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I grew in the UK during the 1970s. Everything was folk horror. I lived on the wild edge Dartmoor in Plymouth, Devon. Genette Tate, a thirteen-year-old girl from the village of Aylesbeare in Devonshire, disappeared on 19 August 1978 while delivering newspapers. The local papers published a monochrome picture of her abandoned bicycle in a country lane. The case soon gained national attention, and the London media descended. It was a boon for the media, a juicy mystery during the summer lulls when the news cycle is usually thin. As is often the case when metropolitan outsiders descend upon an isolated community, the hacks were left unnerved by what they found, and soon pointed the finger of suspicion at Genette’s father and the other residents at Barton Farm Cottage. The media continued to whisper that the evil was inside. Unsurprisingly, these urban sophisticates had no idea what they were talking about. Robert Black, an East London van driver, was likely to have murdered Genette. He would drive around Britain in his modified vehicle, picking up children from the streets and putting them into the back. The killer, despite his folk horror trappings was a predatory modernist who cynically leaned on the carefree innocence of rural life and the gentle routines. Bobbie Black: a demon of smoke; the evil that comes from without.
Maggie Dunlap is an American Southerner who has spent some time in the South West of England—particularly Devon and Cornwall. She can sense the connections that exist between British and American traditions as well as the tensions, contradictions, and tensions inherent in the creation of folk horror. Her work involves implements that can be fashioned into crudely effective weapons capable of injurious harm, but also protective charms and other symbols crafted to guarantee good order and the continuance of life’s richly beneficent cycle. Dunlap’s creations appear benign, and likely to be put to good use, but they carry an eerie undertow or grim fascination that hints at darker possibilities. In the past and perhaps in the future, they were seized at first sight, denounced as abominations, trampled on, splintered in a thousand pieces, and scattered to all four winds.
Sometimes the evil is within. Witness the “witchcraft” murder of seventy-five-year-old Charles Walton at the Firs farm, on the slopes of Meon Hill in the village of Lower Quinton on the Saint Valentine’s Day, 1945. A pruning hook was used to open the throat and a pitchfork was used to pin the victim down. The blood was leaking onto the soil. Walton knew his killer almost certainly.
And other times we just don’t know. What is the case, for example, with the Delphi child mutilations in rural Indiana, Deer Creek Township. The case is set to go to trial in this year. The defense claims that the murders were committed by Odinists as part of a pagan sacrifice. The bodies were staged in ritualistic positions. Or this coming summer’s other blockbuster trial, the so-called Idaho Four, a group of Instagram-savvy students butchered as they slept in their beds. It seems that the old ways will never completely leave us. Our spiritual imaginations, abiding paranoias, and criminal perversities just won’t let them go.
By Philip Best
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