Thursday, October 20, 2011

High-Octane Nightmare Fuel (14th Century Edition)

Do you know this amazing term, high-octane nightmare fuel? It’s a good one, popularized by the Television Tropes & Idioms website to describe those media images that have a way of worming into you subconscious and subverting the most personal, positive, familiar images into something skin-crawlingly horrible. This blog actually gets namechecked on the HONM page, specifically for my post on the Batman villain Baby Doll, whose kindergartner form belies the mind of a psychopath, though I think other posts here fit the category rather nicely. (Case in point: the owl choking on a rat or the futurismo train of death or this fucking spider or that woman who burned to death in the Brady Bunch kitchen or the Birdo fetish costume or that heart-stoppingly creepy painting “The Hands Resist Him”.) But I digress. I meant to be posting about new horrifying things here today, by which I mean new-to-you because you weren’t alive in fourteenth-century Europe.

This:



And this:


And this too:



Nightmare stuff, right?

This costume existed as a result of function rather than form. However, its intent was not to horrify the people viewing it so much as it was to protect the people inside it. Medical professionals donned the “Plague Bird” outfit when treating sick people because they misunderstood how germs were communicated from one person to another. In their minds, the waxed canvas robe shut out those pesky disease-causing vapors while the elongated “beak” mask buffered the nose with supposed plague-fighters such as roses, carnations, camphor and vinegar. In the end, of course, it’s about as effective as wearing green to ward of St. Patrick’s Day pinches, but back in the day this horrible thing was doctor-recommended.

Quaint, yes, but just think about the scenario: You, about to succumb to the plague in your filthy little thatched-roof, mud-floored, chicken-populated hovel, when all of a sudden this anthropomorphized carrion-picking bird shows up. He means well, but you don’t know that. In fact, you don’t know anything about what has caused pulsating black bumps to envelope your upper-body section. You’re delirious. And you’re scared in your delirium. In the end, your thoughts are occupied totally by wondering why this grotesque bird has come to visit you in your dying hours.

I totally understand people who fear birds now. Also: I cannot understand how there isn’t already a horror movie franchise based around the plague bird as the killer.


Now that is nightmare fuel right there.

Caw.

3 comments:

  1. The plague doctor is a common image around Venice. All the tourist shops sell stuff featuring them. I was fascinated and disturbed by their images when my wife and I visited on our honeymoon. It took a video game series, actually, to un-creep them. In the more recent Assassins' Creed games set in Renaissance Italy, the doctors all around the various cities all wear the cloak/hood/hat, and about half wear the beak. For some reason, hearing the muffled voice hawking tonics and curatives somehow made them seem more silly and less terrifying.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I almost bought one of those masks in Venice. Then I thought about it hanging on my wall, and changed my mind.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Fred, Goofy: I have tragically never been to Venice and didn't realize that the costume was still prevalent there today. In a few, its inherent creepiness and its dark history mapped on tourist trap kitschiness makes it even creepier, I say.

    ReplyDelete