Sunday, October 31, 2010

Writers Survey: "The Best Costume I Ever Wore..."

                                (photo courtesy of Norman Partridge)

As a special Halloween treat, today's post gathers writers' responses to the prompt "The Best Costume I Ever Wore..."  Read on to discover what these costumes were, when they were worn, and why they are so memorable.

"Best Halloween Costume I Ever Wore was when I first moved to NYC at age 23.  I was Jack Kerouac's first wife, Edie, also a Grosse Pointe native, while my roommate Darcy was his second wife, Joan.  We didn't know we had to have costumes but we were both wearing black, with tights, and it seemed the easiest.  The next night, we went, with my other roommate, as Reservoir Dogs.  I think I was Mr. Orange."
     --Megan Abbott, author of Bury Me Deep and the upcoming The End of Everything

"The best Halloween costume I ever wore crawled out of the swamp muck on a zydeco summer night, oozed up my leg, my hip, my waist, my chest past my jingle jangle jewelry and stabbed its way into my heart, breathing heavy and crooning "Marry me, darling!"...I remember it fondly, but regret to say we did not live happily ever after."
     --Camille Alexa, author of the 2010 Endeavor Award finalist Push of the Sky

"In high school, I dressed up as the Phantom from Andrew Lloyd Weber's production of The Phantom of the Opera.  Theatrical without being gay, I'm sure I must have confused many of the girls I was trying to woo at the time.  And that white, plastic half-mask made my face sweat and break out.  I was truly monstrous under that thing.  I look back now and cringe.  Actually, I think that was the last Halloween costume I ever wore.  The danger of mortification is just too great a threat for me."
     --Alden Bell, author of The Reapers Are the Angels

"My most memorable costume I had in middle school.  It was a Batman mask.  Looked just like the mask in the Tim Burton movie.  Boy was it expensive, too.  Saved up forever for the damn thing.  I didn't have much money left for the rest of the costume.  I used a Dracula cape, a black sweater, black tennis shoes, and black tights.  the tights were sort of shear--so you could make out the shape of my pasty 7th-grade legs.  Not pretty.  Looking back on some of the photos, I cringe, but you know what?  That year I was happy.  I hadn't the slightest clue that the rest of the costume looked tacky (at best).  Because why would I?  I was Batman.  I knew that, and so did the whole world."
     --Benjamin Kane Ethridge, author of Black & Orange

"The best costume I ever wore...I love Halloween, and try to do something fun every year.  But I'd have to say my best ever would be one of these three, all of which won prizes at parties: Hasidic rabbi, John Wayne Bobbitt (complete with bloody genitalia), or Jesus on the cross."
     --J.G. Faherty, author of Carnival of Fear

"The best costume I ever wore was a baby bump with shining red eyes under a Rosemary's Baby-type short pink nightgown.  I was three months pregnant at the time, and my husband (who was Travis Bickle) and I threw a big Halloween party.  In a way, we were welcoming her to our world, and introducing her early to our friends.  Now that she's 17 months old, it should not surprise me that she never scares, loves books, and her favorite game is trying to sneak up on mom.  Surprise!"
     --Sarah Langan, author of Audrey's Door

"The best Halloween costume I ever wore was one I made when I was twelve.  It was the last year I was allowed to Trick or Treat; at 13 you were too "adult" to take part in such childishness in our little town.  I was going out with a bang.  Now, though I am a horror writer now, realize that I was a mondo-scaredy cat when I was younger.  I was fascinated by the idea of frightening movies and books, but they haunted me dreadfully.  And so, my Halloween costumes of choice were usually of the horror-less variety.  Anyhoo, my costume was medieval lady on a horse.  I made a cone hat out of rolled up wallpaper (anyone else remember getting wallpaper books and making cool crafts out of the paper?) with a cheap acetate scarf stapled to the point.  I made a horse out of one large box (for the body) and two shoeboxes (for the neck and head).  I gave my horse a luxurious yellow mane and tail.  I cut a hole in the middle of the big box for me to stand in, and secured the horse to my shoulders with cloth straps that went under my long blue dress.  My friend, Marsha, made an equally cool horse and dressed as a medieval dude.  I LOVED my horse...when I cantered its head bobbed just right.  And Marsha and I won third place in the town-wide costume contest held in the shopping center parking lot."
     --Elizabeth Massie, co-author of  DD Murphry, Secret Policeman

"When I was in first grade I wanted to be a cavewoman, and what was great about the costume was the ridiculous level of authenticity--my dad was a hunter, so I had a cavewoman outfit made out of an honest-to-goodness rough deer hide.  I did, however, have to carry a plastic club, since I couldn't lift a real one."
     --Lisa Morton, author of The Samhanach

"When I was about twelve, I got hold of the Famous Monsters Do-It-Yourself Monster Make-Up Handbook, with tips from Dick Smith.  I can't remember if there was a full-on werewolf makeup in the book, but that's what I wanted to be.  I cobbled together info from the mag with what I'd read about Jack Pierce (creator of Universal's iconic Wolf Man makeup).  Then I managed to find a theatrical costume store on a trip to San Francisco with my parents, where I bought fake hair, plastic fangs, brown greasepaint, and spirit gum.  I think there might have been some mortician's wax involved, too.

"Anyway, I went to work creating a werewolf makeup for Halloween.  It wasn't easy--especially gluing all that hair to my face.  If I remember correctly, I gave up on the mortician's wax almost immediately, figuring I'd just have to go with my own nose rather than a lyncathrope's snout.  Finally, I topped off the whole rig with my older brother's letterman's jacket as a tip to the Teenage Werewolf.  Everyone said how great I looked, but behind that face of gooey horror I realized PDQ that I'd made a mistake.  Man.  That fake hair itched.  The greasepaint ran all over the place as I started to sweat.  The spirit gum made my face feel like I'd coated it it with model airplane glue.  Pretty quickly, I wished I'd just bought myself a rubber mask.  At the end of the night, I was glad to get all that horrible stuff off my face, and my mom lathered me up with cold cream.  It didn't do any good.  I woke up the next morning with the worst red-face rash you could imagine, and my dreams of being the next Lon Chaney pretty much ended then and there.  Suddenly I understood the secret to Chaney's tortured performance as Larry Talbot.  forget the horrors of a lyncanthropic curse, the agonies of spirit gum were a thousand times worse."
     --Norman Partridge, author of Dark Harvest

"When I was in kindergarten, my mother worked part time as a seamstress and she created a green, full-body suit to transform me into a "little green man" from Mars, complete with hood and bobbing antennas on my head.  To this day, I look at those pictures and wonder at the little weirdo."
     --Aaron Polson, author of The Bottom Feeders and Other Stories

This post has been such fun to put together, I just had to weigh in myself.  Probably the best costume I ever wore was when I was in the eighth grade and my mom made me up as a two-headed man.  She rigged (I remember ace bandages and safety pins) a foam wig-head atop my shoulder and then covered both that and my own face with identical scary-old-man masks.  The costume was testimony to my mom's ingenuity, and to her dedication to making Halloween special for me.  (My only regret was that, in those days before the prevalence of digital cameras, the costume was never photographed.  Twenty-five years later, though, I can still see it clearly in my mind's eye.)

I  want to thank all the contributors to this post, and to wish everyone out there in the Macabre Republic a happy Halloween.  Here's hoping that this year's costume proves a memorable one for you!

Angry Villager Anthology--"Civic Duty"

[The thirty-first--and final--installment of the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]

"Civic Duty"

The Monster

The mob steers me across the town square
And presses me up against the looming stone statue.
Round and round the hempen constrictor coils,
Locking me to Jeremiah Healey's cold bosom.
Then Grantwood's defenders step back to ogle their ogre.
Look at them:
Erstwhile rivals now practically attached at the hip,
Reinforcing one another in the stand against the Other.
Look how they've been stirred out of their torpor this October.
I can't help but admire my handiwork--
Though my feet are hardly cloven, I form a perfect scapegoat.
The will to kill burns torch-bright in the mob's focused eyes.
And there, at last, is the town hall clock striking twelve,
Kicking off the witchiest hour of the year.
So c'mon Tom, Charlie, Emory, and Frank;
C'mon Kate, Lizzie, Ellen, and Rebecca;
Tyrus, Juan, Gunther, and Angelina--
I taunt them all with my ear-wide leer.
Go ahead, toss your rocks and your slurs.
Whip your chains, sadists.
Stick your pitchforks in me:
My work here is done.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Instant Halloween Party

Courtesy of Macabre Republic (and the wonders of YouTube), here's a soundtrack for your weekend festivities.  But these aren't your parents' party songs; you won't find innocuous ditties like "The Monster Mash,"  "Ghostbusters," or the Geico-appropriated
"Somebody's Watching Me."  No, the 31 songs/videos gathered here have decidedly more bite.  Hope you enjoy.

1.A prelude to set the stage:

2.Perfect background music for greeting your party guests:

3.If this infectious riff doesn't get people moving, it's time to start checking for pulses:

4.No one does infernal-themed rock opera like the Loaf:

5.Give your guests a chance to catch their collective breath with the following simmering classic:

6.Long before the Megan Fox horror movie, there was this kickass song from Hole:

7.Great music, sure, but it's the creepy lyrics that make this one so memorable:

8.Hard to resist howling along to the chorus of this feel-good hit from the legendary Warren Zevon:

9.Some Ozzy lycanthropy:

10.An early 80's hit the manages to be haunting and catchy at the same time:

11.Kicking off a night/darkness theme with some old school rap:

12.Nocturnal rock from the incredible Billy Squier:

13.A bit of Springteen for the Halloween season:

14.AC/DC makes its hardcore return following the loss of lead singer Bon Scott:

15.Another classic Stones song, whose video scared the hell out of me when I was a kid (too bad that one wasn't available on YouTube):

16.Get up and go slow dance.  You can thank me later:

17.Continuing the slow vibe with some soulful crooning from Creedence Clearwater Revival:

18.There's so much that's great about True Blood, including its sultry theme song:

19.Now invading your party--The Man From Mars:

20.Halloween meets the New Wave:

21.Don't worry, the Police aren't going to break up this party:

22.A (Blue Oyster) Cult Classic:

23.One of my all-time favorites.  Mesmerizing song, awesome video:

24.Posted for your approval:

25.White Zombie's evolutionary leap:

26.It just wouldn't be Halloween without Smashing Pumpkins:

27.An epic metal song, plus a whole heap of eye candy (doled out by video vixen extraordinaire Tawny Kitaen):

28.Crank the volume up with the legends of shock rock:

29.And now for the group dance portion of the program:

30.Another classic that inspires synchronized moves.  MJ changed the face of MTV with this mini-movie:

31.Send off your guests with the best theme music ever:

Angry Villager Anthology--"Stoneface"

[The thirtieth installment of the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]


Jeremiah Healey

I commissioned this statue back in 1881,
And have been imprisoned in it ever since
My revolver's bullet scrambled my brain in 1913.
I'd been proud as Ozymandias to have my likeness carved,
Yet had I known this marble would end up encasing me
Like some awful, anthropomorphic mausoleum
I would have lopped off the sculptor's hands personally.
But I had no idea, same as I was clueless about Belinda Wheaton
When I confronted her with evidence of her petty witchery
And told her to be displaced or dispatched--the choice was hers.
For years after I ignored the superstitious babble about curses,
Until my second son poked his grotesque head into the world.
Even then I tried to find refuge in denial, but subsequent
Generations forced me to face the abominable truth.
Admittedly, it was the anxiety that doomed me, the inability
To bear the worry of whether my next child or grandchild
Would turn out to be a he, a she, or an it.
I don't know if I sentenced myself to this stony cell
With my suicide or my stoic throttling of my own flesh and blood.
Each time I squashed an infant's windpipe in my fist
I told myself it was for the good of the town--
The people looked up to me, revered the Healey name.
And tonight I have no choice but to observe this terrible procession
Heading my way, fronted by the disfigured wretch that looks
Like a full-grown version of one of those I disposed of long ago.
As I watch the rabid inhabitants of Grantwood dog the thing's heels,
I hear For the good of the town echoing in my rock-solid skull.
Still, I'm preoccupied by a separate, perplexing thought:
Can there ever be real good in a town born bad?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Haunted Jaunts--The Slaughtered Lamb Pub in NYC

If you live in the New York metropolitan area and are looking for some dark ambience this Halloween weekend, you'll find no better place than The Slaughtered Lamb Pub in Greenwich Village.  If the name sounds familiar, that's because the establishment is based on the pub featured in the 1981 hit horror movie An American Werewolf in London.

The pub lacks all the bells and whistles of the nearby Jekyll & Hyde Restaurant and Bar, but that's not necessarily a negative.  When kicking back with some friends, it's nice not to have your good time repeatedly interrupted by animatronic spectacle or live entertainers approaching your table.  And The Slaughtered Lamb still offers plenty of atmosphere.  In the low-lit, dark-wooded interior, you'll find old-fashioned portraits hanging on the walls, pumpkins perched on the mantle, and cased exhibits that bear out the pub's lyncanthropic theme.

Now, I'm no food critic, but the burger I ordered this week was as tasty as it was oversized.  My only disappointment with the meal was that the pub was tapped out of its signature brew, Full Moon Ale.

The place features a bar room, a separate dining area, a fireside lounge, and a game room.  Nonetheless, the premises are not huge, and can easily get crowded.  So try to make it a point to arrive early if you plan on visiting The Slaughtered Lamb this holiday weekend--I'm sure people will be traveling in packs to this enjoyable haunt.  

Angry Villager Anthology--"Seems Like Old Times"

[The twenty-ninth installment in the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]

"Seems Like Old Times"

Abigail St. Clair

"Miss Abby? Whatcha doing over there?" Phil Wheatley calls from his car
When he spots me emptying my handcart and setting up in the town square:
Thin-legged card table, Halloween table cloth (black cats/sickle moons),
Big dispenser full of cider, plastic cups and cinnamon sticks,
Basketful of the pumpkin muffins I just happened to have been baking.
"Oh, I figured all them people marching in the parade tonight
Would 'ppreciate some refreshments once they finish their route."
"Parade?" he echoes, incredulous.  Distance and darkness eclipse
Everything but the whites of his teeth, tiny floating ghosts.
"Ma'am, do you understand what's going on here in town tonight?"
"Well," I tell him, "I heard there's goin' to be a public ceremony held.
So you best move that jalopy outta the way before everyone gets here."
"Anhh, crazy old bat," he proclaims before stomping the gas pedal.
But I pay him no mind, just settle into the lawn chair I'd unfolded,
And sit here waiting, anticipating the start of the festivities.
God, it's been ages since Grantwood hosted a good lynching.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Short Story: "Eye Candy"

This 2500-word short story was first published in the ezine Three Crow Press in February 2009.  I've posted it here as a little Halloween treat.  Just a word of warning, though: this one is rated R for Nudity and Adult Content.

Eye Candy

By Joe Nazare

Harold had come here with lofty hopes, but this show outstripped even his wildest expectations.  He could barely believe his goggling eyes as he peered into the upstairs window from his tree-branch perch.

To think, less than an hour ago he'd been home suffering his crone of a mother's bitchcraft, listening to her slurred complaints about the jack-o'-lantern he'd carved.  She'd taken no shine to his puking pumpkin, with its squinched expression and its seed-laced guts stringing from its mouth and heaping on the doorstep.  Wasn't imitation the sincerest form of flattery? he was tempted to respond to her ranting, but choked back the wisecrack, having no interest in prolonging the encounter.  He had places--or rather, one surreptitious place--to be.

The stakeout had been planned for over two weeks, from the day he decided to follow the coeds home from the parking deck at Montclair State.  They'd been catching his eye since the start of the semester.  A trio of smoking-hot girls always clad in tight, scant clothing, they made the other girls tramping all over campus seem demure by comparison.

A sophomore with no declared major, Harold unfortunately did not share any classes with the threesome.  Intrigued by his glimpses of them, though, he'd asked around.  Apparently the beauties were sisters, recent transfer students from out-of-state.  The amazingly stacked blonde was named Maggie; her darker-haired and sleeker-figured siblings, Celine and Cate, were actually fraternal twins.  But that meager info was the extent of what Harold gleaned.  He was never formally introduced to the girls themselves, which was okay, since his tongue probably would've knotted like a strand of cherry Twizzler.  His usual bit would've been useless to him.  Whenever meeting someone for the first time, he loved to extend his hand and casually announce, "Hairy Asshole."  Then he strained to remain straight-faced while awaiting reaction.  In their embarrassment, most people simply tried to gloss over the remark.  For those who begged his pardon, he seemingly repeated "Harry Antzle," leaving them to wonder about their own perverted imaginations and the amount of raw sewage that needed to be swabbed out of their ears.

Even Harold knew that you didn't pull an act like that on babes like these.  He also knew that he stood little chance of charming such girls no matter what he said, and thus didn't see any benefit of dealing on a face-to-face basis.  Indirection always served him better; his best approach, he found, was from afar.  That's why he tailed the trio home from Red Hawk Deck that afternoon he spotted them lined up the ticket kiosk waiting to pay their parking fee.  He followed their black Volkswagen Beetle at a discreet distance, and to his pleasant surprise, discovered that they lived at the opposite end of his own hometown.  Once the girls had strutted indoors, Harold pulled up for a closer look at the house: a boxy, two-story job with weathered gray siding, centered on a wide piece of unfenced property.  "WEIR," the white stencils spray-painted onto the curbside mailbox divulged the sisters' surname.

Harold stopped his Geo Tracker in front of the house only for a moment that afternoon, but with the sisters crowding his thoughts, he returned on foot later that same night for some more detailed reconnaissance.  When he laid eyes on the large tree sprouting from the back yard and stretching thick branches towards the second-floor windows, he immediately began to plot his late-October voyeurism.  Something told him that Halloween was tailor-made for these girls, that their costumes would prove a delightful eyeful.

His intuition hadn't steered him wrong.

Angry Villager Anthology--"Stubs"

[The twenty-eighth installment of the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]


Marty Arsenault

The clamor of their procession precedes them--
Sounds like the mob's right around the corner now.
I sit here peering out of my office atop the theater,
Tearing, preparing, filling my bucket to the brim.
Each addition only reminds me of my losses this month,
The lack of patronage tracing back to the monster's arrival.
My annual Halloween film festival always drew the crowds,
But this October the townspeople stayed away in droves.
Some doubtless balked at being out on the streets late at night,
But most just failed to appreciate the posters' promised thrills.
Reality had trumped fiction, the screening of dark fantasy;
Who needed Hollywood when Grantwood sported its own beast?
But that's alright, I tell myself as I rip my fingertips raw,
Soon they'll all be funneling back through the Paradise's doors.
After tonight's eradication there'll be a huge void to fill.
Ahh, here they come now, passing raucously below.
So I lean out the window and upend my bucket,
Feigning good cheer as I shake out my makeshift confetti.
The people look up grinning, welcoming the colorful, fluttering stubs.
Let them all enjoy the devalued tatters raining down on their parade,
Because starting tomorrow ticket prices are going to skyrocket.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Glee Rocky Horror Show (Episode Recap)

An admission: I had never watched an episode of Glee before last night's tribute to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, so I knew little about the show's characters and storylines other than the fact that Jane Lynch played a standout antagonist (Her Sue Sylvester character rattled off some wonderfully snarky commentary last night, such as when she opined: "You know, Halloween is fast approaching, the day when parents encourage little boys to dress like little girls, and little girls to dress like whores.").  I had to acclimate myself on the fly, but could nonetheless appreciate that the episode worked well in contextualizing TRHPS.

The premise of the episode is that glee club director Will impulsively decides to stage Rocky Horror as an excuse to get close to guidance counselor Emma (an avowed fan of the cult-classic musical).  At first the gambit works like the proverbial charm: the two take part in a steamy in-office rehearsal of "Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me."  Complications ensue, though, as the production is threatened by cast members' internal issues, external pressure from parents, and of course, the nefarious schemes of Coach Sue (who only seemingly supports the effort so she can then denounce it on local TV).

In terms of the covers of the hit songs from the original movie, the results, to me, were hit or miss.  The Mercedes character gives a powerful rendition of a sanitized version of "Sweet Transvestite" (apparently, you can say "transvestite" on primetime TV, but not "transsexual").  But the performance of "Hot Patootie--Bless My Soul" by John Stamos's Dr. Carl was limp at best (face it, he's no Meat Loaf--who, along with Barry Bostwick from TRHPS, makes a cameo appearance in the episode).  Hardly unexpectedly, the episode climaxes with a rousing version of "The Time Warp."

I was impressed by the episode's ability to fit the key components of Rocky Horror within a one-hour episode while still developing the show's own subplots.  I also liked how the episode explored/thematized the question of whether the sexually edgy material of TRHPS was appropriate for high-schoolers.  All in all, I thought Glee made an entertaining homage to the movie, and offered one of the more clever Halloween episodes to air on network TV in several years.

Alas, there could be one glaring negative to last night's episode.  Reports have circulated that Glee creator Ryan Murphy has been contacted about possibly directing a remake of Rocky Horror
Now, there are certain films that should never be touched, and even 35 years later, TRHPS remains one of them.  Here's hoping that Murphy's connection to the theatrical musical is confined to a single episode of Glee (even though it is interesting to speculate about which modern actor would make the perfect Dr. Frank-N-Furter).

Angry villager Anthology--"Showstopper"

[The twenty-seventh installment of the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]


Virgil Antonelli

The wait is over; I step into the street like a gunslinger at high noon.
"Hold it right there!" I command.  "This is gonna end right now."
My pointing rifle conveys more authority than my faltering voice.
It's damned hard trying to function with a broken heart.
Kendra was my girl, my everything every single day,
Showing me all the love and loyalty I'd never known elsewhere.
And then that monster snatched her away, snapping her neck,
Leaving her lying in a tawny, fly-summoning heap.
"That abomination don't deserve to draw one more breath,"
I announce as I stalk forward, intent on a dead-on assassination.
But Len Saunders' Louisville Slugger is anything but sluggish,
Easily batting aside the trembling barrel of my firearm.
Then the momentarily-frozen crowd surges, toppling me;
Flailing fists and stomping feet knock me into a fetal position.
Even while crying out, I inwardly curse my own folly:
Presuming to steal the spotlight from the ensemble,
Fancying I could stand center-stage in tonight's revenge play,
Never realizing I'd just end up serving as the warm-up act.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween: The Inside Story (TV Documentary)

Just wanted to call attention to a terrific two-hour documentary that aired on the Biography Channel last night.  Halloween: The Inside Story takes viewers behind the scenes of John Carpenter's classic horror movie.  The documentary features in-depth interviews with the filmmakers and cast members, and covers every stage of Halloween's development, from conception to production to release and subsequent pop culture influence.  Enlightening as well as entertaining, the documentary is stuffed with compelling commentary.  Viewers are given the story behind the use of the now-iconic mask; the origins of the movie's haunting theme music; the secrets of how the filmmakers transformed sunny California (where Halloween was shot in three weeks on a shoestring budget) into the midwestern, late-October setting of "Haddonfield, Illinois"; a breakdown of the technical aspects of the famous opening scene; and much, much more.

For any devoted fan of the 1978 movie, this documentary is an indisputable must-see.  But don't despair if you missed last night's airing.  The Biography Channel will be running the documentary again this Thursday night, the 28th, at 9 P.M.

Halloween in the Blogosphere: American Frankenstein

When I posted my list of 13 Great DVD's for the Halloween Season last week, I deliberately excluded Sleepy Hollow.  But not because I didn't deem Tim Burton's film a worthy entry; no, I was just saving my discussion for another post that was in the works.

All this week over at the fantastic blog American Frankenstein, author Norman Partridge is running a feature in which writers, editors, and publishers recommend a great movie to watch on Halloween night.  My selection of Sleepy Hollow appears in today's post, alongside recommendations by Joe Hill, Tom Piccirilli, and David J. Schow (talk about finding yourself in some select company!).

The various recommendations are a treat to read, and will inspire you to pop some old favorites into the DVD player--or to rush to track down some classics that you somehow managed to miss all these years.  One thing's for certain: by the end of this week, you won't be at a loss regarding what to watch on Sunday night.  The only dilemma will be finding the time to catch all of the movies you'll be dying to see. 

Angry Villager Anthology--"Abomination"

[The twenty-sixth installment of the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]


Tiffany Healey

Even I can only read "Born of Man and Woman" so many times,
So I toss aside the musty-scented, cracked-spine paperback
And wander across the attic to peer out its oval window.
Mom and Dad were kind enough to have tinted the glass,
Allowing me to at least look out onto the world without
There being any worry about anyone catching glimpse of me.
But I wonder if they knew that when the moon hangs just right,
I can see my reflection in this makeshift mirror.
Wish I could kid myself that it's just some funhouse trick
That makes my forehead seem lumpen, my jaw pointed,
My nose leprous, and my eyes sunken and unlevel.
I stand there so raptly, in fascination with my own mutation,
That at first I don't hear the commotion in the street below.
Shifting and squinting, I stare through my self-image and spot
The utter monstrosity slouching past the house I've never left.
As if sensing my attention, the awful, wonderful thing out there
Twists his neck and gazes straight up towards my high window.
I gasp, delighted, but realize an instant later the creature isn't alone.
There's a whole gang behind him, jabbing and cursing at him.
Whatever hope had surged within me drains like an unplugged tub.
In my head I suddenly hear my parents' constant rationalizations:
How I needed to stay locked away up here, known by no one,
Because the People Outside would never understand me,
Would try to take me away, maybe even hurt me.
God, how I hate it when Mom and Dad are right.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Make vs. Remake: Night of the Demons

Make (1988):

Remake (2009):

[For those who might be new to the Make vs. Remake feature here on Macabre Republic: the final scoring is based on a ten-point-total system.  Think of it as having ten gold pieces to be distributed on the opposing arms of a scale.  Based on which movie version is preferred, the scales will be tipped (either slightly or significantly) in that direction].

The acting in this Halloween-night horrorfest takes a quantum leap forward in the remake.  Sure, none of the members of the cast (led by Shannon Elizabeth) won't ever be found performing Shakespeare in the Park, but they prove much more polished than their counterparts in the first movie.  Cathy Podewell as the heroine Judy in the original was a pretty girl, but her delivery left a lot to be desired (her squeaky voice could make your teeth ache, too).

In the original, the teen characters were utter stereotypes, and their antics could be annoying, but still there's a humorousness to their exploits that's lacking in the remake.  Judy's snarky younger brother in particular rattles off some amusing one-liners; it's too bad he doesn't have a larger role in the film.

While the demon makeup for the Angela character was impressive in the 1988 version, the FX for the remake are unsurprisingly superior (tentacles and viscera abound).  The 2009 version is indeed gorier, though not necessarily scarier.  Perhaps the most frightening aspect of the film is seeing what former-child-star Edward Furlong looks like these days (he's obviously said hasta la vista, baby to his boyish good looks). 

The setting (an abandoned funeral parlor) in the original might be less elaborate, but it creates a creepier, more claustrophobic feel than the sprawling New Orleans mansion employed in the remake.  Likewise, the original gives a stronger sense that the action takes place on the night of October 31st; in the remake, the Angela-hosted bash seems more like a rave than a Halloween party.

Some credit, though, is due the 2009 version for its clever acknowledgment of its predecessor.  The infamous lipstick-tube scene, for instance, reappears with a nasty twist (of the Now-You-Don't-See-It, Now-You-Do variety).  Scream queen Linnea Quigley, who played Suzanne in the first movie, also has a cameo appearance, striking a memorable (if now unwelcome) pose from the original.

The remake no doubt makes greater effort to develop the backstory (the film even opens with an interesting sepia-toned flashback mimicking the look of a silent movie).  Unfortunately, too much of that backstory is conveyed through clunky exposition.  One infodump that strains credulity comes when protagonist Maddie (Monica Keena), like some Egyptologist from an old mummy movie, easily deciphers the spells and symbols scrawled on the walls of one of the rooms and explains to her friends everything they need to know about the evil history of the Broussard mansion.  That's almost as bad as when Maddie suddenly transforms into a female Rambo in the film's climax, gunning down demons in rapid-fire sequence.

To be perfectly honest, neither version of Night of the Demons makes for a great movie (Don't mistake the remake--just released on DVD last week--as this year's Trick 'r Treat).  The original at least has a certain 80's campiness going for it, so ultimately I give it the slight nod over its update:

                          Remake: 4 
Make: 6

So what's your take?  If you'd like to share your thoughts on either of these movies, you can post a Comment below.

Angry Villager Anthology--"Tome Reader"

[The twenty-fifth installment in the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]

"Tome Reader"

Heyward "Stacks" Calhoun

Here in the shadowy bowels of Grantwood Library
Lie the various volumes too scandalous for circulation.
Such as the history of Ben Thompson's would-be rebellion,
And the extremely unauthorized biography of Felicia Healey.
Not to mention this weighty, kid-skin-covered tome,
Which I'd studied nightly for years before my perseverance
Finally seemed to bear fruit on the first of October.
But not half an hour ago the shivaree shambled past my house,
Causing me to hurry back here to my solitary workplace.
Pricking the scarred tip of my left index finger with my dagger,
I turn now to the appropriate page, launch into Latinate chant,
And do my damnedest to prevent the Monster's execution.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Take the Halloween (1978 version) Movie Quiz

You've probably seen this classic slasher flick umpteen times since its release thirty-two years ago, but how closely have you paid attention to the movie itself and its surrounding facts?  Put your Halloween knowledge to the test with the following quiz.

1.The fictitious "Haddonfield, Illinois" was named after the New Jersey town where producer Debra Hill graduated high school.  True or false?

2.In what year does the start of the film take place?

(A) 1985
(B) 1978
(C) 1963
(D) 1979
(E) 1958

3.What was the film originally going to be titled?

4.Who is the host of the horror-movie marathon that the kids watch on TV on Halloween night?

(A) Zacherley
(B) Vampira
(C) Psycho Sid
(D) Jacko
(E) Dr. Dementia

5.How many people does Michael Myers kill during the course of the film?

6.Which of the following is NOT an injury suffered by Michael Myers in the film?

(A) stabbed with fireplace poker
(B) stabbed with darning needle
(C) stabbed with wire hanger
(D) stabbed with butcher knife
(E) shot six times

7.What song is briefly heard playing in the movie? [Hint: it's popular around Halloween time.]

8.What is the name of Lindsey Wallace's dog?

(A) Ben
(B) Lester
(C) Petey
(D) Tommy
(E) Marion

9.In the film, where does Michael Myers get his fright mask from?

10.What singular decoration appears on the front porch of the Wallace home?

11.Haddonfield's sheriff shares the name of what mid-20th Century Science Fiction writer?

(A) Ray Bradbury
(B) Henry Kuttner
(C) Harlan Ellison
(D) Leigh Brackett
(E) Alfred Bester

12.Dr. Sam Loomis is named after a character from what classic horror movie?

13.What is the label given to the masked killer in the film's closing credits?

The answers to the quiz appear in the Comments section of this post.  How did you score?

0-5: Uggh. Go buy yourself a mask so you can hide your face in shame.
6-9: Not bad, but not enough to impress the brainy Laurie Strode.
10-13: Kudos. You're a stone-cold killer when it comes to Halloween quizzes.

Angry Village Anthology--"Doggone"

[The twenty-fourth installment of the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]


Bob Mendenhall

Whether in self-defense or some beastly sense of territoriality
The monster snapped the neck of Virgil's German shepherd Kendra
Way back when on the fourteenth of this October.
For two weeks straight the dog'd been bent all out of shape,
Barking seemingly non-stop throughout the night.
Virgil and me had been neighbors for nearly twenty years,
But he wouldn't listen to me when I kept trying to tell him
He'd best bring the dog inside when it got dark out.
"She watches o'er," he insisted, and look what happened:
One permanently silenced canine.
Now we're herding the perpetrator toward the town square;
I happily jab it in the back with the steel fingers of my hoe.
Had the damned thing snuffed out the mutt a day sooner
It would've saved me the cost of strip streak and strychnine.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Film Review: Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010; Directed by Tod Williams; Written By Michael R. Parry)

So: does the sequel equal the original in terms of horripilating, heart-pounding thrill?  In a word, no.  But in some ways, Paranormal Activity 2 might actually be the better movie.

The follow-up to last year's box-office phenomenon takes a broader approach, which at once enhances and hinders the film.  Here the cast is much larger: the house is crowded with husband Daniel, wife Kristi (sister of the original's Katie), teen stepdaughter Ali, newborn boy Hunter, a pet German shepherd, even a Spanish nanny.  The film gets off to a slow start, since it takes time to establish these various characters, but once things start going thump in the night (and sometimes in the day as well), more complex interaction between the family members is enabled (vs. the strictly two-person dynamic of Paranormal Activity).

Literally, the sequel adopts a more wide-angled perspective: while handheld camcorders are still wielded by the characters, the bulk of the footage is captured by the security cameras (installed throughout the house after the family mistakenly believes it has been the victim of a break-in) positioned high in the corners of rooms.  Such set-up allows more domestic territory to be covered simultaneously (and suspense-building jump cuts to be employed), but it also makes for a much less intimate viewing experience than in the original, where the audience keeps a bedside vigil throughout a significant portion of the film.  The sequel's nocturnal sequences instead tend to focus on Hunter's crib in the nursery, and again, there are both pros and cons to this variation.  On the one hand, watching a helpless infant form the target of the demon's evil intent naturally instills terror, but on the other hand, Hunter is forced by the circumstances of his age to serve more as a cipher (Cute Baby) than a full-fledged character.  Inevitably, the audience cannot relate as closely to him as it does to Katie as she undergoes her own ordeal in the original.

Paranormal Activity 2 might not create the same overwhelming sense of dread as its predecessor, but it still offers plenty of frights.  The film's skillfully-crafted startle moments are some of the best I've ever experienced (even the most jaded horror-moviegoer is guaranteed to jump).  Also, the climactic scene is more extended and immediate than its (largely-offscreen) counterpart in the first film, and in its frenzied nature is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project.  It's followed by a coda that is devastating in its bluntness--and horrifying in its implications.

Where Paranormal Activity 2 truly excels is in terms of its storyline.  The film is actually a prequel, set two months prior to the events of the original.  Katie (sometimes with Micah in tow) shows up for repeated visits at her sister's house, a fact that automatically sets the viewer to wondering to what extent the two movies will intertwine (incidentally, there are some moments of clever innuendo here, such as when Katie kids with Ali's boyfriend that she's the wicked step-aunt: "Well, not really evil, but I can be evil, that's my point.").  Filling in crucial bits of backstory, the prequel not only offers an explanation for the demon's present misdeeds but also fosters a greater understanding and appreciation of the strange events in the first film.  In its retroactivity, Paranormal Activity 2 forms an ingenious narrative arc.

So while audience members expecting to be simply scared out of their wits might be (slightly) disappointed, more discerning fans will relish the approach the filmmakers have taken here.  For the latter group of viewers, Paranormal Activity 2 will defy the sequel curse and prove to be one helluva entertaining movie.

Angry Villager Anthology--"Bedroom Eyes"

[The twenty-third installment of the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]

"Bedroom Eyes"

Donald Stairs

"I'm s-s-sorry," Jessi tries to apologize, sniveling,
Her tears trailing down a cheek still flush with my handprint.
"I just...I-I couldn't..." she fumbles at explanation
But I shush her angrily as I stomp toward the window.
A mad jamboree is moving past, with that homely brute in front.
"Look," I command, pulling my wayward wife beside me,
"They've caught the monster, so you have nothing to worry about."
I glance over toward the camera hidden within the strategic clutter
Atop the dresser bureau that stretches parallel to our bed.
"Now go call up Gordon and entice his scrawny ass over here.
It's about time you got busy making me a new movie."

Friday, October 22, 2010

31 Terrific October Reads

By no means an exhaustive list, but these stories will leave you gasping.

1.Clive Barker, "The Forbidden" (1985; In the Flesh).  A harrowing, masterfully-written tale set in late October, concerning a murderous figure born of urban legend.  Basis for the (Americanized) movie Candyman.

2.Robert Bloch, "Pranks" (1986; Halloween Horrors).  Ghoulish holiday fun, apropos of an author who once quipped, "I have the heart of a small boy.  I keep it in a jar on my desk."

3.Anthony Boucher, "Trick-or-Treat" (1945; Murder for Halloween: Tales of Suspense).  A hard-boiled Halloween mystery, about a racketeer gunned down in his own hideout when he answers his door to a trick-or-treater.

4.Ray Bradbury, "The October Game" (1948; 13 Horrors of Halloween).  Anyone who complains that Bradbury's stories are too saccharine has never read this gruesome tale of a kids' Halloween party gone awry.

5.Ray Bradbury, "The Emissary" (1947; The October Country).  A wandering dog is a bedridden boy's lone connection to the outside world, but one Halloween season the pet brings back something wicked.

6.Gary Braunbeck, "Tessellations" (2001; Graveyard People: The Collected Cedar Hill Stories).  Family heartache and Halloween weirdness abound in this moving Cedar Hill novella.

7.Esther Freisner, "Auntie Elspeth's Halloween Story, or The Gourd, the Bad, and the Ugly" (2001; The Ultimate Halloween).  Hilarious dramatic monologue, in which the titular Auntie gives her niece and nephews a Halloween tale they won't soon forget.

8.Neil Gaiman, "October in the Chair" (2002; Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders).  An allegorical homage to Bradbury, with a bittersweet ghost story nested within.

9.Glen Hirshberg, "Mr. Dark's Carnival" (2000; The Two Sams: Ghost Stories).  Superlative narrative about the ultimate haunted attraction, located on the outskirts of a Montana town that goes all-out for Halloween.

10.Glen Hirshberg, "Struwwelpeter" (2001; The Two Sams).  A brilliant modern riff on the moralistic German children's book of the same title.  [Note: for an extended analysis of Hirshberg's novella, see my October 11th post, Anatomy of a Weird Tale.]

11.Charlee Jacob, "The Sticks" (2007; Cemetery Dance #57).  Exceptionally eerie story set in a cursed swampland town where the kids stay home on Halloween and the adults parade door-to-door.

12.Jack Ketchum, "Gone" (2000; October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween).  One would think that losing a child to abduction would be the most devastating experience of a parent's life, but a still-grieving mother learns otherwise five years later on Halloween night.

13.Caitlin R. Kiernan, "A Redress for Andromeda" (2002; October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween).  A wonderfully Lovecraftian narrative, featuring arcane rites, creatures from the abyss, and an ominous old home transformed into a virtual lighthouse by a slew of jack-o'-lanterns.

14.Dean Koontz, "The Black Pumpkin" (1986; October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween).  Koontz's vengeful jack-o'-lantern monster is so hideous, it makes the eponymous demon of the movie Pumpkinhead seem photogenic.

15.Sarah Langan, "The Great Pumpkin Arrives At Last" (2008; Doorways #7).  The classic Peanuts cartoon forms the backdrop to this dark, disturbing tale, which concludes with a great plot twist.

16.Joe R. Lansdale, "On a Dark October" (1984; Bumper Crop).  A nasty little masterpiece detailing an inhumane Halloween ritual.   If Shirley Jackson had written splatterpunk...

17.Thomas Ligotti, "Alice's Last Adventure" (1988; Prime Evil: New Stories by the Masters of Modern Horror).  Decidedly eerie first-person narrative penned by an aged author of macabre children's books who is haunted by her own creation on Halloween night.

18.Thomas Ligotti, "Conversations in a Dead Language" (1989; October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween).  Ligotti tries his hand at the Tales From the Crypt-type story of comeuppance, and succeeds chillingly.

19.Robert R. McCammon, "He'll Come Knocking at Your Door" (1986; Halloween Horrors).  "Giving the devil his due" is given a fiendish twist in this suspenseful Southern Gothic story.

20.Gary McMahon, "Pumpkin Night" (2007; The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 19).  Intricately-detailed account of jack-o'lantern carving and unholy resurrection.

21.Robert Morrish, "There Are Corners of the World Where Lost Things Gather" (2002; Octoberland).  This expertly-structured coming-of-age tale builds to a terrifying climax inside an old dark house on Halloween.

22.William F. Nolan, "The Halloween Man" (1986; The Ultimate Halloween).  A splendidly dark tale, about a ten-year-old girl's obsession with a rumored bogeyman who steals children's souls on the night of the 31st.

23.Norman Partridge, "Treats" (1990; Johnny Halloween: Tales of the Dark Season).  The candy-tampering motif has never been more creepily employed than in this tiny gem of a story.

24.Stephen Mark Rainey, "The Jack-O'-Lantern Memoirs" (2000; Octoberland).  A deceased serial killer is given an annual chance to escape his damnation if he can refrain from killing anyone when returned to Earth on Halloween night.   Easier said than done...

25.Al Sarrantonio, "The Corn Dolly" (1984; Toybox).  Bradbury meets King in this haunting account of an October festival and a cornfield deity.

26.Al Sarrantonio, "Hornets" (2001; Hornets and Others).  If you don't have a phobia about hornets, you just might develop one after reading this weird October tale.

27.Jack Slay Jr., "Halloween: An Acrostic of Little Horrors" (2007; Cemetery Dance #57).  Brief but frightful collection of nine interlocking vignettes, in which children encounter horrors both natural and supernatural.

28.Steve Rasnic Tem, "Trickster" (1986; Halloween Horrors).  In life, the narrator's brother was a terrible practical joker; in death, his pranks are even worse.

29.Jeffrey Thomas, "Post #153" (2000; Octoberland).  Atmospheric tale concerning a local VFW besieged on a rainy Halloween night by the ghosts of war victims.

30.Gahan Wilson, "Yesterday's Witch" (1972; Murder for Halloween: Tales of Suspense).  Wilson, unsurprisingly, puts a darkly humorous spin on the notion of "trick-or-treating."

31.F. Paul Wilson, "Buckets" (1989; October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween).  Trick-or-treaters harry an abortionist, in one of the most gruesome and unnerving Halloween stories ever written.

So there's a full assortment of treats guaranteed to satisfy the biggest Halloween junky.  Happy reading!

Angry Villager Anthology--"Mercy Me"

[The twenty-second installment of the month-long poetry sequence that began on October 1st.]

"Mercy Me"

Dolores Kindermack

My Arnie's out there right now,
Out there with the rest of the Grantwood goon squad,
Determined to execute the town's October intruder.
Guess I shouldn't be surprised he rushed to join in, since
His sentences have started with "The monster..." all month long.
He's been so caught up in talking about that dumb beast's deeds
That I don't think he's even heard me wheezing.
Lying here bedridden, in our home of the past forty-three years,
I picture Arnie out there forgetting his normally mild manner
And battering the monster senseless with his tire iron.
I picture him delivering the eventual killing blow, and think
How I've begged, between coughs, for him to put the pillow over my face,
To beat this emphysema to the smothering punch.
But my pleas (pl-pluh-pluhease) only make his chin quiver,
Send the tears coursing through the aqueduct of his wrinkled cheeks.
Lord, what terrible, twisted times these must be,
When I've grown to hate my own husband for his undying love.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kids Can Be So Cruel...

Hi again, everyone.  Just a quick announcement that my short story "Two For Flinching" has been posted today at the DF Underground.  Hope you enjoy it if you click on over!

On the Greatness of "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown"

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: it's been referenced in short stories (Sarah Langan's "The Great Pumpkin Arrives At Last") and long novels (Stephen King's Under the Dome), and notoriously spoofed by The Simpsons (in a "Treehouse of Horror" segment).  It has also been a Halloween fixture for nearly a half-century now.  But what is it about this 1966 cartoon that has made it such an enduring classic?

No doubt, when "ITGP,CB" first aired, a large part of the appeal stemmed from seeing the Peanuts comic strip brought to life in vivid autumnal colors.  The wonders of animation allow us to watch Charlie Brown's face flush red with embarrassment, to see Linus's wispy hair promptly stand up straight when Sally berates him, to hear his cute little lisp as he makes his proclamations about the toy-delivering Great Pumpkin.  And as the years and generations pass by, the holiday special continues to delight because it provides a portrait of Halloween celebration in a quainter, bygone era.  Viewers are transported back to a time when Halloween parties involved bobbing for apples, and trick-or-treating meant cutting a pair of eyeholes in a white sheet and then heading out to collect goodies like cookies and popcorn balls (in yesteryear, there's no concern about tainted handouts).

And let's not overlook the obvious here: the cartoon has entertained so many people over the years because it is flat-out funny: the hapless Charlie Brown earning rocks rather than candy for his botched costume; the dust-clouded Pigpen compromising his own would-be disguise; the cantankerous Lucy asserting that "a person should always choose a costume which is in direct contrast to her own personality," and then pulling a witch mask down over her face (Or my favorite bit: Charlie Brown being asked to serve as a model at the Halloween party, only to have a jack-o'-lantern drawn on the back of his big, round head as the girls prepare to carve their pumpkin).  Also, while adults are never seen and only rarely heard (via trombone notes) in the Peanuts world, the child characters amuse us with their incongruously mature diction.  For instance, when Linus retorts that he'll stop believing in the Great Pumpkin once Charlie Brown gives up on Santa Claus, Charlie Brown turns to the camera and professes, "We're obviously separated by denominational differences."  Or who can forget young Sally's litigious rant after a fruitless Halloween night spent waiting with Linus in the pumpkin patch: "I'll sue...You owe me restitution!"

"ITGP,CB" likewise prospers from a clever script.  At first, Snoopy's goofing around as the famous World War I Flying Ace might seem like a mere digression, but the beagle's routine proves central to the plot when Linus mistakes Snoopy for the Great Pumpkin rising climactically from the patch (overwhelmed by this seeming epiphany, Linus of course faints).  The main reason, though, that this cartoon has proven so enduring is because it's so endearing.  There's something touching about watching Lucy, for all her complaints about her "stupid blockhead" brother, get up at 4 A.M. to retrieve the shivering Linus from the pumpkin patch and tuck him into bed.  And Linus himself taps into the child in all of us with his sweetly sincere belief in the existence of the Great Pumpkin.  Even as another Halloween passes by with no sign of the mythic figure, Linus's faith doesn't waver.  He vows to be ready and waiting "next year at this same time."

For forty-four years running, we have returned to keep vigil with him.

Note: It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown airs October 28th at 8 P.M. on ABC.