Yet Another Halloween Miscellany

It’s that time of year again!

Atlas Obscura is putting the spookier of its worldwide Places and Things of Interest under the banner of “Fright Club” this month.

We’ll be taking you to a mountain of mannequins, the gender-fluid masquerade balls of Imperial Russia, and a church wall in dire need of an exorcist. You’ll learn about Cambodian ghost cakes, the practice of skull blasting, the history of Mischief Night, and more.

USA Today digs deep into how a blend of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg made Pumpkin Spice the flavor of Autumn. They start back in Medieval Europe, when those spices were worth their weight in silver (if not gold).

During winter months, medieval European physicians prescribed the use of warming spices like ginger, clove and cinnamon to accentuate the “hot” and “humid” qualities of roasted meat.

Need some background sounds for your Halloween party, display, or whatever? Check out the free soundscapes at Ambient Mixer:

“Witches, vampires, werewolves, and other ghastly creatures roam the streets. Nightmares come to life with the sounds of old castles, abandoned asylums, or a creature hunting you through the dark woods.

Whether it’s for a haunted porch, a reading or writing session or even a gaming session, create your own eerie and scary ambient noise mix for free!”

And if you’ve got a little one who loves being read to, you will both love “Scaredy Cat” by Heather Franzen.

Support the author/artist and buy a copy! Keep in mind they’re assembled individually by hand, so give plenty of time for delivery.

A story without words, but it doesn’t need any….

The Countdown to Halloween is up and running; they’ve been linking to and supporting blogs in the spirit of the season since 2009. The links to this year’s Cryptkeepers are in a sidebar on the right.

I was also musing earlier today about witches. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, Frankenstein’s Monster, even mummies get their due this time of year. But witches? They’re just a generic wicked or magical character….. That doesn’t seem right to me. There are plenty of witches of note in literature and popular culture.

The Witch of Endor in the Old Testament. The three witches in Macbeth, who almost certainly established the potion-brewing spellcaster archetype. Margaret Hamilton and the role of a lifetime as the Wicked Witch of the West. Witch Hazel, the comic foil to Bugs Bunny. Broom Hilda of the comic strips. Elizabeth Montgomery bewitching viewers as Samantha Stevens. The Halliwell Sisters of “Charmed”. Sabrina “The Teenage Witch” Spellman, hanging out in Riverdale with Archie and the gang. Wanda “The Scarlet Witch” Maximoff…..

And those are the ones I didn’t have to look up.

Maybe I’ll do a full-length post sometime.

What is it About Halloween?

Why do we love Halloween so much? It’s the second biggest – in terms of “stuff” that happens around it – holiday after Christmas. All the decorations, TV specials, food and drink (and candy!) that only comes out in October…. What is it about this one day that has no significant “reason” to exist (like Independence Day) or “cause” behind it (like the spring festival of Easter) that brings out all the Jack-O-Lanterns and Haunted Houses?

Perhaps it’s that the occasion is so attractive to so many people for so many reasons.

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Halloween in the Time of COVID

So the latest word that I’m hearing from the CDC is that kids should not be allowed to Trick-or-Treat this year. Apparently, the concern is that groups of kids going from house to house is an ideal way to spread the virus.

I am afraid I must differ with them. Not that I am one of those nutcases who thinks the disease is a hoax or not as bad as it is, but for other reasons.

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Book Review: The Weird

The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories
Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
Tom Doherty Associates
(c) 2011 by the authors

It’s kind of tricky reviewing an anthology, especially one where multiple authors are involved. What are you reviewing? The individual stories? The editorial choices involved in their selection? The presentation? I’m just going to go with the overall principle of “Should you get this book?” Rather simple, but for an amateur reviewer like myself, it will do.

The Weird is a massive collection of – well, you can’t really call it “horror”, because the stories are generally more unsettling than outright scary. Think “Tales from the Darkside” rather than “Tales from the Crypt”. There are 110 stories in the book’s 1100+ pages, dating from 1908 to 2010. Included are authors you should have heard of (Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft), authors that horror buffs should know (Clark Ashton Smith, Daphne du Maurier, Algernon Blackwood), and authors that will be new to you (Augusto Monterroso, Stefan Grabinski, Haruki Murakami). There’s an amazing variety; only two authors get to have two stories. Many of the stories are translations; it’s great to see so many “non-English speaking” authors and other cultures being represented

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Another Halloween Miscellany

It’s that time of year again! Way back when I first started this blog, I became one of the “Cryptkeepers” at the Countdown to Halloween in an effort to bring traffic here. Haven’t figured out if it worked.

Be that as it may, I’ve been posting a few Halloween things in the Octobers since. You can check them out with the “Halloween” tag over in the “Tag Cloud” on the right. You might also find a few scary movies under “Movie Reviews”.

For this post, I’ve just got a few odds and ends for the season that don’t justify their own post.

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Movie Review: Sandkings (TV, 1995)

With the success of such syndicated shows as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Tales from the Crypt, Metro Goldwyn Mayer decided it was the right time to bring back its old anthology series, The Outer Limits. The one hour show would first appear on the cable network Showtime, and then be released into syndication.

All they needed was a good story – one that could handle being extended into a 90 minute movie. They found it in a George R.R. Martin novelette, “Sandkings”. The 1978 story would have to undergo some major adjustments in order to work on TV – not the least of would be that it had to work within a TV budget.

The original story is an award-winning horror tale where the protagonist is a right proper cretin who deserves everything that happens to him – but I’m not going to talk about that. Not even about how the movie is different from the story. One has to treat the movie on its own – and if you have to have read the book to understand the movie, then the movie hasn’t done it’s job.

Anyway….

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Halloween: Then and Now

If, like me, you are “of a certain age”, you can readily remember how Halloween used to be very different.

And if you’re feeling cynical, you can easily come up with a list like this.

Mid September:

THEN: Go into the attic or basement, looking for the box that has the kids’ sweaters. Hope it doesn’t take long to find, and that the sweaters still fit. Wonder where you put the Halloween decorations.

NOW: Go online to find the this year’s fashion in Fall clothing for the kids. Pay extra for priority shipping, because your kids need them NOW. Check the return policy in case they screw up and you have to return them. Don’t order Halloween decorations; you don’t want to max out your credit cards right now.

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The Real Scream Queen

There’s a lot of press coverage this week about Jamie Lee Curtis and the remake/reboot of the classic horror film Halloween.

Now Curtis is indeed a fine actress, and her performance in the original Halloween did indeed contribute greatly to its success….

But her entire reputation as a “scream queen” rests only on that single role, in that movie and all its sequels and remakes and reboots and rehashings…. I hardly see a single character, no matter how many films you portrayed that character in, as sufficient justification to elevate one to the highest level in the Pantheon of Horror.

Especially when true horror aficionados know who their Empress is.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the One and Only “Gothic Girl”:

Barbara Steele.

Do You Like Scary Movies?

It’s that time of year when film critics and fans trot out their lists of the greatest horror movies of all time. They’re usually pretty good, and one can generally predict which ones will be in the Top Ten.

Brazilian film critic and cinephile Diego Carrera approached the topic from a different perspective. Noting that from their very beginnings, movies tried to shock and startle people, he picked one important “horror” movie for every year from 1895 to 2016:

Careful viewers will note that, strictly speaking, not everything on the list qualifies as Horror. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, for example, is a comedy. But they’ve all got their moments that are at least unsettling.

You are free to disagree with some of the movies Carrera’s included. But keep in mind, it’s based on the YEAR, and isn’t intended to be a list of the “greatest” (even though many of them would be on such a list).

So check it out, and see if there’s something there that you haven’t seen yet….and then check that out!

A Mysterious TV Opening

Last October, when I was participating in the annual “Countdown to Halloween”, I wrote about the many spooky shows that have haunted our televisions over the years. I chose to focus on the theme music, since that gets much less credit than it deserves. Turns out I had neglected one show, or at least it’s theme and opening titles. The show wasn’t spooky in itself, but but the opening was decidedly gothic and eerie…
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