Thursday, October 30, 2014

Vintage Halloween Costumes

The Halloween costumes of yesteryear are so much creepier than any you're likely to see tomorrow night!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House

My sister and I used to beg our mother to let us listen to her record player.  She has a great collection of classic rock albums...  My parents have great taste in music!  

However, inevitably, the record we always ended up giving a spin was Disney's Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House.  Of course we had to turn out the lights to set the proper mood.  Then we would sit there in the dark listening to the spooky noises until the record stopped (which, to me, was always the most terrifying sound!).

Released in 1963, this album consists primarily of sound effects apparently drawn from Disney's archives.  Many of the ghostly groans and screams are recognizable from their library of classic movies and cartoons such as 1937's Mickey Mouse cartoon The Lonesome Ghosts.  As far as I can tell, this record is in no way associated with Disney Land's Haunted Mansion ride, aside from the fact the album artwork was created by that attraction's concept designer, Paul Wenzel.

Side A of the record is broken into narrated segments that incorporate the various sound effects.  Oddly enough, these have very little to do with the "haunted house" theme, aside from the opening track.  For example, the remainder of the album includes sounds of a lumberjack chopping down a tree and subsequently being crushed, an explosive fuse being lit, someone crossing a rickety bridge, Chinese water torture, and a UFO landing.  The creepiest tracks are probably the sounds of a pack of wild dogs and a Hitchcokian flock of killer birds.  Side B consists of many of the same sound effects without the narration.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Life and Death of a Pumpkin

We just had our annual BYOP (Bring Your Own Pumpkin) party at our house.  This event basically consists of a bunch of friends and family getting together to carve pumpkins and have some Halloween fun.

But the smile of a Jack O' Lantern belies an unspeakable plight of horror we are not aware of...

This is a great short film was created by Aaron Yonda and Matt Sloan of Blame Society Films.  It has become sort of a tradition to watch it this time of year, especially before or after our BYOP event!  

A fun memory:  Several years ago I taught 8th grade Writing and Language Arts.  Around Halloween I presented a unit on scary stories.  Along with sharing some of the traditional folk tales and the classic Poe stories, I thought it would be cool to let the class watch this video to get the creative juices flowing.  However - to make things interesting - I played only the audio for them at first.  In the dark. Leaving out the beginning "Hello, I am a pumpkin," narration.  

The kids were freaking out.  

"Should we be listening to this at school?"  

"This is messed up!"  

I actually had a few girls come close to getting ill. They were for certain that they were hearing the narrator describing what sounded like the torture and murder of another human being!  Only after letting the class listen to the audio only did I actually show them the video in its entirety.  They found the humor in my little trick.

Yup.  To think they actually trust me with molding young minds...

Friday, October 24, 2014

Halloween Update: Hagatha Christie

It's been a while since I posted an update on my Halloween projects, but I promise you I haven't been sitting on my thumbs.  Above is a picture I took of the front porch during the last Full Moon which turned out looking very spooky I think.

I'm sorry to say that pretty much all I've gotten set up for my front yard display so far is some spiderwebs, the Grim Reaper you can't really make out in the picture, and - one of my favorite new purchases - a 5 foot tall poseable skeleton.

This thing is a hoot!  
I would put out more, but the weather has been very rainy here lately.  I'd hate for any of my props to get ruined, so I've got them set up all around the inside of the house, much to my wife's delight!  Actually, she doesn't mind.  She's awesome that way.

The real reason for this post, however, is to present my newest prop:  an animatronic cauldron-stirring witch I call Hagatha Christie!

Hagatha is the by far the most complicated prop that I've attempted so far.  She was made using PVC pipe and chicken wire, like my other props.  The mask I used, called Bruja in most online stores, was made by Ghoulish Productions.

Unlike my other props, Hagatha is animated, which required a lot of help from one of my friends who is much more mechanically inclined that I. I'll attempt to explain our process:  We mounted a windshield wiper motor to a wooden base placed inside the cauldron and connected a metal attachment to the motor for the witch's staff to rest upon.  As the motor turns the the attachment the witch's staff moves as if it is stirring the cauldron.  The top arm is stationary and merely holds onto the staff as the lower arm marionette-like and moves along with the staff, which completes the effect marvelously.  I wish I could take the credit for the genius behind this prop's design, but sadly, I cannot.  This type of prop is called a "cauldron creep" and you can find more detailed instructions here.

Once the animation mechanism was complete I had some more help, this time from my aunt who assisted me in tracking down fabric that matched the hood on the witch mask.  She also helped me make a robe for the witch to cover the up the PVC pipe and chicken wire armature.  

The completed prop looks much, much better at night...

The coals beneath the cauldron were made using Great Stuff spray foam insulation which adhered itself to a chicken wire frame attached to a wooden stand the cauldron rests on.  I painted the foam black and wired some flickering Christmas lights underneath to get a burning effect.  It looks great at night (although not such much during the day).

Inside the cauldron is a small fog machine hooked up to timer that allows the fog to spurt out at a regular interval, making it appear as if the contents are steaming.  A color changing LED spotlight illuminates the witch from below.  With her eyes looking directly at you as she stirs the cauldron, it's kind of unnerving and very creepy.

After spending so much time working to complete Hagatha, I'm not sure whether or not I will be able to complete the last prop I planned on building this year.  Even if I don't I'm pretty pleased with what I've done so far.  The trick-or-treaters are going to love it I think!

Halloween is almost a week away...

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Art of Mike Mignola

"I don't know . . . I just like to draw monsters."
- Mike Mignola

Mike Mignola is one of the most talented artist working in comic books today.  His distinctive style is instantly-recognizable and - I know I toss this word around a lot, but bear with me here - iconic.

The enigmatic Alan Moore once described Mignola's style as a combination of German Expressionism and the work of classic comic book artist Jack Kirby.  This is probably the most accurate description you will find to encapsulate the essence of Mignola's illustrations.  His work consist of somber Gothic masterpieces that delicately balance light and shadow as well as pure adrenaline-fueled, comic-booky goodness that bound off the page to knock your teeth out...  And sometimes it is both simultaneously!  It's a juxtaposed balancing act that shouldn't work, but Mignola is able to do it consistently with relative ease.

Mignola at work
Starting his career in comic books in the 80's, Mignola soon found himself doing illustration work for the "big two" publishers, Marvel and DC.  Throughout the early 90's he stayed very busy, drawing back-up stories, covers, and the occasional one-shot.

In addition to comic book work, Mignola also provided concept illustration for films such as Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula and television shows including Batman: The Animated Series.

Mignola's design for Batman villain Mr. Freeze would be featured in Batman: The Animated Series

In spite of this steady stream of work, Mignola did not feel satisfied.  Seeking a new challenge he decided to try to create his own original character.  The result was Hellboy.  Printed by Dark Horse Comics, Hellboy was a combination of all the things that Mignola enjoyed drawing:  Monsters, Victorian and Gothic architecture, and more monsters.

Not long after the first series was published Mignola became the sole writer for the series enabling him to craft tales that drew from his passion for ghost stories, folklore, and fairy tales.  Within a decade the Hellboy series was successful enough to spawn a collection of spin-off titles and even two feature films.  This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Hellboy character and (in spite of a hiatus every once in a while) Mignola is showing no signs of slowing down.

There you go.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Zombie Walk

My hometown hosted their 4th annual zombie walk event last night.  Despite the rain and cold, I couldn't resist the urge to participate! *

Every time I get involved with a zombie walk I am surprised by the amount of people that turn out to dress up like the undead.  It's so weird considering that just 15 years ago something like this would have been considered disturbing and taboo to most (You like ZOMBIES?!?  There must be something WRONG with you!!!).

Today, zombie walks are apparently considered "fun for the whole family" with everyone from toddlers to little old ladies participating!  You wouldn't believe the number of children that are totally unafraid to approach you when you're dressed as a monster.  I had so many kids wanting to have their picture taken with me, I might as well have been wearing a fat suit and a big white beard!

* Yes, that's me in the picture...  Zombie walks are especially convenient for me seeing that no special preparations are required.  I need only show up!

The Creaking Door - "The Hitchhiking Corpse"

"Good evening friends of the Creaking Door, this is your host, inviting you into the Inner Sanctum..."

I'm posting another spooky episode the Creaking Door.  This story features a delivery man finding himself under the spell of an enigmatic hitchhiker with a morbid prophecy that could seal his fate...

As always, dim the lights and enjoy!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Monster Magazine Ads

During the late 50's and up into the early 70's, it must have been a great time to be a fan of monsters!

At this time a subculture centered around the science fiction and horror genres captured the imagination of adolescents across the United States.  While it is difficult to pinpoint what exactly set off such rabid fandom, two contributing factors have their place at the epicenter:  "Shock Theater" and "Famous Monsters of Filmland".

"Shock Theater" was a package of over 50 classic Universal horror films distributed to television networks for syndication in 1957.  Airing during the late night hours on the weekends, local television would broadcast movies such as Dracula and Frankenstein.  Such programs were typically presented by flamboyantly spooky "horror hosts" such as Vampira and Zacherly.  Later film packages that further stoked the flames included "Son of Shock" and "Creature Features".

Coinciding with this resurgence in the interest in horror movies and the like was Forrest J. Ackerman's fan magazine "Famous Monsters of Filmland".  First printed in 1958, this publication consisted of articles about the "sci-fi" (Ackerman is credited with creating this term) and horror films old and new.  Interviews with filmmakers and special effects wizards gave many their first exposure to what goes on "behind the scenes" of their film fantasies.  The magazine was also unique in its devotion to its readership.  Famous Monsters would regularly feature fan-made artwork, movies, costumes, and other creations.


I'd better stop myself here to keep from writing an in-depth history lesson on the Monster Kid phenomenon  (although I think I'd like to do just that some time in the future), and revert back to the original topic I set out to present...

Seeking to further capitalize on this craze for all things monster, companies rushed to flood the market with monster and horror-related merchandise including masks, model kits, vinyl records, and other products. Primarily designed to appeal to juveniles, the back pages of these magazines such as "Famous Monsters" were filled with advertisements seeking to deprive young monster lovers of their hard-earned paper route and allowance money.