FOUR-LETTER WORD BEGINNING WITH `F'
Mark McLaughlin's fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in hundreds of magazines, anthologies, and websites, including The Living Dead 2, Cemetery Dance, Dark Arts, Midnight Premiere, Fangoria, Horror Garage, FilmFax, Shroud Magazine, ChiZine.com, The Black Gate, Galaxy, all three Bending the Landscape volumes, and two volumes each of The Best of the Rest, The Best of HorrorFind, and The Year's Best Horror Stories, as well as The Book of All Flesh, its two companion volumes, and The Best of All Flesh.
Collections of Mark's fiction include Death Creeps In On Velvet Paws, Twisted Tales For Sick Puppies, Raising Demons For Fun and Profit, Slime After Slime, Pickman's Motel, Motivational Shrieker, and At the Foothills of Frenzy (with co-authors Shane Ryan Staley and Brian Knight). He is the co-author, with Rain Graves and David Niall Wilson, of the poetry collection The Gossamer Eye, which won a Bram Stoker Award for Poetry. His collaborative novel with Michael McCarty, Monster Behind the Wheel, was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist for Best First Novel. Mark's works can be purchased at www.MerchantsKeep.com, www.Horror-Mall.com, and the Anthologies Section of www.GenreMall.com. Visit Mark on the web at www.youtube.com/mcmonsterbook, www.myspace.com/monsterbook, and www.facebook.com/MarkMcLaughlinMedia.
The Fear of Being Facially Challenged
Today's fear is an especially common one: Uglyphobia, or fear of being considered especially unattractive.
None of us are beautiful 24-7. I'm sure even sexy superstars like Ashton Kutcher, Elizabeth Hurley and Pink all have days (albeit few and far between) when their eyelids are a bit baggy, or their hair is slightly limp, or they have -- *gasp!* -- a blemish or two.
But for one to be truly and constantly unattractive, undesirable and generally unwanted in a physical capacity -- that would be a devastating blow to the ego. One's social calendar would have a lot of free evenings. One's sex life would be non-existent. Feelings of loneliness and self-pity would be everyday occurrences.
Plenty of savvy American businesspeople make plenty of money off Uglyphobia. Plastic surgeons, cosmetologists, wig-shop owners, hair stylists, artificial fingernail artisans, dietitians, personal trainers, dermatologists and more all profit from the aesthetic insecurities of others.
Celebrities become so obsessed with wanting to be young and beautiful forever, they pay great wads of cash to receive excessive plastic surgery -- which in most cases, only makes them look artificial and a little creepy. Some end up looking like unreal parodies of their former selves, while others look altogether different... and less attractive than when they began.
But, it's the American way to want to be young, thin and beautiful for as long as possible. A stupid but highly attractive person is generally considered a better catch than a brilliant but not-especially-attractive person. Gorgeous rock stars have groupies following them everywhere. NASA scientists don't, though I'd suppose some NASA scientists are pretty good-looking.
When people see a good-looking person married to a less-attractive person, they wonder how such an unthinkable match-up could exist. They usually assume the less-attractive one has money.
Early movie classics about Uglyphobia featured such tragic characters as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Frankenstein monster, and the Phantom of the Opera. All of them were feared and hated for their ugliness, even though they were capable of tender feelings.
In both Freaks (1932) and She Freak (1967), which is really just an uncredited remake of the 1932 film, a beautiful woman is turned into a mutilated monstrosity by the vengeful members of a traveling freak show. In both movies, the so-called freaks, people with unusual physical traits or conditions, are pretty much okay with their lot of life. With that in mind, it is interesting that they punish the beautiful woman by turning her... into one of them. Wouldn't that be like a judge sentencing a criminal to spending the rest of his life as a judge...?
In The Corpse Vanishes (1942), Bela Lugosi cleverly kidnaps young brides so he can use their glands to keep his old, sickly wife young and beautiful. He uses rare orchids with strong sedative aromas to send each of the brides into faux comas. Bride after bride falls victim to his scalpel, until a perky lady reporter undoes his wicked plans.
That concept -- a man of science stealing beauty from one woman to give to another -- has been used many times over the years. The most famous example would have to be Les Yeux Sans Visage, or Eyes Without A Face (1957), directed by Georges Franju. In this beautiful, haunting film, an obsessed surgeon tries to repair his young daughter's ruined face by grafting onto it the facial skin of other lovely ladies. Unfortunately, the results do not last long, so he has to try again and again and again.
Between operations, the daughter wears a white, stylized mask. In her mask, she is pretty in a sad, otherworldly way. One can still see her tender, beautiful eyes -- hence the title of the film.
The daughter is a sweet-natured soul, and soon the fact that others must die to restore her beauty become intolerable to her, and she takes matters into her own hands. This chain of events leads to one of the most haunting and memorable movie endings you will ever see.
Other movies that play with variations on this plot, with various degrees of success, include She Demons (1958), The Awful Dr. Orlof, also known as Screams In the Night and Gritas En La Noche (1961), Monstrosity, also known as The Atomic Brain (1964), and Faceless (1988).
In The Leech Woman (1959), an aging beauty discovers she can regain her looks if she uses a deadly African ring to steal juice from glands in the backs of people's heads. When this juice is combined with a rare pollen, also from Africa, it creates a real pick-me-up potion that puts the zip back in her zippity-doo-dah.
Her resulting beauty soon fades (ain't it always the way) and she has to kill, kill, and kill again. It's not easy, being a leech woman.
The preservation of feminine beauty is usually the focus of movies that address Uglyphobia -- but there are exceptions, the most notable being the various movies based on Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Wilde's classic novel concerns a young high-society dandy whose masculine beauty is the talk of the town. When a painter creates an especially becoming portrait of the lad, a friend of Dorian's named Lord Henry Wotton makes a pivotal observation: Wouldn't it be great if the picture aged, but Dorian stayed the same, instead of the other way around? Dorian quite agrees, and wishes the proposed situation into existence. We are led to believe some sort of deal with the powers of darkness has been activated.
And so, Dorian goes on a depraved bender that lasts for years and years, but still our sin-crazy fellow keeps on looking young and sassy. The painting, however, looks more and more like a cross between an Egyptian mummy and a skid-row drunk.
The finest Dorian Gray performance to date was turned in by Hurd Hatfield in the 1945 film named after the novel. Hurd had the sort of imperious, subtly cruel pretty-boy looks that the part demanded. Many others have played the role, and more most assuredly will in movies to come. It's the sort of story that cries out to be updated to modern times.
The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) adroitly blends elements of the Dorian Gray story with the deranged-scientist motif. A handsome doctor -- mad, of course -- decides to stay young forever by having himself implanted with glands stolen from others. He is also a sculptor who often kills his models. The plot thickens when he falls in love with one of his models and decides to keep her young forever to keep him company. It would seem he just can't work with a model and then let her go her own way after the work is done.
An interesting sidenote: In the movie Dracula's Daughter, the lovely vampire lady in question is an artist and she also preys upon models. Apparently a model's career is fraught with more dangers than one might imagine.
In addition to conceited dandies and mad scientists, secret societies will also go to great lengths to avoid the not-so-fresh feeling of growing old. In The Thirsty Dead (1974), members of a secret island society kidnap young women and drain their blood so it can be used as part of a rejuvenating elixir during their ceremonies. In The Mephisto Waltz (1971), wealthy Satanic socialites use ritualistic masks and an occult blue oil to switch their souls out of their old bodies and into new ones. The Mephisto Waltz is a very stylish and atmospheric movie which adds some interesting twists to the whole Deal-with-the-Devil concept.
So there you have it, my friends -- an overview of Uglyphobia in the movies. Please, don't let this column put ideas in your heads. I don't want any of you stealing glands out of people or forming secret societies in desperate attempts to stay young and beautiful forever!
I mean, when you really think about it, all that is pretty silly. If you want to stay young and good-looking for as long as possible, all you have to do is exercise, eat right -- and then become a vampire after you die, like Dracula's Daughter!