Oct 31, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: FULL SWING


"And it was the afternoon of Halloween.
And all the houses shut against a cool wind.
And the town was full of cold sunlight.
But suddenly, the day was gone.
Night came out from under each tree and spread.”

Painting by Tom Shropshire.

#HALLOWEEN: ARRIVAL


“Shadows of a thousand years rise again unseen,
Voices whisper in the trees, Tonight is Halloween!”

Oct 29, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: RECOMMENDED VIEWING: THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW


Somewhere along the line, Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow became the official Halloween "story." Celebrated every October as regularly as A Christmas Carol is revisited every December, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow's association with Halloween simply just is. Funny, being that not only is the word "Halloween" never once uttered in the story, the events are also set about fifty years before Halloween ever traveled all the way from Ireland to American shores. 

There have been dozens of iterations of this famous story, ranging from big budget Hollywood reimaginings to animated Disney shorts to an inspired episode on "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" Tall animated busts of the Headless Horseman can be found in Halloween stores and catalogs every year. There have been so many editions printed of the original story that it would be near impossible to collect them all.

Of all the different incarnations, this particular one is my favorite. This simple effort, that equates to nothing more than a slideshow featuring still art complemented by an adapted audio telling of the original text, was my first ever exposure to Washington Irving's tale, and it's stuck with me ever since having rented it repeatedly from the library when I was a lad. Confined to only a VHS for the past many years (having been out of print for most of its existence), a recent re-issue on DVD had me cautiously excited to revisit the film so many years later.

To watch it now is to be both charmed and slightly embarrassed by its simplicity. The text, as narrated by Glenn Close, is not that of Washington's original story, but a toned-down version more traditionally told to appeal to the young audience at which this presentation is aimed. The paintings by Robert Van Nutt are certainly eye-catching, and Close does a fine job playing multiple characters, but I could see the almost Power Point-ish presentation unfortunately turning off younger audiences used to more modern techniques. Still, the simplified adaptation takes no liberties, presenting the story as originally written. (Sorry, kids: there is no tree filled with heads, nor any sexy time between the Headless Horseman and his witchy subjugator. Nor is there anything nearly at the heights of absurdity as is currently going on with Fox's "Sleepy Hollow" series.)

"The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood round the winter evening fire...The schoolhouse being deserted soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue and the plowboy, loitering homeward of a still summer evening, has often fancied his voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow."
If you've stuck with me for this long, you may have read my Unsung Horrors column on Lady in White, during which I wax philosophic on the importance of nostalgia as it pertains to my appreciation for Halloween. This particular video edition of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Rabbit Ears Entertainment goes a long way, as does Lady in White, in bolstering that nostalgic love. It may not feature heads flying through the air like popcorn and Johnny Depp being Johnny Depp, but it does manage to be what I hope Halloween will be and how it will feel every year: perfect and pure.

Oct 27, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: SAMHAIN

"In order to appease the gods, the Druid priests held fire rituals. Prisoners of war, criminals, the insane, animals...were burned alive in baskets. By observing the way they died, the Druids believed they could see omens of the future. Two thousand years later, we've come no further. Samhain isn't evil spirits. It isn't goblins, ghosts or witches. It's the unconscious mind. We're all afraid of the dark inside ourselves."

Oct 25, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: PUMPKIN CINEMA: THE BEST MOVIES FOR HALLOWEEN


Upon receiving a copy of Nathanial Tolle's Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween for review, I immediately performed a cursory flip-through of the book to quickly and shallowly determine if this author was up to my level of authority when it came to Halloween-inspired films. (Yeah, I said it - I'm totally pompous like that.) I love both Halloween and film, so obviously this makes sense. After catching the inclusion of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, I admit to rolling my eyes and saying, "Here we go - yet another project to shamelessly exploit the word 'Halloween' but misunderstand what that really means." Unfortunately (though not to me), this is how my brain works. I compartmentalize. I divvy and classify. If I want to watch something on Halloween, it has to feel like Halloween, or be about Halloween. So who is this guy telling me to watch the aforementioned bumbling duo take on a Universal monster? Or A Nightmare on Elm Street 3? Or fucking Cat's Eye?

Then I read the well-written and well-realized introduction in which the author painstakingly rolled out his criteria for what made something essential Halloween watching. Nothing too long, too moody, too depressing. Something fun, something to watch with friends, something that captures and celebrates the autumn season which we hold so dear. I realized that I maintained many of those same rules. The Monster Squad, for instance, is one I roll out every October for an annual viewing, but except for taking place in the days leading up to Halloween, doesn't have anything to do with it. And that's okay! It's about what feels like Halloween, and not what is.

With new enthusiasm to see what recommendations the author had up his sleeve, I dove into the book, which is divided into three main sections: feature films, short films, and television shows and specials; a generous offering of each is in place. Each section contains a mini synopsis, a review from the author, and intermittently, a brief justification as to why the film or show should be considered essential Halloween viewing. I was pleased to see the inclusion of Dark Night of the Scarecrow and 1993's Cartoon Network adaptation The Halloween Tree, but what won me over was the shout-out to Don Coscarelli's little known film Kenny & Company, a fun coming-of-age film not at all horror-related, but which takes place during the week of Halloween. It's an extremely underrated film from an extremely underrated filmmaker; seeing its place on the page was how I knew I was in the presence of a like-minded film fan. It was also nice to see the author recognize the artistic merits of the films (or lack thereof), even if he ultimately recommended them as Halloween picks: The Blair Witch Project is rightfully praised and Double, Double, Toil & Trouble is rightfully condemned. (But come on, man, seriously - Cat's Eye sucks.)

One of Pumpkin Cinema's highlights: while the Halloween series is understandably included, Halloween 3 gets the longest write-up, Halloween: Resurrection gets a one-sentence mention confirming its atrocious reputation, and Rob Zombie's stupidity doesn't get a mention at all. Needless to say, I want to be friends with Nathanial Tolle (athough Halloween 5 is ranked suspiciously high in the "best of Halloween series" list). 

Image source.

The book itself is assembled using high-quality, full-color pages, making for an attractive read. Some of the highlighted films will include a reprint of their original theatrical poster across one whole page, preventing a reader from becoming too used to the otherwise uniform flow of the book. The cover itself is kind of boring, and though, like our mothers once told us, we shouldn't judge any book by its cover, the cover itself also looks like something that was designed by our mothers. (Sorry, mothers!)

Additionally, though the author is clearly well-versed on the subject of horror cinema, he does make the occasional error. (The director of Lady in White, the very film I highlighted not even a week ago, is erroneously listed as Frank "DaLoggia" [it's LaLoggia]; the day of All Hallows' Eve is referred to as "Hollows'.") Still, what we've got here is a fine collection of films - some obscure and some not (plus The 'Burbs, the greatest film of all time) - that are certainly worthy of Halloween watching. The author makes a good point: the hours spent winding down from a long night of trick-or-treating or keeping your outdoor display of the macabre up and running hasn't left much time for an evening of Halloween-inspired films. Make sure you choose wisely. This night comes but once a year.

Oct 21, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: THE LONG NIGHT

“He had never liked October. Ever since he had first lay in the autumn leaves before his grandmother's house many years ago and heard the wind and saw the empty trees. It had made him cry, without a reason. And a little of that sadness returned each year to him. It always went away with spring. But, it was a little different tonight. There was a feeling of autumn coming to last a million years. There would be no spring."

Oct 18, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: STRANGE CANDY

Strange Candy
by Robert McCammon


“Now this,” I said, “is a piece of strange candy.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen it,” Carol answered. “Jenny saw it too, and she said no way she was eating it. She put it right back in there. Said you could have it.” Carol smiled faintly, saying if you dare. A faint smile was about all she could muster this Halloween. It had been a tough year.

“Hm,” I replied, looking more closely at what I’d just taken from the bottom of the bag of treats. It was a small hand, five-fingered and ghostly-white. It sparkled, as if covered with small grains of sugar, but instead of being grainy it felt very smooth. “Weird,” I said. “Do we know where we got this from? A haunted house, maybe?”

“No idea.” Carol cuddled up next to me on the sofa. “I do know it’s not wrapped, so I wouldn’t let anybody eat it.”

“Beware the poisoned hand.” 

Oct 17, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: TREE

"The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats...Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows' Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked."


Oct 16, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: RECOMMENDED VIEWING: CURSE OF THE BLAIR WITCH

 

As I explain (and later lament) in this semi-editorial from several years ago, The Blair Witch Project was a summer 2001 phenomenon following its release upon the unsuspecting world. With the Internet as we know it still in its infancy, the idea of pulling the wool over the eyes of its users was barely an idea. Fifty years prior, Orson Welles had gotten on the radio and insisted that aliens were landing and it was the end of everything as we knew it. Listeners fell for it. Twenty years ago, the BBC aired a program called Ghostwatch, in which a fiction narrative shot to look like live television convinced people that ghosts were not only real, but were soon coming for them. Viewers fell for it, one of whom would eventually commit suicide once he became convinced the ghost featured in the program was haunting his house.

From radio, to television, and now, to the Internet. 

The Blair Witch Project was the first to seize that opportunity to make a lot of people look like gullible jackasses. (I don’t blame people for falling for it – it was very genuine.)

While far less theatrical and dramatic, and far more subtle, The Blair Witch Project was not bolstered by a marketing campaign that highlighted the newbie filmmakers behind the camera and the casts of unknowns – no, the marketing campaign was in actuality a national search for the truth. The Blair Witch Project website was a genius hodgepodge of missing person fliers, tearful interviews with alleged family and friends, and creepy black and white photographs of the items recovered at a rather strange location in the woods where it was believed this three-person film crew had dispatched to investigate the legends of the so-called Blair Witch of Burkittsville, Maryland.

Then audiences found out they’d been duped. Lied to. Made “the fool.”

And they didn’t like that. Not at all.


While some decried the film’s use of imagination (what a concept!) instead of the kind of stupid CGI that same summer’s redux of The Haunting was shoving into people’s faces, there was a kind of unsettling revelation that a lot of people were slamming the film because they thought they were there to see a genuine snuff film; not, it turns out, a well-executed descent into horror and madness that, except for some cold nights and hunger pangs, did not place its cast into any immediate danger.

Following the strange and disturbing viewpoints of people upset that the footage of kids being systematically stalked, haunted, and killed by a witch wasn’t genuine, soon came the next stage of the hype machine: the backlash — people enthusiastically exclaiming their hate for the film simply because so many others were so into it. Such unrelated mind-boggling campaigns of spite still exist to day, but more vitriol has been hurled at The Blair Witch Project than any other film of which I’m aware. Tell someone a film is scary, and it's a natural reaction for that person to find ways and explain ways in which it is not. Tell someone you think something of questionable legitimacy might be true; that someone will explain why you're a fucking fool for ever falling for it. We're human beings and by our nature we're pompous, arrogant, and we think we know everything. And we like to think we're above and beyond something new that comes down the pike if too many people, news media, or pop-culture bon vivants tell us we should.

I am a massive and devoted fan of The Blair Witch Project, and no amount of spite-hate will ever make me feel differently. And the dozens of proclamations that allegedly bolstered the haters’ arguments for why the film was bad – “You don’t even SEE the witch!” – actually works against those shouting it. Essentially, those people are saying, “I have no imagination! I need to have everything spoon-fed to me!”

What dorks.

Granted, I at no point thought any of it was real, and not because I'm a genius, but because I was an avid reader of Fangoria Magazine. Yet that didn't diminish my enthusiasm for what I had just witnessed on-screen.

People are quick to point out that The Blair Witch Project wasn’t the first found-footage format film, and people threw out titles like Cannibal Holocaust, or Ghostwatch, or Man Bites Dog as examples. Some went back as far as 1922’s Häxan, for which the Blair Witch filmmakers named their production company.

And yeah, these people are right. The format had been around for years, decades, centuries. But The Blair Witch Project was the first cultural phenomenon in many ways. It was made by a bunch of first-timers with no actual script. Its cast and crew suffered the harsh elements of a Maryland winter just to get the thing on film. Famously, the crew was so broke during filming that, once the film was completed, they returned the camera equipment to Radio Shack for a full refund. And yet these broke filmmakers’ film, with its meager little budget, would go on to make back its budget three times. Wait, did I say three times? I meant THREE HUNDRED TIMES. It bested the previous record for most money made by an independent film – Halloween – and that record wasn’t for an independent horror film, but independent film in general. It inspired a wealth of imitators, all of whom would rip-off the infamous tagline. ("In October of 1994, three student filmmakers..."). It was a middle finger to studios making nonsense like The Haunting and The Mummy and other CGI extravaganzas that you didn’t need million-dollar special effects to put asses in seats. You needed ingenuity, passion, and a clever way to sell it all.

Having said all this, and as much as I love The Blair Witch Project, I love “Curse of the Blair Witch” that much more.

In the weeks leading up to The Blair Witch Project’s release, its filmmakers wrote and directed a television special that aired on the Sci-Fi Channel (back when it was still called, ya know, the Sci-Fi Channel). A companion piece to the feature film soon to terrify audiences to death, “Curse of the Blair Witch” was an extraordinarily well realized and well-written and even well-acted piece that surely would have been the last piece of convincing anyone skeptical about the coming film’s legitimacy would have needed to full-on believe it was all 100% true. Though peppered with scenes from The Blair Witch Project, “Curse of the Blair Witch” is largely as fake a “documentary” as they come – something that would have aired on The History Channel during the month of October, alongside their investigations into actual vampirism that occurred (and still occurs) in Romania, the Salem witch trials, or the origins of lycanthropy. Actors chosen to play doctors, historians, friends and family of the missing, accused murderers, news reporters, members of law enforcement, eye-witnesses, and the list goes on and on, all come together to paint a very convincing myth about the Blair Witch of Burkittsville. At no point does it feel fake, hammy, or over the top. At no point, since the documentary doesn’t offer up anything in-your-face fantastic or too ridiculous to believe, would you ever doubt its contents, if perhaps you’d stumbled upon it while channel surfing and were totally unaware of what this thing was called The Blair Witch Project. And this is the doc’s greatest strength. There’s no newly-created shaky footage of something creepy occurring before you. There’s nothing contained within purported to be actual anything of the witch. What we have are a collection of talking heads discussing myths and legends, history and hearsay collected from journals, newspaper articles, and everything else entrenched in the town of Burkittsville’s past. We have voice-over actors reading from testimonies and diaries, we have members of Burkittsville with tenuous ties to the conflict that are still made to feel important, and my favorite part, you’ve got one interviewee contradicting another participant’s claims – a typical opposing viewpoint taken out of real life.

 

So what the fuck does this have to do with Halloween? Well, let’s start with the witch aspect, which should be the most obvious. Witch iconography has been synonymous with Halloween for a very long time, and the town of Salem in Massachusetts has since embraced this association, going as far as hosting hordes and hordes of people who descend upon them every October for all kinds of witchy and ghoulish activities. Like a lot of other aspects of Halloween, much of its association was never part of its truest roots, but over time began to adopt certain other portions of history as its own, creating one big orange and black hybrid. (For instance, did you know that the idea of death had nothing to do with Halloween until the Catholic Church butted in and insisted people celebrate All Soul’s Day on November 2 as a way to cancel out the “evil” of the pagans who observed Halloween’s original traditions? Halloween’s sudden proximity to All Soul’s Day for the dead would be just one of many times in which something that had nothing to do with it suddenly became part of its traditions. For serious, yo – Wiki that.)

That the kids in the film go “missing” during the month of October, and that their footage contains them walking across a cemetery or dark foreboding woods where trees stand naked like sentries and the ground is blanketed with browning-over leaves certainly helps to add to the ambiance.

As I’ve explained before, when I think Halloween, I don’t think big cities of suburbia. I think small-town rural America – main streets, farm land, and isolated ramshackle houses in the middle of the woods…much like the one the kids stumble upon in the last ten minutes of the film. Burkittsville embodies much of that, from the beginning of the film in which the kids walk around interviewing townspeople, to the end, where they are stumbling around the woods and discovering a creepy abandoned house covered in children’s hand prints.

Most importantly, something has to feel like Halloween to me. I’ve seen films set on Halloween that don’t feel a goddamn thing like it, but I’ve also seen films, on their surface, not Halloween-related whatsoever, but which still become essential October viewing.

 “Curse of the Blair Witch” is definitely one of them.

Oct 14, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: THE SPIRIT OF THINGS

 "The Spirit of Things"
John Skipp 

 They were screaming downstairs, in Bob Wallachs apartment. He couldnt tell how many people Bob had down there with him. He couldnt even tell how much of it was human screaming. He really didnt want to know.
“Damn it all, I tried to warn him,” Wertzel hissed. It didnt help. The floorboards thudded and death-twitched beneath his feet. Books and knickknacks threatened to tumble from their perches. Something snapped and shattered against a wall below: furniture, bone, he couldnt be sure. A window exploded into tinkling shards. The stereo died in mid-song, groaning.
The screaming got louder, crazier. Wertzel swallowed painfully and white-knuckled the handgrip of his .45. Something, decidedly not human, shrieked. The screaming got worse, if that was possible.

Read the rest.

Oct 12, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: TWO GUYS, ONE QUIP: HACK-O-LANTERN

A joint effort between The End of Summer and Exploitation Movie Review, “Two Guys, One Quip” is a new venture to honor the cheesiest, oddest, and most unheralded crop of films we can stand. Some films can be tackled solo and some cannot. Some films are so excruciatingly unusual that multiple parties are needed to catch every single solitary weirdity. "Two Guys, One Quip" is a free-for-all, back-and-forth, "I'm-just-gonna-say-whatever" approach to double-teaming an easy target in the unsexiest way possible. Below you will find nothing close to actual, legitimate film discussion, but instead sarcasm and douche-bag superiority flying fast and furious. Profanity will be immense, constant, and unyielding. No on-screen target is safe. No incompetence will pass by unmocked. And no punches will be at all pulled. Some films are asking for it. These are some of them.


The End of Summer (TEOS): Halloween is in the air again. It will be here before we know it. During this time of year, like-minded folks will be kicking back with a pumpkin beer and watching one of their perennial favorites. John Carpenter’s Halloween. New minor classic Trick-R-Treat, perhaps. But around the Two Guys offices, we don’t take it easy. We suffer. We OPT to suffer. And we do it for you bungholes.

Helping us suffer is 1988’s oddball offering Hack-O-Lantern (aka Halloween Night) (aka Direct A Remake Of The Omen? Why, All Right: The Sad Story of John Moore).

Exploitation Movie Review (EMR): Wait a fucking second: does that say ‘From the director of Night Eyes?’ I can’t believe I’m watching a movie from the same guy who directed Night Eyes! That’s…

Fuck, man I’m already too depressed to know how to finish this sarcastic joke. I will say this, though: I’ve got a perfectly serviceable pair of earphones plugged into this computer of mine and the sound is only coming through one ear piece, so...that’s just terrific.

TEOS: Night Eyes sounds like it should star Shannon Tweed and Marc Singer. My own imagination has left me intrigued by a movie I just made up. And a little bonered.

EMR: I got excited during the opening credits because I misread who’d written the story as ‘Buford Pusser’ and then the reality of the situation dawned on me that I wasn’t watching Walking Tall and that even six-year-old Halloween candies can’t put me into a deep enough diabetic coma to make everything better.

Oct 10, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: ORANGE & GOLD

“I suppose you think you know what autumn looks like...The trees go all red and blazing orange and gold, and wood fires burn at night so everything smells of crisp branches. The world rolls about delightedly in a heap of cider and candy and apples and pumpkins and cold stars rush by through wispy, ragged clouds, past a moon like a bony knee. You have, no doubt, experienced a Halloween or two..."

Source.

Oct 8, 2014

#HALLOWEEN: #PUMPKINFACERUM #GIVEAWAY #CONTEST (ENDS 10/22)


Just look at that bottle, filled with smooth aged rum, and tell me you don't want it. Of course you do. It's booze in a glass jack-o'-lantern, people. Who doesn't want that? Or ten of them? Well, here's your chance to win one for yourself. 

The End of Summer and PumpkinFace Rum are partnering for this very fun and sinfully easy contest. But first, appreciate the distillery who has bestowed upon us all our new yearly tradition.

The Story
The pumpkin is a symbol of celebration to people around the world. The origin of the pumpkin can be traced to North American seeds dating back to 7000 BC. The word pumpkin comes from the word "pepon", which is Greek for "large melon" and later changed by American colonists to "pumpkin". Colonists would often slice off the pumpkin top, remove the seeds, and fill it with cream, honey, eggs and spices. They cooked the pumpkin in hot ashes until blackened then enjoyed its contents. Pumpkin Face Rum honors the spirit of this tradition by filling the bottle with the finest ultra premium rum in the world. 
Continue the tradition and celebrate the pumpkin!
The Rum

We will be choosing TWO winners to claim their own jack-o-lantern filled with lovely delicious rum, and those two winners will have the option of picking which they will receive.

So how do you win one?

There are several ways, and they're all easy. Pick one and you're entered. Pick them all and increase your chances.
PumpkinFace Rum Giveaway



    Boring Rules Stuff:
    Contest is open to folks within the continental United States only; those who enter must be 21 or older. Those under 21 will be immediately disqualified (and we will be checking). 

    Contest ends 11:59 p.m. on October 22. Winners will be contacted directly via e-mail, or their Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts. 

    Oct 7, 2014

    #HALLOWEEN: SEANCE

    Harry Houdini died on October 31, 1926, at Grace Hospital in Detroit. The official cause of death was peritonitis, internal poisoning resulting from a ruptured appendix. It seems quite appropriate that the world's most famous magician should pass away on the year's most "magical" day. 

    For a full ten years after Houdini's death, his wife Bess conducted a séance on October 31. These séances were always attended by the top names in magic, as well as personal friends of the great magician. Houdini had told Bess that if it were possible, he would send a message to her "from beyond", in secret code. Though Bess herself stopped participating in the séances after 1937, members of the magic fraternity have kept the tradition. Each Halloween, there are numerous Houdini séances held in various locations around the world.
     

    Story source.