Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Unless you're living a boring truth or reading some strange fiction. But even stranger than when truth is stranger than fiction is when truth is exactly as strange as fiction, right down to the unfeasible little details that would make you roll your eyes and change the channel.
Thanks to horror movies, if we ever need a body part replaced and the only donor is a dead criminal, we'll learn to deal with life sans foot. Hey, it's better than kicking your loved ones to death while you're asleep. That's the alternative, because criminal body parts are always possessed in horror films. For instance, in John Carpenter's Body Bags, Mark Hamill is a baseball player who gets an eye transplant from a guy who used to kill women and have sex with their corpses. Naturally, he starts doing the exact same thing.
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Apparently, Sonny Graham never saw those movies. Graham was a 50-something South Carolina businessman who needed a heart transplant, and while he didn't get it from an executed serial killer, the donor did experience a tragic and unnatural demise. The heart came from Terry Cottle, a 33-year-old man who shot himself in the head after his wife dumped him because he wasn't making enough money. You've probably guessed by now: A decade later, Graham ended up doing the same thing, using the same method.
Over the same woman.
After recovering from the transplant in 1995, Graham wrote a thank-you letter to the donor's widow, Cheryl Cottle, unaware that she and Terry were suicidally estranged at the time. One thing led to another, and a few years later Sonny and Cheryl were married. The couple seemed blissfully happy ... until they didn't. In 2008, amid serious financial and romantic troubles, Graham stepped into his backyard shed, put a shotgun to his throat, and pulled the trigger. That is not the act of an uncommitted or uncertain man. That is the hardest you can possibly kill yourself. So either the movies had it right all this time and body parts are haunted by their previous owners, or else the divorce laws in South Carolina really, really suck.
The "people forced to fight for their captors' amusement in order to earn their freedom" genre is a proud Hollywood tradition spanning from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Jennifer Lawrence. There's an even more specific subgenre that revolves around prison brawling, and it includes movies as varied as Undisputed, Undisputed II: Last Man Standing, and (of course) Undisputed III: Redemption (direct to DVD).
New Line Cinema
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Felon, starring Val Kilmer, is a movie based on the infamous California State Prison in Corcoran, where the guards allegedly forced the inmates to fight for entertainment and placed bets on the victors. Last year, prison guards in Pennsylvania were busted for making inmates fight no-holds-barred battles for snacks; in Oklahoma, a detention center had fight clubs where guards took bets and arranged MMA confrontations.
Of course, these were all rogue actions taken by bored, underpaid corrections officers and not institutionalized prison brawl policies. That's the truly ridiculous part of the films: The prisoner fights were somehow official or mandatory, and that sort of dystopian madness just doesn't exist ... in America. Yet. For that we have to go to Thailand, home of the Prison Fight program.
Well, at least they're straightforward about it.
Thai inmates can get time off their prison sentence if they first train and then agree to combat a foreign fighter in special muay thai matches. One inmate doing 50 years on drug charges says he already shaved off 10 with his fists.
Again, this isn't the work of some maverick prison warden: It's a publicly endorsed program that aims to focus the inmates on perfecting their bodies into muay thai killing machines, because there's no way that turning every ex-con in the country into Jean-Claude Van Damme could ever go wrong.
In Breaking Bad, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle takes the darkest career turn since Patty Hearst by playing a high school chemistry teacher named Walter White who finds out he has cancer and starts cooking meth. That's as far as we've watched the show (no spoilers!), but we're pretty sure that lovable, goofy old Walt will ultimately realize the error of his ways and adopt poor lost Jesse into his family, where they will both live happily ever after.
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We've already covered the time a real-life tweaker named Walter White was arrested for selling meth. That's pretty weird, but it's just a name, and a fairly common one at that. It was almost bound to happen. It's the premise of Breaking Bad that's outlandish. Mild-mannered teacher turning to a double life of drug dealing because of a serious illness? That's the type of overwrought drama that happens only on TV.
Unless you're Stephen Doran.
Although he was battling cancer and undergoing treatment, everybody thought that the hardest problems Doran faced during his workday were algebraic in nature. That's until a kilo of meth from his side job as a drug dealer was accidentally sent to the same building where he helped shape the minds of our children.
Where TV's Walter White would have saved himself at the last minute by poisoning a couple of kindergartners to distract everyone, Doran got caught, and the cops eventually found over $50,000 worth of meth hidden at his house. The school pointed out that he was not a teacher, like White, but a tutor. Clearly that distinction makes all the difference.
The '70s sci-fi classic The Andromeda Strain tells us space is packed with deadly germs, like a zero-G version of Australia. When a military satellite crashes in a small Western town, it infects a bunch of people with a space-plague that causes all their blood to clot. There are even sinister hints that this might be the work of the government.
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But there's no such thing as space germs, right? The people of the remote Peruvian town of Carrancas probably disagree. In September 2007, a meteor crashed there, and people visiting the site got sick, complaining of headaches, vomiting, nausea, and (we're guessing) at least one spontaneous phallus monster bursting out of someone's chest. The sickness was originally attributed to the fumes the meteor gave off, but the official explanation was that the crash simply stirred up the sulfur and arsenic in the town's soil. So ... they were just living on a block of poison all this time with no consequences? Good cover story, Men in Black.
Why are we suspicious? In September 2006, just a year before the Carrancas plague, NASA scientists brought back some germs they'd sent to space to test the effects space travel has on salmonella. When they tested the strains on mice, they found the germs were 300 percent deadlier than their earthbound counterparts.
In the Ronald Reagan comedy Bedtime for Bonzo, a chimpanzee lovingly raised like a human baby is eventually sold by the cruel college president for scientific studies when the grant money runs out. In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there's an evil animal shelter manager who dumps the intelligent Caesar with normal apes and mistreats him. In the end, however, it all works out for the best!
20th Century Fox
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In the 1970s, Columbia University psychologist Herbert Terrace had a baby chimp raised by a human family to see if it could learn to communicate through sign language. His name was Nim Chimpsky (after Noam Chomsky, who doubtlessly really appreciated the homage).
But it wouldn't be like the movies unless there was great, heartbreaking tragedy. Nim learned more than 120 signs and used them in ways that suggested he actually understood the idea of language, as opposed to just aping it (wokka wokka!). Even still, when the grant money ran out and Nim became aggressive (to be fair, only after being abandoned and moved several times), Terrace declared the experiment a failure and sent Nim to a primate research center in Oklahoma.
This adorable little guy who had only lived with humans, could communicate in human language, grew up in a regular human house, wore human clothes, and self-identified as human was suddenly kept in a cage with other chimps. Because reality is a bigger bastard than any Hollywood writer, a year later the center was shut down and Nim was sold to an NYU lab doing animal research on tuberculosis.
Now, if this were the movies, Nim would snap from the trauma and break out to start an uprising, viciously maul Ronald Reagan, or seize a blonde and scale a skyscraper. Luckily for your own struggling faith in humanity, some good folks managed to get Nim transferred to an animal sanctuary, where he lived for another 19 years and rarely, if ever, bit a U.S. president's face off.
Yosomono likes to think his life is based on a Japanese movie and writes about surviving in the land of the rising sun. You should like his Facebook page.
Related Reading: We've got more than one list about movie plots happening in reality. It turns out babies get "switched" at the maternity ward all the time. And by the way, that scene in Face-Off where the cop rams a bad guy's plane with his car? It totally happened. And there's more where those came from. Why not see how deep the rabbit hole goes?