Scary Monsters

A True Story
By Whitley Strieber
Beech Tree Books; William Morrow, 299 pp.

The Incredible Visitations at Copley Woods
By Budd Hopkins
Random House, 223 pp.

By now you’ve probably already heard. Exactly 40 years after the first wave of sightings triggered an international craze, they’re back – the little bald guys with bug eyes and bulbous heads and craft that go blink in the night.

Not that they ever really went away. The past four decades have yielded a steady stream of strange occurrences – patches of scorched earth in rural settings, shadowy blips on NORAD radar, airline pilots reporting odd lights moving at impossible velocities. Lately, however, the tale has taken a novel twist. There is new evidence that the encounters are coming far too close for comfort.

Hence the blaze of publicity that has greeted Whitley Strieber’s Communion and Budd Hopkins’s Intruders, the first by an established American writer, the second by a New York artist and UFO investigator.

Handsome books from reputable publishing houses, they have already prompted a spread in People magazine and a segment on ABC’s 20/20. Nor has interest been confined purely to the purveyors of junk journalism: Strieber’s offering climbed to number one on the New York Times non-fiction bestseller list, and even the staid-minded Roy Bonisteel devoted an episode of CBC’s Man Alive to the fresh claims of alien contact.

The essentials of both books are not in themselves new. Yarns about aliens spiriting folks aboard their ships for nefarious clinical purposes have been a staple of the weekly tabloids since at least 1966, when the Barney and Betty Hill story broke.

The Hills had been driving in Vermont one night when they spotted a UFO and pulled over to watch it. The next thing they knew, they were driving along the highway with the dawning realization that they had somehow lost two hours of time.

In the weeks that followed, Barney was haunted by the most gruesome nightmares. He developed insomnia, and eventually an ulcer. His psychiatrist recommended hypnotherapy in an effort to unearth some buried trauma.

It was under hypnosis that Barney – and later Betty – pierced the shroud of amnesia to recount a dream-like memory of being physically examined aboard an alien vessel.

The tale was dismissed as a paranoid fantasy at best, even by those who investigated UFO sightings. Since then, however, Hopkins contends that there has been overwhelming corroboration; that scores of these cases have surfaced across the continent.

What’s more, these individuals have been taken, not just once and not haphazardly, but apparently on numerous occasions throughout their lives, usually for the first time as very young children. It is as though they have been somehow “tagged” for subsequent monitoring, the way in which biologists keep track of migrating caribou. Whitley Strieber insists it is happening to him, and his book is a harrowing account of how he can run, but cannot hide. They come in the night whenever they want, and they do terrible things.

The individual cases are remarkably similar. These are otherwise normal individuals who have had episodes of “missing time.” Many succumb to night terrors and daytime anxieties, they seek medical help, and under hypnosis they offer some of the most bizarre testimony even psychiatrists are likely to hear.

Invariably, they mention the eyes. The aliens have enormous eyes without pupils, set in a leathery face like a goblin’s.

They remember the terror of waking paralyzed to find those eyes staring down at them, and the horrible feeling that this has happened to them before. They remember needles being inserted into their ears, up their noses, through their navels. Many have tiny scars they cannot recall acquiring.

In the New York City area alone the number of victims is enough to sustain a monthly self-help group that meets at Hopkins’s apartment, and which Strieber credits with helping him cope. Scoffing at these people, both authors warn, is like laughing at rape victims. Even if only in their own minds, they have undergone something horrible in a society which can neither believe them nor help them. All feel violated, and all are convinced the aliens want something from us. Budd Hopkins thinks he knows what it is.

Get this: The aliens want us for our bodies – literally.

Several women have described being subjected to a procedure that appears to involve the removal of ova. A few have had pregnancies that mysteriously disappeared. Men recount the taking of sperm samples. Some even have misty recollections of sex with a seeming human/alien hybrid. A woman Hopkins calls Kathie believes she was shown the children her eggs were used to produce. The aliens would appear to be whizzes at the genetic engineering game.

It is of course an outlandish thesis. But it is also a cracking good read. Sex, violence and Monsters from the Id: a high-tech ghost story for the turn of the millennium.

And a ghost story with a difference. Not content with the mere suspension of disbelief, the authors would have us accept that it’s nothing less than the weirdest of truths. Hopkins, the investigator, piles up the testimony into a visible pattern, using a particular family as his central example. Strieber, the victim, documents his own family’s experiences, detailing what it’s like to live in a nightmare.

Third-person authoritative and first-person compelling, both trying to get us to believe in the fourth-person extraterrestrial.

Of the two, Strieber’s account is the more gripping, partly because he has the benefit of personal experience, partly because he is clearly an accomplished writer. As well, the book is suffused with the terror of a father who knows the monsters are stalking not only himself, but his child. If even for the briefest of moments one accepts that this is an honest account, it’s a tale that’ll scare the pajamas off you.

One should remember, however, that Strieber is the author of a number of horror novels, including The Hunter and The Wolfen. As well, he co-wrote the 1984 bestseller Warday, a novel set in the future which masqueraded as journalism. In Communion he deploys a series of gambits to bolster credibility, from reproducing the results of his lie-detector test to printing the words “A True Story” at the bottom of every right-hand page. And although Hopkins stresses that few of the victims seek or desire publicity (offering this as a sign of their veracity), this means they cannot be contacted except through Hopkins himself. Nor does it mitigate the fact that both he and Strieber want all the publicity they can get.

And then there is the curiously inconsistent behavior of the aliens. They go to enormous lengths to conceal their presence, slipping through sophisticated burglar alarms and imposing a retrograde amnesia on their victims, but then they leave charred circles where their craft landed and cause power failures on flybys.

They’re meticulous in their clinical work, but extraordinarily sloppy in covering their tracks. Sometimes they put their victims back to bed upside down, with their feet on the pillows. Occasionally they forget about underwear removed during examinations. Either they’re mischievous little devils or they’re as thick as two planks.

All this leads one to consider whether Strieber and Hopkins aren’t just making it up – whether they haven’t pulled off the most audacious literary hoax since Clifford Irving’s biography of Howard Hughes. If so, the prank has worked only because the climate has been so favorable.

If, however, the current American fantasy-nightmare involves a race of short, off-white, socially regimented and technologically-superior beings with almond-shaped eyes, then one wonders: what do the Japanese dread in their sleep?eg

  • Montreal Gazette June 6, 1987