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Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

"The Incubus Files"

"The Incubus Files" was a improv Halloween performance put on during October 2002 in Austin, Texas. For whatever reason, I thought about it the other night. Quite simply, it was one of the most chilling theatrical experiences of my life. While it was supposed to be lighthearted Halloween fun, the fact that it dealt with real life horrors such as the murders supposedly committed by Lizzy Borden, as well as the impossibly dark visions of Aldolf Hitler, made it something else.

Before I go any further, you have to realize that Cheryl (my best friend while I lived in Austin) and I were always up for strange, unique theatrical or musical performances. While Andy was usually willing to go along, he thought that this just seemed a little too off-beat for him. Indeed, there are some very good reasons why "Keep Austin Weird" is a popular movement there (and the off-beat gives the city a lot of its appeal).

Well, "The Incubus Files" was held in an old warehouse in a relatively seemy part of Austin. Actually, the setting was perfect. The premise of the show was that certain items from horrific crimes in the 19th and 20th centuries hold a certain fascination with the public. The question remains whether the objects held power over the killers or whether the killers imposed their will on the objects. For example, the entire building was set up as a "museum" to showcase items such as Hitler's pillow and Lizzy Borden's ax (there were several others as well, but those were the most famous). In other words, it was a shrine to the macabre.

The warehouse and audience was divided into three or four different "rooms" or "scenes." Each room contained a different macabre item showcased in an elaborate set. Actors would then come and tell various tales surrounding the items and interact with the audience. The actual show depended on the audience, and if one were so inclined, he or she would have had a different experience each time they saw the show. In order to keep audiences and actors moving along, a chilling buzzer would sound. Audiences would then move on to the next horror.

Actually, the fact that the horrors touched upon in "The Incubus Files" were real, along with the creepy buzzer, was what truly terrified me. In fact, the buzzer reminded me of a strange experience I had in a hostel in the Costa del Sol, Spain (after my experiences studying abroad, the movie "Hostel" particularly disturbed me; it simply made me realize just how easily it could happen). In the end, Cheryl and I spent an evening getting downright scared.

True lovers of the macabre, Cheryl and I went on a "ghost tour" of Austin during the fall of 2004 (after I moved to Houston in 2004, I visited her one weekend in Austin, and she then came to visit me in Houston one weekend). It was pretty predictable and not very scary, but there are a few things that stand out from that night. First of all, the tour was tied up with an exhibit on the supernatural at the downtown arts center. The exhibit was actually much better than the "ghost tour." In fact, there was a tribute to those who died on September 11, 2001 that I will never forget. It was titled "September 12, 2001." It started out with a moving panel showing a busy, lively New York street scene with many, many people. Then, it changes and the panel then just shows shadows of the people who were in the original piece. The implication was that New York City had thousands of new ghosts on September 12, 2001. It was moving and chilling all at the same time.

In addition, there were personal testimonies of paranormal. One of the most chilling was an audio recording of someone telling of their experience of seeing a ghost van (as in a van similar to that used in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"). Supposedly "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was filmed in north Austin (north Austin is actually now a mecca for those wishing to make low-budget films). According to the audio recording, the ghost van was seen on what is now a relatively well-traveled north Austin road. At the time, there wasn't much development there at all (late 70s, early 80s). For whatever reason, the telling of this tale was incredibly terrifying. I happened to know the exact area he was talking about. That fact, along with my all too active imagination, sent chills down my spine.

It is true that you can find horror, terror, and ghosts in any city, but for whatever reason, Austin has more than its share (not to mention Texas itself). The history of Texas and Austin (as well as San Antonio) are passionate and filled with hope, despair, and reinvention. Every group that has claimed Texas as its own has left an indelible mark on its history and culture.


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