Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Lumière Anomaly: Le Chapeau

<< Kitchen Blitz Pilot (2013)

 

Original Essay by an Anonymous Institute Member

 

A still from L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat, in which Le Chapeau is clearly visible, slightly right of the center.

 
Paris, January 25th, 1946. Despite the frigid winter, a line has formed outside the Le Champo cinema. France still holds fresh wounds from Nazi occupation, but on that night, cinephiles from around the nation gathered to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most iconic pieces of cinema history: the screening of the Lumière brother’s L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat. The film is scarcely fifty seconds long and is nothing more than footage of a train arriving at a station, but it was one of the first widely-known pieces of Cinématographie in the world. While the Lumière brothers themselves did not attend, eleven of audience members from the original screening of L'arrivée d'un train were present. The oldest was eighty-five-year-old Jacques Masson; the youngest, sixty-two-year-old Claude Morel.



After a speaker gives a brief history on the Lumière brothers and their accomplishments, as well as how cinema has developed since the screening of this film, the lights dim, and the projectionist begins the film. To some, it’s an experience just as magical as when the film was first screened; some have not seen a movie since before France was liberated. There are some in the audience who are too young to remember films that weren’t some form of Nazi propaganda. They are watching the earliest form of cinema, but it is still something magical: moving pictures on screen.


Among the eleven original audience members, however, there’s confusion. Masson is heard muttering that ‘something isn’t right’. Then, at approximately thirty-five seconds into the film, Morel stands, points at the screen, and screams:

“Who is that man?!”

Le Chapeau



The figure that caused the panic is first visible at approximately 0:24, and vanishes at 0:36. It is a man wearing a boater hat, the top half of their face covered in shadow. They are wearing a dark suit with a white shirt visible beneath. At 0:34, they appear to look directly at the camera, before walking off-frame.


Several witnesses to previous screenings of L'arrivée d'un train corroborate that this figure was not in the film prior to 1935, but their presence is not made explicit until 1946. That was eleven years wherein this figure (termed “L’homme au chapeau”, or simply “Le Chapeau”, after their distinctive hat) could have been inserted into the film. Who are they? And how did this happen?


There are three prevailing theories: the first was published in 1946 by members of La Société des Anomalies Cinématographiques, and is sometimes called the ‘French Hypothesis’; the second was put forth in 1982 by film historian Hubert Pfenning, or the ‘German Hypothesis’; the final, from 2019, was created by Institute members.


The French Hypothesis



La Société des Anomalies Cinématographiques
was founded in 1941 as an unofficial part of the French Resistance, following the discovery of the film Bergenkreiger(1940), a German fantasy propaganda film that was essentially an unauthorized Conan the Barbarian adaptation. After the slaughter of seventeen Nazi soldiers at its initial screening in Paris, it was stolen by the French projectionist and studied. By 1942, the anomalous copy of Bergenkreiger was destroyed by the same anomalous entity which caused the initial deaths. La Sociétié would term this being, and others like it, cinemanauts.


La Sociétié was around in a reduced capacity after World War II, and several members of it investigated Le Chapeau. They concluded that Le Chapeau was a cinemanaut, someone who had managed to jump from our reality into the film for reasons unknown. They even attempted to attach a name to the face: Gustav Ablin, a student of film who went missing shortly after the establishment of Vichy France. He was in the process of restoring a print of L'arrivée d'un train when the Nazi invasion began, and was said to be highly stressed by the events, before he simply vanished.


The who and why were explained, but not the how. But for the purposes of La Sociétié, this was enough, and was the accepted theory for almost forty years.

The German Hypothesis


Hubert Pfenning (b. 1951) is one of the leading experts on so-called Okkulteskino. Sadly, the most prominence granted by his research has been four appearances on the Nova Network’s Strange Pictures, where he was forced to debate the veracity of the Lassiter Hotel Footage twice.


In 1982, Pfenning managed to obtain a print of Arrival of a Train in which Le Chapeau is absent, dated to 1942, a year after Albin’s disappearance. Travel performed by cinemanauts instantly affects the media they travel into or out of, so this narrowed the timeline in which L'arrivée d'un train could have been affected from over a decade to four years.


He formed a new hypothesis, one that was dismissed as laughable at the time, but gained renewed interest in the mid-2000s: that Le Chapeau was not a French citizen, but a German spy. Specifically, Le Chapeau was Hugo Lorenz, a German cryptographer that had been researching how to encode messages into cinema to spread to Nazi spies in allied territories. Lorenz came to the conclusion that films depicted alternate realities, and that if need be, members of the Nazi party could flee into film as either a temporary or permanent refuge.


Lorenz disappeared following the Liberation of France in 1944, and was last seen purchasing a boater hat from a boutique in Marseille.


But there is a problem with both of these hypotheses that came to light in 2019.


The Institute’s Hypothesis


Neither Gustav Albin nor Hugo Lorenz could possibly be Le Chapeaufor one reason: by the time of Le Chapeau’s appearance in L'arrivée d'un train, both of them were dead.


In 1952, a skeleton was discovered in the river Seine in Paris, just beneath a bridge. It was wearing a pair of pants whose pockets were filled with rocks, and near it was found a small glass jar, still sealed, containing a piece of paper and several film negatives:


The Germans will burn our country to the ground. I cannot bear to live in a France ruled by Hitler. I am sorry, mother. G. Albin, July 1940.



The negatives, when developed, showed Albin spending time with his family in London.


As for Hugo Lorenz, records from the Nazi party itself show that Lorenz died in 1942. He suffocated on fumes from an incinerator where he was burning unusable and damaged film. This was not publicly known until the declassification of Operation Stone Soup in 2019; Stone Soup was an effort by the United States to recruit Nazi filmmakers and propagandists in order to bolster their own anti-communist propaganda during the Cold War, and describes Lorenz’s death as ‘the unfortunate loss of a valuable asset’.


That leaves the question: who is Le Chapeau? The answer can be found by looking elsewhere in the history of not just film, but media itself.


On at least six occasions, screenings of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis have had a scene in which the inventor Rotwang shows Fredersen his Maschinenmensch is interrupted by a man in a boater hat walking through the laboratory. Rotwang and Fredersen stare at the man as he walks past, before the plot resumes its normal course.


Approximately eighty first edition copies of Italo Calvino’s novel If on a winter’s night a traveler contain a passage during one of the second-person sections where the character of Ludmilla is accosted by a man in a dark suit wearing a boater hat; this is not referenced for the rest of the work.


It has been purported that approximately one in every thousand copies of issue fourteen of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman have an inexplicable page-wide spread depicting a man in a dark suit wearing a boater hat; these are not present in any omnibus collection.


The Institute believes that Le Chapeau is not, and was never, a human, and is not any form of cinemanaut. They are an entity which is capable of ‘walking’ through film, literature, art… most forms of media have been visited by Le Chapeau, and it leaves evidence of its presence. We do not know its motives, and there seems to be no discernible pattern of its movements. It is believed to be harmless to humans, but Le Chapeau’s presence may be startling. To date, it is only responsible for a single death.


Jacques Masson, upon seeing Le Chapeau on screen on that fateful night in January, suffered a fatal heart attack. If reports are to be believed, a man with a boater hat was seen at his funeral six days later.

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Kitchen Blitz Pilot (2013)

<< The Anti-Drug Aberration 

Essay by Tristan Marshall, Forbidden Media Investigator

I'm afraid I've been lying to you these past couple of weeks regarding my injury. I figured "pinched nerve from sitting weird" was less embarrassing than the truth of "I was injured during an investigation", for some reason.What I'm going to be talking about today was filmed not 20 miles from my hometown. And now that I'm healed and have some test results back, I'm ready to discuss it.

Kitchen Blitz was the 2013 pilot of a home improvement TV show that was pitched to A&E. As the name might suggest, the show focuses on trying to renovate the kitchen specifically. It makes sense: a house can exist without a TV room, a breakfast nook, a ‘man cave’, etc. But the kitchen is the third-most important room in the house, after the bathroom and bedroom, and it’s also the most complex to maintain. You have to deal with gas lines, electricity, plumbing, waterproofing, managing storage space, dealing with pests, and so much more, so of course some people would find entertainment value in it.

Like a lot of media I deal with, the episode is made up of a bunch of unedited takes from various cameras. I’ve managed to create together a coherent narrative with the help of my colleague ‘Azula’ (pseudonym), who is the editing guru in the Institute; she helped cobble together the Money for Nothing tape. But before we get to the episode, let’s discuss the house itself.

The house it was filmed in-- which still stands to this day, abandoned-- was built in the 1850s. It used to be a farmhouse, before all the land around it was bought up and developed into something that would be called suburbs, if it were closer to a major city. It’s the oldest house on the block, and it’s falling apart. Part of the roof has collapsed on the north side, rendering the attic inaccessible. The debris from that has crushed the carport on the house's north side. The front porch was torn up by the police, exposing the crawlspace beneath. The front door is about three feet off of the "ground" as a result, covered in faded yellow crime scene tape.

Supposedly, you can get anywhere with a clipboard, a tie, and a lot of confidence. The same is true of Institute research, but the props are different. When I went to investigate the house, I wore a set of white nylon coveralls, along with gloves, goggles, and a face mask, with a bag in one hand and a clipboard in the other. To most people, I’ll look like either a CSI tech or someone who’s coming to inspect the house for mold; either of those were welcome sights when it came to this ruin. Properties on either side were put up for sale years ago, and remain vacant.

Negotiating the crawlspace was easy enough; jump down, walk across, crawl under the police tape. There's no condemned notice, for some reason; I think the city considers this a landmark because of how old the house is, so they're reluctant to tear it down, but people don't want to move in because of its history.

On my way in, I left some Institute tech by the door; it's a laser tripwire that goes up at ankle level. It should have sent an alert to my phone if anyone crossed it. That way, I'd have advanced warning if anyone comes in after me.


The kitchen was at the back of the house; between me and that was a lot of rotten carpet and disintegrating floorboards. Thankful for my boots, I stepped across the moist rug, and once I was somewhere dry and stable, I began comparing my observations to the notes I had made on the pilot earlier that day.

Friday, September 9, 2022

The Anti-Drug Abberation

<< A Brief History of Killer Apps

My arm’s still healing from my stupid pinched nerve, so I’m still having someone sub in for me. Today, we have someone who calls themselves Mr. Draper taking over for me, talking about how he first got into this mess through the world of Advertising.

The Anti-Drug Abberation

By Mr. Draper

From the top: none of us use our real names. I especially am not supposed to; despite what Tristan and a few other die-hards want you to think, the Institute isn't a formal organization, but it’s more serious than a hobby. Think of us as a monitoring agency. But a monitoring agency needs capital, and I’m one of the main providers of lucre. Ad money, in this case, and through my job, I have a finger on the pulse of the whole malicious media octopus.

This is a tale from 2006 or so, when I was getting my feet wet in the world of professional ad copy.

#

I’m old enough to remember drinking the D.A.R.E. Kool-Aid back when it was first served in the 80’s, and realized it was bunk after I had my first hit of the Devil’s Lettuce at sixteen-- weed is half the reason I got through college. But me realizing that the biggest anti-drug program in the United States was baseless propaganda didn’t stop me from getting a paycheck from a firm that specialized in anti-drug PSAs, demonizing everything from tobacco to crack to caffeine. I like to call this place Fun Police, Inc.

I got noticed by someone higher up in the firm back in 2004, after I pitched a trio of anti-smoking advertisements that I wrote while smoking three packs a week, themed around how bad it was compared to harder drugs. One was a guy trying to snort cigarettes, advertising that “Nicotine is Ten Times more Addictive than Cocaine”. The second was absolutely disgusting, a photograph of a smoker’s teeth, with the caption reading “Cigarettes are worse for your teeth than Meth”. The third one I wrote got me to quit smoking after I did some research on it-- a lonely guy in a club, apparently trying to inject a cigarette into him while others held a conversation. The slogan? “Heroin addicts have more friends than tobacco smokers”. Read into that what you will.

When it comes to Anti-Drug PSAs, you have to be as blunt and unsubtle as possible, really nail it in that Drugs Are B-A-D Bad, because if the kids viewing it even get a second of critical thinking, they’ll realize that the adderall they take is basically microdosing meth. Blame Reagan, blame Nixon, blame Hearst or Daren the Lion or anyone you want, but the idea that drugs are a bad thing has been baked into American culture for decades, and it’s no less profitable.

Like I said, it was ‘06. I was ready to write ad copy about the harder stuff, but before I or anyone else in my department did that, Fun Police, Inc. wanted to do an exercise to see just what we could do. The staff broke up into teams of two, and drew little pieces of paper out of a hat. The papers had the ‘official’ name of the drug on them, a bunch of street names, and their effects. The catch is that none of these drugs were real, and the effects were really bizarre. One team got a ‘narcotic eyedrop’ called ‘scrundle’ that they had to write copy about, and someone else had to figure out how to make the prospect of smoking horse piss not sound absolutely hilarious.

I got paired up with another guy, name of Luto Frederickson. He was a bit of an oddball, pretty sure he was foreign, always stuttered when he spoke. But he was okay, overall, until this project started; he and I were assigned a drug called Ramaltadone, which was allegedly a prescription drug that was abused by ‘the youth’ (their words, not mine) for its side effects. Intended to treat schizophrenia, Ramaltadone was highly addictive and could actually induce hallucinations in those who didn’t have mental illnesses.

Yes, I know that pharmaceuticals don’t work that way. But the people who wrote the prompt didn’t care. We were a marketing firm, not Pfiezer. We decided to just go with a general ‘prescription drug abuse’ message, but… Luto wanted something more.

“What if,” he asked, “we show them the true horrors of using this drug?”

I just sorta gave him an odd look. “The drug isn’t real. How can we show them the horrors of it?”

And he responded, “How do we show children that dragons are horrifying?” And then he just… set to work sketching something on a sheet of paper, while I started to write some copy up.

I don’t have the original copy, but it went something like this: “Taking drugs without a prescription can be a killer.” And then I wrote, for the image, ‘something like a kid passed out on the floor with pills coming out of his eyes maybe?’. I figured that sounded too horrific, but I showed the concept to Luto, and he just kinda grinned and started sketching away.

By lunch, he had drawn something that resembled what I had in mind pretty closely. It was honestly messed up-- the kid was no more than twelve and he had pills coming not only out of his eyes, but his nose and mouth. For something drawn within a few hours, it was pretty good; not like those photorealistic drawings that take two damn months to make, but a more-than-decent job that you’d expect from an art grad.

The intent was to convey an overdose, but… Luto didn’t seem satisfied. “Doesn’t convey the hallucinations,” he muttered, and then asked, “What’s your favorite color?” We weren’t using colors, just pen and pencil.

“Uh. Purple.”

And then he made a few adjustments to the drawing. He scrawled… something on the shirt the kid was wearing, before he presented the drawing back to me. The shirt was now purple.

I took the paper out of his hand and turned it over, touched it, and even tore a little bit off. The shirt looked, for all the world, like it had been colored in purple with some crude colored pencils, maybe even some crayon mixed in. But he had just scribbled a few lines on it-- lines that I couldn’t see. “What the fuck?”

“Ah! So you can see it. Good. That’ll be the first symptom.” He picked it up and walked to the break room. Then, he clocked out for lunch.

That damn thing was in the break room for the rest of the day, pinned to the corkboard. People tried not to notice it; I think the color weirded them out more than anything. I made some pretty messed-up pitches before, but the drafts were pretty much never in color.

I started getting a headache after I got back from lunch. I was expecting Luto to be there working with me, but… apparently he left to pick up a food order from the lobby of the building, and never came back. This headache started out dull, like the kind you get when you’re in caffeine withdrawal, or dehydrated. I drank some cold coffee and went to work on the draft-- before realizing it was still pinned to the corkboard. My head hurt, but I could at least get a fresh cup while I was getting the draft.

I stopped at the door. The draft wasn’t on the bulletin board. Well, it was, but it was completely different. We didn’t have access to photo-editing stuff in the office, we were literally just there to write ad pitches and do a few sketches. So what the hell was a photograph of a kid with pills coming out of his eyes and mouth doing on the bulletin board, looking like it had just been ripped straight out of a magazine?

I pulled it off the board and showed it to one of the other copywriters; we’ll call her Dee. Dee looked between me and it, confused. She asked if it was one of my ads that got printed. I told her no, that I had drafted it earlier that day, and it now looked like that. I asked her to hold the paper; it didn’t feel like the semi-glossy sheets you get in most magazines. It felt like the same drafting paper we used.

My boss, let’s call him Jay, came over and wondered what the hell I was doing away from my station. Jay, it should be noted, wore glasses; somehow he was the only guy in the office to do so. He looked at the thing we were holding mid-sentence, and backed away from it as if we were Jeffery Dahmer admiring one of his severed heads.

“You okay, Jay?” I asked.

“What the hell is that?” He took off his glasses and rubbed his face, tears in his eyes. “Get it-- get it away from me!”

“Jay, calm down, it’s--” I stopped. Dee was pulling out her reading glasses to see what was wrong. I put my hand on her arm and shook my head. Jay just curled up on the ground.

A few other people came to see what all the hubbub was about. After a while, we just all stood there, transfixed on the ad. I don’t know what everyone else saw, we never talked about it after. But as for me…

The stream of pills coming out of the kid’s face started flowing out of the picture, and onto the floor. I felt the gel capsules gather around my feet, almost slipping on them a few times. It was ever enough to go past my ankles, but I was never on steady footing. It was tolerable, like standing in the middle of a creek without any of the wetness. The whole time, I didn’t question it.

#

I’ve done drugs before, like I’ve said. I honestly don’t think you can write ad copy for anti-drug stuff without trying at least some of the softer stuff like weed or shrooms. The hardest thing I tried was acid.

There are all sorts of cartoonish portrayals of what an acid trip is. You don’t see people’s heads turn into walruses, or see your toenails turn into gnomes, or literal pink elephants, or some guy holding a pie that’s on fire telling you the name of your band is stupid and you should change it.

It’s an altered state of reality, but by and large, it’s still that: reality. You’ll see people’s faces twist into horrible, monstrous expressions, or see the walls move up and down, see the sky turn bizarre colors. But there’s more than the sights; the sounds are intense, too. There’s a reason a lot of the best music of the 60’s was written while on acid. If I’d thought to write down what I heard, and if I could sing worth a damn, I’d have been a rockstar by the time I was twenty-five.

There’s some tactile stuff, one time I thought the couch I was on was trying to eat me because it was burning my skin. The point is, acid trips are weird, but part of you knows that this isn’t real.

With the vision I was having… I didn’t get that. It felt too real, too perfect. I felt like I was staring at some divine-- or else unholy-- work of art that was making me see these visions. And the whole time, I felt like I was being drained of my desires. The company I worked at never did drug tests, so I did a little reefer every now and again. As I was viewing that, I never wanted to do weed again. Hell, I never wanted to take so much as cold medicine again.

Then, there was a shrieking noise straight out of hell itself, and lights flashing all over. Some of us fell on our ass, some of us started crying, and some of us stumbled around, blinded by the light. After a moment, we realized what it was-- the fire alarm.

We got out of there as quick as we could. On our way down the stairwell, someone was going up-- none of us tried to stop them, we were too busy trying to get away from that damn thing on the desk. Everyone got outside okay, but we were all very, very confused.

We’d all gathered around the ad at about 2:00 PM or so. But now? Now it was dark outside. My watch read around 8:00 PM. We’d lost six hours, staring at some weirdo magic advertisement.

Naturally, everything that happened was attributed to a gas leak. We were told to go home and that we’d be compensated for the time we were supposed to work until the issue was fixed. So, I went to the garage where my car was… and I found someone waiting there for me.

They were a lot younger than me, maybe in college. She had a pair of sunglasses on, and the lenses of the glasses had red X’s painted on them, inside a circle, looking like some crosshairs or something. She was blonde, a bit chubby, and wore entirely black clothes. Underneath her right arm was a brown art folio. I’d never seen her before-- and then I realized she'd been the one to push past me to go upstairs.

“Were you paired with Luto Fredrickson?” She asked.

“What?”

She repeated the question.

“No, I heard you, but… why do you care?”

“Mr. Frederickson has gone by several names over the years-- Lewis Newton, Lincoln Nilson, Ludo Neptune, to name a few. We’ve been trying to track him down, but it looks like we’ve lost him again.”

“You a cop? Too young to be a cop.”

She just smiled at me. “I’m a concerned party.” She held up the folio. “We managed to contain his work. Can you describe to me what you saw?”

I don’t know why, but I told her. She pulled out a composition book with a black and white cover and started writing what I said down. By the end of it, I just… kind of started to panic as I described the feeling of the pills around my legs.

“All right.” She closed her book. “I suggest you go home, rest, and maybe try to move past this incident.”

As she walked away, I asked: “What if I don’t wanna?”

She turned around, genuine confusion on her face. She took off her sunglasses.

“Look. You said that Luto or Ludo or whoever, he’s done this before? Somehow? I don’t know what kind of weird voodoo shit there was up there, but I don’t think this is an isolated incident. What else has happened with this?”

She put away her sunglasses. “You’re going down a pretty deep rabbit hole here. Are you sure about that?”

“Yeah.” I swallowed. “Yeah, I’m sure. If there’s more stuff like this out there, I want to make sure it doesn’t reach the public eye.”

She just kind of smiled at me, and reached into the folio, handing me a Polaroid photo. It showed the entire staff standing over Dee’s desk, looking at the ad. I couldn’t see any of it from here, but what I did see was Jay, on the floor-- or rather, halfway in the floor. Something that looked like TV static was dragging him through the carpet. It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen Jay on the way out.

“When did you take this?” I asked. I hadn’t seen her there.

“About twenty minutes after you evacuated the building.” As if it explained her bonkers sentence, she held up an old Polaroid camera that was at her side. “They’ve weaponized the world’s media. We found a way to strike back.”

After that, we went out for drinks, and she gave me the sales pitch. I got invited to their IRC thing, which eventually became their Telegram. Been part of the group ever since.

#

Whatever Luto did, it never stuck for me. I still do weed every now and again. Tried some of the harder stuff after this, but it wrecked my teeth.

We never saw Jay again. In light of all the weird shit that happened with the ‘gas leak’, the company cut back on employees. I managed to stick around. Since then, I've taken over the company,, and we've moved away from anti-drug stuff, especially since everyone and their godmother is pushing for the legalization of weed now. Good.

I’ve run into a few other things over the years. A few completely normal products have had just… goddamn bizarre ads made for them. Just to name a few: several implied cannibalism ads for fast food places, a beer commercial where they suggest garnishing it with a severed finger, and a movie trailer where every character is somehow Elijah Wood. Not played by Elijah Wood, just… Elijah Wood, looking terrified of the aliens around him.

Luto/Ludo/Whoever the Hell he was keeps popping up. Sometimes he’s a musician, sometimes an artist, sometimes a writer. But his works are all messed up. One of our guys in London is still serving a prison sentence for destroying one of his works before it went up at the Tate.

I don’t know much beyond that. I’m the ad guy, and the backer. Other people have the job of finding and stopping this weirdo.
 

Friday, September 2, 2022

A Brief History of Killer Apps (Guest Post)

<< The Maddening Quiet (1962) 

 

Tristan here. Bad news: doctors said I have a pinched ulnar nerve from resting my elbow weird on stuff. Updates are going to slow a bit, but other members of the institute have agreed to do write-ups in my absence.

The first of these is written by Cecily Smith, and talks about various ways your cell phone can kill you. She's reluctant for it to be published and objects to the very concept of this blog, but smashed out something usable in the last week.


A Brief History of Killer Apps

Original Write-Up by Cecily Smith



Let me preface this by saying that you'll have to take my word for it on a lot of stuff here. Smartphone apps generally aren't forwards-compatible, so if you have an app on your phone from five years ago, there's no guarantee it'll work on newer operating systems. This applies to all devices, which means, I have to rely on emulators and testimony regarding their effects… but emulation doesn't replicate the anomalies these applications cause, meaning I'm working on testimony when it comes to these things.

Anyway.

The first-ever application (or ‘app’) put on Apple’s store was a television remote, released in May of 2008. Third-party apps began to be listed on the App Store in June 2008. The first death attributed to a smartphone app occurred on August 25th, 2008. This death was nothing of particular note; some poor soul in London was just bidding on an eBay auction while driving and missed the fact that the light had turned red.

This is a brief run-down of apps that have actively caused harm.

Name: Carpe Diem 

Category: Life Aid/Malware

Released: April 9th, 2009

Last Active: April 9th, 2009

Injuries and Deaths: 20 seizures

Carpe Diem was advertised as a daily planning app. In reality, the app was programmed to, after approximately two minutes of continuous operation, display a ‘screamer’ image with flashing lights and a loud sound, which was intended to cause epileptic seizures. Nobody died, thankfully, and it was pulled from the store before it hit 500 downloads. The App’s creator was arrested and was sentenced to six months in prison; the sentence was so light because legislation regarding computer programs that cause physical harm, as opposed to material or monetary harm, was and is still sparse.

Name: Cointraq

Category: Finance/Malware

Released: July 2017

Last Active: September 2017

Injuries and Deaths: Between 20 and 50 injuries, in addition to an unknown quantity of destroyed property.

Cointraq was a very dumb app. It was a 2017 Android application which advertised itself as a way to monitor various cryptocurrency markets in real time. It was also malware, which turned your smartphone into a crypto mining rig for the app’s creator. This wouldn’t have been a problem (at least, from a medical perspective) if they tried to mine using the CPU of the phone; however, they attempted to use the phone’s far less powerful GPU to mine. Most phones that downloaded it were bricked within a week, and the phones that weren’t bricked overheated, with some even catching fire. I doubt that all of the cases of exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7s are related to Cointraq, but I’m willing to bet at least one is.

The precedent for apps that are harmful, but ultimately mundane, usually follow these trends-- malice, incompetence, critical user error, etc. I could write a whole essay on deaths caused by Pokémon Go, but if the Institute focused on ways that Pokémon was actively harmful, we’d never get anything done.

Anomalously dangerous apps take several forms, but commonly are novelties, or at least look like them. If you have a smartphone, you’re likely at least aware of apps that use your phone’s motion sensor to do things like simulate the pouring of liquids, roll dice, or do other relatively useless actions.


Name: Blut

Category: Digital toy/novelty

Released: 2011

Last Active: 2016

Injuries and Deaths: 52 confirmed; 71 total suspected.

A liquid simulation app that requested access to biometric data (i.e. what your phone’s fitness app could register). Users that granted access were allowed to play with a simulation of liquid blood. Several users poured the blood out of its digital container and suffered catastrophic hemorrhaging, with at least four users suffering complete exsanguination.

Name: Lucre

Category: Financial/Marketplace

Released: 2015

Last Active:
Ongoing

Injuries and Deaths:
89+, including one case of severe chronological alteration.

Lucre is an app dedicated to "creating a consumer-centric marketplace"-- a swap-meet app, where you could buy and sell unwanted items. You'd put something up for sale, ship it off to one of Lucre's warehouses, and when it got bought, you'd get the money. It advertised 'Insanely fast shipping', and it fulfilled its promise… but the creators of Lucre, Gordon Software LLC, cut corners, in the temporal sense.

Items that were shipped using Lucre ended up becoming ‘chronologically altered’ (and not ‘chronologically confused’, despite it being a much better term). Items would arrive before they were even ordered, poofing out of existence after the buyer realized they didn’t want to order them anymore. (The universe is very tidy about paradoxes, when it comes to inorganic items.) Other times, the items would arrive reduced to their base components, whether that be individual circuit boards or shards of plastic and rubber. But two cases bucked this trend.

Firstly: I’ll let this article from the Orlando Sentinel circa 2017 speak for itself.

SEVEN LOCAL RESIDENTS HOSPITALIZED FOLLOWING EXPOSURE TO RADIOACTIVE MATERIALS

ORLANDO-- Seven individuals, all staff at the Green Well Bar and Grill in Orlando, were hospitalized following exposure to radioactive materials.

Clark Karpin, owner of the Green Well, said in a statement that symptoms of radiation sickness occurred after opening an online order from a small ‘swap-meet’ website, and that the order ‘just looked like ordinary equipment for brewing’.

Karpin had recently acquired a license to brew and bottle his own alcohol, and had ordered used brewery equipment from the internet. It is believed radioactive material was packaged with the items. Doctors expect Karpin and his six employees to make full recoveries.

The agents from the Department of Homeland Security are investigating, and declined to comment.

The second case cropped up much more recently; someone ordered an item when the app started up in 2017, and never received it… until March of this year. The contents were supposedly a french press coffee maker, and the owner, a small-time Youtuber, did an unboxing live stream.

When he opened the box, the live stream’s feed seemed to pause, but the video kept recording. As of writing, the stream has been ongoing for over five months, just the same angle of hands looking down at the coffee maker as they pull it out of the box. We’re trying to find out where he lives so that we can get him out of whatever he’s stuck in, because the stream is still going. Light changes through the windows of their house. But they don’t move.

I realize, at best, apps like this are adjacent to the media studies we dedicate ourselves to. They’re software, and mobile games generally don’t kill people. Most lost apps don’t kill people, and most of them don’t even display any anomalies. Lucre and Blut are two major exceptions, but there is a sort of third that’s an Unholy Grail for me-- basically it’s what the Kilauea Recording is for Tristan, something so dangerous it needs to be gone.

Name: N/A (designated ‘Scan’)

Category: Malware/Spyware/Stalkware/Data-Skimmer

Released: 2010 (?)

Last Active: Ongoing

Injuries and Deaths: Unknown, estimated to be over 5,000

I call this app Scan, based on the fact that the main UI element is a green button with that word on it. Pressing that button lets the app root through your phone’s data, everything from Facebook to your contacts, and from there, it extrapolates, searches, expands its net further and further until no data can escape it.

It can tell you what brand of wine your best friend likes. It can tell you what type of car your ex-girlfriend is now driving, and where she’s going to be spending vacation this year. It can track down your high school bully, the one who made your life hell, and tell you what pharmacy he goes to in order to get his antipsychotic prescription filled. And it proceeds to give you nudges in the right-- or wrong-- direction. One use of it and every machine I own started giving me advertisements for gun stores, fertilizer, and electronics manuals.

And it can do all that in less than twenty seconds after pressing the button. It’s like someone made a real-life version of a hacking app from a bad episode of CSI. Scan isn’t dangerous because of what it does; it’s dangerous because of what people are pushed to do with the information it gives them. The chain of bomb threats in Baltimore in late 2014? Connected to Scan. The 2012 assassination of three members of Brazil’s parliament? Scan facilitated that. Three of the dump sites from the “GUTS X6” killings (Tristan will probably write about that at a later date) showed up on Scan months before bodies were found there.

I use Scan myself. It’s useful for keeping tabs on other members of the Institute, making sure that, when we go off the grid, we do so of our own volition. But my main motive with using it is to figure out who made it and how to get rid of it. Digging through the code is fruitless; it looks like complete nonsense, to the point where I think it has to be some custom programming language that I’m unaware of. Part of the purpose of this blog is to try to get knowledge from the outside world; with that in mind, if you know anything about computers at all, get into contact with me, maybe you can figure out what the code actually does.

Until then, keep an eye on your screens. Who knows what they do when you're not watching?

--Cecily Out

The Anti-Drug Abberation >>

Friday, August 26, 2022

The Maddening Quiet (1962)


<< The Kilauea Recording (2006) 

Original Essay by "Tristan Marshall", forbidden media investigator.

 
Gimmick films are a part of cinema that have always fascinated me, and I’m sad that they’ve died out. We’ll always have 3D films, but we’ll never again have anything like William Castle’s The Tingler, whose “Percepto!” used vibrating seats to simulate the crawling of the titular parasite on the backs of the theater-goers as Vincent Price urged the audience to scream. We’ll never have another instance of Psycho’s policy of ‘No Late Admissions’ so that the twist of the film couldn’t be spoiled. I doubt that the new version of Clue that’s been in the works for years will give audiences the ability to choose their own ending. I’d kill for one movie to use Scratch-n-Sniff Cards.

One of the lesser-known gimmick films, something that’s truly considered forbidden cinema, is 1962’s The Maddening Quiet. Like The Tingler, it advertised itself with a gimmick, which called itself “The Silent Scream”; unlike that film, it was sold to theaters as not needing any special equipment to execute its gimmick. Its director, Laurence Forrester, actually took potshots at several of William Castle’s gimmicks in a marketing pitch for the film, saying:

Theaters that screen The Maddening Quiet do not need to distribute napkins with insurance policies written on them, or rig a skeleton to fly over the audience, or create a fire hazard with special seats. Rather, the score of the film, the dialog, shall do that all on itself… a blind man could sit in the theater and still scream in fear at the void upon the screen!


In another pitch, meant for smaller theaters, he says this:

The Maddening Quiet does not rely on cheap rubber suits with high-contrast zippers or makeup that suffocates the actors to deliver on its promise of fear. All of the horror is in the soundscape of the film-- with the help of the great Dr. Ludo Neptune, people will flee from the theater in droves!


On this point, he was a bit optimistic, but ultimately correct-- but something like this wouldn’t happen until twenty years after it was originally released. I watched it, and the following is going to be both a documentation of the plot, and the film’s effects on me.

The worst crime any movie can commit is to be boring, and The Maddening Quiet isn't boring. Like a lot of films at the time, it features themes of transgressive science, hypnotism, and past lives. In it, Dr. Harold Neyman is attempting to bestow hearing upon a woman named Pearl Franklin, who has been deaf since birth, using “past-life regression hypnotherapy’; he reasons that since Pearl is deaf not due to damage to her ears but due to a defect in her brain, the hearing can be restored if she experiences a past life that is capable of hearing.

The session is where we first start to get trippy. The hair on the back of my arms stands up on end as Dr. Neyman walks her through the process, having her read his lips and hold her hand on a clock that ticks very loudly, so she can feel the vibration of it. I have a copy of the script, so I'll just transcribe it when needed:

Dr. Neyman: Pearl, you are going into a deep sleep. When you go to sleep, you will awaken in the body of one of your past lives, one that is capable of hearing. When you awaken, you will bring back the sense of hearing with you, and you will be able to enjoy the world as the rest of us do. When you awaken, you shall once again be Pearl Franklin, with the ability to know what my voice sounds like. You will be Pearl Franklin when you awaken...


After that, the sound cuts out. We go into Pearl's mindscape, and see a woman that looks like her in Victorian-era clothing, who seems to be a singer in a music hall. Even in the black-and-white film, you can see she's very pale. She's singing on stage, but again, it's inaudible... except for a droning sound in the background, like hearing a jet fly overhead when you're half a mile underwater. It's not music, it can't be; the effects of it actually start to make me feel nauseous after about a minute.

Then, the singer collapses, and sound returns. The audience is heard murmuring in confusion, and she looks straight at the camera, saying:

Singer: I shall not go into the quiet. Not like this.


Pearl awakens, startled, with her hands over her ears; the ticking clock's volume is greatly amplified for a few seconds, producing a jumpscare that's enough to get my heart going. She can not only hear, but she can speak, sing, and even has better hearing than the characters who were born with it. How she knows how to speak English when she's never spoken a word in her life is glossed over through the power of reincarnation.

But there’s a problem-- Pearl’s got something following her, which manifests in a scene at a grocer in her small Midwestern town. For years, people have been talking about Pearl behind her back, and she has literally been unable to hear it. One of these is a man named Floyd, who for years has been shooting… ‘compliments’ at her. This is taken verbatim from a copy of the script I have:

Floyd: Pearl’s a name that don’t suit her. I feel like she could be named Kitten. Let her out at night, bring her back in for some nice warm milk in the mornin’...


When Pearl overhears this, and other gems from him, rather than pretend to ignore it and play deaf, she turns on him and gives him both barrels-- or at least, I assume she does.

At this point, all audio cuts out from the film. It cuts between takes of Pearl yelling at Floyd and Floyd looking increasingly distressed. Then, it cuts between Floyd and an image of a gaping black void, while the sound of howling wind plays. Floyd falls dead of a heart attack when Pearl is finished yelling at him.

This was meant to be the first big scare of the film. Up until now, the film had basic B-Movie trappings; here, it does a 180. The whole scene is tough to sit through, even before the scare starts. Not to the degree of something like a Ruggero Deodata film, obviously, but we hear Floyd cat-calling her for over three minutes as the actress grows more and more uncomfortable. Some of the things he says aren’t even in the script; there’s one line he has about ‘buying a hot-dog cart’ that made my skin crawl. And then the void, the titular ‘Maddening Quiet’, hits.

There’s something about the lack of score, the eerie silence. At first you think the audio on your device has failed; in my case, I had to double-check the headphone jack on my computer. Then, as the tension builds in the scene, as Floyd grows more terrified and Pearl grows angrier, you feel like you’re glued to the seat. You feel like you’re standing in between a pair of passing trains, but there’s no wind, no sound; just the feeling of some vast, dangerous presence all around you.

When the Maddening Quiet actually appears, you had better be sitting down. Something about the sudden darkness, and the feeling of vastness, knocks you flat. I made the mistake of standing to check the settings on my monitor, and nearly got a sprained ankle for my trouble.

The Institute was established to study ‘forbidden’ media, but occasionally, we come across something truly supernatural, or ‘cursed’; the Kilauea Recording from last week is a good example of this. I wasn’t sure if the movie was supernatural in nature, or not, at this point.

The film continues with Floyd’s body being carried out on a stretcher. After a short scene with a useless member of the town’s police, Pearl’s boyfriend Nelson comes to pick her up from the grocery store. He’s astounded to learn that Dr. Neyman’s treatment worked, and Pearl runs into his arms, overjoyed that she can hear his voice for the first time. He makes a joke about her no longer needing to read his lips, and she gives as good as she gets, replying with:

Pearl: I could hardly read them before, with how close they were to my eyes!


The film continues with a series of vignettes after this, where Pearl adjusts to a life of hearing. She’s startled to hear a car blaring its horn in the street, has to stop to marvel at birdsong, and is fascinated by a kitten mewling at her. She makes an odd comment when Nelson drops her off outside of her house:

Pearl: Honestly, it was a lot quieter than I thought it would be.

Nelson: What do you mean?

Pearl: The sun’s so big and bright… I expected it to be louder,


This whole time, though… I get a feeling of dread. The car horn sounds like a fuse box shorting out. The birdsong feels like fingernails on a chalkboard, at the volume of a foghorn. My adrenaline spikes when Pearl pets the kitten, and my head whips over my shoulder. And I don’t know why.

I can tell the second big scare is coming when Pearl starts getting agitated at a barking dog owned by her rather nasty neighbor, Mr. Wolfe. I pause the video and take a moment to calm down, doing a bit of research on the film in the meantime.

Contrary to my expectations? It flopped on release. Critics complained of the audio cutting out at big scenes, which... It was meant to do? They said that the film is occupied entirely by a black, silent screen for five minutes around the climax (we’ll get to that in a bit) and they’re left wondering if the projectionist unspooled the film. It was only screened in a few theaters across the country, and in West Virginia, one critic said this:

The Maddening Quiet is a series of money-saving tactics barely supported by a charismatic series of actors-- I would not be surprised if the director ran out of money prior to shooting the climax, and simply cut to a black screen. Perhaps he intended to exposit the surely horrific events that happened to the townsfolk behind the screen, but was too besotted to do so.


Forrester was heartbroken by the reception. This was his first foray into cinema, after he had grown up watching Hammer Horror films. He genuinely thought he could make it, but he never filmed anything again. As for the “Dr. Ludo Neptune” who helped with the sound design... nobody of that name exists, obviously, but he felt so convinced that a horror film could be carried on sound alone, and it flopped. Why?


Back to the film. Mr. Wolfe’s dog keeps barking at her, and Wolfe himself keeps yelling. The Maddening Quiet appears once again, with the sound cutting out. Wolfe clutches his head in pain, and his dog gets down, putting its hands over his ears. Once again, there’s no sound, but the presence of a vastness is there, right by my ears.

Then, a scream breaks the silence. I wrench my headphones from the computer as I stand, startled, and the black void appears. The scene cuts back to Wolfe on the porch, a gibbering mess. Pearl runs back inside and pretends nothing is wrong.

Dr. Neyman comes to check up on her that night, and mentions that Mr. Wolfe had an episode of some form, and was rushed to the hospital. His dog is heard howling in the background, as Neyman gives Pearl an examination. The characters in the scene-- Pearl, her mother, Dr. Neyman and Nelson-- all suddenly react as if a very loud noise has been played. Nothing comes through on my end, thankfully, but Dr. Neyman has to clap his hand to his ear; when it’s pulled away, he finds blood on his palm.

Pearl complains that she feels faint and goes to lie in bed. Dr. Neyman and Pearl’s mother converse as Nelson takes her up to bed.

Dr. Neyman: That noise-- did you hear it, or did you feel it?

Mother: I’m afraid I really can’t say, doctor. I felt like… like I was standing next to a tree that was falling over.

Dr. Neyman: I need to do some more tests on her. Bring her to my office tomorrow, after Church.


Then we come to the Church scene. Pearl at first is afraid to cross into it, stunned by the volume of the organ music within. She explains that she’s used to feeling the music rather than hearing it, and it makes her feel unsteady. Nelson appears and offers to sit next to her and her mother on a pew; it’s implied that Nelson isn’t of the same denomination as them, and that his appearance here is unusual.

The dread I’ve been feeling for the last several scenes has died down, only to start back up when they start singing a hymn. Pearl stands to sing, and all eyes are on her by the time the hymn is finished; the pastor, Father Webb, stares at Pearl like she’s something straight out of hell.

Father Webb: God in heaven, what manner of beast are you?

Pearl: Not a beast, father. The treatment worked! I can hear perfectly.

Father Webb: There is no surgery that can restore your hearing and make you understand me, child. What manner of devilry was committed on you?

Pearl:
Why, Dr. Neyman hypnotized me! It’s an amazing thing, maybe you should--

Father Webb: How do I know you are the same Pearl Franklin that was in here the previous Sunday, and not some foul being using her form to speak?

Mother: Now see hear[sic], Father Webb! My Pearl has been through a lot these last few days, and I shall not have you antagonizing her with your--


And then the audio cuts out again. Everyone around the church looks around, confused. There’s a shot of the organ player resting on the keys, trying to get them to work, and the pipes not producing any music. And like Pearl… I don’t hear the sound, but I feel it.

It’s like an explosion in my head; a deafening blast of nothingness that gives me a headache. For a moment, I’m convinced I’m deaf, blind, maybe even dead; I can’t even hear myself breathing. I can’t feel my arms. Then, it passes, and I’m in my seat, sweating bullets.

Before the Maddening Quiet can appear, Nelson puts his hand on Pearl’s shoulder. Her head snaps to him, and she leans into her boyfriend, crying. All around the church, people glare at her. They make themselves scarce quickly.

A lot of the film repeats this formula until the climax, so I’m going to gloss over them; at this point, I was just unplugging my headphones every time a scare came. About a day after the church Pearl makes an entire street experience the Quiet, causing someone to crash into a storefront. At another point, she’s arrested by that same useless police officer from earlier for breaking curfew with Nelson, and the Quiet causes him to sit stunned in his car, blaring his siren for what is later stated to be three hours, in the hopes that he can hear something again.

The climax takes place in Dr. Neyman’s office; Neyman has become convinced that one of Pearl’s past lives has overtaken her body, and that the Maddening Quiet is Pearl trying to communicate with people to tell them that she’s still alive. This is evidenced by the fact that Pearl, at several points, seems to forget Nelson’s name, despite them being together for several years. So, he aims to try to hypnotize her and drive out the past life possessing her.

But… the Quiet, or Pearl, doesn’t want to go back into the body. There’s a feeling I got when I watched it, that whatever the Quiet was was… happy. It wanted to be out of a body that it considered broken and useless. It had been experiencing sound outside of Pearl’s body, and knew if it was ever driven back in, it would never be able to hear music or birdsong or anything like that ever again. I knew this, but the characters… didn’t. And I have no idea how I knew it.

Dr. Neyman starts his hypnosis. By this point, I’ve taken off my headphones and unplugged them, electing to have subtitles on. But... I’m so unsettled that the five-minute black screen of nothing actually gets to me. I put the headphones back on about halfway through, because I have to know what’s happening.

There… there’s something talking in the darkness. I don’t know what it’s saying, but it’s mad. It doesn’t want to go back into Pearl. The Quiet likes being outside of Pearl. And it would rather tear apart everyone in the room before it becomes Pearl again.

When the darkness fades, all we see is Pearl, in repose. A sheet is draped over her as an inconsolable Nelson sits in the corner. A pair of feet are seen hanging through the doorway from the next room; the coat and pants match Dr. Neyman’s. Nelson gives the closing lines of the film:

Nelson: Maybe it’s better this way. Maybe, now that she’s gone… she’ll be content with the quiet.


An ominous tone plays over the speakers. I remove my headphones; my face is wet, my breath is ragged. I put my fingers to my left ear; there’s a stream of blood trickling from it. I feel like I’m having a panic attack and a migraine at the same time. After a moment I just… kind of passed out in my seat.

Supplemental:

In 1982, as part of a B-Movie Film Festival, a movie theater in western Pennsylvania screened The Maddening Quiet. I won’t name the exact theater beyond that, but it was shown, alongside classics like Them!, and The House on Haunted Hill, and dumpster fires such as The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies. It was screened in a theater of seventy people, most of whom reported being ‘uncomfortable’ during the viewing. One forty-two-year-old woman said that ‘I hadn’t been that scared at a picture since that poor woman got cut down in a shower’.

When the climax, with its five minutes of solid black nothingness, came onto the screen, people began pouring out of the theater. Barely two minutes in, the theater was empty; fearing that a fire had broken out, the manager had the whole building evacuated, spreading further panic among the crowd. In the end, there were twelve people injured in the crush, with one man needing to have a foot amputated from the sheer damage done to it.

After twenty years, Laurence Forrester’s movie had the intended effect. People were fleeing, likely due to the “Silent Scream!” gimmick. But what changed in those twenty years?

Someone in the research community-- our audio specialist ‘Squirrel’-- did some digging into the audio channels of the movie after hearing about my symptoms. Squirrel found that the audio track for the movie contained sounds that were of an inaudible frequency between 16 and 19 hertz-- something called ‘infrasound’. A few studies done into it show that it can cause fear responses in humans, trauma to the ears… it’s been attributed to be the cause of some ghost phenomena (which is... wildly untrue, but that’s a story for another time). The sound couldn’t have been properly broadcast on speakers available in 1962, but by the 1980s, the technology had caught up to the medium.

I wondered how the hell they didn’t account for this, so I did some digging; as it turns out, director Laurence Forrester is still alive, eighty-three years young. I got into contact with his granddaughter, who arranged for communication between us via email exchange. He was flattered that I enjoyed the film despite its somewhat extreme effects, and had this to say when I asked him about who on earth “Ludo Neptune” was.

“Neptune was an audio engineer out of New Jersey. Claimed to work on some parks on the boardwalks. The man could make the most beautiful music with this weird little box of his-- he called it a ‘Magnaphone’. But, like you said, we couldn’t get them to play back on anything other than his own equipment, which he provided for the preview screening he gave us. Even then, the effects on us were nowhere near as bad as they were for you, or any other audience.”


When I asked him where from New Jersey, he responded:

“He said he was from around Cape May. I tried tracking him down back in 1966, but didn't find anything; he’s most likely dead by now, and ‘Ludo Neptune’ isn’t a real name, of course it isn’t. Never found any trace of him.”



A colleague of mine has been investigating a series of anomalies in the Cape May-Wildwoods area of the Jersey Shore; I’ll have him add it to the list as soon as he’s done with his ‘arcade raid’ project.

 Beyond that, I don't have much to report. It's a relatively harmless curiosity, but the film has been out of print since 1992, and there doesn't seem to be much interest in getting a new edition of it out. That said, the film is in the public domain (there was no copyright notice on the film when it was first screened so it fell into PD automatically) and I've heard that there's a copy floating around Youtube somewhere. Seek it out, if you wish.

A Brief History of Killer Apps >>

Friday, August 19, 2022

The Kilauea Recording (2006)

 Original essay by 'Tristan Marshall', forbidden media investigator.

I’m going to splash a content warning up here: if you’re uncomfortable with reading about bad things happening to children, I wouldn’t read on. This gets rough.

Thanks to the likes of The Blair Witch Project, the genre of ‘found footage’ films was all but ubiquitous in the 2000s and early 2010s. You occasionally got a quality piece, such as The Atticus Institute, REC, Trollhunter, or Paranormal Activity, but more often than not you were left with dreck like The Devil Inside, Apollo 18, The Pyramid, and… “Trash Humpers”, a movie that doesn’t deserve proper italics. Some are mistaken for genuine, thanks to the ignorance of the audience or deceptive marketing.

And then we have genuine articles, pieces of forbidden media that are found by some unwitting passerby that document some sort of bizarre event-- or else cause harm to the viewer. You have Lassiter Hotel Footage, the Reykjavik Flare, and the so-called ‘Night March’ recorded in Central China. These have been documented by us, but we don’t feel comfortable releasing information on them at this time.

There’s always one that keeps getting away from us: the Kilauea Recording. Part of the reason I’m putting this up is a plea that somebody can maybe help us find it, because it is dangerous, and is honestly one of the few pieces we’d prefer not to preserve.

The Kilauea Recording, sometimes called the Kilauea Tape, is a thirty-one minute long video stored on a VHS-C tape. As the name might suggest, it was shot at Kilauea, the most active volcano in Hawai’i. Despite the imminent danger of lava that can literally cook you to death, it attracts thousands of tourists every year, as lava flow is largely cordoned off and what is accessible is slow and stable enough that you can be near it with relative safety. There’s probably a few thousand pictures on Instagram of people trying to roast a marshmallow on the lava there or something.

Nobody who’s part of the Institute, or the broader community, knows the full contents of the video, but the context around it is well-known. It’s known to depict an anomalous event occurring near Kilauea in Hawai’i. It was shot by the Sinclair family-- Malcolm Sinclair, along with his sister Matilda, his wife Gwen, and his eight-year-old son Brian. A fifth individual, park ranger Sarah Cameron, is seen throughout the tape, but is largely absent after 00:11:27. It was recorded in 2006 using an unknown model of Sony camcorder.

As the recording starts, we get a shot of the Sinclair family inside the visitor’s center at Kilauea, which is part of the Hawaii Volcano National Park. Matilda is shooting for the majority of what’s safe to view. A shot of the wall shows a clock reading 10:22 AM. They explain that they’re going to scatter the ashes of ‘Grandpa Harold’ in the park, with Malcolm holding up his urn somewhat somberly; this Harold was apparently a volcanologist (or, as Brian adorably puts it, a ‘volcanist’) who studied Kilauea from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Park ranger Sarah Cameron arrives and goes over safety procedures in the park; don’t stray off of marked paths, make sure you can see her at all times, don’t go within a certain distance of any lava flows you see, and if the ground starts shaking, get out of there as fast as you can.

What’s more, Cameron seems to be at least a little familiar with ‘Grandpa Harold’, as she expresses her condolences, saying that she’s more than happy to help put him at rest, and that she ‘owes him for saving her job’.

The first five minutes or so are dedicated to setting out from the visitor’s center, with Brian’s mother demanding he put his toy-- a little well-loved plush dog-- in the car. After being assured there’s water in the car so his plushie won’t get too hot, Brian reluctantly puts the dog away, and is grouchy for a good few minutes, before he gets to see how beautiful it is. Everything is lush and green, but it’s… manicured, is the best way to describe it. Everything is just a bit too orderly for it to be natural. The trail they’re taking is well-worn with trail markers and warning signs, but there’s still enough natural beauty for Brian to genuinely begin enjoying himself.

At about nine minutes, the ground shakes slightly. Cameron goes to find reception for her radio to check what’s going on, and instructs the family to stay put. Brian, being a little kid, immediately goes running off. His mother Gwen follows after, with Matilda more than content to just wait for her to get back. Then, at 00:09:43, a scream is heard, followed by a sickening crunch, and inconsolable sobbing.

Matilda and Brian’s father Malcolm find Brian at the bottom of a drop, his face contorted in pain and covered in tears. His mother’s made his way down to him, and is gingerly touching his leg, causing a shriek of pain. “It’s broken!” She yells. “Call for help!”

Cameron explains she can’t get reception on her radio, and instructs them to wait for assistance as she begins the trek back to the visitor’s center. Following 00:11:27, Cameron is not seen on the recording, until the very end. Brian’s mother begs Matilda to turn off the camera; the recording terminates.

The video picks up what seems to be several hours later; it was morning when they arrived, but the angle of the sun seems to show that it is now mid-day. The camera seems to have been turned on by accident, as none of those on tape acknowledge it being on.
Brian is at the base of the cliff still, being held by his mother, who’s helping him swallow a pain pill. He asks why ‘the lady hasn’t come back yet’, and his mother just lets out an exasperated sigh, looking outwards.

Macolm is heard cursing out a cell phone, and Matilda says to him “Don’t throw the damn thing!”. Further dialog confirms it’s been about four hours since the expedition set out. Malcolm announces he’s going to follow the path back to the visitor’s center, and as he’s searching through the bag for a spare water bottle, he asks: “Where’s the urn?”

There’s commotion as Matilda and Malcolm search through the supplies. The urn was clearly visible on film at the outset, and Matilda picks up the camcorder, presumably to check this. They continue to be ignorant of the camera being on, and an argument breaks out between Brian’s parents, with Brian beginning to cry and beg for his stuffed dog, apparently named ‘Sparky’.

Seeing no better options, they start to set out for the visitor’s center, with Gwen carrying Brian on her back, his arms wrapped around her neck. The path is easy to follow, but after five minutes, they realize they aren’t passing any signposts. They do, however, see a series of figures on the path ahead of them; they’re dark and indistinct, but appear to be wearing something bright red. Brian’s father calls out for help, and all he gets in return is a series of heads turning towards them and tilting in unison.

He approaches them, continuing to ask for help, seemingly ignorant of Matilda’s question-- “Do you smell smoke?”

Following the timestamp of 00:19:13, the recording is unwatchable. I don’t mean that the recording quality degrades or that the data is corrupted. I mean that watching the Kilauea Recording past this point has, to date, resulted in over forty deaths and at least one-hundred severe injuries. All injuries result from exposure to an unknown, extreme heat source; people who have watched for a minute after this point typically suffer from first-degree burns on their retinas. Nobody has survived watching the tape for more than three minutes after this point.

Only recently, with advances in neural networking, have we been able to isolate parts of the recording that are safe to view.

The first, from timestamp 00:20:07, is a series of six frames. These frames show the urn containing Grandpa Harold’s ashes, smashed against rocks, appearing to have been thrown from off-screen. Lava is visible in the background.

The second, timestamp 00:23:55 to 00:24:09, shows an area of dark forest, apparently somehow at night; the neural network that analyzed this video confirms that there have not been any cuts since 00:19:13. An unconscious Brian lying on the ground. His breathing his shallow, and Brian’s mother is begging the filmographer, “Don’t look at his leg, it’ll happen to you too!”

The third, timestamp 00:27:09 to 00:27:25, has the camera largely shooting the ground as the person holding it runs. Their gait is unsteady, as if they are carrying something heavy. A voice, garbled shouts, “There it is!”. The camera swings upwards, showing a tall, indistinct shape, wreathed in frames. Someone screams.

The final shots are from 00:29:03 to the end of the recording. It is morning once more. Four charred bodies are seen in the same area where Brian fell. A team of rangers come onto the scene, stopping in sheer disbelief. Sarah Cameron goes up to the smallest form, inspecting them. She shouts, “Medic!”. A ranger notices the camera and picks it up; the recording ends as we see rangers attempting to treat Brian’s burnt form, as the very act of picking up the camera somehow terminates the recording.

Supplemental:


In April of 2006, park rangers at Kilauea recovered the burnt bodies of three individuals-- Gwen Sinclair, her husband Malcolm, and his sister Matilda. The exact cause of death, beyond ‘injuries sustained from burns’, was never determined. Brian was discovered nearby, covered in third-degree burns but somehow alive. He was life-flighted to a hospital in Hilo, Hawaii where he underwent almost a year of treatment and therapy. He survived, barely.

I attempted to reach out to Brian Sinclair for an interview or even a comment; instead, I received a strongly-worded email from his lawyer. The Law Offices of Schuyler, Baumer and Walker in Omaha, Nebraska informed me that Brian Sinclair is under a conservatorship ‘owing to severe physical disabilities’. Basically, I was very politely told that there was no way in hell I was getting an interview.

I did, however, manage to get in touch with Sarah Cameron, however briefly. She no longer lives in Hawaii, and did not wish me to disclose her location, beyond the fact that the area she is in is also volcanically active.

“Brian didn’t deserve what happened to him. Nobody in his family did. I still stay in touch with him, but it’s hard, seeing his burnt face over a video call, all these years later. Skin grafts can only do so much.”

“I think I know what did this to him, and I’m trying to make sure it never happens again. There’s a way to put out the fire that burned him. I read about how to do it."

She did not elaborate beyond this. 

The camera which created the Kilauea Recording was destroyed, apparently crumbling into ash in the hands of FBI arson investigators. Inexplicably, the tape was in pristine condition, and was digitized for easier viewing. Following a fire at the FBI’s Honolulu office, both the original VHS-C tape and the digitized recording where shipped to the mainland using protocols normally reserved for radioactive material. Its intended destination was in California; however, it somehow was re-routed upon entering the country, heading for a non-existent address in New Jersey.

The data of the Kilauea Recording we have now comes from an upload put on LiveLeak in early 2011, creatively titled “WATCH THIS VIDEO TO DIE AT 19:13”. The video was pulled down by the site’s admins, but not before one of the Institute’s investigators managed to copy it. It was uploaded by the account “wiltedflowers12'', which some of you may recognize as the origin of the infamous “GUTS GUTS GUTS GUTS GUTS GUTS” shock video. What you may not know is that “GUTS X6”, as it is now known, is linked to twenty unsolved murders across the south-western United States.

The Kilauea Recording’s properties persist on copies, as is already evident. And someone is copying it, and attempting to distribute it. Since 2006, forty-seven people have died as a result of exposure to footage present on the Kilauea Recording after 00:19:13; the vast majority of them have been in film processing labs that have obtained copies of the Kilauea Recording meant to be digitized. There’s seemingly no motive behind these attacks, nor any pattern.

The most recent attack was in June of 2021. It destroyed a film processing lab in New York City, where a copy of the tape was sent, along with a request for digitization. The tape itself was pristine, and wisely not watched by NYPD Arson investigators.

Current estimates are that there are at least thirty extant copies of the Kilauea Recording, not counting any online uploads. If you have any information about the Kilauea Recording, please reach out to us. That’s what this blog is for.