Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Wishing You A Scary Christmas

Thank you for visiting my blog and Halloween site. May your night be a silent one and may Krampus be nowhere in sight.


via GIPHY

Saturday, December 21, 2019

FX's A Christmas Carol is Bleak & Beautiful

FX’s gritty take on A Christmas Carol is neither a holiday classic reborn, nor meant for audiences fond of the heartwarming adaptations based on Charles Dicken’s novella. This is a new story about the cost of being good. It’s relentlessly bleak & grim with problematic moments that will distress many audiences at the peak of the yuletide season. There’s also some unexpected nudity & gore including scenes with a ripped off jaw, a mouse beheading, and bloody explosion. The movie presents an unpleasant reality of life and it’s a world far away from a Norman Rockwell commemorative dinner plate.

So the question is why take a well-known story and push it to such dark corners? There’s definitely some counter programming from the FX network for those oversaturated with saccharine holiday fare. More pointedly though, is the vexing need to understand our monsters. Our world is full of them from the White House to the mall shootings. It’s not simply enough to know that someone is bad. We want to see why they are bad and how they became the villain. Perhaps as a cautionary tale or perhaps as a barometer for our own deeds.

Most of the movie focuses on Ebeneezer Scrooge's (Guy Pearce) current and past relationships including his rather mouthy clerk Bob Cratchit (a fine Joe Alwyn) and Mary Cratchit (a resolute Vinette Robinson). The machinations may be different, but the ghosts and the lesson remain the same. A damaged soul may never mend but with a commitment to work, goodness may still be possible. Don’t we all seek redemption? Here we see the beginning of one man’s journey in that work but the ending feels incredibly rushed. I feel some editing was made to the U.S. version of this BBC production which airs with no commercials. The end will placate the need to see some sort of resolution even though the final moment with a stock "magical" character is seriously unforgivable.

However grim the journey, the cast keeps the viewer engaged for the nearly three-hour ordeal, as does the production design which is absolutely beautiful to behold. There's a definitive touch of darkness with lighting and set pieces that suggest a nod towards the horror genre but ultimately this is an evocative drama with fantastical elements. It shouldn't be missed but not recommended widely to general audiences.





Editor's Note: While I love the poster artwork for the TV movie, I absolutely despise when poster elements have little to do with the actual movie. The sharp-nailed grim reaper figure featured prominently in the poster is nowhere to be seen in the final production! BOO!


Friday, December 20, 2019

Nightmare Before Christmas Village 2019

Nightmare Before Christmas is the perfect inspiration to bridge Halloween with the yuletide season, especially for someone who like to keep things scary year-round. This year I finally also made a Man Eating Wreath that appeared only a few seconds in the film but utilized prominently in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion Holiday. If you're a fan of the film, you must get to Anaheim, CA during the autumn to see Jack Skellington's takeover of the Haunted Mansion ride. The imagineers dress up every corner of the spooky house ride with whimsical, Burton-esque flair (see below for ride through video of the 2019 version from LMG Vids).












Friday, December 13, 2019

Quick Takes: Wounds, The Nightingale, NOS4A2



Wounds spirals an earnest cast down a dark tunnel of compounding dread. The anxious sound design & bizarre effects cast a harsh, unsettling spell. It’s confounding niche horror with a Lovecraftian touch that will leave some unsatisfied & others unspeakably terrified.



The Nightingale is a somber, grueling & enraging piece of artwork with deeply realized characters overcome with vengeance. Its paper thin story reveals an aimless third act that struggles to get to a peak. But well-crafted filmmaking & relevancy make a bold & impactful statement.



NOS4A2, Joe Hill’s take on vampires and metaphysical psychic abilities was a wacky, weird ride in book form with rich characters, a twisty & episodic plot, and an undeniable thin vein of humor. The TV series based on the book was not as much fun, retained the darker elements with a simplified plot, and inexplicably added heaps of bland melodrama. This drama wasn’t organic. It felt like the show creators received a note from AMC telling them to amp up the (low-cost, filler) drama like The Walking Dead does. This makes it a bit of slog and keep me wondering if fewer episodes (or even a movie adaptation) would have been better. The performances were especially well-crafted, notably by Zachary Quinto’s age shifting ghoul who could emote from within a trash bag if needed, but the conspicuous Bawstan ack-cents were quite a choice. Overall, I found this entertaining enough to recommend but the book is not to be missed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

AHS: 1984 Keeps It Tight & Wicked

Have I discovered the secret to enjoying American Horror Story, or was it just a good season? I went into 1984 with less than zero expectations after the abominations of Cult and Apocalypse. I assumed it would be tiresome affair of ostentatious turds hitting a bejeweled fan, and thus relegated it to a laundry folding show. After the first episode, I was frightened at how amused I was. There were callbacks to beloved 80s slashers and a cast of dumb teens that couldn’t make a good decision to save their lives. Then I continued having fun with episodes 2 and 3. Surely a fluke, or perhaps a flu. What the fresh hell was going on? Did they change showrunners? Writers?

No. AHS decided to give up its portentous nature and just have fun. 1984 took a campy approach with a killer serial vibe, chock full of delightful genre nods, radically self-conscious acting and often terrible dialogue. But it’s set in the 80s so it totally works. Also, it stuck to its main conceit, kept it simple, no weird twists or unexplained aliens, and delivered its most straightforward season ever.

However, once the show moved into the daylight episodes, it lost much of its momentum. Horror is so much easier in the dark. And yes, there’s plot holes you could drive a vacation RV through but that’s just the AHS we know and hate-to-love. It should also be noted that FX ordered a 10-episode season, and the AHS team barely managed to churn out 9 episodes – and it still felt too long. The paper thin plot of most slashers can only impart so much exposition before things get really dull. Less talky-talky and more stabby-stabby.

This season parted ways with recurring cast members like Sarah Paulson, Evan Peters, and Kathy Bates in lieu of a "younger cast" (Ryan's words not mine). I didn't buy Emma Roberts as the innocent girl-next-door for a single minute, but Billie Lourd, Leslie Grossman, and Angelica Ross rocked the deranged camp counselor vibe. Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez was terrifying and also uniquely funny, while John Carroll Lynch was an absolute revelation as Mr. Jingles. (Please build a season around him and Kathy Bates!)

We also need to talk about that ending. For the first time ever, AHS seems to have provided a relatively satisfying and – dare I say it – happy ending!? That’s hard to imagine given the body count, copious amounts of blood and all those trapped souls, but surprisingly some characters found a modicum of redemption. Whether it’s my nostalgia bias or my exhausting gaze through neon pink glasses, I found this to be the most awesome twist yet.





P.S. I also have to note the fantastic marketing campaign for this season. The TV teasers were really fun, and the print campaign provided greater diversity while also featuring screaming dudes! The best part was those opening credits and newly minted theme song. Fan of the show, Corey Vega, created a mock opening sequence for funsies, then posted it on Twitter where Ryan Murphy saw it and Corey him to consult on the final creation.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Halloween 2019 Wrap Up... Almost!

And that's a wrap on Halloween 2019... almost... we have two more nights of our Dia de los Muertos display since today and tomorrow are the actual Mexican holidays. We ended with a record-breaking night of 423 trick 'r treaters and an additional estimated 800 spectators. And we DIDN'T run out of candy!


Note to self: we used about 7 bags of candy.



Much like the Macy's Day Parade heralds in the Christmas season, the Midsummer Scream convention in Long Beach ushers in the wicked Halloween season. I attended this year and I met the lovely Miranda from SpookyLittleHalloween.com, Mike from AllHallowsGeek.com, and even hung out with my idol, Sam from the 2007 movie Trick 'r Treat. Next year the convention expands to THREE days so book those rooms now and see you there.



Something wickedly colorful came this way and right onto my lawn with a DREAM collaboration with Britta Peterson and Ghoulish Glen of EerieElegance.com. We created a second incarnation of the Dia de los Muertos display we last ran on in 2015 at Britta's house. The Scream Team, as we call ourselves, had the challenge of adapting the show onto a brand new landscape. We also created a brand new feature: a Haunted Ofrenda (altar) featuring all kinds of ghostly activity from visiting relatives. Over the five nights leading up to Halloween, we've had an average of 30-40 visitors  and we have two nights remaining. 150 votes secured our win for the People's Choice Award in the city of Santa Clara's Halloween Decorating Contest.







The Scream Team's outing to the Winchester Mystery House: Unhinged Halloween attraction was also a high point with the amazing projections on the house itself. But I missed my chance at meeting Christine McConnell again! (She was also at Midsummer Scream.) I did however get to witness her work upclose and she created a large gingerbread replica of the house.




Another highlight was seeing The Stage's production of The Rocky Horror Show which featured a former student of Foothill College (where I work). I am so proud of our students, and especially so when I can personally witness the start of their careers! Sean Okuniewicz as Riff Raff stole the show in my unbiased opinion. I was very fortunate to hobknob with the cast and crew afterwards which was so incredibly inspiring.



However, the greatest gift this season was becoming a dad again to two precious kittens, Kika and Rocky. We lost two cats earlier this year, and the house has been too silent – and much too clean – for so long.



It's now time for a long winter hibernation of at least a week or two. Plans are already underway for next year's haunt and I cannot wait for it. But first, I rest.




Friday, October 18, 2019

New Music for Your 2019 Halloween Playlist

As the darkest day of the year draws nearer I'm listening to Halloween music round the clock. While I love the classics, it's always great to find some new terror tunes to add to the playlist. Here's a few recommendations and links to my personal Apple Music playlists.

Lovecraft "This is Halloween, Volume 1"
Dance music gets a wicked overlay in this fun, bouncy full-length album chock full of fun beats for your Halloween party. Standouts include Awooo, Take it to the Graveyard, First Blood, Skeleton Sam, and Voodoo. The mood shifts halfway through with a much more creepy vibe so everyone can likely find something lo love. It's also oddly available as an instrumentals only version.


Sharon Needles "Spoopy"
America's favorite horror drag superstar is back with a 6-song EP of classic Halloween covers. Dripping with nostalgia and an vintage sound, this collection will be a crowd-pleaser. Sharon's voice has never sounded better than it does on this collection and it shows on the "Monster Mash" and "Somebody's Watching Me."



Halloween at High Noon "Fear Candy"
Year after year the annual collection of electronic synth soundscapes from  High Noon Records never fails to capture the perfect tone of creepy and fun. Of the various artists featured, my favorites this year are The Mumps: "Chills & Fever" and The Mutants: "Our Glass Shattered". I listen to this on repeat as I delve into Halloween projects or to make housework tolerable.

BOJO "I Was a Teenage BoJo: Spooky Mix Tape 2019"
So NO ONE knows who (or what?) BoJo is but I look forward to his/her/its mix tape every year with its eclectic mix of pop songs, film scores, and atmospherics. You can hear it or download it here: bojospookymixtapes.bandcamp.com since its not available on any streaming service. You are welcome.

Harlo "You Might Be the Killer"
The 80s inspired throwback horror comedy You Might Be The Killer premiered on Shudder early this year and with it came the essential title track. The track is an instant classic with supremely sing-a-long lyrics.






Other movies have also yielded some solid terror tunes as well:
  • The ethereal chanteuse Lana del Ray covered Season of the Witch from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
  • Starcrawler covers the title track from Pet Sematary
  • Christina Aguilera once again oversings her way through the original song "Haunted Heart" from The Addams Family but it works. 

Señor Scary Terror Tunes for Halloween
Finally, here's a link to my personal playlists featuring over 13 hours of music. (I add to the Apple Music playlist much more frequently.)

Apple Music

Spotify




Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Target Disappoints Fans Looking for Ghoulish Garden

Every year Target seems to screw over Halloween fans one way or another. They are the last retailer to put spooky goods on shelves and when stuff is finally available, it's rarely well-stocked. The shelves this year were Exceptionally (note the bold, capital "E") sparse, with many items displayed on their site as "not available online" turning out to be not available in stores either.

For example, the Ghoulish Garden was advertised well in advance by Target and they even listed release dates on items. Fans across the internet chatted about these wicked plants and waited patiently for the items – to never show up in stores. When I contacted customer service a couple weeks after launch, they said the entire line was sold out. The management at the store I usually go to was very apologetic, indicated many irate customers and that corporate remained rather mum on the whole affair. So, it was poor planning and buying decisions. I took one look at those plants and knew they would be top sellers, but of course, they don't consult us Halloween experts.

If you really want a Ghoulish Garden plant, they are all available on eBay but prepare yourself for the ultimate shock. Some savvy entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the supply-demand issues and have listed these items at a 300–500% markup. Yup, the plant shown here that retails for $35 is currently listed at $75–$99. YIKES. That is certainly ghoulish. 

I don't have a crystal ball (it was also sold out) but I'm certain these will make a second appearance next year. And if previous experience holds true, many other retailers will also jump on the bandwagon and offer their own wicked plants next year.  



Thursday, October 10, 2019

Mexican Chocolate "Pan de Muertos" Pudding

I've been looking for Mexican-inspired treats to make for a Dia de los Muertos party. Since Pan de Muertos (bread of the dead) is staple in Mexico this time of year, I thought a bread pudding might work. I tweaked this recipe into a dark, chocolatey, spicy treat that goes great with whipped cream or dulce de leche ice cream. I plan to make a batch and then spoon it into skull cups.


Mexican Chocolate Pan de Muertos Pudding


1 cup milk
1 cup half-and-half
3 ounces Guittard semisweet chocolate bar
1 tbsp Guittard Cocoa Rogue powder
1/2 tsp. King Arthur Viennese cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ancho chili powder
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 (16oz) loaf Thomas cinnamon-raisin bread
2 large eggs, room-temp
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp Nielsen-Massey vanilla extract
Whipped cream, for serving


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly butter an 11-by-7-inch baking dish; set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan, combine milks, chocolate, cocoa powder, cinnamon, chili powder, salt and butter; place over medium-low heat, whisking until chocolate has melted, about 3-5 minutes. Let cool slightly.

3. Slice bread into cubes and distribute evenly in prepared baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, and vanilla until the sugar has dissolved. Add a small ladle of the warm warm milk mixture whisking until tempered. Slowly pour in the remaining warm milk while continuing to whisk. Pour evenly over bread. Press down on the bread to ensure everything is coated.

4. Bake until pudding has puffed and is firm, about 25 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.


Tips: Try to find ancho chili powder but DO NOT substitute regular chili powder. Ancho chili is a smoked poblano pepper that has very little heat, a smoky deep flavor, and is even slightly sweet and aromatic. When paired with chocolate it is absolutely fantastic. Everyday chili powder used for the chili stews is a completely different spice blend altogether!

Friday, October 4, 2019

Podcast of the Month: Scarred for Life

I'm so excited for the SCARRED FOR LIFE podcast and its fascinating concept – revisit older films that traumatized you and see how they hold up. It launched this week and available on podcast services everywhere.

Hosts Mary Beth and Terry sound relatable and down to Earth – the kind of friends you'd want to hang out with for a movie night. Mary Beth is an exceptionally seasoned writer with more bylines than gawd and a fantastic site Much Ado About Cinema, and Terry has built a large following as Gayly Dreadful on Twitter and his eponymous website. I'll always show up to support queer and women's voices in horror!

The first episode tackles the icky Arachnophobia and Terry's lifelong struggle with eight legged freaks, and Mary Beth takes on Poltergeist's gravity defying horror. The hosts really reveal a personal tidbits about how these films affected them and why. It is this personal approach that really sets the podcast apart as being something very special for the horror community. I imagine that eventually they'll feature films that really pierced my psyche and I am eager to delve into those memories. Is it therapy? Perhaps, but it never stops being entertaining.

The podcast is also a good, digestible length. So many of them run 2+ hours making it very challenging to fully commit week after week. I am subscribed, and looking forward to revisiting those fears from yesteryears through the critically cool analysis of adulthood.



Thursday, October 3, 2019

Apple Cider Sangria

Sangria is a Spanish cocktail made with red wine, fruit and some type of cordial. It's usually associated with summer, but Sangria translates as "bloody" making it perfect for Halloween! This is a variation on that classic drink that can be made well ahead of time in large batches – ideal cocktail for Halloween get-togethers!


Apple Cider Sangria

2 apples (Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Envy or Jazz)
1 orange
1 lemon
2 cups fresh-pressed Barsotti apple cider
1/2 cup Jack Daniels Apple Whisky
1 bottle Sauvignon Blanc white wine
1/3 cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
1 (12.7 oz) bottle Bundaberg ginger beer

1. Wash fruit well and core apples. Dice apples into small pieces and place in a large pitcher. Cut orange and lemon into thin slices removing seeds. Add to pitcher.

2. Add apple cider, apple whisky, wine, sugar into pitcher. Stir well crushing fruit with spoon. Add cinnamon sticks, stir again, cover and set in refrigerator overnight.

3. Add in ginger beer right before serving, stir well and serve immediately!


Tips: Use the best fresh apple cider you can find, usually in the refrigerated juice sections, and look for the unfiltered kind that looks cloudy and brownish. Remember apple cider is different from apple juice, and definitely not apple cider vinegar. Same with ginger beer. It's not the same as ginger ale! The type of white wine is also important as you don't want an oaky Chardonnay for example (an unoaked Chardonnay would be okay). Albarinos or Pinot Grigio would also be perfect. But sangria is usually very forgiving.

I would recommend a punch bowl (cauldron?) and ladle for serving since fresh apple juice tends to separate when it sits and you need to stir before serving. And, of course, you want to get some of the spirited fruit as well.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Winchester Mystery House Goes Fully Unhinged

Times have changed. When I moved to San Jose in 2005, I lived down the street from the Winchester Mystery House. I was instantly captivated by its Victorian charm and the rumored haunting. For many of those early docent-led tours nothing about the ghostly matters was ever acknowledged, even when asked directly. Then 14 years later, ghost busting shows are a staple on pay cable TV, and run-down mansions and hospitals with heinous histories everywhere are selling tickets for tours. The Winchester House finally got on board with several variations of candlelit tours, then a fantastic haunted maze created around the perimeter on the house!

That has all changed with their latest and greatest attraction, Winchester Mystery House Unhinged! Created by ThemeDream Productions, these wicked masterminds have created a haunted maze using the interior house's existing maze-like structure, added a few spooks, performance pieces, and some great special effects. The haunted docents tell us that this tour does not go through the beautifully appointed rooms of the regular tours. Instead we go through the basement, long unused corridors, and several dilapidated rooms that no one would pay to see in daylight. It's an absolutely brilliant concept!

In addition to the immersive and hour long maze, there are fortune tellers, ax-throwing games, a gingerbread replica of the house created by Christine McConnell, and a stunning light show created by PaintScaping that is comprised of 3D projections onto the house itself that showcase the spirits within and a fiery conclusion that knocks the house down. It's absolutely breathtaking and worth the reasonable price of admission. This is one classy haunt that should not be missed!








Monday, September 16, 2019

Quick Takes: Tigers Are Not Afraid, High Life, Head Count




Tigers Are Not Afraid is devastating. The horror across the border in Mexico is very real and this fantasia captures the spirit of children left to defend themselves against monsters in all forms. Director Issa Lopez has a remarkable vision, imagination, and restraint that narrows the focus to a pinpoint of pain and sorrow, and her incredible young actors fulfill the mission. This a masterpiece. Currently on Shudder.





High Life is a quietly bleak, psychosexual, sci-fi anomaly that tackles themes of isolation, redemption and the inevitable surrender to the horror of deep space. It will be challenging for some audiences with its strangely assertive sexual overtones and undefined ending but it stands alongside some of Stanley Kubrick's best work. Robert Pattinson’s stellar performance embodies the weary lost soul and the results are a transcendental meditation on hope.





Head Count is deviously clever & creepy, making you second guess what you’ve seen. The set-up might seem trite, but it follows in the new wave of #horror that pushes genre expectations. The ride is relentless & dreadful, the payoff is satisfying, but the coda was unnecessary. Currently on Netflix.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Ghoulish Garden Blooms at Target

Target stores are dropping their Halloween goods this week, and by far my favorite items are the Ghoulish Garden monster plants. They are all teeth, tongues, and eyeballs and so darn eerie and delightful. They remind me somewhat of the singing flowers in the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland, or Audrey II from The Little Shop of Horrors. Sadly, they are all out stock around my stores and online so not sure if I'll get one this season but my stems are crossed and rooting for good luck.