The term "torture porn" was coined to describe horror films teeming with degrading violence and graphic sadism that are all the rage with the kids these days, such as in Tom Six's butt-to-mouth-to-butt living sculpture, Human Centipede. While mom and pop are quick to point an accusing finger at today's generation, they might be surprised to discover that behind closed doors, great grandpa enjoyed a "Human Centipede" of his own. In her book The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, author Julia Suits takes readers back to the turn of the 19th century, when a staggering 40 percent of American men belonged to a lodge or fraternal organization, generally to take advantage of life insurance benefits or just to get away from the wife and kids. Inductees of these men's clubs were hazed with the help of an incredible array of delightfully cruel pranking machines, from "Human Centipedes" (a bucking insect shape big enough for four men to straddle that was wired to deliver an electric shock) to "Electric Carpets," all of which were supplied by the DeMoulin Brothers mail order catalog. Suits explains the origin of the company, offers facsimile pages of the infamous catalogs and provides commentary on an era when men gathered in dark rooms to paddle each other's asses in the name of brotherhood. She visits St. Louis at 7 p.m. this evening to sign copies of The Extraordinary Catalog at Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue; 314-367-6731 or www.left-bank.com). Admission is free.
Mon., Nov. 21, 2011