Over the summer, at a Brooklyn Paranormal Society Meetup, I was speaking to a gentleman of the Christian persuasion who told me that being drunk was decidedly against the rules of good spiritual conduct, as was related to him in the Holy Book.
Last week, the Brooklyn Paranormal Society had the honor of hosting the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival’s after party at Cherry Tree, with free tarot and psychic readings, a Stranger Things trivia challenge and prizes. At midnight, we hiked over to Fort Greene Park on a “Paranormal Safari” where we roasted marshmallows over a camp fire, listened to ghost stories and conducted a paranormal investigation.
It was two years ago, right around this time, close to Halloween, when Sonja and I found ourselves walking down Atlantic Avenue and, a mimeographed advertisement hanging on a street lamp caught our attention. It was a flyer for a drunken ghost hunting event with the Brooklyn Paranormal Society. Both drinking and ghost hunting are remarkable pastimes, each in their own right, but the combination seemed irresistible.
Helen Mirren has wrapped production on a scary movie called Winchester and it looks like it will be spooky AF. Based on the story of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, who was advised by a medium to build a labyrinthine mansion in order to escape the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester Rifle, invented by her dead husband. Sounds pretty juicy to us, and better yet, it is based on a true story.
As a means for communicating with the dead, the seance has a dicey reputation. The history of spirit channeling is mired in controversy and fraud. As a form of entertainment however, few things can surpass the seance for drama and theatrics. This ceremony of spirit-calling combines mysticism, showmanship, audience participation and, when done right, can offer spooky excitement.
Brooklyn is infested, no doubt, with its fair share of paranormal activity but, when we at BKPS get the chance, we love to investigate the weird goings on from other parts of the world as well. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the mysterious island of Mallorca where once lived the dreaded Dragon of Na Coca.
Palma, capital of Mallorca, was founded by the Romans back in 124 BC and, being an ancient city, is chock full of myths and creepy legends. One such legend regards the Dragon of Na Coca. This story concerns a cryptid who, bearing a similar M.O. to Stephen King’s Pennywise, lived in the sewers beneath the city and had a blood thirsty penchant for killing children. Unlike Pennywise, however, this “dragon” actually existed in real life and, there’s proof of it inside the Diocesan Museum of Palma. So they say. Certainly, the matter required our full attention.
The legend of the Dragon of Na Coca begins in 1776 when rumors began spreading of a great dragon lurking in the sewers and prowling the streets at night. Disturbing sounds were heard in La Portella neighborhood, right in the shadow of the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma. Cats went missing and animal remains found strewn about. Then, things began to get weird.
Some witnesses claimed to have seen an enormous creature so hideous that it “froze the blood of even the most courageous.” This behemoth was covered in scales, had rows of razor sharp teeth, and crawled through the winding streets on its four feet whilst dragging its twining tail behind it.
At first, the creature was content to feed on small animals but as it grew larger, so did its appetite. Soon after, children and elders alike fell victim to this beast. That was the situation in Palma at the time and locals lived in constant terror of being dragged off the streets and into the labyrinth below, only to become some crazed lizard’s main course meal.
One fateful evening, Captain Bartomeu Coch, Governor of Alcudia, arrived in town to pay court to his mistress. He swung the knocker of the Portella of the walled city then walked over to his lover’s home. There, in the dark, as the couple whispered words of love, the scaled beast reared its hideous head.
The Captain, being a knight of no ill repute, drew his sword and dispatched the creature after a fierce battle, then placed the dead lizard beneath his lover’s window as proof of his love. The remains of the dragon were subsequently embalmed and placed on exhibit inside the Diocesan Museum of Palma where it can be seen to this day.
I wasted little time in purchasing a ticket to the museum to see this exhibit. Turns out the “dragon” was a crocodile, though certainly one of the ugliest you may happen to come across. Most probably, the creature was smuggled on board one of the trading vessels at the time as a pet, then left to fend for itself as the sailors moved on to their next destination.
As it struggled to survive, it most probably preyed on small mammals and may in fact have taken down some humans as well, as crocodiles and alligators are known to be proficient killers. Just recently, in fact, there has been a spate of humans killed by crocs (you can read about that here).
Even though a crocodile lies at the heart of this mystery, the paranormal angle cannot be readily dismissed. Turns out the Coca (or Coco) is a mythical ghost-monster found throughout Spanish culture, originating in Portugal and Galicia. Interestingly, the term coco comes from the Portuguese côco and refers to a ghost with a pumpkin head, or a dragon. The Irish cognate of the term is clocan, meaning “skull.” In Brazilian folklore, the Cuca refers to a female humanoid alligator.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this legend regards the Coca’s behavior – it is a child eater and a kidnapper. It may devour the child completely or, it may take the child to a place of no return. Also, it has the power to shape-shift into a dark shadow, and hangs out on rooftops looking for disobedient children to spirit away to its nowhere land. It is viewed as the opposite of a guardian angel and, certainly not someone you want to friend on Facebook.
Throughout the centuries, many lullabies have evolved about the Coca. The oldest, composed by Juan Caxés in the 17th century goes like this:
Duérmete niño, duérmete ya
Que viene el Coco y te comerá.
Sleep child, sleep now
Here comes the Coco and he will eat you
A Portuguese version of the song goes like this:
Vai-te Coca. Vai-te Coca
Para cima do telhado
Deixa o menino dormir
Um soninho descansado
Leave Coca. Leave Coca
Go to the top of the roof
Let the child have
A quiet sleep
The September 7, 2017, Brooklyn Paranormal Society Meetup at the House of Wax Investigation/ It Movie Screening was certainly an auspicious gathering. For starters, we hit 666 members. Interpret the number as you wish. Wether of good or bad portent, it is undoubtedly a strong showing, and apt indicator of the public’s thirst for the paranormal. The truth is out there, as they say, and we have the EMF meters to help investigate it. The turnout was prodigious as well. 88 members showed up at the House of Wax to eat, drink, hunt ghosts and, to check out the New York premiere of It – director Andy Muschietti’s slick adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name.
Let’s talk about It for a bit. The film is set in the late 1980s in the idyllic town of Derry, Maine. Not all is as it seems on the surface. Turns out the town is haunted by a shape-shifting clown who goes by the name of Pennywise. Sporting multiple sets of incisors that would make a great white blush, Pennywise lives in the sewers beneath Derry and has a penchant for killing children. In other words, typical clown behavior.
Derry, Maine, as King has admitted, is a stand-in for Bangor, Maine, where King has lived for almost 40 years. For all practical purposes though, Derry serves well as stand-in for Everywhere, USA. So be wary. In this town, adults are null and void, if they are not outright evil. This leaves our protagonists – a group of seven self-proclaimed “Losers Club” misfits – to do battle with Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard).
Each member of the Losers Club is haunted by his, or her own, manifestation of Pennywise – custom made per individual’s innate fears. Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer), for example, is a hypochondriac, who lives in fear of catching a staph infection. As a result, he is haunted by a leper who spews venomous bile all over his face. Tasty. Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) is haunted by screaming burned people. It turns out his own parents died in a fire. Ritchie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), conveniently enough, is scared of clowns.
All the children in the group share one thing in common – a troubled family life. Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberherher) is ignored by his parents because they can’t get over the loss of their son Georgie. Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) has a mean religious fanatic for a father. Beverly Marsh is sexually abused by her father. Eddie’s mother is overprotective and feeds him placebos. Like a moth to a flame, Pennywise is drawn to these troubled preteens, feeding off their fears. In exchange for their troubles, the killer clown offers cold solace, promising “When you’re down here with me, you’ll float, too.”
It is a foray, both literal and figurative, into society’s “sewers.” This is not tame stuff. Interestingly, King tells Rolling Stone that he was, during the writing of It, under the influence of drugs and alcohol, saying, “I was a heavy [cocaine] user from 1978 until 1986, something like that.” The Tommyknockers was the last book he wrote under the influence. King has subsequently been clean and sober ever since.
It may be surprising to learn that It is an adaption of a classic Norwegian faery tale called The Three Billy Goats Gruff, about three billy goats outsmarting a bridge troll. King wrote on his website: “I decided that the bridge could be the city, if there was something under it. What’s under a city? Tunnels. Sewers . . . I thought of how such a story might be cast; how it might be possible to create a ricochet effect, interweaving the stories of the children and the adults they become. Sometime in the summer of 1981 I realized that I had to write the troll under the bridge or leave him—IT—forever.”
The movie is strongest when displaying the chemistry between the child actors. These scenes evoke the nostalgic camaraderie of Stand By Me and Stranger Things. After a genuinely creepy introduction though, the scary bits begin to lose their effect. The formula wears thin as each member of the Losers Club must have their own encounter with Pennywise. The tension can’t be sustained, relying too much on jump scares and horror tropes. To be fair, it isn’t easy condensing a 1,138 page novel into a feature film. But even its 135-minute running time feels too long.To use another trope – the film bursts like a red balloon. It’s a let down.
Surprisingly, it may take a second It movie to give substance to this film. In fact, It is merely one half of King’s novel. The second half of the book explores the Losers Club as adults, who return to Derry 27 years later to do battle once again with Pennywise. Hopefully, this next iteration will explore greater subtleties of character development. Until then, please stay out of the sewers.
Story by Andrew Arnett