#1. For Your Birthday, I Made You Shit Your Pants
Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, is the real-life guy that some of you only know from Johnny Depp's portrayal in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. His drug-induced exploits are legendary, but when he wasn't swatting bats with a fly swatter or being chased by some monster after tripping on a shit load of acid, he was pulling pranks on his celebrity friends. And by pranks, we mean terrifying events that gave them PTSD. Which brings us to the "gift" he got Jack Nicholson for his birthday.
On the special day, Thompson sneaked into the shrubbery around Nicholson's home, pulled out a gun and started firing. Not right into the window or anything, he wasn't trying to kill him. He was just trying to make him think he was going to die. That led to Part Two of his plan, which was to leave behind a device that broadcast a recording of "terrible dying-animal cries." Part Three involved dropping a bloody animal heart at the front door.
Hey, did we mention that Nicholson was dealing with a stalker at the time? And was already fearing for his safety? Fearing a Manson Family-style home invasion that would slaughter everyone inside the house, Jack called the cops and hid with his terrified family in the basement for the rest of a sleepless night. Happy Birthday!
Looking back on the event, Thompson was regretful of the whole "thinking you were going to die" prank. But this flash of reason was the exception rather than the rule in Thompson's life. Later, for a Christmas present, Thompson sent Jack's nine-year-old daughter an incredibly detailed and graphic sculpture of a rat's bloodied body stuck in a trap. Included in the present was a note which read: "Dear Lorraine. This will teach you a lesson about trusting men which will be valuable later in life. You're welcome, Uncle Hunter." Ho, Ho, Ho!
#2. Rape-Themed Wedding Gifts
Imagine it's your wedding day. The gifts are piled up on the table and now it's time to open them and figure out how many people stuck with the registry. What's this? Why, it's a decorative chest from Uncle Frank depicting a graphic rape scene.
Congratulations, you are a typical couple living during the Italian Renaissance. In those days, when a couple was married, the daughter would move to the groom's house and become his possession. This "seizure" of women inspired wedding gifts that symbolized their marriage -- all bearing images of "Heroic Rape."
We suppose you just had to be there. During the Renaissance, Italians idealized rape-themed Roman legends like the ancient story of the Sabine Women. In that legend, the first generation of Romans were a huge military, but they didn't have women to start their new civilization. In order to get chicks for their new society, they held a festival and invited all the women from the surrounding areas. At a predetermined signal from the Roman King, the Romans each seized a woman. The mass rape supposedly allowed for the creation of the first generation of Roman families.
Fast forward to the Renaissance, and you'd find these images painted onto gifts like cassoni (wooden chests) and spalliera (shoulder-high wall decorations). Some of the more popular scenes to be painted on the chests were legends like the Rape of Lucretia, the aforementioned Rape of the Sabine Women and other great works with the word "rape" in them. Because nothing says welcome to a daughter-in-law like "my son won't take no for an answer."
#3. Melanie Griffith's Dead Mother
We have previously pointed out that Alfred Hitchcock was kind of a creepy asshole. To summarize, he used the 1963 film The Birds as an excuse to torture actress Tippi Hedren -- specifically, by hitting on her and attacking her with actual live birds.
Not happy with destroying Tippi Hedren's psyche (and subsequently, her career), he decided that he should traumatize the rest of her family. Specifically, Hedren's six-year-old daughter and future actress, Melanie Griffith.
So Hitchcock gave as a gift to the little girl a wax figure of her mother in a coffin, dressed up in the same costume she wore in The Birds. And he made sure it looked exactly like her mother.
Under the pretense of promoting the film, the director actually had Hedren come in to make a face mask for the doll. The on-set special effects guy took the mask, then shrunk it down so that the doll had the exact same face as Tippi, just so there wouldn't be any doubt about who the doll was supposed to be.
Years later, a grown-up Melanie Griffith said of Hitchcock, "He was a motherfucker, and you can quote me."
#4. Saddam's Hammers
The 80s saw acid wash jeans, big hair and a huge Middle Eastern war involving regional powers Iran and Iraq. As Iran started to win, the Americans became concerned that Iran would spread their Islamic revolution across the region. So America became friendly with the Iraqis, who were led by a plucky young man named Saddam Hussein. Saddam, up to that point, was well known for torturing prisoners and killing Iraqi civilians, but regional security trumped all and in 1983, Reagan sent adviser Donald Rumsfeld to Iraq. What better way to get on a leader's good side than with a nice, tasteful gift? But what do you get the man who has everything?
Among the presents Rumsfeld brought were a pair of golden cowboy boot spurs and, oh yeah, some medieval spiked hammers.
Saddam -- not being one to be out-gifted by the U.S.'s torture hammers -- rummaged for the perfect gift for America. What do you get for the country that has everything?
Surprisingly skipping over some shocking genital clamps, Saddam settled on giving Rumsfeld a short video showing Syrian female soldiers biting heads off snakes in front of the Syrian President, and Syrian soldiers attacking the greatest threat to the Middle East: puppies. Yes, a video of soldiers stabbing puppies to death. Party time!
Rumsfeld must've been impressed by the gift because during his run for 1988 Republican Presidential nomination, he had the media include his greatest achievements -- one of which was helping to "reopen U.S. relations with Iraq."
#5. The Human Lampshade
When collector Skip Henderson first saw the lamp at a New Orleans store, he knew it was unique. It looked old, and because of the style of the welds that hold the wire frame together, he could deduce that it was from Europe. But what caught his interest was the lampshade. Made of a material that was thin and yet had a strange texture. It was something he had never seen before. He paid the $35 price and took it home.
A lot of short stories in horror anthologies start like this, don't they? The lamp turns out to be cursed or something?
Anyway, over the next few days, Henderson began to investigate and it became clear that not only was the lamp unique, the strange material was probably, as you've already guessed, human skin. The realization was too much for Skip. The lamp creeped him out so much that he decided it would make the perfect gift.
He got on the phone with his friend, Mark Jacobson, who happened to be a reporter. Henderson told him he'd just returned from a professional tanner who told him that animal that the shade was made of had no fur. Oh, and he said, "Since this thing appeared, it's like my face has been shoved into hell." Henderson then dropped the bombshell telling Jacobson that the lampshade was in the mail on its way to New York. Enjoy your new lamp, fucker!
Jacobson, not content to just stick his new lamp on an end table or re-gift it to his in-laws, sent it off to get tested. When the results came back, the DNA tests "found a 100 percent probability that the profile was human." Whose skin? Who knows? The furthest they can trace the lamp's origins is to an abandoned house in New Orleans. Some of you may be thinking it's a gruesome product of the Nazi concentration camps, but there has actually never been any evidence the Nazis made such lampshades, and no such objects have ever been found -- that's considered a myth.
Once he confirmed what it was, Jacobson was also seriously creeped out by the light fixture and refused to have it in his home. He stashed it in a storage shed two states away. He has since written a book about the lamp (The Lampshade) and he has tried to get a museum to take it off his hands but it's useless as a museum piece without some knowledge of the origins. Maybe Jacobson will find out once the hauntings start.
#6. James Allen Re-Gifts Himself in Book Form
James Allen was a notorious highwayman in the early 1830s. He robbed and killed people mostly because, you know, in 19th century Massachusetts what else was there to do? The only two jobs were bandits and cowboys, if movies have taught us anything. Anyway, the long arm of the law caught up with Allen when detective John Fenno, Jr. apprehended him and sent him off to be hanged. Allen, having some respect for the man who caught him, decided to give the detective a little gift. One made out of his own skin.
So Allen wrote out his life story and confession and, well, let's just say that he put a lot of himself into the book.
It was Allen, who had once declared himself to be the "master of his own skin," who specified in his will that a copy of the book was to be bound in his own skin and given to Fenno as a final gift to the man who was skilled enough to bring him down. The detective accepted it and, presumably wearing the thickest pair of gloves he could find, took it home to display on his mantle.
As the years went on, the book was passed on from generation to generation with Allen's descendants supposedly using the flesh-book to spank and/or traumatize children. Perhaps wanting to save on money being paid to trauma counselors, one of the descendants finally donated the book to the Boston Library. Patrons and staff haven't heard any screams or noticed the book levitating and they describe its creepy cover as, "a slightly bumpy texture, like soft sandpaper."
So ask yourself this: Would it be creepier if they had a skin book and didn't know whose skin it was? Because that's the case with the...