Oct 31, 2012


Is this overused?


Does that make it any less awesome?

No way!

Happy Halloween, readers! Watch out for those bugs and fire in your skulls!

* To those affected by Sandy, I hope your recovery is speedy.

Oct 30, 2012


Shitty Flicks is an ongoing column that celebrates the most hilariously incompetent, amusingly pedestrian, and mind-bogglingly stupid movies ever made by people with a bit of money, some prior porn-directing experience, and no clue whatsoever. It is here you will find unrestrained joy in movies meant to terrify and thrill, but instead poke at your funny bone with their weird, mutant camp-girl penis.

WARNING: I tend to give away major plot points and twist endings in my reviews because, whatever. Shut up.

Jack-O is as dumb a movie as they come. It’s about a pumpkin monster that comes back from the dead and stalks a bunch of random suburbanites. And we’re not even talking about a movie like, say, Pumpkinhead, which had the same plot, but was reasonably entertaining, and starred the cool-as-hell Lance Henriksen. We’re talking about a movie called Jack-O.

The movie begins, and believe me, if you’re already laughing at how incredibly cheap and cheesy the opening titles are - quivery orange font punctuated by a roaring cartoon pumpkin that flies at the screen - then grab your candy corn and settle on in, because you’re going to love this movie. I'd compare it to an elementary class video prepared for Halloween by Mr. Fletcher, the weird English teacher, but I'd hate to offend him.

The fattest man in the world sits opposite a roaring campfire and entertains a measly boy with tales of spooks and things of Halloween past. Who this man is, or what his relationship is to this boy, remains unknown, but the amount of overacting the man commits against the audience is matched only by the amount of underacting coming from the small boy. The fat man carves a jack-o-lantern and hands it to the small boy, who actually looks genuinely terrified of it.

Note to small boy: You've been on-screen for less than one minute and already I want to break your glasses.

The fat man continues to assault us with creeps and boos. And then he hits us with this limerick of terror:
Mr. Jack will break your back,
and cut off your head with a whack whack WHACK!
The pumpkin man will steal your soul,
snap it up and swallow it whole.
Then just as quick before you die,
the pumpkin man will steal your eyes.
As the fat man continues his scaretastic tale, a hooded figure, a woman, appears in the woods, listening as the fat man oozes fatness and spook.

We take a quick break from all the fear to let the credits roll, and despite how the incredibly low budget gives the movie the look of a cheap family film you might stumble upon one night at your local library, the presence of Linnea Quigley’s name should assure that you, if nothing else, you’re gonna get some titties.

The credits end and we're right back to having to deal with this fat bastard who looks to be a pencil-thin mustache away from being Jon Polito's long-lost brother.

According to legend, long ago, an old wizard/killer (John Carradine, who had died several years before this movie was even shot, but whose footage was still shamelessly utilized) was hunted by some local townsmen for his unwarranted use of magic, or something.

The wizard cursed the town and summoned a demon monster called Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man (which is what I am going to call him every single time he shows up during the movie, because that’s just too wonderful not to say every five minutes). Well, Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man came ‘round and started earning that rockin’ nursery rhyme. One of the cursed men had been an ancestor of this pathetic little boy, and this is important to note, because it will make the plot about Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man coming back from the dead that much more cogent.

We’re then forced to watch a flashback where we learn that this descendant of the little wormy kid had successfully thwarted Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man’s murderous ways, thus cursing his family forever.

The next day, Sean Kelly, descendant of the dead Kelly clan and all around nerdlinger, walks home with a little prick boy, who teases Sean about Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man’s imminent arrival in their sleepy town. I guess everyone knows who he is. He must have a twitter.

goin back to cursed town 2nite, gonna eat some bones, 
holla @TheGreatPumpkin

Suddenly, the hooded figure we saw earlier in the movie drives past the kids. The bully shouts that she is a witch, and they duck and hide behind a tree. The bully begins throwing rocks at the witch’s car, which according to him, was something done to witches (but not their sedans) in the old days. Sean stops the bully from throwing rocks at the witch’s car, and they have a brief hugging fight.

The witch breaks up the little fight and drives Sean home, stopping to admire Sean’s father’s sign advertising his haunted garage.

“I’d love to see your spook house,” says the woman.

Wouldn’t we all?

The witch woman, real name Vivian, says she is researching a book on the town, and that’s all this family needs to hear in order to welcome this stranger into their home for hours on end.

Sean has a nightmare about John Carradine, old-timey people dying, and the titular Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man. It’s so scary that I have to stop the movie and lean on one knee to steady my breathing and count slowly back from ten. Finally my beating heart subsides and I hit play, promising to pace myself throughout the rest of this mercilessly terrifying film.

We are then introduced to three teenage kids, who are snapping open beers, trespassing, and wearing plaid.

-"This is what you picked out for mom, dude?"
-"Oh, like she'll even care, dude. She's DEAD."

“This used to be the Kelly farm!” says one of the boys. “I saw it on a map in the library!”

They find the grave of Daniel Kelly, who died in 1915, along with several other tombstones. They then snap open another beer, and their scene ends (for now).

Back at home with the Kellys, Sean watches a creepy film hosted by Dr. Cadaver. The filmmakers go out of their way to make the fake movie-within-the-movie schlocky and absurd, but honestly, it doesn’t hold a candle to the movie that is book-ending the fake movie-within-the-movie. The movie Jack-O.

Before you can say, “Tits? Where?”, we get tits: Linnea Quigley’s Caroline slowly massaging her tits in the obligatory shower scene. It’s a nice break from all the non-horror and non-intrigue that has been prevalent in the movie so far. And once the tit-soaping is done, we get inner thigh-soaping, and we stay on this for a long time, for this film was made by a true artisan of our time.

Sean Kelly’s mother calls Caroline, trying to recruit her babysitting services on Halloween night.

As soon as Caroline begins talking, it becomes terribly obvious why Linnea Quigley strips naked and massages her tits in every movie she’s in: she’s good at it (but not acting).

Caroline says she will recommend a friend of hers to help with the babysitting duties. Let’s hope it’s not Mrs. Jack, The Pumpkin Broad! (LOL)

Across the street from Caroline, a bunch of upright Christians watch TV and complain about their busty neighbor. They seem plain, annoying, and without personalities, which is supposed to be the writer’s idea of the uptight Christian archetype, but if that’s the case, then every single person in this movie so far has been an uptight Christian.

Back with the annoying teenagers, they fuck with some graves and cause thunder and lightning, which to me means they have woken up Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man. A large pumpkin-headed man with glowing orange eyes, blue shirt, and a gaunt, nonthreatening stature climbs out of the ground. He looks as if he should be standing outside an A.C. Moore during the autumn season, inviting folks to buy some pumpkin beads at 30% off.

As the teens snap open beer after beer, and trade too-loud kiss after too-loud kiss, Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man crawls out of his grave, retrieves his handy scythe from wherever it was, and does some teenage face-slashing.

The girl manages to escape, which is good, because now she can run for a little bit, scream, fall, and then die, having prolonged her death roughly seven seconds.

Up until her shocking death, I can assure you, the tension was palpable. So palpable I got up to take a leak and follow that weird chirping noise that I think was coming from behind my radiator.

Vivian, who had been walking through the woods, stumbles across the dead bodies, and then retrieves a shovel to, I assume, cover up the dead bodies.


The alluring mysteries of Jack-O are too complex for this world.

The next morning, Caroline shows up to the Kelly residence with her baby-sitter replacement, Julie. Caroline spies Mr. Kelly positioning a skeleton in the yard, so she walks over to say hello, all the while looking haggard.

“You’re like a little boy with all this stuff,” she says.

“I guess it makes me feel young,” he sheepishly responds.

“I like little boys,” she says, as I laugh out loud.

As Mr. Kelly disturbingly makes eyes at Caroline, Sean wanders over to check out Caroline’s friend’s motorcycle. Jim, the cyclist, tells Sean to hop on, and the trip they take around the block is slow, safe, and responsible. The Kellys flip out, anyway, and make Sean go inside.

Thank God for that scene.

Later that night - HALLOWEEN NIGHT - the witch Vivian brings over a book of old things and shows the Kellys a picture of some “creepy looking old guy,” aka John Carradine. Sean says that he’d seen him before in his dreams. The witch glares at him in response, as Mr. Kelly waves away the boy’s fear. He’s also dressed as Dracula, which makes the scene even that much more fantastic.

As Halloween continues, some trick-or-treaters show up to the uptight Christians’ house with their goodie bags open, awaiting delicious treats.

“Does this look like a candy store?” asks the uptight husband to the kids.

“That guy’s creepier than Dr. Cadaver!” states the boy emphatically (although this would be an appropriate remark if "creepy" meant "an asshole". And if Dr. Cadaver had previously been "an asshole"). No matter, however, as a good old-fashioned toilet-papering of the uptight Christians' house will settle all matters.

Meanwhile, at the Kelly haunted garage of horror, Mr. Kelly prepares his various Halloween props for the night's festivities. “We aim to spook!” he says to his fog machine in his best Dracula voice. It’s so convincing that I bundle my Slanket around me in fear.

Just kidding.

I spend my money on Jack-O. Not Slankets.

The doorbell rings and Mr. Kelly goofily lunges into the scene. “Sounds like our first batch of trick-or-treaters. Everyone try to look spooky!” But it’s only Caroline and Julie, who show up to take Sean trick-or-treating.

Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man finally decides to be in his own movie, and scythes the uptight Christian husband through his cream-colored sweater. Uptight Christian wife sees her husband’s dead body and grabs a knife off the counter, which she then jams into the toaster after slipping and is attacked by terrible blue-green lightning bolts, which turn her into a quivering muppet.

"Sean, your babysitter is here. You be nice to him
and don't stare at his rind."

Caroline and Sean trick-or-treat at the house of the fat man whom we met in the beginning of the story, and we see that he has dressed up as The Fat Asshole Phantom of the Opera. He makes joke after joke and he loudly guffaws in Sean’s face, as Sean and Caroline look completely disinterested in the current goings-on of the scene.

And before you can say “obnoxious close-up of tits” we get just that, although for just a few seconds. Julie and Jim canoodle in the woods, but Julie quickly covers up, having heard a woodsy-noise in the woodsy environment they are in, and Jim drives off, bitter, and blue-balled.

As kids run shrieking from Mr. Kelly’s spook house claiming to have seen a monster, and despite the fact that that’s the FUCKING POINT, Mr. Kelly goes in anyway to see if there is something else in there more terrifying than just wet spaghetti and mummy hands. Seeing nothing, he successfully spills every paint can he owns and is forced to shut down his spook show.

Meanwhile, Julie’s boyfriend comes back to get her and runs afoul of Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man, who promptly decapitates the kid with his scythe. Julie runs, coming across a cable guy, and she pleads for his help. Well, help her he does: by dying.

Thanks cable guy, aka Steve Latshaw, the film’s director.

Also, fuck you.

Mr. Kelly, out looking for Sean, thankfully runs into the fat man, who is out walking his dog.

“HA HA HA,” says the fat man after everything line of dialogue he delivers. “HA HA HA.”

Soak it up, kids—this is the last time fat man will appear.

Mr. Kelly then heads back to the house, unsuccessful, and is yelled at.

“Where have you been?” cries Mrs. Kelly.

“I went out looking for Sean,” responds Mr. Kelly. “Didn’t Vivian tell you?”

They both look over at Vivian, who sits stiffly on the couch, looking at them out of the corner of her eye.

Seriously, Kellys, why did you even invite her over?

Vivian finally succumbs to peer pressure and spills about her quest to defeat the pumpkin demon, and of Sean’s ties to the demon as well. She reveals that not only are the Kellys descendants of the family responsible for putting Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man to rest the first time around, but that Vivian herself is a descendant of the evil wizard that was killed. She hopes, with the aid of the Kelly family, to put Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man to rest for good.

And you know what? The Kellys don’t believe her. Not at all.

Then, they find a head.

Then, they do.

Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man bonks Caroline on her bean with his tool and knocks her out, and then proceeds to chase Sean through town.

Sean makes it to his front door, but Mr. Jack-O is hot on his feels, and for two seconds, the film cruelly suggests that Sean has been eviscerated, as blood-like goo sloshes against the front windows.

“It’s just juice,” Vivian claims.

Thank God.

Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man takes Sean out to the old Kelly farm in the woods to sacrifice him. He lies down in one of the open graves as Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man shovels dirt on top of him.

“Nooo,” Sean barely manages, unable to depict what “scared” must be like. Sean stops moving, and while I wish for death, Vivian shows up with a magical pendant and commands Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man back to hell.

And it works!

Wait, no it doesn’t. Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man vivisects Vivian and tosses her painfully-obvious dummy body off-screen.

As the Kellys fight for their son, Sean crawls out of the grave, grabs a wooden cross made out of branches, and holds the pointy end up.

“Come get me, pumpkin man!” Sean mutters, and Mr. Kelly lunges at Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man from behind, impaling him on the very-pointy cross. Mr. Jack, The Pumpkin Man explodes into a sea of really bad mid-'90s neon special effects and vanishes.

As the Kellys walk home, Julie (remember her?) crawls out from her hiding space and helps up an awakening Caroline. Then they reunite with the Kellys and they all walk down the street together.

“Do I have to go trick-or-treating next year?” Sean asks.

Yeah Sean, you do.

Get over it.

Oct 28, 2012


Deplorable seventh season aside, “Supernatural” will always be one of my favorite shows.  Perhaps unable to fully achieve its proper due thanks to its affiliation with the CW, it’s a show that pushes the boundaries of what network television can get away with—but never think the inclusion of spurting blood and flying limbs equates to a lack of proper story telling or development. It doesn’t. In turns of organically growing an ongoing saga, the first five seasons of “Supernatural” tell one story, as it was meant to. It has a beginning, a middle, an end…and unfortunately a completely depressing epilogue, which lets us know the show ain’t as dead as we thought (and hoped). A show that was meant to end after its fifth season is currently airing its eighth. Sadly, and in spite of all the many in-front-of and behind-the-scenes people saying they preferred to see “Supernatural” end before it suffered from “The X-Files” syndrome (overstaying its welcome), unfortunately its revolving door cast of show runners believe otherwise.

But I digress.

For a show that delves into things that go bump, it was only natural that they tackle Halloween from time to time. Two episodes in particular help to scratch that Halloween itch with quick and breezy viewings.

Episode 1x11 – “Scarecrow”


Right off the bat I should state this isn’t a Halloween episode per se. There are no trick-or-treaters, no pumpkins, and it doesn’t even take place in October. But what it does include is a small town of folks making offerings to the pagan god of harvest named Vanis, who possesses the scarecrow in the local orchard and comes alive once a year to take the lives of any unfortunate and hapless couple that have unknowingly been sent to their deaths. The town’s reward for these offerings is one full year of good crops and good luck. If that’s not appropriate for Halloween, I don't know what is.

Set in the fictional town of Burkitsville, Indiana (perhaps a nod to The Blair Witch Project), it would seem a small collection of people – including the local sheriff – have been doing this for years, and good fortune has been their reward for being loyal, god-fearing worshippers.

The first season of “Supernatural” is centered around the brothers Winchester (Sam, played by Jared Padalecki and Dean, played by Jensen Ackles) attempting to locate their missing father, all the while investigating murders across the country that reek of their specialized kind of work. A cryptic phone call placed by father John to Sam orders the brothers off to Burkitsville to investigate the semi-regularly disappearances of couples. This pisses Sam off, as he feels that John is once again giving them orders but not letting them in on the big picture. For those unfamiliar with “Supernatural, this is a heavy and reoccurring theme during the first season. As a warning, first time viewers who want to give this episode a watch upon my recommendation (all of “Supernatural” is currently on Netflix Instant), should know that they’ll have to wade through a bit of backbone mythology to get to the otherwise standalone adventure the brothers find themselves in.

Although there's a cameo appearance by “The X-Files'” Cigarette Smoking Man, so there's that!

“Scarecrow” is directed by Kim Manners, a longtime director for both “The X-Files” and “Supernatural, who unfortunately passed away during the latter show’s fourth season. Manners has consistently proven to be one of the best directors for both series, and “Scarecrow” is infused with a healthy amount of creepy but subtle scares. Scarecrows are inherently creepy based on both their association to Halloween and their general creepy appearance. The scarecrow featured here is especially creepy, and proves a worthy foe to Sam and Dean.

After going back in time to watch this episode specifically and falling out of the current loop, it was easy to forget just how much of the episode is dedicated to moving that season’s overall arc forward – nearly half the episode focuses on the scarecrow story while the other half focuses on Winchester drama. I could see this being a deterrent for folks not terribly interested in “Supernatural” in general as much as they’re looking for a fun, gory, 40-minute romp. But give it a chance anyway, nerds. What have you got to lose?

Episode 4x7 – “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester”


Now this is why we’re here. This episode of “Supernatural” is in full-on Halloween mode, and there’s a general helping of all things creepy and undead – zombies, ghosts, witches, demons – to enjoy. In addition to that we’ve got a dude ingesting razor-blade-infested candy, a fatal game of bobbing for apples, and a really hot cheerleader. What’s not to love?

That aforementioned razor blade death brings Sam and Dean to town to investigate. A hex bag is located in the dead man’s home, but it’s not just your usual bag of tricks – some of the items inside are several hundred years old and can’t be found at your local new age store. Witchcraft isn’t something the boys haven’t investigated before, but those cases in the past dealt with a plain mortal out for revenge. This case, however, seems to have a purpose, and Sam realizes that in conjunction with the legends of Halloween, someone out there is looking to offer "three blood sacrifices over three days, the last before midnight on the final day of the final harvest." It would seem that someone is trying to resurrect the god Samhain, who possesses the ability to raise all manner of ungodly things from Hell to destroy the living.

Naturally, the brothers must stop it.

Like the previously recommended, a bit of season 4 mythology is married to this episode, and while it’s a little more fantastic (we’re dealing with angels at this point), it dedicates less time to the mythos and more to the Halloween murders. So, again, to first-time viewers here only for some Halloween jollies, you’ll have to deal with a bit of on-going season 4 backbone story, but it’s not all that intrusive.

“It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester” is nice and bloody, and the show’s use of humor is ever-present here. By now both actors have really grown into their roles – Padalecki has left behind his pretty boy look from the earlier seasons and is on his way to becoming gigantic, and Ackles allows a bit more darkness and anger into his iteration of Dean. And the episode itself is just a fun time. Ignore all the angels and demons mythology if you so wish, because those who are interested in the Celtic beginnings of Halloween should find the episode a satisfying watch.

Plus, again…that cheerleader is insane, crazy, wicked hot.


Oct 26, 2012



By Ray Bradbury 

He put the gun back into the bureau drawer and shut the drawer.

No, not that way. Louise wouldn't suffer. It was very important that this thing have, above all duration. Duration through imagination. How to prolong the suffering? How, first of all, to bring it about? Well.

The man standing before the bedroom mirror carefully fitted his cuff links together. He paused long enough to hear the children run by swiftly on the street below, outside this warm two-story house, like so many grey mice the children, like so many leaves.

By the sound of the children you knew the calendar day. By their screams you knew what evening it was. You knew it was very late in the year. October. The last day of October, with white bone masks and cut pumpkins and the smell of dropped candle wax.

No. Things hadn't been right for some time. October didn't help any. If anything it made things worse. He adjusted his black bow tie. If this were spring, he nodded slowly, quietly, emotionlessly, at his image in the mirror, then there might be a chance. But tonight the entire tonight world was burning down into ruin. There was no green spring, none of the freshness, none of the promise.

There was a soft running in the hall. "That's Marion," he told himself. "My little one". All eight quiet years of her. Never a word. Just her luminous grey eyes and her wondering little mouth. His daughter had been in and out all evening, trying on various masks, asking him which was most terrifying, most horrible. They had both finally decided on the skeleton mask. It was “just awful!” It would “scare the beans” from people!

Again he caught the long look of thought and deliberation he gave himself in the mirror. He had never liked October. Ever since he first lay in the autumn leaves before his grandmother’s house many years ago and heard the wind and sway the empty trees. It has 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 different tonight. There was a feeling of autumn coming to last a million years. There would be no spring.

He had been crying quietly all evening. It did not show, not a vestige of it, on his face. It was all hidden somewhere and it wouldn't stop.

The rich syrupy smell of sweets filled the bustling house. Louise had laid out apples in new skins of toffee; there were vast bowls of punch fresh-mixed, stringed apples in each door, scooped, vented pumpkins peering triangularly from each cold window. There was a water tub in the centre of the living room, waiting, with a sack of apples nearby, for dunking to begin. All that was needed was the catalyst, the impairing of children, to start the apples bobbing, the stringed apples to penduluming in the crowded doors, the sweets to vanish, the halls to echo with fright or delight, it was all the same.

Now, the house was silent with preparation. And just a little more than that.

Louise had managed to be in every other room save the room he was in today. It was her very fine way of intimating, Oh look Mich, see how busy I am! So busy that when you walk into a room I'm in there's always something I need to do in another room! Just see how I dash about!

For a while he had played a little game with her, a nasty childish game. When she was in the kitchen then he came to the kitchen saying, “I need a glass of water.” After a moment, he standing, drinking water, she like a crystal witch over the caramel brew bubbling like a prehistoric mudpot on the stove, she said, “Oh, I must light the pumpkins!” and she rushed to the living room to make the pumpkins smile with light. He came after, smiling, “I must get my pipe.” “Oh, the cider!” she had cried, running to the dining room. “I'll check the cider,” he had said. But when he tried following she ran to the bathroom and locked the door.

He stood outside the bathroom door, laughing strangely and senselessly, his pipe gone cold in his mouth, and then, tired of the game, but stubborn, he waited another five minutes. There was not a sound from the bath. And lest she enjoy in any way knowing that he waited outside, irritated, he suddenly jerked about and walked upstairs, whistling merrily.

At the top of the stairs he had waited. Finally he had heard the bathroom door unlatch and she had come out and life below-stairs and resumed, as life in a jungle must resume once a terror has passed on away and the antelope return to their spring.

Now, as he finished his bow tie and put his dark coat there was a mouse-rustle in the hall. Marion appeared in the door, all skeletons in her disguise.

“How do I look, Papa?”


From under the mask, blonde hair showed. From the skull sockets small blue eyes smiled. He sighed. Marion and Louise, the two silent denouncers of his virility, his dark power. What alchemy had there been in Louise that took the dark of a dark man and bleached the dark brown eyes and black hair and washed and bleached the ingrown baby all during the period before birth until the child was born, Marion, blonde, blue-eyed, ruddy-cheeked? Sometimes he suspected that Louise had conceived the child as an idea, completely asexual, an immaculate conception of contemptuous mind and cell. As a firm rebuke to him she had produced a child in her own image, and, to top it, she had somehow fixed the doctor so he shook his head and said, “Sorry, Mr. Wilder, your wife will never have another child. This is the last one.”

“And I wanted a boy,” Mich had said eight years ago.

He almost bent to take hold of Marion now, in her skull mask. He felt an inexplicable rush of pity for her, because she had never had a father's love, only the crushing, holding love of a loveless mother. But most of all he pitied himself, that somehow he had not made the most of a bad birth, enjoyed his daughter for herself, regardless of her not being dark and a son and like himself. Somewhere he had missed out. Other things being equal, he would have loved the child. But Louise hadn't wanted a child, anyway, in the first place. She had been frightened of the idea of birth. He had forced the child on her, and from that night, all through the year until the agony of the birth itself, Louise had lived in another part of the house. She had expected to die with the forced child. It had been very easy for Louise to hate this husband who so wanted a son that he gave his only wife over to the mortuary.

But - Louise had lived. And in triumph! Her eyes, the day he came to the hospital, were cold. I'm alive they said. And I have a blonde daughter! Just look! And when he had put out a hand to touch, the mother had turned away to conspire with her new pink daughter-child - away from that dark forcing murderer. It had all been so beautifully ironic. His selfishness deserved it.

But now it was October again. There had been other Octobers and when he thought of the long winter he had been filled with horror year after year to think of the endless months mortared into the house by an insane fall of snow, trapped with a woman and child, neither of whom loved him, for months on end. During the eight years there had been respites. In spring and summer you got out, walked, picknicked; these were desperate solutions to the desperate problem of a hated man.

But, in winter, the hikes and picnics and escapes fell away with leaves. Life, like a tree, stood empty, the fruit picked, the sap run to earth. Yes, you invited people in, but people were hard to get in winter with blizzards and all. Once he had been clever enough to save for a Florida trip. They had gone south. He had walked in the open.  But now, the eighth winter coming, he knew things were finally at an end. He simply could not wear this one through. There was an acid walled off in him that slowly had eaten through tissue and bone over the years, and now, tonight, it would reach the wild explosive in him and all would be over!

There was a mad ringing of the bell below. In the hall, Louise went to see. Marion, without a word, ran down to greet the first arrivals. There were shouts and hilarity.
He walked to the top of the stairs.

Louise was below, taking cloaks. She was tall and slender and blonde to the point of whiteness, laughing down upon the new children.

He hesitated. What was all this? The years? The boredom of living? Where had it gone wrong? Certainly not with the birth of the child alone. But it had been a symbol of all their tensions, he imagined. His jealousies and his business failures and all the rotten rest of it. Why didn't he just turn, pack a suitcase, and leave? No. Not without hurting Louise as much as she had hurt him. It was simple as that. Divorce wouldn't hurt her at all. It would simply be an end to numb indecision. If he thought divorce would give her pleasure in any way he would stay married the rest of his life to her, for damned spite. No he must hurt her. Figure some way, perhaps, to take Marion away from her, legally. Yes. That was it. That would hurt most of all. To take Marion.

“Hello down there!” He descended the stairs beaming.

Louise didn't look up.

“Hi, Mr. Wilder!”

The children shouted, waved, as he came down.

By ten o'clock the doorbell had stopped ringing, the apples were bitten from stringed doors, the pink faces were wiped dry from the apple bobbling, napkins were smeared with toffee and punch, and he, the husband, with pleasant efficiency had taken over. He took the party right out of Louise's hands. He ran about talking to the twenty children and the twelve parents who had come and were happy with the special spiked cider he had fixed them. He supervised pin the tail on the donkey, spin the bottle, musical chairs, and all the rest, amid fits of shouting laughter. Then, in the triangular-eyed pumpkin shine, all house lights out, he cried, "Hush! Follow me!" tiptoeing towards the cellar.

The parents, on the outer periphery of the costumed riot, commented to each other, nodding at the clever husband, speaking to the lucky wife. How well he got on with children, they said.

The children, crowded after the husband, squealing.

“The cellar!” he cried. “The tomb of the witch!”

More squealing. He made a mock shiver. “Abandon hope all ye who enter here!”

The parents chuckled.

One by one the children slid down a slide which Mich had fixed up from lengths of table-section, into the dark cellar. He hissed and shouted ghastly utterances after them. A wonderful wailing filled dark pumpkin-lighted house. Everybody talked at once. Everybody but Marion. She had gone through all the party with a minimum of sound or talk; it was all inside her, all the excitement and joy. What a little troll, he thought. With a shut mouth and shiny eyes she had watched her own party, like so many serpentines thrown before her.

Now, the parents. With laughing reluctance they slid down the short incline, uproarious, while little Marion stood by, always wanting to see it all, to be last. Louise went down without help. He moved to aid her, but she was gone even before he bent.

The upper house was empty and silent in the candle-shine. Marion stood by the slide. “Here we go,” he said, and picked her up.

They sat in a vast circle in the cellar. Warmth came from the distant bulk of the furnace. The chairs stood in a long line along each wall, twenty squealing children, twelve rustling relatives, alternatively spaced, with Louise down at the far end, Mich up at this end, near the stairs. He peered but saw nothing. They had all grouped to their chairs, catch-as-you-can in the blackness. The entire program from here on was to be enacted in the dark, he as Mr. Interlocutor. There was a child scampering, a smell of damp cement, and the sound of the wind out in the October stars.

“Now!” cried the husband in the dark cellar. “Quiet!”

Everybody settled.

The room was black black. Not a light, not a shine, not a glint of an eye.

A scraping of crockery, a metal rattle.

“The witch is dead,” intoned the husband.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,” said the children.

“The witch is dead, she has been killed, and here is the knife she was killed with.” He handed over the knife. It was passed from hand to hand, down and around the circle, with chuckles and little odd cries and comments from the adults.

“The witch is dead, and this is her head,” whispered the husband, and handed an item to the nearest person.

“Oh, I know how this game is played,” some child cried, happily, in the dark. “He gets some old chicken innards from the icebox and hands them around and says, ‘These are her innards!’ And he makes a clay head and passes it for her head, and passes a soup bone for her arm. And he takes a marble and says, ‘This is her eye!’ And he takes some corn and says, ‘This is her teeth!’ And he takes a sack of plum pudding and gives that and says, ‘This is her stomach!’ I know how this is played!”

“Hush, you'll spoil everything,” some girl said.

“The witch came to harm, and this is her arm,” said Mich.


The items were passed and passed, like hot potatoes, around the circle. Some children screamed, wouldn't touch them. Some ran from their chairs to stand in the center of the cellar until the grisly items had passed.

“Aw, it's only chicken insides,” scoffed a boy. “Come back, Helen!”

Shot from hand to hand, with small scream after scream, the items went down, down, to be followed by another and another.

“The witch cut apart, and this is her heart,” said the husband.  Six or seven items moving at once through the laughing, trembling dark.

Louise spoke up. “Marion, don't be afraid; it's only play."

Marion didn't say anything.

“Marion?” asked Louise. “Are you afraid?”

Marion didn't speak.

“She's all right,” said the husband. “She's not afraid.”

On and on the passing, the screams, the hilarity.

The autumn wind sighed about the house. And he, the husband stood at the head of the dark cellar, intoning the words, handing out the items.

“Marion?” asked Louise again, from far across the cellar.

Everybody was talking.

“Marion?” called Louise.

Everybody quieted.

“Marion, answer me, are you afraid?”

Marion didn't answer.

The husband stood there, at the bottom of the cellar steps.

Louise called, “Marion, are you there?”

No answer. The room was silent.

“Where's Marion?” called Louise.

“She was here,” said a boy.

“Maybe she's upstairs.”


No answer. It was quiet.

Louise cried out, “Marion, Marion!”

“Turn on the lights,” said one of the adults.

The items stopped passing. The children and adults sat with the witch's items in their hands.

“No.” Louise gasped. There was a scraping of her chair, wildly, in the dark. “No. Don't turn on the lights, oh, God, God, God, don't turn them on, please, don't turn on the lights, don't!”

Louise was shrieking now. The entire cellar froze with the scream.

Nobody moved.

Everyone sat in the dark cellar, suspended in the suddenly frozen task of this October game; the wind blew outside, banging the house, the smell of pumpkins and apples filled the room with the smell of the objects in their fingers while one boy cried, “I'll go upstairs and look!” and he ran upstairs hopefully and out around the house, four times around the house, calling, “Marion, Marion, Marion!” over and over and at last coming slowly down the stairs into the waiting breathing cellar and saying to the darkness, “I can't find her.”

Then… some idiot turned on the lights.

Oct 25, 2012


“There where hundreds of graves. There where hundreds of women. There were hundreds of daughters. There were hundreds of sons. And hundreds upon hundreds upon thousands of candles. The whole graveyard was one swarm of candleshine as if a population of fireflies had heard of a Grand Conglomeration and had flown here to settle in and flame upon the stones and light the brown faces and the dark eyes and the black hair.”
Image source.

Oct 24, 2012


When a character dramatically rolls his eyes at Ichabod Crane’s emphasis on adhering to facts over superstitions in regards to solving a case and says, “This is the only book you’ll need,” and drops a gigantic bible on the table, you'll know you’re not exactly seeing a subtle take on the classic Washington Irving tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. But then again, Tim Burton has never made subtlety a part of his repertoire.

Right off the bat I should say that I do not think the filmmaker’s 1999 adaptation of the tale is a great film. For me it hovers somewhere around good. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker gets points for taking a fairly simplistic story – which spends more time describing the sights, sounds, and foliage of Tarrytown, New York, rather than trying to creep anyone out – and turning it into something layered and intelligent…almost too much. It’s so far removed from the original source that the only things they eventually have in common are the names of characters and the love triangle between Ichabod, Catrina, and Brom Bones (the best name in literary history).

Johnny Depp actually makes for a great Ichabod, a character described as gangly, almost sickly looking, and awkward. He ups the handsome factor a little bit, but this is Hollywood, folks, where pretty people reign supreme. The chemistry between he and the eerily unaging Christina Ricci is serviceable enough, and the actual iteration of the Headless Horsemen is perfectly intimidating. Not to mention the score by Danny Elfman, one of the best as far as the duo's collaborations go.

Visually, Sleepy Hollow is Burton’s best film as a director. For a classic tale long associated with our favorite holiday, Burton crams in all the dead leaves and twisted trees that you can stand. And if that’s not enough for you, how does witchcraft sound? And fields of corn? Ghastly jack-o-lanterns? Scarecrows? The movie comes as close to achieving the look and feel of Halloween without actually being about the damned holiday.

Although maybe it is?

Halloween has traditionally always contained all of those earlier stated iconography: witchcraft, jack-o-lanterns, scarecrows, dead leaves, cold winds, things that go bump, and beautiful autumn. This one straddles the line between ya or nay, but it's a film that I love to revisit every year around this time, so I will certainly allow it.

When I think of Halloween, I think of small towns in rural areas. I think of farms and cabins and isolated areas. I think of the past, with its antiquated celebrations in the town square complete with wooden masks and jolly fiddle music. For me, Sleepy Hollow – overly complicated plot or no – captures that.

Plus it’s got pumpkins!

Oct 23, 2012



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! 

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Oct 22, 2012


Halloween, 1963. They call him the October Boy, or Ol’ Hacksaw Face, or Sawtooth Jack. Whatever the name, everybody in this small Midwestern town knows who he is. How he rises from the cornfields every Halloween, a butcher knife in his hand, and makes his way toward town, where gangs of teenage boys eagerly await their chance to confront the legendary nightmare. Both the hunter and the hunted, the October Boy is the prize in an annual rite of life and death.

Pete McCormick knows that killing the October Boy is his one chance to escape a dead-end future in this one-horse town. He’s willing to risk everything, including his life, to be a winner for once. But before the night is over, Pete will look into the saw-toothed face of horror—and discover the terrifying true secret of the October Boy…

Dark Harvest, by Norman Partridge, is deceiving at first. The actual book itself is thin, numbering 170 pages, and at first glance appears to be a children’s novel. Not helping is the quite large typesetting and a line spacing that could be described as generous. I have nothing against material for younger readers, mind you – I still, after all, revisit those infamous Scary Stories books from time to time – it’s just that I was expecting something, on the surface, a bit more adult.

Well…I almost literally judged a book by its cover.

True, Dark Harvest may be a quick and breezy read, but in this case, there is no mistaking quality over quantity. What appears to be a book aimed towards younger readers is actually a novella in a novel’s clothing. And there are definitely themes at play here that are for adult eyes only: alcoholism, anger, sacrifice, abuse, bloodshed, cult worship, child death, and full-on murder.

I really hate to use this analogy, considering Dark Harvest was released a full two years prior to Suzanne Collins' juggernaut, but it very much is The Hunger Games meets Halloween – only Partridge is clever enough to tie the hunger inflicted upon these kids to the myths and traditions of Halloween itself. You see, young Pete and many of the nameless town’s kids have been locked inside their rooms for the five days leading up to Halloween and given nothing to eat. And then when October 31st finally comes calling, the kids are released into the night to hunt down the October Boy…an unnatural and resurrected figure brought to life by dark magic…and who is literally filled with candy, courtesy of the mysterious figure responsible for bringing him to life. It’s just an extra little incentive for the winner, but one that heightens the viciousness of the kids involved in the hunt. It truly is trick-or-treat at its most twisted and dangerous.

While the majority of your characters are kids, there is nothing lighthearted or even morbidly funny about what’s going down on Halloween night. These kids aren’t out for a gas – they have a very dangerous goal, and it’s literally winner-take-all. Kids drop, one by one, as bloody messes. They are cut in half by sawed-off shotguns or nearly run down by speeding trucks. And the few adults who should care about the well being of their town’s children – especially Officer Ricks, a representative of the law and member of the mysterious Harvester's Guild – don’t. All they care about is making sure one of the kids is successful in dropping the October Boy, so that the following year will be prosperous for their small town.

Dark Harvest is exactly that: dark. It’s not afraid to get its hands dirty, and it’s not afraid to depict children as the murderous and dangerous beings we like to pretend they aren’t capable of being. Despite their young ages, they have very adult mindsets about their goal. And they’re not afraid to knock each other off in the process. As for our lead character, Pete McCormick, he wants to do what everyone else is trying to do: knock off the October Boy and reap the benefits. But he doesn’t want the luxury car and the big house and all the money and riches that allegedly come with such a prize. He wants to kill the October Boy and use it as a one-way ticket out of his town, where his mother has died, his father has become a drunk, and he’s been left all alone to care for his little sister. All he wants is to leave everything behind and start a new life.

Dark Harvest is at times very conversational, and at others maddeningly bleak and heart-achingly poetic. Partridge is an absolute master at personifying and literalizing regret, through either action or description. Recollections of one character, Dan Shepard, are extremely powerful as he looks back on his life and realizes there's not much about it he doesn't wish he could rescind:
Just because he can't put a name to the furrows life carved in his hands doesn't mean he can't see where those ditches run. He knows well enough where they run. He even knows how those ditches were dug. Hell, sometimes he can almost see the shovels working. And tonight he hears those kids screaming in the streets, and he remembers what it was like to be sixteen… or seventeen… or eighteen, and run in their number. When he could believe the things that people told him, and he could chase after a dream until his heart pounded like it was ready to batter its way through his rib cage and take off on its own.

And that's the way it was back then. For Dan and for all the guys he knew. You remember how it was, because you weren't really any different. You could believe the things that people told you, too. Their words were gospel, and you trusted them. You believed because you were sixteen… or seventeen… or eighteen. You believed because your dreams had started running up against the Line like it was a brick wall that didn't have a single crack. And you believed - most of all - because you had to. You needed to believe that someone could get out of this town, same way you needed to believe that that someone just might be you.
You found a job. You filled up your days. And you filled up your nights, too. On one of them you found yourself with a girl who made you feel a little bit better about the way things were, and pretty soon you found yourself with that girl most every night. And a ring went on her finger, and the two of you carried around a couple of keys that matched the same front door, and at night you both found your way through it and closed that door behind you and, together, you waited for the morning to come.
(A moment of honesty: That last paragraph brought me to tears when I read it.)

Further, there are no sunny characters present here. Each person we meet is a tragic one. Each looks back on their life and sees nothing but darkness and sadness, and those that don't can barely be considered human. Even Pete, with whom we are meant to sympathize (and we do), doesn't see much hope for himself beyond successfully bringing down the October Boy. It's his only way out. It's his only way to escape the nothingness that has encapsulated his life.

Patridge uses Dark Harvest to honor Halloween, and to great effect. It recognizes that its roots are strange and often sanitized by Walmart ghost windsocks and grinning skeletons that are having just a blast being dead. And it certainly does a great job using Halloween as a backdrop for a more unsettling and scary realization: that once kids become old enough, they will set out to carve their own place in the world – that the turn-out of the world as we know it is up to them. Some parents will try to guide them as best as they can, and others will be ghosts and non-presences. And even those individuals that kids are raised to trust and respect won’t just be disappointing and disillusioning, but downright dangerous. This extends to every facet of life, from teachers, police officers, upper management, and even the president. Above all, the book preaches: If you make the right choices, you will be rewarded. If you let your desire for fame and fortune guide you, then you are doomed.

And it’s as simple as that.

Having read Dark Harvest a second time for this write-up, I've come to realize it's one of my favorite books. Halloween is the hook to draw you in, but the meat of the story is regret. We've all done something in our past that fills us with nothing but regret – it's probably the only thing we have in common as human beings – and Dark Harvest harnesses the power to effortlessly draw that regret out and make you see it could just as easily be you making the Run, trying to cross the Line, and dreaming of a better life after taking out the October Boy.

Oct 21, 2012


"When I was growing up Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays. Trick or treat we use to say. Of course back then we always expected a treat and if we did play a trick, it was always funny and harmless. But tonight there were no treats, there were no tricks, there was only death."

Oct 20, 2012


When it comes to Halloween, you should know that it’s not just about the scare. While that’s a huge part of it, Halloween – like many other holidays in life – changes meaning the older you get. So when you are a child, Halloween is obviously married to the idea of childhood. Your Halloweens past were not about the costumes you wore (I myself could probably only name three without the aid of old photos), but about the kids you went trick-or-treating with. It’s about your friends, and the random memories you created that night as you walked your neighborhood streets. It’s about the misadventures you got into, and the trouble you avoided (or nearly did).

It’s reasons like this that Halloween is the purest holiday we have, because under its gothic décor, it stresses community, bonds, and friendships. And though these things may snuff out after a while, they’ll never be forgotten.

Don Coscarelli’s sophmore effort, Kenny & Company, is about these very same things. The director, most famously known for the Phantasm Series, as well as Bubba Ho-Tep and his newest, John Dies At the End, once again writes, produces, and directs this slice-of-life nostalgia piece about a small, nameless community in the Southern California suburbs. Our main character is Kenny (Dan McCann), a precocious kid experiencing all the same things we did as kids: bullies, crushes, life lesson, etc. Luckily he has his best friend, Doug (Michael Baldwin), to get him through it.

Kenny & Company takes place in the few days leading up to Halloween, and with it comes costume planning for the big night. But that’s not the only thing they’re up to. They’re constantly getting into mischief, usually on their own, but sometimes along with Doug’s dad, Big Doug, who has definitely bequeathed his more playful side to his son. All during the boys' misadventures, Kenny provides narration, sometimes in that “Wonder Years” type way where it sounds like reflection, but other times in a happening-in-the-moment way.

To summarize Kenny & Company is somewhat difficult, because the film doesn’t really have a plot—and that’s not a knock against it. Not at all. Kenny & Company plays less like a traditional movie that contains an inherent conflict, but it’s more about a snapshot consisting of 3-4 days between two friends. They get in random adventures where consequences would definitely present themselves and serve as some kind of catalyst for conflict, but then nothing happens. The film at times often feels like a collection of short vignettes. For instance: kids build a soapbox racer, kids test drive soapbox racer down steep hill, kids nearly die, kids throw soapbox racer off an overpass and never mention soapbox racing again. Fin. There are numerous examples like this which occur throughout.

The first time I watched Kenny & Company was due to nothing but curiosity. At that point I had seen nearly every one of Coscarelli’s films (except for The Beastmaster, which I believe he’s since disowned, as well as the ever-elusive Jim, the World’s Greatest). I was intrigued to see what an early effort from Coscarelli – a family comedy, no less – looked like. I expected to laugh once or twice and appreciate the film in a time capsule sort of way, but nothing beyond that. I was quite honestly surprised to see that while the film isn’t consistently laugh-out-loud funny, it’s most assuredly a good time.

The biggest selling point of Kenny & Company is that it's definitely a product of its time. The 1970s are known for having produced an onslaught of dark and bleak movies, and that goes for every genre. Most people point to the futileness the country was feeling in response to the Watergate scandal, and the needless and unending Vietnam War. And this dark mood extends to Kenny & Company as well. Not to say that the film is dark, but when compared to your typical kids’ films, it tackles a lot of serious themes—including death.  After all, Kenny’s dog, Bob, is slowly dying, and the family has no choice but to put him to sleep. This is Kenny’s first (but not last) exposure to death in the film, and it affects him in a big way. A lot of people believe that the best way to teach your children about death is to get them a pet while they’re young, so they can experience growing up with this companion by their side and witness the aging (and dying) process firsthand. This idea is provided and utilized to maximum effect. There’s an especially well-blocked and uninterrupted shot where the family takes their dog into the veterinarian’s office to put Bob to sleep, and the camera slowly pans around the entire waiting room as you see many other people holding their aged pets and looking sad, and as we, the audience, figure out that they’re all there for the same reason, we end up back on the closed vet’s door again and the family leaves, their eyes wide in shock, tears streaming down Kenny’s face. This kind of thought and dedication to serious themes are nearly absent from family films today. Instead, Bob the dog would be voiced by George Lopez and make joke after joke about enchiladas or bad Mexican water.

What also makes the film work is that the kids act, talk, and think like kids. They aren't unrealistically intelligent or perceptive, but they're not stupid, either. They're just kids, presented the way that kids should be. They like trouble, so they find ways to get into it. They make fun of each other, hit each other, and pull pranks on each other. And it all works to the intended comedic effect because it feels very real.

As a director, you can see Coscarelli finding his voice, and so the film contains that awkwardness prevalent in budding filmmakers. Some scenes could certainly have used some tightening, as they go on for too long and become a little awkward. But you also see the genesis of what’s to come in the first Phantasm, including shots of the kids riding their bikes down the street as the camera trails just in front of them. Also, the score by Fred Myrow alternates between generic '70s synthy cheeseball filler to genuine, nearly dreamlike music. Scenes that could have been played for laughs come off differently with this music, especially in the third act where Kenny faces off against his bully inside an old, eccentric woman’s house. The music is downright menacing, and it changes the tone of this scene drastically.

Kenny & Company is also a little less PC, both in front of the cameras and behind. Our characters constantly cuss, and they even teach the foreign kid to say “asshole,” who does so with extreme glee in his eyes. But behind the cameras, Coscarelli allowed his kid actors to do most of their “stunts.” Doug, especially, tucks, rolls, tumbles, crashes, and does almost every other manner of bodily harm to himself. I can’t explain why, exactly, but this adds to the movie’s charm.  Maybe it’s because kid actors during the '70s weren’t coddled and handled like newborn chicks as they are today, and this adds a slight edge.

Several Phantasm folks are present, including the aforementioned Michael Baldwin as Doug; Reggie Bannister as Kenny’s favorite teacher, Mr. Donovan; Ken Jones as the boys’ football coach (who would go on to play the caretaker who attempts to capture Mike Pearson in the Tall Man’s mausoleum and gets a sphere drill to the noggin for his troubles); and Terri Kalbus, who plays Kenny’s crush (as well as the fortune teller’s granddaughter). Much of the behind-the-scenes crew, including Coscarelli’s parents, and his producing partner, Paul Pepperman, would also carry over.

And yes, the reason while we’re all here: the sequence in which the kids put on their Halloween costumes and go trick-or-treating is certainly fun. It leads them to a house where its occupants have turned their own garage into a house of horrors (and also concludes a mystery that’s established in the second act). It is during this sequence where the kids are pursued by a costumed man in the dark that inspired Coscarelli to go on to write and direct Phantasm, citing his extreme lack of enjoyment in watching his audience become fearful of the events occurring in that haunted garage.

Is Kenny & Company a Halloween film? Not really—at least not in the traditional sense. But it does take place in the week leading up to it, it is very funny at times, and it certainly nails that nostalgic look back at childhood, of which Halloween was a very big part. It wouldn’t be the first film you would think to watch as we approach that late October day, but to do so wouldn’t be unheard of.

Oct 17, 2012


"I love Halloween. The one time of year when everyone wears a mask... not just me. People think it's fun to pretend you're a monster. Me, I spend my life pretending I'm not. Brother, friend, boyfriend - All part of my costume collection. Some people might call me a fraud. Let's see if it will fit. I prefer to think of myself as a master of disguise."

Oct 14, 2012


Alan Ryan’s 1986 anthology, Halloween Horrors, is probably the best short story collection out there concerning our favorite dark day of the year. An author of the macabre himself (some novels being Dead White and Cast a Cold Eye), Ryan knew just which authors to solicit for his celebration of All Hallow’s Eve. Luckily, the stories aren’t just creepy, but they re-imagine both the many myths of Halloween and the ambiance of autumn—which any proper Halloween story should do. My biggest annoyance with modern Halloween anthologies is the willingness for authors and editors to just write a horror story, set it on October 31st, and call it a day. Such a thing is entirely lazy—a killer or ghost on the loose on Halloween is no different from one loose on Christmas. The myths of Halloween are literally waiting to be plucked and re-imagined for proper literal celebrations. Ryan's collection aptly does so, with tremendous results.

“He'll Come Knocking at Your Door” by Robert R. McCammon is an interesting choice to begin the collection, as it is the most fantastic and unusual. Alternating between creepy and morbidly funny, a man named Dan, who is a brand new citizen of a small town, is invited to a Halloween meeting at a neighbor’s house. At first expecting a brief Halloween get-together, he is shocked to hear an itinerary being read out loud – more specifically, a list of demands – that each person present at the party is responsible for placing outside their front door that same night…items to appease the dark, mysterious figure who awards the town with good luck and good harvest during the year. Most of the items appear to be innocuous – an old sweater, a model boat someone had assembled – but when Dan is told he must offer this figure the first joint of his young daughter’s finger, he leaves in a huff, thinking it was a joke gone too far. How very wrong he is. "He’ll Come Knocking at Your Door" is trick-or-treating at its most deviant and dangerous. And not only that, but it harkens back to the times in which food and animals were offered and effigies were burned in order to appease the Celts' Pagan gods of harvest. In the story, you’ve got two choices:  appease the figure, or don’t, but if you don’t…he’ll come knocking.

In the mini introduction to “Eyes,” editor Ryan explains that for this story by Charles Grant, he wanted something “nasty.” Well, he asked for it, and he got it. Ron, the story's pro(an?)tagonist, is an angry and haunted man, whose son is recently deceased. The accidental death of the son, who had suffered from mental deficiencies, is the catalyst for Ron's horrifying Halloween night, as his son returns every October to punish his father. And all during this day, when Ron knows his son’s revisitation is inevitable, sets of eyes hover everywhere in the darkness and judge him with their orange orbs of light. Why eyes? You'll have to read this haunting story for yourself.  Grant uses short but very blunt sentences to tell his story, much to great effect. It just might be the darkest and perhaps angriest in the collection, but it's also filled with immense regret, mourning, and sadness. The innocence of the son is enough to bring tears to your eyes—and that’s saying something for a story with an ending as “nasty” as this one.

“The Nixon Mask” by Whitley Strieber might be the only dud, though to be fair, it may have been a bit more politically relevant in 1986. The legendary paranoia of President Richard Nixon is brought to its near breaking point as trick-or-treaters come to the White House begging for candy. President Nixon attempts to keep his cool, but the suspicion that these costumed kids want more than just candy begins to mount until it becomes unbearable. Nixon sweats and mumbles and suffers abject terror. If it's supposed to be funny, I don't really get it, and if Strieber was going for humor, it's a joke that lasts too long. The concept of the story was an interesting idea, but it doesn’t quite feel it belongs in this collection, which is otherwise straightforward and more outwardly horrific.

Peter Tremayne’s “The Samhain Feis” resurrects the past in a big way by setting the story where Halloween all began: Ireland. Katy has escaped her abusive and hurtful husband with her young son, Mike, and high-tails it for a week to a small, remote village in Ireland. It’s there she meets an older gentleman named Flaherty, who warns her of the time of year that is fast approaching: Samhain, aka Halloween—not one about trick-or-treaters and costumes, but pure, undeniable evil. Katy laughs off these stories, just happy to be away from her husband, but when Mike begins to spend all his time with an imaginary friend named Seán Rua – a name that sends Flaherty into a paranoid frenzy – and when Mike's physical appearance seems to gradually change, Katy begins to believe that maybe the stories are real after all. Especially when the evil follows her home. “The Samhain Feis” successfully recalls the origins of Halloween, even setting the story right where it all began. The characters and descriptions of Ireland are very genuine and realistic (courtesy of its author, who spent time living there while working at a newspaper). And it certainly helps that it, too, ends with a creepy shock.

In “Trickster,” by Steve Rasnic Tem, Greg mourns his deceased brother, Alex, whose memory comes alive every Halloween. The story alternates between the present, in which Greg believes he is catching glimpses of Alex moving in between the rowdy crowds of San Francisco during a Halloween celebration, and the past, where random recollections of Alex’s pranks – becoming increasingly morbid – are remembered. Greg pursues his dead brother more and more persistently until…what? Is the Halloween festival bringing back memories of his dead brother, or has he really come back from the dead – complete with clown costume and mask – to say hello? While the whole story is intriguing and a quick read, the more interesting parts of it (for me, anyway) are when Alex’s pranks are broken down and explained in graphic detail. What Greg remembers as harmless and silly are actually quite graphic, and it becomes a game of “Can Alex top himself?” as each prank is recalled. If I had a brother whose "pranks" consisted of pretending to stab a baby to death – complete with bloody knife and decimated doll – I'd start to wonder if there were something seriously wrong with him.

Michael McDowell’s “Miss Mack” doesn’t really kick into horror gear until the last few pages. What starts off with the burgeoning of a rather unusual friendship between two schoolteachers, Miss Mack and Miss Faulk, soon becomes a tale of spite, revenge, and…well, it’s hard to say. Unrequited love is definitely at play here in the form of a love triangle (and to what extent the two school teachers love each other is left completely ambiguous), and it impacts the resolution to the story, which doesn’t end so well for one of our characters. “Miss Mack” is a different beast from the rest of the stories in that, for this one particular character, he/she has no idea what has happened to them. There are no inklings, no motives, and no clues as to if he/she has done something to deserve what’s taken place. The other characters in the other stories are flawed in some way, and through either their actions or inactions, have set things in motion, if not downright deserved the horrid thing that’s happened to them. But for the character in “Miss Mack,” you can’t help but sympathize with them, as they truly and utterly did not deserve the fate they received.

In Guy N. Smith’s “Hollow Eyes,” a father catches his daughter in a rather…er…uncompromising position with the boy she has been seeing—and the boy that he detests with nearly every of his fibers. A chase ensues, leading him (with a gun in his pocket) to a neighborhood bonfire. It is there that his momentary hatred of his daughter’s boyfriend is forgotten as he gasps at the horrid sight hanging just before him from a tree branch. And he soon realizes that he’s in a lot bigger trouble than he ever could have imagined. “Hollow Eyes” feels more like a nightmare than anything else—fragments of thoughts cobbled together from hazy memories and reiterated quickly almost as if the story's teller were working against an imminent deadline. There are lapses in logic that feel nearly several pages long, as if you’d missed one piece of information that explained why the father is doing the things that he is doing, why he detests her daughter's boyfriend so much, and why is it he's gone so mad so quickly...but that works as a strength to the story. You’re barely just figuring out what the hell is up with Point A when Point B is already showing up to muddy the waters.  It’s probably the most abstract story in Halloween Horrors and one that is not afraid to get its hands dirty—and bloody.

If you can allow all the suspension of disbelief in the world, then editor Alan Ryan’s own contribution, “The Halloween House,” is fun and rewarding. What starts off as a typical haunted house story ends as anything but, and four high school kids learn the hard way that Halloween isn’t just a holiday, but a living thing that literally surrounds them. “The Halloween House” has a charming beginning, in which Dale forgoes all common sense in order to try and impress Colleen, a girl with whom he is very much infatuated. The first few pages’ worth of descriptions can be tedious, but the story soon moves at a clip, ending in a twist that would normally be heavily forecasted midway through the story if the twist itself weren’t so completely absurd (in every way that’s good, that is).

"The Three Faces of the Night" by Craig Shaw Gardner is told in three time periods: the past, the immediate past, and the present, which serve as interludes between each jump in time. The first act – the past – is fairly straight forward, and tells of a young boy named Colin who gets into random mischief on Halloween night, leading him to the house of a man the town's children have dubbed Creep Crawford. A man Colin always just assumed to be crazy turns out to be more than that...much more. After a brief interlude, we jump a bit more in time to a college-aged Colin as he attends a Halloween party, where a siren named Lenore shows him more than his fair share of attention...but because she has a motive. (Don't they all?) The story begins horrifically, continues with something nearly erotically charged and surreal, and ends so ambiguously that you can only begin to put together what exactly has transpired. Gardner's description as the dangerous and sexy Lenore more than adequately paints her as a femme fatale who is not to be trusted...but then again, neither is Colin. If any story in this collection will leave you scratching your head at its conclusion, "Three Faces of the Night" would definitely be the one.

Bill Pronzini's "The Pumpkin" is a nightmarish little story about an award-winning pumpkin farmer who yearns to take home the ribbon again in the coming year's Pumpkin Festival. A ghastly discovery in the corner of his field, however, leaves the farmer's wife shaken, and a farmhand repeatedly making signs of the cross. Together, they beg him to leave the pumpkin right where it is, for to unearth it would be to unleash an ancient evil the world has never known. The farmer laughs at their request, but agrees anyway, figuring why bother otherwise? That is until he fails to bring home that year's prize at the Pumpkin Festival. His anger leads to boozing, which leads him to make some rather foolish decisions...and go back on his word. And carnage ensues. There's not much to say about "The Pumpkin" other than it's an effective and pulpy little yarn that manages not only to give you the creeps in that innocent and harmless sort of way, but also recall the feeling and mood of Halloween that I'm sure we all look back on and yearn for in some way every year. The descriptions of small-town festivities and the all-around blanket of autumn-tinged foliage is a nice pleasant interlude to the horror that ends the story...and perhaps even existence as we know it. Not bad for a pumpkin!
Much like Halloween itself, "Lover in the Wildwood" by Frank Belknap Long is a reflection on death. It is told from the point of view of Nurse Helen, tasked with looking over a nearly invalid old woman named Kathy in a nursing home. Kathy is confined to a wheelchair, and her claims of meeting up with her lover of many years past at first falls on deaf ears. After all, many things can be heard throughout the halls of nursing homes, some coming from those with dementia. So when Kathy begs and pleads Nurse Helen to take her to a spot in the woods so she can use the power of Halloween to see her long-dead lover after so many years, Nurse Helen obliges, simply because she feels to get the old woman outside would do her some good. But is Kathy's lover really waiting for her in the woods? Will October 31st make it possible for the couple – separated by death – to once again embrace? "Lover in the Wildwood" is not at all horrific, and of course that's fine. While Halloween is known for its more lurid myths and traditions, it's also a time to remember those of our loved ones that are no longer with us. It's a time to be thankful for life just as much as it is to dress up as monsters and murders. It's a time to remember our lost loves and appreciate having known them, regardless of how that union may have ended. In that regard, "Lover in the Wildwood" is a sweet diversion before heading back into the darkness. Speaking of...

As we approach the end of this collection, Ramsey Campbell's "Apples" pops up to remind us that there is no such thing as a harmless prank on Halloween. Harry and his friends, Colin and Andrew, think it's fun and funny to sneak into Mr. Gray's yard and steal apples off his tree—something he's intent on guarding, as he's gone as far as placing broken glass beneath the hedges that line his property. The kids won't be deterred, however, and they hop the fence to help themselves to the old coot's apple tree. In a surprise move, Mr. Gray bursts from his house with hedge trimmers and chases them, but soon suffers a mortal heart attack in the process. The kids flee and his body is soon removed...but if he's dead, why does Harry see a face appear in the window of Mr. Gray's house? Why does the rotten stench of apples seem to follow him everywhere he goes? "Apples" ends in a very creepy, if not too-cleanly-concluded fashion, and the moral of the story remains dangerously clear: don't steal apples from crazy old men.

And the book, as they say, ends with a bang. The name “Robert Bloch” should be ingrained in your memory, even if you’ve never actually read his works – namely Psycho, which would go on to inspire perhaps the greatest horror film of all time (and kick-start the slasher movement). Made up of little vignettes featuring neighborhood parents, the story’s concept is difficult to grasp at first until you realize the purpose behind constantly jumping from household to household – each of them with a child late coming home from trick-or-treating. Very late. And within one of these households, something very sinister and unnatural is unfolding under the dark Halloween sky. “Pranks" is the eeriest story in the collection, and boasts the best ending. It's one that doesn't even become inherently creepy until the rapid final pages, in which you begin to play catch up and realize just what's going on. And it's an ending you will reread over and over, finding it so completely unbelievable that you'll feel the need to make sure what you've read isn't just your mind playing tricks on you. Or pranks.

Halloween Horrors, sadly, has been out of print for the last several years, but keeping an eye on Amazon or Goodreads from time to time might reward your diligence. Here's hoping the genre- and Halloween-loving Cemetery Dance will resurrect this tome for another generation to pour over every October. The stories, though going on thirty years old, still pack a mean punch, and many of them – especially "Eyes" – will leave you feeling haunted long after you finish the collection's last page and set it down until Halloween returns the following year.