neither I, nor anyone else aside from possibly the filmmakers, can say exactly what is going on in the footage, there are a number of possible explanations that are not supernatural.

For starters, some of the spooky images are, well, not really what they are claimed to be. For example, in a scene where an actor allegedly grows fangs - if you look closely at the image, it becomes clear that there are no fangs, just teeth and a low-quality image that makes the perfectly normal teeth reflect in a slightly odd way.

Some of the images, though, are decidedly odd. Even there, though, there may be a bit more going on in the natural world. Turns out that transferring from an old reel of film to digital medium for distribution (or online viewing) can cause some weird image distortions. In addition, I have my suspicions that the relatively low-resolution black and white image providing by the film may make it more open to cheaper post-production digital manipulation than a 35 mm color print or high-definition digital image would be. And, frankly, having looked at some of the images, they appear to me to be pretty clearly examples of blurrier images promoting Pareidolia rather than the horrific items that they are claimed to be.

Then, of course, there's the story of the film discovery...which seems like perfect fodder for an attention-getting ghost story, rather than a true event. I don't know, maybe running into bags of unused film does happen from time to time in Los Angeles (it never happened when I was down there, but maybe I was just hanging out in the wrong part of town), but that just seems...a little to convenient, I suppose.  Also, there's the fact that the film couldn't find a distributor, and that the filmmakers needed to draw some attention to it in order to remedy this problem. Put that together, and, as an outside observer, it seems likely to me that the story was added at a later time (maybe with some special effects work) in an attempt to draw attention to a film that wasn't getting any.

Also worth noting - the director is either nutty or (more likely) a hilarious prankster, and has claimed that various places where shadows or hair cover the faces of various actresses demonstrates that they have become "Christ Like" and that, perhaps, his movie is part of biblical prophecy.

Added Bonus: Of course, we can't leave the entry about a haunted film without included a trailer and clips, now can we? For whatever reason, Youtube is not letting me embed the clips, but the links below should get you where you want to go.

First off, the director is either crazy or funny, I am not sure which:

Next, a short film on the film...

...and the trailer

Sources: WikipediaWeek in WeirdThe ParanormalisticsStrange