Cambodia, Cambodian ghosts, dab tsuam, horror films, Matthew Arnold, Old Hag Phenom, sleep paralysis, SUNDS, The Shadow People, udden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome
The Shadow People (2012): Film by Matthew Arnold
SPOILER ALERT: if you are planning on watching this movie, then avoid this post!!
The other day I was just browsing through YouTube when I came across the straight to DVD, 2012 horror film, the Shadow People. Initially I was a little wary about watching the film as I am not known for being one of the bravest people when it comes to scary films (I am completely unable to watch anything to do with voodoo or demonic possession without hiding behind a cushion or friend). So I was a little concerned about what effect the film would have on my overactive imagination. The clinch was that the film opened up in Cambodia and being at the moment a resident of that country, I was immediately hooked. I mean there are not many films of any genre that begin in Cambodia!
The story follows the experiences of world weary loser, late night radio talk show host Charlie Crowe played by the excellent Dallas Roberts. Crowe’s graveyard slot is under threat due to low listener figures. That is until he receives a phone call from frightened teenager, Jeff Pyatt. Jeff is terrified of unseen forces that come for him when he falls asleep. Charlie dismisses it initially as a crank call. Soon afterwards he receives a mysterious package on his doorstep containing pictures of what looks like an experiment from the late 70s being conducted on the sleeping forms of a number of men of South East Asian origins. That same night Charlie again receives a call from Jeff who claims to be holding a gun. During the conversation a gunshot is heard. The boy is found alive and admitted to hospital for his own safety. Charlie is convinced by his radio bosses to interview the boy. When he arrives at the hospital, he finds out that Jeff had died in his sleep, an event which has baffled the medical personnel as Jeff was physically healthy when he was brought in. This leads Charlie on a one man campaign to find out the truth behind the boy’s death, the photographs and the phenomenon known as the Shadow People.
Through his research Charlie becomes increasingly convinced that the Shadow People are real. Eventually Charlie begins to see them for himself and discovers that they feed of delta waves emanating from the brain. Along the way he is joined by a sceptical CDC investigator, Sophie Lacombe (Alison Eastwood). Together they find an old film of the 1970s experiments which contains footage of something that looks to be a moving shadow. Crowe insists that this is the definitive proof he has been searching for and wants to reveal the evidence to the world, Lacombe is less sure. She still maintains the 1970s deaths were due to a medical condition known either as Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome or Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS). Lacombe believes that the recent spate of deaths are the result of the placebo effect i.e. if you believe something is real, it becomes real. This leads to the crux of the story, that whether or not SUNDS is a supernatural or medical condition is actually irrelevant as is the existence of Shadow People, instead it is the power of the mind which is the dangerous factor.
The film’s theme which brings together the two separate strands of medical versus supernatural is summoned up neatly by Jeff who asks the chilling question:
“how do you stop thinking about something?”
True story or clever fabrication?
The movie itself claims to be based on true events and in order to give the story credibility it begins with interviews of people (some of whom believe in the existence of Shadow People whilst others are sceptical) talking about having watched the clip of the 1970s experiment on Youtube.
The film also presents itself as a docudrama as it intersperses the dramatization with ‘real life’ footage of the actual events and people as well as interviews with a number of experts on the phenomenon. The director, Matthew Arnold asserted in an interview that the film is based on his own experience and subsequent research,
“I woke up one night, and my body was totally paralyzed. I felt like my body was asleep, but I was awake, and could see a shadowy person standing over me. I finally yelled and willed my body to get up, and the figure shot through the wall. What the hell just happened?”*
I personally could not find the film of the experiments on Youtube but this may be due to my own incompetence rather than to its non-existence. Some comments that I have read of people who have watched the clip have stated that it was published on Youtube at roughly the same time as the release of the film and that the number of viewers recorded was way down on the figure shown at the beginning of the film.
Real footage or a clever marketing tool?
One of the many things that did not ring true was the depiction of the doctor, Professor Aleister Ravenscroft. I mean could you ever imagine a more sinister name and any name more suited to a gothic novel. Not to mention his first name ‘Aleister’ immediately makes me think of Aleister Crowley the British occultist and for many one of the most menacing characters of the 20th century. Add to this a strong German accent and you have a prime candidate for either a Hammer Horror film or a part in the Rocky Horror Show! Turning to the ‘real’ footage and interviews, I have to admit that I was confused. I personally think it is fake as I felt that some of the sub plot themes were just too clichéd. In particular Crowe’s depiction as a loser with a failed marriage and a son he can’t relate to i.e. loser in life has a chance to do something to impress his son and prove his worth but instead sacrifices his own happiness for the good of all!
Even though I have a hard time believing it, I have to admit that it was cleverly done. Using less attractive unknown ‘actors’ to convincingly play the roles and the slight differences between the ‘real’ and dramatized scenes definitely gives the documentary side a more realistic feel. The end obituary note which shows a photograph of the ‘real’ Crowe is for me a step too far as it then gets you thinking, if others who just listened to his show were targeted how did Crowe who was obsessed with them survive and what did he really die of?
After scouring the internet for photos or information about the ‘real’ Crowe, I wound up empty handed. I did find a Charlie Crowe, footballer and a Charlie Crow, DJ but neither bear any resemblance to the guy in the film. If he really existed surely after the film’s release there would be something on the internet about him!
An effective horror film…
Despite everything I have said above, I do actually believe the film is a good horror story. I mean I went to bed reluctant to turn off the lights and the film did play on my imagination for a while afterwards (but as I said in the beginning I am easily frightened, just ask Leonora!). I also find the tagline of “how do you stop thinking about something?” very effective and thought provoking.
On the other hand I found the ‘documentary footage’ which constantly cuts into the film jarring. Other people have enjoyed this device but personally I found it interrupted the building tension as every time I started to immerse myself into the story I was immediately shaken out of it. For me I would have preferred the ‘real’ footage to have come at the end of the film. I would still recommend the film as it deserves credit for tackling a relatively obscure and unexplored topic. I would love to know what other people think!
The Cambodian connection
One big issue I have with the film, is the opening scene set in Cambodia. I get the feeling that whoever was responsible for this, just thought ‘what is an exotic country that we can start off in?’ and sticking a pin on a map randomly chose Cambodia. The whole scene show a complete ignorance of Khmer (Cambodian) people and culture as well as being an illogical choice. Khmer culture has a deeply rooted traditional belief in ghosts and the supernatural. Entities range from the Ap, a bodiless creature with the head of a beautiful woman whose internal organs hang down from her trachea and who is believed (vampire-like) to drink human blood to the banana tree ghost, a beautiful woman who made her home up a banana tree and died giving birth to the child of her unfaithful lover** to traditional ancestral ghosts.
Even today these beliefs are still strong and nearly all Cambodian children and adults I have spoken to claim to have seen a ghost or know of a place that is haunted. I was even told of a ghost up a coconut tree near where I work and live but the child told me that as I haven’t done anything bad I have nothing to fear. The same child also tried to reassure me with the words ‘Don’t worry teacher, one day you will be a ghost’, not sure how comforting those words were but he was being so sweet that it was hard to argue.
As in all Asian cultures, honouring ancestors is an important part of life, music is played at weddings and funerals to keep ghosts away and some families still all sleep in one bed as protection against ghosts. As a result I find it really hard to believe that over thirty years ago, just after the downfall of the Khmer Rouge when millions of Cambodians were killed and died in horrific circumstances that a mother would tell a child that he had nothing to worry about and not to pay attention to his elders.
The other question is why depict Cambodians when it is well known that it is the Hmong people and those of Filipino ethnicity whose traditional belief system ascribes the sudden death of otherwise normal healthy young men to the actions of a malignant shadow.
SUNDS: A medical condition
The medical condition SUNDS first came to the world’s attention in 1977 when a number of Hmong refugees died in the United States. The Hmong people are a particular ethnic hill tribe who are found mainly in Laos and Northern Thailand.
Another outbreak in Singapore between 1982 and 1990 saw 230 previously healthy Thai men die suddenly in their sleep (it was noted that the Thai men were of Laotian descent). In the Philippines the condition is known as “bangungot” and it is known to affect 43 out of 100,000 people. Although the condition doesn’t exclusively affect only those of South East Asian ethnicity it is more prevalent, especially amongst adolescent or young men.
Understanding of the causes of SUNDS is still at an early stage. Medical investigations on the bodies of people who have died of SUNDS have not discovered any heart abnormalities but cardiac studies conducted whilst patients were experiencing sleep paralysis before the onset of SUNDS indicates that the patients suffer from ventricular fibrillation and irregular heartbeats. Those who survive the paralysis find that their heart rhythm returns to normal on waking.
Some Filipino doctors also believe that the paralysis is due to acute haemorrhage pancreatitis (although this has yet to be accepted by the medical world). It is believed that it is during the sleep paralysis that people seem to experience shadow beings, this is before they die of SUNDS. It is funny how many people on internet forums seem to believe they have suffered from SUNDS. Surely the clue is in the name “death syndrome”, it is highly unlikely that they could have suffered from SUNDS and continue to post on the internet!
SUNDS and Superstition
For both the Hmong and Filipinos the death of healthy young men in their sleep has long been cloaked in superstition. The Hmong people of Laos ascribe the deaths to the action of a malign spirit “dab tsuam” who appears in the form of a jealous woman. In order to protect themselves against the spirit and avoid her attentions, some Hmong men will sleep dressed as a woman.
In the Philippines these deaths are believed to be brought about by a spirit called a Batibat. These fat hag like creatures immobilise their victims by sitting on their chest or face and suffocating them. The vengeful spirit enters the home when the tree in which it reside in is cut down and made into support posts for a house. The demon migrates through holes in the pole. One way to protect a household from an attack is to forbid anyone from sleeping near a post. It is interesting that the Filipino word for SUNDS is bangungot which in the Tagalog language means both a nightmare and ‘to rise and moan in sleep’.
Many older Filipinos recommend wiggling the big toe to snap the heart back to normal (in the film, Crowe is seen to wiggle his big toe to release himself from the paralysis when under attack from a Shadow Person). Many other countries have their own names for this phenomenon for instance in Laos it is called Dab tsog and in Thailand ‘Lai Tai’ meaning to sleep and die.
The rise of the modern day mythology of the Shadow People
Nowadays, increasingly more and more people are reporting having seen Shadow People or black masses during episodes of sleep paralysis. You only have to do a google search or look at Youtube to find numerous ‘first hand’ accounts or clips claiming to have caught them on film. I am not going to go into the causes of sleep paralysis and the associated ‘Old Hag Syndrome’ as Leonora did a great analysis in her post Hikes, Hostels and the Old Hag… except to say that most medical views reiterate that shadow people are a hallucination caused by a number of factors alone or in combination including sleep paralysis, drug abuse, reactions to certain medicines, psychological trauma and sleep deprivation. A number of ‘experts’ on Shadow People have emerged, most noticeably Heidi Hollis whose appearance on the late night radio show ‘Coast to Coast AM’ has done much to popularise the subject. She spoke about dark masses with human shapes who just flicker on the edges of peripheral vision and jump on the chest of victims to choke them. Hollis’s views are based on a strong Christian belief as she asserts that they are enemies of god and can only be repelled by calling out the name of Jesus. Her view is an extremely negative one but amongst other investigators there is no consensus on whether they are evil, good or neutral.
Other theories put forward suggest that they could be aliens, inhabitants of parallel dimensions or even time travellers. One thing which remains constant is the description of them. They are usually depicted as either wearing a long cloak or wide brimmed hat with piercing red eyes. It is not surprising that Wes Craven was so inspired by a story in the LA Times about a series of mysterious death that occurred during sleep that he used the idea of Shadow People to create his most famous character, Freddy Krueger.
And finally-a warning to the curious….
If Shadow People exist (and I am the last person to say categorically that they do not) and they feed of delta waves from people when they think about them, then to everyone who is reading this article….
Good Night, Sleep Well!
Bibliography and Notes
*Exclusive Interview with Shadow People’s Matthew Arnold and Dallas Roberts, http://dailydead.com/exclusive-interview-with-shadow-peoples-matthew-arnold-and-dallas-roberts ** Banana Tree Ghost, http://www.everythingscary.com/story/banana-tree-ghost.html Krasue, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krasue Heidi Hollis, http://www.jerrypippin.com/UFO_Files_heidi_hollis.htm Actual Sleep Deaths Inspired ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’, http://www.stufftoblowyourmind.com//blog/actual-sleep-deaths-inspired-a-nightmare-on-elm-street Sudden unexpected death syndrome, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudden_unexpected_death_syndrome Batibat, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batibat The Shadow People (2012), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3rLdVy_5TA
Well worth the wait Miss Jessel, a really well researched post, fascinating. As you know, I have my own take on the Old Hag phenom but I am rather glad not to have come across the Shadow people on my travels!
You must write more on your Cambodian peregrinations!
Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge said:
Thanks Miss_Jezzel. Unfortunately YT blocked it in the US as you know money has to be made first, but i can probably find it on Netflix or Amazon instant video or Hulu. I do believe it is some combination of what is in a human’s mind in deep sleep or sleep apnea plus some outside force whether Incubii/Sucubii or aliens (as in Whitley Streiber) or Nephilim/angels/demons. Yea a hint of Crowley or Lovecraft helps any Hammer type film, LOL. The Asians DO have the most bizarre demons of all cultures. I practice Tibetan Buddhism and Love Thai and Cambodian art (do i envy yr living there, a little) and in Buddhism the demons and ghost are subjugated and controlled and placated and honoured but never totally killed. There is a strange mix in those countries of Buddhism, Hinduism and the native shamanism to make it all most interesting. The Japanese temporary hells are the most Sadean of all. The ghost in The Grudge still gives me creeps. Having worked in cardiac electrophysiology for 11 years i can tell you one dies fast from v-fib even more than from v-tach. I can hear the line “so why are you sleeping in women’s cloths honey? Well, you know, those demons. Yea right” LOL. Remembering to wiggle one’s great toe reminds me of Castaneda’s dream technique of remembering to look at one’s hand, which intrudes the conscious Will into one’s dream, interesting. Finally, there are more dimensions out there that overlap our than we will ever know, Watson, so perhaps the Shadow People are one of those. Thank you for this wonderful spooky article which i am going to reblog. I never read that post by Lenora, probably before i followed her, so will read it tomorrow, so thanks. Oh, have you ever seen The Fourth Kind? That is a docudrama and i have watched it twice and cannot watch it again. I get chills now thinking about it. There is a scene of a video from a cop’s car and you can see the UFO or whatever coming down and the child being kidnapped in a beam of light plain as day. I doubt it is on YT but you can find it. Hey finally you have one typo – “they feed of delta waves” should be “off”. Blessings.
Thanks for reading. I do find Cambodian folklore fascinating. There is a large series of books (both in Khmer and English) which retells these stories for kids. The majority are incredibly depressing and blood thirsty but the kids love them. You can get The Fourth Kind on Youtube but so far I have been too much of a coward to watch it. Superstition and shaman practices are still deeply rooted here and on occasion override Western medicine, for instance a child who broke his arm in two places had a cast put on by doctors, his grandfather (a traditional healer) had the cast removed, attached bamboo sticks to the arm and rubbed some balm on it and people still consult fortune tellers for medical advice. Another thing which is common here is if someone is sick they will make deep scratches into the body and rub some oil/lotion into them so wearing women’s clothing sounds like one of the least painful solutions. That is why I got so annoyed with the film as Elder wisdom still rules much of Cambodian life. As to the typo that is over to Leonora, internet is not the best here and so the article got posted before I could proof read again, to be honest I was surprised there were not more mistakes.
Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge said:
Miss Jessel – I am raised in the US and practice the older BTW Witchcraft, but as most pre-Christian pagan practices were nicely wiped out by the church I study the older cultures where the newer predominant religions still let the older ones ooze through, like in Thailand, Cambodia, even Japan, and Catholicism as practiced in northern Italy or Ireland has So much of the old ways in them. I can learn more from an anthropology study as i can from some book on “Wicca”. And as i also worship and work with Nagas and Naginis of course their home is in India and spread north and south east from there. Oh come on, you gotta watch The Fourth Kind. My next scariest movies are The Grudge series with the floating head and hair ghost at the ceiling, and what was that movie with the well where on TV the girl climbed out of the well and then the TV set? Chills……
Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge said:
Reblogged this on Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge and commented:
This is really good and gave me some chills. Read the article, which is about a brand new docudrama film about Sudden Unexpected Death Syndrome or Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS). Unfortunately the YT video is not available in the US, fk us. And then if you are interested in my long comment it is at the bottom. You all have a good night’s sleep now, he he he.
Do you mean ‘The Ring’?. That is one I have seen. I agree totally with what you said about the importance and value of traditional medicine. Cambodia is at the moment at so many crossroads, that’s why it is fascinating living here and why I am reluctant to leave.
Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge said:
I have worked in traditional medicine all my life and still trust the traditional wisdom more so, no matter how superstitious it may seem to be. Yes. The Ring, freaked me out for sure. There are hundreds of thousands of hungry ghost there with karmic energies yet. in Cambodia. You cannot walk across the country without walking on bones, but the same is true in England and America. All we can do is honour he dead and remember them and vow to not let it happen again. My sister who is actually a fundy xian but ultimately still a good person has been in Cambodia with her kids to help build hospitals. All conflicts between Buddhists and Buddhists and Hindus are a real embarrassment to our faith. If you ever want to email directly, and Lenora will vouch for me, my public email is firstname.lastname@example.org and then i will respond from my personal email addy. Blessings.
Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge said:
I have always wanted to travel to Nepal, India, Thailand and Cambodia, but alas have never had the money to do so. I Love the Buddhist and Animist artwork of Thailand and Cambodia the most, especially the Buddha Muchalinda’s. Thailand and Cambodia are unstable politically at best, but the good people there seem to have a beautiful people. Unfortunately the poverty drives the sex trade industry which is appalling. Well keep writing as you have the imagination and time. I love you and Lenora’s works because they combine both the historical and the supernatural and are well written and well researched. Blessings.
A first class article Miss Jessel, very interesting and superb detail.
I feel that extra dimensions, quantum physics and advances in other related fields, may one day offer an explanation to many phenomena we cannot now explain (if the human race lasts long enough that is).
This does not mean that traditional perceptions and beliefs in spirits etc are not true, just that we may find an explanation as to why some people feel or experience a ‘connection’ to planes or dimensions where other types of energy or phenomena exist, maybe to discover the environment within some of those dimensions.
There is so much to discuss on this.
Anyhow, I don’t sleep much so hopefully I can avoid the shadow people……
Regards James 🙂
Thank you for reading. As I said in my article, I don’t really have a fixed view on the existence of Shadow People but It is interesting how so many cultures have such similar beliefs and like you, I would be loath to dismiss traditional perceptions.
Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge said:
I just posted these videos yesterday http://blausternschlonge.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/two-interesting-videos-on-the-paranormal-including-the-shadow-people-and-the-old-hag-etc/
Michael g said:
Very interesting, I have seen the movie and during had memory’s or just thoughts of possible personal interaction but reading this and seeing the common situations people exspiriance these hallucinations I recall a night in a bad time in my life, it was probably around 3 in the morning and I was sitting in my living room in the dark, I was about to huff paint as I had been doing so for awhile at that time and it would take atleast an hour of constantly doing it before I’d ever blacked out or hallucinated which was never pleasant but at the time I think it was more about hurting my self the getting high, I also recall in past times of doing I’d hear what sounded like very low pitched radio frequencies coming from the sky, most likely just my brain being destroyed but maybe not, but on this not I had just did the first inhale and went out a bit and when I came to I could very clearly see the figure of a woman, mind you it is pure dark in the room but her figure was much much darker that I could clearly see her hair which defied gravity blowing as if it were in the wind, and she maid her way from the kitchen to right in front of me, now I’m not sure if I was able to move or not but I didn’t try as I was at the time enjoying such a powerful visual. After what felt like forever she had made her way right in front of me while I was sitting on the couch and she seemed to tower over me, but all I could make out was her head and flowing hair and as I began to try and really focus on her face she dropped very fast to where we were face to face and screamed STOP!!! And was gone. That voice still haunts me, clearly very angry yet muffled as if it were from really far away tho she was right there. After that night I never huffed anything again but have since suffered from severe insomnia and what little sleep I do get is riddled with extremely vivid and troubling dreams, like children drowning and when I jump in I’m stopped upside down diving in the water and no matter how hard I try to swim toward the child I can’t swim down and I’m forced to watch the child sink lower and lower into the water and I wake up choking and in tears, this dream occurres at least 2 times out of every 5 times I manage to fall asleep. After reading this and watching the movie and studying up on the stories and different beliefs in culture after culture I can’t help but feel this woman figure I saw years ago may still be among me at all times but since I don’t do drugs or huff anymore I don’t get into a fragile enough state of mind to see her anymore, it was after this thought that I did an experiment so to say and while using a night vision app on my phone to film in the dark I huffed paint for the first time in years also I live in a different house in a different state ( 1st time was in landers California and this time in jasper Alabama) and after the 3rd inhale in the complete darkness she appeared and I mean the exact image that’s been stuck in my head for years and this time I tried to move and tried to speak but all I could do was blink but I was able to think in my head loud and clear as if I could hear my own voice, but she didn’t speak a work only laughs which seemed to change octaves with every laugh. Needless to say it was a terrifying event and I will never try it again because I’m now sure she will appear. When I watched the video I was unable to see anything which was disappointing but iv come to 2 possible conclusions either she’s just on different wave links the camera cannot pick up but for some reason my brain while it’s cells are being destroyed can or it’s just my mind and eyes seeing what I was so sure I was going to see while the cells are being destroyed either way my brain is destroyed and I must live with this insomnia and horrifying dreams without ever truly knowing if the first encounter with her is somehow to blame or just that last inhale of paint right before I saw her is to blame which I have only myself to blame for in either case. I’m sorry if this has no similarities to anyone else but after the little experiment I did the other night after reading all the comments and watching the shadow people movie I had to share what I believe I saw twice now and hopefully never again.
Angelo Dicks Jr. said:
What about the other 15 test groups?
Angelo Dicks Jr. said:
Further more after my first post my spirit guides said., those that have watched and survived have lived through Dr. Kevorkian first experiments; at least the first fivteen.
Second this movies from our perspective is more from the ghost busters perspective, or st least the chance of seeing death or some other deity; shadow to the left of GR 16.
Also he could have been doing the job of the doctor to prove or disprove. At first I looked at it from the POV of why are all four of them Asian. That is after study Bati Bat only goes
After Asian boys. That clears that I am not going into the long dramatic, the same gods go by different names through different cultures; but …
I am not you average man, nor do I fear my wife, nor; long imprinted in our minds thus.
Leading to Lilith or the night, mare who ride are soul; but with all truth all those Asians should fear the original sinner. The vamp of our land…because the souls of male missionary is found in the position of not to be laid down. Bit true female malevolence is found in the hands of there survivor. As the have them bent over grasping the hand of uor maker; In no compromise but their own