Kirsty Rice was born and raised in Erskine and has always had a creative streak.
Throughout her childhood she was drawn towards the more expressive subjects on the curriculum and in 2006 shipped off to Dundee University to study art. In 2011, whilst making clay jewellery in her spare time, Kirsty was drawn to photography more so out of necessity than interest; as visually stunning as her jewellery might be, it wasn't going to market itself!
This dip into photography slowly took hold, becoming passion and her fondness for all things creepy, dark and macabre has only grown, too.
Fair to say, her love of horror films, literature and exploration of alternative themes has helped inspire and shape her work over the years. Through her time working on location as well as in her home studio, her interest in photo manipulation came to the fore; allowing her to create dark and sinister pieces from out of the everyday.
Always on the lookout for new locations (and props), her long suffering boyfriend endures the wicked selection of seriously spooky porcelain dolls that often accompany her on her frequent trips to abandoned buildings and forgotten ruins throughout Scotland.
Avoiding the trappings of a one-trick-pony, Kirsty incorporates various themes into her work, from abstract macro to far-flung scenic shots presented in an unusual light. She enjoys bringing focus on the unseen details of her subject, magnifying these for the viewer. Her pride and joy, however, is her collection of dolls, each one with its own set of expressions and, she would insist - personalities. The appeal of these creepy little urchins? An accessible and willing subject that, despite their primary use as a children's toy or ornament, are portrayed in horror and folklore as demonic harbingers of pain and bad luck. Such ingrained juxtaposition makes for a piece that provokes conversation in an audience.
Kirsty also enjoys pitching her camera at barren locations; forests, abandoned buildings or demolition sites which mix well with her bespoke post processing technique giving these pieces an ominous, otherworldly feel. The forest will lay idle, waiting for something to happen. This, she feels, gives her viewer opportunity to expand on the subject, using their imagination to interact with the piece; filling in the blanks to make it all the more personal.
Kirsty will be trading at Loch Lomond Comic Con on the 28th and 29th April, and at Edinburgh Horror Con on the 12th and 13th May.
KirstyRiceArt offers original artwork that would look great above your mantle (or even in your dungeon!) and will slake the thirst of the dark art or horror fanatic in your life. You can find a full selection of prints, cards and artwork on Etsy at www.kirstyriceart.etsy.com
Tod Browning’s Freaks
This write up will contain spoilers for Tod Browning’s Freaks. In my defence, the movie was released in 1932 . Still, if you don’t want to be spoiled, this is your warning - turn back now.
Bit of a hybrid review/trip report here. On Monday the 5th March, I travelled to Northampton’s Errol Flynn Playhouse to watch a screening of Freaks in the company of living legend Johnny Mains (who has written what promises to be the definitive book on the subject, to judge by the unearthed material we glimpsed in his post-screening presentation). Throughout, I’ll weave in thoughts and facts gleaned from that talk - based on what I remember, so for whatever I get right, thank Johnny, and whatever I get wrong, blame me.
It was a treat to get to experience the movie for the first time on the big screen. The Errol Flynn Playhouse is a lovely cinema, complete with comfortable reclining seats and actual table space either side of the chair - small luxuries that transformed the elbows-in multiplex experience into a more relaxed affair - one that really allowed me to become engrossed in the film.
And pretty soon, captivated.
The plot is simply expressed, and standard melodrama fare - trapeze artist Cleopatra is having a clandestine love affair with strong man Hercules, but is also toying with the affections of Hans, a dwarf performer at the circus. When she discovers he is wealthy (as a result of his distraught former fiance, Frieda, accidentally revealing this as she begs Cleopatra to leave Hans alone, wrongly assuming that was the reason for her seduction in the first place) she conspires to marry Hans, and then poison him, in order to claim his wealth. However, at the wedding party, she becomes sufficiently drunk that when the Freaks perform a song welcoming her into the tribe (and yes, it’s as weird - weirder - than it sounds, but also sweet, somehow) she snaps, revealing her true contempt for them all. Hans realises she is poisoning him with his ‘medicine’, and fakes illness, until the clan can take it’s revenge.
Before I go any further, a word on the problematic use of the word ‘Freaks’, here. I am using it as shorthand, as the movie does, to describe the real-life circus performers the movie features - performers who in many cases had physical disabilities, and in some cases mental disabilities, and all of whom made their living (or, in many cases, made several other people’s livings) by appearing in circuses all over America. I am using it because it’s the parlance of the time, not because I think it’s a good or appropriate word to use in a modern context. One of the things this film smacks you around the face with is just how our attitudes towards disability have transformed in the last 80 odd years, and how brutal this ‘within-living-memory’ movie now seems in some respects.
In fact, fuck it, let's talk about it now, as we’re here - this movie was made in 1932. Hitler is still a year away from becoming Chancellor, but the movement he leads is already gaining significant electoral success and power.
Why am I talking about Nazis? Well, because it’s a relatively underreported fact that the Nazis road tested a lot of the mass murder techniques they’d later aim, with such brutal ferocity, at the Jewish population of Europe, initially on the disabled population of Germany. Using predictably vile propaganda that willfully misinterpreted Darwinism, they justified the ‘cleansing’ of anyone deemed ‘infirm’, and as a result, hundreds of thousands of disabled people were murdered by the Nazi state.
This would begin only a few short years after Freaks was released.
I’m not saying this to excuse the issues with Freaks, exactly - and there are a few - but rather to provide some context for just how hostile the general environment was when the film was released. Eugenics had been an utterly mainstream preoccupation since at least the Victorian era (with even renowned socialists like HG Wells approving of the idea, in principle).
In that regard, and for it’s time, Freaks is nothing short of revelatory. At least half of the films 60 minute running time stars the disabled performers, and they are treated with a level of humanity by the script that would have been unusual even in their day jobs. They have friendships, and courtships, and fallings out and petty jealousies and reconciliations. They are, in other words, portrayed as fully human. In 2018, that feels like a low bar so shocking as to be embarrassing - but, again, in 1932, it’s practically revolutionary.
They are also captivating to watch. The courtship of the siamese twins (played by Daisy and Violet Hilton) is especially well played, with one suitor intensely disliking the other twin - and the moment when both twins suitors are introduced to each other is a comedy of manners that’s kind of breathtaking in both its audacity, and in its simple human sweetness.
Elsewhere, Harry and Daisy Earle as Hans and Frieda are just wonderful - Hans with his heartbreaking pride that prevents him from seeing the brutal, callous manipulations of Cleopatra, and Frieda, whose simple dignity and love for Hans is in stark contrast to the cackling cruelty of his seducer.
In fact it’s telling overall that the ‘normal’ characters are by far the least interesting of this ensemble cast, and ultimately (with the exception of the cruel Cleo and Hercules), irrelevant in terms of the plot. While those actors may have been given star billing on the publicity and movie posters, the actual movie belongs foursquare to the titular performers. They are utterly compelling, from the early slice of life scenes, to the set piece wedding feast, all the way through to the mud soaked, stormy finale.
It’s one hell of a climactic scene, too, as they take their revenge on the real monsters - vicious would-be murder Cleo and her glib accomplice. The image of the massed group, crawling through the mud towards a cowering, whimpering Hercules is one that will linger very long in my memory, and the decision to cut away before the final vengeance is enacted for me highlighted the horror of the moment deliciously.
I’m still not sure, overall, what I think of the film - even with the illuminating and brilliantly passionate talk that followed - but I can see why the movie has it’s ardent fans. It’s certainly a phenomenal piece of cinema, and a genuine one-off. One of the many fascinating facts that I learned from the presentation following the movie was that this movie was Tod Browning’s passion project, the one he made once his direction for Dracula meant he could write his own ticket, and it single handedly destroyed his career on release. And again, for it’s time, it was amazingly, perhaps uniquely progressive.
There’s still, for me, an exploitative edge to proceedings that I find troubling. In particular Schlitze, and the performers playing his siblings. Schlitzie was born with microcephaly, a rare neurodevelopmental disorder which led to him having a very small brain and skull. Schlitzie was a circus performer throughout his entire life, an attraction at freak shows the length and breath of the US. Schlitzie was reported to be an affectionate and exuberant personality who loved being the centre of attention.
Schlitzie also had the mental age of a four year old.
Part of me can’t get past that, and the enormous and obvious issues this presents in terms of consent. For me, it renders any profit generated for others (and as a four year old, how much is the concept of money going to mean to Schlitzie?) by definition exploitative - up to and including his appearance in this singular film.
On the other hand, Schlitzie apparently and by all accounts loved to perform, and his most unhappy period was the one in which he spent extended time in a mental health facility.
And I don’t know what to do with any of that. ‘It’s complicated’ feels both trivially banal and deeply inadequate as an observation, but it’s what I am left with.
Well, that and Shlitze’s amazing smile, immortalized forever in the frames of Tod Browning’s Freaks - a face, a look of joy, that I will never, ever forget.
Yeah. It really is fucking complicated.
To celebrate the launch of his new collection of short stories author C.M. Saunders makes two stops at Ginger Nuts of Horror, here with his excellent article on Childhood fears and with a fascinating entry in our Five Minutes With Series of Interviews
We all have our little ticks and quirks. It’s one of the things that makes us humans such weird and unique life forms. Over and above the usual ‘failure’ and ‘death’ fears which are part of the human condition and we all have to deal with in our own way, there are a few other things I am, and always have been, a bit wary of. Some of these ‘fears’ are rational, some less-so.
There is a theory which suggests that the inherent fears we harbour result from bad experiences we had in past lives. In other words, it’s baggage. I’m not sure I believe in reincarnation as such, but I do believe in the existence of some kind of universal consciousness, some vast well to where our ‘life force’ returns when our physical body dies. This same ‘life force’ is then recycled. Sometimes, remnants manifest themselves as fully-formed memories or, more likely, primitive instincts, irrational fears, or weird aversions. There are numerous theories pertaining to this, Carl Jung was a well-known advocate, and the archaeologist Fredrick Bligh Bond claimed to have tapped into an eternal font of knowledge he rather poetically dubbed, ‘the great memoria.’ In the 1950’s, a scientist called Dr James McConell carried out a series of controversial experiments on flat worms. He trained one batch to navigate a maze, then ground them up and fed them to another batch. These ‘new’ flatworms then also knew how to navigate the maze, ostensibly proving the existence of ‘transferred memory.’
Anyway, enough speculation. What am I scared of? Lots of stuff. First up, deep water. This, I can trace back to falling in a river as a kid and having to be dragged out by a neighbour. It wasn’t a pleasurable experience, so I’ve pretty much avoided deep water ever since. People aren’t supposed to be in the water, that’s why we don’t have gills or fins. I never learned to swim, and have no plans to.
I’m not a huge fan of heights, either. Because if I’m on something high, I might fall off and hurt myself. That, to me, isn’t irrational. It’s common fucking sense. I am constantly amazed by mountaineers, rock climbers, base jumpers and the like. I don’t admire their courage as much as I admire their blatant disregard for their own personal safety. It’s all fun and games, until it isn’t. I have the same attitude to all extreme sports. If you get buzzed from doing these things, great. I wish you the very best of luck. But don’t complain if something goes wrong and you end up dead, disabled or disfigured. You brought that shit on yourself.
Perhaps predictably, probably my biggest childhood fear was ghosts. Though none of us can claim to have ever seen anything with our own two eyes, I grew up in a house where lots of strange shit happened. For starters, my mother collected porcelain figures, and kept them in wall-mounted glass-fronted cabinets. Like most collectors, she was fastidious. Each one was positioned just so. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, she would regularly accuse me of moving them around. Like I would be interested in playing with little porcelain figures. Pfft. I was well into my toy soldier phase by then. Eventually, she fitted locks on the cabinets, and you know what? The damn things still moved around when nobody was looking.
In those days, we had an old Rediffusion telly. The kind you had to open the panel on the front and use knobs to tune into the channels. Almost every day we would have to re-tune it because the knobs would move out of position every night. Perhaps this thing’s most impressive feat was taking apart the plug on the kettle, re-wiring it, then putting it back together again. I shit you not.
All the activity, if that’s what it was, stopped suddenly when I was still very young. Soon after, our next door neighbour came over for a chat and casually mentioned some of her ornaments being moved around. She had a son a few years younger than me, lending credence to the theory that poltergeist activity is often attached to children of a certain age.
I keep meaning to write all this up as a story. Maybe one day. Anyway, these experiences soon they morphed into a deep-seated interest in the paranormal. The very first thing I ever had published was a feature about the Devil’s Footprints in a short-lived magazine called Enigma back in 1997. I’ve been seeking out mysteries to write about ever since.
Perhaps my most bizarre ‘fear’ are things with lots of legs and/or pincers. My absolute worst nightmare would be a man-sized (or bigger) earwig. Fuck that. You’d have to be mad not to be afraid of a man-sized (or bigger) earwig. With the little ones, though, which thankfully are far more common, I wouldn’t call it fear exactly. It’s more of a repulsion. This extends to most bugs and creepy crawlies. The bigger they are, the more they freak me out. I lived in China for a few years, and there, it’s not unusual to come across bugs the size of your hand. I’ll never forget the morning I woke up to find a three-inch cockroach crawling through my chest hair.
I don’t believe in ‘conquering’ your fears. Like when you hear about arachnophobes holding giant tarantulas in their hands and claiming some sort of victory. Sorry, weirdos, but you haven’t conquered anything. You’ve just managed to endure extreme discomfort for an incredibly short period of time. But you know what? Nothing’s changed. You’ll still be arachnophobic, only now you know exactly what it feels like to have a massive spider crawling over your flesh. That’s something that is sure to haunt your nightmares.
“Remember that time you held a giant tarantula and let it crawl all over you?”
“Yeah. It was fucking gross.”
In many ways, fear is just our body’s self-preservation system in effect. Rather than presenting something that needs to be overcome, our fears should be respected. They keep us safe. Or at least, safer. Just be thankful you aren’t a flatworm who finally succeeded in getting out of a maze only to find your reward was being ground up and fed to your friends.