What are you laughing at?
Have you ever watched a horror movie and wondered how they made the sound effect of body parts being hacked off or crushed or battered. Neither had I. If I ever did think about it I would probably had gone to a vague image of men in brown coats just off screen hitting water melons with hammers, or breaking sticks of celery. Thinking about these things destroys the illusion though, so a seasoned movie-goer will determinedly push these thoughts from their mind and group in it with all the suspensions of disbelief necessary to enjoy any fiction.
About a year ago, I received a call from a lawyer out in California. Pat Gumble was his name and he introduced himself as the ‘foremost legal advisor to the providers of auxiliary services in the movie businesses. I could hear his cheesy grin down the phone line.
‘Ok Pat’ I said ‘I’m not sure what that means, but how can I help’
‘It’s the other way round kid. First please accept my condolences on the death of your Uncle’
It was the first I’d heard of it ‘My Uncle’s dead? Which Uncle?’
‘Why your uncle Gegor, Gregor Bogdanovic. Hey I’ve got the right number here haven’t I? You are Peter Bogdanovic?’
‘Yeah you got the right number, I just didn’t know Uncle Gregor was still alive any way, we all thought he died years ago. So when did he go?’
‘Oh last week sometime. I’m not sure of the details. Listen the reason I’m calling is, your Uncle left a will and I’m the executor. Seems you were his favorite nephew, he knew all about you, even if you did think he was dead’
It transpired that old Gregor really had been keeping an eye on me. When I arrived at Pat’s shabby downtown offices a week later, he handed me a letter.
‘My dear Peter,
Despite of your father and I’s falling out all those years ago, I have always taken a keen interest in you and your career. It has been a source of great pride to me that a Bogdanovic has reached such a lofty position in the seats of learning in this adopted country of ours. To think of the filth and degradation that my brothers and I had to endure in the old country, and here you are a shining light in Western intelligentsia’
This was a little rich to say the least. At best my position at the University of Maryland could be considered run of the mill and I was fortunate to have a job at all after the scandal surrounding the death of a test subject of mine five years prior. I had of course been cleared of any wrong doing, but if mud sticks then blood is an indelible stain.
‘I cannot pretend to understand completely your work, but I have been something of an amateur researcher in the functioning of the human body myself in years gone by. A fascinating subject and I cannot help but think (if I had only had the formal education), one that I might have been able to pursue myself. Who knows there might have been two world famous Bogdanovic biologists? Ah well, the past is the past and one cannot change it.’
On my flight across the country I had been trying to piece together all I could remember about my Uncle Gregor. My father rarely spoke about his family at all and on the rare occasions he had they had been used as cautionary tales. ‘You must work hard Peter or you will end up like your Uncle Roman’ and ‘do not feed stray animals Peter, this is how your uncle Serge lost his thumb’. They occupied a space in my mind drawn mostly from old photographs kept in a trunk at the foot of my father’s bed.
‘Peter, life has been kind to me but now I am reaching the end of my years. I have no children of my own, so I have decided to leave to you, what little I have gathered over the years.’
‘The lawyer Gumble is a sniveling Irish cretin, but he has never crossed me so to him I have left my instructions.’
‘Live well Peter and I hope what little I have might aid you in some small way in the carrying out of your important work.
Your loving Uncle Gregor’
Pat was staring at me when I finished reading and looked up. ‘Have you read this?’ I asked.
‘No that was for your eye’s only’ Pat said with a grin ‘had I ought to read it, just to give me the full picture’ He reached across his desk to take the letter. I pulled it away.
‘perhaps not, family stuff you know’
‘Fair enough kid. So to the Will. It’s a fairly standard affair. You’re the sole beneficiary, so if you can sign here and here I can get the house and the copyright signed into your name.’ He passed a contract across to me, turned to the back page where the dotted lines are.
‘Maybe I’d better read it first’ I said ‘Copy-right you say?’
As I read Gumble filled me in on my inheritance. It seemed my Uncle had been in the movie business. As well as an old house up in the hills he had left me the copy-right to his catalogue of sound effect records. Over the past thirty years Gregor Bogdanovic had been the creator of the most used sound effects in Hollywood. As Pat put it ‘every time you hear a monster chewing on a virgin’s ass, that’s you uncle Gregor!’
I turned out that it was quite lucrative enterprise. Included with the contract were financial statements showing his copyright income over the years. It was like the resume of serial killer or a torturers to do list.
· Skull cracking - $1,200
· Arm tearing from body - $800
Just a quick glance and I saw all sorts movies I recognised. There were horror pictures, adventure pictures, serial killer pictures, war films, spy films. It went on and on. ‘Hey some of these are great movies’ I said.
‘Best in the business, that’s what they all say about your Uncle. Yes sir if you’re in need of curdling your audience’s blood, call Gregor. Now I’m no expert, but they tell me these here records you’ve inherited have (pulling a highlighted edition of Variety from the file) ‘been consistently terrifying audiences since the late fifties’.
A few hours, signatures and sweaty handshakes later I was heading out of the city with the keys to my new house on the dash. Pat was going to arrange the new copyright contracts to be drawn up and forwarded to me.
On the drive out to the valley I had an odd sense of foreboding. Suspicions played around the edges of my mind and I was able to push them away before they fully formed. The outer layers of thought.
‘When we were young’ My Father had said once, not long before his death ‘the world my brothers and I came from, it was a great battle to be a good person. There was no money, little food, little warmth and no one had much hope. My family tried hard to keep ourselves away from the despair that consumed those around us. It was a tremendous effort to get through each day without letting ourselves be filled with violence and hatred. My Brother Gregor, he was the best of us. He walked through those dying streets as if he was in a dream, like he was a rich man walking down an avenue your know?’
‘The rest of us all had our moments of weakness, did things we will never forgive ourselves for, but Gregor somehow managed to stay above it all. Like he was clean and pure. I think that’s why we never saw him again after we got to America. He saw only our sins when he looked at us.’
The house must have been one of the oldest in California. Wooden slatted, peeling paint and a curve to the corners that made it look like it had grown slack with age. The door stuck in its frame and I had to put my shoulder to it before it opened.
The hall was large but floor space was limited. All the room was taken up by piles of papers, journals and books. A mountain of information, mostly medical. You could mine there for days; hit a seam of psychology here, a vein of anatomy there.
It was a similar mess all over the house. I could have spent months going through the mounds of science and history. I casually wondered around, picking up the odd book that caught my eye and reading a few lines. My uncle had obviously been a man of many interests.
In what I assumed to be his bedroom I found a desk upon which was a binder that looked out of place. It was clean and bright yellow plastic, not just yellowed with age like almost everything else.
Looking through it I discovered it was all about me. A scrapbook of all the times I’d made the press, which unfortunately was mostly for negative reasons. I quickly flicked through all the tabloid headlines declaring me a mad scientist and a new Mengele till I got to the back. Here, loosely packed in behind the rear cover were a collection of the papers I’d published over the years. These were heavily thumbed and annotated in a scrawling hand I couldn’t make out.
As I pulled one out to have a closer look something fell from between the pages and hit the floor. It was an envelope. Inside was a letter and a small key. The key was too small to be for the front door and not well crafted enough to be for a car. Putting this to one side I turned my attention to the envelope.
My name was written or more accurately scratched on the front. I pulled the letter from inside and read it through.
I searched the room and then the house to try and find the lock that it fitted.
After quite a search it had become dark when I finally found a door at the back of Uncle Gregor’s pantry. It was partially hidden behind industrial sacks of rice and noodles. The door had no lock so I ventured down the cramped, steep stairs with my hands braced against the walls.
At the bottom was a heavy door, steel I would guess, with a lock that my key fitted. Steeling myself I stepped though that cellar door.
There was a pleasant smell that at first I thought was pork chops, my initial enjoyment of the smell only amplified by subsequent abhorrence.
Next it was clear that the sound in the room was acting unusually. There was deadness to it, no echoes or atmosphere noise, no creaks from the house above or noise from the street outside.
‘My nephew. I’ll tell you why you’re here. I don’t know if your father ever told you of the hellish squalor we brothers grew up in. The absence of morality, the depravity. I swore from a very young age that I would escape it, that I would come to a land where goodness and morality ruled. So my Brothers and I headed for America, the land of the free. I had dreamed that the freedom they spoke of was a freedom from sin, from vulgarity. Upon my arrival however I soon discovered that there was no such freedom here. That sin and the violence were just as prevalent here as in our own god forsaken country’
The cellar was absolutely dark. The light from up the stairs didn’t make it around the corner and through the door. There was no switch on the wall. I stepped in just a foot or two to see if my eyes would become accustomed but they did not. It was so dark that there was no difference between having my eyes open or closed. I reached back to touch the wall and felt that it was soft, rubbery. I made my way along, feeling for a light.
‘It became clear to me that I would never escape the wickedness of man, so instead I decided to hold a mirror up to there evil nature, or more accurately a sounding board.’
Eventually I found a switch and a series of strip lights blinked into life across the ceiling.
The silence was absolute,
‘An old friend of your grandfather had made a living in the radio business and he was able to get me work as a sound effects man. It was a ridiculous way for a man to make his living, knocking on wood and shuffling gravel to add ‘reality’ to tedious and imbecilic radio plays. But I was thought to have a talent for it and it wasn’t long before I was asked to move into the movies. I was given a tape recorder and a list of the required sounds and off I went. It was at this point that I had my idea.’
It was cold and deathly silent.
The smell that had hit me when I first entered the basement hit me with a renewed force as I saw the source. There was a table in the centre of the room with a decaying body laying strapped to it.
‘If the Americans wanted to laugh at death and mutilations in their movie theatre’s that is exactly what I would give them’
‘When you have enjoyed a mans head being cut off in a gladiator movie, you have been listening to ME, cutting the head off of a man in this very house, when you have enjoyed the vicarious thrill of an axe murdered hacking a body apart, you have been listening to me cutting into some poor unfortunate wastrel with MY axe.’
All the walls were covered in padding and there were numerous electronic recording devises strewn around.
I staggered back against the wall and looked away, trying to comprehend what I was seeing. There was a metal bin just to my left and I made the mistake of looking inside. It was full of green and pink lumps of flesh. A boot lay on top with half a leg protruding from the top of it.
‘In a few months the American public will enjoy the sounds of the latest ‘hacker’ movie as they call it. Unfortunately for the poor unfortunate soul I have with me, this film will be called ‘Angle grinder’’
In amongst the the taping machines and microphones were all sorts of tools. Saws, knives, hammers, drills.
‘Props’ from my uncle’s career in the movies.
In a daze I found my way to the door and staggered out and up the stairs. Then out into the evening. For an hour I sat on the curb in the sunshine.
‘I have told you this because I hope you will understand the work I have done. You understand that lives must be sacrificed to advance the world from its current hellish state. You must alert the authorities to what you now know. Then, perhaps the people of this country will understand the wickedness of their ways. They will be forced to acknowledge their own lack of grace.’
‘I have placed a sacred trust upon you Peter, finish my life’s work’
‘Your loving Uncle Gregor’
Obviously the thing to do would be to call the police, the horrors that had gone on in that basement had to be made public.
I read and re-read the letter many times. Eventually I decided what was to be done.
By making this public I would be telling the whole country that they had been listening to the sounds of brutal murder for years…and enjoying it. It had been a pass-time to them. Could I really expose the whole cinema going nation to that sort of guilt?
So I did nothing. I sealed up the house and under the cover of night disposed of the evidence. No-one ever found out.
Next time you go to see a horror movie, think of this. Where do the sounds really come from?
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