Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

The great Tor Johnson wishes you a "Happy Halloween" on behalf of the Cryptic Corridor!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gary Larson's "Tales from the Far Side"

It's a crime that this isn't broadcast annually along with the other Halloween specials...

Tales from the Far Side originally aired on CBS in 1994.  As far as I know, this is the only time Gary Larson's comic was ever animated.  Larson's dark humor is on full display in vignettes such as a farmer resurrecting undead livestock, arthropods enjoying an in-flight movie (until things go horribly wrong), and zombies hanging out on a dude ranch.  The music is as weird as you would expect and the animation for the characters and creatures are spot-on.

Growing up, I was disappointed year after year to find that this special was rarely replayed.  Perhaps it wasn't kid-friendly enough to be played along with the Charlie Brown and Garfield specials for some reason?

Thankfully, my ever-loving grandma taped it on a VHS so I could enjoy it over and over again whenever.  You know I wore that thing out!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Famous Monsters Speak!

What a treat this must have been for the monster kids!!!  

"Famous Monster Speak" was an album released in 1963.  Advertised, appropriately enough, in the back of Famous Monsters magazine and other Warren publications this record delivered on its promise:  Allowing the listener to hear Frankenstein's Monster and Dracula talk!  

The album consisted of two stories - one on each side of the record - featuring each monster as the narrator.  Both stories are creatively framed by their own establishing plots.  For Frankenstein's Monster, a summit of scientists has gathered to listen to a "primitive recording device" which features the creature recounting his creation from his own perspective and his struggles against creator.  Meanwhile, Dracula's story is told when he summons a reporter to his lair to type up an expose' on his life as an immortal vampire.

I particularly enjoy the artwork for the album with iconic images of both the Monster and Dracula.  Inexplicably, the Wolf Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Mummy also share the spotlight despite not actually appearing on the record itself at all.  

Overall, this is good listen if you enjoy the old radio dramas.  The voice acting is spot-on.  Gabriel Dell supplied the voices of both the Monster and Dracula.  His portrayal of the Monster appropriately alternates between menacing and tragic, while his Dracula maintains a consistently sinister tone (and without imitating Lugosi!).  The sound effects also help to set a great atmosphere for both the framing narratives and the monsters telling their stories.  

Side 1 - Frankenstein

Side 2 - Dracula 

I'm always on the look out for a copy of this record as I scour the shelves and racks of flea markets flipping through vinyls.  Maybe one day I'll luck out and actually track one down. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pumpkin Carving by Ray Villafane

It wouldn't be Halloween without carving a few pumpkins, but artist Ray Villafane's pumpkin sculptures stand out among the patch.   Despite using this long-time Halloween favorite as his medium of choice, Villafane's creations are anything but traditional.  

Villafane's ghoulish gourds feature precise sculptural work and intricate detail.  Sometimes fascinatingly life-like and other times comically exaggerated, his unique jack-o-lantern characters are full of personality.  

Based in Arizona, Villafane was an art teacher for several years before leaving education to pursure a career of sculpting action figures and collectibles.  However, it was during his time in teaching that he discovered his sculpting skills led to a unique talent and passion for carving pumpkins.  For years Villafane carved and sold pumpkins to parents of students before posting photos of his creations on the Internet to wide acclaim and thereby inadvertently creating a second career for himself.  He began carving pumpkins on commission for special events and then it wasn't long before he was invited to show-off his talents on television shows.  He eventually created his own staffed studio and even created a website dedicated to teaching others his method of pumpkin carving.

Villafane's methods are just as interesting as his creations.  He discards the normal pumpkin carving tools in favor of implements normally used in sculpting clay.  He usually doesn't usually bother with cutting open and gutting his pumpkins, instead focusing the outermost layer, carving the outer skin.  This method has its own special challenges.  If he carves too deep he will break into the center.  Thus, pumpkins with thicker skin and "meat" are typically selected.  Another challenge is one much more familiar to most amateur pumpkin carvers.  It isn't long before decay sets in and the pumpkin begins to shrivel.  Villafane uses this pressure to his advantage as a source of inspiration.

During other seasons Villafane turns to other mediums including snow and sand with similarly breathtaking results.  But each year as Halloween nears he returns once again to the pumpkins.

Check out some of Villafane's amazing work below...

Monday, October 26, 2015

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"I'm in Love with Dracula's Daugther"

As I was looking for some monster-themed surf rock music for this year's Halloween display (and, honestly, year-round enjoyment) I stumbled on this surprisingly catchy tune by a guy called Screaming Lord Sutch!

It turns out Sutch had an interesting life story, including rock n' roll, dressing up as Jack the Ripper,  and *shudder* politics.

Screaming Lord Sutch!
I'm not sure if the song is inspired by the Universal film, "Dracula's Daughter" or not, but I couldn't resist sharing some brilliant poster artwork for that movie as a header.  "Dracula's Daughter" is an interesting film for a number of reasons, but I'll save that story for another post I think...

In the meantime, enjoy the song...  It'll be stuck in your head for days!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Goosebumps Cover Gallery

Growing up in the 90's I was always on the look out for something to scare myself silly with.  My parents made sure that the R-rated horror movies my friends always bragged about watching weren't an option.  So aside from the truly terrifying Scary Stories series (which I've posted about just a few times) in the school library, I had to get my fill for chills from another collection of horror-themed books:  Goosebumps!

With a movie based on the books in theaters now (which I'm not totally sure about) and with Halloween on the horizon, I thought that this would be a good a time as any to revisit the series.

At the forefront of my memory, I'll never forget the joy of book orders in elementary school...  But it wasn't until R.L. Stine's Goosebumps series hit those colorful newspaper-like pages of the monthly Scholastic ads that I was thoroughly, hopelessly addicted.  Each month in the early 90's I would eagerly await the new ad and scour its pages for the latest Goosebumps book. Though it didn't usually take much scouring...  The books were usually plastered across the front page in a prime location.

The first Goosebumps book I convinced my mom that I needed was "The Haunted Mask".  I distinctly remember that awesome monster face looking back at me from the Scholastic ad and knowing instantaneously that I had to read this book!  Actually, come to think of it, this book is probably the one that presented terrifying, nightmare-inducing scenario for me...  The girl in the story purchases this mask that latches on to her face and controls her actions, turning her into a literal monster, forcing her to do its will.  I'm not sure what I found more disconcerting about that mental image: the idea of a Halloween mask gripping tightly, catastrophically onto my face or the concept of something else having control of you as you watch, helpless to stop it...  Legitimately scary stuff to do this day!

For an elementary student, the books were sufficiently satisfying.  Looking back, I don't recall any of the other books keeping me up at night...  Well, aside from my feverishly reading chapter after chapter in the old bunk bed just so I could convince my parents to purchase the next book that would inevitably come out the following month and feed my obsession.  I can't remember how many of those books my parents ended up buying for me (but I definitely have some regrets over getting rid of them).

Let's take just a moment to appreciate R.L. Stine as a hardcore writing machine.  While his work probably won't ever garnish any literary accolades, the man has an imagination and he put it to work!  He literally churned out a book or more per month for years and managed to keep kids like me coming back for more.  In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Goosebumps series holds the title of the "largest selling children's series in history".  Ultimately, the series would go on to include around 100 books, not including spin-off series such as Goosebumps 2000 and a "Choose Your Own Adventure" style collection.  Additionally, the rabid popularity spawned a television series,  and generated a ton of revenue thanks to merchandising.

Of course, if I'm being totally honest, it was usually the quintessential cover artwork that I obsessed and drooled over.  The task of creating the covers for Stine's books fell to artist Tim Jacobus, who produced artwork for the books for over a decade.  Jacobus once stated that he only met Stine on a few occasions and that usually the extent of their collaboration boiled down to Jacobus being supplied with a brief synopsis of a particular book's plot by Scholastic and being left to his own devices to create an eye-catching cover...  And, boy, did he ever succeed!

Jacobus was able time and again to paint striking images that allured potential readers.  Over time, his realistic depictions eventually gave way to stylized and exaggerated features typically enhanced with stunningly vibrant colors.

He always managed to select a memorable moment from a given book and develop an equally memorable piece of artwork that demanded attention.  Only occasionally did Jacobus miss the mark...  One such incident involved the book "Say Cheese and Die!" in which the artist created a scene that wasn't actually detailed in the book.  Apparently Stine had to go back and create a dream sequence before the book was published to keep from disappointed fans of the series!

Regardless of any missteps along the way (and increasingly outrageous concepts developed by Stine), Jacobus' artwork remains synonymous with the series and the artist deserves as much credit for Goosebumps' success as the author.

Take a walk with me down a spooky memory lane and enjoy some of my favorite cover artwork from the series...