Friday, October 31, 2008

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 - Finale

The weather today was perfect for the most part. The temperature was above 50 degrees. It was sunny, and there was no wind to speak of --- when I didn't care if there was wind. I began by stringing the 7 foot skeleton and the skeleton horse with skeleton rider from last year up in the tree closest to our house. This went smoothly. Next I repaired the Nosferatu I made for a window display last year and set him in place with a fog machine behind him. Also no big deal.

Then I set out roughly 80 identical plastic jack o'lantern trick or treat buckets, loaded each one with 3 tea light candles and attached a length of wire and a home made hook to each handle so that I could hang them. Then, after lighting the candles, using an extension pole I hoisted each bucket high into the two trees in my front yard (which are still fully clothed in green leaves annoyingly enough). Once I got the hang of this it went smoothly, except for one thing. The moment I began lighting the candles the wind picked up from nothing to something with enough force that I spent a great deal of time relighting candles before I hung the buckets from the tree. Because I had to start doing this around 2:30 in the afternoon, it was impossible to see which buckets had their candles snuffed out and which didn't. The wind lasted for about an hour and a half while I hung the bulk of the buckets from the branches of the tree closest to the street. The wind died off after that and never appeared. The second tree went more smoothly because of this.

I then lined the path to our front door with glass jars containing more tea lights and added abunch more of these jars in the space between the two trees. I interspersed some creepy busts amongst the jars of candles and a group of skulls, put out the real jack o'lanterns and set the beheaded bride out in front of the house.

After this I went in and got my kids ready. Daphne went as the Hawaiian Witch Doctor from the classic "Scooby-Doo" episode with Mano Tiki Tia. Dash went as ARC Trooper from "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." Both costumes were entirely handmade except for Dash's helmet. I'll try to post some better pics.

All this effort and we got, maybe, 20 trick-or-treaters, far less than we usually do. As usual our house ended up being the highlight of the tick-or-treaters that made it to us. My own kids told me other kids they encountered kept telling them to go to our house, not knowing they lived there.

When the sun went down and it started getting dark, I saw the probelm that bugged the hell out of me, but didn't seem to bother anyone else. Withe the exception of a small handful, every single plastic jack o'lantern I had hung from the tree closest to the road, the bulk of the jack o'lanterns, had blown out. There was no logistical way I could have done it, but I wish I'd hung them an hour later, so they would have remained lit as well. Even so, I was really happy after two years of completely uncooperative weather to get even one tree done up as sparse as this tree wound up.

It's a really amazing sight and these pictures don't come close to doing it justice with the flames flickering inside the plastic jack o'lanterns illuminating them with a steady almost liquid rippling light that an electric bulb could never duplicate. Everything else worked out pretty well, and my son found an unplanned addition to Nosferatu in a pretty large jumping spider that was crawling on his cheek.

Our last trick-or-treater came around 8:15 which seems really early. I put away the stuff I could, shooed the ants out of the real jack o'lanterns and brought them in so the kids could use them as night lights. i notice in dash's room, when the lights were off, his cast this huge shadow across the ceiling and wall of three triangles and a jagged mouth. It was the perfect way to end Halloween.

Much better than the cold I seem to have picked up. No movie tonight. I'm too exhausted.


31 Days of Halloween - Day 31 Riddle

As this is the last day of 31 Days of Halloween for 2008, there is no riddle, but I thank everyone for participating and chiming in with their guesses, correct, humorous, or otherwise. I hope you enjoyed these.

Answer to yesterday's riddle: Hope it was Halloween.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 31

Todays's the big day. Halloween is finally upon us. Before I get to what's in store for the rest of the day, I want to thank all of the participants in this year's Halloween countdown and everyone who stopped by here whether you commented or not, though of course, the comments are always welcome. Make sure that, if you haven't already, you stop by some of your favorite blogs from this countdown and let them know how much you appreciated all of their effort in providing so much Halloween entertainment this month. As I know from doing this for three years now, it's a lot of work and it can be very draining. I raise my glass to each of you.

I've completed my kids' costumes. Tonight we carved Jack O'Lanterns, and made a trip out to Brandywine Cemetery where we were set upon by living corpses of all degree of decay. Tomorrow, once the school buses roll out of our neighborhood I'll begin decorating our yard. The forecast calls for temperatures in the 50s and low 60s with sunny skies and almost no wind, meaning I may finally get my Halloween Tree up after several years of uncooperative weather.

I will post pictures late tonight and even try to get one more movie in. There will be a final related post on November 1st followed by some inactivity here as I take a break from this blog to catch up on everyone else's Halloween Countdown blogs, catch up on some work, some sleep, and find something to watch that doesn't have a monster in it. Then I'll start providing some other treats around these parts, so stop by.

I'd also like to thank everyone who took the time to visit my kids' art blog. It means a lot to them to know people check out their work and also took time to comment on it.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie 2

It's hard to believe that "Dr. Terrors House of Horrors" (1965) was made by the same people resonsible for "Tales From the Crypt." This movie is also an anthology with a wrap around story involving Peter Cushing as the title's Dr. Schreck. The five stories here involve a werewolf, a killer vine, a voodoo curse, a living severed hand, and a vampire. Each features a worthy cast including Christopher Lee and Donald Sutherland. With the exception of the still predictable fourth segment which stars Lee as an arrogant art critic, the stories are all flat with poor endings. The dialogue also has a number of unintentionally humorous lines.

That said, I still don't mind this movie, though it's not something I'll watch again until my memory of how mediocre it is is muddled.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 - Movie 1

Based on the E.C. Comics series of gruesome tales of poetic justice, "Tales From the Crypt" (1972) is a very entertaining anthology movie which stays true to the spirit of the source material. The five stories here are connected by predictable wrap around story. In the first story Joan Collins murders her husband on Christmas Eve. Her plan to have a escaped homicidal maniac in a Santa Claus outfit backfires on her. The second story features a man in a horrible car accident whose desperate search for aid sends everyone he encounters screaming in horror. The third stars Peter Cushing as a kind, sad old man whose life is destroyed by his cold, selfish neighbors. The fourth is an excellent, darkly funny variation on "The Monkey's Paw." The final tale revolves around the men in a home for the blind and the cruel man in charge of them.

The first story is the weakest. The second one is pretty disposable as well, but the remaining stories are very well done. The thrid and fifth segements are short masterpieces of cruelty and comeuppance and should not be missed.

This is a very fun movie, warts and all.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 Spooky Bonus

On Halloween 1984, I was a freshman at New York University and had only been living in New York City for about two months. The weather that day was overcast but not cold. My Wednesday morning classes were over and after lunch, my roommate Steve, myself and I think one other person, headed off to the east village to attend a double feature of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1931) and “Freaks” (1932) at a revival house theater which I believe used a rear screen projection system for their movies. It was the first time I’d seen either film on the big screen, and the first time I’d seen “Freaks” period. I remember the great, almost transformative feeling that came over me once the lights dimmed and Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor played from the soundtrack as the titles for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” appeared on the screen. The feeling stuck with me through both features, and this already felt like a pretty damn good Halloween.

When we left the theater, it was already late afternoon. The sky had begun to darken. The wind had picked up a bit, blowing Fall leaves down the streets, and we were seeing our first kids in costumes coming home from school, or heading out with their parents to parties or trick or treating. I often find myself disoriented coming out of a movie theater after attending a matinee.

There’s something jarring about coming out of the dark theater into broad daylight, or watching a movie that is filled with rain only to be greeted by a sunny day or watching warm sun and stepping out into wind-blown snow. This day was like that too, but it was more like a magical transformation had occurred while we were in the theater and all of New York City had been infused by the spirit of Halloween. There was definitely something magical in the air that day, which is why I still remember it so clearly nearly a quarter of a century later.

Steve and I headed back to the dorm for dinner. Even the dining hall had a special quality to it that night. Dry ice had been added to the serving area. There were orange and black balloons, crepe streamers, and students in costumes ready to go out to clubs, parties, or even the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade which would pass by the windows of the dining hall in just a couple of hours. A Crowd of parade spectators had already begun to form outside and you could see them occasionally silhouetted against the window shades, their costumed forms like strange creatures out of a Hieronymous Bosch painting in shadow form. Two people acted out a murder against one shade. One of the balloons inside the dining hall seemed alive as it floated quickly around the room, rising then dipping down to head level as it worked its way around the room, presumedly riding currents of air, but to the eyes seeming very much like a living creature, or ghost even.

By the time we headed back out, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade had just started. At this point, it was barely a decade old and still small enough to maintain its short route between Sixth Avenue and the Washington Square Arch. In the next couple of years the parade would become so large that the route would need to be expanded to accommodate the crowds of participants and spectators, though it was never easy to tell where the division ended.

Steve and I worked our way to the subway station, taking in some of the parade as we went. Our destination was the Thalia uptown for another double feature, this time “Tales From the Crypt” (1972) and “Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors” (1965). The Thalia was a revival cinema that was featured prominently in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” (1977) and has an unusual feature in that the floor of the theater slants upwards towards the screen so that you feel like your sitting in an airplane at take-off. I don’t know how the people in front of you didn’t end up blocking your view, but they didn’t. We were joined by Steve’s brother Greg and talked movies for a bit, comparing the merits of the Universal horror films and whether Lugosi or Lee made a better Dracula, before the features started. I’d never seen either of these anthology films before, but loved three of the five stories in “Tales From the Crypt” and enjoyed the very much inferior “Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors” but more for the unintentionally humorous dialogue throughout, which made this a great horror movie to see with a crowd.

It was pretty late by the time these movies let out, but we were all young and this was New York City where we were already used to beginning our social lives at 11:00 PM. The three of us went out for a second dinner, then Greg left us to go home and Steve and I returned downtown where we made the circuit of the dorms searching out parties where the alcohol flowed freely. Naturally, this is the part of that great Halloween that I remember not at all.

To wind down this year’s month long Halloween celebration I have decided to watch both of these double features again. Alas, I’ve split them over two days, and Steve is not at my side to watch them. Even so, they feel like Halloween to me.

In Comic Book Stores Now

There's a very short Dexter's Laboratory story I wrote (with artwork by Scott Roberts and Scott McCrae) in CARTOON NETWORK BLOCK PARTY #50 which is available today. It has nothing to do with Halloween, though it does have a giant spider and the Loch Ness Monster in it, but it's one of my favorite stories I wrote. If you've ever watched "Bill Nye the Science Guy" you're sure to get a kick out of it.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30 Riddle

What would you do if you were walking down the street and saw three ghosts following you?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: As fur away as you can get.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 30

Before heading out to trick or treat tomorrow night don't forget to review the rules for Halloween safety.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 Movie 2

"Freaks" (1932) is a very simple movie about a beautiful trapeze artist (Olga Baclanova) taking advantage of Hans, a midget (Harry Earles) with a crush on her to swindle him out of his fortune. Hans may be blind to the way she's using him, but the other circus folk are not, especially the freaks who view a slight against one of them as a slight against them all, and they're not about to let the trapeze artist, or her strongman lover (Henry Victor) get away with it.

This movie's been controversial since it was made for featuring real sideshow performers as the freaks; pinheads, a human torso, a half-boy, a human skeleton, siamese twins and others. Often viewed as exploitive, it's clear that director Tod Browning had a real affinity for his unusual performers and they are treated in not simply a sympathetic light, but as real human beings, no different from the rest of us except for an accident of birth.

This movie is much stronger than "Dracula," Browning's feature the previous year. That said, it's probably better viewed with the subtitles on as many of the characters speak with very heavy European accents and some of the sideshow performers are almost impossible to understand period. Some feel this movie would have been better as a silent film, primarily for that reason, but I disagree. Title cards would have taken care of the accent problems, and probably have enhanced the horror, but would have distanced the viewer from the ordinary humanity of the performers, making the film truly exploitive and making the sideshow performers into the freaks that Browning was trying to show they were not.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 Movie 1

1931 is the year that is associated with giving the birth of the horror movie because of "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." Often overlooked is "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" which was also released that year, a film technically superior to either of Universals famous monsters as well as being superior story-wise to "Dracula" and at least the equal of "Frankenstein."

We all know the story. Dr. Henry Jekyll (Fredric March) theorizes that man is dual in nature with a noble good side, and a beastial bad side. He doesn't stop with theory. He creates a potion that allows him to seperate the two, sort of. He never manages to conjure forth a wholly decent side, just the monster of the id, Mr. Edward Hyde (Fredric March). Soon Jekyll loses control of his experiment, and Hyde is able to emerge without the aid of the potion, but is unable to be resubmerged without it. Jekyll's experiment, and Mr. Hyde's actions ruin Jekyll's life and leads to murder.

This movie is a complete masterpiece of every level. Every time I see it I'm blown away. Not only is March amazing to watch in both roles (which earned him a best actor Oscar), but the rest of the cast is excellent as well. What really shines in this movie is the directing, cinematography and editing. Most movies of this era, still adjusting to the transition to sound were clunky affairs with the cameras anchored in one position for the most part, but here the camera participates almost as its own character in the film. There's a lot of subjective camera work, split screens and double exposures that add drama, tension and poignancy to the movie. Shadows and mirrors are also used to great effect. The compositions and the gorgeous lighting truly take advantage of the great sets as well.

What's most surprising for first time viewers is how brutal and sexual this movie is for its time, far more so than movies would be for another 40 years. This is definitely not one to share with the kids.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29 Riddle

What kind of fur do you get from a werewolf?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: He wanted it to make snap decisions.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 29

From the October 1962 issue of "Jack and Jill." I find this story amusing because it seems so contrary to what you typically find in "Jack and Jill." It's wholesome in its own right, but definitely says that playing a trick is okay and that everyone is out to screw over the other person. If you can screw them over first it's okay AND it's funny.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 Movie

"Baron Blood" (1972) is the nickname given to the Austrian Baron Otto von Kleist, a sadistic butcher along the lines of Vlad the Impaler. This 16th Century horror was tortured, cursed, and killed by a witch. Now, his ancestor, Peter (Antonio Cantafora) has come to Austria because of his fascination with this gruesome ancestor. With a copy of a parchment once belonging to the witch, Peter brings Baron blood back from the dead and is unable to send him back once the parchment is destroyed in a fire. The baron resumes his evil ways and is determined to make sure that this time he's here to stay. With the help of his uncle, (Massimo Girotti) and Eva Arnold (Elke Sommer) Peter searches for a way to return Baron Blood to hell before it is too late.

I'm a fan of Mario Bava and find that his films evoke atmospheres of dread and eerieness that hadn't been seen since the 1930s. His lighting and compositions create a sense of depth and space that really bring his movies to life. "Baron Blood" while lacking his use of bright greens, blues and purples, is no exception. The movie also has a great premise for his style of filmmaking and this movie should have been great. It isn't. It has it's moments, lots of them in fact. The location used for the Baron's castle is fantastic as is the decor. The actors are all capable as well. The problem here is the pacing. This movie moves so slowly that no tension is ever built. It takes a while for anything to really start happening, and once it does, repetitious scenes that bring the movie to a near halt are brought in one after another, making this the first Bava film that I was getting impatient sitting through.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28 Riddle

Why did Dr. Frankenstein put a rubber band in his monster's brain?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: He wanted a well-balanced meal.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 28

The New Yorker has fantastic covers all year, and whenever the weekly magazine's Tuesday publication date falls close to Halloween it typically has a Halloween themed cover. Alas, this year's October 27th cover was about the upcoming election. The November 3rd cover by Carter Goodrich does have a Halloween theme-- also tied to next week's election. This cover is one of my favorite New Yorker Halloween covers. Not only is it funny, but what a beautifully rendered image.

Monday, October 27, 2008

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 Movie 2

"Dr. Phibes Rises Again" (1972) is an unnecessary and lackluster sequel. Phibes returns with the intention of taking his beloved wife's corpse to Egypt where the waters of life will resurrect her and provide both of them with eternal life. He has some competition this time in cold archeologist Darius Biederbeck (Robert Quarry) who has obtained a necessary piece of papyrus stolen from Phibes' home. More inventive murders are committed by Phibes, with the help of Vulnavia. The same police inspectors from the first movie are on Phibes' trail, and everything culminates inside an Egyptian mountain where Biederbeck and Phibes try to outwit one another.

This sequel is diverting, but lacks the magic and inventiveness of the first movie. Everyone here seems to be going through the motions rather than embracing the film. Vulnavia inexplicably returns, this time in the form of Valli Kemp who doesn't posess the glamour, presence, or same degree of beauty as Virginia North. The murders involve complicated means of delivery like in the predessessor, but seem less well thought out. Even Price, as Phibes seems to have a diminished role in this film.

It's not a complete waste of time, but doesn't shine anywhere as brightly as the film that spawned it.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 Movie 1

In "The Abominable Dr. Phibes" (1971), Vincent Price plays the title character, a doctor of music and theology who was horribly disfigured in a car accident and presumed dead. With the aid of his beautiful and mysterious assistant, Vulnavia (Virginia North), Phibes systematically begins killing off the nine medical professionals he blames for the death of his wife. His method for killing them is an ingenious one based on the ten plagues of the pharoahs.

This movie, specifically written for Vincent Price is a lot of fun. The deaths are creatively committed, the cast is good, the humor is well placed, and it's never boring. The movie is set around 1930, but this is a 1930 as filtered through an early 1970s lens, so hair styles and fashions, as well as decor feels a lot more 1970s than forty years earlier. The character of Phibes is well conceived and performed by Price. Who Vulnavia is and why she's assisting Phibes is never explained, which I think was a wise choice. It adds mystery to the proceedings, and North's silent performanace as Vulnavia is commanding.
The comedy among the police inspectors feels at home here, and the actors here are all very likeable as well.

I like to watch this one every few years and find myself redelighted on each viewing.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27 Riddle

Why did the monster eat the tight-rope walker?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: The team spirit.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 27

Every year I've presented a collector tied to the holiday. The previous two collections were monster movie memorabilia. This year is someone who collects Halloween material, and what a collection it is. I don't know anything about the perosn going by the name Riptheskull, but thier flickr account is filled with page after page of vintage postcards, paper lanterns, plastic figures, die cut decorations and simply just too much vintage Halloween goodness. Prepare to be astonished.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 Movie

To celebrate Hollywood's 50th Anniversary, Universal Pictures produced "Man of a Thousand Faces" (1957), a biography of one of its biggest stars, Lon Chaney. The film plays rather loose with the facts concerning Chaney's life, streamlining them in some case, and outright changing others for dramatic impact and for a more structured narrative. Little of the movie focuses on Chaney the man who was able to complete transform himself from one role to the next, or the roles that he played. Most of the movie is devoted to his relationship to the two women he married, and his relationship with his son, Creighton.

This movie is pretty melodramatic with an excellent cast including James Cagney as Lon Chaney, Dorothy Malone and Jane Greer as the two Mrs. Chaneys, and Jim Backus as Chaney's press agent. Scenes are briefly recreated from Chaney's two most famous roles as Quasimodo in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) and Erik "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) but the make-up recreations seem like parody's of Chaney's creations, detracting from the artistry that chaney is rightfully credited for.

It's a well crafted, entertaining movie, but don't use it as the basis for a paper on Lon Chaney.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26 Riddle

What ghost helped the Little Leaguers win their game?

Answer to yesterday's riddle: Pants.

31 Days of Halloween - Day 26

While out trick or treating this Friday, don't forget to also trick or treat for UNICEF.