Friday, October 24, 2014

Night of Terror #21: 'The Horror! The Horror!'

The Horror! The Horror! is a (little bit hackily-named) book of 1950s horror comics. When I bought in on sale a few months ago, I thought it was more of a collection of comics and covers than a commentary and history on the golden age of horror, but actually the fact that it turns out to be more of the latter and less of the former didn't really disappoint me since

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Night of Terror #20: 'Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories' - "Hole"

If you get right down to it, good horror stories are usually about taking the world we live in and accept as "normal" and distorting it by magnifying its dangers, but not so much that it's completely unrecognizable. In that context Tim & Eric have quite possibly been in the horror business from the get-go, but not until Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories have they made the connection between their brand of comedy and the horror genre quite so explicit.

I watched four episodes of Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories yesterday, and I'm selecting "Hole" as the one that's the most Halloween appropriate, although really any one of them would have done just as well. As far as that whole "distortion" theory goes, "Hole" takes the commonplace anxiety associated with social interaction with an overzealous stranger and takes it to first absurd then to terrifying places. The final shot might be the most disturbing thing I've seen this month, except maybe Bob Geldof shaving off his eyebrows and chest hair in The Wall.

Favorite things:

- Eric's hair. Tim & Eric are the masters of hair comedy, and this is a prime example. He's the straight man in this story, and his hair is wacky, while Tim the psycho's hair is pretty normal. Brilliant!

- Ridged chips.

- In this universe there's apparently a sports team called the "Fish." Or is there?

Night of Terror #19: 'The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein'

Project: Get Caught Up On 31 Nights of Terror As Quickly And Lazily As Possible Kicks Off Now!


Mad scientists used to be a crucial part of Halloween, but their favor has fallen in recent decades. Maybe it's because of the Science vs Religion culture war makes it not as much fun to watch evil scientists being taken down by God, or maybe the mad scientist just went too mainstream with Dexter's Lab and stuff like that. But I have an idea for bringing the mad scientist back in a form everyone can relate to - make him a good mad scientist, like Dr. Funkenstein.

Instead of trying to rule the world with an army of robot men or proving that evolution is real by mixing human and ape blood, Dr. Funkenstein just wants to free everyone's asses. Dr. Funkenstein is basically an enemy to everything in the world that's boring, dull, unimaginative, restrictive, and repressive. But, seeing as he's "played" by P-Funk maestro George Clinton, he's also truly insane. Even though he's a benign mad scientist, he probably gives your more famous evil mad scientists a run for their money in the madness department. The bigger the headache, the bigger the pill.

I'm not sure who the "Clones" are in the classic 1976 Parliament album The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein are, maybe they're the other people in the band? But they seem to be having a good time. Good for them!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Night of Terror #18: 'Swamp Thing' by Brian K. Vaughan

Whoa, I'm like 3 days behind. This never used to happen with movies. Well, actually since it just turned to the 21st like two hours ago I'm really only 2 days behind. Anyway, Swamp Thing is kind of scary, right?

There are huge reeds of Swamp Thing mythology that I'm very hazy on despite my rock solid education of having blown through most of the Alan Moore run at a Barnes and Noble several years ago and watching the two movies from the 80s. So when I picked up the two collected editions of Brian K. Vaughan's (one of my very favorite people in comics, although I'm not a very voracious comics reader by any standard other than my mom's) run on Swamp Thing, I was a little disheartened to see a bunch of shit about "The Green," "Elementals," and a "Tree of Knowledge." I don't really go for that sort of thing, but I needn't have worried, because one of Vaughan's specialties is taking convoluted comic book hokum and turning into something with real-world vibrations, surrounding completely believable characters (in this case, Swamp Thing's daughter Tefe Holland and friends), primed for some good old-fashioned emotional investment.

He pulls that trick off here almost as well as he does in stuff like Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, series over which he obviously had more control. By the end of his run on Swamp Thing, it has the smell of abrupt cancellation all over it, and I'm particularly disturbed by the notion that somewhere in the DC Universe there's an insane genocidal Senator running around with his daughter under lock and key, never to be heard from again.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Night of Terror #17: 'Stations of the Nightmare'

As the protestors outside my window will not let me forget, I've slipped a couple days behind in the old October blog. One of the things I've learned in this no-movies experiment is that it's not just harder than it sounds to write about a different thing every day, but it's hard to find a different thing to write about every day. All of that will have to suffice for an explanation as to why I'm including Stations of the Nightmare by Philip Jose Farmer, even though (despite its title) it isn't really a work of horror.

Or is it? Here's the plot: A regular blue-collar guy named Paul Eyre is out hunting when he sees a strange craft flying through the air. He does what every right-thinking America would do in such a situation, and shoots it. Then this weird yellow-colored mercury-like stuff stars spewing out, and it changes Paul Eyre forever. He gets a new set of Incredible Powers, his mind begins to sharpen, and he becomes more considerate and empathic. Paul's evolution from closed-off regular guy to interstellar demigod is one of the best feats of writing I've ever seen from Farmer, who pulls of a neat trick of making both the huge changes in Paul and the ways Paul has remained the same equally revelatory (as always, I'll try to avoid spoilers here, particularly regarding the nature of Paul's powers, since the discovery of those is a big part of the fun of this book).

The two works I thought of the most as I read Stations of the Nightmare were Flowers for Algernon and The Fly, both of which are about people who gradually transform into something the rest of humanity can't understand. Unlike The Fly, though, the horror here is mostly psychological, especially as Paul reaches the conclusion that he simply isn't human anymore, and has to decide on how to act from there.

That's a stretch though, and Stations of the Nightmare is for the most part a straightforward scifi novel (it's very to-the-point by Farmer standards, too). But it wasn't just the title that provoked me to read the book in October - another cool feature of the edition I got is the very creepy black and white illustrations that pop up over the course of the story. They range from a dark, expressionistic shot of a hospital corridor to a two-page psychedelic freakout, and the flavor of the book is undoubtedly enhanced by them.

My only complaint is that the story's serialized roots are very obvious, with the plot being capped, recapped and rerecapped so many times I started to feel like I was reading some TV critic.Talk about horror.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Night of Terror #16: 'Haunted House' Pinball

Yesterday morning I was inexplicably awake at like 7 AM, which gave me the opportunity to get a lot of work done before I'd normally even be awake. In a rare instance of time well-managed, I utilized the extra time for a quick trip to Pinballz in order to find something spooky. As I suspected, there are a ton of Halloween-appropriate machines in the Pinballz arsenal, from Freddy - A Nightmare on Elm Street (apparently the designers of that one were worried that Freddy Krueger's face and the Nightmare on Elm Street title wouldn't clue players in sufficiently to the fact that this is, indeed, a Freddy Krueger pinball machine) to Elvira and Twilight Zone machines. But my favorite was an original property - Haunted House, which I'm pleased to find out is considered by connoisseurs to be a classic of the pinball form.

That pleasure comes from the fact that I had a really great time playing Haunted House, and it's always nice to have your good taste confirmed. The most striking feature of the machine is the cool subterranean level, which looked to me like an inverted reflection of what was actually physically going on under the machine. It's a disorienting experience whenever your ball ends up down there, similar to a "hall of mirrors" effect in a haunted house. Thematically appropriate, and very addictive.

What else can one say about a pinball machine? Flippers seemed to work well, sound effects and music (Toccata and Fugue in D minor) were loud and clear. Probably better than the Wayans movie with the same name.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Night of Terror #15: 'The Real Ghostbusters Soundtrack' by Tahiti

We're at just about the midpoint of our grand experiment in 31 Nights of Terror, which means it's time for another fabulous guest post. This one is from Ira "The King" Brooker. You can check out his (excellent) blog, that for some reason is updated throughout the year and not just every day for a single month, here. Here's Ira:

Of all the cultural detritus we slather with nostalgia, few maintain as massive an imbalance between audience affection and actual quality than do 1980s cartoons. From Foofur to Kissyfur, Silverhawks to Bravestarr, Flintstone Kids to Pink Panther and Sons, you’d be hard-pressed to find a platter of cheaply produced Reagan-era animation that doesn’t have at least a small internet cult dedicated to its preservation. But most of it is awful. Like, objectively, unwatchably awful. I say this as a lover of indefensible trash and a guy who’s voluntarily watched and enjoyed almost every Andy Milligan movie in existence: 1980s cartoons are the goddamned worst.

That makes it all the more special when one rises above the rabble. The Real Ghostbusters is one of those. I saw Ghostbusters in the theater when it first came out and dug it, but I was still a little too young to really grasp its nuances. I was a sheltered, devoutly religious kid with little awareness of ghosts, the occult or demon possession (My parents only took me to see it in a mistaken belief that it was a straight-up kids’ movie and were quite abashed on the way home from the show) and the parts of it that didn’t go over my head kind of freaked me out.

The cartoon adaptation, though, was right up my alley – a smart, well-written ensemble show that managed a delicate balance of comedy, action and legitimately creepy content. I never missed an episode after school. For a while there the cartoon version of Dr. Egon Spengler – the blonde, rat-tailed and less nebbishy incarnation of Harold Ramis voiced by the incomparable Maurice LaMarche – was second only to Han Solo on my roster of fictional heroes. While The Real Ghostbusters was far from an educational show, I actually learned a lot from it. Like the also excellent Ducktales, the show often worked historical, literary and cultural references into its storylines. Off the top of my head, I remember getting my first tastes of Salvador Dali, H.P. Lovecraft, Citizen Kane and Norse mythology while sitting down for my nightly Ghostbusters fix, not to mention any number of paranormal theories and philosophies.

And so when I stumbled upon a box set of Real Ghostbusters episodes for five bucks at my local Menards, of all places, there was no way that wasn’t coming home with me. I’m happy to say it holds up quite nicely, just as smart and spooky as I remembered it being. Sure, Slimer is as annoying as he ever was, and the writers’ attempts to channel the Bill Murray charm through Lorenzo Music’s Peter Venkman are unfortunate but overall it’s a show I can still watch for genuine enjoyment, not just nostalgia value. 

On this recent rewatch I picked up on a few things that hadn’t caught my attention when I was nine. Some of these were minor flaws, like the numerous crowd scenes that are clearly re-colored, recycled stock footage from some other Korean animation project. Some were minor triumphs, like the attempts at providing semi-plausible scientific explanations for the mechanisms and metaphysics of the Real Ghostbusters universe, evidence of a respect for juvenile intellects that was shared by precious few ‘80s cartoons. 

But the oddest thing I noticed was the soundtrack. The show opens with a truncated rendition of Ray Parker, Jr’s iconic movie theme, of course, but most episodes also feature an original ‘80s pop-funk track, usually used as a backdrop for action sequences or montages. At first I assumed they were cheapie tunes recorded specifically as background filler for low-budget productions - the type of thing we used to score our projects in my high school TV production class - but when I paid closer attention I realized that the lyrics were often directly related to the themes of the episode. It became evident that these were songs written specifically as an episode-by-episode soundtrack to The Real Ghostbusters. That suggested a level of care even beyond the aforementioned stabs at scientific legitimacy. This was unheard of in the quick-buck world of 1980s animation.

As is my usual practice whenever I encounter a bit of fascinating minutia, I immediately tweeted a mildly snarky observation about the Ghostbusters song phenomenon. Within the hour, I was surprised to receive a response from a Ghostbusters archivist, complete with a link to the official Real Ghostbusters soundtrack album. Turns out the songs are all by the same group, a pop duo known as Tahiti, otherwise known as vocalists Tyren Perry and Tonya Townsend. Think about that: in the 1980s, being the house band for The Real Ghostbusters was a job that existed. Not only did Tahiti record songs for the show, ten of those tracks were compiled as an album and released commercially. My best guess was that the producers hoped to recapture some of the bottled lightning that made the Ray Parker song a massive hit. That didn’t happen, but the soundtrack is still plenty worthy of exploration.

Tahiti’s sound is very much in keeping with their decade, a bouncy, pop-R&B style heavy on drum machines and synth hits. Only a few of the album’s ten tracks are lyrically tied to their respective episodes, although the songwriting is generally broad enough that almost all could qualify for radio play. Even something explicitly character-themed like “The Boogieman” (named for one of The Real Ghostbusters’ most traumatizing big-bads, a hoofed ghoul with a gigantic joker head who specialized in terrifying defenseless children in their bedrooms) could have conceivably charted in the era of “Thriller” and “Ghostbusters.” “Mr. Sandman,” on the other hand, uses one of the show’s villains as a muse for a mild love ballad about the guy of your dreams. Other tunes, like the vaguely Prince-ish “Movie Star” or the power ballad “Remember Home” (yes, there were power ballads on The Real Ghostbusters) have less to do with ghosts but stand on their own as solid slices of ‘80s R&B production.

As a matter of fact, maybe the most surprising thing about the Real Ghostbusters soundtrack is how seldom it crosses over into goofiness, and how much more fun it gets when it does. My personal favorite track is probably “Midnight Action,” sort of an updated “Monster Mash” about a spooky late night dance party attended by Frankenstein, witches, “Slimy” (sic) and their monstrous pals. It even features a ghostbusting-themed rap break near the end. I’m also quite fond of the closing cut, “Hometown Hero,” a well-produced number that works just as well as a single as it does as a thematic complement to the show. It also boasts a brief guitar solo by special guest Ray Parker, Jr. complete with Tahiti  reverently chanting his name. I’m not going to say The Real Ghostbusters soundtrack is a lost classic of ‘80s pop, but it’s a fun little album that’s a considerable improvement on most shoddy TV tie-ins of the era (looking your way, The Simpsons Sing the Blues and Coming Out of Their Shells). If nothing else, it’s an indicator of how much care and craftsmanship went into its source material. My time curled up in front of my parents’ old tube TV may not have all been especially well spent - I could sing you the theme songs for Camp Candy and Gummi Bears as proof of that - but it’s at least comforting to know that a few of the objects glittering in the back of my memory really are gold.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Night of Terror #14: 'Space Ghost Coast to Coast' - "Snatch"

Nobody can hear you, Space Ghost. We've been off the air for ten days.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers has to be one of the most told and re-told stories on the screen, with several official remakes and countless unlicensed knockoffs. I have a soft spot for all of them, but my favorite is undoubtedly this episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, "Snatch."

This is one of those Space Ghost episodes when the already tenuous talk show format is pretty much abandoned entirely in favor of creeping dread and bizarre non-sequiturs. The only "guest," such as he is, is Steven Wright, who may hold the distinction of being the Coast to Coast guest whose own sensibility meshes the most harmoniously with the show. The methodology behind the interviews on this show is perennially a little hazy to me, but nevertheless Wright seems up for everything, from checking out cartoon space porn to dealing with replicating pods and The Blob.

That reminds me, this isn't just a Body Snatchers riff but it becomes a The Blob sequel as well, when The Blob surrounds the Ghost Planet and traps the gang inside with the pods. It's a perfect recipe for the intersection of suspense - they can't get out, no one can get in, and they can't go to sleep or else they'll get replicated.

Anyway, Space Ghost conceives of a brilliant plan to get rid of both the replicating pods and The Blob in one fell swoop, but then Moltar messes it all up and they all have to go back to swilling coffee. Then everyone dies.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Night of Terror #13: 'Bug Too!' - "Weevil Dead II"

For those of you who are not conversant in the mid-90s Sega Saturn corpus, Bug Too! is a sequel to the popular video game Bug! which featured a small green movie star insect named Bug. For part two, Bug returns with two costars, Maggot Dog and Superfly, in an adventure that spans many levels with movie-and-insect-themed pun titles, like "Lawrence of Arachina" and "Antennae Day."

But what concerns us today is "Weevil Dead II," the first level of the game and one that is appropriately horror-themed. The "haunted level" is full of fog, undead bugs emerging from underneath fly-swatters, sinister crypts and giant boulders. Because I'm bad at video games and possessing a limited amount of time, I looked up some cheat codes and played through the level. It was fun, and interesting to see how many of the jokes must have flown over my head when I was a kid but almost seem too obvious now (for example, a recurring boss based on the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Some of the jokes actually are funny, though, like the bad guy who grabs you in his chains and just shouts "LOSER" at you. Funny.

The most memorable aspect of "Weevil Dead II," unusually for a video game, is the music. The tune that runs throughout is a clear homage to/ripoff of Danny Elfman, and it's an effective enough earworm to stand up next to his work.

Here's a very bizarre promo video I found online about Bug Too!, check it out if you enjoy fake (?) Spielberg quotes and a general air of 90s irony.

Night of Terror #12: An Episode of 'Thriller' I Was Halfway Paying Attention To

When I decided to watch some of the 1960s anthology series Thriller this October, I was under the misapprehension that it had a strong start as a revered horror series and thus would make great Halloween viewing. I learned after I started watching the show that fans consider the early episodes pretty boring compared to what came later (how many of these do I have to slog through before I get to the good stuff, I wonder), but I was still skeptical after watching the first episode and enjoying it quite a bit. The next three have been really boring, though, including "The Mark of the Hand," which I had on my TV while I messed around on Facebook on my phone.

Here's what I was able to gather: This is the second Thriller about a kid with a gun, although this time the whole plot hinges on whether or not the kid actually shot the murder victim. Spoiler alert: She didn't, and the whole thing was actually a methodical murder plot perpetrated by ... someone. I guess I won't give it away, and anyway the details are a little fuzzy, and also don't watch this.

Directed by Paul Henreid!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Night of Terror #11: 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'

"A man's or a woman's?"
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered:—
"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!"

Fuck yeah.

This was my second time reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, and I can safely say it's one of my favorite novels of all time. It adds a layer of spooky atmosphere and downright horror to the usual Sherlock Holmes crime-deduction action, and makes perfect Halloween reading in the process. It's not just an engaging mystery, but an almost proto-paranoid thriller (I don't have to tell you that paranoia wasn't invented until 1921 by a scientist who was convinced that his contemporaries would kill him then release his formula on the world in secret. He was right), with Dr. Watson entangled in a sinister crime after Holmes tells him to accompany their latest client to the Devonshire moors while he stays back in London. That particular mood of mystery that Doyle usually opens and closes in his 20 or 30-page short stories is sustained and enhanced in full-length novel form here, an impressive feat even before you remember the novel was originally a serialized publication.

This is one of the prototypical mystery novels, yet what impressed me the first time and again now is how it doesn't seem shackled by formula the way a lot of whodunits can. Structurally, Holmes reveals the identity of the killer with a good 5 or 6 chapters of action to go, as he, Watson, and Sir Henry Baskerville close their net around the criminal, which is of course much more satisfying than keeping the solution a secret until the very end. Then there's the secondary mystery, regarding whether the titular hound actually exists, and whether Holmes and Watson, the two men of science, will have to confront a supernatural being.

This is also one of the most adapted stories in history, Wikipedia listing over 20 filmed works based on the book. I saw the one with Matt Frewer and Kenneth Welsh, it was OK.

Feel weird saying this about one of the most beloved works of fiction ever written by man or hound, but you should probably read The Hound of the Baskervilles if you haven't already, preferably with the original Strand magazine illustrations intact. It is good.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Night of Terror #10: 'Dr. Paul Bearer Archives Vol. 1'

Good afternoon whatever you are. I just spent an hour and 18 minutes watching the Dr. Paul Bearer Archives Vol. 1, a DVD I got from the estate of the late Dr. Paul Bearer. I didn't plan to watch the whole thing today, but once I started watching the 5-6 minute segments included on the DVD I couldn't stop, and I laughed more than I do watching many feature length comedies. Dr. Bearer was a horror host on TWOG in St. Petersburg, Florida, and in fact holds the distinction of being the longest-running practitioner of that particular art form, his Creature Feature running from 1973 to 1995, and it only stopped then because of his untimely death after an operation on his heart - as the Doctor himself was fond of saying, there is such a thing as death after life.

But I didn't spend 15 bucks on this DVD because of all that, instead what drove my purchase was the fact that I grew up pretty close to St. Pete and have memories of seeing Dr. Paul on TV, and even once in person, at the Winter Haven Mall, which used to do a trick-or-treat event every Halloween that my parents took me to in lieu of the traditional door-to-door soliciting. I was pretty young then, and I remember being vaguely frightened of this weird guy with the ghoulish makeup and weird speech patterns, and today I was delighted to see him announce his annual personal appearance at the Winter Haven Mall on Halloween in one of the segments included on the DVD.

But I imagine that the treasures on the Dr. Paul Bearer Archives Vol. 1 would appeal to almost anyone with a taste for horror hosts and other pieces of that mostly extinct 20th century novelty entertainment sphere, not just people who were kids in Florida 20 years ago. He sings parody songs, and generates puns out of evert conceivable item on hand - my favorite from this brief sampling of his 22-year career is "State Harm Insurance." Some of the puns aren't even macabre or spooky, like when he gets a "knight shirt" for Christmas, which is just a black t-shirt with a knight on it. Can I buy that somewhere?

Watching more than an hour of Creature Feature segments in one sitting can start to get to you. I started imagining that Dr. Paul Bearer is actually a schizophrenic dentist who believes he lives in a "tenement castle" and talks to the walls about the "horrible old movies" that come on TV. He chats with his spider friend Spinjamin Bock (I'll admit I don't really get this pun - is Benjamin Bock a singer or something?) and eats his Devil's Food Scream Cake as his madness calcifies around his aging brain.

But enough jokes. If you don't live in Austin and can borrow mine, you might want to buy your own copy of the first (of many, I hope) volume Dr. Paul Bearer Archive, and you can do so here. I'll be lurking for you, etc.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Night of Terror #9: "Scariest Picture Ever"

Today we have our first 31 Nights of Terror guest spot, this one from standup comedian/Stewart's connosieur Big Jim LeChase. I'm kind of mad at Jim because this is funnier and better than anything I've managed to grind out this month, and also because I wish I'd come up with this idea myself. Now if you'll please join me in welcoming to the stage, the absurdly funny and ridiculously lovely Jimmy LeChase:

When Joe laid down the new law that said we weren’t allowed to review movies for 31 Nights of Terror I thought to myself “Joe can go straight to hell. Who does he think he is?” But, after a I drank some strong tea and let my mind wander a bit I realized that, like a true savant and kindly soul, Joe was actually doing us all a favor. Joe, in his infinite wisdom and beauty, was challenging us to go above and beyond our normal limitations to find something bigger and brighter than we ever thought we were possible of creating.

I found my mind alight with more ideas and opinions than I ever knew I had. “What if I review an episode of American Horror Story; which is a show I’ve never seen?” was one of my first thoughts, but it proved to be fleeting as I couldn’t muster up the gumption to sit in front of my TV for an hour while I watched some people over-act while they lived inside a spooky asylum. Not for me.

As the days dripped by I found myself back in Rochester, NY for a weekend of shows at The Comedy Club; which is where I got my start as a stand-up comedian and professional clown. I brought up my concerns to a stranger I struck up a conversation with at the bar. I was enjoying a diet soda and he was a few rounds into what smelled like Jack Daniels mixed with tonic water. A delicacy I am all too familiar with from my days as a drunkard.

“Fella,” I said to the stranger, “I’m all mixed up about what I can review for my friend’s web log. I can’t do a movie like I normally would. I won’t do a TV show, because I haven’t the mind for it. I’m stuck, y’see.”

Through the fog of his inebriation the stranger wagged a single finger in the air and slurred out the following sentence “if you can’t do moving pictures, why not try one that ain’t moving?” Clearly, this man was the kind of genius that is only suitable for bar talk and chess matches against Russian computers, so I thanked him by purchasing his next round and headed back to my place thinking “yes, yes! I will find the scariest picture ever and that’s what I’ll write about!”

Once I was back home in front of my trusty Gateway Laptop I typed “Google” in to Bing and was brought to the homepage of the world’s most usable search engine. “If any place is going to have a lead on the scariest picture ever, it’s going to be Google,” I told myself while sucking down another diet soda (a habit I’m not proud of).

There, in the search bar, I typed the words that would change my life forever: “scariest picture ever.”

The results, as the above image shows, were varied. One of them appears to be a young Jay-Z happily about to take a trip to the land of Nod and another seems to show a young lady having a terrible time with her morning BM. There are even multiple collections to choose from! You can look at “Ghost” or “Taken” or “Internet” if you want to see the scariest picture ever in either of those areas, but I don’t have time to whittle it down to something that specific. Maybe next year.

The image that appeared first, thus making it the scariest picture ever, can be seen below:


Whoa! Wow! What a scary picture of a man that’s been beaten down by society for so long that he has no choice but to make his living dressing up as a clown to entertain people at parties that nobody really wants to go to but they have to go because Dave is throwing it and he’s the boss and if you skip out on his big party you’re not going to get a good quarterly review!

The first thing that leaps out to me when I see the “scariest picture ever” is the clown’s crumpled right shoe. What happened there? Is this another instance of blatant disrespect that sent our poor hero over the edge into the oblivion of madness? Or, is it something more sinister than that? Did our clown use that shoe to maim a victim? We’ll never know, because the 1,000 words this picture is telling us seem to be speaking a language with which I am unfamiliar.

I’d like to take a moment to point out the medal this clown is wearing. It looks to have the number 36 written on it; which, to anybody with half a brain and the ability to count, means that it’s Dave’s 36th birthday party. Not only is this poor man being hired to entertain adults, he’s been hired by a narcissistic mad man that celebrates things like his 36th birthday. The horror of this picture is becoming obvious if not ominous.

The lady standing to our clown’s left (picture right) is oblivious to his presence; which the clown is more than used to. He’s walked into crowded malls and toy stores without anybody noticing him so often that he expects not to be seen; which is why, when the photographer spied him and snapped this shot, he was unprepared and only managed to muster a grin mixed with a leer.  Why, the fellow didn’t even have time to straighten his knees out and stand at attention; which is just another slap in the face during a life that seems to be nothing but slaps in the face.

There are also some pies cooling on top of the oven; which our clown seems to be aware of only peripherally. Clowns, as we all know, are not allowed to eat anything with taste. They are forced to subsist on a diet of sand and popped balloons thanks to President Reagan’s “No Clowns” initiative of 1984. “Oh, how I wish I knew what it was to eat food with flavor,” our clown is almost definitely thinking to himself, but that would be against the law, and our clown has 2 prior felonies already.

The kitchen where this was taken looks to be tiny but manageable and easy to clean. “Who needs all that space?” You can hear the realtor telling Dave. (Dave sunk too much money into a mortgage he really can’t afford to buy a new house he only wants so he can show it off during his 36th birthday party, but he’s only told our clown this as he knows it is against clown-code to tell another person’s secrets) It’s a perfect size for our clown, though, and he appears to be making himself right at home.

“If I could just have a moment to fix my wig,” he asks Dave later on in the night, “I don’t like to perform with a mussed wig.” Dave, feeling cavalier and full of ego, allows the clown a moment to better his appearance. “My friends deserve the best show you can give them clown,” he says with a sneer, “go fix your wig and return with a hurry. The show must start in 3 minutes or my guests will grow weary!”

The clown flees into the kitchen once more. He spies what looks to be a sharpened knife laying between the freshly cooked pies. “It would be so easy,” he thinks to himself. “It would be so simple,” he says. The clown begins to giggle. Slowly. It turns into a cackle so loud the guests at Dave’s party can hear it over the chorus of Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It.” A worried patron scurries over to the boombox and lowers the volume to a level that allows them to figure out where the laughter is coming from.

One by one they follow the sound into the kitchen. Each of them going googly-eyed when they see the clown before them covered in what appears to be red paint. Lots and lots of red paint. Too much red paint. It’s not even making sense how much red paint this clown has on him. “Did somebody lose some red paint?” a guy asks the assembled crowd. “Hey, where’s Dave?” somebody else chimes in.

The clown bursts into more laughter. He can’t stop it. It’s coming out of him like a bull rushing into an arena to take on a matador. It’s then that somebody notices the knife in the clown’s hands. It’s then that somebody asks where Dave is again. It’s then that the clown fixes his wig and says “I know where Dave is” and the laughter surges out of him so forcefully that he flops to the ground and begins convulsing.

Soon, a white foam appears at the clown’s lips and the apparent seizure comes to a stop. The clown’s eyes bolt open momentarily as he utters his final words “where’s your camera now? Where’s your camera now!”

7 out of 10 stars

Jimmy LeChase's official website can be found here.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Night of Terror #8: 'Sweet Exorcist'

Sometimes over the course of our lives we accidentally embark on two different endeavors, at completely cross purposes with one another. In my case, I wanted to A: Watch/read/listen to/eat/drink some non-movie Halloween item every day in October, and write about my experiences doing the same. I also wanted to B: Do nothing but listen to Curtis Mayfield all day. Most of the horrors depicted in Curtis Mayfield records are sociopolitical in nature, like racism and poverty and national malaise. But he did record an album called Sweet Exorcist, and it came out one year after The Exorcist, and it's my blog, so whatever.

No, Sweet Exorcist isn't some kind of horror-funk concept album, and I'm not really sure I'd want to listen to such a thing from Curtis Mayfield. George Clinton, sure, but not Mayfield. The title track is all about exorcising metaphorical demons when you fall in love, which is a very nice sentiment albeit not a very spooky one. One of the things I love about good soul music is the way it can take romantic or even sexual love and intermingle it lyrically with spiritualism or religion and it never seems tacky or weird, instead suggesting that love of God and love of a (wo)man is all on the same spectrum. See? I can't even type that without it seeming weird, Mayfield truly is a Gentle Genius.

The rest of Sweet Exorcist is typically sharp Mayfield songwriting and arrangements, albeit mostly lacking the hard funk grooves of his more famous work from this period ("Kung Fu" might take you where you need to go on this front though). I thought about doing some kind of bit where I pretend "To Be Invisible" is about a horror-movie-style invisible man, but it's 2 AM and I'm tired. Now, if you'll give me a minute, I'm going to dash over to YouTube and see if I can find a Sweet Exorcist/The Exorcist mashup. That has to exist, right?

God damn it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Night of Terror #7: 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' - "Trick or Treat"

A quick scan of the Curb Your Enthusiasm Wikipedia entry suggests that Larry David and friends only had one brush with the occult, and it's this season 2 classic, "Trick or Treat." Thrill at seeing Cheryl David actually act with affection towards her husband Larry, and vice-versa! Chill at Larry accusing a couple of bratty teenagers of a hate crime for painting "bald asshole" on his door after he refuses to give them candy on Halloween! Spill at Larry kind of committing a hate crime of his own by hiring an orchestra to play Wagner in the front lawn of a zealous Jewish neighbor (it's a long story)!

Other than the brief excursion into the rules of Trick or Treat, there actually isn't much spooky action in this episode of Curb. I kept expecting Cheryl to rip the flesh off of her face and sink her fangs into Jeff's neck, or for Larry's friend Richard Lewis to show up and start stabbing people, etc. Oh wait a second, there's the confrontation between Larry and his friend Cliff Cobb that is shot with a kind of horror-esque vibe. Thank you, episode director Larry Charles. And contrary to the trappings of horror, Larry actually gets an unambiguously happy ending here, inflicting his revenge and not being immediately humiliated afterward, as is usually the case.

Like pretty much every episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, this is packed with great comic details, both obvious and subtle. Larry gets in digs at outdoor smokers (where are they supposed to smoke, Larry??) golfwear being unacceptable outside the context of golf, yawning during movies, and an entire plot thread that hinges entirely on a guy having the same last name as whoever the Cobb salad is named after. Terrifying!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Night of Terror #6: 'Schermoscuro'

Whoa, completely forgot to do a post for yesterday. This "no movies" thing is tougher to keep up with than I thought, thank God I don't have to worry about securing a Halloween costume too, I don't think I could deal with that much responsibility in one month. Anyway, Schermoscuro.

About 6 months ago I was hanging out with 31 Nights of Terror contributors Melissa Craig and Dan Pittman for our annual 31 Nights of Terror pre-seasonal brainstorming session and stockholders' meeting, and they gave me a pretty awesome gift that from what I understand isn't available for purchase anywhere. It's called Schermoscuro by comic book artist Francesco Francavilla, and they got it at some damn comic book convention or something (these damn kids and their comic books!). Because I live a horrible media-choked lifestyle, I only got around to reading it yesterday, but the delay was actually perfect because Schermoscuro is a great thing to check out around the Halloween season.

Basically, Schermoscuro is based on a project Francavilla embarked on a few years ago, to do a drawing for a single horror movie every day in October, adding up to 31 drawings in all. I know what you're thinking - you're shocked that someone else had the idea to celebrate a different horror movie every day in October, that's totally my idea that I invented. My lawyers inform me that since I don't draw we don't really have a case, so you're off the hook this time Francavilla.

The horror movies that get the Francavilla treatment in Schermoscuro are all from the classic era, with a heavy emphasis on Universal horror and other films of that period (I think the most recent one is Village of the Damned). Francavilla is great at capturing facial details and the spirit of the movie/character in question and transferring them to his own pulpy black-and-white style, and his affection for the genre is clearly bursting at the seams. In some cases, like his drawing for the original screen version of The Fly, he makes it seem even creepier than he actually does. Silent horror is also well-represented, with Francavilla even going so far as to do a drawing for the lost Tod Browning thriller London After Midnight. Cool.

Schermoscuro was (I think) my first exposure to Francesco Francavilla's work, and from this and what I've read about him he seems like someone I definitely should keep my eye on, because his style is right up my alley. Thanks Dan and Melissa!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Night of Terror #5: 'The Black Falcon'

The Black Falcon by Walter B. Gibson (no relation, unfortunately) writing as Maxwell Grant is not a horror novel. It's a classic "crime mastermind" thriller, with elements of whodunit and suspense woven in. The thing that makes it appropriate fare for this space is the lead character - The Shadow, who is basically Halloween incarnate, a dark figure (or "personage," to use one of Gibson's favored word motifs) who stalks New York City by night fighting crime through mysterious means. He dresses up in a black slouch hat and black cloak, only he's not doing it to acquire candy from neighbors - his face was hideously scarred in the war, apparently so much so that when anyone looks at his undisguised face they go into palpitations of shock and terror.

That's what happens to the titular Black Falcon, who is a criminal genius whose modus operandi is briefly thus: He kidnaps wealthy businessmen in between taunting letters to the police (signed with a black falcon's feather), vaguely demands ransom but never attempts to collect, and holds his victims in his lair out in the suburbs. When he feels the need to appear publicly, he wears a black mask over this eyes so as not to be recognized as his true identity, which I will not reveal (I've been keeping track of Gone Girl reviews so I know how angry everybody gets about spoilers), except to say that he's one of the rich businessmen who is ostensibly threatened by the Falcon's schemes.

It's not the most well-defined criminal plot in the history of pulp fiction, but the reader does get the sense that The Black Falcon does stand nearly eye-to-eye with The Shadow in the scheming department, especially after he kidnaps wealthy Lamont Cranston, whom he believes to be the secret identity of The Shadow - the truth, as it always is, is more complicated than that, but I won't reveal that either - just don't believe what the movies tell you.

To use a favorite Matt Lynch-ism, there are some threads here that never get tugged over the course of 60 pages, like the fact that The Shadow and The Black Falcon are distorted mirror images of one another, down to the fact that they each favor a mocking, sardonic demeanor when in character. Or the economic implications of a criminal targeting wealthy businessmen through his ability to move comfortably in their social circles - an alternate title for this story, written in 2014, might be Murder By Privilege. Like with most hero pulps, though, you pretty much have to use your imagination and tug on these threads yourself. Which, of course, is a pleasure.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Night of Terror #4: 'The Whistler' - "Death Has a Thirst"

"I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I walk by night. I know many strange tales, hidden in the hearts of men and women who have stepped into the shadows. Yes... I know the nameless terrors of which they dare not speak."

If your only exposure to the outside world is through content produced by Joseph Gibson, it's possible you're already familiar with The Whistler from my Letterboxd account, where (I think) I've reviewed all the movies in the Whistler series. I recently checked out the radio series as well, and was interested to learn it has more of a quasi-supernatural bent than the movies, which are pretty straightforward stores of suspense apart from the ghostly Whistler, who bookends the films with his creepy commentary. The radio show follows much the same formula, but the stories have a creepier, more horror-influenced edge.

"Death Has a Thirst" probably isn't the best example of this, since it's more of a suspense story than anything overtly horrific, but it is an agreeably nasty love triangle that ends in murder for one and ... a happy marriage ever after for the other two. Huh? I'm actually not familiar enough with The Whistler's MO to know if the ending is supposed to be ironic or not, but even assuming that it is, it's still a surprisingly unambiguously dark ending for entertainment from 1942. Here it is:


So, the woman wants to get a divorce from her husband, but she can't because he's crazy, so she murders him, only she didn't actually murder him because the other guy murdered him first by putting poison water in a canteen he wasn't supposed to drink from because it was supposed to be for the wife? No wonder he went crazy, he clearly lived in an insane world.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Night of Terror #3: 'Space Ghost Coast to Coast' - "Curses"

Editor's note: I originally wanted to review a different episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, "Snatch," but I couldn't remember which DVD it was on and guessed wrong. Luckily, the disc in question did have a different episode of macabre incident, this one about cannibalism. 31 Nights of Terror apologizes for this error, and hopes to have a review of "Snatch" up sometime later this month. Thank you.

I recently wrote an article for an obscenely successful purveyor of Online Content (no, I will not link to it), and in typical courageously subversive fashion I managed to sneak in a paragraph or two about what is probably my favorite TV comedy of all time, Space Ghost Coast to Coast. I bring it up because doing so served as a reminder of how important this show has been to me over the years, and the moment I decided to switch to a no-movies format for the blog this year was when I realized I could do at least one write-up of Space Ghost in the process (well, that and porn, but more on that at a later date).

Luckily for my seasonally-dependent premise here, "Curses" is not only surprisingly Halloween-appropriate, but a certified Space Ghost classic, ten minutes of all killer and no filler. For the audience, that is -  from Space Ghost's point of view, there's plenty of filler. Basically, supervillain Future Man (a rare instance of Space Ghost's former profession as a superhero actually being honored on the show) infects SG with a toxic gas that curses him to crave human flesh ("Seriously?," Space Ghost responds). It goes into effect when Moby is on the Ghost Planet, but Moby's bony head isn't quite enough to satisfy Space Ghost's inhuman cravings. There's a lot of belching. Spooky!

One of my favorite bits from "Curses" is Space Ghost's recurring calls for a "meeting," met by a jump cut to Space Ghost, Zorak, and Moltar in the control room conferring with characteristic non-sequiturs (although this was my first time seeing this episode and realizing that Zorak's "stinks" and Moltar's "Pasadena" were actually references to Ben Stiller's movie idea, not just random utterances. Maturity has its rewards).

This is all coming out kind of dorky in print, so I guess I'll just stop here. You can actually watch the episode though, and all will become clear. If you've never watched Space Ghost Coast to Coast before, this is probably as good a place to start as any, unless you're sensitive towards cannibalism jokes:

Space Ghost Coast to Coast - Curses by TheBrakAttack

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Night of Terror #2: 'Thriller' - "The Twisted Image"

Horror is at its most powerful when it explores universal anxieties- the fear of death, the fear of isolation, the fear of punishment, the fear that your cozy executive existence and happy marriage will be destroyed by a couple of psychotic interlopers, the fear of sharks, etc. "The Twisted Image" is the first episode of the excellent anthology TV series Thriller, hosted by Boris Karloff, and it deals with the fourth of those anxieties in such a deft way that it actually does resonate even if you've never owned a watch worth stealing. Also, you get to hear Boris Karloff say "Leslie Nielsen," which was not something I was expecting or prepared for.

Nielsen plays Alan Patterson, a successful and handsome executive who has two chief problems in his life - one, he's so successful that the kleptomaniac weirdo who works in the mail room wants to be him, and two, he's so handsome that the possessive, delusional weirdo who works in the building wants to marry him. His life is so great, it's a miracle this situation didn't come to a head much sooner. As is, they both start intruding onto his life around the same time, and he ends up being suspected of murder and his family is endangered.

"The Twisted Image" is actually a really good 50-minute suspenser - and even though I made fun of it a little bit it probably is a nigh-universal fear that when things are going good some wild card(s) might come along and mess it all up. I also like the way the three plot strands are threaded together in a much more elegant way than usual in these kinds of anthology programs.

The whole episode's on YouTube if you're interested (and you only have to watch for a couple minutes to hear Karloff say Nielsen's name):

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Night of Terror #1: 'The Phantom Creeps' - "The Menacing Power"

I guess I'm already stretching my "no movies" rule by doing my first entry of the month on an episode of a chapter serial, but this was so good that I feel I'd be doing a disservice to everyone by not writing it up. The Phantom Creeps is a 12-part serial that (presumably, I've only seen the first chapter) follows the diabolical scheming of a Dr. Zorka, played by Bela Lugosi.

Lugosi's status as a pop culture icon is fully cemented so I probably don't need to wax hyperbolic about how good he is - but I also don't need to do a daily Halloween blog for a month every year, so what the hell: Bela Lugosi is awesome. There's a great scene in Tim Burton's Ed Wood that has Martin Landau's Lugosi delivering one of Ed's incoherent monologues, but with such conviction that the film score rises up to his level and what was just a goofy bunch of nonsense on the page is elevated to real drama. I sort of used to think that was just a cinematic device to illustrate how Wood's movies seemed to him while he was making them, but I've recently become convinced that it's an accurate picture of how Lugosi works. This is a great example of that dynamic in action - Lugosi commits to his ridiculous mad scientist character so passionately that absurdity becomes poetry. When he looks skyward and intones to some mysterious entity, "they must never know about you - the source of all my power," it feels like an episode of genuine religious fervor, rather than a mad scientist alluding to his mechanical creatures and invisibility belt.

Dr. Zorka would already be in the Mad Scientist Hall of Fame just by virtue of the way Lugosi plays him, but there's another fun detail to his character that I really enjoy. Most mad scientists are work-focused bachelors at best, if they're not going on dates with dead bodies in the morgue. But Zorka would appear to be at least somewhat happily married. It made me think that The Phantom Creeps might be ripe for a remake as a basic cable antihero drama. Call it ...







Breaking Mad.



I don't know how much of the rest of The Phantom Creeps I'll be writing up in this space, but I do know I'm excited to watch it. In just this first episode there's a giant robot, artificial spiders, an invisible Bela Lugosi doing the titular creeping, a car explosion, and a plane crash. I just hope the whole thing doesn't end with Zorka being apprehended or killed, that would really be a bummer.

Exciting New Flavor - Same Great Taste!

Hello "Fiends" (Friends),

It's been three long and painful years for all of us since I started my annual horror movie blog, and I've made a decision to change up the format significantly this year. Basically, instead of being a movie blog, it's going to be an everything-but-movies blog, and over the next 31 days I and (hopefully) a bunch of my friends will be reviewing books, comics, TV episodes, old time radio dramas, breakfast cereals, ice cream novelties, albums, music videos, video games, etc etc etc, pretty much everything under the moon, provided it has some Halloween-appropriate thematic content.

So, if you're already a registered user of the 31 Nights of Terror phablet app, you don't have to do anything differently for exciting new 31 Nights of Terror content to appear right in front of you, as usual. If you haven't downloaded the phablet app, it's available now for $3.99 at the phablet app store, and I can assure you it is worth every penny.

Watch for another update from me today, when I review something or other in a hopefully entertaining fashion. And if you want to review some crazy piece of Halloween ephemera, contact me somehow and I'm sure we can work out some kind of phablet-sharing plan.

"I'll see you ... not at the movies!"