Technology is meant to assist or augment our tasks, and sometimes further mankind's overall understanding. All of the following machines meet those criteria. It's just that they're assisting and augmenting our nightmares, and furthering mankind's understanding of the unspeakable void that lives between life and death. Behold, the ...
On the boardwalk in 1936, London, you could plunk a quarter into a mechanical cabinet and enjoy a miniature drama. That sounds much like pinball today, with one important difference: The explicit, graphic torture. Now displayed in Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Britain's old-timey torture cabinets included beasts like the Three Trials of Terror, built in 1930.
The game is simple: You hold your hand on the button while the machine tries to scare you away with fake blades, rats, and fire. If you pictured that last sentence delivered by an evil puppet in a dark alleyway, congratulations: You've got the atmosphere down.
Other machines, like the Spanish Inquisition, recreated the ... well, the Spanish Inquisition. This isn't exactly an art here. Or at least, not the kind they teach in schools. For the premature ejaculators of the sadism world, you could skip right ahead and drop some coins into An English Execution, which fast forwarded through the foreplay and got right to the penetration:
We guess we should have expected this.
For a bit of levity, The Last Judgement only asked passersby to face the existential horror of endless damnation. But it also featured some goofy demons on break, so that's fun.
"How's it hanging Azazel? Flaying hard or hardly flaying?"
It's Scotland, 1926. Inventor John Logie Baird puts the finishing touches on The Televisor, and thus begins the end of our world.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
And we didn't even get a chance to battle a marshmallow man to save ourselves.
The earliest version was a MacGyvered-together silhouette projector for a department store, which could only transmit its flickering image across ten feet. We were safe. It could not get out.
But by 1926, he had refined his invention enough to demonstrate the world's first functional television in front of 50 scientists he gathered in his attic. None of whom, we can only presume, were ever seen again.
Orrin Dunlap, Jr.
Fully intact, at least ...
Unlike electric televisions, Baird's version recorded scenes mechanically, using a spinning, perforated wheel called a Nipkow disc. So there's your sinister horror-flick artifact right there. The pattern of light entering these slits was converted to an electrical signal and sent to the receiver, which utilized an identical Nipkow disc rotating in synchronicity and recreating the signal across a grid of LEDs. On the upside, the contraption did not require film. On the downside, it only displayed the nightmares your waking mind forces you to forget.
Just two years after its grand academic debut, Baird achieved the first trans-Atlantic television transmission, beaming a TV signal from London to New York. This is that signal:
Library of Congress
The oft-overlooked prequel to In The Mouth Of Madness.
Baird's Televisor fell out of favor less than a decade after it was commercialized, supplanted by electrical models that could transmit clearer, larger images of things other than hell.
via Wiki Commons
Joseph Faber, a German scientist in the 1840s, invented a machine called Euphonia: a keyboard-controlled system of bellows and pipes that produced complex sounds, ultimately enabling it to breathe and "speak" a variety of languages.
And then he chopped off a lady's head and mounted it to fireplace bellows, because it's not called Happy Science; it's called Mad Science.
It's not an actual human head of course, just a nightmarish facsimile, but it's not merely there for macabre decoration: Faber's polyglot machine used working mouth parts -- moving lips and a wriggling tongue -- to speak in its ghostly, sepulchral monotone. Faber showcased his machine at London's Egyptian Hall, where the public found it "eerie and unsettling."
llustrated London News/Getty Images
Though, honestly, they found women in public speaking in general unsettling back then.
As a feat of engineering, Faber's invention was an extremely clever one, and fellow scientists recognized that its complex technologies had many potential applications outside of targeted haunting. American physicist Joseph Henry -- who later went on to back Alexander Graham Bell's telephone -- even envisioned a text-to-speech telegraph system, wherein two linked Euphonias would deliver messages over large distances. Somewhere, there's an alternate reality where your iPhone is a disembodied, dead-eyed human face that whispers your text messages in the voice of the devil.
Be thankful for Siri.
1930s Hungary was notorious for its unnervingly high suicide rates. They even had an unofficial suicide song called Gloomy Sunday, because metaphor was not to be invented until 1972, by Spanish linguist Manuel Metaphor, who was actually trying to refine a more efficient simile at the time.
It was in this grim atmosphere that "Professor Jeno" and his compatriot, a hypnotist known only as "Binczo," set up what was surely a reputable and accredited school to combat depression: The Budapest Smile Club.
If you're afraid of clowns, don't worry! The following image only depicts their severed mouths.
The purpose of FDR's portrait remains a mystery best left unsolved.
Now, admittedly, The Smile Club likely started as a kind of bleak joke. However, the country was in the throes of a very legitimate suicide epidemic, and people were desperate to stay happy. So the Smile Club caught on for real, and its founders -- always ready to roll with the money -- soon found themselves teaching diligent students how to create era-themed smiles, such as the Roosevelt, the Clark Gable, and the Loretta Young.
Or the Harley Quinn.
The maniacal rictus of Slippery Samuel, The Fool Who Lurks Behind The Curtain, was a more advanced class.
Due to ethical concerns -- specifically, the sudden having of them -- the supply of medical cadavers in Europe dried up in the late 18th century. Luckily for medical students and aspiring serial killers alike, there was Florence's natural history museum and workshop, La Specola. There, ceroplast Clemente Susini and scientific Renaissance man Felice Fontana created a series of cruelty-free wax models, presumably saving thousands of hobos in the process ...
... The only problem was, sometimes their faces would slide off and they'd scream at you in all 666 dialects of hell.
Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.
"Jane? Have you been looking at the Ark again?"
Susini's Venus figurines were meant to educate medical students in human anatomy, and toward that end they featured seven biologically accurate, removable layers. That's all well and good, but we find it a bit unsettling that all of Susini's models were pretty young females, as befits all of our greatest themed murderers. Not helping to convince anybody that Susini wasn't just frantically masturbating to the most realistic corpses possible: he also bedecked the figurines in all sorts of finery that, of course, served no medical purpose.
Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.
"The first step to any surgery is to roughly and passionately tear the patients clothes off, starting near the sternum."
Well, that's not fair: Night Terrors are a medical condition.
Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.
The OG Real Dolls.
According to Joanna Ebenstein, who wrote a book on the subject, any derived sexual connotations merely reflect a sick modern bias. In the late 1800s, disemboweling beautiful young women and dressing them up in your mother's best gown actually symbolized religious contentment, as if to convey the final exalted sigh that precedes a cathartic and ecstatic death. Or orgasm. Depending on which side of the embalming table you're on.
You know all those facts you've learned about psychology from movies and that one guy at the party who says, "actually ..." a lot? Please forget them. Chances are none of them are true. Take the Stanford Prison Experiment, the one famous psychology study people can name. It was complete bullshit. Funny story actually, it turns out that when you post flyers that say "Hey, do you wanna be a prison guard for the weekend? Free food and nightsticks," you might not get the most stable group of young men. So join Jack O'Brien, the Cracked staff and some special guests as they debunk Rorschach tests, the Mozart effect and middle child syndrome, so soon you can be that person at the party who says, "Actually ..." Get your tickets here!
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