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Sunday, October 31, 2010

VAULT VLOG: Happy Halloween, Vault Dwellers...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Lucky 13 Returns! Week One: Halloween

Well, well, well--here we are again. Last summer, The Vault of Horror joined forces with Brutal as Hell to bring you a special series entitled The Lucky 13. Over the course of 13 weeks, the staff of both sites selected their favorite horror films in 13 different sub-genres. We all had a lot of fun, and I like to think it resulted in a lot of thought-provoking reading.

And now, because it was so much fun, BAH impresario Marc Patterson and myself have decided to revisit the whole thing with 13 more horrific categories. This time around, given the time of year, it's all about holiday- and seasonal-related horror (more or less). And what better way to kick things off than with a look at our very favorite Halloween movies?

Unfortunately, we're off to a bit of a slow start this week, but we've still got a couple of fine Halloween offerings from myself and VOH staffer Paige MacGregor. Stay tuned for more contributors in the coming weeks. And be sure to check out Brutal as Hell for their favorite Halloween picks!

B-Sol on Trick 'r Treat

Just a few years ago, Michael Dougherty crafted what can only be described as an unqualified holiday classic. From here on in, let it be known: You watch It's a Wonderful Life on Christmas, Darby O'Gill & The Little People on St. Patrick's Day, Yankee Doodle Dandy on the Fourth of July... and Trick 'r Treat on Halloween. It's as simple as that.

What I truly love about this film is the fact that most of it deals directly with the terrors of children, or is in some way tied into Halloween from a kid's perspective. This connects to something primal in all of us--that kernel deep down inside that is still afraid of the dark from when we cowered under the sheets and watched the closet door intently as we tried to fall asleep. In modern times, Halloween has been a decidedly child-oriented holiday, which is fascinating considering it also deals in matters of the horrific and supernatural.

Trick 'r Treat plays on the connection between children and the horrors of Halloween. This element is literally embodied in that creepy-as-hell little sack-headed scarecrow kid who is basically the center-point of the flick. Forget Jigsaw or The Creeper--this little bugger is without question the iconic horror movie icon of the past decade. It's dark material, but at the same time, never gets so heavy as to lose its sense of fun. That's a tough balancing act to pull off, but Dougherty does it with style.

Paige MacGregor on Hocus Pocus

Although I enjoy slashers, thrillers and various other violent and bloody sub-genres of horror, my favorite Halloween movie isn’t a genre classic like John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) or even a contemporary indie flick like Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat (2007). Instead, I like to get into the Halloween spirit by watching the 1993 Disney movie Hocus Pocus.

The plot is a simple one: Max Dennison (Omri Katiz) and his sister, Dani (Thora Birch), move to Salem just in time for Halloween. In an attempt to impress one of his classmates, Max accidentally resurrects three witches who were put to death 300 years earlier. In an unlikely partnership, Max, Dani and Allison (Vinessa Shaw) join forces with a 300-year-old talking black cat and a reanimated corpse in order to stop the witches from sucking the life out of Salem’s children before the sun rises.

Disney movies don’t always withstand the test of time, but Hocus Pocus remains a Halloween staple in my house for several reasons, not the least of which is Bette Midler’s performance as the eldest Sanderson sister, Winifred. In her role as Winnie Sanderson, Bette Midler not only delivers some of the film’s funniest lines (“He has a little man”), but also leads her co-stars—Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy—in a catchy musical number that will be stuck in your head for weeks (although it’s good enough that you won’t mind).

The slapstick antics and clever dialogue of the Sanderson sisters are only part of why Hocus Pocus will remain an important part of my Halloween holiday traditions, and we have writers David Kirschner (story), Mick Garris (story/screenplay) and Neil Cuthbert (screenplay) to thank for that. Of course, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy’s performances are similarly comical and impressive as the middle sisters, and it doesn’t hurt that Sarah Jessica Parker wears so much makeup that she’s barely recognizable. Hocus Pocus is a unique blend of fantasy, comedy, and Disney musical that is great for children and adults alike, and I highly recommend watching it at least once this Halloween season.

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Join us next week for The Lucky 13, as we head into the month of November with a look at the popular sub-genre of "Man vs. Nature...

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Many Faces of Vincent Price, Vol. 2

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Shadow of Samhain: Halloween Isn't Devil Worship; or, Where the Hell's My Halloween Carnival Gone?

Just a couple more days until Halloween is upon us. I've had so many worthy posts submitted for this series that it will be definitely continuing into next month. For now, as we lead into Halloween itself, I give you this intriguing piece from Erin Lashley of In It for the Kills, in which she deplores the gross misunderstanding of the holiday's Samhain roots amidst present-day bible-thumping America...

In many communities in the United States, Halloween has been banned from the schools amid accusations that the holiday originated in and celebrates devil worshiping. Kids in such places are no longer allowed to dress up in costumes for school, and the Halloween carnival has been replaced with a namby pamby "fall festival." This is more than just the usual reactionary tactic of calling whatever you don't like "Satanic." It is a complete misunderstanding of the history and heritage of the many Americans who are descended from Celts.

Samhain, the holiday festival we now call Halloween, was celebrated first by ancient people centuries before the birth of Christ. Not only is it not anti-Christ (or pro-devil), but it has nothing to do with Christ. To suggest otherwise is like comparing pumpkins to palm fronds. You can't worship someone who doesn't yet exist. No Christian God, no devil.

The Celts believed that the line between the spirit world and the physical world blurred during the festival of Samhain and that spirits could come over to visit our world. The good spirits, their family members who had passed, were welcomed home for a visit with good food and a warm fire. The bad spirits, what we might now refer to as demons, were wisely feared and therefore discouraged from dropping by for a snack. That is where we get the tradition of scary costumes, from the people dressing up as evil spirits in an attempt to keep the bad chaps away. Costumes did not seek to glorify demons, but to deter them.

In light of the confusion it's ironic that what we now know as Christianity actually adapted to suit the already existing holiday of Samhain. The Feast of All Saints or Hallowmas, now celebrated on November 1, was moved from February to November around the 9th century in order to tie in with Samhain.

The false connection with Satanism seems to have begun in the 18th century when a myth began that Samhain was a god of the dead and not a holiday. This misinformation came first from a series of books written by Col. Charles Vallency, who was trying to prove that the Irish came from Armenia. It was furthered by Godfrey Higgins, who apparently confused the name of the festival Samhain with the name of a Hindu deity named Samana; Higgins was trying to prove that the Celtic Druids came from India.

If there was a character in Celtic history whose name was similar to Samhain, it would have been a folk hero named Saman. However, some religious folks have taken the idea of a lord of the dead who likely didn't exist, equated his imaginary with that of their Satan, and then dropkicked this falsehood through the goalposts of everyone else's good time.

Samhain was the most important holiday of the year to the Celts. They only thought of the year as being divided into two seasons: summer and winter. Samhain was the end of summer, when they thanked their gods for the harvest so that the gods would provide another one next year. The people also settled their financial debts with one another at Samhain.

The holiday was symbolic of the cycle of life in general: one year dies so another can live. The Celts acknowledged the power of death as being the only part of life they could not control, but it was not something to be feared. They honored their dead at this time, but did not fear them either. They reserved their fear for living people, who could do far more damage.

EXCLUSIVE! Interview with Former WWE Superstar Amy "LITA" Dumas

Every now and then, the worlds of horror and wrestling collide, and I always jump at the opportunity to make the most of it. This is one of those times.

During my tenure at WWE, I had the pleasure to work with many talented, unique and fun performers, and one of those would most certainly be Amy Dumas, known at the time as Lita. So, when I discovered that Amy had participated in a zombie-themed photo shoot with internationally published photographer Dangerously Dolly for Rebel Ink magazine just in time for Halloween, I had to drop her a line and let her know how impressed I was, and ask if I could show some of these photos off in The Vault of Horror. Not only did Amy agree to that, but she was also gracious enough to chat with me briefly about the shoot, about horror and her time in the squared circle...

Vault of Horror: Tell fans what you have been up to recently...
Amy: For over three years, every Sunday, from nine to ten at night, I’ve had a radio show on 96.1 The Project, in Atlanta. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just me, the engineer and the cleaning crew--so I've been focusing on that. I'm also opening a restaurant called "Java Lords Lucha Lounge," which has a Mexican theme to it. And of course, we have the movie I'm working on with Trish Stratus.

VOH: Are you happy with how the shots came out for the Rebel Ink shoot?
Amy: Yes! They look cool and brain-tastic!

VOH: Are you much of a zombie or horror film fan in general? What are some of your favorites?
Amy: I am. I like quirky B-movies, and I also like classic horror movies in general, too.

VOH: What did you prefer, being a zombie or a zombie killer?
Amy: Wow, difficult to say! Depends on the situation. If it was real-life, then you'd have to be "The Zombie Killer"--dun-dun-dun! And personally, I find the Zombie Killer much more sexy, yum!

VOH: What led to your departure from the ring four years ago?
Amy: Mostly hate. I couldn't stand being called a whore when I was walking the dog, or just being myself in my own time. After I left, I felt that my life had completely restarted. It was hard and scary but hey, it's all worked out.

VOH: And finally... if there were a real zombie apocalypse, do you think it would be a good idea to hide in the basement of the Alamo? [For those playing at home: Amy is a huge Pee-Wee Herman fanatic...]
Amy: Totally...NOT! I'd go out there and kick some ass! Head-first into the action...

For more on what Amy is up to these days, fan her on Facebook at the only real Amy "Lita" Dumas page. Amy will also be appearing at Wizard World in Atlanta during the month of December. And for the rest of the zombie pics, check out the current issue of Rebel Ink!

Cruella's Crypt: The Barn of Terror

[Editor's Note: Please give a warm welcome to a very familiar rotting face around these parts, the formidable Captain Cruella of the Carnivorous Cadavers. Fresh off the Village Invasion zombie crawl, Cruella will now be an official fixture here in the Vault. Keep an eye out (see what I did there?) for future installments of Cruella's Crypt, in which the Captain will keep all of us abreast of horror-related events and happenings taking place beyond the movie screen...]

Originally created as a way to raise money for a youth group, and now a “pro” haunted attraction, the Barn of Terror in Lake Katrine, New York is a real scream. Upon arrival, you are ushered into a small reception room where you start by actually walking through a standing coffin and into the first part of the haunted barn itself. The actors in there are good, loud and plentiful. The lighting is disorienting and the layout is fun. You get directed into a retired silo for a spectacular treat after exiting the barn, then catch a ride on a bus that drives you to the corn maze.

The maze itself was exceptionally long, and a little difficult to navigate in the dark. I ended up looking down for most of it, as I was afraid of tripping over stray ears of corn on the path. The theme at the Barn of Terror this year is zombie infection, which seems to be the theme overall this Halloween season. I did enjoy the military versus the zombie infection storyline quite a bit. The only drawbacks were that some of the actors didn’t appear too comfortable in their roles and it just seemed a little forced at times. With the vast corn maze that the Barn of Terror carved out for it’s visitors, there should have been far more actors to jump out and scare the groups as they went through. Some of the down time between actors made it feel like I was just out for a night time stroll. However, stumbling upon a skull mine--which is entirely too cool for words and really unique--made up for the lack of actor.

The Barn of Terror is located on Old Kings Highway at Thru View Farms in Lake Katrine, right off Saugerties Thruway exit 20. The cost is $20 per person, and it took a group of four about an hour and 10 minutes to make it through the barn and the maze. Their season runs from the last weekend in September through the last weekend in October, and it's open Friday through Sunday at 7pm.

I would have to say that given some time, a little finesse, and the addition of more confident actors into the corn maze, this haunt could potentially be a top-notch haunted attraction.

Cruella gives The Barn of Terror:

3 Decaying Thumbs Up

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Shadow of Samhain: A Saturday in Salem

For the record, I take this Shadow of Samhain thing very seriously (so much so, in fact, that it looks to be spilling over right into November...), and therefore, it became clear that before the series had reached its conclusion, I would have to pay my very first visit to one of the epicenters of the occult, one of the places most dear to the history of pagan traditions--Salem, Massachusetts. So last weekend, I packed up the fam-- three generations of Solomons strong--and made that trek up the Mass Turnpike to the place where, in 1692, one of the worst atrocities in American history took place.

In the end, I learned a great deal about the true history of witchcraft, about the realities of the actual witch trials, and perhaps most decidedly of all, about the horrendous traffic conditions in Salem in October. To put it as simply as possible, people, my best advice to you is that, if you decide to visit there between now and Halloween, use a helicopter. Maybe one of the shopkeepers will let you land it on their roof, I don't know. All I know is, at the end of a six-hour drive--three of which consisted of looking for a place to park--I was about ready to be burned at at the stake (or, more properly, hanged, as my witch-expert blogger buddy Andre Dumas points out.)

However, it truly was a blast to experience, and I'm glad we took the trouble to head out there. There is a rich tradition that permeates that town, and an almost tangible sense of the supernatural that seems to lurk around every corner. Supposedly, the town rests on some ancient crater that focuses occult energies--it sounds like something out of Ghostbusters to me, but hey, I'd certainly like to believe it's true.

Right off the bat, one of the attractions that caught little Zombelina's interest was the mysterious House of the Seven Gables, made famous in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel. To satisfy my daughter's curiosity, we headed over there forthwith, only to discover that it was completely sold out for the day (how does a historic landmark "sell out", anyway?) Nevertheless, I managed to sneak the little one past the ticket line and on to the grounds of the house for a bit, even if we couldn't go in. We were able to find the birthplace of Hawthorne, which did give the English major in me a shiver of glee.

From there, we discovered a most unique and interesting place. It was the World of Witches Museum, on Wharf Street. Whereas most of the museum-like attractions in the town are preoccupied with the actual Witch Trials of 1692, this place seemed to be the only one providing a genuine overview of and appreciation for the entire history of witches and witchcraft, from a Wiccan point of view. Highly recommended for anyone interested in learning more about the actual Wiccan community of Salem, beyond all the tourist-trapism. At one point, they encouraged my kids to pick out gemstones from a pile, as a way of divining something about their personality--whereupon we learned that my son, Wee-Sol, is destined to basically rule the world at some point. So there's that.

Pirate ships, eclectic shops and spooky old graveyards were the order of the day, until the evening came, and it was time for the trolley tour. Thanks to this tour, I was able to learn that apparently Salem is haunted by about 67,492 ghosts. In fact, if I had to estimate, I'd day it's more than likely that there are more spirits residing in the town than living people. If our tour guide is to be believed, that is. Let's see, there's the famous Joshua Ward House, haunted by one-time Salem High Sheriff George Corwin; the jewel thief and the woman in white who haunt Baker's Island; and of course, the restaurant Rockafella's, a former church believed to have so much supernatural activity, it's a wonder there's any room for the patrons.

Are these stories true, or based on any semblance of truth? Honestly--and this is something I picked up in the wild and woolly world of rasslin', where tall tales are the order of the day--I don't really care. I'm more interested in the pleasure of hearing the tale than in discerning its veracity. I want them to be true--and that is good enough for me.

Following our tour and a quick bite to eat, it was time to depart the fair town of Salem and head for home (yes, it was a mere day trip--what can I say? We're a family of masochists.) The long, thankfully traffic-free ride home was filled with ruminations of witchery and things that go bump in the night. I'm very glad I had the opportunity to finally see the Halloween capital of America. Perhaps an annual visit will be in order from here on in...

Vincent Price Day: SWEET DREAMS....

Seventeen years ago today, horror lost its greatest legend and ambassador. Fortunately, we still have the films which will sustain his memory for all time... Take a moment now to commemorate and celebrate the one and only Mr. Vincent Price. There will never be another. Sweet dreams, dark prince...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Hudson Horror Show Brings Fans 12 Hours of Gruesome Greatness!

It's that convention and film festival time of year in the horror world, and the fun does not stop after Halloween. Because one of the most talked-about festivals will not be happening until the weekend after--Saturday, November 6, to be exact. It's the Hudson Horror Show, and it will be taking place at Silver Cinemas in Poughkeepsie, New York. For a solid 12 hours, splatter freaks will be treated to a veritable cornucopia of gory goodness, including Evil Dead II, The Gates of Hell, Cannibal Ferox, Demons, plus a "viewers' choice" title being voted upon at the festival website as we speak.

The masterminds behind the Hudson Horror Show are Chris Alo and his associate Tad Leger. Alo, a long-time fan who had grown disgruntled with what he had been seeing on the horror festival circuit (namely, DVD projections instead of actual film projections), joined forces with fellow fanatic Leger, who was in a position to acquire certain prints thanks to his employment at distribution company Grindhouse Releasing. That partnership is what brought the Hudson Horror Show to life, and both Chris and Tad were gracious enough to give me some of their time recently to talk more about it...

Vault of Horror: Tell me a little bit about how the Hudson Horror Show got started.

Chris Alo: We’re still in our first year--this is only our second show. Basically, myself and Tad have been long-time horror movie fans, and we had gone to a couple of shows from Exhumed Films in Philly. They're kind of the godfathers of the whole retro horror thing. We were going to all these different festivals, and my girlfriend said, maybe you should try doing your own show. So I talked to Tad, who actually works for Grindhouse Releasing. He does some of the their artwork and design stuff. That was our main connection to start, to do our own show. For our first show, we wanted to incorporate some indie horror, but we didn’t have enough time to do whole films, so basically we did shorts. It was in May, and was a huge success. We were totally blown away, and thought, let’s do it again. That’s where we’re at now.

Tad Leger: I’ve been working as the graphic designer with Grindhouse for about six years now. They're great people. As I was working with them, I started forwarding the list of 35mm prints that they own to other people, because they’re constantly booking prints. I talked to those guys and asked if I can find a place to show movies, could I get some of these prints. They said absolutely, just pay the FedEx and you can have them, otherwise free of charge. So that was a big incentive to get Hudson Horror going, because we already had a connection to get prints.

VOH: I noticed that one of the ways Hudson Horror stands out is the fact that you guys are adamant that only actual 35mm film prints be shown.

Alo: Tad and myself were concerned. We only wanted to show films off 35mm film prints, but once we started to get into this, we started to find out how difficult it is. Finding these prints is not so easy. To me, and to Tad, there’s no point in going to one of these shows and showing a movie off DVD. Everybody has DVD players, surround sound and big-screen TVs now. If it’s not on film, we’re not going to do it.
When I was traveling around, I went to a certain festival that will remain nameless. I flew halfway across the country with my girlfriend to a three-day festival. The promoter told me the films were going to be mostly off 35 mm, and then when I get there, I find out the guy booked the three-day festival, and he didn’t have a single print. Everything was off DVD projections. That’s what really pushed me over the edge to say, I have to do my own thing, because this is horrible.

Leger: Up until the mid 1990s, these titles were really almost impossible to find. You had to pay $35 for a fifth-generation VHS. A lot of people don’t understand a lot of these films were unavailable in brand new, struck-from-original-negative versions. It’s only within the last 10 years that these films have come closer to the surface and become easier to access.
I’d rather see the beat-up 35mm print than a DVD projection, because it’s just not the same. You really get the feeling for how it was when these films wee originally playing in theaters, and also just seeing movies like Demons and Evil Dead II--which are just so much fun--with a crowd, that’s double the entertainment.

VOH: How do you select what gets shown? Is it more about what you want to see, or what you can get a hold of?

Alo: It’s a little bit of both. I know on one hand, Tad and I would both love to show some more obscure films; but at the same time, it’s what we could get our hands on, and also what would people come out to see. We’d love to do something with all Spanish horror, or all giallos, but would enough people come out for that? So it’s a little bit of everything: What we could get our hands on, what we think people will come to see.

Leger: Chris and I do a 50/50 split in terms of how we choose. We look at all the prints that are available, and we try and mix them with films that we really personally love, and films that have more of a draw. Like Evil Dead II, which is a very recognizable name. Chris and I have been horror fans for so long, we've gone down the list and we’re into some pretty obscure titles we’d love to fill the bill with, but nobody will know what the hell these movies are. So we have to just slip them in, here and there.

Alo: That’s why we wanted to show Evil Dead II. We showed the first Evil Dead the first time around, and it was a big hit. So we figured the natural progression would be to show Evil Dead II. Demons is another one that Tad and I really wanted to show, we hoped people would want to see it. Gates of Hell is also pretty popular, maybe more so than Cannibal Ferox. But we think we have a pretty good mix of what we want to see, what we can get our hands on, and what people will want to come out for.

VOH: Are you worried about sustaining interest for 12 hours? Is that an issue at all?

Alo: The last show was just as long, maybe a little bit longer. But this time we didn’t do anything with shorts, just because we figured we did a couple of hours worth of indie stuff last time; so for this show, we're were going to skip it and tie into the whole Halloween thing, and just do all vintage horror films. Some people asked why tickets were $26--but for 12 hours of entertainment, that’s not too bad!
Not surprisingly, for the last show, the most amount of people was for Evil Dead, which was our last film. So most people came and went, and came back again. When Evil Dead came on, I couldn’t believe how many people were in the theater. We were a few seats short of being sold out. For our first show, I was blown away.

VOH: Which film are you most looking forward to showing?

Alo: I think for myself, it would be Demons. I’ve never seen it theatrically and always wanted to. Both Tad and myself are huge heavy metal fans, and Demons has a couple of classic heavy metal songs in there. I’ve been told it’s a pretty nice looking print, and Tad and I both thought it was really cool to show Demons, because it’s the whole horror movie within a horror movie thing. It’s the perfect movie to see in a movie theater.

VOH: It seems like most of the films being shown are Italian horror movies. Was this a conscious decision?

Leger: Yeah, I think that’s just really where our taste in films lies. People like Lucio Fulci were among the greatest horror directors who ever lived, and even though they had much lower budgets to work with, just the imagination that they put into their movies... They just put these set pieces in that had never even occurred to anyone, especially in American film. We really like the Italian stuff, and also a lot of Spanish stuff too. They have this kind of atmosphere that a lot of people in the States didn’t really tap into.

VOH: Are there issues with obtaining quality prints for some of these older films?

Alo: Most of the prints that we deal with are vintage, and they come from various sources. There are distributors out there, you just have to look for them. Knock on wood, everything we’ve screened so far has been in pretty good shape. I’ve seen some pretty rough prints at some of these other festivals, but that kind of comes with the territory.

Leger: The response we’ve gotten has just been way bigger than we thought. We’ve got so many people so excited about every single title. They loved every movie that we had last time, and even if the prints had some washed out points, it didn’t detract.

VOH: What's the most challenging part about making something like this happen?

Leger: We’ve gotten so much support in so much areas. The only thing that’s tough is just literally getting the word out. You can reach so many people on Facebook and through the website, but you really have to go out and go to other film festivals and meet other fans. And a big part is also the conventions. I’ve been to a lot of them like Chiller, and Rock and Shock, and Monster Mania, and that’s where you really meet the people who absolutely live for these movies. Who have watched them probably 50 or so times, but still love them so much they’ll come out for another show to see it on the screen. But that’s probably the most labor-intensive part.

Alo: If people are interested in coming to the show and picking up a ticket, they can save a couple of bucks by buying in advance. Tad and I took the few dollars we made on the first show, and we blew it all on the second show. That’s why we’re doing five 35mm full-length movies for this show. We hope we get another good turnout for show number two, so we can continue to do this in the future.

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Thanks to Chris and Tad for being generous with their time, and it's my pleasure to help them get the word out for this very worthy festival. I encourage you to come on down--in fact, I will even be there myself, along with my cohort in crime, Captain Cruella. The Captain and myself will be taping a special behind-the-scenes webcast at the event, which we plan to sync up with Miguel Rodriguez' Horrible Imaginings film festival--happening the very same day in San Diego!

Needless to say, if you live near the West Coast, you need to get yourself over to that one. But if you can't make either one, we'll do the best we can to convey the coolness via video. We'll even be talking to acclaimed novelist and zombie fanatic Dr. Kim Paffenroth, who will be on-hand at Hudson Horror as one of the featured author guests. All in all, it should be a most amazing way to spend half a day--so get yourself down there, and come say hi!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Thursday Guilty Pleasure: Week Three

Yes, I know it's Friday--humor us, will ya? Missy Yearian of Chickapin Parish and myself are back in your face with movies we're ashamed to admit we actually love. I dig deep into the mists of time for a movie that proves not all horror films of the '30s are classics, while Ms. Yearian defends one of those notorious Platinum Dunes remakes...

Maniac (1934)

I'm fully convinced that Ed Wood must have traveled 20 years into the past, changed his name to Dwain Esper, and brought this film into being. There's really no other way to explain how a motion picture that so smacks of the King of Bad Cinema could have emerged during the golden age of classic horror.

The tale of a mad scientist and his vaudevillian comedian accomplice on a mission to reanimate corpses, it's really just about as bad as you'd think it would be. OK, well, it's actually a whole lot worse. The actors seem to have been people just pulled in off the street and told to make random gestures and exclamations, the production value is on a par with the local high school's presentation of Brigadoon, and best of all, the whole thing is punctuated by an unbearably overwrought narration about the dangers of the criminal mind or some such nonsense.

And yet, despite all this--or perhaps because of it--I couldn't take my eyes off this flick when I first watched it as part of one of those 80,000-horror-movies-for-50-cents collections which I picked up a while back at my nearest soulless big box outlet. What's interesting to me, is that when you think of bad movies of this caliber, you're usually not going back any further than the 1950s. If you want to be extra thorough, you can find some real clunkers from Monogram and their ilk from the '40s. But the '30s? For some reason, most people only think of the likes of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, Dracula, etc. when discussing that era. Well folks, allow me to present you with a glaring exception to the rule.

Maniac is a kind of torture, but a sublime kind. It's the same kind of experience one gets watching Bride of the Monster or Plan 9 from Outer Space only, for whatever reason, far less infamous. Watch it for one of the most overacted death scenes in history. Watch it because its original pre-Hays Code title was Sex Maniac. Watch it because it features an actress named Phyllis Diller, who isn't the one we all know. For all these reasons and more, watch Maniac.

And when you do, you'll discover the wonderful, unifying truth that I did: Really bad movies have been around as long as there have been movies.

And now, gather round as Missy extols the virtues of the TCM remake...

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

This one is sure to get me kicked out of the Cool Kids Club, for I love the remake of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I know it’s like a rule for all of us to have a hate on for Platinum Dunes, and I do. I swear I do. When they made that Amityville Horror remake, I held up my middle finger. When they remade Friday the 13th, I held up my other middle finger. And when they trotted out A Nightmare on Elm Street, I turned around, pulled my pants down, and mooned a metaphorical Michael Bay.

But I can’t help it. I love a movie that begins with a traumatized victim whipping a gun out of her vagina. Could she walk so well with a gun in her spam purse? Probably not! But who cares? Wouldn’t gravity sort of make it fall out from between her meat curtains since she was clearly wearing no underwear? Most likely! But what difference does this really make? I’ll tell you. It makes no difference… none at all. The moment is sheer absurdity, and that is what makes it so awesome.

You see, the original is clearly like the best horror movie in the history of history. (Yes, I know that’s debatable, but just give me some leeway, will you?) And it was so frightening because it was so simple. The idea that something so macabre, something so grisly, could exist behind the front door of a simple farmhouse is a terrifying one (and one that kept me up nights as I grew up in a house just like it). And this remake all but obliterates that notion.

Our baddies live in some dilapidated manor—a home anyone would be stupid to enter. But stupid is exactly what they are. And if you’re looking for a film wherein people you kind of can’t stand (especially Morgan who must be an intentionally irritating character who does almost as a good as job of pissing you off as Franklin) get picked off, this is the movie for you. Gone are the days when you want to see people live. Gone are the days when you don’t know what’s going to happen. This movie is an exercise in predictability.

I realize that makes it sound just awful, and you know, it really is. But there’s something oh-so-comforting in that predictability that just draws me in. This movie is like a sweater you keep in the bottom drawer of your dresser and only trot out when you’re feeling lonely. It’s just a comforting piece of shit, my friends. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Shadow of Samhain: How I Learned to Stop Pumpkin Carving and Love the Turnip

Welcome back to The Shadow of Samhain, as we are now less than two weeks away from our favorite day... This time, Jen Parnell of Zombies Are Magic stops by to share with us the ancient, yet oft-overlooked Halloween tradition of turnip carving. So gather round, put the pumpkins away, and listen...

This month we celebrate Halloween, also known as All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Eve, and, if you want to go really old school, Samhain. Samhain is derived from Old Irish and means “Summers End.” Celtic people celebrated the changing of the seasons during Samhain. Because they were going from a season of “light” to a season of “dark,” ancient Celts believed the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could be crossed, allowing spirits, both good and bad, to pass. Therefore the Celts created a variety of traditions to honor and protect themselves from the dead during this important harvest festival. Dressing in costume and lighting bonfires were just a few ways to honor and appease the spirits. As the pagan Samhain evolved into the not-so-Pagan Halloween, many of these traditions continued. Apple bobbing, trick or treating, and turnip carving can all be traced back to Samhain.

Alright, so turnip carving didn’t exactly take off like the rest of these traditions did. Irish and Scottish immigrants brought their All Hallows’ Eve customs to America with them, including carving turnips or rutabagas to ward off evil spirits. Being the smart people that they were, they quickly discovered that carving pumpkins was a whole lot easier than carving turnips. Hence, the Jack O’ Lantern we know and love today. Nevertheless, there is a small underground movement afoot aimed at reviving the tradition of turnip carving. I am, so far, the only member of the group I know of, but I hear there are whole groups of people, especially in Ireland, devoted to the cause. Before I make my case for the turnip, let’s explore how and why this tradition got started.

The practice of carving hollowed-out turnips, known as “Samhnag” in Scottish Gaelic, dates back many hundreds of years. The turnips were turned into lanterns by placing a burning ember or small candle inside to commemorate the souls in purgatory. The small lanterns were also placed in windows to ward off the evil dead. The scarier the face, the more effective it was at keeping malevolent spirits away. Later, perhaps because these traditions were a bit too Pagan for some tastes, the legend of “Stingy Jack” arose to explain this custom.

“Stingy Jack” is a bit of Irish folklore about a drunken miser who dared to challenge the Devil and paid the ultimate price for it. There are many variations of the story but the basic outline is that Jack was out drinking with the Devil one night and when the tab arrived, Jack convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin to pay the barkeep. The Devil would then turn himself back into his original form and leave the barkeep none the wiser. The Devil agreed, but instead of paying the bartender, Jack placed the coin in his pocket next to a crucifix, thus trapping the Devil. Jack kept him there for quite a while, only agreeing to let him out when the Devil promised never to come and claim Jack’s soul. Jack died 10 years later and found himself banished from Heaven for his wicked ways. He went to the Devil to find a resting place but the Devil refused to take him, citing their earlier agreement.

Thus, Jack was doomed to wander the earth in eternal darkness. The Devil, feeling sorry for Jack, offered him a gift: a single ember to light his way. Jack hollowed out a turnip, his favorite food, to hold the ember and illuminate his path. Tradition holds that placing a lighted turnip on your doorstep will remind the wandering Jack of his penance, thus keeping him from mischief.

Whether derived from Celtic ritual or Irish folklore, turnip carving caught on. That is, until the big, soft, delicious pumpkin was discovered and turnips went right out the window. Being the good Irish gal that I am, I decided to forgo carving pumpkins this year and devote myself to the turnip. The hard, smelly, bad tasting turnip. I can’t say that I have ever knowingly eaten a turnip in my life. After carving one I am not about to start. But I can say that carving a turnip takes determination and guts, and the end result is totally worth it. Here is how you do it.
  1. Pick out a turnip (the larger the better. Try to get one with some color.)
  2. Cut the bottom off to make a flat surface.
  3. Grab every knife, saw, or sharp spoon at your disposal.
  4. Slice off the top of the turnip to make the lid.
  5. Spend the next hour carving out the center. Have Air Freshener and band-aids at the ready.
  6. Carve a face into the turnip. Try to make it look like a Gaelic face. I don’t know what that looks like but we want to be authentic.
  7. Place a burning ember inside. If you do not have a burning ember available, a tea light will do.
  8. Place the lid back on and you have a Jack O’ Turnip. (Warning, the lid will catch on fire. Take your pictures immediately.)
I suggest you carve your turnip outside since they smell and you won’t be tempted to make a pie out of the filling. They also begin to wither in about two days, so enjoy your turnip while you can. All joking aside, turnip carving is pretty awesome and the end result is really creepy, in a shrunken head sort of way. Having carved my turnips and placed them outside my door, I feel that festering souls, evil spirits, and Stingy Jack will all be appeased. I will now go back to eating my pumpkin pie, drinking my pumpkin beer, and lighting my pumpkin candles knowing that my Samhnag is keeping me safe.

Give turnip carving a try, I can’t say you won’t be sorry, you probably will, but at least you can say you were keeping it old school. Happy Halloween, All Hallows’ Eve, and Samhain to everybody!
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