Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Depot Brings Halloween Home in a Big Way has unearthed another fantastic line of products this year. I've already posted about their massive 12-foot skeleton which is quite impressive. A limited selection of products makes their way to the brick-and-mortar stores but most of the goodies are online only (but they ship to your home or local store for pick up). Here are some of my favorite items from Home Depot's 2020 Halloween Collection include a giant jack in the box, a headless horseman, a hearse and skeleton horse, and a ground-breaking anaconda. The crouching grave digger was also has a sinister, detailed face, hair and perfect for a tombstone cemetery scene.

In the airblown category, I loved the sand snake from Beetlejuice, Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors and a fuzzy orange spider with speckled eyes.

Finally in the home decor aisle I loved this rotten pumpkin that has a flame light effect inside, and a really ornate (too ornate?) snow globe with a weird, sparkly mist continually swirling inside.

Monday, September 21, 2020

12-Foot Skeleton Wins Halloween 2020

Several years ago burst onto the Halloween scene with the most unusual collection of decor. And lately, they have been offering some of the largest and most awe-inspiring props I've ever seen. Sorry everybody else, you are a very distant second. 

This year we got the most impressive, consumer-level prop I've ever seen: a 12-foot Giant Skeleton. This thing is HUGE and heavy (in the box it weighs 93 lbs.). With a metal frame and plastic bone overlay, it's quite solid and must be tied down securely with the included braided wire and supports. Added sandbags are recommended. I can already see the lawsuits from wind pushing this thing over onto windows, cars, pedestrians, etc. It will take two people to assemble this monster and there's even an app to guide you through the process. It's not posable, but the arms do rotate up and down. The head features animated LED eyes that blink, close, look around, and add a lot of life. 

I was able to assemble it rather quickly being no novice to the Halloween standee figures. Once I pull him apart, I will labelled each piece for more intuitive reconstruction (lower leg left, upper leg left, etc.) which makes me wonder why they didn't do this in the first place. There's always seems to be a disconnect between the manufacturers and the consumers, which makes me wonder why they don't bring in home haunters for a product testing.

Design/photo by Jeremy Logan

This skeleton has become so iconic that there's already a Facebook group with over 1300 members dedicated to it. Home haunters across the country are modifying the skeleton with new paint jobs (note how shading/highlighting with paint enhances the realism, above), flexible joints for various poses, and even an animatronic head with jaw movement (below). Folks are chatting about how to light it, where to display it, and even how to secure it from thieves. If properly weighted and tied down, I can't imagine anyone would be able to steal it. This is a fantastic group that you should join whether or not you were lucky enough to nab a skeleton.

Sadly, this behemoth is now mostly sold out across the country, no longer available to ship online, and unlikely to be restocked (according to an online sales supervisor). It's surprising the skeleton sold out so quickly considering the hefty $328 price tag. But the heart wants what the heart wants. In the group, there are many discussions of how far people traveled to find one, sad tales of skeletons that arrived damaged or went missing, and the opportunistic scumbags selling them on eBay for upwards of $1395. One seller lists 3 being available so they likely bought out their entire local store. The last remedy is buying the floor model but some stores has a strict policy of keeping display items through the season, even when sold out. I guess this is to punish consumers who weren't quick enough to buy the item? So cruel.

The last item to consider about this 12-foot skeleton is where to store it after Halloween. Some group members plan on leaving it out all year long (maybe add a Santa hat for the holidays?), but the plastic parts are not sealed well and rain/snow will likely rust the inner metal frame and stand. Before assembly, I would coat every inch in several layers of spar urethane to add some protection from the elements. The box it comes in is about the size of a breakfast table which is fine is you have the storage space. Take a picture of each layer of the contents to remember how it should go back in. I have no storage, so I plan to break apart the skeleton and store bones here, frame there, head over there, and display just the torso. Make a treasure map to remember where you put everything. 

I look forward to the many photos that will be posted over the upcoming weeks. Home haunters are some of the most creative and resourceful people, and they will unleash the awe-inducing spectacle of this 12-foot skeleton in ways I can't even imagine. 

Photo by Dawn Ford
Design/photo by Dawn Ford

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Going to Hellier and Back

I have been cosmically disquieted by HELLIER, a reality tv documentary following Greg and Dana Newkirk to a small town plagued with strange occurrences. The second season premiered this year and both seasons are now streaming on Amazon Prime or on the Hellier website

I am a paranormal geek but wouldn't categorize myself as a ghost hunter. I like to visit eerie places reported to be haunted, and anytime I travel, a detour to a mysterious place somehow ends up on the itinerary. I've been around the world to Iceland, Ireland, Italy, China, Mexico, Canada, and all over the United States in search of something scary. I didn't come face to face, literally, with the unexplained until I lived in San Francisco. (I wrote an article about that experience for Gayly Dreadful this past June.)

I've also watched a lot of the ghost hunter tv shows, read a library of spooky books, and studied the paranormal. The Hellier series however introduced me to concepts I've never come across, and while it's not a terrifying show, it's certainly disturbing. 

The premise revolves around paranormal investigator Greg Newkirk who gets a cryptic email detailing a horde of small goblins that seem to be coming out of a nearby mine to terrorize a rural Kentucky family. After some exchanges the person sending the email disappears, so Newkirk gathers a group of investigators to document the phenomena in Hellier, Kentucky. What they find is a much larger mystery.

The show explores a variety of concepts including alien cyphers, occultist methods to contact aliens, the mammoth cave system under Kentucky that could have ties to the goblins, aliens, the Mothman, the Flatwoods monster, and perhaps even Bigfoot. But it gets stranger. 

Newkirk introduces viewers to synchromysticism which is rooted in Carl Jung's concept of synchronicities (meaningful coincidences with no causal relationship). Synchromysticism goes a step further and becomes a spiritual or metaphysical practice of recognizing deliberate patterns, and they are believed to be coming from divine or otherworldly sources. Whether these sources are God, angels, aliens or interdimensional "ultraterrestrials" is unknown. This leads some to hypothesize that UFOs may not necessarily be coming from outerspace but rather innerspace, a parallel universe that exists alongside ours. And wait until you hear about the alien abduction that could happen without you leaving the comfy chair you are sitting on right now.  

Finally, there is the concept of "high strangeness" where phenomena happen during a specific timeframe and then suddenly stop. High strangeness could also be connected to a virus-like thought infection that spreads from susceptible host to host thus furthering and possibility fueling future phenomena. The more open you are to the experience, the higher probability that you are a compatible host to carry the infection forward. For example, I'm spreading this story like gospel so I have been afflicted in some way just by watching the tv series. Is this the end goal of the phenomena?

This is all very entertaining and unsettling, and I cannot stop thinking about it. The day I finished the last episode of Hellier Season 2, I stumbled upon a story from our local tv station who reported that the Pentagon would soon be revealing some findings about UFOs. This may be the first official statement about life outside Earth and what the Pentagon calls "aerial phenomena." Adjust your tin hats – it may be a bumpy ride.

The Hellier show has cracked open my mind like a walnut, and once these ideas get in, it's difficult to shake them. Since the show, I have identified possible instances of my own synchronicities. I've seen unidentified things in the sky (I live within a mile of Moffett Field, which is said to be a repository for UFOs). I've noted recurring micro moments of high strangeness involving a weird pitch I can hear followed by distance voices or music. 2020 has made me a believer in the impossible. An unimaginable  global pandemic has infected nearly 30 million people, killed almost a million people, and permanently changed our way of life. Record-breaking wildfires have engulfed the Western U.S. turning skies to apocalyptic red-orange and creating smoke clouds that rain ash. Hundreds of thousands of birds are dropping dead out of the sky over White Sands, NM. And on and on. These are the most bizarre times – and then Hellier came along. 


Hellier investigators Dana and Greg Newkirk run The Traveling Museum of the Paranormal & Occult and they are hosting PHENOMENACON, the first-ever online paranormal conference this weekend. There will be 40 hours of paranormal talks, movies, Q&A and music for $15. To get in, sign up for a membership on their Patreon page and that's it. Please note: Patreon has recurring monthly charges so if you only want to attend the con and not be charged another $15 for October, make sure to cancel your membership before September 30. The program looks fascinating!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Quick Takes: The Babysitter 2, The Owners, Sputnik, The Soul Collector

The Babysitter: Killer Queen is an insanely gory, ridiculous & highly stylized sequel that recaptures the lunacy of the first one. The returning cast of bewitching satanic cult idiots vs. the amiable nerdy kid makes it quite watchable horror but the syrupy ending needed a major rewrite.

The Owners is a well-polished U.K. home invasion horror movie with several expected twists. Outlandish performances hold the film together but after a few gory moments, it sort of stalls & takes on a mean-spirited vibe. It ends illogically & confused with a sort of whimper. 

Sputnik takes a familiar #scifi story & keeps the focus intimate. At its core it’s an exploration on the cost ambition, the search for knowledge, heroism & also a vicious alien. It’s a solid debut with a brisk pace that keeps the plot moving toward the expected conclusion. 

8: A South African Horror Story (a.k.a. The Soul Collector) has an old-school horror vibe, teeming with slow burn dread, gorgeous atmospherics, and shadowy figures. While it feels all too familiar, the setting and culture of South Africa is not. I loved the folklore and customs but so much was left unexplored and characters never fully revealed.  

Friday, September 4, 2020

Can Drive-Thru Terror Become a True Horror?

Not even a pandemic will stop Halloween and after months of the unrelenting doldrums, folks are looking towards holidays to have some fun. Haunted attractions have mostly been shut down across the country so the clever and creative haunt industry has conceived of the drive-thru horror experience. (The Haunted Road in Central Florida is one such attraction.) The concept sounds fantastic and will keep even the most timid safely within the metal frame of a car. I'm excited to see how these are done but do have to wonder about expected and unexpected safety issues. 

I have a friend who is an intelligent, college-educated individual but put him in a horror maze and his adrenalin-fueled imagination causes the otherwise composed person to push and shove children and older adults out of the way. I've seen it and it's terrifyingly hilarious to watch. Now put a highly suggestible person like this in a car and that behavior might be cause for alarm.

Also, at every haunt I've ever been to, many enthusiasts have been drinking or enjoying herbal supplements to heighten the experience. Add distracting spectacles of fear, selfies, friends yelling in the car and where does that leave the haunt actors against a 2800 lb. vehicle? Even at a respectable distance, all-wheel-drive SUVs can really overcome many obstacles. Are they lining the roads with rubber tires or some other thing to act as bumpers? Or will it be ditches?  If a person has an accident along the route, what happens to all those cars behind him? I'm sure all these questions and more have been considered, right? 

The driver will always be responsible party regardless of the circumstances so lets hope the one with all the wits is behind the wheel. And as with all new attractions there will be hiccups, so patience will also be needed. The haunt industry is struggling, and unlike many other businesses, they only get one month to recoup losses. In the S.F. Bay Area, I've heard of one drive through experience, Pirates of Emerson, so I look forward to reporting back. To my friends, NOT IT. Someone else is driving.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

La Llorona is Reimagined With a Timely Message

La Llorona is a sobering look at the Mayan genocide at the hands of the Guatemalan military, infused with a keenly reimagined figure of Latin folklore. A former general is being charged with the massacre,  torture and pillaging of the villages of Mayan civilians, including women and children. This was a counterinsurgency operation that followed the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) and into the "Silent Holocaust" of 1981-1983 where upwards of 166,000 people were killed. 

Holed up in a lavish mansion, the general, his wife, and daughter are fending off a large group of protestors that continue their efforts around the clock just outside their gates. The sound design is restless and unnerving with the chants, songs and shouting always present at some level. Inside, the house staff abandon their positions, and the lone housekeeper is left to manage, clean up shattered windows, prepare meals, and caretake of the ailing general. Just in a time a woman with long flowing hair, white gown, and a quiet disposition appears at their front door to offer her services. 

With a deliberate, methodical pace and shrouded, disquieting horror, the film is profound, satisfying & sorrowful. The harrowing dream sequences are brutal, and ultimately the film suggests that the crimes of men are paid by the women around them. 

This is an incredibly special film that evokes the same feelings I had after watching last year's Tigers Are Not Afraid. The horrors are very real and this is not a traditional horror film which may be disappointing to those seeking quick thrills and jump scares. But as a historical drama with fantastical elements, this is an urgent, timely exploration of the need for folklore, giving a voice to the silent, and providing justice to the disenfranchised. 

However, this film is still not the definite take on the classic Llorona lore, which I hope someone will make one day. Folklore passes down stories of a culture, gives meanings to traditions, and explains hidden historical context that may otherwise be lost. La Llorona is very personal and important figure in Latin culture and she serves as a warning and cautionary tale within a mystical, ghostly figure. I grew up with her and it was frightening, alluring, and ever-present in my back of my mind.

La Llorona is currently available exclusively on Shudder.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Beware the Snake Oil from Cerave!

All this hand washing has left me feeling a little chaffed, and have been looking for a good hand cream. I don't post many product reviews on other sites but when I do, I have strict “brand guidelines” to adhere to. The following review was initially rejected by Amazon for not following community guidelines, but I thought it was fun. At over $10 for 3 oz, this hand cream should be a mystical elixir, right? 

Have you ever wondered to yourself, what will make me smell more like a swamp witch? Look no further. Cerave's new and worsened hand lotion is sure to dredge up the intoxicating aroma of decomposing roots and standing water. It's somehow thinner than water and yet has a standing tube design to ensure it sprays out evenly over everything the moment the cap is disengaged. After scooping the precious eau de lotionette off the sink and spreading the chalky coulis across your dry, brittle hand skin, you can remain confident that those hands will indeed remain bone dry. No pesky magic healing properties here! 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Quick Takes: The Other Lamb, Blood Quantum, Yummy

The Other Lamb. This hypnotic film tells its simple story almost completely visually with a dreamy aesthetic and mostly sparse prattle dialogue. Set in the cold, wind-whipped countryside of Ireland, the cinematography is breathtaking. As is the performance by Raffey Cassidy who hails from the classic Norma Desmond school of "We-didn't-need-words-We-had-faces". Her eyes seethe with anger and when she does scream its almost completely muted. The blunt message being that women with opinions of their own are "broken" – because the sole patriarchal shepherd says so. Movies about cults tend to be infuriating (why don't they just leave) but this movie does not concern itself with the psychology of cult leaders or followers. It's a much more intimate story of one girl becoming a woman in a cult. And though a drama, the film is shot like horror movie with clear directions that this cult is heading towards the inevitable dark road to coven.

Blood Quantum. Zombie film are such downers and this one is no different, however it’s much more poignant told from the viewpoint of First Nations residents who are seemingly immune. It’s extremely gory, nasty, and vile but that’s to be expected in this subgenre. There’s some fantastic visuals, including some animated sequences, and some odd, unusual camera work. While the performances are uneven they’re still very engaging, and it’s vital to see people of color both in front and behind the camera. The nagging problem is the screenplay that’s much too episodic, incoherent, and meandering to be effective.

Yummy. Disclaimer: zombie movies are not my favorite. The plot is always the same: outbreak happens, random group bonds, they get picked off one by one, and the one you think will survive doesn’t. And then it ends with no conclusion. Yummy checks off most of these boxes but it’s also surprising funny, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is outrageously gory. Absurdly, it’s set in a shady plastic surgery in Eastern Europe, and features a quirky cast that speaks Flemish, Polish (I think) and even English. Thankfully, the movie, whose tone reminded me a lot of Shaun of the Dead, ends before it sinks into bleak despair that ruins most zombie flicks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Quick Takes: Amulet, Beach House, The Siren

AMULET tells an ominous story of men, good & evil, atonement & a fascinating mythology. Stylishly shot with a languid pace unfolding in two timelines the horror suddenly explodes into an absurd, ethereal yet totally incomprehensible finish that still lingers & haunts the mind.

THE BEACH HOUSE is a steady-burn film that starts in one #horror genre & ends in another. The shift is sly with a wicked, calculated & clever plot that leaves you harrowed by the time you realize what’s truly happening. It’s a very effective, trippy, solid debut film.

In THE SIREN, tragedy begets tragedy and then you throw an innocent man from the church into the mix and see what happens. This mermaid tale is grounded in the most unfanciful fantasy with some beautiful shots on a lake, including some tricky night shots. I really appreciated the unique narrative touches, like the dude is hot but mute, the mermaid is really charming but a monster, and the central conflict told with confusing voiceovers is a gay man’s revenge tale. There’s one pivotal moment involving a near drowning that really lost me, along with a relatively  unsupported love story. It never provides much tension or suspense but perhaps that’s not the point for subgenre of horror romance. It’s also a bit too long but the solid performances keep you invested.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Target's Creepy Plants are Back! ...And Already Sold Out

Last year, Target put out a line of creepy faux Halloween plants. They were WILDLY popular and most stores never received any stock. There's another chance this year, but we'll probably not get them this year either. Apparently, there was some undisclosed presale and they're already sold out. They will be officially "released" on August 27 according to the site so maybe there will be more stock? I chatted with a Target merchandising manager, and she said seasonal items are stocked once and done. But they sometimes will shift stock from store to store if it's not selling. 

Here's what they have/had available this year: