Saturday, April 28, 2012

Recipes From the Celtic Crow Meadery!

As some of my long time readers and friends know, Doctor Zombie dabbles in making some mead now and again. Deep in a special annex to my laboratory, in the bowels of the Midnight Theater of Terror, there’s a special room where resides the innocuously named Celtic Crow Meadery. Get it? It's a play on my alter-ego's last name? And I'm Irish/Celtic? Get it?

Anyway, it’s here that I make concoctions and potions that – besides being downright tasty – also give you a wicked buzz.

I love making mead. It’s easy, although you have to be patient. A batch of mead can sometimes sit for 6 months to a year before it tastes good. But, when it is made, it’s wondrous!

Why mead? I’m not sure how I arrived at mead making. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. I imagine part of my decision was because nobody else I know was doing it. I’m, if anything, an iconoclast and revel in being ‘different’. I have always been that way, and this little endeavor was just one more way I could do that. I have friends who brew beer, and I know some people who brew wine; so I had to find something different. I will also admit to really, really liking the idea of making something really old and traditional. That Vikings and Celts loved it and were known for drinking mead from the skull of their enemies was an added bonus! It appealed to the ancient Celt that dwells within my undead soul.

So I started making mead.

This’ll be a short post, but I wanted to share with you my recipes for mead in the hopes that you too can enjoy the wonder of mead. I also wanted to add some historical info because I’m hoping to get a few visitors from my British Literature class at Baldwin Wallace College and they too can share in the simple science and deliciously intoxicating after product that comes from honey, water, and yeast.

I do need to add this legal disclaimer:

The information herein contains details for making homebrewed mead, a fantastically high alcohol content adult beverage. It is for informational purposes only, and not intended to be used by anyone under the age of 21 – no matter how easy it would be to mix a batch of this up. In other words, Doctor Zombie’s overworked and underpaid legal team says, don’t do anything stupid. If you do manage to do something stupid, you agree that this is an entertainment blog and you further agree to hold Doctor Zombie, The Midnight Theater of Terror, and Dr. Z’s undead minions harmless in all respects, free of any liability, and will get Doctor Z.’s back if any SHIT GOES DOWN.

So, with that out of the way, on to the first thing about mead.

Mead was probably discovered by happenstance when someone left some water with fruit and honey in it laying around. Wild yeast got into it, they drank it, and it rocked their world. They then spent several centuries refining the process. The addition of honey was a stroke of brilliance.

History is rife with mentions of mead. Virgil and Plato mentioned it in their writings. It plays a HEAVY role in Beowulf. It’s mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Some famous examples include:

"So his mind turned to hall-building: he handed down orders for men to work on a great mead-hall meant to be a wonder of the world forever; it would be his throne-room and there he would dispense his God-given goods to young and old - but not the common land or people's lives." line 67

"But when dawn broke and day crept in over each empty, blood-spattered bench, the floor of the mead-hall where they had feasted would be slick with slaughter." line 484

... and about a hundred more times.

The Hobbit (J.R.R Tolkien)

"They sat long at the table with their wooden drinking-bowls filled with mead." pg. 126

"At last Gandalf pushed away his plate and jug - he had eaten two whole loaves (with masses of butter and honey and clotted cream) and drunk at least a quart of mead - and he took out his pipe." pg. 129

"Seek the sunlight and the day, Back to pasture back to mead, Where the kine and oxen feed!" pg. 184

The Mabinogian

"If I thought you would not disparage me," said he, "I would sleep while I wait for my repast; and you can entertain one another with relating tales, and can obtain a flagon of mead and some meat from Kai."8

TheTáin Bó Cúalnge

"He shall be recompensed for the loss of his lands and estates, for whosoever has been slain of the Ulstermen, so that it be paid to him as the men of Erin adjudge. Entertainment shall be his at all times in Cruachan; wine and mead shall be poured out for him."
Mead’s been around a long, long time, and there are recipes for it in all sorts of forms.

For example, here’s the recipe for Queen Elizabeth I’s favorite mead (Called ‘Queen’s Metheglin’):

"First, gather a bushel of sweetbriar leaves, and a bushel of thyme, half a bushel of rosemary, and a peck of bay-leaves. Seethe all these (being well washed) in a furnace (not less than 120 gallons) of fair water; let them boil the space of half an hour, or better: and then pour out all the water and herbs into a vat, and let it stand until it be but milk warm: then strain the water from the herbs, and take to every six gallons of water one gallon of the finest honey, and put it into the boorne, and labor it together half an hour: then let it stand two days, stirring it well twice or thrice each day. Then take the liquor and boil it anew: and when it doth seeth, skim it as long as there remaineth any dross. When it is clear, put it into the vat as before, and there let it be cooled. You must then have in readiness a kiv(e) of new ale or beer, which as soon as you have emptied, suddenly whelm it upside down, and set it up again, and presently put in the metheglin, and let it stand three days a-working. And then tun it up in barrels, tying at every taphole (by a pack thread) a little bag of beaten cloves and mace, to the value of an ounce. Such was the mead of good Queen Bess." N.B. "It must stand half a year before it is drunk." (1)

For the record, I imagine this would taste like shit. One gallon of honey to six of water, and all of the savory spices must have made one hell of a sickly sweet, funky mix. Yuck.

For my part, I decided to get into mead brewing the easiest way I could. The following recipe, stolen from the website, is the quickest, easiest way to get started making mead. For about $25 dollars spent at the local Kroger or Giant Eagle, you can have a tasty mead that can be made just about anywhere. It’s crazy stupid how easy this is. Again, the biggest impediment here is your impatience. Believe me when I say that the longer a mead sits, the better it tastes. Be patient, and this recipe will serve you well.

Simple Beginner Mead

  • 1 Gallon Spring Water
  • 3 Pounds honey
  • 1 bag of balloons (I’ll explain in a minute)
  • 1 packet of Fleischman’s Yeast (usually found in the baking aisle)
  • 1 box of raisins
  • 1 orange
  • A six pack of beer to drink while making this. I recommend Hobgoblin by Wychwood Brewery

Pour about half of the water into a clean container then slice up your orange into eighth’s and put the slices, honey, twenty-five raisins, and the yeast into the jug. Pour some water back into the jug so the level is a couple of inches from the top then put the cap on it and shake it up well. If you can, you should shake it for a good five minutes. This will aerate the mixture. The yeast really needs lots of oxygen to grow vigorously.

Now poke a pinhole in the top of the balloon, remove the cap from your jug and put the balloon right over the mouth of the jug. Stretch the open end of the balloon right over the jug so that as the gases form inside the jug they will inflate the balloon. Put a rubber band or tape around the neck to keep it firmly in place -if it feels like it might come off. Leave it out on a counter for the first day so you can monitor it.

Note: The balloon can age and oxidize over time so you should inspect it regularly to make sure it doesn't break down and develop cracks. If it seems like it is breaking down replace it with a new balloon!

Somewhere between an hour and twenty-four hours later the balloon will start to inflate. This is a great sign and it means that your yeast is transforming the contents of the jug into wine. Gases are forming inside the jug and are escaping through the pinhole. This setup insures gases escape but no contaminants get into your brew. If the balloon is getting big you may need to poke another hole or two in it. You don’t want it to burst. It would leave your mead open to contamination. Once you are satisfied that the gases are escaping and the balloon is not under unusual stress you can set the jug in a cool dry place like a kitchen cabinet or closet shelf. Check on it every day if you can just to make sure it is ok and the balloon hasn’t popped off.

After two to three weeks the major portion of the ferment will be done and the balloon will be limp. At this point you can taste a little bit to see how it is coming along but it isn’t really a tasty wine at this point. It will need another couple of months to start to get delicious. Over time, as you check on it you will notice that the cloudiness disappears and it slowly clarifies and transforms into wine.

The orange and the raisins can stay in the mixture for the whole duration but if you want to make the mead a little milder and help it clarify faster you can transfer the liquid into another gallon jug and place the balloon on that one. This would be after the two to three week ferment period has completed. This process is called racking and it will move your mead along nicely. (2)

Believe me, this is a great recipe. My first batch was received wildly by my friends and, as a bonus, it seemed to be slightly carbonated. This made it appeal to both my wine drinking friends, and those of us with a penchant for the bubbly goodness of beer. By the way, one gallon makes 8 wine bottles worth of mead. That’s actually a lot if you think about it.

I was hooked. After that first batch I had to make some more.

I adjusted my recipe to try something a little different. I made two batches this time. I prepared them the same way as above, just changed the recipes. Here are those recipes:

Batch 1 (Celtic Meadery Spiced Metheglin)

  • 1 Gallon Spring Water
  • 3 Pounds honey
  • 1 packet of Fleischman’s Yeast (usually found in the baking aisle)
  • 1 box of raisins
  • 1 orange
  • 4 Cinnamon sticks
  • 4 Vanilla pods
  • Tablespoon of vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • A six pack of beer to drink while making this. I went with Newcastle because Mrs. Zombie went shopping and that was what was on sale. It was cool though. I LOVE Newcastle.

  Same prep as before.

Batch 2 (Celtic Meadery Half Ass Metheglin) 
  •  1 Gallon Spring Water
  • 3 pounds honey
  • 1 packet of Fleischman’s Yeast (usually found in the baking aisle)
  • 1 box of raisins
  • 1 orange
  • 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon Nutmeg
  • 1 apple
  • Still the same Newcastle. Mmmm… Newcastle.

 Same prep as before.

These both came out well, although I really liked the first batch better. Still bubbly too. Interesting!

So, after these first few batched, I decided to go large scale.

I tracked down a 5 gallon glass carboy and a 5 gallon plastic water jug (for a water cooler), and scaled things up. These cost me nothing, so I decided to spend the money I’d saved on bottles and bought a real fermenting airlock. I also decided that I wanted to make something special for Doctor Zombie’s annual Halloween bash. So, I decided I needed to make something unique. To this point I’d been making mostly metheglins, which are spiced mead. I decided to try my hand at a melomel, which is a fruit based mead. I did this for one reason mostly, I wanted something blood red that would look good in a wine glass on Halloween, and that was sweet to boot. So I went with the following recipe. You’ll note that there’s some difference in this one in that it involved actual stove time and boiling and such. It also involved some chemicals used for brewing. I tried to offset that with natural ingredients. I think I struck a nice balance. This is a more advanced mead and, I think it turned out well; however, I also like the cold brew method better. It seems more natural to me and produces a nicer tasting, carbonated mead. This had no carbonation at all.

Batch 3 (Celtic Meadery Raven’s Blood Melomel)

  •  10 lbs. Organic honey bought at the local farmers’ market
  • 1 tbsp. gypsum
  • 4tsp. acid blend
  • 1/4 tsp. Irish Moss
  • 1 1/2 lbs. corn sugar
  • 5 Gallons Spring Water

Boil the above for 15 min. Scrape sides

Add the following fruit just after boiling stops. Crush it well first:

  • 4 pounds variety of fresh organic strawberries, blue raspberries, blackberries, red raspberries

Pull it from the heat and let the brew steep for 20 minutes. This, by the way, will smell HEAVENLY.

Stir every now and then, and then pour into your carboy. The Carboy should already have 3 gallons of cold water in it.

Add 15 grams of champagne yeast when the mix hits 70 to 78 degrees. Warning: Champagne yeast means higher alcohol content. Be warned! Also add 1/2 oz. yeast nutrient.

Let the mix ferment for a two weeks then rack it into a secondary fermenter (and get rid of the gross mashed fruits) and don’t touch it for 3 months. When it is clear, bottle it. It may ferment for a little while longer so watch out for pressure in the bottles.

 Don't forget: Drink a six pack of beer while making it. I went with New Holland Brewing’s Ichabod Pumpkin Ale.

This turned out well, and was blood red. The only problem was I wasn’t patient and started it too soon before Halloween. See where it says "don’t touch it for 3 months!"? Well I waited about 2 months and got into it on Halloween night. The night did not end well for Doctor Zombie. I was very ill. I think it was because it was still fermenting, it had the high content champagne yeast, and I drank quite a bit of Great Lakes Brewery Nosferatu on top of it. I ended the night sick as a dog and throwing up like a college freshman at his first kegger. It was a night that will forever be remembered with shame and a hazy recollection of throwing up into a plastic Halloween pumpkin in my backyard while watching Night of the Living Dead on Doctor Zombie’s outside movie screen.

Learn from the Doctor. Be patient with the mead!

And now, go, make your own. Before you know it, you'll be running around, pillaging villages, and wearing a viking helmet! Don;t say I didnt warn you!

Hopefully you found this helpful. Also, watch for another update soon because I think I’ll be whipping up another batch in the coming months. I also think I might try my hand at some beer brewing. Enjoy, dear faithful reader!


(1) Charles Butler, Beekeeper for Queen Elizabeth I, The Feminine Monarchy (1609)
(2) Storm the Castle Website (

Monday, April 23, 2012

Horror Anime!

 I am, as my regular readers will attest, a geek of epic proportions.

If I'm not driving the wife crazy railing against the inhumanity of George Lucas and the indignity he's done to all that is Star Wars, I'm plumbing the depths of Amazon and for rare copies of classic Dario Argento horror films. If I'm not doing that - I'm planning for the zombie/robot/lepus/Planet of the Apes armageddon, or always looking for additions to my sci-fi and horror t-shirt collection.

I can spend hours arguing the merits of who'd win in a death match - a T-800 or Neo from The Matrix. I live for comics, role playing games, Star Trek, Firefly, and Doctor Who. My taste for horror movies and Halloween in all its form is legendary.

I am - without a doubt - a geek of the first order.

Which means I'm susceptible to all forms of nerdery. Sadly, I've recently gone down the rabbit hole of a new nerd-tastic obsession... and I'm certain the wife is ready to kill me.

You see, in addition to already being an all around sci-fi, fantasy, horror geek ... I've also become an otaku.

What's an otaku, you might be asking?

Otaku is a Japanese word for a person with an obsession with some form of geekery; usually manga, anime, or video games. In Japan, it's a word with charged negative connotation. An otaku in Japan is someone who is so obsessed they never leave the house. It's unhealthy and the sign of mental illness. In the US, however, it just denotes yet another geekish obsession.

For me... I'm now an anime otaku.

You see, I'd had experiences with anime when I was in high school. I had a friend, Armour, who was obsessed with anime. Especially Fist of the North Star. Before that, I grew up like any other kid loving Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets... but my experience with anime was limited to those Saturday afternoon cartoons.

Armour, however, kind of turned me off to them. I can't tell you how many times he'd call me and my friends up - excited about having acquired a new video tape of some obscure fighting or mecha anime - and asking us to come over and watch how fucking kick ass Japanime (what he called it) was. So we'd trudge over because we knew that anime was supposed to be cool, Armour loved it, and he was our buddy. Then we'd inevitably spend an hour and a half watching some poorly copied VHS tape in Japanese with no subtitles.

We had no idea what was going on and it was confusing as hell. Every now and then, someone would scream, kick someone in the head, and there'd be an animated fount of blood, and it would make no sense because we had no context.

Armour'd grin at the carnage, punch whoever was nearest to him, and gush, "Isn't this AWESOME?!?"

It got so that the only way it would make any sort of sense was to get drunk while watching it. It made the screaming Japanese somehow tolerable. I can't think back to those times without remembering the hazy "Aye-Aye-aye-aye-aye!!!" of Kenshiro as his leg blurred and he kicked somebody's ass, and the heavy thick intoxication that came with drinking the better part of a 6 pack of McEwen's Scottish Ale.

So to say my first experience of anime was disappointing is an understatement.

Years later, I saw Akira - and loved it. Of course that was because it was dubbed in English, and made sense. But I never really got into it. Which is funny considering how much of a geek I am otherwise. As an aside, I am something of a Japanophile. I studied aikido, learned some Japanese in college, and even seriously considered going to Japan when I got out of school to teach conversational English to Japanese businessmen. Oh, I also I really love sushi; but the finer points of Japanese culture, though? I had no big interest.

I knew that the Japanese are weirder than the Germans when it comes to their porn. But, in the grand scheme of things; alien tentacle porn is really not much different than schiesse films and lesbian squirt porn. But, outside of Godzilla movies, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune films, and the occasional Takashi Miike J-Horror film... I managed to avoid the anime obsession.

And then I got Netflix.

You see, Netflix has a deal with Funimation - who has the US rights to just about every major anime series out there. And they dropped some of those fuckers on my 'Recommended for Doctor Z.' list.

Dammit if I didn't realize there was Anime horror out there.

And thus began my current obsession.

I've been watching tons and tons of anime for months. I mostly stick with the horror stuff, but have been occasional drawn into some of the other things. I still really don't like mecha anime, or non-supernatural fighting anime... and I can usually tell within the first episode or two whether I'm going to like it. But - the thing is - I've found some great stuff that any horror fan can enjoy and sink their teeth into.

So, sit back, dear undead minions, and let Dr. Zombie recommend some great horror themed anime for your viewing pleasure.

Some terms you might need to know (and for your own erudition!):
Fan Service - Things done to "provide service to fans". It's a pretty complex thing. You might want to click the link and read a little bit. I don't mind fan service, but find it can be distracting - especially the kind which is sexual in nature. I hate the "Gainax Bounce", which is a long, lingering, jiggling shot of a big boobed girl's attributes. There's lesser versions, like scenes of characters in hot springs, or upskirts and panty shots, or 'accidental exposure' of a characters breasts. It's mostly a Japanese thing, and US versions of anime will tone it down some - for good reason. In many cases, the characters are high school aged and that shit's just not cool in the US. Japanese men are werid, dude.
Harem - Harem anime is a genre of anime where a main male character is surrounded by 3 or 4 women who all love him - and the hijinks that ensue. Since there's no actual romantic resolution in anime (again, something we as Americans desperately need, yet the Japanese don't care about), this can be frustrating. Something else to consider; there is a persistent and undisguised sexism to mainstream anime. One can probably get past this if they are open minded about cultural differences, but it is still there. Bear that in mind...
Click here for other terms that might be interesting to know

So, on to the list.

Number 6 - This Ugly Yet Beautiful World

In This Ugly Yet Beautiful World, the two main characters, Ryou and Takeru follow a light into a forest and discover a beautiful and mysterious girl, who they name Hikari and take into their care. Soon after discovering her, Takeru and Hikari are attacked by a monster and Takeru transforms into a creature to protect Hikari. Later, Ryou finds another girl, Akari - Hikari's little sister - and the pair, along with several other friends make the girls part of their lives -- only to discover that Hikari is keeping a dark secret that puts the world at risk.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) I give it a solid middle of the road 3. It's much more interested in story development, but the monsters are really cool and the suspense and horror are pretty decent. This is a great anime for story alone. The characters are well developed, although there is quite a bit of fan service. Also, I might find the portrayal of the American scientist Jennifer Portman insuilting if I cared about those sort of things.

Number 5 - Shikabane Hime (Corpse Princess) 

In the world of Corpse Princess, people who die violently become shikibane, or living corpses. The shikibane are either contracted to a Buddhist sect called the Kougan sect which lets them stay human, or they become crazed, twisted, mutant zombies that kill everything they can. To get to heaven and be released from their living deadness, the Shikibane must kill 108 fellow, uncontracted shikibane.

The main character - Makina, is contracted to Keisei Tagame and she's badass. She hunts and kills shikibane with a bad attitude and a pair of twin Uzis. Unfortunately, her Kougan monk - Keisei  - dies and he passes her contract to his unsuspecting younger brother. Ouri. Ouri must win over the cold killer, Makina, and convince her he can help her reach heaven.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) Very high 4. The monsters and tentacles alone make it worth the price of admission. This is really a well put together anime that is deeply rooted in the horror genre. The shikibane are monstrous and terrifying, the character of Makina is dark, and it is really almost a non-stop horror show. Very recommended!

Number 4 - Rosario + Vampire

Normal teenager, Tsukune Aono, gets accepted to a mysterious high school when he fails to get into several others. Unknown to him, he has been accepted to Yokai Academy, a school for monsters and supernatural beings. He also learns that, if anybody finds out he's human, he'll undoubtedly be eaten and/or killed.

On his first day, he meets a beautiful girl, Moka, who is a true vampire - one of the most powerful creatures at the academy. Her true form is hidden by a magical rosary around her neck that makes her look and act like a normal - but beautiful girl. Over the course of the series, Tskukune gets into trouble, accidentally removes Moka's rosary, and she has to kick somebody's ass to protect him. He also meets and befriends Kurumu, a succubus; Ginei, a perverted werewolf who likes to spy on girls; Yukuri, a pre-pubescent witch; Mizore, a snow creature; and Ruby, an adult witch.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!)  Without a doubt, 5. Although there's a lot of the anime tropes of fighting, the main character is attending a school of monsters! Moka, by the way, is hot as her full grown vampire true self, and it has decidedly horror elements that can't be denied. Granted, this is very, very much a harem genre anime... it isn't that bad. In fact, the romantic elements are resolved nicely and it doesn't offend our American desire to see the hero get the girl in the end. Definitely check it out.

Number 3 - Soul Eater

Soul Eater is for a younger audience then the others I've talked about so far. So, in that respect, there's very little - if any sexual fan service (with the exception of the first episode - which is light to begin with). Soul Eater occurs at the Death Meister Weapon Academy and follows the exploits of a team of demon hunters that consist of a human Weapon Meister and a Weapon. WeaponMeisters wield Weapons, and Weapons are humans with the magical ability to turn into weapons wielded by the Death Meister.

Death Meister teams must kill 99 demons and 1 witch in order to become Death Meisters and Death Scythes who serve Lord Death. the main characters, Maka and her scythe, Soul Eater are befriended by fellow academy students Black Star and Tsubaki, and Death the Kid (Death's son) and his two pistol weapons - Patty and Liz. Together they must defeat several supernatural enemies on their path to becoming the best in their class.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) 5. Although it's not as dark as some of the others on the list, the artwork and animation in Soul Eater is absolutely stunning! And the scenery is filled with jack-o-lanterns, witches, dungeons, Frankenstein (as a professor!)and all manner of creepy Halloween-y imagery. In other words, just the sort of stuff that Dr. Z. absolutely loves!!!  And, although it light on the fan service, it has some really deep, dark story points that would make any horror fan smile with a bloodstained grin.  

Number 2 - High School of the Dead

High School of the Dead gets some crap because it's pretty one dimensional storywise. It also has a crazy amount of fan service in the way of Gainex Bounce and gratuitous panty upskirts. But, those detractors who decrfy it are missing one essential point. It's an anime about the zombie apocalypse! The artwork is gorgeous, the zombies are the classic, shambling Romero-esque type we all know and love. There's blood, gore, and danger. In other words -- it's a perfect way to scratch your zombie itch (just not too hard... that's how rotted bits fall OFF!)

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) Undeniably a 5. The highest 5 possible. The main characters try to survive the zombie apocalypse and come to terms with how much their lives have changed. There's incredibly rich emotional depth to the characters and their plight and ... did I mention... there's tons of frakking zombies and beautiful anime blood!?! In a word, Doctor Zombie finds it fucking awesome!

Number 1 - Elfen Lied

Elfen Lied is, well it's sort of... you see... it...


Elfen Lied is something incredible. And that's the problem. Elfen Lied was one of the first horror anime I watched when this whole strange obsession started and every other one I see after this is held up to Elfen Lied as a benchmark. Unfortunately, nothing I've seen yet can match it. I've been chasing the dragon to try and find something as good, as poignant, as emotionally powerful as Elfen Lied; and I continue to be disappointed.

Elfen Lied is gratuitously gory. It is rife with nudity. It speaks frankly about topics like animal abuse, child abuse (both physical and sexual), and the horror of humanity. The thing is, these things only make the story more poignant and visceral.

Elfen Lied tells the story of Lucy - a mutant known as a Diclonius. Diclonius have invisible arms that they can control with their minds. They also are evil, sociopathic, and hate humanity. Lucy escapes a lab where she's been abused and experimented on by the government and is shot in the head during her escape. This injury forces her Diclonius nature into her subconscious and gives her another personality entirely. She becomes Nyuu, a childlike innocent who is taken in by cousins, Kohta and Yuka. As they come to love her, and she them, the government continues to hunt her and Lucy is there.., stirring evilly below the surface.

Horror Level (Scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being AWESOME!) 5? 10? 200? Hey, it's my scale, I can disregard it if I want! I can't begin to explain how absolutely fantastic Elfen Lied is. It is horrifying, it's moving, it's the sort of story that sticks with you for days afterwards. It's life-changing.

Look at it this way. When I watched it, it made me cry.

That's right. This cartoon, this animated story... made the cold, heartless, undead Doctor Zombie cry. The horror, comingled with the poignancy of a heartbreaking story, awere enough to overcome even my hardened emotional defenses. I added the theme to my iPod.

Life changing, man. Life changing.

Please. If you love horror, if you see nothing from this list, do yourself a favor and please see Elfen Lied.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Dark Tale of Casinos, Elliot Ness, and the 1930's

Some big news for Clevelanders; next month, after a long wait – the Horseshoe Casino is opening right here in fabulous downtown Cleveland. Truthfully, I’ve been really looking forward to it because it’ll be a great place to visit and – despite everything the morally outraged naysayers would have you believe – it is a good thing for Cleveland. It’ll bring money in, it’ll keep money here (that would have otherwise gone to Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Ontario), and it will continue to provide downtown the long coming renaissance it so desperately needs to avoid becoming Detroit.

My first thought was to list some great gambling movies . Even from a non-genre standpoint, I love a good gambling movie in general, but there are few and far between examples in the horror/sci-fi/ nerd genre where I live. That’s not to say a few didn’t come to mind.

Take for example Howard Hawks’ brilliant 1951 classic, The Thing from Another World. I mean, if you’re stranded at the North Pole at a remote military outpost… you’re going to play some poker… you know?

Or we could talk about the Charles Band/Full Moon film – Dead Man’s Hand: Casino of the Damned. For the record – I’ve never seen it and found it through a cursory Google search; but I absolutely love Full Moon Video. Michael Berryman and Sid Haig make it a must see! Back in college, they were a go to horror movie night. Puppetmaster, Meridian, Pit and the Pendulum, Demonic Toys? That’s some awesome stuff there!

The thing is, I decided to steer away from movies and indulge another of my loves (something I do rarely enough on this blog, dear undead reader) – and talk about Macabre History!

I’ve done it in the past (my visit to the Night of the Living Dead cemetery in Evansville PA, my visit to the Monroeville Mall where they filmed Dawn of the Dead, or even my relating of my close personal tie to the local Lundgren killings in nearby Kirtland OH), but I don’t do it enough.

With that said, I wanted to write an article about the heyday of gambling here in Ohio, now that the second wave is arriving with the building and opening of the Cleveland Horseshoe Casino. I’m of course talking about the roaring times after Prohibition and the seedy underbelly of Cleveland’s dark past.

That’s right, in the shadow of the new casino and unknown to many of the tourists who’ll flock here, Cleveland had its very own serial killer back in the 1930’s. And our serial killer was a twisted bastard alng the lines of Jack the Ripper, or Ed Gein, or even H. H. Holmes.

Between 1935 and 1938, a deranged killer stalked the streets of Cleveland, a madman with a taste for dismemberment, medical experimentation, and brazen trophy taking.

I’m, of course, talking about the Torso Murderer.

Sit down, my grotesque kiddies, for Doctor Zombie is about to relate a tale of terror!

A few blocks south of the current site of the Horseshoe Casino, there is an old riverbed calls Kingsbury Run. Today, it’s a part of the sewer and overflow system and most of it looks like the LA River in that it’s been turned into concrete. It also follows the tracks of the main railroad artery through Cleveland.

The Kingsbury Run begins at roughly E. 90th St and Woodland near the Cleveland Clinic. The old run’s course runs towards downtown, bounded on the North by Woodland and on the South by Broadway, where it passes a few blocks south of the new Casino, and empties into the Cuyahoga River in the heart of the Flats.

Today, it’s a desolate wasteland in the heart of Cleveland’s decayed urban wasteland, but back in the early twentieth century it was a dark, dimly lit, tree lined valley that was the home of shantytowns, brothels, gambling parlors, and cheap penny saloons that served the working poor of Cleveland. It was home to hobos and those dispossessed by the Great Depression. It was like a black, clogged artery in the chest of a corpse and a place of ill repute and squalor… And it was the stalking ground of a killer unlike any seen in Cleveland before.

The Torso Murderer, as he became known, was also known as the Kingsbury Run Butcher because many of his victims were found within the Run, but he made all of Cleveland his personal slay ground. The first body was found in September of 1934 in the waters of Lake Erie near Euclid Beach. The first unknown victim, known locally as ‘The Lady of the Lake’, was only a well preserved torso found bobbing in the brown lake water. The body (what little there was of it) was preserved in some kind of chemical that retarded decay and gave the skin an eerie, red, leathery cast.

In September 1935, at the base of the humorously named Jackass Hill near East 49th St where it overlooks Kingsbury Run, two local boys found another victim. This body was of a male who’d been decapitated and emasculated. Fortunately, the killer left the victim’s hands and fingerprints identified him as Edward Andrassy. While they were recovering the body, the Cleveland Police Department found yet another body nearby – preserved by the same weird chemical.

Andrassy was a known homosexual who haunted the bars and gambling halls of the Run, and it stands to reason that he met his killer there.

In January of 1936, near the corner of East 20th Street and St.Clair Road, a local woman was walking to the market when she found half of a woman’s body packed neatly in two bushel baskets. Over the course of a few days, the rest of her was found in a vacant lot a few blocks away – everything, that is, but her head. This woman was identified by fingerprints as a Florence Polillo, a bar maid and prostitute who frequented and plied her dubious trade in the Kingsbury Run,

During the heat of June 5th, 1936, another human head was discovered near the E. 55th Street Bridge where it crosses the Kingsbury Run. The victim, it was determined, had been alive when his head was removed. The next day, the rest of the unknown man’s body was discovered by police investigators near the doorstep of the nearby railroad police station. Although he had several distinct tattoos, and a death mask was made, he remains unidentified to this day. Given where the body was found, was the killer taunting his pursuers?

On July 22nd of the same year, across the river in Brooklyn – near Big Creek – another headless victim was found. This was strange because, although the body – like previous victims – showed that the poor hapless soul was dismembered while still alive, the victim was the only one found on the West Side. His clothes, copious amounts of blood, and his head were found nearby; indicating he was killed at the discovery site some two months previously.

Like the previous victims, autopsy revealed that the heads had been removed with one powerful strike of a large cutting instrument – while the victim was still alive. At this point, the public was in a panic. So, the mayor called in a celebrity to handle the investigation. Enter Elliot Ness.

Yes, THAT Elliot Ness. After making a name for himself as the head of the Chicago task force nicknamed ‘The Untouchables’, and being the man responsible for bringing down Al Capone, Elliot Ness came to Cleveland and took on the job of Public Safety Director. Unfortunately, Ness’ star would prove to be tarnished by the Torso Murder case.

The summer led to the fall and, on September 10th, 1936, a hobo was trying to hop a train near East 37th Street in Kingsbury Run (where I-77 crosses Kingsbury Run today) and tripped over yet another torso. No other body parts were found. In February of the next year, another woman’s body was found in near the same spot near Bratenahl and Euclid Beach as the ‘Lady in the Lake’. The body’s mutilations had so many similarities; it had to be the same killer.

July 6th, 1937 - A boy finds a skull in a bag beneath the Lorain Carnegie Bridge. Nearby was discovered the remains of a petite black woman later ID’d as Rose Wallace. Again, no head, but it also showed that the killer was an equal opportunity madman, because this would be the Torso Murderers only black victim.

July 6th, 1937. A torso is pulled out of the Cuyahoga River in the Flats near where the Kingsbury Run emptied it’s noxious effluvia into the river famous for – in the 1970’s – catching fire because of all the industrial pollutants in it. No head was ever found, but it looked as though Torso had upped his vicious game. The torso showed signs of having the heart ripped out and the victim being gutted.

April 8th, 1938 - The Cuyahoga gives up another victim – a leg of woman and nothing else. Interestingly, toxicology revealed the woman had drugs in her system. Was Torso drugging his victims like Cleveland’s second most popular serial killer – Anthony Sowell?

Finally – on August 16th of 1938 – two more victims were found at the dump at the end of East 9th Street. Today, this site is the home of the Cleveland Port, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Cleveland Browns Stadium. Back in the 30’s though – it was a dump that, like the Run, was home to a shantytown and similar squalor. Three scrap collectors found a woman’s torso wrapped in a blanket. A search of the dump found her head, as well as the torso and decapitated head of another male victim. Like the previous victims, they were never identified.

What was interesting about the victims at the dump was that they were placed and positioned in such a way that they would have been visible from Elliot Ness’ office in city hall. Again, the killer was brazenly taunting the authorities.

On August 18th, Elliot Ness had had enough. He swooped into the Kingsbury Run and arrested 63 men and burned the Shantytown down. Criticized for his zealousness by the local press, it did seem to stop the killer.

A man was arrested in the murder of Flo Polillo – a Bohemian brick layer named Frank Dolezal. It was discovered that he knew Edward Andrassy and Rose Wallace, and he confessed to the murders… but he recanted and died in police custody. An autopsy revealed that he had been beaten severely and it is generally believed his confession was coerced.

Nobody knows what happened to the Torso Murderer. Recent theories have shown that he may have worked for the railroads and subsequent research has shown similar murders at the same time and along the same railways that ran through the Kingsbury Run and into Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Elliot Ness himself thought he knew who the murderer was, but he never divulged who it was. It is interesting to note that the suspect spent years taunting and sending letters to Ness –which would fit the brazenness and hubris of the Torso murderer.

Torso also was Ness’ biggest failure. He never recovered the glamor and reputation he’d once had. After an unsuccessful run for Cleveland mayor, he died in Cleveland and is buried in Lake View Cemetery, never having caught his man.

Ohio’s a weird place, dear reader. It’s said that more serial killers come from Ohio than any other state. We had Jeffrey Dahmer, who grew up about 30 miles down the Cuyahoga River in Bath, Ohio. I’ve already mentioned Anthony Sowell who killed women on Cleveland’s East Side - and within walking distance to the former haunts of Torso – and even Charles Manson was born and raised here.

My advice? Don’t drink the water, friend.

And so that brings us back around to Dan Gilbert’s baby, the Horseshoe Casino. Cleveland was a thriving prohibition era magnet. Many of our downtown buildings hid speakeasies and gaming parlors fueled by Canadian whisky that was brought from Canada which lies a mere 30 miles north across the Lake

Hopefully, new visitors will come, spend money, and learn to appreciate the unique Midwestern appeal of our fair city. Cleveland has a rich, storied history. And that history is no darker than any other cities, but we are experiencing a renaissance and maybe the Horseshoe Casino will bring some much needed change that – while not erasing the past – will add to the history. I for one am looking forward to spending some time at the Horseshoe’s restaurant and pub, The Tilted Kilt, and have been polishing up my black jack skills and playing a ton of other casino games.

You should too!

For more information on the Torso Murderer, make sure you check out and/or visit the Cleveland Police Museum.