Tuesday, October 31, 2006

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 One Last Treat

I ended receiving a couple of tricks this Halloween. The weather was, at least dry, but was too windy to carry out my "Halloween Tree" lit up with well over 100 of the classic plastic jack o'lanterns. I also ended up with a low grade fever (as did my daughter) on top of the ear infection I was already dealing with, so I didn't end up taking too many pictures of what I did end up putting together.

You can take a look at last year's Halloween for a better sense of the Halloween Tree, though with much less buckets.

I found last year that planting clear glass jars with tea light candles in them in the leaves around the base of the trees in our yard had a pretty nice effect. Since these seemed to be better buffers against the wind I set about do this again this year.

A couple of days ago, I whipped together this sad little paper mache, coat hanger and packing material ghost. At night, he actually looked pretty good. You couldn't see the strings or the coat hanger wire, so his limbs seemed to be floating intangible along side of his amorphous body. Did I take a picture of this? No.

This seven-foot tall skeleton is a holdover from last year. It's essentially a huge marionette controlled by the wind and the tree branches. My original plan was to build a bunch more, but my summer was taken up by another large scale paper mache project. I'm shooting for next year.

Here's the skeleton at night. Unfortunately the flash eradicated the numerous tea light flames around the base of the tree, though you can see the reflection of some of the jars. In the background my kids are returning from trick-or-treating before the ever present nosferatu in the window. The table housed the candy in a severed bald head bowl, which had a motion sensor and made sounds and pleas. There was also the animated witch spirit head from Target which really unsettled some of the trick-or-treaters, two cast iron jack o'lanterns you can sort of see, and a boombox playing a sound effects CD I cobbled together a few years back. There was also a fog machine, which at this point was turned off. Again, the wind didn't cooperate too well with that effect.

Here's my daughter as her faceless phantom/Ring Wraith/Dementer...
...and my son as a skeletal "Gate Keeper." I told him that when I was his age, that costume would have had a thin, garishly painted plastic mask that stayed on with a cheap rubber band, and there would be a big picture of the character on the vinyl coveralls which would also have the words "Gate Keeper" printed across it.

That would have been pretty cool, actually.

Here's our jack o'lanterns. The kids designed the faces, my wife scooped them out, and I carved them. We all ate the seeds.

I noticed this year that all the jack o'lanterns were carved from huge pumpkins. Was this phenomenon nation-wide, or just a regional thing. I never saw a pumpkin for sale that was smaller than one of those cement buckets they use in construction.

Here's the nosferatu in the window in the dark. I think they were the most effective, and easiest, thing I made this year.


Not a very good photo of the huge light up inflatable tarantula that was set alongside the house. It looks much better in person, and really casts that eerie purple glow. One of these years, I'm going to make it a giant web, with a wrapped victim stuck in it.

Here it is under the harsh light of the flash.

After a night of Trick-or-Treating, here's the reward. I'm glad the tradition of sorting the candy continues, though it must be some part of the Jungian collective unconscious, as I never instructed my kids on this tradition.

They also collected about $16.00 for UNICEF.

I'd like to thank everyone for visiting, and in turn, for sharing so much of their own collections on their own blogs. I apologize from my absence here, and elsewhere the last few days. I've tried to peek in to see what was being posted elsewhere, but haven't really felt up to commenting.

I'm curious as to what people liked best, least, etc., and what you'd like to see brought back next year, or omitted from next year's countdown. I had a bunch of stuff that I never got to post, and hope I remember it next year.

In the meantime, following a few days break, I'll be putting up all sorts of other stuff, though not on a nearly as frequent basis.


31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 Movie

The fact that I had to resort to a scan of the DVD cover for this post, shows just how underrated, and pretty much forgotten, "The Changeling" (1980) is. The truth though is that this is one of the best haunted house movies of all time. The cast, led by husband and wife team of George C. Scott and Trish Van Devere is excellent. The house, the music, photography, editing, direction and screenplay all form a chilling whole.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Whether you are on the giving, or receiving end of treats tonight, have a great time.

Check back late tonight for the final movie post, and final Halloween post with pictures of today's festivities at this end of things.


31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 Spooky Bonus

In case anyone needs to make some last minute treats.

Sorry about the distortion.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31

Here, without too much commentary, is what I think would make the perfect Halloween movie marathon. On other years, I may substitute one or two movies, but this pretty much makes up what I think captures the essence, in spirit, mood, imagery, and feeling, about the holiday.

You'll no doubt notice that the most recent movie on the list was made in 1968. Many of you will comlain and wonder where's that John Carpenter movie? For some reason, movies made after 1970 don't evoke the same feelings in me that go along with the holiday.

The Ichabod Crane half of Disney's "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad" (1949). I wanted to start off with something that properly set the mood, and this classic animated retelling of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" seems to be the perfect choice. The other shorts on the list (save "The Skeleton Dance") are too funny, friendly, or stylized to do the trick.

"Frankenstein" (1931) and "Bride of Frankenstein" (1935) not only perfectly evoke the dreary wind swept castle and monster mood of Halloween, but also represent the Universal monster series at its very best.

I could have picked a number of Looney Tunes cartoons, but "Water, Water, Every Hare" (1952) starring Bugs Bunny seemed to be a perfect transition cartoon here.

"The Wolf Man" (1941) Other Universal movies may be better, but this one is probably my favorite. It not only captures the flavor of the holiday, including a man transforming into a monster, just like normal kids getting ready to trick-or-treat, but poor Larry Talbott may be the most sympathetic monster in movie history. Plus, it co-stars Evelyn Ankers.

"It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" (1966)

"The House On Haunted Hill" (1959) is one of my favorite horror movies. It's a lot of fun and it stars Vincent Price.

"The Tell-Tale Heart" (1953) Narrated by James Mason, this UPA animated short is incredibly designed and disturbing. My kids found it to be pretty darned scary when we watched it a few days ago.

If I had to choose a favorite monster movie, it would probably be "Brides of Dracula" (1960). This Hammer film, in which Dracula is nowhere to be scene, has so many great inventive bits that I'd love to steal for my own work, its astounding.

"Trick Or Treat" (1952) This short animated Disney film, starring Donald Duck, and its catchy song, may have actually made trick-or-treating a popular Halloween activity.

"Night of the Living Dead" (1968) Is a pretty perfect horror movie. It feels both modern and really antiquated at the same time. Timeless I suppose.

"The Skeleton Dance" (1929) This Disney cartoon has just about all of the Halloween trappings there are; owls, black cats, graveyards, moons, and lots of skeletons.

Finally, either "Nosferatu" (1922) or "Phantom of the Opera" (1925). Silent movies have a dream-like quality to them, making them the perfect way to close a night of marathon movie watching.

Monday, October 30, 2006

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 Movie

I try to watch "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920) every few years. The movie is truly a masterpiece. Visually stunning, the look of this movie is the textbook definition of German Expressionism, and has probably influence more movies, through today, than any other movie ever made. The angular, stylized sets with their shadows and jagged pools of light painted right onto the set, or created by the positioning of cloth are still revolutionary. For me, the perfect moment is when we are first shown the fair, completely created by suggestion, its two rides merely twirling painted umbrellas. Inspiring in every way.

While the visuals may dominate the movie, the story is compelling as well, as the titular character unleashes a somnambulist in his control to do his evil bidding. The Timothy Brock score on the restored print I watched is the perfect monster movie score; incredibly eerie. I'd love to get a recording of it to listen to.

If you haven't seen this yet, stop what you're doing now and get your hands on it. It's a feast for the eyes.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30

Tomorrow's the big day!

I can't believe it got here so quickly.

The weather here has been real crappy all month; lots of rain and wind. We even had snow twice.

In some ways it's perfect Fall weather, with the dreary mood that suits the holiday, but it's not really conducive to my needs for decorating the outside of the house.

All of my outdoor decorations (which I don't put up until the school buses have already whisked all the neighborhood kids to school on Halloween day) are made out of paper mache or involve actual candles.

I can't put out either if it's raining, and if it's windy then no candles.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that tomorrow will be a calm, clear day around 60º f. in temperature, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen.

I hate to think that our house is going to be limited to a few jack o'lanterns, especially since we're the only house on our street that does any real decorating, and only one of a couple of houses in the neighborhood that goes all out on Halloween, but I'll do what I can.

In the meantime, here are a few photos of some of the stuff that can be found haunting the inside of our house this year.

Come back tomorrow day for a post on what I consider would be the perfect Halloween viewing marathon, and come back tomorrow night for the last of my Halloween viewing for this year, and if all goes well, pictures of the outside of our house this year.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 Movie

"The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957) is still remarkable for its time, both in terms of its, then, groundbreaking special effects, but also for its thoroughly involving story which the effects serve rather than vice versa with today's movies.

Robert Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is exposed to a strange cloud which causes him to start shrinking, alienating him from his wife, humanity, and as his size continues to diminish, more and more of the world around him.

This is probably the best science fiction movie of the 1950s, and one of the best science fiction movies of all time. Directed by 1950s Universal monster regular, Jack Arnold from a screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on his novel "The Shrinking Man," this is a movie that should not be missed.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29

For me, Universal Monsters and Halloween go hand in hand. While I appreciate both throughout the year, merging them for the holiday just seems to make both extra special.

I have a pretty large collection of monster related stuff, most of which is related to the Universal monsters; Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, Dracula, the Wolf Man, Bride of Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, Creature from the Black lagoon, Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Mole People, etc., but my collection is nowhere as impressive as Terry Ingram's, as shown here.

Aside from being such an inspiring collector, Terry's a heck of a nice guy too. He's also the general in command of the Universal Monster Army Yahoo group and has his own blog where he often displays his treasures.

For more cool monster toy information and general Universal monster fun, check out Universal Steve and The Gallery of Monster Toys both managed by UMA members.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 Movie 2

"Shivers" (1975), aka "The Parasite Murders", aka "They Came From Within," was writer/director David Cronenberg's first professional movie made on a shoestring budget and schedule, and it shows.

As with most of Cronenberg's movies, this one deals with transformation of the human body, disease, and medical science gone haywire. In this case, the residents of a secluded, luxury residential highrise, fall victim to a scientists notion that humans have become too cerebral, and have fallen out of touch with their baser instincts. Accommodating research in breeding parasites as replacement organs, he develops a parasite which transforms its human hosts into aggressive sexual predators. The parasite plague quickly spreads throughout the complex, with only a single doctor standing in its way.

The ideas are there, but the execution is flawed in many areas. A short schedule, and by Cronenberg's own admission, a lack of knowing what he was doing on his part, give us a film where his usual careful compositions are nowhere to be found. The allegedly luxury highrise, is not so fancy, I'm sure even by early 70s standards. The hallways are drab and dark, and because there was no budget for production design, they resorted to using actual residents' apartments that mostly matched the personalities of the fictional residents. Some of the actors are pretty good, but many of them were clearly amateurs. There are also too many characters, all of whom are presented to us as sketches of people, and not genuine people so it's hard to worry about their safety. There's also no real sense of suspense. The Doctor spends a lot of time running through the building, without encountering any of the sex-crazed residents until almost the end of the movie, while everyone else living there, is attacked left and right. The infected residents also act inconsistently. Some are coherent, and able to act like normal people. Some attack in a sex-crazed frenzy. Some shuffle around mindlessly, as if they stepped out of a George Romero zombie movie.

Was it a bad movie? No. Cronenberg is a writer/director with ideas, which is always refreshing. The effects are pretty state of the art for their time, though the parasite itself looks like a cross between a flukeworm and someone forgot to flush. The music, by producer Ivan Reitman (who would go on to direct "Ghostbusters" among many others) is perfect for the movie, and suggestive of later Cronenberg scores by Howard Shore. I felt it was definitely worth watching even with all the flaws. If Cronenberg had taken the time to develop a core group of five characters into really likeable people, or even just two of them and made them the focus, then the threat would have felt more threatening, and the film might have had the tension it needed, and lacked. If nothing more, this could have been the rapist version of "Night of the Living Dead."

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 Movie 1

"Monster House" (2006) was one of my favorite movies of the year, and it holds up well on a second viewing. The movie pits three kids against a scary neighborhood house that is actually alive, and aware of their interest. Of course, there are no adults around when you need them, and the ones that do show up aren't much help.

It was refreshing to see a horror movie aimed at kids that was actually frightening to them (though, my kids were more afraid of the horrible babysitter than the house of the title, and the son of friends was so afraid of Mr. Nebbercracker, that they had to leave the theater). The vocal performances, and motion capture (or whatever they are calling it these days in order to make it seem new) are all really well done, but the design of the characters took some getting used to on my part; not too stylized, not too realistic, as if someone couldn't make up their mind on how to handle them.

I also hear the "Art of..." book is really good, but have not looked at it yet.

This is a highly entertaining movie, and a good one to share with your kids, if they are the type who don't mind being scared, and see it more as a thrill than a punishment. Parents should definitely watch it first to determine its appropriateness.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28

Aside from the feature length movies I've been watching (and posting about) all month long, I've also watched a lot of short films and tv episodes, often with the whole family.

Even though the DVD doesn't have ads for Dolly Madison fruit pies, York peppermint patties, or the spinning "special" logo used by CBS back in the 70s, it seems like a necessary rite of passage to invoke the holiday by watching "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" (1966), which turns 40 this year. One of these years I'm going to throw a Halloween party in a room decorated to be an exact replica of the room that houses the party in this special.

Another favorite is "Flip" (2004), the brainchild of frequent visitor to this site, and the man behind Secret Fun Spot, Kirk Demarais, "Flip" follows the fantasies of a boy with one dollar to spend and a full page ad in a comic book, with tempting items such as X-Ray Spex, and trick chewing gum. It also sports a ton of extras including Flip cartoons, and one of the best making of documentaries on any DVD. You can get a copy from here or here. Tell them I sent you.

We've also watched a bunch of "Casper" cartoons, episodes of "The Munsters," "The Groovy Goolies," "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?", and the creepier episodes of "Jonny Quest," as well as movie trailers, and cartoons like the phenomenal UPA version of "The Tell-Tale Heart" narrated by James Mason.

We also watched a bunch of the Looney Tunes cartoons involving monsters, witches and mad scientists, Fat Albert's Halloween Special, selections from the spook show compilation DVD "Monsters Crashed the Pajama Party"...

...Disney cartoons such as the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence from "Fantasia" and...

...the Silly Symphony "The Skeleton Dance."

We've also watched selections from another favorite DVD, "Monster Kid Home Movies" (2005) which is a compilation of super 8 films shot by kids in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s (mostly) featuring monsters, often based on the classic Universal monsters. The line up is a veritable who's who of horror movie scholarship, artistry, and fandom. It's one of the most fun DVDs to watch that I've picked up in years, also featuring great commentary tracks, and an alternate track that shows the films with the sound of a super 8 movie projector running for a more authentic feel. You can purchase a copy from here or here. Again, tell them I sent you.

Now, onto our feature attraction...