Digital Review

Crazy websites

Browsing the World Wide Web can be a lot like trick-or-treating, any time of year. Some of the fanciest, most approachable addresses offer the interactive equivalent of penny candy, while it's often the grungiest, out-of-the-way dwellings that provide the caramel apples — in this case, rare photos, wacky essays, and fevered graphics. That especially holds true for horror-related sites, which flourish on the periphery of the respectable Internet like the haunted houses of some virtual Elm Street suburb.

Of course, just because a fiendish website is off the beaten cyberpath doesn't mean it's necessarily worth visiting. Judging by The Psycho Home Page (http://www.geopages.com/hollywood /1645/index.html) and Judy's Dark Shadows home page (http://www.epix.net/ ~jphill/shadows.html), horror shrines have a long way to go to catch up to their mainstream counterparts. Andrea Balzarini's devotion to Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece is charming, but the Italian host could benefit from the services of a good translator, as evidenced by lines such as ''Psycho is extremely purified at the level of the ambience and it is silent during the half of his length.'' And the equally likable Dark Shadows Page (which includes synopses of some 250 episodes of the '60s TV gothic soap) is notable mostly for its own obsessiveness. Anyone who can list the ''Top Ten Signs That You're in Love With David Selby'' needs to unplug the VCR and get some sunlight.

Sadly, even ostensibly ''official'' horror sites, like The Tall Man's Mausoleum (http://www.phantasm.com /hpages/mausoleum.html), often don't deliver much in the way of goose bumps. Devoted to the cultish, kitchen-sink Phantasm movies, the Mausoleum features everything you'd expect from a promotional page — photos, cast and crew bios, synopses — but its unexciting layout puts it a notch below its grade-B inspiration. I do, however, admire the questions posed by Mausoleum keeper Sam Gasster to special-effects artist D. Kerry Prior in an on-screen Q&A: ''What functions do the spheres have in Phantasm III? Do they just drill into people's skulls?''

If you prefer more meat on your bones, try opening up The Cabinet of Dr. Casey (http://-www.cat.pdx.edu/~caseyh/horror/ index.html), whose proprietor, Casey Hopkins, supplements the usual audio-clip and graphics collections (from such movies as A Clockwork Orange and Hellraiser) with some original content, notably an ambitious atlas that matches up various countries with their mentions in horror novels, short stories, and movies. And for sheer pagan pretentiousness, you can't dig any deeper than Zombie Death Dungeon (http://www.gnli.com:80/zombie/ index.html), whose anonymous warden supplies a photo gallery of deformed faces, a video clip of a dancing ghoul, and an example of what might be described as Beat Poetry of the Undead (''Wow — My poor mutilated earlobe melted to my sunglasses.../oh Heavens — now my face puckered...rippled...'').

In keeping with the decentralized ethos of the Internet, many horror websites work best as pointers to other horror websites. Dark Side of the Web (http://www.cascade.net/darkweb.html) supplies more than 300 such links, though creator Carrie Carolin's tastes run a bit hardcore (wait'll Senator Exon finds out how many sites are devoted to satanism). Though it unfolds with an illustration of copulating skeletons, Arlea Anschutz's links on The Den of the Dead (http://ucsu.colorado.edu/~anschutz/ dead.html) are fewer and milder, and Anschutz is kind enough to offer a recipe for ''foaming blue punch'' (you'll need 2 liters of diet Squirt, a third of a 1.75- liter bottle of vodka, and a third of a 750- milliliter bottle of blue curacao, a dash of schnapps, and 5 to 8 pounds of dry ice).

But by far the most intellectually challenging links repository is Anders Mad Scientist Page (http://www.nada.kth.se/~nv91asa/ mad.html), in which Anders Sandberg — who apparently belongs to an organization called Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow International — points the way to sites as diverse as those of Survival Research Laboratories (a San Francisco-based industrial performance troupe) and Annals of Improbable Research (a jokey journal). As if this weren't funky enough, Sandberg also throws in links to so-called serious pages, such as The High Energy Weapons Archive, that'll send you screaming into the night.

Finally, if you don't care for any of these destinations, you can go straight to Hell (http://www.indirect.com/www/the bible/hell.html), whose evangelical host insists, against an impressive background of lake-of-fire graphics, that liars, thieves, adulterers, and — oh, yes — ''the unmerciful'' will be cast eternally into the flaming pit. What I'd like to know is, Will there be a Web connection? Psycho: C Dark Shadows: B Tall Man: B- Dr. Casey: A- Dungeon: C Dark Side: B Den: B Mad Scientist: A Hell: D

Originally posted Nov 03, 1995 Published in issue #299 Nov 03, 1995 Order article reprints