Monday, October 31, 2016

Psychobabble’s 10 Tips for the Perfect Retro-Halloween

In a confusing, modern world in which everyone wanders around aimlessly in their virtual reality helmets while playing Pokemon pogs on their telephones and listening to auto-tuned teenagers sing about their vaginas, Psychobabble offers Halloween as an oasis of retro sensibilities. Not politically retro. That would be gross. I just mean Halloweenally retro. Take off the helmet. Put down the phone. Turn off that singer who is still a teenager and consider listening to one who was a teenager fifty years ago (may I suggest The Crystals’ and their “Frankenstein Twist”?). It’s time to buckle down and allow the waves of nostalgia in.

There are few things more old-fashioned than the notion that the vale between the natural world and the spirit world will lift up and a host of ghosts will sneak under it and start partying on our turf every October 31st.. That’s some silly shit. So it would be highly inappropriate to celebrate such an old-fashioned holiday in a new-fashioned way. Here are Psychobabble’s ten tips for recreating the perfect retro Halloween experience.

1. Hang Beistly decorations.

Halloween is not an icy pool. You don’t just leap into it on October 31st and leap right back out again. It is a warm bath. You sink into it slowly and lounge, preferably for an entire month. Part of that involves decorating your home. Many people spend all of their energy hanging ghouls and skeletons all over the outside of their homes, which is all fine and good for showing your neighbors how festive you are, but you should never neglect the inside either, since you probably spend more time indoors than out on the lawn. Whether you’re decorating inside or out, you cannot have a truly retro Halloween without some Beistle decorations. You know them. They’re those grinning cats and jack-o-lanterns, wrinkly witches, and dancing skeletons rendered in shades of orange, black, yellow, and green on die-cut cardboard. These designs have been in use since the Beistle Company began in 1900 and were particularly ubiquitous in the seventies and early eighties. Few visuals will instantly conjure those old-timey Halloween feelings than Beistle decorations, though you are also welcome to hang up some of those toxic melted plastic popcorn decorations depicting ghosts, witches, and cats. They’re retro too. Expensive animatronic serial killers and giant inflatable Adam Sandler vampires from Hotel Transylvania are not.

2. Send mail using actual paper and actual mail boxes.

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 31

Series: The Simpsons

Episode: “Treehouse of Horror IV”, in which the annual Halloween episode of The Simpsons hits its peak with a scarifying trio of terror tales presented by Bart à la Rod Serling on Night Gallery. First up is a spin on The Devil and Daniel Webster in which corpulent Homer Simpson barters his soul for one doughnut and Satan assumes the form of pious neighborino Ned Flanders. Next is the traditional Twilight Zone parody in which Bart plays a junior Bill Shatner who discovers a gremlin saboteur messing with his school bus. Finally, there’s the lavish “Bart Simpson’s Dracula”, in which Count Mr. Burns keeps an undead army of the undead at the bottom of his Super Happy Fun Slide and neither Francis Ford Coppola nor Stephen King make it out alive. Back when The Simpsons was still funny, nobody did Halloween episodes like they did, and no Halloween is complete without watching one. Happy viewing and happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 30

Series: Freaks and Geeks

Episode: “Tricks and Treats”, in which hapless nerds Sam, Neil, and Bill make the ill-advised decision to go trick or treating one last time…even though they’re in freaking high school. One might even suggest they deserve to get their candy stolen by local bully Alan and egged by Sam’s sister Lindsay and her burnout friends if our geeks weren’t so sweet and relatable. Every episode of Freaks and Geeks does a beautiful job of capturing the awkwardness of transitioning out of adolescence, but this one also does a great job of capturing the indescribable magic of Halloween Day. And remember: Bill is not a little girl. He’s a bionic woman.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 29

Series: Amazing Stories

Episode: “Go to the Head of the Class”, in which the half-hour fantasy series makes a little extra head room for an hour-long episode in which Christopher Lloyd plays a sadistic teacher who ends up as the headless victim of a satanic spell cast by students Scott Coffey and Mary Stuart Masterson. Unfortunately, losing his head is not enough to put Teach out of commission, and he returns to put the kids into detention for the insubordination. Rich in Halloweeny atmosphere and a gloriously ham-bone performance from Lloyd, Amazing Stories didn’t get more amazing than “Go to the Head of the Class”. “Mr. Braaaaand!”

Friday, October 28, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 28

Series: The Munsters

Episode: “Munster Masquerade”, in which the ultimate Halloween clan attends a masquerade party and all of the party-goers believe The Munsters’ ghoulish visages are part of their costumes. The series’ very first outing is quintessential Munsters, with a bunch of boring straights getting freaked out by the family’s delightful uniqueness and more comedic misunderstandings than a month of Three’s Companies. Am I a weirdo for wishing I could live in that Munster mansion? It’s luxuriously huge, full of ravens and dragons, and it’s always autumn outside, with gusts sweeping dead leaves into the place every time someone opens the front door. Sigh. Too dreamy.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 27

Series: Hammer House of Horror

Episode: “The Silent Scream”, in which Hammer’s quintessential star, Peter Cushing, makes a small-screen appearance as a seemingly kindly concentration camp-survivor who hires ex-con Brian Cox to care for his menagerie of caged animals. Little does Cox know that Cushing intends him to be the latest addition to the menagerie and that a fellow does not need to be imprisoned in a concentration camp to survive one. Cox’s situation and escape attempts are nerve wracking and Cushing is even more evil than he ever was as Dr. Frankenstein. A last minute twist really solidifies the position of “The Silent Scream” as the greatest installment of Hammer House of Horror.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 26

Series: The X-Files

Episode: “Home”, in which the discovery of the corpse of a severely mutated newborn leads to circumstances even more lacking in taste than that particular discovery. Mulder and Scully never encountered anyone like The Peacock Family of “Home”, and network TV hadn’t, either. This episode was so intensely disturbing that it earned its own special viewer warning and has the distinction of being the only X-Files episode with a TV-MA rating. Back in 1996, this kind of stuff simply did not appear on a network, not even a network like FOX. I personally could not believe what I’d seen. If the episode’s goal was to shock and disturb, it did its job like no other (though the subsequent “Sanguinarium” episode is the one that earns the pure gross-out award).

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 25

Series: Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Episode: “Horror in the Heights”, in which elderly people in Chicago’s Roosevelt Heights are being mysteriously murdered, and our favorite paranormal investigative reporter, Carl Kolchak, discovers that a Hindu demon called the Raksasha is to blame. Our favorite Hammer Studio screenwriter, Jimmy Sangster, wrote the topical script (with rewrites by future Sopranos bard David Chase) that deals with the squalid conditions of the Heights’ residents (which include the great comedian Phil Silvers). They just assume that the horrible droves of rats and anti-Semites that plague their neighborhood are responsible for killing their friends. The portrayals of the Jewish populace are a bit broad, but this is still a pointed episode that demands we stop throwing our elderly away with the trash. And, of course, Darren McGavin. Darren McGavin forever.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monsterology: Monster Houses

In this ongoing feature on Psychobabble, we’ve been looking at the history of Horror’s archetypal monsters.

Welcome home! You’ve had a tough day digging ditches in some inhospitable mound of dirt or hacking away at a keyboard in an even less homey office cubicle. What you need now is to hang up your boots and settle into your lazy boy. Your home is your castle, your one bit of security and privacy in an increasingly insecure and inprivate world. It is so inprivate that we have to make up new words like “inprivate” to indicate how inprivate it is.

But wouldn’t it be a stone drag if you were settling in to relax in your sanctuary and the walls started bulging unnaturally or bleeding even more unnaturally? Wouldn’t it simply ruin your night if that thing you haven’t even finished paying the mortgage on yet sucked your precious little daughter into the electrical system or made you want to pick up an axe and chop up your precious little son?

Monsters come in all shapes, sizes, and smells, but one thing that unites the mass of them from werewolves to robots is that they somehow resemble organic beings. One of the few exceptions is the monstrous house. The fact that it has no arms or legs or teeth makes the monster house highly unusual and really very wrong (though not completely beyond anthropomorphization, as we shall see). The fact that a house is such a mundane thing, a thing intended to protect and comfort, makes it highly insidious, especially when it turns against the children who dwell in it, as it so often does.

First of all, we must distinguish the monster house from the haunted house. In a haunted house, the monster is some form of ghost. It may make the windows rattle or the chairs fall over, but that ghost is the central threat, not the place it chooses to haunt. That would be like blaming Dracula’s castle for the vampire’s poor behavior, which would be unfair to a perfectly fine castle. The nasty things a ghost does can be accomplished by any breathing, visible asshole. Ghosts or other such entities may be responsible for making a monster house monstrous, but a true monster house takes on a life of its own; it is the threat.

The first truly enduring monster house remains the definitive one. Published in 1839, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” largely passed over specifics to dwell on off putting descriptions of the title building. The unnamed narrator approaches the house, and it instantly casts its spell on him, bashing him with waves of depression and unease. He has not even interacted with its weird inhabitants before getting a very strong sense that the House of Usher is a bad place. He even emphasizes its inherent monstrousness by trying to describe it in anthropomorphic terms, noting its “vacant and eye-like windows.”

Is it the house that has seemingly poisoned Roderick and Madeline Usher, both of whom suffer from odd maladies such as Roderick’s intense aversion to sound and his sister’s general malaise and tendency to lapse into catatonic states? Is it responsible for the subtextual moral decay of the siblings, whose relationship may not be entirely platonic? As the narrator drifts through the foreboding house, it reacts violently to the presence of one who might uncover its strange and dirty secrets. It begins cracking in disapproval. When the ultimate abomination comes to light—Roderick’s premature burial of catatonic Madeline—the house has a total nervous breakdown. As the short story’s title spoils, the House of Usher falls—quite literally. The building collapses, claiming the poisoned siblings as its victims while the narrator manages to escape the domestic tomb. In a perversion of home security, the house would rather self-destruct than allow its familys ugly secrets come to life, even if that means wiping out the family in the process.

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 24

Series: Night Gallery

Episode: “Green Fingers/The Funeral/The Tune in Dan’s Cafe”, in which Cameron Mitchell is a sleazy industrialist who wants to build a factory on the property of gardening-enthusiast Elsa Lanchester. Mitchell would have probably backed off if he’d known just how effective the sweet, old lady’s green fingers are. “Green Fingers” soars with a macabre script by Rod Serling (based on R.C. Cook’s short story), creepy direction by John “Saturday Night Fever” Badham, the star of the greatest monster movie ever made, and an awesome tribute in Siouxsie and the Banshee’s “Green Fingers” (song not included in this episode). Our next painting is a morsel of fun silliness from Richard Matheson in which a vampire plans the funeral he never got a chance to have. The mourners look like the cast of The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t. Yay! The portrait at the end of our museum of miscreants depicts Susan Oliver and Pernell Roberts as a couple incessantly blabbing about their flailing marriage in a bar while the same crappy country song plays over and over on the juke box. Apparently, it was the song that was playing when another doomed couple was swept up in violence at the joint years ago. Despite some groovy psychedelic solarization effects and an elegantly filmed shoot out, this last tale is a whole lot of nothing. The other two are essential Halloween season viewing.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 23

Series: The Groovie Goolies

Episode: “Population Party”, in which The Groovie Goolies do the same things they do in every episode of The Groovie Goolies: crack corny jokes, spout catchphrases (“I needed that!”; “A-wa-roo-roo-roo!”), violate innumerable copyrights held by Laugh-In, look rad, and sing catchy bubblegum pop songs. This episode basically stands out because the songs “1-2-3” and “Population Party” are two of the series' catchiest.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 22

Series: Twilight Zone (1980s revival)

Episode: “The Shadow Man/The Uncle Devil Show/Opening Day”, in which the nerdy kid from “Charles in Charge” finds a bodyguard in a silhouetted boogie man that lives under his bed and ends up abusing that newfound power. The nightmare-stoking nocturnal appearances of the Shadow Man are what make Joe Dante’s segment unforgettable. The other segments—one a silly yet pretty unsettling short about a Satanic Captain Kangeroo and the other a role reversal tale in which Jeffrey Jones is the victim of a murder plot hatched by his wife and her lover (directed by John Millius, who wrote Quint’s U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue in Jaws!)—are pretty good, too.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review: 'I Am Brian Wilson'

The big problem with pop-artist autobiographies is that pop artists are much better at stringing together phrases like “ooooh baby” and “yeah, yeah, yeah” than composing compelling prose. A few songwriters have been versatile enough to produce really well written autobiographies (Ray Davies, Pete Townshend, Kristin Hersh, Stuart David, etc.), but most should probably stick with the “oooh babies.”

Brian Wilson is an interesting exception. His persona is one of charming, and rather inarticulate, sincerity. He is a pop star with a true “voice” beyond his singing one, and though I do not expect or even want compelling prose from Brian Wilson, I still want to read his story as told by him because it is such a fascinating and intensely personal one.

I Am Brian Wilson fits the bill perfectly. Wilson wrote his book with the assistance of the versatile Ben Greenman, and its too-articulate and linear prologue chapter had me worrying that I’d be reading Greenman’s voice instead of that of the show’s star. With the first proper chapter, that articulateness evaporates and the linearity splits like an egg to allow Brian’s ping pong-ball mind to bounce out. One moment he is waxing nostalgic about the old children’s show Beany and Cecil, the next he is remembering the 1973 Holland sessions, the next he is leaping ahead 25 years to discuss his solo album Imagination. Greenman seems to play the role of stenographer rather than co-writer as Brian unleashes his flood of memories, opinions (favorite albums: Rubber Soul, A Christmas Gift for Your from Philles Records, and Tommy—great choices, Brian!), and creation stories. Serious fans will swoon when he discusses marvelous oddities such as “Busy Doin’ Nothin’”, “A Day in the Life of a Tree”, “Girl Don’t Tell Me”, and “In the Back of My Mind” with the same attention he affords “California Girls” and “God Only Knows”.  The utter lack of pretense in the prose captures that familiar slightly flat, slightly sad, often rhapsodic voice with true authenticity. A definitive passage has Brian describing how he once dressed up as a mummy to amuse a cousin in the hospital and clarifying that “I wasn’t really a mummy.” That absence of guile, that innocence, that subtle and perhaps unself-aware humor is what makes Brian Wilson’s complex music so uncomplicatedly beautiful and him so lovable.

Of course, I Am Brian Wilson would fail as the Brian Wilson story if it did not deal with the darker corners of his life, and Wilson wanders through these areas fearlessly. He basically leads the story with a run down of all of his troubles with drugs, family, isolation, weight gain, and chemical withdrawal, and discusses each more thoroughly and with trademark honesty as the tale continues. He goes into depth about the two most dreaded figures in his life—father Murray and Svengali “doctor” Eugene Landry—but does so without a trace of bitterness and a loving portion of balance, acknowledging that both of these men did Brian a little bit of good as well as a fair share of harm. He wastes almost no space on his clashes with Mike Love, though.

Bitterness, like articulateness, has no place in a Brian Wilson autobiography. Love, music, and an immensely sincere man’s true voice are what you should expect and what I Am Brian Wilson delivers.

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 21

Series: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Episode: “Final Escape”, in which Season Hubley plays a convicted murder who plots a foolproof escape that involves hiding in a coffin and getting buried in the prison graveyard. Ha! Most of the shows featured in 31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season have some sort of supernatural angle, but “Final Escape” may be the scariest of them all because of its realism. The final image will give you nightmares even if you see it coming. Hubley sure didn’t.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review: 'Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year'

There’s a bit of a Catch 22 to Mark Lewisohn’s ambition to tell The Beatles’ story more thoroughly and definitively than that oft-told story has ever been told before: the more time he devotes to writing that story thoroughly, the more time he is leaving other writers to swoop in and finish the job before him. So while Lewisohn toils away on his follow up to his first volume of The Beatles: All These Years, which will presumably cover 1966, writer Steve Turner has done the proverbial swooping with his new book Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year. Poor Mark Lewisohn. I simply cannot see how he can do a more thorough or definitive job of covering the most pivotal year in Beatles history than Turner has.

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 20

Series: Tales from the Crypt

Episode: “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy”, in which lousy, aspiring ventriloquist Bobcat Goldthwait longs to learn the secrets of puppet-master Don Rickles. Rickles was once the greatest in the business, but now he’s retired, and apparently, hooked on dope. Not quite, boils and ghouls. The secrets behind Rickles’s syringe and miraculous ventriloquism skills are too amazing, too bizarre, too disgusting to reveal here. However, I will say that “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy” was the talk of the high school halls after it aired in 1990, and it is most certainly one of the most memorable tales The Crypt Keeper ever dredged up.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review: 'The Secret History of Twin Peaks'

One of the reasons we Twin Peaks freaks get so freaky about our favorite show is that it’s more than just a TV series. Twin Peaks is a feature film (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me). Twin Peaks is a menu (cherry pie and black-as-a-midnight-on-a-moonless-night coffee followed by a few doughnuts for dessert). Twin Peaks is a playlist (Angelo Badalamenti’s two TV soundtracks, his feature-film one, Julee Cruise’s gap-filling Floating into the Night). Twin Peaks is also a bibliography, and in this unusually high-quality book house of TV-tie-ins is Jennifer Lynch’s moving, shocking and insightful The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, Scott Frost’s hilarious and eerie The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes, and David Lynch, Richard Saul Wurman, and Mark Frost’s utterly wacky Welcome to Twin Peaks: Access Guide to the Town.

With next year’s deliriously anticipated Twin Peaks revival, it’s pretty likely we’ll get another Badalamenti soundtrack and more dinner and dessert recommendations (in fact, a Twin Peaks cookbook is in the pipeline). But first, there’s a new addition to our library. Series co-creator and author of numerous non-Twin Peaks books Mark Frost has just published a rather unconventional “novel” called The Secret History of Twin Peaks.

When Frost’s book was first announced last year, I assumed that it would mainly focus on filling in the massive time trench between the series’ final episode in 1991 and the 2017 revival. That’s not really what it does. Rather, this book is true to its name in relating the strange and wonderful town’s history stretching all the way back to Meriwether Lewis’s weird experiences when passing through Twin Peaks during his expedition with William Clark more than 200 years ago.

Frost formats his book as an FBI dossier assembled by a mysterious “archivist” for the perusal of a new special agent identified with the initials (hardy-har) TP, who will clearly be a key character in Season Three. The dossier comprises letters, FBI memos, newspaper articles and editorials, interviews, artifacts, and other materials that tell a not-totally-linear history of the town. Regardless of how Frost delivers his information, he handles it all with a masterful grasp of history (real and unreal), a keen ear for his characters’ voices, and a full grasp of the particular medium he is using at any given time.

Though there were many atmospheric elements of Twin Peaks, Frost is mostly concerned with its mystical side, which involves creepy owls, a mysterious race of giants, provocative cave paintings, secret societies, bizarre religions, magical rings, scientology, Satanism, and UFOs. The latter is somewhat surprising since I was always under the impression that Frost and (particularly) Lynch were not thrilled about the sci-fi direction Harley Peyton and Robert Engels took the series in its second season. Yet, there is a lot about UFOs in The Secret History. As a fan who never considered its sci-fi dalliances to be among the most fascinating of Twin Peaks, I could have used a lot less UFO conspiracy in The Secret History, though I’m assuming this will be integral to the TV revival. And though it establishes the town’s strange nature with a potent blend of historical details and creepy fiction, the Lewis and Clark passage goes on way too long.

Not surprisingly, The Secret History hits its peak when Frost begins folding familiar Twin Peaks residents into the tale. I don’t want to spoil any of the details, but I will say that we learn some fascinating new details that enrich the characters of Josie Packard, Major Briggs, Norma and Hank Jennings, Ed and Nadine Hurley, Dr. Jacoby, Carl Rodd, Ben Horne, Andrew Packard, Catherine Martell, The Log Lady, Lana Budding Milford, and Dwayne and Doug Milford, who truly dominates the story. This is particularly useful since a good deal of these characters will not be part of the revived series (sadly, many of the actors who portrayed them have died).

Although there are a couple of strange inconsistencies with the series as we now know it that I’m assuming will be explained on the revival, Frost really captures the creepy unease of his and Lynch’s series. The final pages dragged chills up my neck. One key Twin Peaks element that it could have used more of is humor, though there are subtle bits of it, and super fans will be rewarded with jokey references to the series’ original name and an aborted Frost/Lynch TV project. As a visual work, The Secret History of Twin Peaks delivers completely. This is an absolutely beautifully designed and illustrated book, and its tactile cover and pages are truly in the spirit of an exceptionally sensual show. More than ever, I can’t wait for it to come back to my TV next year so I can see how Twin Peaks ties in with its own Secret History.

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 13

Series: The Young Ones

Episode: “Nasty”, in which a quartet of nice, young college boys want nothing more than to spend the evening with their rented VHS machine watching some of the recently banned horror movies that priggish moral crusader Mary Whitehouse dubbed “video nasties.” Poor hippie Neil, punk Vyvyan, cool-guy Mike, and People’s Poet pRick have their good time scuttled when a real, live vampire shows up to chase them around, launch into comedic monologues about socialism, and shill for Pot Noodle. The Damned show up to dress like ghouls and rage through the awesome title song.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

New 'Twin Peaks' Teaser

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 18

Series: NewsRadio

Episode: “Halloween”, in which Mr. Jimmy James informs the staff at WNYX that they are banned from the station’s annual Halloween bacchanalia if they don’t get over their coolness and wear costumes. This leads to some truly horrifying and terrifying circumstances as Dave Nelson slips into “Kids in the Hall”-style drag and learns he’s more attractive as a woman, Bill McNeil gets his palms read and learns he has a mere 36 years left to live, and Matthew Brock dresses up like the construction worker from the Village People and does the robot. In the episode’s most disturbing turn of events, Joe Garrelli discovers that standing on his toes and claiming to be dressed as “Joe’s taller brother” is no longer an acceptable Halloween costume. The unceasing nightmare of it all!

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Sort of Evil Out There: The Horror of ‘Twin Peaks’

Beware of spoilers.

No one knows what to expect when Twin Peaks picks up next year after its last episode aired 25 years ago. We know that many of the old-cast members will be returning, and some key ones—such as Michael Ontkean, Michael Anderson, and Lara Flynn Boyle—won’t. We can assume that the black coffee will flow, the red curtains will billow, and the traffic lights will sway, because those are all key atmospheric components in a fictional world richer in atmosphere than most others. A good deal of that atmosphere derives from “a sort of evil out there… something very, very strange in these old woods,” as Ontkean’s Sheriff Truman once told us (and obviously won’t again). 

David Lynch and Mark Frost poured so many generic flavors into their world. Twin Peaks adopted the format and melodrama of soap operas, the physical comedy and zany misunderstandings of sitcoms, the investigative procedures of cop shows, and even a bit of sci-fi conspiracy theories and abductions. The series’ horror elements were not necessarily more abundant than those of the sitcom or cop show genres, yet few would classify Twin Peaks as a sitcom or cop show while many have put it in the horror bag. Horror channel Chiller TV has run Twin Peaks marathons, horror mag Fangoria has featured the series on its cover under the heading “David Lynch’s Horror Show Remembered,” bloggers have often debated its scariest scenes, Rolling Stone named it The Best Horror TV Show of All Time last year, and it spawned David Lynch’s only feature film that fits comfortably on the horror shelf. 

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 19

Series: Twin Peaks

Episode: “Episode 29”, in which Twin Peaks exits the ABC airwaves by apparently killing off a half dozen of its citizens before dropping our hero, Special Agent Dale Cooper, into that nightmarish netherworld known as the Black Lodge. There he wanders from room to room where he meets cataract-eyed versions of characters long dead, arch-rival and psycho super-genius Windom Earle, demon serial-killer Killer BOB, and his own cloudy-lensed dopplegänger. After a stretch of relatively lackluster episodes, director and co-creator David Lynch returns to ensure that TV’s greatest supernatural-police procedural-sci fi-horror-soap-sitcom goes out with all the mesmerizing and terrifying power of its greatest episodes. The final scene will make you crap your pants, weep, and wish that the Showtime revival would just get here already, dammit.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 17

Series: Angel

Episode: “Smile Time”, in which puppets on a preschool TV show break through the fourth wall to suck the life essence from young viewers until they are reduced to horrifically grinning corpses. Fun! Actually, it is, because vampire-P.I. hero Angel ends up getting turned into a puppet, too. This one has it all, kids: very effective horror with all those dead tots and the really, really disturbing sexual overtones of the essence-sucking and great comedy from Angel’s co-workers when they discover that their brooding leader has been transformed into a hunk of felt.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 16

Series: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Episode: “Hush”, in which a clutch of well-dressed fellows with hideous Gwynplaine grins invade Sunnydale, California, to steal the voices of the town’s residents… so the folks can’t scream when the so-called “Gentlemen” cut out their hearts. In the middle of a fairly weak season, Buffy the Vampire Slayer gets off one of its best-loved and ingenious (“Hush” is almost completely devoid of dialogue) episodes. The floating, constantly gesticulating Gentlemen are regularly cited as the scariest motherfuckers ever to pop up on a show with no shortage of them.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Review: 'Haunted Horror: Candles for the Undead and Much More!'

There have been some consistently good (volume one, volume three) and less consistently good (volume two) installments of the Haunted Horror series. The latest volume of IDW’s anthologies of second-tier horror comics is one of the mixed bags. These stories not published in top-line comics such as Eerie and E.C.’s triad of terror tomes tend to be best when they are at their wackiest, and there are definitely a few in Haunted Horror: Candles for the Undead and Much More! that suggest their authors and artists were snacking on psilocybin fungi between panels. “Prey for the Vampire” takes a very novel approach to the most venerable of monsters and oozes uproariously dumb dialogue (“”Pramevi…vampire! I get it---even you name is an anagram of vampire!”), fab art, and a genuinely clever plot. An army of tiny people rescues “The Locked Door” from being just another killer-artist tale. Winning maximum points for surrealism is “The Witches Come at Midnight!”, its art exploding with fabulous imagination, its plot hinging on how a rooster defeats Satan. 

Not everything manages such absurdity or invention. “Midnight Limited!” is as predictable as these kinds of stories get and its dumbass protagonist, who somehow doesn’t realize the ticket taker on his train is a skeleton, smacks  of laziness rather than inspired lunacy. “Hand of Fate” hits rock bottom with a rote story, schlocky art, misspellings, and a panel the colorist apparently forgot to work on. In the case of The Monster’s Ghost”, the hallucinatory baloney that makes the best stories so much fun collapses into complete gobbledygook with a goofy bull monster, hammy dialogue (“Feed on life and death! Feed and gorge!”), and a nonsensical plot that ends with its antagonist doomed to forever roam with a ghost knife stabbed through his chest. Actually, that description may make it sound better than it is.

Inconsistent Candles for the Undead may be, but it remains impressive that the Haunted Horror crew is still unearthing some genuinely mind-melting comics from the oddball pile and presenting them with deliciously authentic images in a lovingly assembled package.

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 15

Series: Xena: Warrior Princess

Episode: “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”, in which fanged bloodsuckers terrorize a town and Xena and Gabrielle swoop in to save the day like a couple of Van Helsings. The twist is that the villains aren’t vampires; they’re the minions of Bacchus, the God of Wine (a dead ringer for the demon in Fantasia). The thing is, they’re totally vampires. I’ve always wondered how directly involved “executive producer” Sam Raimi was in Xena. This episode has a real Evil Dead feel with its babbling severed head, Army of Darkness-style Dryads, jerky editing, and heroes who get infected by evil forces. Nothing is as evil as the episode’s hip-hop bacchanalia, though. Try not to cringe yourself to death watching it. I always considered Xena to be the missing link between Batman and Buffy. Since yesterday’s show was Batman, you can probably guess what tomorrow’s will be…

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Congratulations to Nobel Prize Winner Bob Dylan!

I always knew that "The sun's not's chicken!" was "a new poetic expression within the great American song tradition." Now the rest of the world does too, as Bob Dylan has received a Nobel Prize for Literature for doing that kind of thing on a regular basis for 55 years. No word yet on how much Tarantula had to do with the award. Congrats, Zimmy!

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 14

Series: Batman

Episode: “Marsha Queen of Diamonds/Marsha’s Scheme of Diamonds”, in which Morticia Addams, herself, Carolyn Jones, plays the jewel-obsessed Marsha, Queen of Diamonds, who employs her witchy Aunt Hilda to conjure up a love-potion. The scheme: douse Batman and marry him so that he’ll stop foiling Marsha’s diamond-heisting schemes. As Aunt Hilda, Estelle Winwood dons a pointy black hat and hovers over a cauldron boiling over with fog and monsters to imbue this episode arc with a touch of Halloweeny atmosphere.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 12

Series: Tales from the Dark Side

Episode: “Halloween Candy”, in which a man, tired of washing eggs off windows every October 31, forces his Halloween Scrooge dad to hand out candy to Trick or Treaters. The old man not only refuses but he dumps a goop of Elmer’s glue and mayonnaise into a kid’s treat bag. What a dick. Well, he pays for his dickishness when he gets a visit from a very real goblin. Makeup whiz Tom Savini directed this episode with exceptionally high standards for the syndicated horror anthology. The monster looks great, the editing and angles are creative, and for those who get bugged out by crawly things, there are some of those, too. Still, the scariest thing in this episode is the scariest thing in every episode of Tales from the Darkside: those creepy, creepy opening and closing credits.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

31 TV Shows for 31 Days of Halloween Season: Day 11

Series: Thriller

Episode: “The Hungry Glass”, in which vane Donna Douglas becomes so enamored with her own reflection that she is sucked into the glass. All who subsequently stand before her massive collection of mirrors suffer grisly fates. Young couple William Shatner and Joanna Heyes move into the woman’s old dark house, and much creepiness ensues. Douglas Heyes’s adaptation of Robert Bloch’s story smartly crosses time, giving us a break from Shatner and Joanna Hayes and their contemporary setting to see how Douglas’s initial tragedy went down all those years ago. The flashbacks shuffle up the storytelling nicely, but it’s still the time spent in 1961 that provide the most unnerving moments when the couple envision ghostly figures reaching out for them from the house’s mirrors. Heyes only gives us impressionistic views of these figures, which play on the imagination far more effectively than the graphically depicted, and rather silly looking, monster from the earlier episode “The Cheaters”. The final minutes of “The Hungry Glass”, which entail a tragic mistake and a character’s haunting exit, creep me out as much as the scariest installments of The Twilight Zone.

Monday, October 10, 2016

20 Things You May Not Have Known About Vincent Price!

No Halloween season is a true Halloween season without a healthy dose of Vincent Price movies. But wait! Don’t sit down to shudder along with House of Wax or The Abominable Dr. Phibes just yet! To truly appreciate the man and his work, you’ll first want to bolster your Priceducation with these 20 Things You May Not Have Known About Vincent Price!

1. That Vincent Price was a gourmet chef and cookbook author is well known among fans, but they might not be aware that culinary interests ran deep in his bloodline. His grandfather, Vincent C. Price, invented baking powder and pioneered cornstarch as a baking ingredient, and his father, Vincent Leonard Price, was the president of the National Candy Company.

2. Vincent Price’s first wife, Edith Barrett, didn’t become as synonymous with horror as her husband did, but she did star in the creepy classic I Walked with a Zombie.

3. Price’s daughter Victoria is a serious writer who wrote scripts about Richard Widmark and her dad’s old friend Roddy McDowall for A&E’s Biography series and an extensive and refreshingly objective biography about her dad. She also had a brief role as a reporter in Price’s final film, Edward Scissorhands.

4. As a young man from an unquestioningly conservative St. Louis family, Price expressed sympathy with this burgeoning Nazi party. However, he underwent a major liberal awakening upon moving to Hollywood where he became active in such causes as the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. Ironically, Joseph McCarthy targeted Price as a possible communist in the fifties, citing Price’s anti-Nazi inclinations as proof that he was some sort of dangerous radical. McCarthy was one loony piece of work.
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