Creepy Classics Countdowns Past – #2 (2013)

Halloween season is almost here! The annual “Creepy Classics Countdown” (heavily influenced by James Rolfe’s Monster Madness) will be unfolding all October over at Brian Terrill Movie Night. Following up on yesterday’s “Countdown’s Past” post, here’s a compilation of the selections from my 2013 series. Kindly excuse the exorbitant length.

(Heheheheheheheh.)

#1: “(Hush, Hush, Hush) Here Comes the Bogeyman” [1932]

I’ve decided to put together another Creepy Classics Countdown. Like last year’s list, each day will feature brief blurbs on pieces of Halloween or horror-themed media. These posts will be considerably shorter than the remaining “Film Favorites” posts…but that should mean it will be easier for me to get them out on time.

In a departure from past holiday Countdowns, this list won’t feature solely musical numbers from film and television. Instead, I’ve compiled a macabre multimedia mashup: short stories, poems, audio recordings, feature films, and even commercials…all choice selections to make your October just a bit more spooktacular.

We kick off the month with “Hush, Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Bogeyman,” performed by British bandleader Henry Hall and his orchestra. Released the same year as Hall’s smash-hit “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic,” “Bogeyman” proved significantly less successful (even though “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” somehow manages to be the more sinister song of the two).

In “Here Comes the Bogeyman,” Hall advises his young listeners on how best to repel that notoriously enigmatic specter of the night, the bogeyman. He suggests announcing you have an army at your disposal, or making loud noises and emulating a loud and vicious animal. This latter tactic is also fairly good at repelling bears or potential employers.

My favorite line of the song comes when Hall asserts that once the bogeyman is sufficiently spooked, he will run away, because “he’ll think it’s Henry Hall.” Warbled in falsetto, this hardly sounds particularly menacing, but apparently Henry Hall fancied himself the Chuck Norris of his day.

As far as I’m concerned, the jury’s out until Chuck Norris faces a bogeyman.

Tidbits:
-“Here Comes the Bogeyman” has appeared in assorted spooky media, including the film Jeepers Creepers and the video game Bioshock 2.

´#2: The War of the Worlds radio broadcast [1938]

In 1938, the 23-year-old Orson Welles was a moderately successful actor, director and leader of a thespian troupe known as the Mercury Theatre. But that Halloween, Welles and his troupe engineered a broadcast which would rocket him to international stardom and lead to Welles’ being offered total creative control over what many critics still consider the greatest film ever made, 1941’s Citizen Kane.

On October 30th, Welles’ radio program, The Mercury Theatre On the Air, featured an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds…with a twist. The story was presented in the format of an ostensibly live news report, detailing the horrific events of the Martian invasion “in real time,” as though they are actually occurring. The broadcast begins as a “regularly scheduled” program of dance music performed by “Ramon Raquello and his Orchestra,” which is suddenly “interrupted” by a news broadcast from a nearby observatory. Astronomers at the observatory (one, a “Dr. Pierson,” played by Welles himself) announce that they have witnessed a string of explosions on Mars. After the announcement, “Ramon Raquello” returns, but not for long. Soon, a breaking report comes in from Grovers Mill, New Jersey, that a strange metal cylinder has crash-landed in a farmer’s field. A reporter relays the story as he watches a horrible, bulbous, and tentacled creature unscrew the top of the cylinder and emerge from within. Next, he describes a towering metal vehicle, a “tripod,” climbing out of the cylinder. The tripod suddenly focuses a lethal “heat ray” on the growing crowd of spectators, and as the onlookers burst into flame, we hear their horrified screams before the “on-scene” reporter cuts out.

As the broadcast continues, reports begin trickling in of similar cylinders plummeting to Earth all along the Eastern seaboard. The Martian invaders, armed with their heat rays and a deadly toxic gas, proceed to lay waste to America’s cities. A lone radio-man atop a New York skyscraper describes the approaching cloud of lethal mist as it blankets the city, finally nearing his location. Before he succumbs, the operator uses his last words to call out to any listeners still remaining: “Isn’t there anyone out there? Isn’t there…anyone?”

After a commercial break (and one of the few reassurances that the program is, in fact, fictional), the broadcast resumes in a drastically different style. In a more traditional narrative format, Welles (as Pierson) relates how he and others survived the aftermath of the invasion by hiding out in bunkers and the ruins of old buildings. Finally, he says, the Martians fell victim to a common strain of Earth bacteria, as the creatures lacked any kind of immunity to the disease.

The program ends with a disclaimer by Welles that the evening’s practical joke had all been in good fun, but by this point the damage was already done. Some audience members, many of whom switched over from the more-popular Chase & Sanborn Hour (featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his star dummy Charlie McCarthy) only tuned in partway through the War of the Worlds broadcast, and only listened long enough to hear the “horrific events” transpiring. These listeners missed the few sparse references to the fictional nature of the program, and took the reports of invasion as fact.

The next day, newspapers nationwide reported that Welles’ “hoax” had panicked the country, with thousands of people fleeing their homes, and some folks even attempting to kill themselves or their families to avoid the looming terror of Martian oppression. In recent years, the extent of this so-called “mass panic” has been widely debated. Most modern critics suspect that the papers of the day greatly exaggerated the scope of the broadcast’s impact on the nation. Nevertheless, whether or not it actually happened to the degree described in papers, the furor over the War of the Worlds broadcast became part of the American zeitgeist, and soon Hollywood was knocking on the door of Orson Welles, the unequivocally talented and entertaining young man who brought the nation to its knees in an hour one October night.

The War of the Worlds broke new ground in the realm of broadcast media. It recounts horrible, albeit fictional, events in the form of realistic, “eyewitness” testimony, and as such can be considered the first-ever horror mockumentary. The broadcast marks a turning point not only in radio, but in the horror genre more broadly. Now, horror could be brought into the home in such a realistic way as to play off the public’s latent fears of a more terrestrial invasion by Hitler and the increasingly-powerful Nazis. But as scary as the broadcast might get, just remember Welles’ disclaimer which closes the show:

“This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that The War of The Worlds has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be: The Mercury Theatre’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo! Starting now, we couldn’t soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night. . . so we did the best next thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C.B.S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn’t mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business. So goodbye everybody, and remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody’s there, that was no Martian…it’s Hallowe’en.”

#3: “There’s Good Boos Tonight” [1948]

As I originally drafted it, the list of links for this month almost exclusively featured media from the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. But never fear! To avoid a jarring jump from the 30s to the 70s, I’ve worked in at least one video each from the intervening decades.

Today’s selection is “There’s Good Boos Tonight,” a “Noveltoon” short which marks one of the earliest appearances of Casper the Friendly Ghost. In the first few minutes of the cartoon, Casper’s one-joke premise is made readily apparent: The friendly ghost travels around, attempting to befriend everyone he meets, but, because he is a ghost, humans and animals alike flee from him in terror.

Come to think of it, Casper isn’t very popular with the other ghosts either, as his aversion to scaring people causes his fellow spooks to spurn him. Therefore, the “friendly” ghost wanders the world, bereft of any friends, alive or otherwise.

Eventually, Casper is fortunate enough to come across a small fox, the one creature who (for some unexplained reason) isn’t mortified by his mere presence . Casper names the fox Ferdie, and all is well in the world…for about 30 seconds. Then a hunting party arrives and straight-up murders Ferdie. No, like, for real. Casper scares away the hunters, but not before Ferdie gets shot to death, and a weeping Casper buries the corpse of his cuddly little animal friend.

But hey, kids, everything is okay! Because Ferdie comes back as a ghost, and now he and Casper can be the best of friends for all eternity in their neverending un-death!

Subsequent Casper media tended to shy away from the issue of ghosts actually being deceased humans or animals (the creators realized, in hindsight, that Casper being a dead child was a bit morbid). However, I kinda wish the series had built on the end of this short.

In fact, in my mind it did. So remember kids: If Casper has trouble making friends, he simply MAKES them, by murdering them and then informing their spectral soul that they can never again live among the terrified mortals…so hey, why not befriend Casper? Hm? HM?

4: “Fright to the Finish” [1954]

Welcome to October 4th! Today’s entry comes from the 50s, and like yesterday’s it’s a cartoon short from Famous Studios. Famous Studios was the re-branded name of the Fleischer brothers’ animated studio, once Paramount bought the company and ousted the Fleischers. Those who have followed the Creepy Classic and Christmas Classic Countdowns of years past will be no strangers to Fleischer / Famous productions, as more than a few have cropped up on these lists previously. One nice thing about these shorts is that, since the Fleischer / Famous / whatever properties changed hands so many times, most of these shorts have lapsed into the public domain as one rights-holder or another neglected to renew their copyright. Thus, even though they feature copyrighted characters, you can find whole compilations of the Fleischer Popeye and Superman series on public domain DVD sets in just about any bargain bin.In fact, I considered using yesterday’s Casper short and today’s Popeye clip in the Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain Halloween special airing this month. In the end, I erred on the side of caution, lest the use of copyrighted characters should prove a sticky point with the studio muckity-mucks. But at least now I can share them here with you.

That said, here’s “Fright to the Finish,” a 1954 toon starring Popeye the Sailor-Man. In the clip, it’s Halloween, and bitter rivals Popeye and Bluto have gathered for a party at the home of mutual love interest Olive Oyl. As she reads about the seasonal terrors of spooks and “hobgoblins,” the two men each ponder how to eliminate the other and earn some “alone time” with Olive. Taking inspiration from Olive’s ghost-stories, Popeye and Bluto take turns perpetrating mock hauntings to “horrorize” Olive and each other.

So get to it! Enjoy your six-and-a-half minutes of spooky public domain fun! Count Gauntly himself wouldn’t have it any other way.

#5: Munster, Go Home! [1966] / Night of the Living Dead [1968]

Perhaps you’re wondering why today’s selection is a double-feature.
Well, here’s the scoop: With the abundance of clips I selected from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I was hard-pressed to pick just one from the 60s. So I picked one that’s a must-watch Halloween classic for me, and one that’s a bit more in the kitschy tradition of most Brian Terrill Movie Nights.
For those of you looking for something in the slightly obscure vein, we have Munster, Go Home! The first feature film to star television’s most monstrous family, it revolves around the Munsters unexpectedly inheriting a large English manor house. The branch of the Munster family native to England (who are normal humans, played by Terry-Thomas and Hermione Gingold) are sore at Herman and co. and envious of their windfall, and so set about devising ways to oust the “American Munsters” from their new home. Initially, the Brit cousins stage a haunting of the house, which only makes the monstrous Munsters feel right at home. Later, they challenge Herman to a drag race (the gentleman’s duel of the 60s), which he enters in Grandpa’s custom “DRAG-U-LA” racer, crafted from a casket. Will the British or the Americans prevail? Will Munster, indeed, Go Home?

As a bonus, here’s what I would link to if I absolutely had to pick just one piece of Halloweeny media from the 1960s. It’s George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, from 1968. I’ve already said pretty much all I have to say about this film in my “Film Favorites Countdown” – check out my full review at http://earnthis.net/brian-terrills-100-film-favorites-45-night-of-the-living-dead/

Basically, it’s the film that single-handedly invented the modern zombie genre, and changed the course of horror cinema forever. It also inspired (or at least heavily influenced) the institution of the MPAA ratings system, introduced later in 1968. Night of the Living Dead remains scary even today, with the stylistic use of black-and-white and the eerie music (borrowed from Teenagers from Outer Space) contributing significantly to the fear factor.

So if you have the stomach for scares (and a wee bit of gore), settle in for Romero’s pioneering zombie flick. I don’t consider October complete until I’ve watched this movie.

 #6: The Monster at the End of This Book [1971]

As we head into the 70s, our first selection is one almost too terrifying to talk about. I’m honestly shivering as I write this. It’s The Monster at the End of This Book: Starring Lovable, Furry Old Grover. The title is the best-selling Sesame Street book of all time, and consistently ranks on many critics’ lists of the best children’s books ever written. I’m willing to bet those critics were not children themselves when they first encountered this book.

Here’s the basics: The book opens with Grover addressing you, the reader, personally. Grover comes bearing a warning: he has learned that there is a monster waiting at the end of the book. Luckily, he has arrived in time to keep you from finishing the book and encountering the monster. All you need to do is close the book, put it down, and walk away.

Well, that’s good enough for me. As far as I’m concerned, Grover’s a pretty stand-up guy. For all the years I’ve known him, he’s never steered me wrong before. So when Grover helpfully advises me to steer clear of some enigmatic Hell-beast, I’m more than happy to oblige.

My parents, not so much.

As the reader turns the pages, Grover grows more and more frantic. He pleads, weeps, begs you to stop reading the book. Every page you turn brings you closer to the monster at The End. Faced with your illogical determination to proceed, Grover attempts to create obstacles in your way. He tries to tie and nail pages together, and finally erects a brick wall. But every obstacle falls to the whim of the foolish reader who fails to heed Grover’s warnings.

Finally, Grover concedes the inevitable. In your bottomless hubris, you have plowed through to the penultimate page in the book. One more flip of a page, and you will meet The Monster at the End of This Book.

Then (SPOILERS: Watch the video before reading if you prefer to have your mind blown)…

You are at the end. You and Grover. Wait…Grover’s a monster. That must mean…GROVER HIMSELF is the Monster at the End of This Book!

“See?” says an embarrassed Grover, attempting to save face. “I told you there was nothing to be afraid of.”

Now, I understand that the story can be seen as a valuable, meta-literary teaching tool introducing kids to the act of reading (and thinking about reading) books.

But it’s also one of the most traumatizing pieces of children’s literature I’ve encountered.

Why?

Because up until the “surprise” ending, Grover’s fear is real. This is a character that young children have learned to empathize with, and to accept in the role of teacher. When he’s FLIPPING OUT because of the looming threat of some unknown, Lovecraftian horror, we’re inclined to share his fear.

I was read this story a lot as a child. Even though I “knew” the book would play out the same every time, Grover’s increasingly anxious warnings always chilled me anew. Every read-through, I thought, “This is it. This is the moment when the real monster will be there. Not some cuddly Sesame Street monster wannabe. He’s been waiting, because he knows. He lures you into a false sense of security, with the fake reveal of Grover. But after seven iterations…eight, maybe nine…the real horror appears, and you’ll never be ready. It’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”: You’ve grown so complacent in ignoring Grover that when his cries are genuine, you won’t know…and there’ll be Hell to pay.”

So, to any parents out there, consider carefully before sharing this book with your child. Because as any great horror film-maker can attest, it’s not what we see that’s most terrifying, but the boundless and eldritch imaginings of our minds…the unknowable monsters waiting in the dark…in the distance…or At the End of This Book.

#7: The Groovie Goolies [1971-1972]

Beginning in the late 1960s, the market for animated television programs expanded considerably. Hanna-Barbera had had success for several years, even demonstrating that animated series could be competitive in prime-time. Now, networks wanted more animated daytime fare. And there to fill that gap with oodles of low-budget, low-tech cartoons was a company called Filmation. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Filmation churned out countless animated series, often exhibiting production values which make the looping backgrounds of the Flintstones seem state-of-the-art.

One of the most successful early Filmation series was The Archie Show, based on characters from the popular Archie Comics franchise. Produced in 1969, the show featured the adventures of Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead…as well as a few more obscure characters, including Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Yes, for those of you who may have only encountered the Melissa Joan Hart live action series, Sabrina originated in the pages of Archie Comics. Her first featured TV venture came in a 1970 spin-off of The Archie Show, Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies.

Just a year later, the Groovie Goolies would receive their own spin-off from the Sabrina series. The “Goolies” are a group of monsters consisting of the trifecta established in the Universal Studios horror flicks of the 30s and 40s: one vampire, one Frankenstein*, and one werewolf. Together, the ghouls (excuse me, “gools”) form a rock band, because that is what every group of cartoon characters did in the late 60s. Well, either that or solve mysteries. But usually both. The band-mates in question are Drac, the uptight vampire keyboardist, Frankie, the simple-minded xylophone player, and Wolfie, a hippie werewolf who plays the lyre. When the Goolies aren’t jamming out in their crypt…other bands are. Seriously, within the show itself there are at least four other monster rock bands featured, all occasional competitors of the Groovie Goolies. Talk about a saturated market.

Harking back to the imagery of the classic 30s and 40s Universal monster movies became big in the 70s (you’ll see another instance tomorrow), and hasn’t really died out since. Judging by the breadth of the “Supernatural Teen Romance” section at my local bookstore, vampires and werewolves aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. But, admittedly, you don’t see as many Frankensteins* anymore. I suppose such creatures have been superseded in the cultural imagination by zombies. Where’s the Twilight style romanticization of the Frankenstein myth? C’mon, ladies. Frankie needs love too.

*Yes, I know the DOCTOR is Frankenstein, and the monster is just “the monster.” But when you’re talking about droves of knockoff creatures copying the green skin, square head and neck-bolts of the Universal film, might as well just call ’em Frankensteins. And that’s all I have to say about that.

#8: General Mills’ Monster Cereals [1970s – Present]

 

So, remember how I said yesterday that milking the imagery of the classic Universal monster films started getting really big in the 70? Well, today’s entry is another example of that trend. After all, nothing goes better with milking than some cereal.
I’m sorry. It’s late.
In 1971, General Mills introduced Count Chocula and Franken Berry, cereals hawked by “super-sweet” versions of the two most iconic monsters of cinema history, Count Dracula and Frankenstein(‘s monster). It’s fitting that the two both made their Universal debuts in 1931, and then hit the breakfast aisle shelves together four decades later.
As with many breakfast cereals, the commercials for Monster Cereals boil down to a simple formula: All begin with the feuding Count Chocula and Franken Berry at one another’s throats, each attempting to convince the other of the superior nature of his respective cereal. Both morning-meal-monsters lay claim to the title of “the super-sweet cereal.” Count Chocula, in a voice modeled after Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, points out that his cereal features chocolate marshmallows (“sweeties” in early commercials), and Franken Berry, in a high-pitched British accent aping British Karloff, counters that HIS cereal has STRAWBERRY marshmallows. In the midst of their quarreling, something unexpected (but trivial) occurs – a broom falls over or one of the monsters spots himself in a mirror, for instance – and both Chocula and Franken Berry freak out, revealing themselves to be cowards despite their monstrous appearances.

1973 saw the first expansion to the Monster Cereal line, with the introduction of Boo Berry. A blueberry-flavored cereal, Boo Berry was endorsed by a ghost of the same name, this time with a voice mimicking that of Peter Lorre (you may remember him from the 100 Film Favorites entry on Fritz Lang’s M). Boo Berry also liked to sing the praises of his product, and vied for the “super-sweet cereal” label without demonstrating the same cowardice as Franken Berry and the Count.

The line expanded once again in 1975, with the release of Fruit Brute (alternatively spelled “Frute” Brute). A cherry-flavored cereal, its spokesman was a werewolf who howls “FROOOOOOOTE.” In retrospect, it seems odd to me that the company went with a ghost BEFORE working in a werewolf. Oh well. The fact remains that Fruit Brute’s life was cut tragically short, as the cereal proved less popular than its predecessors and ceased production in 1984.

The idea of a fruity Monster Cereal was revived in 1987, in the form of Fruity Yummy Mummy…but the Mummy’s reign was even shorter than the Brute’s, and he was returned to the tomb by 1990.

In recent decades, Count Chocula, Franken Berry, and Boo Berry have all been seasonally released each year, in the months leading up to Halloween. The two forgotten members of the Monster family, however, were doomed to linger in obscurity for many years.

But Quentin Tarantino remembered. He kept a box of Fruit Brute from the 70s, and incorporated it in several of his films, including Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, as an Easter egg. Fruity Yummy Mummy, on the other hand, was still nowhere to be seen.

Now all you dedicated cereal connoisseurs out there probably know this (I’m looking at you, Elliot Wegman), but if not, get ready to have your minds collectively blown:

FRUIT BRUTE AND YUMMY MUMMY ARE BACK!

This year, General Mills decided to release ALL FIVE of the Monster Cereals simultaneously, for the first time ever (Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy never coincided in their original runs). Yes, the Brute and the Mummy have risen again, and I couldn’t be happier. I honestly thought I would live out my life without ever tasting a bowl of Fruit Brute…but my fear was unfounded. If you would like to be like me and Quentin Tarantino, rush to your nearest store (particularly Target, which is offering the cereals in “vintage” boxes matching their original 70s appearance) and put a monster on your table today!

But before you go, why not build up an appetite with this half-hour block of Monster Cereal commercials throughout the decades? Mad props are in order if you sit through the whole thing.

P.S. – Just in case you were wondering, the five Monsters ALL deserve the moniker of “super-sweet cereal.” This stuff’ll rot your teeth, kiddies. Fruit Brute tastes like a bowl full of cherry Pop-Tarts, and Yummy Mummy like a breakfast Creamsicle.

P.P.S. – The original recipe of Franken Berry contained a dye which was indigestible by the human body…it gave countless children alarmingly pinkish poop, a condition dubbed “Franken Berry stool” by the medical community.

#9: “You’ve Got a Friend” [1977]

 

First thing’s first. Though I have acknowledged it in some of my earlier lists, someone finally called me out on my “Countdowns” not actually being countdowns at all, because they are typically numbered in ascending order, rather than descending.

Yes.

That’s true.

At least the 100 Film Favorites list is a Countdown in the true sense of the word. As for the current “Creepy Classics” list, I’m going to proceed as before. Maybe I will come up with a different name in time for this year’s Christmas entries. Maybe.

Speaking of true Countdowns, several people who have read some of the reviews in my 100 Film Favorites list have asked whether I will be doing a similar list for TV shows. Well, yes and no. The more observant among you will note that I still haven’t finished the 100 Films list yet. I promise the final 5 posts will be up soon. Add to that the rest of this Halloween list, along with the looming series of Christmas blurbs (our third such…ahem…”Countdown”), and I’m sure you’ll all be thoroughly Brian Terrilled out come the New Year. That said, I HAVE made a list of “Terrill’s TV Top 20,” and it’s currently gathering digital dust on my desktop. I plan to deploy it sometime next year, when the going is slow on this page once again.

Why do I bring all of this up now? Because I truly consider The Muppet Show to be one of the best television series ever made. Whenever the TV Top 20 comes along, expect Kermit and Co. to rank high on the list. The program, a variety show which follows the Muppets “behind the scenes” at the Muppet Theatre as they attempt to put on the very show we’re watching, showcases some of the best music and finest puppetry ever brought to the small screen. A cavalcade of guest stars appeared on the program as well, with a different celebrity taking center stage each week. Much as with The Simpsons today, in the late 70s you’d only really “made it” as a performer once you’d guest-starred on The Muppet Show.

Today’s clip comes from Episode 19 of the first season, when the guest star was none other than the king of Halloween himself, Vincent Price. You’ll be seeing more of Mr. Price ere this “Countdown” is out…and there was even more before I altered the selections to include a greater amount of media from earlier decades. Price had the wonderful quality of being both sinister and campy, both horrifying and humorous. All those qualities are celebrated to full effect here, in his cover of “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Fun fact for you die-hard Muppet fans out there: This number marks the first appearance of Uncle Deadly, the gaunt, dragon-like creature who duets with Price at the beginning of the song. Voiced by Jerry Nelson (more famous as Sesame Street’s Count von Count and Kermit’s nephew Robin the Frog), Deadly would have his first prominent role two episodes later, as the “Phantom of the Muppet Theatre.” The character has made sporadic appearances in Muppet media throughout the years, with his surprisingly pivotal role in 2011’s The Muppets marking his return after a more than 20 year absence.

#10: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark [1981, 1984, 1991]

Today we move on to a new decade, with a selection I’m certain many of you have encountered before. I know the phrase “things 90s kids remember” pops up so frequently on the internet these days it often rings hollow, but when it comes to a text that haunted the dreams and waking life of an entire generation, those four words regain some of their gravity.

That’s right, today’s entry is the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” book series, compiled by folklorist Alvin Schwartz. For those of you who may have somehow evaded their ghostly grip, the books are collections of urban legends, folk tales, short poems, and spooky games, ostensibly aimed at a young audience.

But they ain’t kid stuff.

Almost every story is a masterwork of both concision and terror. Stories are rarely more than three pages long, but they manage to chill your bones and endure in your mind long after you’ve finished them.

But the real source of the series’ power, and the element which, if you’re like me, evoked a visceral response in your memory upon seeing this post, is the mind-bendingly horrific illustrations by Stephen Gammell. With a few choice splotches of gray ink, Gammell managed to reach into the darkest recesses of the psyche and give fear itself a face. A terrible, terrible face. A rotten, eyeless face which burned itself into the impressionable brains of children everywhere.

And we loved it, and came back for more.

The first “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” book was published in October of 1981. Two sequels, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, followed in 1984 and 1991. The books introduced us to such childhood companions as ghostly hitch-hikers, hook-handed maniacs, and Harold, the lovable scarecrow who slowly gained sentience before skinning his owners alive. And all came part-and-parcel with vivid “illustrations” spun from nightmares.

Ah, memories.

90s kids may remember (note that I’ve already defended my use of this phrase, and you probably won’t be seeing it again on this page) that these books were fairly ubiquitous in our grade-school days. In fact, I remember my kindergarten teacher reading the entire class the story about the family traveling south of the border and purchasing a “Mexican hairless” dog that turns out to be an enormous rat.

It’s hardly surprising that the “Scary Stories” collections were among the most frequently banned books in American schools. But this mystique, if anything, only increased their allure in young minds.

Now get ready, because the following bit of news is going to raise the ire and rustle the jimmies of anyone who hasn’t visited the “Juvenile Fiction” section of their local bookstore for a while:

2011 saw a 30th anniversary re-release of Schwartz’s series…
WITHOUT THE ILLUSTRATIONS.

Yes, sometime over the course of the last three decades, the publishers finally took the time to actually look inside the books they were making, filled with murders, hauntings, and black-and-white hellscapes, and thought, “Maybe these AREN’T for kids.”

I suppose I can’t exactly fault their logic. But bowdlerization is rarely, if ever, a good thing. These books gave our generation a chance to look death in the eye (or the hollow, black socket, as the case may be), and didn’t coddle us. So often, the children of today live bubble-wrapped lives, isolated from the horrors of the world. But in 1981, two men had the wisdom to condense that horror down into 100-some pages of concentrated fear, and pack it between two black-and-red covers. Schwartz and Gammell let us dip a toe in that dark unknown swirling just outside our door, and I applaud them for it.

And that’s why last month, after encountering the “30th Anniversary” travesty, I traveled to the children’s book section of every thrift store in the area to track down original copies of all three books.

By the way, if you’re wondering where all your Animorphs and Goosebumps books ended up, I found those too.

In the comments you’ll find links to the other two audiobooks.

#11: “Nule” [1982]

I’ve had an explicit request to hurry up already with the last five “Film Favorites” entries, so the next few Creepy Classic blurbs might be a bit shorter than they’ve been thus far.

Today’s selection is yet another scary story, but this one is a little different from Schwartz & Gammell’s “nightmare fuel.” It’s more of a “creepy story” than a scary one. There’s little “horror” here…just a sense of unease which has lingered in my memory, and the memories of many who have encountered the tale.

I first read Jan Mark’s “Nule” in a compendium of the author’s stories entitled Nothing to Be Afraid Of. I was seven or eight, and found the book in my school library. Few of the stories featured any real chills (so, in a way, I suppose the book’s title is apt). But one story stuck out, and stuck with me.

That’s the story you’ll be hearing today.

“Nule” is about a family renting an old house. The children, younger sister Libby and older brother Martin, are bored with the house’s apparent lack of mystery. One of the few items of any note in the house is the staircase, which features an ornately carved wooden pole at either end of the bannister. One is “headless,” missing its spherical “head,” so the father of the family dubs it Anne Boleyn. When Libby asks the name of the other pole at the foot of the stairs, which is simply a regular newel post, she assumes that “Nule Post” is its name. She begins treating “Nule” like an imaginary friend, and even puts a witch’s hat she wears in a school play on its “head” to add a bit of character.

Martin is intrigued by the figure of the post in the rakish hat, and decides to dress Nule up a bit more. Soon, the post-figure has a full set of clothes, complete with boots and gloves. But Martin insists on leaving the blank, staring wooden “face” as is. As Martin becomes more interested in Nule, Libby becomes less so, even taking pains to avoid the post as much as possible.

Throughout the story, the house’s one other remarkable feature is the creaking heard during the night. It’s hardly unusual for an old house to creak.

But then Martin sneaks out of bed one night. He creeps to the landing and peers down the dark staircase…and sees Nule, dressed to the nines, creeping slowly up the stairs. He runs back to bed and buries his head under the covers.

By morning, everything is back to normal…or is it?

There aren’t a whole lot of references to this story online, and I had to do some searching to find it. But the few places I did find it referenced, folks regarded “Nule” as by far the creepiest story in Jan Mark’s oeuvre. As I said before, the tale has a unique power to linger in the memory, even if it’s not particularly terrifying.

As in the “Harold” story mentioned yesterday about the killer scarecrow, I believe much of the scare-power in “Nule” comes from the characters investing themselves in a creation so deeply that it takes on a life of its own. Additionally, in the climactic confrontation Mark does a fantastic job of capturing the feeling of a nightmare, and the unnerving experience of leaving one’s bed in the middle of the night.

So take “Nule” how you will. Maybe it will scare you, maybe it won’t. But as for me, and many who encountered the story at a young age, we’ll continue watching our backs for creeping pole-people every time we go for that late-night pee-break.

P.S.: Since I couldn’t find the story itself online anywhere, I trekked to the actual brick-and-mortar library (yes, they still exist), and checked out a copy of “Nothing to Be Afraid Of.” I recorded myself reading it, and submit that recording here for your perusal. Hopefully I’ve done “Nule” justice.

#12: “Vincent” [1982]

“Vincent Malloy is seven years old.
He’s always polite and does what he’s told.
For a boy his age he’s considered nice,
But he wants to be just like Vincent Price.”

Ardent BTMN followers may have already seen today’s entry on the updated Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure entry over at EarnThis.net . But I haven’t posted it on this page yet, so, in the words of animated Bill Cosby, you’re gonna just sit there and enjoy it.

Yes, today’s selection is “Vincent,” a short stop-motion film written and directed by Tim Burton while he was a young animator with Disney. The film also features narration by horror icon Vincent Price, returning to our “Countdown” once again. This isn’t the last you’ll be seeing of him, either. In fact, there’s enough Vincent Price media out there to fill an entire month.

Maybe next year.

At any rate, the short tells the story of Vincent Malloy, a young boy who is a dedicated fan of Vincent Price, Edgar Allan Poe, and the horror genre more broadly. Vincent’s days are filled with elaborate day-dreams: He imagines dipping his relatives in hot wax and transforming his dog into a “horrible zombie” through scientific experimentation (an idea Burton would revisit in Frankenweenie). Young Vincent also channels Poe, fancying himself a tortured artist and mourning endlessly over the loss of his “beautiful wife.” Vincent’s mother routinely interrupts his fantasies, instructing him to go outside and “have some real fun.” Each interruption abruptly returns the Gothic grandeur of Vincent’s imaginings to his real, suburban surroundings. Nevertheless, his delusions endure. And they’ll be lifted nevermore.

One gets the sense that this film is more than a little autobiographical. It really seems like a glimpse into the bizarre childhood of Tim Burton…and, to a lesser extent, of anyone who gets into the horror genre at a young age. As with Professor Screweyes and his Eccentric Circus, “Vincent” does an excellent job of illustrating the duality of horror fandom: embracing the scary, while simultaneously being deeply afraid of it.

The film shows plenty of signs of what was to come in Burton’s career. It reflects the German Expressionistic aesthetic Burton has employed again and again in his many quirky films. And most directly, it foreshadows the stop-motion techniques which would be used when Burton returned to work with Disney a decade later on The Nightmare Before Christmas (based on another poem Tim Burton wrote in the early 80s, around the same time as “Vincent”).

#13: The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo [1985]

Welcome to DAY 13! To celebrate, today’s selection is the opening of The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo.

13 Ghosts was the seventh animated series to feature the Scooby-Doo characters, and the fourth and last to focus specifically on Scooby, Scrappy, and Shaggy (beginning in 1980, Fred, Daphne, and Velma were dropped from the series; Daphne is along for the ride once more in 13 Ghosts.)

As with the other Scooby/Scrappy-centric series, 13 Ghosts features Shaggy and the -Doos confronting real supernatural forces, rather than the more traditional bad-guys-in-masks. Specifically, the series has Shaggy and Scooby being tricked by two mischievous ghosts into opening the Chest of Demons, a magic box holding the “most terrifying ghosts upon the face of the Earth.” Now the demon-lords are free to terrorize the world, and only Shaggy and Scooby can return them to the chest. Daphne tags along to help them with their ghost-busting, as does “Flim-Flam,” a juvenile con artist from Mexico, who after this series was never seen again. Assisting the motley crew is the wizard Vincent Van Ghoul, modeled after and voiced by – you guessed it – Vincent Price, making his third appearance in this Countdown.

The show aired a single season of 13 episodes, and you’d think that would be enough to wrap up the story, but nope. Only 11 of the 13 Ghosts were ever caught, and the series was canceled before the storyline could be resolved.

So if you chance to run into one of those two remaining ghost-kings still at large and he devours your soul, blame the network.

P.S.: I read an interesting article a year or so ago (if I could find it again, I’d link to it), the premise of which was that the introduction of real supernatural forces into the world of Scooby-Doo defeats the franchise’s central message. The author argued that Scooby-Doo teaches kids to be inquisitive, and not take things at face value. After all, the heroes are themselves “meddling kids,” searching for logic in the face of apparently unexplained phenomena. Skeptics’ societies have championed the original series for encouraging viewers to peer beneath the surface and question authority. Featuring “real monsters” throws the message that investigation can always produce a logical explanation out the window.

But I prefer to think about the situation one of two ways:

-Some Scooby series feature the “guys-in-masks,” and others the “real” supernatural forces. These different series don’t necessarily exist within the same universe or timeline, and therefore the same “rules” need not necessarily apply.

-Alternatively, I like to imagine that the block of series centered on Scooby, Scrappy, and Shaggy (including the TV-movie Scooby-Doo & the Ghoul School) depict a period of time prior to their joining the Mystery Inc. gang. Thus, the reason Shaggy and Scooby are terrified by the assorted specters in the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? is because they’ve seen things, man. Things you wouldn’t believe. Things that would take your nice little world of order and logic and blow it apart with the screams of the damned. Shaggy and Scooby know that there are real monsters in the world. It’s the rest of the gang who are the ignorant ones.

#14: Tales From the Darkside [1985]

“Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality.
But there is, unseen by most, an underworld…
a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit:
A DARKSIDE.”

Ok, this post is a little late. But followers of this page will note that that’s hardly an oddity here. Oh well. The real Halloween post for the 15th will be up later today. The final four “Film Favorites” will be up…sometime soon. I promise. Part of the delay is because I was cooking Thanksgiving dinner, as I’m taping the November episode of Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain this Wednesday.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back to Halloween before we move on to Thanksgiving.

There are some great sci-fi/horror anthology series out there. The Twilight Zone. Tales From the Crypt. Rod Serling’s Night Gallery.

There are also some mediocre sci-fi/horror anthology series out there. Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. Friday the 13th: The Series. That Twilight Zone remake hosted by Forrest Whitacre. Also in this latter category is Tales From the Darkside, a cavalcade of creepy which aired from 1984-1988 and was helmed by zombie trailblazer George Romero. Stories on the series tended to involved weird and spooky events invading the unremarkable lives of various people, resulting in all kinds of paranormal mishaps. Some episodes are great. Some are pretty dumb. Most are just…really weird.

The episode I’ve selected to share is, according to Wikipedia, “often cited as the scariest episode of the series.” Whether or not that’s true, it’s at least seasonally appropriate. It’s “Halloween Candy,” and it tells the story of a misanthropic old man who refuses to give kids candy on Halloween because…well, because he’s a mean old man, that’s why! As comeuppance for his miserly behavior, he soon finds himself the brunt of “tricks” played by a series of demonic visitors when the midnight hour rolls around.

I guess this guy never saw “Trick or Treat,” the 1952 Donald Duck short I shared last year. Remember what we learned from our favorite irascible sailor-duck, folks:

“When ghosts and goblins by the score
ring the bell on your front door
you better not be stingy or
your nightmares will come true.”

#15: “(I’m a) Crazy Monster” / “Watch a Witchie Wiz” [1987]

This isn’t the first time the Baby Songs franchise has appeared in one of these lists. Well, as I was once a baby myself, some of my earliest memories are of watching the various entries in the series. Over. And over. For the most part, the different volumes feature child-friendly ditties by musician Hap Palmer. The notable exceptions are Baby Rock, which consisted of assorted Rock & Roll staples, and the previously shared Baby Songs Christmas, which featured both Palmer originals and traditional carols. The songs were paired with simple visual accompaniment reflecting the lyrics of the songs. These videos incorporated many different media, including claymation, puppetry, and a lot of live-action featuring actors who probably don’t have much else on their IMDb pages.

Today’s clip is taken from the second installment in the series, the fittingly-titled More Baby Songs, released in 1987. The song I most wanted to share is “(I’m a) Crazy Monster,” which used to scare me as a kid. The video centers on a furry, multi-colored monster cavorting around his spooky castle, expressing just how great it feels to “run outside and scare everyone.” It’s completely tame now, but that bit where the monster looks in the mirror and then walks away, leaving his disembodied reflection frozen, staring, in the glass always gave me chills.

I feel the same way when Mary Poppins does that, too. “Cheeky!” she says, scolding her detached doppelganger. That’s not what I would do. I would run screaming into the night. The mirror-folk need to know their place. If they start doing their own thing, that’s a problem. Because sooner or later, they’re going to test that glass and realize it’s not all that thick…

Also included in this clip is the next song on the tape, which just so happens to be Halloween-appropriate as well! It’s “Watch a Witchie Wiz,” a short song about a coven of witches “racing in the cold night sky.”

My apologies for the low quality of today’s clip. Yes, it’s recorded off a TV screen from halfway across the room. For some reason Baby Songs and Even More Baby Songs are up on YouTube in their entirety, but not More Baby Songs. The world is a crazy place sometimes.

Oh, and just a footnote here: You might think “Crazy Monster” represents the scariest that Baby Songs has to offer. But you’d be wrong. While I chose to focus on it because of its seasonal theme, “Crazy Monster” has nothing on the far more terrifying (if less Halloweeny) “I Sleep ‘Til the Morning.” You know how I said “Crazy Monster” stopped being scary after a while? Not so here. That puppet might “sleep ’til the morning,” but I can never sleep soundly again, knowing he’s out there somewhere, jittering around on his strings, seeking out vulnerable children with his wide, glassy, soulless eyes.

If you absolutely must submit yourself to it, see the comments below.

#16: The Rescue of Pops Ghostly [1987]

There have been a great many video game consoles released in the last three decades. Everyone remembers classics like the Atari 2600, the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Sega Genesis. Then there were the other systems: unpopular in their own times, they faded quickly into obscurity and are almost unknown today. The Fairchild F. The Tiger R-Zone. The Atari Jaguar.

Then there’s the bizarre little console known as Action Max, released in 1987. Think of it this way: If the NES were The Twilight Zone, Action Max is Tales from the Dark Side. That’s probably still too generous.

The Action Max amounted to little more than a VCR add-on and a light-gun controller similar to the “Zapper” gun used to play Duck Hunt on the NES. The Action Max “games” were simply VHS tapes which functioned similarly to on-rails shooter games. Very, very limited on-rails shooter games with virtually no replay value. You see, each tape / game depicts a given scenario, in which both “enemy” and “ally” characters randomly pop up on the screen for a short period of time. Both enemies and allies have white flashing circles on their chests. “Enemy” circles flash at one rate, while “Ally” circles flash at another. Whenever you fire your gun at the screen, a sensor in the gun monitors for flashing, to determine whether you landed a hit, and whether said hit struck an enemy or ally. On the little digital readout you attached to your VCR (the only other component of the Action Max “system”), a foe hit added a point to your score. A friend hit meant you lost a point.

And that’s it.

And since the game is just a VHS tape, it plays out exactly the same, EVERY SINGLE TIME.

I can’t believe this thing never caught on.

But let’s move on to the clip at hand. Today’s selection is The Rescue of Pops Ghostly. Like all Action Max games, it’s an on-rails shooter. But unlike some other titles, “Pops Ghostly” has the added bonus of also being a no-holds-barred 20-minute descent into madness.

The “story” opens with two children following their dog in through the open door of a spooky house. Inside the house we meet the Ghostlys, a family of friendly ghosts. There’s the eponymous Pops Ghostly, the bizarrely-named “Moms” Ghostly, and their young son, Gordy Ghostly. The Ghostlys reveal that while THEY are friendly, the many demons who have recently invaded their house are anything but. And with that, we’re off. An enormous, cackling red demon head appears, causing the Ghostlys to flee, and you begin a whirlwind sprint throughout the house which will take you into contact with many other gruesome ghosts of the decidedly unfriendly variety. The aim of the game is to blast these interloper demons, while avoiding shooting your allies, the Ghostlys. And the kids, too, I guess. The focus moves away from them pretty quickly.

PLEASE NOTE: There’s an abundance of “hypnotism” and “binaural beats” videos on YouTube claiming to simulate the effects of going into a trance, or doing drugs. Well, I can’t speak to their efficacy. But Pops Ghostly, on the other hand, IS a trip, in every sense of the word. I DARE you to watch all twenty minutes. Every time I’ve done it (just sat through #3 to share the journey with you), has been a bizarre experience.

By the five or six minute mark, you’ve lost a sense of your surroundings.

By eight minutes, you may feel dizzy or begin to drool.

Then, at about the halfway point, you go to space.

No explanation, there’s just suddenly space. Or an inter-dimensional portal of some kind. Or just a bad 80s video effect. Whatever you call it, it will make your brain melt out your ears.

So good luck, comrade, as you embark on the incomparable journey that is The Rescue of Pops Ghostly.

See you on the other side.

I hope.

#17: Garfield abandoned [1989]

http://www.gocomics.com/garfield/1989/10/23/#.UmA1eRDKOMU

A lot of people seem to write Garfield off these days, dismissing the rotund cat and his comic strip as being humorless and relying on too few stock gags. He likes eating and hates Mondays. What else is new?

But Garfield’s got somebody in his corner. Over the last four decades, the fat feline has risen through the ranks to become the most widely-syndicated and most marketable comic strip character in the world, appearing in more than 2,500 periodical publications and raking in upwards of 700 million dollars a year through cartoon series and assorted merchandise.

I for one stand behind Garfield and his success. Garfield and Friends is one of the earliest television shows I remember enjoying, and I’ve shared both the Garfield Christmas and Halloween animated specials here, at their respective times of year. I think much of Garfield’s appeal, as anyone who has owned an overweight cat can probably attest, stems from the fact that he so ably captures the essence of a house-cat: fat and lazy, but at the same time very vain and self-important.

Love him or hate him, Garfield is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. But now on to today’s “Countdown” entry. You know how I said that a common source of complaint among Garfield’s critics is the strip’s reliance on the same tired gags over and over again? Well, even ignoring the fact that trotting out tired gags again and again is pretty much the lifeblood of the entire newspaper comic industry Garfield hasn’t ALWAYS been this way. Sometimes, writer / illustrator Jim Davis DID try something a little different…with mixed results.

Today we look back to the week leading up to Halloween, 1989. From Monday the 23rd to Saturday the 28th, newspapers ran the six most unusual Garfield strips ever published. The so-called “abandoned Garfield” strips follow our typically fat-and-happy protagonist as he awakens in the cold shell of his own abandoned house. Over the course of the week, Garfield searches the house for any trace of Jon or Odie, but finds none. Gradually it is revealed that, somehow, Garfield has arrived at a time many years in the future, when the house lies in ruins, its occupants (including Garfield himself) long gone. Has Garfield died? Or is it all just a dream?

The “abandoned Garfield” strips borrow heavily from the plot of a short animated sequence in Allegro Non Troppo, a Fantasia-like Italian film released in 1976. The animation accompanying Sibelius’ “Valse Triste” depicts a ghostly cat wandering through its abandoned home, remembering its family and experiences there. Gradually, the cat’s imagined family, and the cat itself, fade away, just as the ruined house is demolished.

Why exactly Jim Davis chose to pull inspiration from the sequence is unknown. All he has said on the matter is that he asked numerous people about their deepest fears, and found the most commonly-expressed fear was that of being alone. And what better time is there to explore the nature of fear than Halloween? Davis took the opportunity to stretch his imagination and try something different. After all,

“An imagination is a powerful tool. It can tint memories of the past, shade perceptions of the present, or paint a future so vivid that it can entice…or terrify.”

#18: Ghostwatch [1992]

On October 31st, the BBC aired a television movie called Ghostwatch.

They’ve never aired it again.

And yet, the reaction to what has to be the most wide-reaching, most hair-raising Halloween prank since Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast was such that it has never been forgotten.

Ghostwatch is presented as a documentary-style report on the paranormal goings-on in a suburban home outside London. The family dwelling in the house, a woman and her two young daughters, have recorded alleged poltergeist activities in the house, and so the BBC has concocted a “fun” special for Halloween: All evening, they’ll be broadcasting live from the house to capture any spooky events which may occur. Meanwhile, hosts in a BBC studio are standing by to chat about their stance on the supernatural, as well as to take calls from viewers about their own ghostly experiences.

Through interviews with the family inside the house, we learn that the poltergeist, named “Pipes” by the children due to his habit of banging on the plumbing, seems to be most active when the elder daughter, a teenager, is in an emotional state. One paranormal scientist in the studio notes that it is common in cases of poltergeist activity for the ghost to attach itself to an angsty teenager, but it is also hinted that perhaps the teenage daughter is simply faking the ghost attacks.

Over the course of the hour, however, it becomes very clear that the ghost is no fake. The family and the researchers piece together the history of the ghost: “Pipes” is an amalgam of negative energies, which have accumulated and strengthened over the ages. Its most common physical form is an apparition of an unbalanced child molester, who was himself possessed by the spirit of a Victorian-era baby-murderer. The ghost’s manifestations become more and more frequent and disturbing, until Sarah Greene, the reporter on the scene, is yanked by an unseen force into the cellar where “Pipes” is said to live, the door slamming and locking behind her, and the feed from the house is lost.

Inside the studio, paranormal activity begins taking place as well. Teacups fly across the room and shatter, and an ethereal wind begins to blow. Too late, the reporters realize that by broadcasting Pipes’ activity, they have created a “nation-wide seance” and exponentially increased the ghost’s power.

Suddenly, all the lights shut off. After a stretch of darkness and silence, lead host David Parkinson is heard faintly muttering a nursery rhyme, a hallmark of being possessed by the ghost.

Like Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast, Ghostwatch created quite a stir during and after its one and only airing. Many people called the provided phone number (the actual number for real call-in programs on the BBC), but due to the increased phone traffic were simply met with a busy signal, adding to the apparent “reality” of the program.

The most remarkable aspect of the presentation is that all the hosts and reporters were real BBC personalities, playing themselves. Some were prominent hosts of weekly, or even daily, TV shows. Sarah Greene was the host of Blue Peter, a popular children’s program.

These were people viewers loved, trusted, and watched every day.

And now they were being murdered by ghosts.

Live.

Though, as with Welles’ broadcast, reports of a national Ghostwatch-inspired outrage are somewhat exaggerated, some people were fooled by the program’s documentary style, and many others were simply disturbed by its graphic and unexpectedly scary subject matter. One teenage boy committed suicide after allegedly becoming “obsessed” with the broadcast, and his parents attempted to sue the BBC. The British equivalent of the FCC eventually ruled that the station had taken insufficient precautions to assure viewers of the film’s fictitious nature. In response, the BBC issued an apology to viewers, and to this day has never re-aired the special, though it has been aired on numerous cable channels in Britain and other Commonwealth nations.

When I initially watched the film, I didn’t find it to be all that frightening (admittedly, reading a plot synopsis on Wikipedia always does tend to take a lot of the punch out of horror movies by removing much of the element of surprise). But later, I found myself replaying moments from the film in my head. I felt an enduring sense of foreboding. Feelings of fear lingered for days afterward.

This is a scary movie.

I think the most effective element of the film may be the use of the call-in line. You only really realize its significance at the end of the film, when the hosts have the “national seance” epiphany. Throughout the movie, calls from viewers reporting their own personal paranormal experiences become more and more frequent. Eventually, the stories these callers tell shift from the past to the present tense. Ghostly things are occurring in their homes DURING the broadcast…only at the end do we realize these occurrences are BECAUSE of the broadcast itself, “infecting” the entire country (including your house, presumably, because you’re watching it) with a malevolent spectral presence.

Spooky stuff.

On a sunnier note, expect a few more full movies to be linked in the days to come!

#19: “Bump in the Night” [1994]

As we get deeper into the 90s, we’re finally getting to some media I actually experienced when it was new. Today’s selection is one of the earliest television shows I remember watching. It’s “Bump in the Night,” a stop-motion animated series which aired as part of ABC’s Saturday morning block from 1994-1995.

The show represents one of the last great hurrahs of claymation. It follows the misadventures of Mr. Bumpy, a green monster who lives under a boy’s bed and subsists on a diet of dropped socks. Bumpy’s partners in crime are Squishy, a blue monster who dwells in the toilet tank, and Molly, a patchwork doll (rather like Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas“) belonging to the boy’s sister.

And…that’s all I really know about this one. The look of the show, with its unusual animation style, stuck with me far more than the subject matter. But the series is definitely apropos at Halloween time, and I’ve linked to a two-hour block of episodes. So let’s dive in together, shall we?

Tidbits:

-Get ready, because I’m going to blow some minds here. The two main characters of Bump in the Night, Bumpy and Squishy, are voiced by Jim Cummings and Rob Paulsen, respectively. These two men are perhaps the most prolific male voice actors in history, and whether you know it or not, they are the soundtrack to your childhood.

Jim Cummings most recognizable role may be Pete, Goofy’s nemesis, but he has voiced countless other roles, including (just to name a few)
-Darkwing Duck
-The Tazmanian Devil
-Both Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger, whom he has voiced since the early 90s.
-Dr. Robotnik in one iteration of the Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon
-The singing-voice stand-in for both Jeremy Irons and Christopher Lloyd in The Lion King and Anastasia respectively.
-Countless minor roles, often in Disney media. For instance, he’s the head guard in Aladdin who yells “You IDIOT! We’ve ALL got swords!”, and the Gypsy-smuggler in the opening scene of Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Rob Paulsen is
-Yakko Warner of Animaniacs
-Pinky of Pinky and the Brain
-Pete’s son PJ on Goof Troop
-Jimmy Neutron’s friend Carl Wheezer
-“Mr. Opportunity,” that guy in the Honda commercials who knocks on the TV screen.

-Despite its “monstrous” theme, “Bump in the Night” was hardly the scariest ABC kids’ show on the air in 1994. I’d give that distinction to “Reboot,” the first computer-animated TV series. The show’s mask-faced antagonist, Hexadecimal, actually inspired the earliest nightmare I can remember having. If you’re wondering why, see the comments below for a picture.

hexadecimal

#20: “Berry Berry Scary Stories” [1994]

I feel a special, personal connection to today’s selection. If you couldn’t tell from the Monster Cereals post a week or so ago, I take cereal seriously. And from about preschool through first grade, I was all about Berry Berry Kix, a variant of standard, bland, yellow Kix which instead was fruit-flavored, brightly colored, and featured pieces shaped like raspberries and clusters of grapes, similar to the recently-departed Trix shapes (R.I.P.).

Well, when I was either 4 or 5 I chanced to see an ad on the back of my Berry Berry Kix box: General Mills was offering a cassette tape of “Berry Berry Scary Stories” for $1.99 and a couple Berry Berry boxtops. With my high rate of Berry Berry Kix comsumption, I had my boxtops in short order, and we sent away for the tape.

The “Berry Berry Scary Stories” tape has a spooky house emblazoned on the cover, along with two prominent labels:

“Recommended for kids ages 5 and up.”

“PARENTS: Listen to this tape first to determine its appropriateness for your child.”

The labels were well warranted. Each spooky story opens with narration by a man’s electronically-deepened voice. This narrator introduces himself, fittingly, as “The Voice,” and he is by far the scariest aspect of the tape. I guarantee the following lines will be significantly scarier when you listen rather than read them:

*Sound of water dripping in a narrow hallway*

“I AM…THE VOICE. And I want to know…are you afraid…of the dark?”

“Berry Berry Scary Stories” contains two stories, each featuring a cast of actors and presented like a miniature radio drama (the same actors voice characters in both stories). The two tales of terror are “The Haunted House on Hickory Hill” (Side A) and “The Home Video Ghost” (Side B).

“Hickory Hill” follows a family who has just moved out of the city into a large new house. Well, “new” to them. Of course, they got it on the cheap because the community regards the old building as haunted. The children are teased at school for living in a haunted house, and so the family plans to re-pay the kids’ tormentors by pulling a Bluto and “horrorizing” them at a Halloween party thrown at the house. But as the parents’ pranks grow more and more outlandish, it starts to seem there may be some truth to the legends…

“The Home Video Ghost” just may have inspired The Ring. It’s about a boy named Billy who compulsively rents movies at the local video store, picking up anything he hasn’t seen that looks interesting. Over the years, I’ve come to identify more and more with this guy. Anyway, one night he comes across a mysterious tape with a blank box, simply labeled “Should You Be Afraid of This Movie?” He takes the tape to the front of the store, where the “new manager,” a strange man Billy has never seen before, tells him he can keep the tape, as “no one has ever rented it before… and probably never will again.” When his parents leave, Billy pops in the tape, and soon finds himself at the business end of a haunting. A ghost enters the room through the TV screen, but rather than killing Billy it imparts a rather unusual curse on him: From now on, a bit of the ghost’s energy will transfer to every videotape Billy touches. When he returns a tape to the video store, anyone who rents it after him will become haunted and cursed in turn. As in Ghostwatch, this system will create a “national seance” of sorts through which the spirit plans to become all-powerful. Really, the joke’s on the ghost, though. He’d better hope his curse is compatible across multiple formats, or the advent of the DVD must have seriously limited his pool of potential hauntees.

For the last 15-some years, listening to “Berry Berry Scary Stories” has been an October tradition for me. Which is why I was surprised to learn last year that virtually no mention of the tape could be found online, save for a brief shout-out in a 1998 newspaper article on the many possibilities available to the crafty consumer to snag some sweet cereal swag.

I knew there just HAD to be people out there suffering from what I’ve dubbed the “Umptee-3 Effect” (see my “Beanstalk” review for more details: http://earnthis.net/brian-terrills-100-film-favorites-93/ ). Like me, these people might have fond memories of the tape, only to be confronted with a bewildering absence of any info on it.

But now it was within my power to save the day. Last summer, I dug the cassette out of the Halloween box at my storage locker, hooked my old tape deck up to the “line in” jack on my computer, and promptly breathed new, digital life into “Berry Berry Scary Stories.” Today’s link is to my personal SoundCloud account, where I’ve uploaded the tales.

There was a time not long ago when Googling Berry Berry Scary Stories turned up absolutely nothing.

But not anymore.

Feel free to thank me at your earliest convenience.

#21: “The Tale of The Crimson Clown” [1994]

In the last post, The Voice asked us a question.

“Are You Afraid of the Dark?”

That sinister query was also the title of a Canadian anthology series targeted at kids, which ran in the U.S. on “Snick,” Nickelodeon’s Saturday night block, from 1990-2000.

Are You Afraid of the Dark chronicled meetings of The Midnight Society, a club which gathered each weekend around a campfire in the woods to tell scary stories. The individual episodes were framed as stories told by the various club members, who were recurring characters. Each of the Midnight Society members had distinct styles and recurring themes in the stories they told, lending depth to the show and allowing for character development to a degree uncommon in most anthology series.

I’ve probably brought this up before, but I never had cable has a child. It’s not that I never watched TV; I did. Saturday mornings I would tune in to the Kids WB cartoon block (the Batman and Superman animated series, Animaniacs and Freakazoid being standouts), and later on caught Disney’s “One Too” block on ABC after school. But a good 80% of my TV came from PBS: Lots of Wishbone, The Magic School Bus, and Bill Nye the Science Guy. Today the internet is brimming with “90s kids” remembering old Nick and Cartoon Network shows, and I’m at a bit of a loss. I only really first encountered Nickelodeon when I would vacation to my grandparents’ in the summers, beginning in 1997. Then I’d watch it in bulk, playing catch-up.

That said, this is one episode I first encountered when it was new. It’s actually the earliest example of the “horror” genre I can remember watching. I was over at my aunt and uncle’s, and my cousin (3 years old, one year younger than me), asked if I wanted to watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? Not knowing what was in store, I said sure.

“The Tale of the Crimson Clown” is about Sam, a brat kid who steals money from his goody two-shoes older brother. While the straight-laced big brother had intended to buy a birthday gift for their mother, Sam blows the cash on a video game.

Stealing and disrespecting your parents?

The Crimson Clown don’t play that.

Late that night, as he lies awake in bed, Sam is menaced by the apparition of an evil clown (implied to be the spirit of a clown doll in the antique store where the older brother had been shopping). The clown chases Sam for a while, then uses magical ropes to strap the boy to his mattress. Before unspeakable acts of clown-on-boy violation can occur, Sam tearfully repents.

Suddenly, he awakens the following morning, having been given a Scrooge-like second chance, and Sam greets the day with a newfound respect for his family.

So remember kids: Be good and toe the line…because if you don’t, you’ll be haunted, and maybe also raped, by an evil clown.

Sleep tight!

Tidbits:
The video game Sam buys with his ill-gotten gains is titled “Zeebo’s Big House.” This is a reference to an earlier, and better, scary-clown-themed Are You Afraid of the Dark episode called “Laughing in the Dark.” I would have made it today’s selection, but “The Crimson Clown” takes precedence because of its formative impact on me. If you’re so inclined, you can check out “Laughing in the Dark” in the comments below.

#22: Stevil & Carlsbad [1997]

Okay, I got a day behind again. But never fear…unless it’s Halloween-related fear. Then go right ahead.

It’s surprising that I haven’t mentioned Family Matters on this page until now. In my previous post, I mentioned my background growing up with network television, and ABC’s “TGIF” line-up on Friday nights is the first programming block I can remember anticipating each week, largely because of Family Matters. Even as a five-year-old, I felt a kinship with nerd protagonist Steven Q. Urkel (a red-and-white BMW Isetta is still my dream car).

Family Matters was originally intended as a spinoff of ABC’s earlier sitcom Perfect Strangers. The new show would focus on Harriette Winslow (an elevator operator on Perfect Strangers) and her middle-class family, living in Chicago. In addition to Harriette, the Winslow crew was made up of her cop husband Carl, and their children Eddie, Laura, and Judy. At the beginning of the series, Harriette’s sister Rachel and her young son Richie were living with the Winslows, as was Carl’s mother, Estelle.

If that setup doesn’t sound particularly unique or engaging, it’s because it wasn’t really. Though the show had “heart,” it was pretty standard sitcom fare. It lacked any standout characters or an unusual “hook” to pull in viewers. What it needed…was a gimmick.

Everything changed when an angel by the name of Jaleel White descended from on high, bedecked in suspenders and sporting an affected nasal voice. In a later episode of Season 1, White appeared as Steve Urkel, a nerdy boy who escorts Laura to her first school dance. Urkel’s exaggerated clumsiness, idiosyncratic hobbies, and countless unrequited romantic overtures toward Laura became hallmarks of his character. Though Steve was only meant to appear on the show once, he proved massively popular and became a recurring character throughout the rest of Season 1, rising to main cast status in Season 2.

But the meteoric rise of Urkel didn’t end there. Over the course of the series, Urkel’s popularity drove the show’s producers to make him the central character. As Urkel’s empire grew, other characters received less focus, and some simply disappeared from the show, including Grandma Winslow, Rachel and Richie, and even youngest Winslow daughter Judy (whose absence is never mentioned, a la Richie’s brother Chuck Cunningham from Happy Days).

The increasingly Urkel-centric nature of the show changed the dynamic of Family Matters in more ways than one. Plots of later episodes tended to focus on Steve’s many fantastic inventions (like any nerd worth his salt, he’s a science wiz). Thus, the show shifted to become more of a science-fiction comedy, rather than a traditional family sitcom. The first episode to really dabble in sci-fi was Season 5’s “Dr. Urkel and Mr. Cool.” In a plotline blatantly lifted from the Jerry Lewis film The Nutty Professor, Steve concocts an elixir known as “Cool Juice” from the genes of some of history’s coolest people. Drinking the mixture causes him to transform into the suave Stefan Urquelle (simply Jaleel White without all the “nerd” affectations). Stefan is super-cool, and beloved by everyone…until his vanity begins to show. He is conceited and selfish, and Laura ultimately decides she prefers the kind but obnoxious Steve to the thoughtless Stefan.

The introduction of Stefan was a watershed moment in the series, and heralded a headlong rush into the realm of science fiction, especially in the show’s final seasons. Stefan became a whole subplot of the show, as Steve tweaked his formula to create a more caring Urquelle as the “perfect man” for Laura, ultimately combining his “cool machine” with a cloning machine to allow a permanent Stefan to live his own life as an entirely separate individual.

And it wasn’t all “Cool Juice,” either. There was cloning, time travel, and “Urkel-Bot.” If a sci-fi writer could dream it up, chances are Urkel used it at some point to baffle and inconvenience Carl.

The Halloween episodes of Family Matters tended to venture into even more outlandish territory, so much so that they are considered outside the canon of the rest of the series. The penultimate season of the show featured a Halloween episode entitled “Stevil.” In it, the Winslows are terrorized by an Urkel-lookalike ventriloquist dummy which comes to life, delivering wisecracks in a demonic voice. The next year, the ninth and final season (and the only one aired on CBS rather than ABC) brought us “Stevil II: This Time He’s Not Alone,” in which Stevil returns with Carlsbad, an evil dummy in Carl’s image, in tow. Today’s clip comes from that episode, and is perhaps the single best minute-long embodiment of the weirdness into which the final seasons of Family Matters descended.

And remember:

“Dance time is over. Now hand over YOUR SOUL!”

P.S.: I’ve seen plenty of people deride the series’ spiral into sci-fi as a negative, hackneyed change. But I feel the opposite way. The occasionally absurd plots of later episodes nevertheless tread some fairly unusual ground. If you think about it, there really aren’t all that many science-fiction comedies (okay, there’s a few: My Favorite Martian; Mork and Mindy; Alf; 3rd Rock from the Sun) But now go back and think again: Of those handful of sci-fi sitcoms, how many included a black person?

Not many.

This is hardly my area of expertise, and could be better commented on by a writer of sociology, but it seems to me that sitcoms which feature predominately black casts tend more often than not to deal with “real issues” and serious social themes, rather than wacky antics. This isn’t to say there aren’t some exceptions (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air comes to mind), but I find it hard to imagine a “Black Seinfeld” or similar series focused on the petty absurdities of life. This is admittedly long-winded and maybe I’m digging myself a hole, but I simply mean to suggest that as a science-fiction series with a predominately African-American cast, Family Matters, whether you’re a fan or not, is pretty unique.

#23: “Halloween Hound: The Legend of the Creepy Collars” [1998]

In the last few posts, I’m sure you’ve already learned everything about my early television-viewing habits that you’ve ever wanted to know, so I’ll try not to dwell too long on the subject in yet another entry.

I’ve mentioned before how the majority of what I watched on TV as a kid came from PBS (we had four local stations in the Northern Virginia area alone). And one of my favorite programs was Wishbone, which debuted in 1995. For anyone who managed to miss it, Wishbone chronicled the imagined adventures of the titular dog, as he led us through classic works of literature, envisioning himself as the protagonist.

Maybe a bit more detail is warranted: Each episode opened with Wishbone, a Jack Russell terrier, interacting with his owner, Joe Talbot, and Joe’s friends and family, in the town of Oakdale. Inevitably, one or more of the human characters would become involved in some kind of conflict, which would parallel the narrative of a famous novel, play, or legend. Wishbone would point out the parallel to viewers (we can hear his thoughts), and then the bulk of the episode would feature a dramatization of the given literary work, with Wishbone himself in the lead role (or, if the protagonist was female or difficult to relate to, a supporting role). In the end, the Oakdale residents would work out their conflict in a manner mirroring the book’s resolution. Then, in a final post-episode segment, Wishbone’s voice actor would introduce us to a technical aspect of that episode’s production, teaching us not only about literature, but filmmaking as well.

The idea of a dog playing the part of a human character, alongside other human actors who have to act as though everything is normal, probably sounds patently absurd. But it worked. The way Wishbone could imagine himself within the action of a classic story, and then apply its lessons in his life, is itself a powerful lesson for young people.

I also admire the series for rarely shying away from the darker aspects of the chosen texts. Frankenstein resurrects a corpse. Joan of Arc burns at the stake. Faust makes a pact with the devil. Sydney Carton goes to the Guillotine.

Watching this show was also a great way to concisely boost my book-smarts: I still get Jeopardy answers that I learned from Wishbone.

However, there is one weakness of the series. Having to fit two parallel narratives (the original story AND the Oakdale story) into a single half-hour program often resulted in some over-abbreviation of the classic text.

Don Quixote?

Half an hour.

The Count of Monte Cristo?

Half an hour.

And yet, the ONE AND ONLY two-part episode they ever did was dedicated to a SHORT STORY.

Not that I’m complaining, I guess. Giving a Halloween special twice the run-time of a regular episode is a-okay in my book. And I do love “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Which, incidentally, is the central literary work in this episode.

“Halloween Hound” was the first episode of Wishbone’s “second season.” When I first saw it, it was rather jarring, because the three main human characters, Joe and his two friends, Samantha and David, were all considerably older than in “Season 1.” This is because “Season 1,” which contains the bulk of the series’ episodes, was all filmed in 1995, while another batch of episodes was ordered and produced in 1998 as “Season 2.” In the meantime, re-runs had been airing of the original 39 episodes, making the “sudden” 3-year time jump especially stark.

Nevertheless, I can still remember being super-psyched on Halloween 1998, carving my jack-o-lantern when suddenly NEW WISHBONE came on the screen.

NEW.

HALLOWEEN-THEMED.

WISHBONE.

The Oakdale portion of the episode follows the suddenly-older Joe, Sam, and David as they attempt a (really pretty impressive) scavenger hunt on Halloween night. But a specter from Joe’s past waits in the darkness…will the trio finish their hunt, or become the hunted?

#24: The Last Broadcast [1999]

“The following people are not actors.”

Time to share another full-length film, thanks to the wonders of the internet! Today’s spooky selection is “The Last Broadcast,” an independent horror film notable for being one of the earliest instances of the found-footage genre, and possibly the first feature film ever made with consumer-level digital video equipment.

As you probably know, the “found footage” subgenre of horror exploded onto the scene with the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Shot in a Maryland forest and produced for a budget of under $500,000, the film went on to gross almost $250 million, making it perhaps the most profitable film of all time. The internet was used extensively to market the film, and Blair Witch was heralded as a pioneer in many aspects of its production.

But it wasn’t the first found footage film. That distinction arguably goes to the 1980 exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust, in which a reporter goes to track down evidence of what happened to a documentary crew that disappeared in the Amazon. While visiting with a chieftain of one of the native tribes, the reporter discovers the film shot by the missing crew. He brings it home, intent on piecing this “found footage” together to make sense of their deaths (the chieftain also happens to be in possession of their bones). In the editing room, we learn that the filmmakers wantonly slaughtered wildlife and assaulted the natives, until the tribe finally fought back, butchering and eating the crew as their camera winds down.

The Last Broadcast is closer in subject matter to The Blair Witch Project, and seeing as the two films were released within a year of one another, it’s difficult to dismiss these similarities as pure coincidence. Broadcast, like Cannibal Holocaust, features a documentarian attempting to make sense of the murders of a group of filmmakers by analyzing their final footage. Specifically, in December of 1995 the hosts of “Fact or Fiction,” a Public Access TV show focused on the paranormal, planned a journey into the Pine Barrens, a large, isolated forest in New Jersey, to search for the legendary cryptid known as the Jersey Devil. The two hosts were joined by a sound-operator claiming to be capable of recording otherworldly audio, and a young “psychic” serving as their guide and lead devil-tracker.

Only the “psychic,” a troubled young man named Jim Suerd, ever came back. He claims that the rest of his group disappeared in the night, and the police are dispatched to search the woods. They eventually recover the brutally mutilated bodies of the sound-man and one of the hosts (all that remains of the co-host is his trademark hat and a puddle of blood). As such, Suerd is the only suspect in the murders, and is quickly sentenced to life in prison.

But the documentarian, a man named David Leigh, suspects that Jim Suerd might be an innocent victim of a justice system seeking an open-and-shut case. Leigh points out that all the evidence presented by the prosecution is circumstantial, and that Suerd has a potential alibi: he sat up all night in his tent, chatting online via the “Fact or Fiction” team’s IRC channel. The real killer, Leigh suggests, is still out there, and hopefully the making of this documentary can help lead Leigh to a more concrete solution to the mystery.

One minor note here, which hopefully isn’t TOO spoiler-y:

This movie has a GREAT twist-ending, which I totally didn’t see coming the first time I watched it. However, the effect is somewhat ruined by the fact that, after the twist is revealed, the final minutes of the film abruptly switch from the video camera’s view (from which the entire film up to this point has been presented) to a third-person view typical of “normal” movies (i.e. a viewpoint not understood to be that of a camera or a participant within the story). It’s very disconcerting, and throws us out of the mockumentary / found footage style in the film’s last moments. It would have been much more effective to remain with the camera’s viewpoint until the end.

#25: Cry Baby Lane [2000]

Today’s selection is a testament to the power of the internet. Cry Baby Lane is a made-for-TV movie which aired only once on Nickelodeon, on October 28th, 2000. There is speculation that parents called in, objecting to the overly-scary nature of the program, thus motivating Nick’s decision to never re-air the film. However, unlike Ghostwatch, its single broadcast failed to cause nationwide panic, and so the film lapsed into obscurity.

Eleven years later, the internet remembered it. In the 2010s, spooky online stories known as “creepypasta” began circulating based around the Cry Baby Lane oddity. Few people remembered actually watching the film, but the Nickelodeon schedules from 2000 listed its one and only showing plain as day. What could have caused the film to be “banned?” Theories ranged from depictions of brutal violence to demonic possession, and everything in between.

Then Reddit stepped in. In a post discussing the mysterious film, a Redditor casually remarked that he had recorded the one-and-only airing to VHS. When asked for “proof,” he intially uploaded only a brief clip of “Sabrina” star Melissa Joan Hart introducing the movie. The net buzzed with speculation once again. Had he hoaxed the short segment by cobbling together bits and pieces of other media? Surely if he had the whole film he would have uploaded it.

Well, the next day, he did. In short order, the web was filled with articles celebrating the momentous occasion: Cry Baby Lane was real, and it was back at last.

It’s a bizarre occurrence for a movie in this day and age to become a truly “lost film.” And thanks to hive-mind sites like Reddit that draw on the resources and faculties of the masses, even the few that do slip through the cracks can be brought back into the light.

As for the movie itself, it opens with a pair of brothers listening to a scary story told by an undertaker in his parlor. According to the story, a farmer who lived outside the town once fathered a set of conjoined twins. As so often happens, one twin was good, and the other evil. When both twins died from an infection, the farmer cut them apart, giving the “good twin” a proper Christian burial, and dumping the evil twin in an unmarked grave in the woods “near Cry Baby lane.” People say if you venture through those woods at night, you can still hear the pitiful wails of the abandoned evil twin.

Carl and Andrew, the brothers listening to the story, are polar opposites. Carl, the older brother, is a tough, extroverted wrestling fan who enjoys the undertaker’s stories and repeatedly drags his younger sibling to the funeral parlor to hear them. Andrew is more cautious and sensitive, and his older brother dismisses him as a coward.

To put the moves on some girls, Carl arranges a prank seance. Despite Andrew’s misgivings, he goes along with the plan. Of course, they just happen to pick the grave of the “good twin” as the site of the seance, and Carl’s gibberish “magic words” just HAPPEN to resurrect the spirit. Soon, the ghost is rampaging across town, possessing every living thing it comes in contact with and rendering the townsfolk and animals hostile, violent, and out of control. By the end of the night, only the timid Andrew is left to rise to the challenge, prove his courage, and defeat the Evil Twin’s soul.

“But I thought they were at the Good Twin’s grave,” I hear you cry. Well, it turns out the twins’ bodies were SWITCHED after separation, so the Evil Twin ended up in the cemetery.

And how did THIS happen? Well, as the undertaker explains, in one of the best “lampshade-hanging” moments in recent film history,

“I’m just a really bad undertaker.”

The undertaker character really makes this movie. He’s so matter-of-fact in everything he says, and always plays the consummate professional, even though his morbid handiwork is consistently sloppy. His nephew, the oblivious teenaged parlor assistant who sleeps on the slabs and hot-rods around town in the hearse, is great too.

So does Cry Baby Lane deliver the mind-bending horror that a decade spent locked away in “the vaults” might suggest?

No.

But it IS a good bit of spooky fun with some memorable characters. And it proves the true power of Reddit.

Thanks, internet!

#26: “The Enigma of Amigara Fault” [2002]

http://brasscockroach.com/h4ll0w33n2007/manga/Amigara-Full/Amigara.html

Ghostwatch brought us a dose of spooky from across the Atlantic. Now, we cross the Pacific for some genuine Japanese heebie-jeebies.

Today’s selection is “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” a short story from the appendix of the 2002 horror manga/novel, Gyo. The novel and its several sub-stories offer an interesting perspective on what inspires fear in Japan. The main story, “Gyo,” features a dead fish suddenly scuttling ashore on mechanical legs, belching “the stench of death” into the air. In the days that follow, thousands more sea creatures surface, and soon the nation’s atmosphere is wholly pervaded by the death-smell. It’s pretty much a bad time for everybody involved, as the fishes’ plight spreads to mankind, and countless humans suddenly find themselves bloated and blasting corpse-gas.

“Amigara Fault” is a bit more subtle in its horror. It’s really more eerie than “scary,” per se. It’s a mystery, or, as the title says, an enigma. The tale begins with a bizarre discovery: A recent earthquake has exposed a previously unseen mountain face, which is pockmarked with tunnels. But each of these tunnels…is person-shaped. People begin visiting the site out of curiosity, and soon make another discovery…the holes aren’t merely person-shaped, they’re SPECIFIC-person-shaped. Each hole precisely matches the silhouette of a single individual. What’s more, each of these people finds him or herself inexorably drawn to the hole in their likeness. People begin locating “their” holes, declaring “It was made for ME!” and entering the weird little human-burrows.

And it only gets weirder from there.

“Amigara Fault” is a different kind of horror story than you might be used to, but, like “Nule,” it does an excellent job of creating a sense of creeping menace that grows throughout, and lingers with you afterward. Check it out, before I chance spoiling anything.

#27: Albino Blacksheep Halloween update (2000s – present)

http://www.albinoblacksheep.com/archive/october2008

While this month’s other selections have mostly focused on a single work or series, today’s entry is a bit more vaguely-defined. It’s the yearly Halloween-themed update at AlbinoBlacksheep.com.

As we continue to move forward chronologically, we come to the period when I first started to really explore the internet, around 2002 and 2003. It’s honestly shocking to think that an entire decade has passed – To any of you youngins’ out there, yes, there was an internet before Facebook and YouTube. Two of my favorite media sites at the time were Homestarrunner.com, which featured several series of surreal Flash animations based around a recurring cast of colorful characters, and Albino Blacksheep, an online community set up to give exposure to the works of rising Flash animators and other web-based creative types.

Both sites routinely featured excellent seasonal updates around Halloween time. “Homestar” would post a wide assortment of custom pumpkin patterns depicting the various characters, as well as an annual ‘toon in which the characters were always decked out in costumes referencing obscure aspects of popular culture.

Unfortunately, the Homestarrunner site went on an unexplained hiatus in 2009, despite the series’ still-strong fanbase at the time. The page’s last update occurred in 2010, and as the years crawl by it seems less and less likely that we’ll ever get another great Homestar Halloween.

But Albino Blacksheep continues to thrive, posting new content every few weeks, though I must admit I visit the site far less frequently than in my middle-school heyday. And yet, every Halloween I’m back for the update. Since this year’s hasn’t gone up yet (I expect it may tomorrow or the next day), I’ve linked to the 2008 update. What’s great about “ABS” at Halloween time is that, in addition to hosting new material each October, they always trot out the accumulated “Halloween” files from years past. Thus, the Halloween post grows every year, and it offers a nostalgic glimpse back to the surprisingly distant days of “Web 1.0.”

Of these many Halloween files from years past and present, I have a few recommendations:

-“Bad Idea”: A zombie-themed song by Neil Cicierega. You may not know it, but Cicierega was basically the king of the internet in the early-2000s. At 13 he invented the absurdist, Colin-Mochrie-packed Flash genre known as “animutation.” Over the next few years, he went on to create the “Potter Puppet Pals” series and the band Lemon Demon, which has released a number of viral nerd-centric singles, including “Geeks in Love” and “The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.”

“Bad Idea,” like many of the Lemon Demon videos, features animation by Andrew Kepple, another dedicated Flash artist who created the ambitious “Fanimutation” tribute series which began with “French Erotic Film.”

-“All Hallows’ Eve”: A shooting game in which you must defend your house from a zombie onslaught as Halloween night slowly ticks by. If memory serves, a complete successful playthrough takes about an hour, but it’s well worth it. As you go, the zombie threat escalates, and you begin encountering enchanted skeletons (which aren’t affected by headshots) and even devils (not exactly zombie-related, but hard as Hell to kill). Luckily, you get to upgrade your arsenal, as well as the barricades in your yard, in between enemy waves.

-“MCR – Sweet Revenge!”: I’m not sure how exactly this game is connected to My Chemical Romance, but it’s fun all the same. You play as “the saint,” a winged nun who must save the souls of a murdered bride and groom and restore them to life in the name of revenge. For whatever reason, this game gets me instantly into the Halloween spirit to an extent unmatched by just about any other piece of media. I’m not exactly sure why – maybe because the graphics and music remind me of an old Galaga-style arcade cabinet which stood at my local pumpkin patch for years.

P.S. – One file which may or may not pop up in any given iteration of the Halloween update still stands as “the scariest thing I have ever seen.” It’s the video titled “Subliminal Music and Images.” Yes, it’s a screamer (so there goes 9/10ths of its effect), but when I first saw it in 8th grade, I was so scared I somehow leapt from a sitting position OVER the back of my computer chair and ran from the room.

#28: Max Brooks’ zombie books [2003 & 2006]

http://www.cs.rutgers.edu/~mcgrew/remusleftovers/ipad/Zombie.Survival.Guide.pdf

http://pdfcast.org/pdf/world-war-z-1

Today we turn our gaze to a pair of books by author Max Brooks. Max is the son of director/comedian Mel Brooks, and together the two Brookses have had more of an impact on me than just about any other father-son team I can think of. Also, his mother was Anne Bancroft, Mrs. Robinson from The Graduate. That’s quite the family resume.

Brooks’ first book, 2003’s The Zombie Survival Guide, is exactly what the title suggests: A comprehensive handbook on preparing for and dealing with an attack by the walking dead. In the Guide’s various chapters, Brooks thoroughly describes the anatomy of zombies, the potential pros and cons of a vast assortment of melee and ranged weapons, and how to select and defend a proper shelter. Much of the book’s charm stems from just how thorough it is. The weaponry chapter, quite possibly the nerdiest section of the Guide, extensively compares and contrasts the relative merits of everything from shuriken to submachine guns, pistol-crossbows, baseball bats, and World War I trench shovels (Brooks’ bet for the best all-around zombie-dispatching tool). The final portion of the book is dedicated to recounting a selection of “Recorded Attacks” throughout history, from Ancient Egypt through the early 2000s (Remember the Roanoke disappearance? Zombies did it).

2006 saw the publication of a kinda-sorta sequel, World War Z. Inspired by Studs Terkel’s The Good War, an oral history of World War II, Brooks presents the book as a compendium of interviews conducted by a United Nations agent. Each “interviewee” recounts his or her experiences during a different stretch of the “Zombie War,” a near-apocalyptic conflict in which the undead overran the Earth. Having never read The Good War, I was initially surprised by World War Z‘s unusual format. We never get a complete linear “timeline” of the war; Instead, the various speakers’ accounts gradually fill in gaps in our understanding of how the conflict unfolded. Part of the reason not everything about the war is explicitly spelled out is the text’s unwavering dedication to its status as “real history”: As a meta-fictional construct, its ostensible target audience is people who lived through the war themselves. In other words, in the context of the book, this was really an event which destroyed the world. You’re probably reading it because you were there. Therefore, you obviously already have a rough understanding of how the war progressed. It’s a bit mind-bending, but impressively executed. In addition to being a gripping tale of horror and epic disaster, the book also speculates on international politics and offers detailed predictions as to how a zombie apocalypse might affect different countries around the world (The zombies roaming Greenland freeze solid every winter, and may never fully be exterminated; Cuba managed to effectively quarantine itself and emerges after the war as the new center of world trade).

Though not precisely a “sequel” to The Zombie Survival Guide (as the Guide has no set narrative to continue), World War Z features ghouls which operate under the same “zombie rules” outlined in the Survival Guide. These rules largely match those introduced by George Romero in Night of the Living Dead, the first film to feature “modern” zombies. For example, the undead are slow and shambling, utter a low moan, and can only be killed by a gunshot or heavy blow to the head. A few minor differences exist between “Brooks” zombies and “Romero” zombies, however:

-Brooks’ zombies are the result of a virus called Solanum. Only those who come into contact with the bodily fluids of a zombie (via bite or other wound) reanimate as zombies themselves. In the Romero films, the cause of the zombie outbreak is never discovered, and anyone who dies for any reason returns as a zombie, regardless of whether their “first” death was zombie-related or not.

-Brooks’ zombies are incapable of learning to use tools, or of “remembering” behaviors they engaged in while alive. Over the course of Romero’s “Of the Dead” series, some zombies are shown gradually adapting to their environment and beginning to re-master the rudiments of tool use and organization.

I appreciate that Brooks decided for the most part to use the “Romero rules,” rather than the “fast zombies” popularized by 2002’s 28 Days Later. I still think slow, shambling zombies which attack en masse are scarier than their “raging,” sprinting counterparts. (Just an aside – I’m glad The Walking Dead went Romero as well…even incorporating the “everyone who dies goes zombie” rule). Fast zombies may eventually supersede their slower relations, even in spite of fuddy-duddies like me clinging to “the old ways.” After all, I’m sure there were people who protested Romero’s tweaking of the zombie genre in 1968, intent on “staying true” to the mindless slave zombies of voodoo culture (as depicted in earlier films like 1932’s White Zombie).

But whatever the future holds for the zombie genre, The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z are and shall remain memorable contributions to the movement. Check them out!

#29: Stephen Lynch’s “Halloween”

You may or may not know that I’m a pretty big fan of humorous/novelty songwriters. Weird Al, Tom Lehrer, Johnathan Coulton, and newer internet acts like Rhett and Link rank among my favorite musicians (they make up about 20% of my music-listening – just after movie soundtracks, YouTube remixes, and Johnny Cash…it makes listing “favorite bands” difficult).

So when my Freshman-year roommate referenced a comedy songwriter I’d never heard of, I was intrigued.

Stephen Lynch tends to write darkly comic ballads, and his sing-song tone clashes brilliantly with his sinister subject matter. In one ditty, he begs his elderly grandfather to die so as to sooner receive his inheritance. In another, he opines that his new girlfriend just might be a Nazi.

And in today’s clip, he merrily explains just “what Halloween means to me.”

Only two more posts left before the big night! Let’s rock and roll!

#30: American Scary [2006]

Halloween is the best and busiest time of the year for horror hosts such as myself (you guys remember I’m a horror host, right? [Insert obligatory plug for Count Gauntly’s from the Public Domain here]).

So today, I pay tribute to those hard-working emcees of the macabre with American Scary, a documentary focused on the phenomenon of horror hosting, and the many noble individuals past and present who have taken up the mantle of ghost host.

As those of you who have been following my “100 Film Favorites” Countdown (I promise I’ll finish it soon) may remember, the first “horror host” is widely held to be Vampira, whose 1954-55 series featured mostly suspense films (few true “horror” films had been aired on television yet). But Vampira’s sardonic humor and Gothic garb (inspired by illustrations of Morticia in the original Addams’ Family comic strip) set the standard for hosts to come.

The horror host movement exploded in popularity and prominence with the release of the “SHOCK!” package, a collection of some fifty films, including many of the classic Universal horror movies from the 1930s and 40s. Beginning in the late 50s, television networks began acquiring the Shock package and distributing the films to their associated local stations across the country. Stations could use the films to fill “dead air” and attract at least a few viewers to otherwise unpopular timeslots, such as Saturday night. Many local stations hit upon the idea of channeling Vampira and assigning a kooky host to “present” the various Shock! films. Often, these hosts were already studio personalities. Many a local weatherman soon found himself wrapping up his evening forecast, only to then dash over to his coffin in the corner, daub on ghastly makeup, and present the evening’s movie.

Throughout the 60s and into the 70s, the local horror host was a thriving institution. New names entered the pantheon: Zacherley. Svengoolie. Count Gore de Vol. New film packages were released to television, including the sci-fi creature features of the 1950s, and a gory little indie film which had lapsed into the public domain, Night of the Living Dead. It was a good time to be a ghoul.

Then, in 1975, something arrived called Saturday Night Live. The popular new show filled time typically occupied by horror hosts, and it attracted young viewers and advertisers in turn. Another “nail in the coffin” of the original generation of horror hosts was the coming of cable – with more screentime to fill, film producers could charge channels more for the rights to air their films, pushing many local stations and their respective horror hosts out of the picture. Finally, due to a push by networks to homogenize their programming in their many affiliate stations nationwide, much local or region-specific programming was gradually phased out.

But like all good monsters, the horror host was hard to kill. After a lull, horror hosting made a comeback in the 80s, with the rise of Elvira (perhaps the most prominent, widely-recognized horror host to date) and programs like Tales From the Crypt (a hybrid anthology series / horror host show) and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Horror hosts sank back into relative obscurity again in the 1990s. The “classic” hosts of the 60s and 70s continued making appearances at conventions, but the horror host movement was far from its heyday. Network coverage became rare again.

Then came the internet. Eager creative types now had almost unlimited opportunities to produce and share just about any kind of media. The third age of horror hosting was here. One of the earliest, highest-profile online horror hosts was (and remains) Mr. Lobo, of Cinema Insomnia, and countless others cropped up across the country, using both the net and public access television facilities to carry on our horror host heritage. I am proud to count myself among this latest wave. Whether the venue is big or small, the noble horror host endures even today, to share with viewers a frightening film and a bit of spooky fun.

#31: Count Gauntly’s Halloween Spooktacular [2013]

Tonight’s the big night! Thanks for following along this month (even though it interrupted the much-anticipated final “Film Favorite” posts). Hopefully it was fun nonetheless.

The second annual Creepy Classics Countdown comes to an end with today’s video. Continuing our horror host focus from yesterday, here’s the seventh episode of MY horror host series, Count Gauntly’s Horrors from the Public Domain. It’s our Halloween Spooktacular, and it features far more people than have ever appeared in any other episode to date.

When Gauntly and Ogrot unexpectedly find themselves subject to their first annual Horror Host Inspection, they must hastily put together a spooky celebration. There’s candy, costumes, and a very unusual cider recipe. The gang even makes a trip to the sinister Bunny-Man Bridge! When official inspector Karlos Borloff (host of FPA’s Monster Madhouse) comes to call, will the show be up to snuff?

Now get out there and do some partying, horror-movie-watching, and candy-eating.

And to all of you out there in internet-land,

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Brian T.

Brian T.

Brian is the host of the TV show Count Gauntly's Horrors from the Public Domain and the creator of Brian Terrill Movie Night. He joined Earn This in 2013.

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