Thursday, October 31, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: A Halloween Memory

Halloween has always been a special day for me. Right from the beginning, it felt as though the night itself contains a delicious sense of eerie mystery; this was the night one all the creatures my parents told me didn’t exist (zombies, ghosts, vampires) were free to roam to Earth, walking about us undisguised, hidden in plain sight. I loved the idea that (as my Dad explained it) this night had its origins in ancient people disguising themselves so as to evade monsters, visible just once a year. One of my earliest memories is trick-or-treating dressed as a fireman in New Jersey, back in the late 1990’s. My recollections of going of trick-or-treating are clearer to me after my family moved to Ohio. I was a pirate, a robot, Zorro, Frankenstein's Monster. Every house seemed to have at least one jack-o-lantern. One house even handed out sodas; another, popsicles  My favorite house of all, though, was the “creepy house”. The guy who lived there was “odd” and highly OCD at the best of times, but at Halloween, his was the go-to house. Giant spiders, talking skulls, a graveyard, fog, coffins, the Grim Reaper, demonic bats; you name it, it was there. I suppose that visiting (and re-visiting) that house may have been the earliest sign that I was to one day become a haunter myself. Eventually, we moved to another neighborhood, and “that house” was left behind. I have not seen it since.

The summer after I turned 11 was a difficult one, to be sure. My parents were in the process of being divorced, and I was still getting over having bullied pretty badly at school the previous year (I ended up being homeschooled for sixth grade). I get the impression my Mom wanted to do something special for me. I was becoming pretty interested in the old Universal Monster movies around this time, and one, The Phantom of the Opera with the great Lon Chaney, Sr., had a particular grip on my imagination.
 After seeing it that summer, my Mom suggested building a pipe organ for Halloween that year. I agreed it was a cool idea, but I quickly forgot about. It was my Mom who brought the idea back to the foreground in October. We set about painting old cardboard tubes to look the pipes on an organ. Using a desk as the base, we added planks of wood painted to look like keys, sheet music, cobwebs, and a skull. We burned a CD of pipe organ music taken from the soundtrack of the Lloyd-Webber musical. We hung a plastic tarp to create a backdrop in the garage, dressing it up with cobwebs, furniture, dead plants, “dead bodies” (actually just clothes stuffed as newspaper), and lit it with a strobe light. Next thing you know, we had the Phantom’s lair in our garage. When Halloween Night rolled around, I dressed in black and wore my Dad’s college graduation robes as a “cloak”. For a disfigurement, my Mom covered my cheeks with honey and oatmeal before painting it with skin-colored greasepaint to create diseased flesh. I wore a white plastic mask from the craft store; I spent half the night pounding away on the keys of the organ in time to the music, illuminated by flashes of the strobe. The other half, I went trick-or-treating for the last time.

My haunting career has expanded since then. I did two more haunts in that same garage, “Frankenstein’s Lab” and “Granny’s Parlor” in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Then the haunt travelled to Western PA, where my family still runs it, now under the name of October Hollow. As I write this, I am also preparing to hand out candy, in costume, of course, to the ToTs who travel past my apartment. Not an elaborate set up, to be sure; just me in a mask with some Midnight Syndicate playing in the background, but there is still a certain kind of magic in it. Ultimately though, it always comes back to that first haunt, back in 2006, put on by a 11-year-old kid, standing under a nearly full moon, with a cold breeze causing my cloak to swirl around me and leaves to flutter past my boots. And with it all, the feeling that, on this night, anything could happen. That magic was real.
Happy Halloween, Specters

Monday, October 28, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Pumpkinrot

I felt that I couldn't let the season pass without a mention of the man who might very well be the living embodiment of Halloween - Pumpkinrot.

Now, most people reading this blog probably already know who Rot is. For those who don't, he is the man who, along with other notables such as the Hallowed Haunting Grounds, prove that Home Haunts can be more than decorations gone wild; they can be Art. I became aware of Pumpkinrot and his work in the winter of 2008/2009. I was completely blown away by the detail, the atmosphere, the vision, and the perfection. It was actually the discovery of his site that inspired me to start my own blog. My mind was blown all-over again the following October, when he debuted "the Corn Witch".

Every year since, his work continues to get better and better.

Recently, he even branched out into prop work for the indie horror film Mr. Jones. He also directed the short film Swamp Foetus.
Rot is a source of inspiration to haunters everywhere. His blog provides daily doses of Halloween all year long. His props and haunts never fail to unsettle and inspire artists and Halloween fans of all stripes. But, in the words of Levar Burton, don't take my word for it. See for yourself:
Pumpkinrot: What's Brewing (his blog)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Review of Sleepy Hollow (1999)

The year is 1799. An upstart young police inspector named Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent to the rural village of Sleepy Hollow, NY to investigate a series of strange beheadings, unaware that the undead, headless Hessian mercenary (Christopher Walken) responsible is just the tip of the blood-soaked iceberg.

There are some movies we can’t help but like in spite of ourselves. For me, Sleepy Hollow is among them. Yes, some of the acting is wooden. Yes, it was unnecessary to give both Ichabod and the Horseman elaborate backstories. And yes, the ending is completely ridiculous. And not everyone is going to like the reworking of Washington Irving’s classic ghost yarn into a grisly supernatural whodunnit, but what cannot be denied is that this film is drenched in Halloween atmosphere. From the opening chase through a cornfield (completely with an awesome scarecrow that many a haunter has tried to replicate), to the village of Sleepy Hollow itself, to the foreboding, fog-filled Western Woods, Sleepy Hollow captures the feel of a chilly October night perfectly. Not to mention, the soundtrack is perfect. I have the main titles on my MP3 player, and often listen to it when I’m out for a walk on a crisp fall evening. And then of course, there is the Horseman. Whereas previous adaptions had to resort to the old trick of a cape thrown over an actor’s shoulders, this version had the advantage of computers, and so the Horseman actually looks headless. Not to mention, the costume designers outdid themselves on the Horseman’s rotting uniform. An awesome character design.

In short, I’d say that if you’re looking some movies to put you in the Halloween frame of mind, you could do a lot worse than Sleepy Hollow.

HalloweeNut’s Verdict:
2 out of 4 Skulls

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Review of House of 1000 Corpses

In writer/director Rob Zombie’s film debut, House of 1000 Corpses, two teenage couples travelling the back roads of America in search of roadside oddities discovering a sinister local legend of a man called “Dr. Satan”. In their attempts to research the legend, they stumble upon a sadistic family of backwoods serial killers, and all Hell begins to break loose.

Filmed in 2000 but released until three years later, House of 1000 Corpses is the kind of horror film that divides fans: they either love it or hate. Me, I’m somewhere in-between. They elements that I liked most about the movie where a) the scenes with Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), b) the sequence in Doctor Satan’s lair, and c) the soundtrack.

I have to admit that I absolutely dig the scenes with Captain Spaulding and his Murder Ride. Spaulding is one those characters is so nasty but so funny that you can’t help but like him. Sid Haig did a terrific job as the character, easily earning him (and Bill Mosely as Otis Driftwood, for that matter) a place alongside such modern horror icons like Jigsaw from SAW or Sam from Trick ‘r Treat. Not to mention, the Museum of Monsters and Madmen is just plain awesome, with its dark ride dedicated to serial killers.

As for the rest of the movie, it occurs to me that this movie is like a cinematic haunt; with its weird goings-on, trippy-weird editing, bizarre characters, Halloween night setting, perverse sense of humor, and slightly random sensibility (the “skunk-ape” bit still has me confused) is probably the closest you get to have a cinematic haunted house without actually filming a haunt. Not surprisingly, it has been adapted into a haunted attraction several times, mostly by Halloween Horror Nights, but most recently by the Great American Nightmare. If you’re haunter looking for inspiration for character or set designs, definitely look this one up. Also, I can’t do this review without briefly mentioning the awesome soundtrack by Zombie. I’m obviously a bit biased as I’m already a fan of Zombie’s music, but this soundtrack does have some pretty cool songs, such as “Everybody Scream”, “Run Rabbit Run”, the wonderfully sleazy “P#ssy Liquor”, and of course, “House of 1000 Corpses”.

Now obviously this is a seriously flawed film. I will give Zombie the benefit of the doubt and point out that the studio was giving him a hard time about the movie, his first effort, and making a movie is hard job. Still, the movie has it’s weak points – it’s not the most frightening, or even the most shocking, but I still found it to be entertaining, with its psychedelic editing, ghoulish characters, and twisted humor. In summary, if you’re a haunt looking for some Halloween viewing, House of 1000 Corpses might make a good addition to your movie list.

HalloweeNut’s Verdict:
2 out of 4 Skulls

Monday, October 21, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Haunts of Pittsburgh, PA

As a resident of Western Pennsylvania, I don’t think I could let the Dark Season pass without paying homage to the some of the haunts in the area. I’ve compiled this little list for any haunts in the Pittsburgh who may read to act as a guide to the haunts, while for the rest of you, I see this is an opportunity to show Pittsburgh and Western PA’s haunting legacy.

First, I bring to your attention Dark Works, a home haunt put on Terror Syndicate Productions. Don’t let the label of “home haunt” fool you – this thing is a force to be reckoned with. Always creating innovative and original methods to scare its patrons, this haunt has a visual style that I cannot put my finger on. Its part backwoods, part zombie, part I really don’t know what. It is rustic, creepy, decaying, dark, disorienting. This is truly a haunt that stands alone, forging its own unique path. What’s even cooler is that absolutely everything in the haunt is handmade – from the masks to the music, to the animatronics and sets, which range from minimalist to insanely detailed, Dark Works is truly one of the great haunts.

Up next, our little jaunt through Pittsburgh brings us to Hundred AcresManor. Claiming to be Pittsburgh’s Most Extreme Haunt, the Manor offers six sick attractions: Dead Lift, Damnation, South Valley Hospital, The Family: Unearthed, The Maze, and Brine Slaughterhouse. This haunt proudly favors the blood ‘n’ chainsaws approach, and is definitely not made with more timid haunt fans in mind. It has killer sets, tons of gore, and a very high intensity factor. What’s cool is that the proceeds go to two charities, AnimalFriends and the Homeless Children’s Education Fund. So if you’re looking to piss your pants in the name of a good cause, this might be your haunt.

Now, if you’re looking to keep your pants unsoiled but still have a creepy good time, perhaps Castle Blood Haunted Adventure Tours are more your style. This haunt has been going strong for over twenty years, and is unique in that it provides an interactive, theatrical Gothic experience. As your tour this beautifully detailed haunt, you must solve puzzles and collect tokens as part of a challenge, with prizes awarded to groups who exit the haunt with all their tokens. Certainly one the most unique haunt experiences around.

If you’re the kind of haunt goer that is looking for more than just a haunts in their Halloween experience, head over to Phantom Fright Nights. Hosted at Kennywood, the largest amusement park in the area, Phantom Fright Nights feature haunted houses, scare zones, thrill rides, music, and tons of other features. It even has a haunt, BioFear, that was designed by Terror Syndicate Productions, the same folks behind Dark Works. This haunt consistently gets good reviews among local haunt fans, so check it out for yourself.

And last but certainly not least, we come to what is one of my favorite haunts, TheScarehouse. A slick, professional haunt with the look and feel of a Hollywood movie, Scarehouse is actually three haunts in one: The Forsaken, a creepy atmospheric descent into madness; Creepo’s Christmas in 3D; and Pittsburgh Zombies, a blood-soaked homage to Pittsburgh’s living dead legacy. This year, they are also featuring an extreme, adults-only haunt called The Basement, which promises "high voltage effects, very low lighting, tight spaces, strong scents, profanity, moments of complete darkness, water, physical contact, sexual and violent situations". Fun for the whole family. By far, I think Scarehouse ties with Dark Works as the best haunt in Pittsburgh.
Well, there you have it, Specters. I hope this helps you in selecting what haunts you choose to visit, or at least provides you with inspiration for your own. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Review of The American Scream

“Every Halloween, sleepy Fairhaven, Massachusetts erupts with the most ambitiously creative spookery in the world. Endless styrofoam tombstones and backyard beasts come courtesy of a few supremely dedicated local "home haunters" who've devoted their lives to the art of handmade monstermaking. In this surprisingly touching documentary, The American Scream follows three of these horrific households to uncover the triumphs and tragedies that come with carrying the blackened banner of true Halloween spirit.”

I’ll admit, I’ve been looking forward to seeing this documentary for quite a while. I’d always felt that home haunters didn’t always get the same media coverage as the pro haunts. Don’t get me wrong, I love pro haunts, I intend to own a pro haunt one day; but they do seem to get the lion’s share of the media attention. Apart from one or two solitary HGTV specials, home haunts mostly get their coverage through local news or the internet. So when I heard that a full-length documentary was being made, that focused exclusively on home haunters, I was already jonesing to see it. Sadly, two years went by before I actually had the opportunity to view it. And when I did I was not disappointed.

The American Scream focuses on three sets of haunters: Victor Bariteau and his family, Manny Souza, and Matthew and Richard Brodeur, all of whom reside in Fairhaven, Massachusetts. The film follows all of them over the course of October 2011, as they prepare for the big 10-31. It shows the thought process of each haunter behind their creation, and examines why they (and by extension, most haunters) go the extreme of creating a haunted wonderland in their backyard. It shows the trials and tribulations, and the toll it sometimes takes on their family and friends. It also perfectly (and hilariously) captures that last minute feeling of panic that every haunter has; spills, not being able to finish one project on time, props breaking/disappearing/not working right, and plentiful frustrated cries of “motherf#cker!” But then, as darkness descends, it shows the family, friends, and neighbors converging on the haunts to celebrate the greatest night of the year.

I have to say, the thing I liked best about The American Scream was how it focused on the haunters, not on the haunts. Don’t get me wrong, like any haunter I enjoy seeing the handiwork of my peers, but this was different. It focused on the people behind the art (and yes, I consider haunting to be an art form as well as entertainment). It told their stories, in a very touching way, very different than the angle most coverage of haunts take, which portray us haunters as kooky and off-center (we are, but that’s not the point). Ultimately, I cannot say enough good things about The American Scream. Everything about was very professional, from the camerawork to the music. It never once became cheesy, and remained a fascinating, touching, yet clear-eyed tribute to the Home Haunt subculture. If you are at all a Halloween or Haunt fan, you must see this film.
HalloweeNut’s Verdict:
4 out of 4 Skulls

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Carnival of Curiosity and Chaos

Sometimes it really does pay to just get out of the house and go for a walk.

Last Saturday, for no reason in particular, I went for a walk and decided to veer from my usual path from and go on Philadelphia Street, the main stretch of Indiana, PA. Much to my surprise, Sacred Ink Tattoos, a popular tattoo parlor, had flown in a sideshow troupe, the Carnival of Curiosity and Chaos, from Chicago, for a one-night-only live performance, free of charge. And there was to be not one, but two performances of body suspension.

How could I say no?

What followed was one of the most fun evenings I’ve had a long while. In addition to the show, there was free food (hot dogs and shrimp!), live music, and art and tattoo/piercing antiques on display, such as an actual centuries-old Mayan ear spool. As for the sideshow itself, the only way I have to describe it is this: it was f**cking awesome! The performer, Tom Hill, did a jaw-dropping, and sometimes side-splitting, variety of stunts, including (but not limited to) fire-eating, whip cracking, upside-down straightjacket escape, jumping up and down on broken glass (with an audience member on his back!), eating fire, staple-gunning paper donkey tails to his ass, and hammering over 12 nails into his nostrils… at the same time. At certain points throughout the show audience members were called upon to “assist” in the acts, although mostly they were made the butt of some fairly raunchy jokes. For example, I myself foolishly volunteered, and, while I won’t go into details, I can say this: never before (and hopefully never again) have I found myself wearing a balloon animal strap-on. Yep, that’s right, balloon animal strap-on. It’s that kind of show. After the show, I got to talking to Tom and he was a pretty cool guy, very interesting to speak with.

As for the body suspension, I took some video for you all to see. I only managed to film the first performance, by Tom (my phone’s battery died), but the other performance, by Sacred Ink owner Sean Hughes, was just as impressive. Here’s the video:
I’d like to thank Sean and the very cool people at Sacred Ink for putting the whole evening, free of charge. An awesome time was had by all, and it was a very cool event. If you ever get a tattoo or piercing there, tell them I sent you!

13 Days of Halloween: An Interview with Sharon Day, of Ghost Hunting Theories

We are now half-way through October, and just two weeks shy of Halloween itself. Halloween, a day with deep roots in tales of hauntings and the unexplained. It seems only appropriate, then, that this interview be with someone who with a life-long fascination with the paranormal. She is Paranormal Expert, horror author, blogger, and my good friend, Sharon Day, of the renowned blog Ghost Hunting Theories. So, without further a do, let's get started:
Q: For those who don’t know you, tell us a little about yourself?
I’m the author of the blog Ghost Hunting Theories and over a dozen books involving the paranormal and horror themes. I grew up in a very actively haunted home that was a Civil War hospital and there I developed my skills of psychometry (the ability to read objects background by touching them).

Q: What was it that drew you to the paranormal in the first place?
I grew up from the time I was a baby in a very actively haunted home in Northern Virginia. I saw it as a normal part of the world and how it works. It never involved magic or fearfulness, but just the world and its many layers. I began to wonder about other things in the paranormal realm and transferred my concepts of it all being part of nature to other paranormal arenas. I now spend my spare time working on theories about all things paranormal.
Q: You say you lived in a house with ghosts from the Civil War? What was it like growing up in that environment?
My parents had a great attitude about the home. They said, “these soldier died alone, away from family and now the house has 5 kids in it. If you hear them walking the halls at night, they are doing their rounds protecting you. Who better to protect you than soldiers?”
Q: Your blog, Ghost Hunting Theories, has enjoyed enormous popularity. What made you start blogging?
I had my Achilles tendon reattached and couldn’t walk for months. I was in a funk. My son said, “mom, you’re into ghost hunting, why not meet others through blogging?” He got me started. I was apprehensive since I only knew enough on the computer to do basic things, but I had nothing else to do and he was right. I not only picked it up quickly, but I finally found my tribe – I hadn’t found people like me in Arizona where I live, who were asking the big questions, but online, I found a community of paranormal geeks – which ultimately inspired my book “Paranormal Geeks” about our unique group.
Q: You’re the author of many books, both fiction and non-fiction, including Paranormal Geeks, Zombie Housewives of the Apocalypse, Growing up with Ghosts, and Abandoned Places: Abandoned Memories. What inspired you to become a writer, and out of all the books you’ve written, which would you say is favorite?
I had been writing romance novels and submitting them for years, and getting rejections. When I started blogging, the readers were giving me such good feedback about my writing that I entered a contest for writing an essay for Ghost Adventures show and I won. Then, I realized I might have a real talent. I knocked around a book concept with a friend, we decided to publish it ourselves, then another, then another, and pretty soon, we were putting out books regularly. I have also done many books on my own. I am very proud to have a horror/SciFi novel, MetaNet coming within the year and that is going to be my favorite, but believe it or not my favorite right now is Don’t Go There! A Flash Horror Anthology because I actually have a hard copy and read it when I’m curled up at night. It’s dozens of short stories on every horror theme and they are timed out so you know how long it will take to read each one.
Q: You’ve also written erotic horror, including the ebook Philia: Sex in Dark Places. What inspired you to go in this direction?
I’ve always had an odd talent for erotica and I love horror, and to me sex and horror go together – it’s all about the tension and the climax!
Q: Any more books in the works you’d care to tell us about? 
Abandoned Places: Abandoned Memories (Appalachian Edition) comes out October 1st. I have an erotic horror novella Pagan Bloodlust coming very soon, a romantic horror series opening book The Hunt: Ghosts coming soon, MetaNet and a children’s book Twice As Special. I plan to do a tween-aged horror series about some kids who start a paranormal club and a couple members live in an antebellum mansion in the south that is haunted. Their team includes a Bigfoot from the woods and two ghost soldiers from the North and South who assist.

Q: When you are preparing to go on a ghost hunt, how to do you prepare? What sort of equipment to you normally bring when you’re beginning an investigation?
I bring all the standard equipment except for talk boxes – I am not at all impressed with those hocus pocus devices. In fact, the best hunt is done with absolutely no equipment, simply your senses for observation. We get so caught up in equipment which isn’t effective and we miss the real action. I don’t do protections or any of that stuff. I don’t have a personal concept that involves Devil, demons, Evil or possession, and consequently, I never run into it. I do appreciate setting up equipment and leaving the building to rest a while before reentering.

Q: You’ve done a lot of urban photography. What drew you to this?
When I was a kid, we had some outbuildings on the estate that were old and decrepit and had old abandoned furniture in them and an abandoned 1940s car in the field.  Mom was an historian and we spent a lot of time at historic sites in the east. I found myself drawn to places people no longer inhabited. They looked sad, but also beautiful as the elements rusted, peeled, and aged the sites. I wanted to try to capture my feelings for these sites, so I began to photograph them the way I saw them and people reacted strongly to the images. About half the time I photograph a site, it’s torn down within the next year, so sometimes I’m one of the last people to ever document it. It’s a moment in time that no longer exists.

Q: You’ve stated countless times on your blog that you are a huge horror fan. What would you say are your favorite horror films?
Oh, this is soooo tough. Usually I’m driven by moods, but there are some standards that pass the test of time – Night of the Living Dead, The Haunting, The Changeling, The Fog, Legend of Hell House. I have a very special place in my heart for everything from the 70s from Hammer Films and the Brit works to made for TV horror which was a huge genre then.
Q: No doubt you have had to put up with a lot of naysayers who claim that the paranormal is a load of malarkey and that you’re either a fool or a liar. How do you deal with people like that?
I really don’t have to deal with folks like that because it’s not my driving force to prove to others anything paranormal exists. I am on a journey to understand what I know of it from my own encounters and observations. This is my journey. Not theirs. They can take their own.

Q: I understand you’re a big fan of Halloween. What is your favorite Halloween memory?
I have so many, but the one that really sticks out in my mind influenced my Halloweens the most. When we were living in the haunted estate, we rented the cottages to students from George Mason University. One student in one of the cottages had a Halloween party. It was my first Halloween to Trick Or Treat. I was 4. My brother was 9. We were all dressed and ready but we stopped by the cottage and they told us to come in and there as a lady at the table with a crystal ball doing  gypsy readings. I was fascinated forever with gypsy and crystal balls. We went into the main room where the costumed people were. I was nervous, but when a man entered holding his head in his arm, I freaked out. My brother freaked out. He pushed me back against the wall in horror and was crushing me. I was screaming more from my brother’s squashing than the headless dude. I was so scared, I didn’t go trick or treating, so my brother took a bag for me and got me candy. It was my first image of a costume party and gypsies and I have forever been changed by the love of Halloween parties and costumes.

Q: What has been the coolest moment of your paranormal career?
Hmm…. I have done some TV and some radio and interviews that were cool, but I think the moment I most enjoyed was when Ben Hansen from “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files” on Syfy contacted me. He was in town and wanted me to interview him. He came to my home and we talked for 4 hours nonstop about everything paranormal. It was a fun interview, but the really cool thing was just having someone so experienced in the field to share concepts and compare notes with. It made me realize the value of paranormal conferences and events where you can meet with other minds and discuss the juicy stuff in the field.

Q: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring ghost hunters who may read this interview?
First and foremost, figure out your motivation. Some people enter the field hoping to get a TV show, which is not only ridiculous, but it drives your decisions quite differently than someone who has experienced the unexplained and wants answers. Know if you seek research, seek helping homeowners, or seek fame. You must make decisions based upon these goals.

Monday, October 14, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Review of Dark Harvest

“You remember how it feels, don’t you? All that desire scorching you straight through. Feeling like you’re penned up in a small-town cage, jailed by cornstalk bars. Knowing, just knowing, that you’ll be stuck in that quiet little town forever if you don’t take a chance.”

In Dark Harvest, the novel by Bram Stoker Award-winning author Norman Partridge, it is Halloween, 1963. In a strange, yet familiar rural American town, a strange and sinister ritual is about to take place. The teenage boys between 16 and 19 are penned up in their rooms with no food for three days, three nights. Then, on October 31st, they are unleashed upon the town in pursuit of mythic creature known as “the October Boy”. They are permitted to catch and kill this creature by any means necessary, before it reaches the town church at midnight. For the one who kills the October Boy, it means freedom from a dead-end future… but at what cost?

This slim, stark little book is strange creation: part Halloween tale, part noir, part prose, it is anything but typical. It strikes as being similar to the kind of thing Ray Bradbury might write if he had wanted to write horror noir. It sometimes has the feel of a fairy tale, yet at other times it’s dark and violent in a very gritty way. Though I suppose that’s an appropriate contrast; not only were all the old fairy tales dark and violent, it reflects Halloween’s own duality: sometimes magical, sometimes frightening, but always mysterious. I liked how the book, despite its twists and turns, never spells everything out. It leaves it up to the reader to fill in some of the blanks, instead of spoon-feeding it to you. I can easily see this book being adapted to film; John Carpenter’s Halloween by way of Terrance Malick’s Badlands. I can see connections between Dark Harvest and other works in fiction, with its “rural-small-town’s-evil-ritual” plot harkening to books and films as varied as Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, The Wicker Man, and even (more recently) The Purge. In summary, if you’re looking for a quick, powerful read for the Halloween season, put Dark Harvest on your list.

HalloweeNut’s Verdict:
4 out of 4 Skulls

Saturday, October 12, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Haunt Soundtrack

Earlier this month I posted a playlist of Halloween tunes off the beaten path. Well, I’m here to present my second Halloween playlist. Unlike the previous one, which was the kind of music you could play at a party, this is designed to be of more use in haunt environment. I’ve plundered multiple movie soundtracks, dark ambient bands and other sources to create this playlist, also being used at my family’s haunt this year. Like the previous playlist, it’s designed to be listened to, not watched. Click the scarecrow, hit "Play All", downscale, and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Review of Trick 'r Treat

In this horror anthology, five different, intertwined stories revolving around Halloween, told out of order, unfold with grisly results.

 Trick ‘r Treat, first feature by director Michael Dougherty, has a sad history: filmed in 2006 to be released the following year, it was instead shelved for two years, for reasons unknown, and then dumped straight to video in 2009. I’ve no idea why Warner Bros. did this, because this movie could have been perfect theater fare. This is the sort movie that IS going to scare you, but more than that, it is also the kind of movie that manages to make you laugh and squirm at the same time (perfect example: the infamous “chocolate vomit” scene). It has a truly wicked sense of humor, which seems appropriate considering this is a movie centered around Halloween. Which leads me to say this: this is probably the only movie I have ever seen that is truly revolving around the High Holiday. Let’s be honest, classic though it is, John Carpenter’s Halloween could have been set on just about any night of the year. Trick ‘r Treat is clearly made by someone who has a passion for the holiday, like us haunters. Halloween is soaked into frame of this movie, and literally personified by the now-iconic character of Sam (Quinn Lord), a sort-of avenging Spirit of Halloween. This little guy has built up quite the cult following, and not unusual to see figures of him in yard haunts.

Trick ‘r Treat is very well made, especially considering this is Dougherty’s first time directing. Although it is obviously influenced by Pulp Fiction in its narrative format and (SPOILER!) Ginger Snaps in one of its stories, Trick ‘r Treat never once becomes derivative, always remaining its own unique film (though it does see fit to pay homage to Halloween in the opening scene). All in all, this is without a doubt my all-time favorite Halloween film. Anyone who calls themselves a Halloween fan must see this movie.

HalloweeNut’s Verdict:
3 out of 4 Skulls
By the way, I found this awesome little video homage someone made to the movie. Enjoy!

Monday, October 7, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Review of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978)

“Death has come to your little town sheriff. You can either ignore it, or you can help me destroy it.”
- Dr. Sam Loomis, Halloween
Halloween has become one of those movies that need no introduction. Any horror fan (or regular movie fan, for that matter) worth his salt has seen it, usually more than once. Every year, it is watched countless times in darkened living rooms, the famous piano score drifting eerily over the leaf-strewn streets of Haddonfield. The film captures the feel of a chilly October night perfectly. It is the movie that forged the careers of both director John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis. It also created one of the most iconic movie villains of all time: Michael Myers, the Boogeyman of Haddonfield. 
With his butcher’s blade and ghostly white mask, Michael is described as the boogeyman, and he looks every inch of it. Every facet of this movie’s lore and legend is hungrily absorbed by horror fans, and becomes common fact: that Michael’s mask was supposed to be a William Shatner mask; that Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) was named after a minor character in Psycho; that Jamie Lee Curtis was cast specifically because her mother had been in Psycho. We all know these facts, and many more, but rather than trivialize the film, they just seem to enhance it.

Granted, it’s a far from perfect film. The scenes with the babysitters’ dialogue are painfully dated, and wooden in their delivery. Some of the acting is a tad hammy, and the sometimes the film betrays its low budget seems. However, this is all made up for in the scare department. Though very tame indeed when compared with more recent shockers, Halloween never seeks to shock you or gross you out: instead, it tries to (and very much succeeds in) scare you silly. For first time viewers, this is one best watched in a dark room, with nothing but the movie for company. You’ll be sleeping with the lights on, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, like most successful movies that are any good, Halloween spawned lousy sequels and countless imitators that tarnished the reputation of the original. But in the end, John Carpenter, and of course, Michael, have emerged triumphant. If you plan on watching on movies on All Hallow’s Eve, Halloween belongs on your list.

HalloweeNut’s Verdict:
3 out of 4 Skulls
A foot note: as part of its 35th anniversary, Halloween is being re-released to select theaters. You can look for on near you here:

Friday, October 4, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: An Interview with Marrow from the House of Marrow

Today, Specters, I am very proud to present an interview with one of the most talented up-and-coming haunters of this age: Marrow, of the House of Marrow. At only 15 years old, Marrow has taken paper mache prop making to a new level. Based out of New Zealand, Marrow has done three haunts to date, each housed in a store front window. The first was very traditional, featuring a witch and zombies; the second revised the previous with a new Black Death overlay, and 2012's "Geisterbahn" created a boardwalk spookhouse in the store front in astonishing detail.

But enough of my blather, I'll let the man himself do the talking.

Q: What exactly was it that got you hooked on Halloween?­­
A: I couldn’t answer that question for the life of me (hope we’re not off to a bad start!). My parents tell me I was three years old, it was Halloween, the neighborhood kids were out trick-or-treating and I was absolutely taken with it – this is all I know. It all started there - from that point, Halloween, horror, and things that go bump in the night have been a lifelong obsession for me.

Q: How did you get started in Home Haunting?
A: It was around January 2009 – I was eleven years old and perusing magic-trick videos on Youtube. One of the suggestions was titled ‘How to Make a Halloween Corpse’. I pulled an old plastic skull out of the attic and set to work. I wanted to build a body for my nasty head, and it didn’t take long for me to find my way to SpookyBlue’s site. Scrolling down through the endless tutorial list, it dawned on me that this was the hobby I’d be waiting for my entire life. I vividly recall one day when I, six years old, decided to turn my room into a torture chamber. I made stuffed dummies and posed them around the room and hung cardboard limbs from paperclip chains. That same year I wound up spending Wednesday afternoons with a psychologist – but that’s another story altogether. The point is, it was really quite a relevatory moment. I can say pretty confidently that it was one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.

Q: Your first haunt was wonderful, and really spooky in an old-school way, really harkening back to traditional Halloween imagery. The following year, titled The Second Great Plague, was more overtly grotesque and creepy. Finally, 2012’s Geisterbahn was a jaw-dropping effort that really took things to a whole new level. Which of these haunts is ultimately your favorite? Which was the hardest to construct?  
A: The hardest to construct was absolutely Geisterbahn (German for Ghost Train. No real relevance - I just liked the word.). I found out early last year that I wouldn’t be able to do my haunt in the shop window from 2013 onwards, and decided to go off with a bang. I pretty much dedicated all my time, money and energy to making it as good as it could be and became absolutely obsessed with getting every detail perfect, from water damage on the giant wall panels to seatbelts on the cart.
It’s hard to say what my overall favorite is. I really like the way 2011’s haunt turned out, but Geisterbahn is my blood, sweat and tears. I’ll have to give that one a few more years to provide a balanced answer.

Q: Every April, you construct a haunt called “The Backs”. Care to tell us all more about it?
A: ‘The Backs’ was born in winter 2010. I was bored on a gloomy afternoon and took it upon myself to create a miniature haunt in the back garden using nothing but things from the shed and the ground around me. I made ‘blair witch totems’ and hung them from the tree, crude zombie hands from rotting gloves and spent hours ‘planting’ tiny dead shrubbery around the edges of the trail.

The next year I expanded the trail and decided to make it an annual tradition. I set up ‘The Backs’ every year on the 30th of April – precisely halfway between one Halloween and the next. Since April here is in Autumn (and October in Spring!), I decided to embrace the season and stick to the stripped-back, rustic theme. It feels almost like a second, private, Halloween. I’m not going to be able to do my window display on Halloween for the next few years – so I’ll be focusing a lot more on expanding ‘The Backs’ instead.

Q: Any future haunt concepts you care to share with us?
A: I’d really love to do a proper yard haunt. The garden in front of my house is cramped and awkward and not at all fit for a haunt. My ultimate haunt would probably involve a creepy, abandoned house. These places already have a reputation among neighborhood kids. On Halloween, I’d set up dozens of gruesome props – rotting corpses of trick-or-treaters tied to posts, posed on furniture, hanging from the house. Cracked masks and rotting pumpkins over their heads. Crude decorations and jack o’lanterns everywhere. And signs reading CANDY THIS WAY that point to the open door of the house. It’d look like the work of an exceptionally disturbed (and creative) serial killer. I guess that’s what I’ve tried to achieve, albeit on a smaller scale, with The Backs.

Q: You have a real passion for Ghost Trains (known in the US as Dark Rides). How did this interest come about? What is it about them you find so interesting?
A: I’d just like to put it out before I say any more – I have never been on a ghost train. My favorite book when I was little was ‘Come For A Ride On The Ghost Train’, in which the reader is literally taken for a ride on a Ghost Train. That was really all it took for me. There’s something about Ghost Trains that I find so fascinating – many things, actually. The gaudy neon signs, the tacky props, the flashing green lights and looping sound effects… not knowing what’s going to be around the next bend in the track. Perhaps my idea of a Ghost Train is vastly different from the real thing – completely fabricated and untainted.

Q: Apparently, you have a fondness for RL Stine’s Goosebumps books, and have created a Tumblr account showing your own pseudo-Goosebumps covers. Care to tell us more?
A: The Goosebumps books were a real inspiration for me as a crazy, horror-loving five-year-old. They were my proper introduction to horror, and I’d say I’m not the only person that feels this way. Goosebumps was already on its way out when I started reading them, so every book was a torn, stained, ancient tome, some of them with ghosts and monsters doodled onto the pages. I’m a huge nostalgia geek and am aiming to collect the whole series. When we finally got a copy of Adobe Photoshop I decided to turn my favorite horror movies into Goosebumps books. They turned out much better than I had expected (the key to their authenticity is a very carefully constructed template and the font ‘Futura’). I figured this is the sort of stuff the internet loves, and set up a Tumblr blog to showcase them ( And I was right – the blog has really taken off. I get requests from other users and each post has around 100-300 notes. It’s been pretty awesome.

Q: You’ve recently taken to directing short films, including a wonderful piece called “Skeletons”, and a tribute to The Evil Dead called “The Woods Themselves”. What was it like to be directing? Do you have any ambitions to join the film industry?
A: Making Skeletons was a blast. It was long and sometimes pretty frustrating but so rewarding. I’d say one of the best things about it was recording the music. I was terrified because I’d never done anything even remote musical but it turned out to be a lot of fun. The entire score is piano – sometimes reversed, sometimes slowed down, almost always drenched in reverb. ‘The Woods Themselves’ was quite different. I think it took about a week from start to finish, prop-making included, whereas Skeletons was the culmination of months of work. I’d love to get into the film industry – even just doing stupid jobs around the set. I had the awesome experience of acting in a proper short film when I was 10, and was completely fascinated by the whole thing.

Q: You seem to be a big fan of horror films. What would you say are some of your favorite horror flicks?
A: Huge fan. Always have been. And I’m constantly ranking and re-ranking my favorites – picking them apart to figure out which is better. At the moment my favorite would have to be The Shining. It’s such a consistently incredible film. I particularly love retro horror movies - that is, modern horror in the style of old horror (The House of the Devil, Beyond The Black Rainbow and Berberian Sound Studio) - and the recent slew of awesome French horror movies (especially Martyrs and Livide). So much of whether I like a movie of not is determined by its ‘look and feel’.  For me, music, visuals, colors and cinematography are so much more important than plot, characters or actual scariness. I’m easy to please in that regard – give me a foggy graveyard or a surreal dream sequence and I couldn’t be happier.

Q: What is your favorite Halloween memory?
A: That’s a tough one seeing as most of my Halloween-related memories didn’t take place on Halloween at all (which has always been a somewhat anti-climactic affair over here). I’ve got one that stands out from 2009. It was Halloween and also the day of my ex-primary-school’s fair. Not long after arriving with my friends, I spotted an attraction that hadn’t been there before – The Haunted Shed. At this point I was already into prop-making and perfectly familiar with haunts of every size, though I’d never actually seen one in the flesh. The makers (some fantastically enthusiastic parents) were applying the final touches before opening, and I kept sneaking glances into the converted PE shed. I was the first customer, and can report that it was all I had hoped for. Mutilated dolls nailed to walls of black plastic sheeting, sound-effect laden organ music, blacklights and fog machines... I went in for a second round immediately and then spent the rest of the day working in there myself, scaring the life out of unsuspecting students and concerned parents. In short, it was amazing.

Q: What do you do when you’re not working on something Haunt or Halloween related?
A: I watch an awful  lot of horror movies. I’ve been writing short reviews of every film I’ve watch since this time last year – I’m filling up a converted Goosebumps book (appropriately titled ‘You Can’t Scare Me!’). I listen to a lot of music too, mostly from Iceland. I find it hard to believe there’s so much incredible music coming from a country with the same population as the city of Wellington - Sigur Rós, Jónsi, Sin Fang, Pascal Pinon, Of Monsters And Men, Sóley… but I may be getting off topic now. This year’s been kinda weird because I’ve been completely unable to find the time or energy to do nearly any form of prop-making. But I can’t figure out what I’ve been doing instead. Probably sitting in my room, listening intently to ‘Valtari’, putting off homework and wallowing in teenage angst… or something along those lines.

Q: I know that you have said you won’t be doing an October haunt for the next few years; what do you think you’ll be doing to fill up that time and how do you think you’ll mark the day?
A: Not really sure at this point. As I’ve said earlier, I’ll definitely be doing ‘The Backs’ in April each year,  and what I post on Halloween may vary from year to year. To be honest, as of writing this interview (late August), I’ve only just figured out what I’m doing this year. And to clarify – it’s not going to be anything big. At all. But it felt wrong not to mark the day with and offering for the blog. It might even be posted by the time you’re reading this.

Q: What is it like to be a Haunter at such a young age? Are people surprised when they learn how old you are?
A: I guess so. I think it’s pretty much common knowledge for people who read and comment on my blog, so it’s more the folks on Hauntforum that are taken aback. I’d say a better question would be ‘are people surprised when they walk into your bedroom for the first time?’. I’ve become pretty secretive about my hobby over the past couple of years. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge horror fan and love all things spooky, but I tend to keep the whole paper-mache-corpses thing to myself. It’s only when new friends set foot in my bedroom that they truly realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.

Q: Every haunter has their influences, ranging from other haunters, to horror films and video games, sometimes even their own dreams. What are the things that inspire you the most?
A: I’m a huge fan of the work of Pumpkinrot and Stephen Gammell (who illustrated the ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ series). They’re almost one and the same to me – their works both share a very creepy organic element that I really love, and an almost melancholy feel. I’ve definitely stolen ideas from movies too, and not even good ones. More than anything, I like to draw on things that I loved from my childhood – Goosebumps, ghost trains, zombies… I feel like I’m constantly creating stuff that I’d wanted to as a crazy six-year-old but didn’t have the knowledge or skill to at the time. 2012’s Geisterbahn haunt seemed to have been swimming around in my head for ten years, so it was pretty cool to have that vision finally realized.

Q: I understand that there’s not much of a Halloween culture in New Zealand. Do you have plans of one day coming to the United States for Halloween?
A: No real plans, but I’d absolutely love to. Halloween in New Zealand is a bit sad - I think a lot of people here see it as an unnecessarily commercial and distasteful occasion, or as an American ‘invasion’. There’ve even been petitions to ban Halloween (and Guy Fawkes Day, which is also celebrated over here), as it’s not ‘culturally relevant’. I’d like to come over one day and get the full Halloween experience; burning leaves, picking pumpkins, eating actual candy corn... I’d probably stay for Christmas too.

Q: Finally, any advice to any aspiring Haunters or Artists who may read this interview?
A: Just go for it, really. Try new things. Sign up to one of the forums - it’s full of amazing experts and absolute beginners and generally awesome people. Set up a blog too -  it’s lots of fun and a great way to show your work to the world. And don’t be afraid to slow down for a while if you think you’ve worn yourself out.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

13 Days of Halloween: Halloween Playlist

Well, here it is, Specters – glorious October at last! In the most sinister year of 2013, no less! As promised, I am here to kick-off the 13 Days of Halloween! And for my first entry, I proudly present my playlist of Halloween music. Inspired by Pumpkinrot and his Dark Ambient playlists, I had tried previously to create a playlist to capture feeling of Halloween, but without much success. Now, after much careful editing and re-editing, I feel I have finally done it, having created a playlist with over twenty chilling tracks. I tried to use songs that were true to the Spirit of Halloween, but weren't cliches. Needless to say, you won’t find “Thriller” or “This is Halloween” on this playlist. But enough talk; on to the music. Click the haunted gramophone, and remember, this is designed to be listened to, not watched. Just hit "Play All", downscale the page, and let the season begin. Again, credit goes to Pumpkinrot for the initial inspiration. Enjoy!