Kult Take: Jacob’s Ladder

For this recurring segment of Beyond Elysium, I will step away from the nepharites and have a Kult-inspired look at other horror media. Welcome to The Kult Take.

Hello and welcome! This time on The Kult Take, we are delving into the madness of Jacob’s Ladder. This one’s been brought up many times in discussions about Kult-like films, and finally watching it after years of putting it off makes me understand why. It feels almost deliberately Kultish at times, until you remember that the film was released in 1990, a year before Kult first hit toy store shelves in Sweden and caused all sorts of ruckus.

Jacob’s Ladder blew me away. It’s a movie which defies a singular interpretation, and deliberately so. It is a movie which contradicts itself and hints at all sorts of possible truths. If you disagree with my understanding of the film, I encourage you to comment with your own thoughts.

SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Text, The Ladder and Purgatory

Before I tackle my Kult Take of this film, I need to discuss how the film presents itself as Kult-like on the surface. Jacob’s hallucinations of demons, antagonistic government agents, the hospital scene, and all the mentions of purgatory and hell makes for a beautiful tapestry of Kulty elements. These similarities, however, may only be skin deep.

Jacob is fighting in the Vietnam War, where he is tricked by the government into ingesting a chemical weapon called the Ladder. This causes him, along with the rest of his unit, to go into a mindless murder frenzy. Once Jacob is wounded he begins to hallucinate. He dreams of a future after the war, where he lives a meager life trying to make do with a girlfriend that doesn’t seem quite right for him. Demons haunt his waking hours and he dreams of his old family and dead son. Jacob’s relief comes only from his chiropractor, who helps with his back pain and gives him life advice.

Eckhart saw Hell too. He said: “The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won’t let go of life, your memories, your attachments. They burn them all away. But they’re not punishing you”, he said. “They’re freeing your soul. So, if you’re frightened of dying and … you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. But if you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the earth.”

This quote summarizes the film. Jacob is experiencing purgatory, in his dying moments holding on to and eventually freeing himself from the worries, fears and anxieties which plagued him in life. Even the Ladder itself may only be a figment of Jacob’s own fears, and not real at all. At the start of the film, one of the other G.I.’s complains about the ‘weed’ they smoke. Jacob can hear this, so it may be in his mind in those final moments. At the end of the film, Jacob dies in a Vietnam triage tent, while in purgatory he finally meets his son who guides him to heaven.

This is a very quick run-through of the film as I understand it. There are Kulty elements in this story, but how well would a Kult Take based on this series of events hold up?

Jacob is stuck in a personal purgatory. It is almost trivially easy to relate this to Kult. Being near death and in a hellish warzone brought Jacob close to Inferno where a purgatory was constructed for him. Assuming the Ladder is real, it must be some horror drug concocted by a servant of a higher being specifically to bring Jacob and his unit to hell. If we accept that Jacob is in a purgatory, we must ask the question: Who created it?

I have no good answer to this. Initially, I was going to suggest the chiropractor, Louis Denardo, but his actions in the film don’t particularly remind me of a nepharite intent on tormenting Jacob. He acts antagonistically towards the hospital staff in the most nightmarish scene of the film, which admittedly could all be a ruse to finally convince Jacob to shed his life and accept death. That could work, but I am more inclined to say that if there is a creator of this purgatory, we do not see them.

Several more questions pop into my mind: Why is this purgatory so ridiculously big? Are his veteran friends from Vietnam actually there, or are they replications? Who are all the people? If this truly is a purgatory as depicted in Kult, there seems to be a small army of purgatides and other horrors inhabiting this realm. Why does Jacob meet a peaceful end in his purgatory? There are details to this read that do not make sense to me, and so, I discarded it.

Jacob Is Not Dead

The film pushes the idea that Jacob is dead on us at several points. The palm reading, the flashbacks of him getting ‘rescued’ which eventually end with death, and the hospital scene where the staff explicitly tells him that he’s dead. It’s lies, I tell you, lies!

Jacob survives the effects of the Ladder, and returns home after the war. He is changed, though. War, and the lingering influence of the Ladder, has cursed him. The war trauma that he experienced births a madness in him, and that madness weakens the barrier between him and the Truth. He tries to live an unassuming life, but when he starts hallucinating about demons coming after him, Jacob breaks down in classic Kult fashion. Nothing feels safe anymore, and he begins to question his experiences in Vietnam.

The central character to this story in my opinion, and my favorite character, is Louis Denardo. Jacob’s chiropractor is a fixed point of safety in his life. The film sets up Jacob’s back pain and Louis’ privileged ability to help him with it. He also saves Jacob from the hospital where he ends up after being attacked by government agents, further cementing his role as a savior figure. The truth is that Louis is a lictor still loyal to Chesed, one of the few remaining. His master may have been destroyed, but Louis believes in his principle and mission.

Louis gives Jacob comfort in his life, attempting to mend this broken man’s suffering. We know why: the safe human does not look beyond their horizons. Jacob is only a danger so long as he remains paranoid and afraid. Jacob used to have another person to help him with these problems, Dr. Carlson from the veterans’ outpatient program, but since his death only Louis remains.

As the events of the movie unfold and Jacob is kidnapped by servants of Hareb-Serap (more on this later), Louis comes to the realization that Jacob is too far gone. He saves Jacob from Inferno, vehemently opposed to the beings there and what they may have in store for his subject. This is where the Meister Eckhart quote comes in.

If you’re frightened of dying and you’re holding on, you’ll see demons tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the demons are really angels, freeing you from the earth.

It is exactly what Jacob needs to hear, and it allows Louis to give him a calm, sensible death. His essence will find its way to some oubliette to forget and be forgotten. It is a much preferable end to a tormented soul than it falling into the hands of some razide’s horrible schemes. Louis, wielding Time & Space magic as necessary, not only kills Louis but erases from his being all the events which unfolded after Vietnam. Had he died in that triage tent, Jacob and many others around him would be better off, so Louis allows this to happen.

Hareb-Serap’s Ladder

Agent Orange, napalm, MKUltra. The Vietnam War was hell. Or, for the purposes of Hareb-Serap’s servants within the army, close enough. Michael Newman, the chemist who explains the Ladder to Jacob near the end of the film, was recruited by the army. The reseach team, headed by one of Hareb-Serap’s razides, is put to work on developing a drug which will allow the Vietnamese jungles to be pulled down into Inferno. The Ladder will cause such indiscriminate and barbaric bloodshed that the Raven of the Battlefield might manifest in physical form. Whether this goal succeeds is left to your imagination. We only know is that Jacob’s unit were the test dummies, and that the impact of this violent, supernatural drug would stick with them forever.

The war ends in 1975, and by then Jacob has been sent home. His old life is inaccessible to him, and his new life leaves much to be desired. He, like many other veterans of the conflict, suffers from mental problems. The Ladder has permanently weakened the Illusion around Jacob, as madness often does, and he experiences visions of monstrous beings in everyday life. Seeing through the Illusion can and will alert higher beings, and so Hareb-Serap’s servants eventually discover Jacob’s situation. They are in no position to allow Jacob’s madness to continue unchecked, Hareb-Serap has a generally weak hold on the United States. Instead, once it is clear that Jacob is honing in on the truth, the goal becomes to kill or permanently silence him.

We see this first when Jacob and his friends contact a lawyer about the army mistreating them. The paperwork shows they were never in Vietnam, and Jacob’s friends back out from the fight likely following threats similar to Jacob’s. Instead of killing Jacob outright, men from the government attack him and leave him severely hurt to be taken to a hospital. This entire sequence, from the car ride to the hospital, feels entirely orchestrated from start to finish. It is not by chance that Jacob ends up at the hospital. By placing him there, the forces of Inferno can keep Jacob from exposing the truth of the Ladder and perhaps even continue their research on him.

The Ladder is the root of Jacob’s problems. It caused him to experience horrible and inhuman things in Vietnam, it broke him until he began to see through the Illusion, and it made him a target of the army who had planned for him to die along with the rest of his unit.

This was a very fun film to write a Kult Take for, and it is a very fun film to watch and interpret in general. Christian mythology is really exciting when done right, which in my mind, Jacob’s Ladder does. I consciously have skipped over large parts of the movie in the interest of post length. Do you find this view of Jacob’s Ladder interesting? Do you agree or disagree with what I’ve said?

Since my introduction claims that I will step away from the nepharites when writing The Kult Take, the next one will be something quite different. Friend Request and Jacob’s Ladder are both movies which I found intensely tied to the higher powers of the Kult mythos. I want to delve into some of the weirder corners of what Kult can offer. Stay tuned!

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Nahemoth’s Subtle Influence

Trash is everywhere.

You may not always notice it when driving or walking through a city, but it is ever present. Cigarette butts roll across sidewalks, plastic bags drift through the wind, and thousands of half empty coffee cups are left at bus stops ten feet away from the nearest garbage bin. The remains of McDonalds’ meals scatter across parks and parking lots, and dog shit is only one unlucky step away. City folk live with this. They get annoyed with it, zone it out, contribute to it. In the end, it does not matter to them. Cities are not clean.

We know Nahemoth as the smog which chokes out the cities, as rivers polluted with chemicals. Nahemoth is the plastic killing marine life, the wildfire started from a shattered glass bottle, and the large-scale despoiling of all we find beautiful on our planet. If Malkuth was the conformity and logic of nature, Nahemoth is the chaos of nature, the senseless destruction brought through it and to it. She makes us fear that destruction, whether it be with lightning bolts or acid rain. She also guides us to feed it, to make her influence ever stronger and more violent.

The corruption of nature has to start somewhere. It starts with us. The influence of Nahemoth is more insidious than spectacular violence. She will gleefully use the filth and ruin we provide her. She lives with all of us, and affects us on a very personal level. We invite her into our life every time we litter. The unwillingness to recycle, the lackadaisical attitude of your trash being someone else’s problem, it all comes from her and it is pervasive.

Nahemoth strives to create an atmosphere of helplessness against the ruination of nature. If we do not know how to combat it, or are convinced that the situation either can’t or doesn’t have to be fixed, we will continue to feed her. Her clergy and servants will tell you that green fuel is a bad idea. They will tell you that separating your trash and recycling is a waste of time. They proclaim that climate change has gone too far already, and that humanity is already on an irreversible path towards death. Everything you can do to hinder her, you won’t do because she will convince you that it’s never worth it.

So throw your batteries in the river. Continue buying your plastic bags by the dozen and toss them out the car window on your way home. Leave that Starbucks cup right on the sidewalk.

What could it possibly hurt?

Session 4: Let Loose, Have Fun

This is a session recap for my current Kult: Divinity Lost roleplaying campaign. Jessy Button is played by my wife, who also does the art, and I am the game master.

PreviousNext

Friday morning, Jessy decides that she needs to talk to someone about all that’s happened to her. She doesn’t want to seem crazy to Tan, her friends wouldn’t understand, and she’s already putting so much on Carl. Luckily, she has another option. Jessy has for the past two years been tricking miss Agatha Dupont, a lady in her nineties who suffers from alzheimer’s, that Jessy is her granddaughter. The staff at the elderly care like Jessy, she visits once every month or two. As Agatha can’t remember conversations, Jessy feels safe confiding in her.

When she visits Agatha the tiny old lady is sitting in her bed and looking at the snowfall outside. She comments again and again how beautiful it is. She’s nothing but skin and bones, save her large blue eyes. Jessy speaks softly to her, trying to talk about Agatha’s past, nightmares, and that she thinks she saw a monster. Not quite able to keep up with the conversation, Agatha goes on about how her doctors are putting things in her medicines and how angry her dad got after Korea. It is a long conversation, the two talking past each other at different speeds. At least Agatha seems to be listening, a little. When she finally leaves, Jessy feels as though she has gotten a weight off her chest.

Her nightmares of jumping into an endless abyss to get away from hidden pursuers and Elise’s suffering keep Jessy up most of the night. She spends all morning preparing for the party she is to go to with Tan in the afternoon, her shaking hands firm only when she’s applying her makeup. She flirts a lot with Tan throughout the car ride up to the Bridle Path, and Tan tells Jessy about the host. He’s a film and show producer named Eduardo Sarmento, and the party is mostly a fun little get-together for TV personalities, actors, and some models Eduardo is fond of. Eduardo knows Tan through Cliq, a streaming platform they’re both invested in. When they roll up to the massive mansion and hurry through the snow to get inside, Jessy feels at least a little revitalized by sheer awe.

After brief introductions, Eduardo gives Jessy permission to take pictures and video of the pool, but the rest of the place he’d prefer to be a private space. The glassed-in pool area, with its ‘tribal’ decorations and lush plantlife, is plenty enough for the guests to sit around, swim, and hold private conversation without ever feeling crowded. A bar serves free alcohol, and the atmosphere is relaxed and joyful with nice ambient beats playing from a surround sound system. Jessy feels right at home. She takes plenty of pictures and video, keeping Tan visible in the background whenever possible, though for a while he is off somewhere else, most likely with Eduardo.

Skipping snow day for a tropical afternoon #JustJessy

Jessy drifts around the party in her bikini, drink in hand and chatting up anyone who looks interesting. She sits down for a conversation with an Instagram model, Sasha Giordano, when several men stomp the snow off their shoes in the entry hallway. They greet Eduardo with smiles and spread out to enjoy the party. Among them, a tall man in a black suit. Jessy has seen him before – he is one of the men who came into her hotel room at the Fairmont Hotel to take Elise away.

The man moves slowly, stiffly, and walks over to talk to Eduardo and Tan for a moment. Jessy overhears him presenting himself as Artyom Sokorov. When she looks around, noticing how some of the men in Artyom’s entourage immediately approach the girls by the pool, she realizes that Artyom is there for the same reason he was with Elise at the hotel1. Someone will disappear with these men tonight. Jessy feels a desperate need for another drink. 1 Eye for Detail
Result: <9

Jessy sits down with Tan once she spots him, eager for more attention. Tan suggest the two of them slip away somewhere more private to have some fun, and Jessy almost agrees. She points out Artyom to Tan, and remarks that he looks especially ‘spooky’. Tan finds him more interesting than anything, and invites him over for a talk. If the stone-faced Russian man in his strangely ill-fitting suit recognizes Jessy, he does not show it. They learn that Artyom is there as part of the friend group of a man called Abbas. Abbas, it turns out, is currently down by the pool flirting with Sasha. Asked about his own work, Artyom explains with his thick accent that he offers ‘personal, discreet experiences’ to the rich, allowing them to experience any of their desires. Tan acts interested, but without speaking in private Artyom does not seem willing to give details.

A lot of things happen quickly. Tan reaches forward and whispers to Artyom while holding his hand, that he is the Twins and that Artyom will kneel for him. As he begins to speak in some unknown language which Jessy doesn’t recognize and stroking Artyom’s face lovingly, the Russian stands up violently and in that commotion the Illusion concealing him crumbles to reveal what he truly is.

When Artyom stands up, Jessy realizes that he must be well past eight feet tall. A white plastic, expressionless mask has been crudely stapled onto his face with thick, metal clamps. The suit is ill-fitting: Artyom is much too tall, his flayed body stretched and ripped beyond any repair. Gangrene spreads from his head and down his neck, dried and cracked black tissue. Mid-thigh, his legs have been cut off and rusted metal stakes have been forced into his body and screwed into his legs with iron bolts and wires.

Knee-less, he stomps across the floor with an unnatural gait and punches Tan straight in the face to send him flying half-way across the room, landing against a small tree planted indoors. Jessy can do nothing but stare, unable to parse what she’s looking at but desperately craving more of it2. 2 Keep it Together
Result: 10-14
Obsessed

Artyom yells a threat to Tan and leaves, his entourage leaving with him. Sasha leaves with Abbas, as do two others from the pool. Tan seems to be okay, just a tad shaken. After feigning confusion as to why Artyom attacked him, he is offered some privacy in a small living room to recuperate. Jessy comes with him, sitting down next to Tan in a lounging couch. She has so many questions, especially since Tan seems so calm about this experience. He tries to explain to her that what she saw wasn’t human, that ‘Artyom’ was a guise. Tan knew that Artyom was something else, that’s why he wanted to get closer to him, but clearly that wasn’t a great idea. When Jessy asks about the words Tan spoke to him, he makes excuses about the inability of the English language in expressing what he was doing, but eventually settles on telling Jessy that he tried to make Artyom serve him.

Jessy still has concerns. Sasha was taken away by those people, after all. Tan shrugs and tells her that whatever Artyom and Abbas intend to do, it will need to happen. They can not stop it. Since Artyom plans to stay in Toronto until spring, it will probably happen again. Their conversation inevitably turns to flirting, which turns to making out, which faster than thought possible turns to sex. Tan takes the reigns, playfully dominating Jessy. Her mind stays on the vile creature that was Artyom, even as Tan ravishes her. Rather than frighten her, it only serves to turn her on more. Time disappears while the two make love, and once it is over Tan and Jessy slip back into the pool. They flirt more with each other, and with others in the pool. It is all a very good time, until a scream from the hallway puts the party at a standstill once more.

Eduardo is falling to pieces. Having come from his bedroom, his flesh seems to be ripping and falling off of his body in gory chunks. No amount of screaming, scratching or squeezing seems to help, and Eduardo helplessly tries to hold his flesh together as it shears off the bone like wet clay. Any attempt to help is in vain, and it is not long before Eduardo dies as a stinking, broken mess of blood and flesh on the floor3. 3 Keep it Together
Result: 10-14
Guilt-ridden

Police and medics arrive, and the corpse falls to yet more pieces even as they try to lift it up onto a gurney. A foot, half an arm and Eduardo’s entrails need to be carried off in a separate bag. The police investigate and interrogate all guests, holding everyone there until preliminary lab results return several hours later. They show nothing unusual. Jessy and Tan leave, speaking sincerely at first about the terrible death they witnessed. Tan has no explanation for it, but does not seem too torn up about it. Soon enough, the two return to jokes and flirting, and on Tan’s suggestion they take in to a nearby hotel. Jessy leaps at a chance to spend her night with Tan.

Session 3: Descent

This is a session recap for my current Kult: Divinity Lost roleplaying campaign. Jessy Button is played by my wife, who also does the art, and I am the game master.

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On Tuesday, Jessy goes for a coffee date with Andi to discuss her ring and collaboration ideas. Andi admits that she’s been doing her own research about these Granger Fine Jewelry rings, because seeing one in real life made her a little too excited. Jessy allows her a closer examination, and she decides that it was likely made in the late 1970s, before all the legal trouble started for the company. Andi shows Jessy old pictures that one of her friends managed to dig up – similar rings to the one Jessy has, on the fingers of Henry Ford II and Saddam Hussein. She doesn’t know what became of them. She again questions, in her friendly tone, why Jessy would have the ring. She may be rich, but she’s not Henry Ford.

Discussing the possibility of Andi writing a blog about Jessy’s ring, they decide that more research is needed. One of Andi’s friends, Simon, knows a lady who used to work in sales for Granger. Meeting with her could be a great next step. Past this, the conversation turns to the lighter subject of doing a collaboration video about the latest line of jewelry that Andi got her hands on.

The day after, Jessy texts Carl Hunt again, asking what the hotel has said about the outrageous behaviour of their security staff. He did show them the footage that Jessy shared with him, but the hotel assured that those men were not employed security. Obviously worried, the hotel staff will handle contact with the authorities. The men dragging Elise away also remain unidentified. Carl promises to keep Jessy up to date. She expresses her worry for Elise, the girl may well be dead now.

Jessy’s sleep is ruined by nightmares, all week they continue. Always going downwards, Elise’s screaming face as she’s cut into tiny pieces by a razor sharp knife, and the homeless men breaking into Jessy’s apartment to take her away. Each dream inevitably ends with the collapse of reality, everything plunging down into an emptiness and Jessy following. The fall wakes her most days. She can’t remember what happens next in the dreams when she doesn’t.

By the end of the week, Jessy has had quite enough of it. She doesn’t like having to triple check whether her door is locked, nor sleeping with pepper spray next to her, but the dreams have her paranoid. She decides to go down below Toronto again and check out the spot where she saw those homeless men spying on her. She hopes that going there might put her mind at ease. Jessy walks down the same streets, the same corridors of the PATH, all the while unnerved by the begging men and women always present downtown. They all seem to be staring at her.

Jessy tries to inconspicuously spy back at those keeping watch on her. An old dark-skinned lady with no sign, no cup for change, nor any interest in anyone passing by except for Jessy1 meets eyes with her. She gets up and limps her way over, a tired but determined look in her face. Follow me, she demands with a thick accent and waves Jessy along. Startled, she follows. The woman leads her to the same door in the PATH as where she last saw those men haunting her dreams. Conversation is stilted, but the woman has something to show her. 1 Eye for Detail
Result: <9

Jessy is ushered through a filthy, vandalized maintenance corridor and down a set of stairs to an unlit storage room, the TTC logo printed on water damaged boxes stacked on pallets. A few of the boxes have been pushed up to block a door on the other side of the room. Jessy keeps the flashlight from her phone up, trying to take in her surroundings. When questioned on where they’re going, her guide tries to tell her something about the way forward. The vocabulary isn’t quite there, though.

Something moves among the boxes. Jessy stops and tries to get a better look, on edge already and not interested in nasty surprises. No time to pause, Jessy is ushered towards the metal door at the end of the room. Once the guide has opened the door, she grabs Jessy and roughly shoves her through it with surprising strength. Jessy catches the door frame with one hand2, but the woman behind her slams the door shut and she has no option but to pull away or break her fingers. She can barely hear the woman head back up the stairs on the other side, leaving Jessy alone.

A corridor leads left and right, flickering or smashed out lamps barely lighting the way. The handle on this side has been broken off, leaving only a hole to the internal mechanism of the sturdy door. She can’t get it open, at least not without tools. Jessy’s strong sense of direction tells her that she could get to Union Station if she follows the corridor to the left. It may be her best way out of here.3.
2 Act under Pressure
Result: 10-14

3 Observe a Situation
Result: 15+

Ignoring the crude graffiti of six-legged men and hastily scrawled racial slurs, Jessy walks down the corridor, phone in hand as the sound of clattering machinery echoes in the distance. From behind a closed door, she hears what sounds like a poorly tuned radio. Jessy turns on her phone camera then and starts recording, realizing that whatever is happening she wants proof of it. The path forward leads past a set of stairs heading deeper down into the dark. She’d rather not go there if it can be avoided.

Jessy pushes the door the door open and lets her phone camera and flashlight sweep the room on the other side. The radio is playing a strange sermon about pushing through dark corridors and discovering the true face of God. The corpse sitting by the radio has Jessy on her toes as she hurries through the room4. It seems to have been either a break room, or a workshop, or both. She finds a screwdriver and a crowbar, hoping that she may be able to pry open the door she came through. Before she leaves, Jessy spots an old advisory poster, the paper yellowed and partly torn. 4 Keep it Together
Result: 15+

ATTENTION ALL EMPLOYEES

Please be advised that the No Entry signs refer to you. They are posted for your safety, and the Toronto Transit Commission nor Erinyes Security can assure your safety should you choose to disregard this.

The words ‘THEY KNOW’ is scribbled in black marker on top of this paper, tearing off part of it so the writing ends up on the wall. As she walks out into the clattering, noisy corridor, she can only just pick up the sounds of someone or something coming up the stairs ahead. She wastes no time, immediately running back to try and get open the broken door. Jessy runs a long, long while, until she’s certain she must have passed the door. The corridor seems to go on forever and she’s out of breath by the time she finally reaches it. She can see her two pursuers, and hear their guttural screams, though she is well ahead of them. They hobble after her, and Jessy has no interest in letting them catch up.

Working in a rush to get the door open, she throws herself into the storage room from earlier, the door closing behind her4. Jessy stumbles and drops her phone, the flashlight casting a light on something Jessy never wanted to see. Beside the stairs leading up, she mistakes it at first for a pile of corpses. Then the thing moves, and screams, and wails for her to come closer5. Jessy lets out a panicked scream, dives for her phone and rushes to the stairs. It’s not until she’s at the bottom that she realizes that the stairs were going the wrong way. She has run into a place with no lights, no walls in sight, and, once she turns around, no stairs back up. Jessy’s phone runs out of battery soon after, and she is left to wander blind in the silence. 4 Act under Pressure
Result: 10-14

5 See through the Illusion
Result: 10-14
It reached for her, begging for help

She loses grip of time. Minutes, hours, days, she could not say how long she spends in there. Finally, a sound breaks through the silence – the clattering of a subway train. She runs towards it, and finds a door which she rips open in a panic to rush headlong into Wellesley Station. How did she get there? Shaken beyond belief, Jessy finds her way home before calling up her friends. She needs, more than anything, to get absolutely plastered. She drinks all night, invites Amanda over, and the two fall asleep together in her bed with empty bottles and cans around them. Having company over still does nothing to stop her dreams, locked in an empty endless space with the wailing of that corpse beast beckoning her.

Check out my artist’s website!

Larissa Darrah is a very talented freelance illustrator. She does cool digital art and is, in general, a pretty swell person. I wouldn’t marry someone who wasn’t swell. She’s also one of my favorite people to play roleplaying games with, and makes every session of Jessy’s Story matter to me.

She also has a website! And Instagram! And Facebook! And even a Twitter! Tumblr too? I feel like linking all of those here is the least I can do to give back for the art she’s making for me. Check her out! She’s open for commissions, if you also enjoy having art.

The Kult Take: Friend Request

For this recurring segment of Beyond Elysium, I will step away from the nepharites and have a Kult-inspired look at other horror media. Welcome to The Kult Take.

Friend Request is a 2016 horror movie in which Laura, a popular college girl with an active social media presence, tries to befriend the friendless freak Marina and gets punished for it. It has problems: it loses steam about one third through the movie but just keeps plodding on, the scares are lazy, and the message is, like, wow, mean spirited. BUT! Marina, presented in the film as a new age witch who sacrifices herself to curse Laura, is a delightful look at how Sathariel corrupts the miserable and lonely.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Marina Nedifar, a lonely and bullied young woman who grew up at an orphanage, has been fed since childhood with lies and promises by Sathariel, the death angel of exclusion. She was born in Moore’s Grove, apparently a strange cult-like commune, until it burned down in a massive fire with Marina, still a fetus, as the only survivor. Cults devoted to Sathariel are rare, but this secluded commune sacrificed itself by burning down their own homes in order to create a powerful servant for Sathariel.  Fascinating, and dangerous.

The movie tells us that Marina is a witch, in the classic christian ‘dancing with Satan at Blåkulla’ sense. Since Christianity is a lie far removed from True Reality, we can rule this theory out. That is not what is happening. Marina has had powers even since childhood, though, when her two bullies were disfigured and murdered by a swarm of wasps. She acts out the will of the death angel, with supernatural abilities gifted to her directly from this higher being.

When Marina kills herself, she performs a modern interpretation of what the film presents as an old witch ritual – killing oneself in front of a black mirror to become ‘something else’. Instead of using a black mirror, Marina hangs and burns herself in front of a blank computer screen. She performs this ritual in order to target Laura, who hurt and humiliated her earlier in the film, with a curse.

“You will know how it feels to be lonely :)”

Marina’s “ghost”, or some magic from Sathariel meant to emulate her, starts tormenting Laura’s friends with a goal not to kill Laura, but to possess her. This can only be done once she has experienced the same loneliness which Marina lived with all her life. On a higher level, Sathariel is spreading her influence within the Illusion. Laura’s friends die one by one, Laura is framed for vehement online acts and no one believes her story of what is happening, and all the while she is desperately trying to find a way out. As her sanity slips from the chaos and fear, Marina and Sathariel herself inch closer to their final goal.

At the movie’s climax, Laura finally steps inside the ‘black mirror’ realm. It is a twisted place of darkness and grim looking trees, poorly foreshadowed by the artwork which made Marina stand out earlier in the film. Here, Marina makes her final move and attacks Laura directly. We see, as the film ends, Laura sitting alone in a college cafeteria. She is pale, dressed like Marina was, and has a laptop in front of her showing that her Facebook page now looks the same as Marina’s did. The possession is complete, and Sathariel can look for her next target.

Let’s talk about Kult and how to use Marina, or a character similar to her. Introduce her as a strange loner, in the back of the bus or somewhere in class, perhaps sitting at the far end of the office. Make them seem lonely, and sad, and a little bit off, but ultimately just a person in an unfortunate place in life. Someone that a player character could help.

Once contact has been established, escalate quickly. The character is immediately overwhelmed by hundreds of text messages, Marina finds them and visits them no matter when or where. Make Marina’s creepy art features the character she’s most attached to. The situation needs to become dire quickly enough that the character realizes their mistake and tries to break things off with Marina.

Then, the suicide. The film makes a great move by making Marina’s suicide public. Livestream it, or post a video, but the ritual itself must be done in private. Hanging and burning oneself is not an easy thing to pull off with spectators, and Sathariel prefers the solitude. The suicide may feel like either a relief or a shame to the character, but either feeling does not last once Marina’s haunting begins.

The most important thing to emphasize is exclusion, and loneliness. When the character becomes Haunted by Marina, make certain that the horror doesn’t start and end with the deaths of the character’s friends and family. The friends still alive will begin to distrust the character, and events outside the character’s control will advertise them as an other, someone to shun.

In the film, Marina posts videos using Laura’s Facebook feed which show both the suicides of Marina’s and one of Laura’s friends. She can’t delete the videos, she can’t delete her account. Laura is powerless to stop the people around her from seeing her as a complete asshole. Additionally, Laura’s own quest to stop the events unfolding brings her to some unsavory places and drives a wedge between herself and her boyfriend. Not only are her friends dying faster than she can emotionally handle, but it seems the universe itself is trying to push her away from human connection.

This is what Sathariel does, and it is what she thrives on. Once the Haunted character is completely alone, shunned by society and with a trail of dead friends behind them, the story ends with the final possession. Marina creates her successor and inhabits her… or perhaps it is just an incarnate of the death angel herself?

Final note: I have received quite a few good suggestions for horror media to tackle with The Kult Take. Next up is Jacob’s Ladder, because it has to be done. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment them. If there’s other type of content you’d like to see in these Kult Takes, I am open to feedback. I’ve considered things such as gameplay examples, stat blocks where applicable, and things of the sort. Tell me your thoughts. 🙂

Session 2: A Hotel Stay

This is a session recap for my current Kult: Divinity Lost roleplaying campaign. Jessy Button is played by my wife, who also does the art, and I am the game master.

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Jessy spends a long while cleaning herself off, finding blood under her nails and vicious scratches on her arms. She tosses the mask in the garbage, turning it so she doesn’t have to deal with the enormous goat eyes staring at her. In her heap of new Instagram messages, she finds one of a hand holding a whole bundle of hundred dollar bills. This immediately piques her interest. The person who sent it to her, an empty account with a garbage name, asks immediately about Tan. Where did Jessy go with him? Who was there? A thousand dollars are offered for the information. Jessy tells the person that she’ll tell them next time she sees Tan. After hitting up some of her followers for easy money, selling personal photos to them, she gets ready to head outside.

Spending time with her friends Amanda and Tomiko, Jessy talks about the party she went to and about Tan. She confides in her friends that Tan seems to be into her, and they discuss ways for her to contact him again. After a nice manicure session, they go shopping as a snow storm hits Toronto. Amanda and Tomiko head out in a hurry, not wanting the snow storm to completely bury their car, and Jessy is left at the shopping center.

With Uber down, traffic at a standstill, and unwilling to take the PATH to her home, she calls Carl Hunt, her beloved sugar daddy with a family of his own. Carl organizes for her to stay a night at a hotel nearby1. 1 Impostor
Result: 10-14

Down in the PATH, heading to the hotel, Jessy spots two filthy homeless men staring and pointing at her. When she gets closer, they quickly open an unmarked door to a maintenance hallway and leave. Clutching her pepper spray, Jessy hurries onward to the hotel, where she gets a nice room to relax in. She flirts with Carl over text, sending him more and more risque photos even as he’s laying next to his wife in bed. A banging on her door interrupts it all, with a girl outside yelling for help. After some hesitation, Jessy does let the girl in, who in a panic tries to explain that she’s being chased.

The girl, Elise, is no more than seventeen and clad in pajamas. Through her tears and hyperventilating, she tells Jessy that the men who ran past her door soon after Elise was let in were planning to cut her into pieces. She was with them hoping to make some money by hanging around rich men and seeing where it took her. She warns Jessy not to call the police, because one of the men following her is a police officer. The men chasing Elise come back to their floor, banging on doors and arguing with other guests. Eventually they come to Jessy’s door, and Carl inconveniently calling her phone alerts them that someone is in there. They continue to hammer at the door, demanding to be let in.

Jessy calls security, who to her relief arrive quickly. Relief soon turns into panic, however, as the security officer unlocks the door for the men outside and let them in. Elise, crying and screaming and begging, is dragged out of the room, and Jessy lays into the security employees. She yells at them about how she’s going to get them fired, how she’s been filming their faces, and how she’ll ruin their lives. Nothing seems to bite: they leave, and eventually she is left alone with only blood stains on the corridor carpet to look at. Helpless, she calls Carl and explains the situation to him. She goes to bed, but the vivid image of Elise crying as her body is cut into a hundred pieces stays with her the entire night.

The day after and with the storm subsided, Jessy manages to get herself home. She relaxes, gets drunk, and gets into a call with Tan after a brief text conversation. They chat with lots of laughter, and Tan explains that the mask was from a party game they played after Jessy had gotten wasted and that she hadn’t wanted to take it off. He urges her not to throw it out, but to keep it around as she may grow to love it despite its strange looks. Finally, he invites her to a party for next week, and dinner after that.

She wakes up in a bare, concrete corridor, everything behind her covered in darkness. A loud scream of pain drives her forward, dressed only in her negligee as she runs down metal frame industrial stairs. A gut wrenching emptiness tugs at Jessy, and the entire world falls around her into an endless abyss. Jessy is left standing on the precipice of this emptiness, and something deep down urges her to jump. When she does, she wakes up to another message from the mysterious Instagram account. She’s asked about what she and Tan were talking about, which she answers to immediately. Another thousand dollars are added to her PayPal account, but she receives no answer to her question of how the person knew that she had talked to Tan, or who they are at all.

The only way out is down.
Jessy spends her morning researching Granger Fine Jewelry2. A company founded in 1941 by a French-Jewish refugee and apparently based in Toronto, it made a name for itself by hiring only the absolute top talent and producing their designs for high-end consumers. In the late 70s and early 80s, several criminal investigations lead not only to the original owner Abraham Granger’s death, but massive layoffs. 2 Investigate
Result: 10-14

Digging further, she discovers a self-proclaimed “well researched” poster on a forum claiming that Granger Fine Jewelry attacked and cursed the “puppeteers” that control the world, and that they sent the police to kill several employees of the company to stop them. Jessy, with no other leads, sends a message to the person on the forum. She also contacts Granger Fine Jewelry directly through a throw-away email account, inquiring about what to do about the ring she’s inherited. That night, another nightmare like the last one. The hobos she spotted down in the PATH break into her room, and as she attacks them the entire world falls apart and dives straight down into an endless swallowing emptiness before she wakes up.