Nerd Alert! - Videographer Vince Ynzunza, "As Above, So Below," Houdini ...

By Christian Carvajal on August 25, 2014

Reaching out and grabbing ya, this is Nerd Alert, the Weekly Volcano's recurring events calendar devoted to all things nerdy. I myself am a Star Wars fan, mathlete, and spelling bee champion of long standing, so trust me: I grok whereof I speak.

We aren't exactly bombarded with story suggestions for this column, more's the pity, so I'm happy to forward a heads-up from videographer Vince Ynzunza. Inspired, no doubt, by the Lovecraftian flavor of his own family name, Ynzunza is one of the driving forces behind Pacific NorthWEIRD, a YouTube show devoted to paranormally significant locations in Washington state. Its first episode covers the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve near Littlerock, which you or I might consider geologic aberrations, but which certain fanciful individuals regard as something ... more. What that something may be I couldn't tell you, as despite my journalistic integrity I was too skeptical to make it any farther than 10 minutes into the episode. I'm sorry, Vince; I'm allergic to woo woo. But if you, Gentle Reader, have a fondness for such uncanny topics as Squatchin' or the Black Houses of Olympia, then Vince Ynzunza would like to be your woo-woo, hoodoo man.


If you're lucky enough to visit Paris, the City of Light, be sure to spend an afternoon down in the dark. There's a network of catacombs underneath the city, in which the late 18th century saw the remnants of six million Parisians stacked into artful patterns of femurs and skulls. A sign over the ossuary's entrance warns, "Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la mort!" ("Halt! Herein lies the empire of the dead!") About a quarter of a million visitors ignore that warning each year. My wife and I toured the site last fall, and I can honestly say it was one of the most memorable events of my life. I was so struck by it that I wrote my first horror story, Silver, about the burial of all those unnerving remains. (You can read it for free at Apparently the catacombs had a similar effect on brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle, who set their movie As Above, So Below, opening Friday, within its subterranean depths. It stars Perdita Weeks as Scarlet, an archaeology student who believes the famous "philosopher's stone" of alchemist Nicolas Flamel, or at least a decent Tomb Raider knockoff, might be hiding in all those tunnels. The trailer suggests Scarlet and her friends find a passel of found footage horror tropes instead, so this is basically The Blair Witch Project's European Vacation.

OK, let's not get our hopes up for a classic horror movie; but the Dowdles did record much of As Above, So Below in the actual Catacombs of Paris, including tunnels that aren't generally open to the public. If you can handle its cinematic shocks, it may be a fun way to log some travel time in one of France's most unforgettable locations. Or you could just stay home and watch Andrew Zimmern slurp down snail caviar on Xfinity. Vive la France!


It may surprise you to learn that such professional illusionists as Penn and Teller regard Erik Weisz, better known to spellbound audiences around the early-20th-century world as Harry Houdini, as a barely mediocre magician. No, Houdini's true calling was as an escape artist, a skill he pursued with obsessive-compulsive rigor starting in 1899. Touring Eurasia and America as the "Handcuff King," a name you'd never admit to calling yourself on Facebook, Houdini escaped from riveted beer barrels, a water-filled milk can, the memorably-named "Chinese Water Torture Cell" - even once, on a Boston beach, from the belly of a beached whale. He starred in movies, learned to fly (and then crashed) his own biplane, and aided Scientific American by debunking clairvoyants and other Ynzunzan mystics.

Who better to play the stocky, round-faced, 5'6" Handcuff King than the chiseled, hawk-nosed, 6'1" Adrien Brody? That's a question the History Channel hopes you'll be too enthralled to ask Monday night, as it debuts its two-night bio-miniseries Houdini. And, considering it was written by author and screenwriter Nicholas Meyer (Star Treks II and VI, The Day After, Time After Time, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), the History Channel may just get its wish. The show airs Sept. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. As the Amazing Mumford would say, "A la peanut butter sandwiches!" (Yes, it was "a la," not "Allah." I looked it up. I'm a journalist!)

Until next week, may the Force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and may you always find that lock pick you hid in your skivvies.