Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc is a forced to be reckoned with. Her eerie tales of horror and rapid rise to underground fame has cemented her within the worldwide horror community. After swearing to never write again, the Borders best-selling author of The Two and award-winner A Man of Two Worlds has returned, this time delving into the spiritual and paranormal aspect of horror. And while ghosts are not usually thought of within the body horror trope, spiritual entities that manifest without a physical body is a sub-culture within body horror itself.
Andrea believes the intangible aspect is what sets it apart from any other manifestations of horror. “No one really knows what happens when we die,” says Andrea. “All we can do is guess. Are the stories about unfinished business, true? What about the desire to not leave? Or, in the case of my father, the dead have a message to deliver? This is what intrigues, terrifies and consumes us…the not being sure.”
The idea of the paranormal becomes body horror because it involves a ‘fundamental violation of what we know about matter and energy.’ It fully elucidates the implications and applications of paranormal assumptions. Indeed, ‘the belief that possessing a rabbit’s foot will help you win the lottery violates what we know about matter and energy. Nothing about the chemistry and physics of a disembodied and dried piece of mammal anatomy should affect the random selection of winning lottery tickets thousands of miles away. If this could happen, then why not assume that lines in the disembodied foot say something about your personality and future? Or that the foot possesses an energy that can cure warts? Or that the foot is indeed conscious and wants you to win the lottery and be wart-free? Or that the dead foot possesses the ghost of the recently deceased rabbit, a reincarnation of an ancient sage who is now your guardian angel and who wants you to be healthy, wart free, and rich? All of these are equally improbable. All violate what we know about the properties of matter and energy.” (Smith, 2002)
It is this violation that turns ghosts and spirits into body horror. Ghosts, spectres, or spirits have existed indefinitely. In horror cinema, they are usually represented as the souls of dead people which, for whatever reason (unfinished business and revenge are the most common reasons) do not go to the hereafter but stay on earth, within an intangible body, haunting people. Popular paranormal movies include ‘Poltergeist’ (1982) ‘The Frighteners’ (1996), ‘Ju-On’ (2002), and ‘Mama’ (2013). Paranormal activity has always intrigued filmmakers, more so because of the lack of physical form that can harm human beings. Andrea says she still lives in a haunted house and experiences ‘weird things,’ however, she’s always communicated, in some form or other, with the dead.
“My entire life has been spent involved in the paranormal,” says Andrea, “and I didn’t even realise there was such a thing until I became an adult. My entire family has always had odd tales and strange happenings to report, so, I never understood the hubbub surrounding ghosties and ghoulies. But people sure love them, don’t they? And there’s a reason for that… because it is actually possible.”
It is precisely this intrigue that keeps people questioning the supernatural aspect of death. Nature has a very efficient way of breaking down corpses and transferring them into the afterlife. After the human body dies, and the heart stops, cells are deprived of oxygen and rapidly begin to die. Decomposing starts almost immediately, with the skin going through several changes in colour as the blood stops circulating leaving the body an ashen colour. Death, in itself, is the ultimate form of body horror, however, Andrea believes the frightening and more interesting aspect is what happens afterwards.
“Just think about it. Unless the freshly dead get up off autopsy tables, the dead coming back to life (while majorly cool) just isn’t possible. Skeletons can’t walk around. Wasted muscle serves no purpose, so rotting corpses can’t come after you either. But…That noise you heard in the basement. What was it? That cold spot on the stairwell, the one the dog won’t go near, or stands, hackles up, barking, at nothing. My cat, Buddha, used to intently watch, something in my house, something only he could see, while my Familiar, Pooty, used to go tearing off up the walls after that same, something. The movies that have been filmed in my house and the strange events surrounding them, those weren’t imagined either.”
The idea of an intangible form that exists within in the physical world is endlessly fascinating. Indeed, the communication between the tangible and intangible is most interesting of all.
“My father started communication with me, later on, the day he died,” says Andrea. “I was driving to my parent’s home, I was taking the back roads like I always do, out in the middle of nowhere, miles from anything resembling real civilization and here comes a hearse, passing me, going in the opposite direction. No funeral homes around, no cemeteries, yet here is a hearse. I grew up in a very superstitious family. Hearses traveling the opposite direction from you, are very good luck. So, I smiled, said, “Thanks for letting me know you’re okay, daddy,” and continued on my 2 ½ hour trip. My dad knew I’d understand a message like that.
“As my youngest Aunt puts it, I know how to ‘read the signs.’ My father visited my youngest nephew too…at the funeral home. As it was told to me, my nephew (who was about three, at the time) was jabbering up a storm to…nothing. So, my sister in law asked him who he was talking to, where he promptly replied, ‘Pops.’ My sister in law was taken aback, at the very least, so she questioned him further, where my nephew, once again, as nonchalantly as if asking for a snack, pointed at nothing and said, ‘Don’t you see that light? That’s Pops. He told me he’s okay and not to worry about him.’ Which is precisely what my father would have said.
“Some people have recoiled at my account of my dad’s communication with my nephew. Others have been fascinated. I believe it’s this hope, that we do go on, that there is something more out there, that frightens and intrigues us.”
Communication between the living and dead has been documented for centuries, “however, the paranormal is frustratingly elusive. The more than sixty years of reported UFO encounters have still not produced conclusive evidence of extra-terrestrials. Purported films, hair samples, photos, footprint casts, and eyewitness reports have failed to convince scientists that the woods are home to a giant ape. [And] ghosts remain as mysterious as ever, despite tales as old as the written word.” (Bader, Mencken and Baker, 2010) However, it is this mystery that makes the paranormal more interesting.
“Many people discount the paranormal,” says Andrea, “[and] that’s fine. Hollywood has done a great job of making a laughing stock out of anything, otherworldly, with silly movies based on highly unlikely events. But, for those of us who have always lived just outside of the light, we know what to look for, what to ignore…and we certainly know what we’ve seen.”
Body horror is not just blood and guts. It’s not just severed limbs or infectious diseases. Indeed, it exists outside of the physical body, within an intangible world. Additionally, supernatural body horror constantly questions the natural world. While ‘more aspects of the natural world are brought into question, with greater diversity…supernatural beliefs are often organised into an abstract conceptual system, itself divorced from the natural world.’ (Smith, 2010) It is this divorce that constantly fascinates human beings.
“Stop [and] take the time to read the signs,” says Andrea. “Don’t be afraid of them and don’t make more of them than they are. Who knows what’s really out there?”