Saturday, October 21, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 21: Movie Night 2: Things That Go Bumpas in the Night

Ah yes, we meet again on this winding path to Halloween, each night-silent step finding us in yet another unexpected place. A hallmark of horror is the unexpected. Who could have thought the tamed video wasteland of television during the tyranny of the Big 3 networks could produce feelings of terror and dread? Besides the existential terror and dread of the unending cycle of quarter-hour commercial breaks, that is. But, indeed, such terror was thrust straight into the brain of 1972 via a minor horror classic that would go on to loom large in the nightmares of little kids and babysitters throughout the 1970s. Here we find a tale of a bulwark against evil, clad in a rumpled seersucker suit and armed with the latest in cassette tape recording technology, throwing back an encroaching evil still cold from the grave. But to view it, you don't have to risk your neck. Just sacrifice your eyeballs - and your sanity! - to the ABC Movie of the Week, The Night Stalker.

Oh, and stick around for the nifty Southwest Airlines commercial afterward.

Friday, October 20, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 20: The Rabbit Out of Its Hat

Mysterious old houses at Midnight are a staple of horror and Halloween. Even today, faux houses of horror are constructed and staffed during the Halloween season, luring potential victims with the promise of spooky fun and a place where it's always Midnight. Most rely on terror and fright to leave an impression. But this Looney Tunes short from 1939 tries another tactic. The Sanctum Sanctorum of Sham-Fu the Magician is seen as safe haven by two pooches on the run from the dog catcher. Little do our canine protagonists suspect the night of strangeness they're in for as the oddly absent Sham-Fu's equipment (and sort-of assistant(s?)) settles in for an evening of surreal - and, for me, surprisingly eerie - fun at their expense.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 19: ANY QUESTIONS?

For those wondering why Old Granddad Granvil and Granny Black have been absent from the frightful fun so much, one need only be told that they, being from beyond the veil, had foreknowledge of what may be the most demented bit of madness due to be regurgitated from the bowels of the Dark Dimension (and I'll leave you to conjure that imagery in your head, regardless of anatomical improbability). Allow me to indulge in the admiration one of my favorite new(ish) denizens of the Halloween season, the mind-numbing and soul-searing ten-hour loop of the horror of David S. Pumpkins (and his unsettling posse).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 18: What did you see, Bo Diddley? What did you see?

One of rock's early, mostly unsung heroes was the irrepressible Bo Diddley. Known almost as much for name-checking himself as for the "Bo Diddley beat" that defined his sound, Bo Diddley was a spirit of good cheer, his songs often tongue-in-cheek and sly and sarcastic. But he could be serious, even intense, with songs like the bold and magnetic I'm A Man. On occasion, as in Who Do You Love?, he could be ominous, telling dark tales of night-shadowed alleys and swaggeringly supernatural protagonists.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 17: If you've had a dose of a freaky ghost, baby...

If horror and mystery are cousins, then humor and horror are often boon companions, hanging together on occasion, coming upon one another unexpectedly, resurrecting an old friendship, often welcome but sometimes best avoided. One of the few examples of that relationship being perfectly balanced on a knife's edge was a monster box-office smash, Ghostbusters. The horror effects were taken seriously, the humor spurted forth from the souls of the characters, and the film even sported a nifty theme song that, despite lawsuits and settlements, burrowed into the psyche of the culture. And, of course, a video for said song was as essential as lightning to Frankenstein's monster during the Mtv reign of cultural terror. At the time, the video seemed a bit slapdash to your Humble Host, too reliant on minimalist set decoration and neon. But now, it's a wondrous artifact of the '80s, scaring up memories with its raft of celebrity cameos, a still-grungy Times Square (always a bit spooky in any incarnation), and the Ghostbusters themselves, in character, bustin' ghosts and feelin' good in lock-step with Ray Parker Jr. It's a jolt of pure '80s madness! Next to the Monster Mash, this may be the most enduring Halloween-playlist song.

Monday, October 16, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 16: Supernatural Thing

Long after Midnight one lost evening, I grasped towards sleep, lulled towards unconsciousness by a radio program concerned with all things weird. Soon, a muffled, rhythmic thump flowed from the speakers into the darkened room as the accursed commercials, scourge of the airwaves, came to an end after another quarter-hour break. Yet another aural ghost of '70s disco came to encroach upon my mind, infiltrating troubled dreams. Who has not confronted the specter of a love that defies reason? Listen as the durable Ben E. King weaves a musical spell.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 15: Strange Little Books, or, Terror at the Checkout!

Measuring 5 1/4 inches by 3 1/2 inches (or 13.335cm x 8.89cm), these arcane mini-tomes haunted the racks near grocery store checkout counters, crowded in amongst the gum and candy and beef jerky. Shockingly, they often had decent content, considering their size and impulse-purchase purpose. The strange and paranormal had a clammy claw-grip at the five-and-dime.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 14: Neon Noodle!

As I said on night one of this journey through the Halloween shadowlands, mystery is the cousin to horror. Many of the trappings and tropes of both genres are shared between them, from the umbral lighting (which is an oxymoron, really) to the sense of unavoidable doom. Mix them together liberally in a Looney Tunes blender, throw in a good dollop of Dick Tracy's rogue's gallery, and let Daffy Duck loose in this madhouse; the result is an almost surreal, and, perhaps, slightly eerie bit of weirdness. How is it Halloween-related, you ask? Take a look at those villains! And those nightmarishly amorphous backgrounds! Spooky stuff underlies the cartoonish mayhem here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 13: Friday the 13th

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that the Halloween season is also graced this year with a Friday the 13th.

First, let me address the undead elephant in the room: the Friday the 13th movie franchise has almost subsumed, or been absorbed Blob-like by, the cultural baggage of this odd floating ersatz holiday. It's tough to mention the date without at least thinking of ridiculously-durable Jason Voorhees and the seemingly endless and forever-reviving movie series that revolves around him. Certainly the relentless nature of the villain fits in well with the Halloween season...but the season already has its own unkillable slasher in Shatner-bemasked Michael Myers. So we have a push, Poisoned Ghouls. Our cinematic fiends cancel out one another.

Second, the tangled and sometimes vague lore at the foundation of the superstition about the day and date is interesting. Biblical tales darken both thirteen and Friday, but the melding of the two into one particularly evil-aspected day seems a much more recent construct.

Toss it into the middle of the march towards Halloween, when the lands of the living and the dead begin to bleed into each other, and there is a reinforcement of both the unlucky day and the time when spirits come forth to trouble us. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 12: Horror of Dracula

Dracula has only gotten a bit of coverage thus far in this 31 Nights of Halloween series here at the Dark Dimension. That's too bad, as the suave, urbane vampire is an iconic figure of the holiday, and with good reason; the veneer of civility covering a soulless walking corpse may be seen as a commentary on modern society. Or not; vampires are often sexy beasts, gliding through the lonely centuries by siphoning the very life from their surrounding mortal acquaintances, seducing at will, destroying on whims.

It helps immensely that Dracula himself has been played by two of the most naturally debonair screen actors: Bela Lugosi in 1931, and Christopher Lee starting in 1958. Both bring a certain menacing sophistication to the role. In Lee's case, Dracula is a looming figure, tall and cadaver-thin, with a hollow-cheeked face that can transform from almost serene calm to bestial fury while remaining completely believable. Bela Lugosi owned the role, but a few years after his passing, Christopher Lee managed to imprint his own indelible mark upon it.

But a strong villain needs a strong protagonist, and Hammer managed to pair Lee with the equally self-possessed, and equally razor-thin and strong-featured, Peter Cushing as Dracula's eternal nemesis, Van Helsing. Haven't seen it? Then go see it. Here's a taste.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 11: The Mighty Frazetta

We here in the Dark Dimension have meditated upon Frank Frazetta's art before. But we never tire of discussing Frazetta and gazing upon his work. The lush sensuality and dark palette of the artist seem especially appropriate at Halloween. Twilight struggles and desperate rescues are so often the subjects of the tableaus Frazetta painted, ur-memories of ancient horrors that linger somewhere deep within our collective unconsciousness. Frazetta created a dimension of brooding warriors, evil sorcerers, and unnatural monsters, a nightmare world, or dark dimension, that touches upon ours through Frazetta's brush.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 10: Requiem for a Pirate Ship

If you're anything like me, and God help you if you are, then you like nothing better than early-1930s Popeye. Everyone's favorite Old Salt mutters and grumbles his way onto a haunted ship stumbled upon by he, his perennial on-again-off-again-why-does-he-even-bother-with-her girlfriend Olive Oyl, and his best pal - and vile excuse for a human being - Wimpy. Obviously canned spinach will be involved.

Monday, October 9, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 9: Tryin' to Catch the Devil's Herd

Few images from American folklore can lasso the imagination more firmly than that of the cowboy. Saddletramps driving cattle across the vastness of the prairies and plains are branded into the nation's subconscious. The gunslingers and tin-star wearers get most of the attention, especially in these latter days, but the weathered and weary cowpoke helped blaze trails and feed a growing nation. Such a life may seem, even now, almost dreamlike, especially to the young - all day in the saddle, all night under the stars, the great open world one's workspace.

But such a life has its shadows, too, from ruthess rustlers seeking to steal beeves for their own, to the lash of the great storms that rake the plains with their actinic fingers. The great openness of a cowboy's working life is as much a threat as a reward, with shelter and safety shunned by necessity. At times, the solitude that so often accompanied the cowboy must have led the mind down darkened paths of contemplation, conjuring images of hooved doom in the roiling thunderheads that so often swept across the open spaces.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 8: Donald Duck vs the Forces of Darkness

In this 1952 Disney confection, Witch Hazel stumbles upon trick-or-treating duck triplets Huey, Duey, and Louie, just in time to become acquainted with the irascibility of the boys' Uncle (or Unca) Donald. Clearly Donald is a jackass, doling out lit firecrackers and refusing to treat. But somewhere along the line, I began to feel sorry for Donald as Witch Hazel bends the powers of her dark arts upon him. I mean, the punishment far outstrips the crime here. Ya gotta give the guy credit for hanging in there, too, even when faced with traumatic brain injuries.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 7: Bozzies Get the Heebie Jeebies

New Orleans has long been known for its unique musical heritage. A part of that heritage was the frighteningly talented Boswell sisters, Connee, Martha, and Helvetia. Tight harmonies and an effortless syncopation defined their sound, which could raise the dead into a joyous dance. Flaring brightly for a few years in the 1920s and early 1930s, the Bozzies would soon go their separate ways. But the irrepressible spirit they conjured by way of their music went on to possess the imaginations of generations of musicians and listeners. Even now, their voices can give a listener the heebie jeebies.

Friday, October 6, 2017

31 Nights of Halloween - Night 6: Movie Night: Mysterious Monsters

The woods are always an alluring place. By day, they are often refreshing, recharging the soul. By night, they become a shadow realm of dread, their mystery magnetic. Way back when I was in larval form, I glommed upon anything that smacked of the supernatural or the strange, especially those things lurking in the howling wilds. Or the local patches of woods. So when Mysterious Monsters hit theaters, I cajoled my mom to take me. Many nightmares were inspired.

The book was a fairly capable companion to the film, and I pored over its cheap-pulp paperback pages with a flashlight in the dark.

Years later, when ostensibly an adult, I watched the movie again. And, y'know, it holds up as a fun bit of '70s nostalgia. Peter Graves lends the proceedings a surprising amount of gravitas with his grave demeanor which he delivers gravely. I had to do it. I am unashamed! This is the first full-length Bigfoot (and other critters) documentary I ever saw, and it remains my favorite. Bigfoot may be one of the most iconic inhabitants of the Dark Dimension, and his (their?) lack of a footprint on Halloween is tragic. Let's change that.

Thursday, October 5, 2017