SPIRIT HALLOWEEN STINKS - A Subjective Commentary

 Spirit Halloween stinks. Always has. And just to be safe, I'll very quickly explain to anyone who's not been to one or not heard of it: Spirit is a "seasonal" retail chain of Halloween costumes, decor, etc. that manages to move into vacant store locations large enough to accommodate their inventory, and then close up shop shortly after the holiday.

What is pleasant about the place is that its very existence has become a familiar cue to welcome in the festivities - the same way that bitter cold and influenza are inseparable from Valentine's Day; it sucks, but you'd be sad without it. 

I hyperbolize -- I mean, it is lovely to have an entire store dedicated to licensed Horror movie merchandise (even if it is only mainstream, original flavor-stuff). And if I didn't know any better (except that I do), it is, by definition, the exact kinda retail establishment that I could only fantasize about as a child. I've briefly discussed my powerful lust and fascination for Mario's Magic Shop that appears in Pee-wee's Big Adventure (and every other "magic shop" in any other movie or show I've ever seen), and like an agnostic addict in recovery, I couldn't be certain that such a magnificent thing could ever exist in this universe, but I had to believe it did in order to carry on. And incidentally, in my late teens, I discovered that such a place did exist - and it was in the next town over from where I'd lived.

I wasn't sure how long Halloween Costume World in Fitchburg, MA had been open before I'd caught wind of it, but its product line had clearly been accumulating for decades. An honest-to-god K-mart of masks, makeup, props, toys, wardrobe, decorations, and then more masks, the whole thing was just way more everything than I was able to imagine. And apart from the seasonal "Haunted Mansion" wing in the back, the store was open year-round -- which most likely was a key factor in its eventual bankruptcy and closure in 2014, and a definite factor in my bitterness toward the hypocrisy of supposed "Fall fans" and "Halloween junkies" who bitch all Summer long that they can't wait for colored leaves and Hocus Pocus, but not enough to support a mom-and-pop spooky boutique that deserved more business than Amazon and Etsy combined. I don't care where you're from - you should've gone.

I, on the other hand, shopped it like a grocery store - particularly during college when various low-budget productions called for zombie bite marks or Civil War costumes. But necessity aside, if you decorate your home the way I do, then this was your blood-soaked Ikea.

I wish we had more visual aids, but you can smell the ambience in some of our past photography, posted here and here... and here.

So yes, I was spoiled - Halloween Costume World ruined me for all other costume shops, and all present and future lovers will live in its shadow - which looks like it's pretty much gonna be Spirit until the end of time -- leeching off of dead hosts while they themselves impervious to death. And yeah, we'll go there every year, because like every other terrestrial store you can physically walk into, your "choices" are fuck or walk, and man, we're only human: so what if the merch is lame and the masks are rubbish and the overall mood of the "store" can best be described as a "Going-Out-Of-Business" motif? But you can still be playful and clever and work with that: the fluorescent lighting and yellow linoleum and the entire ramshackle traveling circus plan-o-gram they got going on could be some kinda front for an Are You Afraid of the Dark-type premise where children are kidnapped and forced to pose as all the animatronic lawn ornaments that never sell, and then they're just packed away until next year.

- Paul

p.s. if you don't know how it is, here's a bit of Spirit Halloween for ya:



The Exorcist -- Probable, not certain
As a fan (and I'm sure there are a few others), it would be a delight to go on & on about this movie - not just to gush, but to analyze, debate, reminisce, critique -- as this film demands a viewer to do. And while I typically consider it a hindrance to only talk about one scene, in this case it actually works to my advantage.
Allow me to continue... I first saw the movie on TV - with commercial interruption and edited for content (though the edits were mercifully sparse) - when I was 9 years old. Now, I needn't describe all the scary scenes from the scariest movie of all time that scared me -- but it scared me. And it was noticeable to me even then (probably because it's not that hard to miss) that the explicitly "scary parts" were so scary, that the quieter, dialogue-driven scenes were so heavy with an unbearable tension and anticipation for the next gratuitous outburst that they became the scary scenes. The movie is relentless in that way; and that's its genius: pacing.

Which brings us to That Moment - between Chris (Ellen Burstyn) and Kinderman (Lee J. Cobb) - which falls a little past the halfway mark of the movie. I was always aware of its pertinence - particularly because it's their only real scene together - but for years (decades, actually) I always thought of it as the weak point of the film. And the only reason I thought this was because I was predictably being too technical; I stubbornly insisted that the scene was structurally out of place, and that it arrived right at a moment when we didn't want a bunch of exposition, and that we were ready to move onto bigger stuff. But the funny thing that happened was that I'd focused so much of my attention on this part for so long that I began to think of it often and accidentally ended up knowing it by heart. And so, what I've determined just within the past few years, is that it's my favorite scene in the picture.

One of my biggest turn-ons is when a movie manages to finesse an expository moment into something that not only feels natural, but engrossing. Perhaps I was not perceptive enough to notice that not only does this scene accomplish that, but possibly does it better than any other scene in any other movie ever. The rhythms and language Kinderman uses to more-or-less break the news to Chris that her own daughter most likely killed Burke Dennings is so hauntingly casual that it seems insensitive -- because you know he's right! And he discloses just enough details to place you at the scene, so you can kind of imagine what bizarre, terrifying altercation transpired that night. 

But that's still not the best part - it just sets us up for it. For the remainder of the scene, Chris not only has to confront the reality of these terrible truths, but she must also mask her reactions to them. And for all of Kinderman's skillful sleuthing, he appears to be none the wiser - so little so that, before he leaves, he sheepishly asks for Chris's autograph, and can't help but enthuse over a film of hers that he admires. And really, it's That Moment that defines the scene; two magnificent performances, each with their own agenda, drawing from different emotions while simultaneously trying to hide these emotions. And really it's only for these few seconds are we able to forget the tragic nightmare upstairs - which was quite the artful trick, as the scene that immediately follows is one of the most shocking and intense events in the history of Cinema.

- Paul




 If I may be so punny: there's a lot to unpack here. I mean, if it were just you & I right now, we'd just talk about the cards. Except, this particular subject matter has a bit of depth and controversy, so the guy sitting next to you is gonna want more than nostalgic musings and old bubblegum cards. And so, for that guy, let's get a little highbrow. 

 To a child (and probably to adults as well), the further you get away from history, the more it begins to take on the vibe of fiction. You can read about something or watch a program about something, but there's a disconnect that's forged when facts are prepared and served at the same temperature as "entertainment," and it's up to you to determine how much emotional distance you're comfortable with between yourself and various hard truths. 

That's one group of folks. Another crowd is more-than-happy to invest their hearts & minds in the tragedies and triumphs of the past - that's the whole draw for them. For someone who doesn't get it, they typically fall back on the old phrase that they invented: "morbid curiosity." But to the initiated (like you & me) we understand a healthy fascination with human nature and all of its... idiosyncrasies.

Then, to a 9-year-old (like I was), they just like pretty pictures. Which finally (thank fucking god!) brings us to **drum roll** True Crime, Series 2: Serial Killers & Mass Murderers, released in 1992 by Eclipse.

Series One - titled G-Men & Gangsters - is nearly just as cool: to me it was like a hyper-realistic Dick Tracy (which, obviously, is not far from the truth). Dealing exclusively with Organized Crime in the early 20th century, the first half of the set was the "cleaner" story (even when it got real dirty). But the second half - full of cult leaders, psychotic loners, and sexual deviants - is when it got scary and gross. Y'know, for kids!

To the best of my knowledge, these cards were popular. So popular, in fact, that they were parodied in Addams Family Values

Of course, popularity is dangerous; the predictable outrage from the squares (and, understandably, the victims) only made the cards more sought-after. In a liberal approach, my parents went ahead and further educated me with their peculiarly vast knowledge of society's villains - which only intensified my interest (and repugnance).

Each "killer" card came with an extremely dense bio on the back, graphically detailing their crimes, their childhood, whether or not they were caught, etc. But to be totally honest, at the tender age of 9, that was all subtext. The whole reason for collecting them, loving them, and writing about them today is the staggering artwork by Jon Bright. Some of the cards depicted crime scenes or general abstractions, but they were largely striking, ghostly, oil portraits of each respective perpetrator, complete with the prescribed splatter of blood alongside the border. As a child, so as it is today, this whole aesthetic (and the subject matter in which it's rooted) is mashed potatoes & gravy for me. I wouldn't have been able to defend it at the time, but my "questionable" absorption of serial killers came from an (almost) entirely artistic appreciation standpoint. I mean, to be fair, the gruesome details behind each menacing mug was attractive in an exploitative way (and anything having to do with history - however small-scale - was gold to me). But in the end, the cards were just neat-looking.

There were 110 cards in this Second Series: a lotta famous faces, but even more obscure ones. And while I'd love to educate you all on some lesser-known atrocities, these 4 superstars easily received the coolest-looking artwork in the set -- so much so that, to this day, whenever I come across these notorious names, these are the images I think of.

- Paul


"John Wayne Gacy" (#67)

John Wayne Gacy was my gateway drug to this entire branch of bizarre knowledge. The very same year these cards were released, the two-part miniseries To Catch a Killer aired on Fox, with Brian Dennehy as Gacy. So the movie and the cards certainly set me up with the context, but this image - repurposed from the most famous photograph of him - was the irresistible brand logo. And that goes to show you how chillingly effective his methods were; he definitely convinced this little kid that he was more cool than scary.
"Charles Manson" (#71)
As you can imagine, it's very difficult for a child to wrap their mind around exactly what Manson was about. "So, how many people did he kill?" But again, between these cards and my folks (along with their copy of "The White Album," The Bible, and Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter), I was confronted with a narrative that beat the shit out of any Growing Pains storyline.
"The Zodiac Killer" (#83)

If anything can make a case for how absolutely fucking spot-on this artwork is, just take a look at how seamlessly the Zodiac's handwriting marries into this image; it's as though he sent along a self portrait with one of his letters. And of course, the biggest draw for me (as it famously was for so many others) was the idea of a nameless, faceless bad guy.
"Jack The Ripper" (#101)
Speaking of faceless killers... Also, you gotta remember what a huge deal Unsolved Mysteries was around this time - so this depiction would just trigger the theme song in my head. This was also a case where there had been a miniseries a few years prior starring Michael Caine, so I was already hip to the spookiness of it. Still though, no movie or verbose descriptions could adequately depict the real life horrors of the crimes the way this shadowy nightmare does.



Awwwww yeeeaaaah! What a most excellent excuse to do what we're about to do -- and you get a slight advantage because we're giving you the genre.

That's right, it's Name That HORROR Movie!

No one particularly nailed the last set; it was a bit of a group effort with some disagreements. Those answers are posted in their comments... But who cares? We're all about the Spooky Pussy now! And to reiterate what is painfully obvious: all of the following stills are taken from scary movies, and so long as it rubs the lotion on its skin, we don't see any reason to not do a whole 'nother set before season's end.

So here is a fair & adequate test of your Monster Movie memory; no obscure trivia or discriminating tastes - just look and tell us what you see.

...The response please, Damien!





(HORROR) Movies You May Have Missed

Vamp (1986)
More of a comedy that runs a bit long. Come for the insane cinematography, stay for Billy Drago and Dedee Pfeiffer.

Bloody Moon (1981)
Jess Franco's journey into the mainstream Slasher genre - a predictable amount of boobs and a surprising amount of buzzsaw.

Evil Toons (1992)
Live-action sorority babes are terrorized by a demonic cartoon wolf. Not as perfect as it sounds, but the effort is charming.

Little Witches (1996)
A fan of The Craft but you wish it had an excessive amount of nudity? Boy, have we got a movie for you!

Needful Things (1993)
People typically seem to be satisfied with the campier King adaptations. But if you're ever in the mood for one of the very few better-made ones, here ya go.

Shock 'em Dead (1991)
A nerd sells his soul to Satan to become a Heavy Metal guitar god. You don't see that premise much anymore.

The Initiation (1984)
Kinda run-of-the-mill "guess who the killer is." But the entire third act takes place in an empty mall - and that's important Cinema.

Cheerleader Camp (1988)
A killer runs amok in a camp full of "teens." Yeah yeah, we know - but it's got cheerleaders. And Leif Garrett!
aka Bloody Pom Poms

It's Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)
Parts 1 & 2 move about as fast as molasses, whereas this one speeds right along with the help of sharp dialogue and questionable (but fascinating) FX.

Beyond the Door (1974)
The strength of The Exorcist is that it's grounded in realism. Take that off, and you're in for some weird-scary fun.

Cutting Class (1989)
You can approach this as a novelty for the young Brad Pitt performance, but you'll still leave pleasantly surprised with the semi-serious/semi-hilarious mystery that unfolds before you. And Jill Schoelen.

Castle Freak (1995)
Stuart Gordon, Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs take us to a castle that is secretly inhabited by a freak. For whatever you're thinking, it gets darker and grosser than that.

Slugs (1988)
Director Juan Piquer Simón (Pod People) commands a race of mutant slugs for our viewing pleasure. For whatever you're thinking, it gets darker and grosser than that.

The Mangler (1995)
Most folks thought that a Hooper/King/Englund collab woulda resulted in a "different movie." Frankly, we got exactly what we wanted & needed.

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
Zombie films are very rarely cohesive (or even coherent) enough to get involved in a "plot." Not the case with this one, which manages to be gross and engrossing.
aka The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue

The Brain (1988)
A SciFi/Action/Horror/Comedy with a big enough script to actually give weight to all these attributes. Save this one for Christmas, though.

There's Nothing Out There (1991)
Competent "self-aware" exercise that predates Scream by several years, and is magnificently more effective and less irritating.

The Outing (1987)
There are big chunks of this movie that are pretty dry and silly - which only end up punctuating the surprisingly nasty gore FX that feel as though they're in another movie.
aka The Lamp

Breeders (1986)
This is easily the sleaziest and most barebones entry on this list; a 50s Drive-In Creature Feature updated for the 80s Home Video market, complete with nude aerobics, rubber monsters, and an alien hot tub filled with an indeterminate goo. You're welcome.

Party Line (1988)
More of a decent Police Procedural than Horror, it's an earlier exploration of the perils of "don't meet up with strangers." Still though, plenty of throat slashing, New Wave dancing, and incest. And Leif Garrett!


Bennett Media's SPOOKY PUSSY

Well it's noon, Summerfest is over. And so now, ghouls and ghoulettes, it's into the next celebration - and it is a wet-ass one.

If you're reading this, congratulations: you've made it to the Season of The Witch. (And so you may all commence with your "Don't forget to wear your masks" jokes.) We can't be certain just yet (even though we are) that the rules and restrictions of a traditional Halloween Night won't be compromised, but that shouldn't affect your festivities for the next six weeks. (You weren't going trick-or-treating anyway, so stfu.) But we don't let nobody tell us when to be happy - and we're plenty happy 'bout being here today to present to you Bennett Media's SPOOKY PUSSY! (But in Italian, it sounds much nicer.) Until the big day, we're doing nothing but scary stuff, so between here and Facebook, be sure to keep checking in for your fix of madness, macabre, and other m-words. And if you feel like spreading some joy during these trying times, make sure your friends & relatives get in on Spooky Pussy while the gettin's spooky.

Here's a preview of what's to come. And oh yeah, don't forget to wear your masks.

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