Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Found Movies

In the days before September 14th, 2009, 16-year-old Emma Neiderbrock attended the Horrorcore concert Strictly For The Wicked, along with her estranged parents Mark Neiderbrock and Debra Kelly, her friend Melanie Wells, and her boyfriend, an aspiring Horrorcore rapper named Sam McCroskey, a.k.a. Syko Sam. On the 14th Sam killed the three women with a hammer in the middle of the night, and then killed Mark with a maul when he arrived at the house in Farmville, Virginia, on the 17th.  

Sam, who is now serving a life sentence, is chubby with red hair. His YouTube account is LiLdEmOnDoG. One of his videos is titled, “Cute Boat.” Sam, recording with his cell phone, is on a ferry with two other friends, a heavyset boy and a tired-eyed girl. They shyly acknowledge him. When the ferry lumbers forward, the guy steps to the camera and says, “It’s moving!” Sam, in a lispy mock-fag voice favored by Horrorcore devotees, yelps “I’m sthoo scared!” Sam then turns his attention to the water, choppy micro-waves, a little red Dinghy coasting miles away.

“Aww, we got a little boat, isn’t that cute?” He zooms further, suffocating the space around the Dinghy. “It’s a cute boat, cute boat. I wanna pet the boat.” His friends don’t respond. The Dinghy slides off. 


5 YouTube videos presented before you:

1: A shaken Horrorcore fan’s immediate vlog. He knew the victims peripherally. His face beams through, carrying enough pain to break it apart. “You really fucked us, Sam!” he says, because now the media and the culture will turn a further blind eye to Horrorcore and its followers. He says the music is therapy, because they all have fucked up lives. They all help each other. Because of Sam, the subculture will be further chastised and misunderstood. There are probably dozens of videos just like this, and I don’t think it represents the entire community response, but it's enough to convey the effect of these murders on the people who sailed the same dark ship as Emily, Melanie, and Sam.

2: The final video on Sam’s YouTube account, called "HD Testing." He doesn’t speak. We don’t even see his face. The crude cell phone takes us through his room, above his bed, to the walls overflowing with Horrorcore ephemera, flyers for shows by acts we don’t know, posters of the harmlessly goofy Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope. Breathing. His hand gives the image unruly swat. Still light out. This is months before.

3: A Horrorcore rapper named Mars appears on a CBS news show, wearing a Hannibal Lector muzzle, admitting that he knew Sam, who had contacted him on Myspace several times. He defends the music as entertainment. He wonders why Stephen King isn’t asked to take accountability for the gruesome content in “his movies.”

4: A tribute song/video for Emma and Melanie by rapper “Stitch Mouth.” Terry Reid’s somber To Be Treated Rite is sampled between Stitch Mouth’s verses. He sounds choked, humbled, deeply sincere, and we can hear him tremble when facing down real-life violence previously filtered through his music as cartoon carnage. “I really can’t believe that you’re gone/but my eyes are full of tears as I try to write this song…it was great to finally meet you, hanging out and having a good time/I never thought I’d be writing this kind of rhyme.” Over this song is a single graphic with the text “We will never forget you, you will always be missed” hanging over Emma and Melanie, young pale girls with dyed hair and eyebrows sunk in raven-black shadow. We’ve known these girls, the ones sitting in the back of the bus, a few grades below us, the ones huddled together at school assemblies, excluding us from their special nightworld. “Onstage seeing your faces in the front row/I’ll be looking for those faces every time I play a show.” The Reid sample, along with Stitch Mouth’s heartbroken sincerity, makes the rushed tribute track a genuine outreach for empathy and the humane treatment of others. It brings to mind the Drive By Truckers song “Two Daughters And A Beautiful Wife,” about the slaughter of musician Bryan Harvey and his entire family on New Year’s Day, 2006. Both songs address The Pale directly, asking it to return dear friends it has taken away. But The Pale doesn’t answer. Once you’re gone, you can’t come back, even if you never wanted to go.

5: An original composition by Syko Sam called My Dark Side. The beat is warped sludge. His rhyming is thoroughly substandard. “This is my dark side,” Sam howls in a nasally voice, “The place where you die!” From the EP I Kill People For Real, it is amateur Horrorcore, which speaks for itself. Except the title is fact, the lyrics are true, so it isn’t Horrorcore at all. This “song” is the abrasive declaration of a killer.


In 2007, Brian De Palma made Redacted, a now-forgotten movie about Iraq war crimes that generated political controversy upon its release, controversy that overlooked De Palma’s formal ambitions, as Fox News isn’t the most astute bunch of film critics. The narrative is constructed piecemeal from vlogs, video diaries, surveillance footage and clandestine terrorist bootlegs. A distressed widow addresses us from a video blog on a website she created to chronicle her life as the spouse of a man in uniform. A pierced, proto-Lisbeth Salander rants against The Man in an acidic YouTube clip. I find the film quite powerful (I truly think it brings the director full circle to his guerilla, off-grid roots, which may be why he hasn’t directed a feature since), but I recall it here because you can take every aforementioned YouTube clip and create your own Redacted, fulfilling the construction of cast-off materials that unite to form a movie.

The Farmville murders are the first true-crime event of the social networking age, the YouTube age, during a time when anybody can share anything in one Great Outlet. I read about these killings in late December of the year, just after I had dropped out of an NYU graduate program and was unloading all of my burdens into a short novel about upper class siblings engaged in S&M, incest, and role playing. When I wasn’t writing I found these videos. I watched them in a near endless rotation, changing the order, editing the movie as I went, making the story nonlinear, noting the subtle changes in feeling these shifts encouraged.

The first scene could be news footage of Sam’s arrest, where he tries to be provocative by quipping, “Jesus told me to do it.” This can easily be located from many different news channels. Let’s stay with 5 uploads in this armchair editing bay.

2, 1, 5, 3, 4: In Cold Blood, almost. Begins with an overture of the horror that Nancy Grace would take as proof of ICP’s direct involvement, though the enlightened understand the murderous instinct comes from the void behind the operating eyeball. Ends on the correct note of tragedy. Stitch Mouth’s tribute song was made to play over the unspooling of end credits that don’t actually exist. My Dark Side is presented post-mortem, as bagged evidence. There’s no meaning to it beyond the banality we give to evil to make it go away.

1, 4, 2, 5, 3: Starting with the vlog leaves stranded the uninitiated and drops the rest of us inside the hornet’s nest after it has been kicked. Continuing with the tribute shows us the community’s reaction before anything else, with Sam’s final upload as a counterpoint, offsetting the believable defense of the Horrorcore faithful with the taut, curling, but it did happen, I came from this and I did it. ("You really fucked us, Sam!") The casual of Sam’s room tour effectively terminates with the roar of My Dark Side, which must have been playing in Sam’s head as he bashed Melanie and Emily’s brains in. Finally, a way out of the insular, with Mars the less-than-dependable mouthpiece. We’ve journeyed from a distraught fan in his lair speaking at a fixed webcam to a rapper in a newsroom speaking to the skeptical press, one afraid of his community’s further denigration, the other pulled out like the Bearded Lady and doing them no favors.

In order, 1-5. The scariest edit, canceling the sadness with Syko Sam’s rabid warning. He overshadows those girls, draining their voices away. Late, hours before dawn, I wished his dark side could be redacted.


I listened to a few Mars tracks on his Myspace page, abysmally produced odes to rape and rapists. The cover of his LP Mars Attacks shows a 50-foot Mars reaching his giant hand towards a screaming woman, about to scoop her up. On morning walks when I’d had little sleep, I pictured that hand outstretched, zeroing in, except it wasn’t Mars but Sam rampaging through the streets of my gone mind.

I researched Horrorcore, got into it before getting myself out of it just as quickly. I haven’t written about the murders until now because my fascination with them, and my subsequent discovery of this singular film, reached white heat that January. It wasn’t over. I would become obsessed with another viral phantom before long.

After Ricardo Lopez I had to stop before I was swept out with the black tide for good. I spent the rest of 2010 acquainting myself with the vast body of Neil Young’s work, discovering writers like Greil Marcus and Jimmy McDonough, romantically pining after the wrong people, and writing a long novel in front of my television, using a seemingly endless lineup of terrible movies as ambience to make the words flow. It worked. The monsters hid. And yet…I couldn’t forget about Melanie, a girl I probably would have fallen for, mistaking her indifference as the very opposite signal. She looks like the cover of an Evanescence album, the band she could have been into before discovering Horrorcore. Her eyes betray the transitory phase. We can see her with Emily reaching their pink hands and bloodred nails to the stage, bowed in worship to the sonic bile that restores and releases them. They each went to sleep and experienced their final pain as dreams. We can hope we’ll all be treated right, but we know that isn’t enough. Not against this.


Ricardo Lopez is long dead now. He stalked the alternative pop singer Bj√∂rk and mailed her a letter bomb before committing suicide in 1996, leaving behind 18 hours of home video footage. He documents his careful prep of the bomb. Acid sprays a decoy drawing of the Icelander pixie. “Do you want to see something funny?” Lopez asks in the beginning of the diary. “I’m gonna show you who I am.” He leaves the frame. Seconds later a different Ricardo is there, pulling back the skin of his eyebrows, pushing out his cheeks and contorting his face madly. “I’m a monster.”

He lives in a rubbish-strewn apartment he calls the “pigsty.” Lopez is working on a sculpture of her. He addresses the camera shirtless and frequently clad in nothing but his underwear. Referring to her relationship with the musician Goldie, Lopez tells us he has to kill her now because she’s “fucking a nigger.” Holding an image of her from a tour poster, he laments how “innocent and pure and beautiful” her face was. But no more.

Heavyset, downcast, Lopez first speaks in monotone, but as he gets more adjusted to the camera-as-confessional, he becomes more feverish, breathlessly justifying his love for a woman he’s never met by saying “love is chemicals.” His rants grow in malignancy, gaining racist, obsessive momentum as he nears the completion of his task. I was paralyzed with fear when I saw Lopez clips on a sensational E! special on celebrity stalkers, but coming to longer selections from The Video Diary Of Ricardo Lopez we see the man bitterly humanized. Lopez seems to know that he’s letting himself go. By the end, he’s too far gone, but near the start, after he buys the camera and announces his birthday, there’s a sad resignation to him, as if he’s given up every option save going insane.

Picture this. You’re alone, isolated, lost in your head. The person you want to be in there with you is gone and living in another world with someone else. You imagine what their courtship might have been, because your imagination is so boundlessly vivid. You see her face change when the moment of deepening feelings is clear. You see him away from her, maybe walking down a street, but thinking of her, knowing he’ll get her, already knowing how. You see them lying on a bed, maybe watching a movie, maybe talking, stroking each other casually during a conversation that covers no ground other than cementing this mutual new companionship. You see the dark room where the two get each other off. You see her face cupped within his rough hands. You know that everything your mind has been blessed with means nothing to you now because you aren’t in her favor. Self-assurances burn away. You know it didn’t have to be like this. You tell yourself that a few stabs of fate would have tied you both in a togetherness knot. You tell yourself that you’ve been projecting and the things you thought were what bonded her to you were just ashes of a former fantasy. You tell yourself these things to assuage the Blue Monica, an invincible shovel piling more dirt on the cemetery plot your room has become, deep in the ground, buried under miles of packed soil, and the plane you knew, the self you thought you were is above ground, mourning it’s own death. They become gargoyles conspiring to steal the last drips of happiness you have left. You tell yourself it isn’t true, but you’re too far gone, you’re too deep, six feet under, seven, eight, so that paranoia becomes real, and you try to rationalize away the Blue Monica by stressing the insignificance of the self, the very selfishness of the self demanding something it hasn’t earned, an alliance that didn’t clear. This relationship is actually happening every second of your life in your tomb. If you were born to become a carpenter or a chef your wounds would stop at raw jealousy, but you have the curse of a creative mind, and the result is that you see them, you envision scenarios, him being polite for her parents before they bundle up against the cold, on a date, a date, a date, gloves on one hand but no gloves on the other so they can press their palms together for warmth. You consider, but don’t dwell, on the fact that years or months ago she meant nothing to you because you didn’t know her, and now all of a sudden you think you love her and you know that isn’t true but you like the feel of it behind your tongue, you like her enough to want to think you love her, though you knew that indulging these thoughts was entering a level of hellfire that even Jerry Lee Lewis didn’t reach with his flammable piano, and because of those few seconds of battering love onto the her you think you knew the novelistic verisimilitude of these imagined kisses hello and bundled dates smart even more than picturing the two as lovers, because you knew her enough to know how she’d look and how she would be when she had fallen for someone, anyone, him. Pornography is unwatchable because of your habit of imprinting them and seeing their relationship as all relationships. Your tomb is where you belong. But your art! She’ll be touched by the work you produce, and even if it doesn’t make her leave him for you it’s a minor triumph to even think she’ll keep the effect your art has on her a secret from her boyfriend, because you know you can do something he can’t, she can love what you make even if she can never love you because the gulf is impossible to jump. No, no, you finish your work and it stays locked up with the tomb and you. He is her boyfriend. She is his girlfriend. That’s a slammed door in a haunted house. Books are a comfort, yet books are guilty of being finished and then you’re deposited back. Always back.

You know this is not a healthy way to live. You know you have a choice. You can let your tomb sink deeper into soil as thin as butter. You can dig yourself out and walk away to the possibilities beyond the cemetery. You can stop hating and loving and hating people you haven’t begun to try to understand past the final definitions you’ve imposed upon them. You can stop hating the art you produce because it isn’t her bare shoulder rolled away from you in the brilliant morning, Blue Monica as retracted from your life as old history. His art is the ability to get her to want to be with him. Your art is worth pursuing as a means of satisfying the inclinations you were born with. This is what you can think, if you want. You can move on. You can let her go. It’s easy, really. If you bask in it, letting go is an entirely nourishing relief. You can free yourself from yourself. You can swim, you can swim away.

Ricardo Lopez couldn’t do that. His tomb was too deep. A simple matter of chemical imbalance divides him from us and the universal heartbreak I’ve tried to describe. As soon as a documentarian named Sami Saif took those 18 hours and whittled them down to a smooth 90 minutes, a narrative was culled from his last months. There is a harrowing plunge tracing his arc from despondent ranting to blazing insanity. Lopez cuts off all his hair and paints his body orange and green, finishing the letter bomb and rolling his head around, bugging his eyes out like the victim of demonic possession. The final moments you can’t see on YouTube. To view this, you have to seek the Blue Monica’s call inside deeper internet canyons. The actual footage of his suicide is on one of those Interzone shock sites that host Budd Dwyer and Al Qaeda beheadings.

Lopez sits on his couch in the pigsty. He is now more than one troubled human being. He has become elemental, feral, Kurtz, the final plateau of human we neither want to encounter or realize we’ve become. A sheet of paper is hung on the wall behind him reading: The Best Of Me. “Any last words? Yea. Fuck the world. Fuck Bee-ork, and her nigger loving self.” He’s playing one of her songs. It ends, then he plays it again. Ricardo Lopez pants and wheezes. Hyperventilating, he shoves the handgun into his mouth and pulls the trigger. Nothing explodes from behind his skull. Lopez simply groans-or is it final crying?-and slumps down, disappearing from view and dying on the floor.


I scanned the Wikipedia page for the Farmville murders many, many times back in those days. During one of my visits I came across one of those great rare disruptions in the formal code. Contained within an entry full of official information and carefully sourced material, someone had edited the page and written a slight yet passionate defense of Melanie Wells. I don’t remember the exact wording (it was removed quickly), but it went a little like this: “stop talking about melanie she was a great person and you didnt know her.”

Whoever wrote that had experienced the events as more than a YouTube mashup. They missed her so much. I can’t pretend to know their pain, and my intention in writing this isn’t to glorify or diminish the ghastliness of Sam’s crimes or Ricardo Lopez’s wretched psychosis. Their cases are unique in the annals of crime and our generation’s availability of content. Everything mentioned here is viewable in seconds. You can’t understand these young men, but you can stream pieces of their broken lives. New Media becomes putty in your hands. You give yourself chills, and create innovations with newly malleable splinters.

Then again, I realize I didn’t know Melanie, she was a great person and I shouldn’t talk about her. For that matter, I didn’t know Sam, Emily, Emily’s parents, or Ricardo Lopez. I have to leave them all behind. I have to click out, shut down the computer, and walk away.

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