Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An Interview with Yours Truly

Greetings, my spooky little readers! My apologies for being scarce as of late; I've been otherwise occupied, and truth be told, the holiday season isn't very conducive to creepiness. (I've barely even seen any Christmas-themed horror movies, so I can't really compile a list of seasonally appropriate flicks...although I do consider the Evil Dead trilogy to be "Christmas movies," but that's a topic for another post!) I look forward to bringing this blog back with a vengeance in 2010, so please don't remove me from your bookmarks just yet!

In any event, I did want to share a recent interview that the LA RECORD did with my band, Shiloe, regarding topics as varied as ghost hunting, the Beatles, and how to handle a zombie invasion. Follow the link to read all the gory details...

SHILOE: Don't Go in the Attic


Thursday, November 26, 2009

You'll Come Home for the Holidays...In A Body Bag.

Happy Turkey Day to my fellow Americans! (I don't actually eat turkey myself, but I'm definitely looking forward to gorging on scrumptious side dishes.) In honor of the holiday, please enjoy this faux trailer for the sickest, most twisted Thanksgiving-themed slasher flick never made...Eli Roth's Thanksgiving.

White meat, dark meat...all will be carved.

Friday, November 13, 2009

TONIGHT: Spirits With Spirits at La Golondrina Cafe


It's Friday the 13th! Don't you want to celebrate by doing something a little more adventurous than spending the night with Jason Voorhees? Yeah? Then allow me to remind you that, on the 13th day of each month, LA's very own ghost hunting group meets at a haunted bar or restaurant in order to discuss the paranormal - and tonight is no exception. Join the GHOULA get-together at La Golondrina Cafe on historic Olvera Street for an evening that's sure to offer some intriguing insights into Los Angeles history...if not a few spirit sightings. (Unfortunately, a prior engagement means that I'll probably be a no show at this meeting, so have a margarita for me!)

Here are the details, from the GHOULA website:

Note: The management has agreed to allow our group into the (normally closed to the public) haunted area of this historic restaurant. So, come out and experience this rare opportunity to go inside one of the city's oldest buildings.

THE DATE: November 13th, 2009 (Friday the 13th!)
THE PLACE: La Golondrina Cafe
(17 West Olvera Street, Los Angeles) map
THE TIME: 7:00pm to 9:30pm (closing time)

THE GHOST(S):

In 1885, Guiseppi Covaccichi built his home and winery next to an alley that at the time was known as "Vine Street" (or sometimes "Wine Street"), because of all the other wineries in the immediate area. Despite this fact, that modest home is for some strange reason today known as the Pelanconi House (who was one of many in a string of former owners), and the dingy alley was also mysteriously renamed after one of the other families in the area to "Olvera Street." Although these reasons may have been lost to history, thankfully the house and street were not. This is largely due to a local activist, Mrs. Christine Sterling, who in the 1920's made it her mission to preserve the Alvila Adobe (the city's oldest adobe structure) and the Pelanconi house (the city's oldest brick structure) for future generations and to turn the decaying slums known as Olvera Street into "The Mexican Street of Yesterday in the City of Today." As part of her plan, she convinced a local businesswoman, Senora Consuelo de Bonza, to move her popular eatery into the old Pelanconi House (and the adjoining warehouse). After cleaning, renovating, and blessing ("to remove the evil spirits"), La Golondrina reopened its doors to the public in 1930. Not only is it the oldest business on Olvera Street today, but it also holds the distinction of being the first place in Los Angeles to serve "Mexican" food (as opposed to "Spanish").

Although Senora Consuelo de Bonza is no longer with us, her portrait still hangs in the dining room, and some say her spirit still remains as well. In addition to the sounds of disembodied footsteps trailing throughout the empty restaurant, witnesses have claimed to see a woman (sometimes described as young) dressed in a white gown floating up the stairs to the "third" floor (originally the second floor), as well as inside the private offices on that floor. Even though this apparition is generally believed to be Senora de Bonza, it is quite possible the ghost could be a member of one of the many families that resided in this home over the years, since these offices are where the house's bedrooms were once located. It is also worth mentioning that the canal (known as the "mother ditch") that brought water to this cluster of buildings and farms from the Los Angeles River ran very close to this house and would surely have been visible back then from one of the upstairs windows. Although, this waterway in many ways represented life to this community, sometimes it also represented death. It was not uncommon in our city's early (wild west) days for murdered bodies to be disposed of in that ditch, or for drunken souls to meet their accidental end there. Perhaps this "woman in white" is connected to a long ago unsolved murder (or accidental death), as a victim or one who mourns for a lover who met his demise in the dark muddy waters that rolled past this former haunted house.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spooky Hiatus: NaNoWriMo

So you may have noticed that things have been a bit quiet over here. But wait, I have an excuse! On a complete whim, I signed myself up for NaNoWriMo on Halloween - which means that I have to write a 50,000 word novel by the end of this month. Of course, I'm not planning to take a full-fledged break from this blog for the entire month of November, but if my posts are a bit scarce, keep in mind that I'm writing my brains out. To wit:


This is where I work. My typewriter looks so innocuous, does it not? And yes, I smoke Marlboro Reds. Doesn't everyone?


Of course, my manuscript gets a little repetitive at times, but I have to make that 50,000 word quota by midnight on November 30th! Give me a break!


Okay, at this point I am looking a little psychotically comatose, but it's all part of the process!


And yes, I fully expect to be doing this by the end of the month. Wish me luck!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Movie Review: THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL


October has passed, and that can only mean one thing: If you're still reading this blog, you're no Johnny-come-lately to horror and Halloween; like me, you're a lifer. So while we can all bow our heads in a moment of silence for our dearly departed Halloween season, which is sure to rise again in a mere 363 days or so, I have good news for you: There is a fantastic new scary movie for you to seek out - and no, it's not Paranormal Activity, which I'm sure you've already seen (and formed your own opinions about). This one is somewhat more obscure, but - in my estimation - even more effective at generating those atmospheric, slow build scares. It's called The House of the Devil.

Last week, I read an article in the L.A. Times that described this film as the kind that "transforms the mundane into the macabre, and when...[it] finally takes a step into the supernatural, it comes as even more of a shock because of the muted atmosphere that precedes it." This is exactly how I like my scary movies: Long on atmosphere, short on cheap thrills, and painstakingly paced. From the very first frame, I had a feeling I would love it. To begin, it's set in the early 80s, but not in the spoofy, played-for-laffs way that most movies set in the 80s present the decade; no one is dressed like Pat Benatar or wearing garish neon colors. Instead, the colors are muted, the hair is softly feathered, and the jeans are high-waisted - in other words, authentic. The protagonist is a reserved, thoughtful college girl named Samantha, as portrayed by Jocelin Donahue, who calls to mind a young Margot Kidder far more than she evokes overly toned and styled modern-day starlets like Jessica Biel.

We learn that Samantha desperately wants to move out of her dorm and into an apartment of her own, but she doesn't have enough money for the first month's rent, and there are few available job prospects. Then she is presented with an intriguing opportunity to babysit for an eccentric couple in a sprawling Victorian mansion in the country. Despite her reservations about the creepiness of her employers and their shady bait-and-switch when it comes to the particulars of the job, Samantha accepts - and that's when the real fun begins.

If you're looking for an action-oriented horror flick, stay away from this one; about three quarters of the movie is spent entirely on building anticipation and heaping on the tension. When is the axe going to fall? When are the Satanic rituals going to start? What's with the lunar eclipse that everyone keeps mentioning?! From the opening credits to the lingering closing shot (and even the promotional posters that I found online!), everything about this movie is eerie, unsettling and meticulously true to the period without crossing the line into camp. If you fetishize late 70s/early 80s horror movies as much as I do, this is a must-see. Director Ti West knows his shit when it comes to the era - and I can say that this is easily my favorite new horror film of the year so far.

The House of the Devil is currently in theaters in limited release, in addition to being available for viewing OnDemand.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

It's here! The best holiday of the year is officially upon us. What are you planning to dress up as tonight? I have a white dress that has been liberally sprayed with blood and pair of vampire fangs that are calling my name...

Black cats and goblins
And broomsticks and ghosts,
Covens of witches with all of their hosts.
You may think they scare me,
You're probably right.
Black cats and goblins
On Halloween night.

TRICK OR TREAT!

Friday, October 30, 2009

TONIGHT: Ghost Adventures Live from the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum


It's Devil's Night, and if you don't already have plans to wreak havoc on the neighborhood, why not stay home and bro down with Zak, Nick and Aaron of Ghost Adventures? Their 7-hour live ghost hunt at West Virginia's haunted Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, which will be broadcast on the Travel Channel, starts tonight at 8 PM and runs until 3 AM. Even if nothing supernatural is captured on film, you can rest assured that, at the very least, the guys will get royally freaked out. Yay!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spooky Self-Promotion: Win Tickets to See My Band at the Troubadour

In addition to bringing you the latest on all things spooky, I also play bass, write lyrics (and, occasionally, sing) in a band called Shiloe. I think my favorite description of our sound to date came courtesy of a review in Big Takeover magazine, which likened us to "Sonic Youth throwing a punk rock through the windows of a goth club." What's not to like about that?!
This Sunday, November 1st, we are playing at the Troubadour in West Hollywood with Girl in a Coma and Black Gold, and guess what? You can win tickets! LAist is giving away a pair to one lucky individual who comments on the post and shares what they're planning to dress up as for Halloween. The contest ends at midnight on October 29th, so enter now. (And if you do go, say hi to me - and mention this blog - and I'll give you a free bonus gift!)

In honor of the holiday, Shiloe will be rocking a Dia de los Muertos theme for the night. And if you win, show up early! We go on at 8:30 PM. See you there.

Burbank's Backwoods Maze


As previously stated in my post about the Halloween shenanigans taking place all over the greater Los Angeles area this week, the Backwoods Maze in Burbank is, without a doubt, the best private yard haunt I've ever encountered. L.A. has always been home to a wealth of spectacularly executed home haunts, from the venerable Hallowed Haunting Grounds to the whimsical Boney Island (both of which are now, sadly, defunct) to the eminently eerie House of Restless Spirits, which you can visit this year on October 30th and 31st. However, none of them have actually made me scream...until I visited the Backwoods Maze.

Located on a rather nondescript suburban street, the fun starts as soon as the front yard comes into view. You'll encounter an entire cemetery full of headstones paying homage to horror icons, from Regan (The Exorcist) to Edgar Allan Poe, as well as hulking, larger-than-life figures of Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, Chucky, the Creeper (from Jeepers Creepers), and so forth. Even the sign is amazing; unfortunately, my camera's battery died right after I captured the above shot of the graveyard scene, so you'll have to take my word for it (or, you know, visit their MySpace to check out a picture).

Once inside, you'll go through a maze that is absolutely on a par with anything you would find at Knott's or Universal - but better. Why? For two reasons: First of all, the Backwoods goes places that the big amusement parks wouldn't dare. At one point, the maze was so dark, so thick with fog, and so claustrophobic that we were literally walking into a wall over and over again simply because we couldn't figure out where to go - and there were no black-clothed ushers with flashlights there to lend a hand. And second, this is in someone's backyard. I really have no idea how they crammed so much detail and so many actors into such a small space, but they did it - and it really must be seen to be believed.

I don't want to spoil anyone's fun by saying too much, but I will say this: If you live in or near L.A. and you consider yourself a Halloween and/or horror fan, you must visit this maze. And keep in mind that, while the maze is free, they do accept donations - so bring along a little cash to toss into the donation bucket, because with this level of skill and commitment, they absolutely deserve it. The Backwoods Maze, which is located at 1912 N. Pepper St. in Burbank, will be operating October 29th, 30th and 31st from 6:30 until 10 PM (11 PM on Halloween night).

Halloween Time at Disneyland


My birthday this year, which I celebrated at Disneyland thanks to their unprecedented "Free Entry on Your Birthday!" promotion, marked my first foray into Halloween Time at Disneyland. According to Disney, "Halloween Time" is very specific period of time - September 25th through November 1st, to be exact - so my mid-October birthday happened to fall right in the middle of the festivities.


First and foremost, I would like to commend Disney for finally giving the spookiest of holidays its proper due, which is no doubt attributable to the continued momentum of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. (If the clothing choices of tourists are any indication, Jack Skellington may well be eclipsing Mickey Mouse in terms of popularity.) Disneyland now does Halloween proper, trotting out a mouth-watering array of seasonal treats, decorating the front entrance and Main Street USA with pumpkins, allowing famous villains like Cruella De Vil and Maleficent to "take over" the park, and even altering a few of their most popular attractions.



The most notable ride overlay is the Haunted Mansion Holiday, which injects a little bit of the ghoulish glee of Nightmare Before Christmas straight into the macabre elegance of the classic Haunted Mansion. I still prefer my Mansion the old-fashioned way, but HMH is exceedingly well-done, and the eye to detail is as astounding as one would expect from Disney. This year, the park also unveiled a brand new seasonal look for Space Mountain, called Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy. Essentially, various images of a ghostly creature that kind of reminded me of the Mummy (Brendan Fraser version, not Boris Karloff) are projected onto the walls and ceiling of the ride at key points. Space Mountain always rules, and this was a fun addition, but it is nowhere near as immersive as the Haunted Mansion overlay.



In addition, there are some truly awesome Dia de los Muertos decorations in Frontierland, as well as a new fireworks show, "Halloween Screams." If you've ever wished that it was Zero (Jack Skellington's beloved ghost dog, of course!) flying around the castle instead of Tinkerbell (and who hasn't, am I right?!), then this is the show for you. All in all, Disneyland's Halloween Time is a fun contribution to the October madness that prevails at southern California's theme parks, but it's certainly not going to scare anyone - Disney seems content to leave that honor to their brethren in Buena Park and Universal City.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Letdown de los Muertos

We may not have been able to get in to last night's Dia de los Muertos celebration at Hollywood Forever - or even find parking! - but at least our makeup looked great, right?


I'm still not sure exactly how early one has to get to the cemetery in order to land a parking spot and a place in line, but it's safe to say that it's earlier than 8 PM. Lesson learned!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

THIS WEEKEND (and Next): Halloween Fun Galore

There are so many spooky events going on this weekend in L.A. that resistance is futile - you're going to just have to resign yourself to not one, but two glorious weekends of Halloween fun. Here are my top picks for tonight, tomorrow and the week to come...
If you hurry, you can still catch the 8 PM showing of Robert Wise's 1963 haunted house masterpiece The Haunting, one of my favorite movies of all time, at the allegedly haunted Alex Theatre in Glendale. Psychic/medium and paranormal investigator Michael J. Kouri will appear before the film to discuss the haunted history of the Alex. The theatre is located at 216 North Brand Blvd. in Glendale, and tickets are $13.50.
Also tonight is the Hollywood Forever Cemetery's annual Dia de los Muertos celebration, which features ceremonial tributes, processions, decorated altars, live music, food, vendors, and thousands of costumed revelers. The celebration runs until 11 PM and costs $10 per person (free for children under 10). I am very excited to finally check this out for myself!
Tomorrow, stop by CreepyLA's Haunted Speakeasy, "a night of storytellers...[sharing] true tales of the supernatural." Click here for more information, including location and the secret password that's required for admission. The fun begins at 7 PM tomorrow night and costs $15 per person.
If you're looking for some extremely wallet-friendly fun, I highly recommend that you visit Burbank's own Backwoods Maze, which is hands down the best yard haunt I've ever experienced (review to follow shortly). The maze is located at 1912 N. Pepper St. in Burbank, and will be operating tonight and tomorrow night, as well as the 29th, 30th and 31st from 6:30 until 10 PM (11 PM on Halloween night). While the maze is free, donations are accepted, and you should absolutely throw in a few bucks, because the quality and commitment are astounding. Read CreepyLA's review here or visit their MySpace for more information. (Above photo taken from their MySpace.)
Another chance to check out the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, which was the site of a real life unsolved murder and is rumored to be haunted, occurs next week thanks to the first annual Wicked Literature Halloween Theatre Festival. The festival, which features dramatic readings of three chilling tales by the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and Washington Irving, takes place in various locales within the house and on the grounds of the mansion. The event runs October 27-31, and tickets are $45. Call 818-242-7910 for reservations.
Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax has all sorts of ghoulish seasonal offerings in store, but I particularly recommend TV Horror Host Night on Tuesday the 27th, which features a screening of the documentary American Scary, an examination of the rise and fall of the horror host phenomenon. The evening will be hosted by Mr. Lobo, and following the film there will be a surprise screening of a "rare" TV movie from the '70s. Tickets are $12 and the show begins at 8 PM.
The New Beverly Cinema at 7165 West Beverly Blvd. also has a host of horror goodies on their calendar for next week, with my favorite being the William Castle double feature on October 25 and 26. The bill includes Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story, a documentary about the passionately schlocky filmmaker, and the 1960 version of 13 Ghosts.
And, finally, on Halloween night itself, Cinespia will be screening John Carpenter's 1978 opus Halloween, which bears the distinction of being my #1 favorite film of all time, in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. If you missed your chance to catch a movie in the cemetery this summer, or you're simply looking for a fun activity for Halloween night, you could do a lot worse - but be warned, this event will be especially crowded (even for a cemetery screening), so get there early! Gates open at 5:30 PM and the movie begins at 7, and tickets are the usual $10 donation at the gate. Don't forget to bring snacks and boooooooze!

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror XX

Last weekend, a rare and wonderful event took place: The annual Simpsons "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween special actually aired before Halloween! Elderly Simspsons fans like myself may recall a time when Fox would broadcast the special on or before Halloween - way back in the heady days of the '90s - but ever since 2000, we've had to wait until after the 31st to see what diabolical parodies the Simpsons had in store. But not this year! Woo hoo!

Although it didn't approach the unabashed brilliance of classic Treehouses of Horror, I still thought the twentieth (!) edition of the annual special was pretty entertaining, especially for a "new" Simpsons episode. The opening bit, with Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's monster and the Mummy crashing the Simpsons' Halloween party, was inspired, and the first two segments - a nod to Hitchcock starring Bart and Lisa and a 28 Days Later spoof - were similarly clever and funny. I thought the episode lost some momentum with the final segment, a loose reworking of Sweeney Todd featuring Marge, Homer and Moe - but, to be honest, I'm not even a fan of the actual Sweeney Todd. (I like the cannibalism/revenge stuff, but egads, the singing!)

At the moment, my favorite THOH bits are probably The Shining - oops, I'm sorry, The Shinning - and last year's Great Pumpkin parody, which I really liked after revisiting it on Sunday. What's your all-time favorite Treehouse of Horror segment?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Now She's the Spider and You're the Fly


Looking for something new to add to your Halloween playlist? My band just recorded a brand new spooky song, called "Spider Baby." Listen to it on our MySpace...and watch out for those spiders.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My Haunted Hayride Review for CreepyLA

Last night, I experienced what is, to my knowledge, L.A.'s first and only Haunted Hayride - and I loved it!

To read my in-depth review and see a few photos from the Haunted Carnival, follow the link to CreepyLA:

All Aboard the Fright Wagon! A review of the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stage Review: Maverick Theater's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

This may be a bit of sacrilege, since I consider myself something of an actress, but I've always have mixed feelings about live theater. On one hand, I think it's a lot of fun to do - when you're acting in front of a live audience, you get a certain immediate gratification (laughter, gasps, applause) that acting in films just can't offer. On the other hand, however, plays are sometimes not as much fun to watch as they are to be in. Let's be honest here! How many times have you been dragged to a play and found yourself wondering, a la The Simpsons, "This is better than a movie why?!"

Rest assured, the Maverick Theater's stage adaptation of the George A. Romero zombie classic Night of the Living Dead is NOT that kind of play.

An absolute joy for horror fans - or anyone looking for a good seasonal scare - from start to finish, the Maverick does a fantastic job of making the living dead come to life (pun intended) on stage. The less said about the details, the better; you'll want to go into this one sans spoilers. Even if you've seen the original NOTLD a million times, the Maverick will still manage to find ways to surprise and thrill you.

The cast, led by Scott Johnson as Ben, handle their roles capably, and Hannah Butcher (as Judy) certainly has an ear-piercing scream queen shriek that must be heard to be believed, but the real stars here are the zombies - a whole slew of them, in fantastic makeup and unafraid to get their hands dirty, so to speak. A word of advice: Make sure you show up early so you can...erm...relax and have a drink beforehand. Heh heh heh. Oh, and if you happen to be seated at the end of an aisle, watch out!

But whatever you do, make sure you get yourself down to Fullerton to check out this play. Maverick's Night of the Living Dead is likely to be the best time you'll have at the theater all month - and, quite possibly, all year.

The Maverick Theater is located at 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton, CA 92832. Night of the Living Dead runs Fridays and Saturdays through November 1st, except for Halloween week, when it runs Tuesday (10/27) through Sunday (11/1). Shows start at 8:30 PM. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the Maverick's online box office.

Creepy L.A. GIVEAWAY Winners!

Interested in finding out who won the Creepy L.A./Magnets de los Muertos giveaway? The winners have been announced! Click the link below to read the winner's horror haiku - and learn why more than one entrant was awarded with a set of macabre magnetic poetry...then visit the MdlM website to order a set of your own in time for Halloween!

Magnets de los Muertos Giveaway Winners: Read Their Horror Haiku

Movie Recommendation: TRICK 'R TREAT

Sometimes it's hard to be a horror fan. Living, as we do, in the age of "torture porn" and uninspired remakes, it's easy to slip into nostalgia for the fright flicks of years gone by. Don't get me wrong - I do love me some gore. (I mean, I count Evil Dead 2 and Dead Alive among my favorite movies.) But a film has to have more going for it than gross-out scares and jarring "gotcha!" moments for me to fall in love. If you feel the same way, allow me to make a little recommendation: Pick up a copy of Trick 'r Treat.
After spending years in movie purgatory, Trick 'r Treat was finally released on DVD this past Tuesday, just in time for Halloween. I was lucky enough to catch a screening of this at last year's Screamfest, and I have to say it met and exceeded all of my expectations. First and foremost, TrT is a movie about Halloween. If it were simply set on October 31st, that would almost be enough, but it goes beyond that, using the holiday's mischievous, irreverent, spooky spirit as its central theme. Think about it - how many movies are there that are actually about Halloween? Precious few, particularly if you exclude children's classics like It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. This is a movie that was meant to be enjoyed with the lights low, a big bowl of Halloween candy nearby, and the smell of singed pumpkin flesh wafting through the air - perfect viewing for a chilly October night.
As if that weren't enough, TrT is also an anthology movie in the vein of Creepshow or Trilogy of Terror - a rare breed indeed in contemporary horror. Of the five intersecting story lines, my favorites are the group of teens investigating a local Halloween legend and the elderly curmudgeon tormented by a mysterious - and persistent - visitor. I'll say no more; just head to the store right now, grab the DVD, and get ready to start a brand new Halloween viewing tradition.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Universal's Halloween Horror Nights 2009

Oh, Knott's...you know I love you. You'll always hold a special place in my heart - you were my first, after all. But when it comes to southern California amusement-parks-turned-haunted-attractions, you've got some serious competition from Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights.

Admittedly, I'm a bit of a late bloomer when it comes to HHN. Apart from one lone year of attendance some 15+ years ago, which I remembered as vaguely disappointing, last year was my first HHN experience, and to say that I was blown away would be an understatement. First of all, when compared to other haunts in the area, Universal is absolutely terrifying. Granted, they have fewer mazes than Knott's - only 4, plus the amazing Terror Tram (and 6 scare zones) - but what they lack in quantity they more than make up in quality.

What is it about Universal's take on the Halloween season that makes it stand out from the crowd? Part of it is the setting: The Psycho house, the Bates Motel, a plane crash set from War of the Worlds and the park's House of Horrors attraction are all used to maximum effect. Part of it is the attention to detail; the mazes here are immersive and all-encompassing, tantalizing (and terrifying) every sense. Part of it is the caliber of actors they hire at the park. Is it because these "scareactors" are Hollywood hopefuls or simply because Universal has higher standards? Either way, every last chainsaw-wielding maniac in the park seems admirably committed to staying in character. And, finally, part of it is the fact that Universal has the luxury of creating mazes that evoke specific horror movies, which gives the proceedings a unique thrill. I don't know about you, but seeing Norman Bates and Michael Myers in the flesh is a little bit like a celebrity sighting for me. I practically want to ask for their autographs.

Here are my detailed reviews of the mazes, ranked in order from best to worst, according to my personal preference:
  1. Terror Tram: Live or Die! Last year, the Terror Tram was loosely Freddy Krueger-themed; this year, the host/primary antagonist is "Billy, Jigsaw's messenger of doom from the Saw horror film franchise." [Full disclosure: Despite the fact that I absolutely love horror, I can't stand the Saw movies - I find them completely uninteresting.] Obviously, last year's Terror Tram was better. That being said, holy @#$!, the Terror Tram is awesome! This is the best maze/haunted ride I've experienced to date, bar none. Lots of scares, a creative use of the Universal backlot's natural terrain, and yes, the opportunity to see the Bates Motel and the Psycho house up close and personal. It warms the cockles of my heart - until I run away screaming, of course. Oh, and it lasts a good 15-20 minutes. Honestly, if this were the only attraction that Halloween Horror Nights offered, I would still want to go.
  2. Halloween: The Life and Crimes of Michael Myers: OMG OMG A HALLOWEEN MAZE!! My anticipation level for this maze was off the charts. As I remarked to my boyfriend in line, "I'm so happy right now. How often do you get to see your favorite movie of all time in maze form?!" The maze begins when you cross the threshold of the Myers house, but the fun begins before that: Michael's murder of his sister plays out in silhouette on one of the home's upstairs windows. Once inside, you feel instantly transported to 1978 Midwestern suburbia. (Is that The Thing I spy playing on the television?! That is, of course, the movie playing on TV on Halloween night in the original film.) You wind your way past little Michael standing over the body of his sister, Michael's bedroom door (plastered with photos of clowns and "KEEP OUT" scratched into the woodwork in a nod to Rob Zombie's reimagined version), a creepy kitchen, etc. There is a very convincing Dr. Loomis warning you not to enter Smith's Grove, the asylum from which Michael escapes. You'll see Lynda strangled by ghost Michael, wearing Bob's glasses. They even remembered Halloween III: Season of the Witch, also known as "the Halloween without Michael Myers." Brilliant! If you're a fan of the series, this maze is a must. You won't be disappointed.
  3. Chucky's Funhouse: Okay, I feel the need to clarify something here: I'm not a fan of Chucky or the Child's Play movies - but especially Chucky. Last year, his role at HHN was to hurl insults at the crowd very, very loudly; this year, he gets his own maze. Luckily for him, it's housed inside of the House of Horrors, a year-round attraction that Universal jazzes up for the holiday. (Last year it paid tribute to classic monsters, which is far preferable...but I digress!) The House of Horrors is inherently spooky and an effective setting for a maze. Thus, Chucky's Funhouse scared me silly. Fortunately, like the Saw-themed Terror Tram, you can certainly enjoy this maze even if you don't enjoy its namesake. Watch out for the line, though - that's where Chucky gets his big opportunity to, you know...hurl insults at the crowd very, very loudly. Ha ha?
  4. My Bloody Valentine: Be Mine 4 Ever: Despite the cheesy name, this is a very cool maze. The movie on which it's based is a fun but forgettable little trifle, but the mine setting really works. Watch out for that pickaxe!
  5. Saw: Game Over: I've already made my feelings about Saw abundantly clear, so it should come as no surprise that the Saw maze (not the same as the Terror Tram, mind you!) was my least favorite of the night. Still, it was a lot more fun than watching one of the 4,527 Saw movies - but when set against the other mazes, this one pales in comparison. Oh, and the whole thing smells terrible. Yes, I know it's intentional, but ugh!
In addition to the mazes, there are a few really cool scare zones. My favorites were "Freakz," featuring demented carnival escapees including one spectacular stilt performer, and a positively inspired tribute to Shaun of the Dead, which has a real-life Shaun brandishing a cricket bat and leading Zombie Ed around on a kiddie harness. Brilliant!

If you only visit one Halloween theme park attraction this year, make it Halloween Horror Nights. It is truly as close to actually being in a scary movie as one could hope to get - and I, for one, can't wait to see which horror movies they'll bring to life next year.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Creepy L.A. GIVEAWAY: Last Chance to Enter

Today is your last opportunity to enter the Creepy L.A./Magnets de los Muertos giveaway! Leave your horror-themed haiku as a comment on the post (click the link below) and you could win a set of macabre magnetic poetry - choose from among 10 different varieties. Good luck!

Click here to enter! The winner will be chosen tomorrow, October 1st

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Knott's Scary Farm 2009

Attending Knott's Scary Farm (a.k.a. Knott's Berry Farm's Halloween Haunt) is one of my most treasured Halloween traditions. I've been frequenting the event since I was about 8 years old; some of my fondest childhood memories involve seeing Elvira - one of my idols growing up - perform at the Charles M. Schulz Theatre, and screaming myself hoarse in the mazes. No matter what happens, I will always love the Haunt.

That being said, I think it's time for me to take a little break.

Of course, the Haunt was still fun this year, as always. (It's pretty difficult not to have fun in an entire theme park that's been decked out in ghoulish homage to your favorite holiday.) But, in maze after maze, I couldn't shake the feeling that - with a couple of very notable exceptions - I had seen it all before. Knott's is fantastic because it's such a reliable southern California stalwart when it comes to Halloween fun, but unless there are all new mazes next year, I think I might skip the Haunt in favor of checking out some lesser known local attractions, just to see what I've been missing all these years. Who knows? Maybe in 2011 I'll come running back to Knott's with open arms.

That being said, here's my maze by maze review, ranked in order from best to worst:
  1. Dia de los Muertos 3D: One of the two new mazes (along with Terror of London) that persuaded me to return to the Haunt this year. I have been crossing my fingers for a Day of the Dead-themed maze for years. Knott's went above and beyond with this maze, including holiday-specific scenes such as a graveyard decorated with colorful altars, and rooms that nod to such icons of Mexican folklore as the Chupacabra and La Llorona. There's even a human sacrifice to the Aztec gods toward the end. Everything I had hoped for and more, this maze is pure eye candy and absolutely awesome. It also lends itself extremely well to the 3D concept.
  2. Terror of London: I definitely missed 13 Axe Murder Manor this year. That maze, with its haunted house/axe murder theme, had something that many of the mazes lack: Subtlety. Fortunately, Terror of London does a very good job of filling that void. It's a beautiful, atmospheric maze that really gets under your skin. Watch for the Victorian hearse shrouded in fog, the graveyard scene, and the brothel. Creepy rather than horrifying, this maze is ideal for those who would take The Haunting over the Saw franchise any day of the week.
  3. The Doll Factory: This maze was less scary to me than in years past, but I still have to give it high marks for both concept and execution. What I like most about the Doll Factory is that the idea is so original and disturbing, and the monsters - rather than run of the mill zombies, clowns with chainsaws or dead cowboys - are empty-eyed dolls come to life, and a very creepy killer called "the Marionette Murderer." Pretty much the only maze that makes me wish someone would turn it into a full-length movie.
  4. Cornstalkers: When it premiered last year, this maze was another dream come true. I kept thinking it would be cool to have a good, old-fashioned corn maze that made use of classic Halloween iconography like scarecrows, pumpkins, etc. Well, the Haunt gods must have read my mind, because Cornstalkers fulfills that wish to a T. My only complaint is that it's a little brief, and there weren't enough monsters in it this year - but it still absolutely smacks of autumn, and I appreciate that it's another atypical choice for a maze.
  5. Labyrinth: Yet another unusual maze. I'll be the first to admit that this one really isn't scary at all. However, I think it does a fantastic job of creating a magical, mysterious, disorienting atmosphere. The scenery and the costumes are gorgeous, and I like how it leans toward fantasy rather than horror, adding some much-needed variety to the Haunt.
  6. Quarantine: I seem to remember this maze as being much scarier last year. This time, it was significantly less frightening, but I still appreciate it for being the closest thing to a traditional zombie maze in the park.
  7. Club Blood: Decent, but I really, really miss the old vampire maze, Lore of the Vampire. (Does anyone remember when it was called Lair of the Vampyre?!) Get the vamps out of the clubs and back to their sexy, Gothic roots! Or, alternately, hook up with the makers of True Blood, rename it "Fangtasia," and fill it with Vampire Bill and Eric lookalikes. Hmm...
  8. The Slaughterhouse: Not to sound like a broken record here ("Bring back the glory days of the Haunt, wah wah wah!"), but I really preferred Blood Bayou to the Slaughterhouse. Now there was a Deep South/chainsaw/cannibal maze I could get behind! This is a bit of grotesque fun, but it plays like a second rate Texas Chainsaw knockoff rather than the humid, swampy nightmare it could be. P.S. No chainsaw on the night I went! BOO!!!
  9. Lockdown: The Asylum: For several years, the Asylum was my favorite maze. What could be creepier than an abandoned and/or haunted insane asylum full of murderous crazies, right? Then, last year, I observed that the maze was beginning to lose its luster. I was excited at the prospect of a new concept for the Asylum (now, apparently, it's a prison for the criminally insane), but it just couldn't match the sheer creepiness of the Asylum at its peak. (Case in point: One room in the old Asylum was filled with bloody hospital beds, and things lurking in the shadows. Now that's the kind of disturbing imagery this maze needs!)
  10. Uncle Bobo's Big Top of the Bizarre 3D: Sigh. The clown maze. Always loud, always headache-inducing. I wholeheartedly support revamping the clown maze with a "bizarre circus" theme; however, they didn't take the new theme far enough. Next year, if the clowns must stay, why not reimagine the maze completely and populate it with sideshow performers, "freaks," murderous bearded ladies, and so forth? Think Carnivale, not Krusty the Clown with a chainsaw!
  11. Pyromaniax (Log Ride): I miss Red Moon Massacre (a.k.a. the Little Red Riding Hood maze). It worked so much better with the Log Ride's rustic look and feel. Bring it back!!!
  12. Black Widow's Cavern (Mine Ride): It seems like there's a lot of potential for the Mine Ride to become a really excellent maze. However, I have yet to see the ride actually realize that potential. If it weren't for the enormous spider, the theme of this maze would've escaped me entirely.
  13. Alien Annihilation 3D: I have never seen anyone purchase the $5 laser tag guns you need to "participate" in this maze. Knott's, it is with love that I point out that, although you gave the laser tag maze a good sporting chance, the experiment has officially failed. Put the space to better use next year! May I suggest a witch maze?
Other than the mazes and a handful of shows (sadly, none approaching the brilliance of an Elvira-starring song-and-dance revue), the only thing to see at the Haunt this year is a "Scare Scene" devoted to the forthcoming remake of The Stepfather. Unless you're hellbent on seeing everything the park has to offer, I recommend skipping it. It's kind of a one-gag experience. Too bad the planned Zombieland scare zone fell through, as I was very much looking forward to it.

My conclusion? If you haven't been to Knott's Scary Farm, you must visit. If you've been a few times, go again this year to check out the incredible Dia de los Muertos and Terror of London mazes. But if you're a regular like me, here's hoping for a fresh and innovative maze roster for 2010. (Seriously, Knott's - a witch maze! Think about it...)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dexter: Season 4

With all of the Knott's Scary Farm-related excitement going on last night (review to follow shortly), I completely forgot to blog about the season premiere of Dexter, despite the fact that it's one of my favorite shows!

The Showtime series follows the eminently talented Michael C. Hall as serial killer-turned-vigilante (of sorts) Dexter Morgan. See, his adoptive father recognized his diabolical leanings early on and instilled in Dexter "the Code" - how to kill, who to kill, and how to avoid getting caught. That means that Dexter only kills bad guys, making him a rather lovable, if deeply disturbed, protagonist.

This season finds Dexter newly married, with a brand new baby to distract him from doling out deliciously brutal justice to Miami's criminal element. John Lithgow, unafraid to bare his ass for the camera, plays a murderous new rival for Dexter to obsess over/bond with/eventually kill. (Am I right?! Let's be honest here.) Can Dexter really "have it all," or will his Dark Passenger interfere with familial bliss?

The acting on this show is always first rate, and while sometimes the plot machinations can feel forced or contrived, I still look forward to sitting down with Dexter every Sunday. Lithgow's Trinity Killer should be an intriguing addition to the cast; I only hope that this season follows a slightly different arc than the previous three.

Check it out on Sundays at 9 PM, or OnDemand.

Monster Cereal Sightings!


All hail the Great Pumpkin! Guess who I saw at my local Target today? That's right! It's the Holy Trinity of Halloween-themed breakfast cereals: Count Chocula, Boo Berry and Frankenberry. (Also spotted the fiendish trio at Albertson's, although it's worth noting that they're a full three dollars cheaper at Target.) Purchased one of each and fixed myself a bowl of Monster Mash as soon as I got home.

RECIPE: Monster Mash

Ingredients

1 generous scoop of Count Chocula
1 middling scoop of Boo Berry
1 petite scoop of Frankenberry
Milk

Combine ingredients in a bowl; serve with gusto. VOILA!


Okay, so it's not exactly haute cuisine, but hello! Monster cereals!!!

On a related note, I hear there's a Halloween-themed Cap'n Crunch floating about as well. Has anyone found it in the L.A. area yet? Apparently, it turns your milk green.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Movie Review: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY

If you're a horror fan in L.A., I'm sure you're aware of the fact that Paranormal Activity had a free midnight screening last night at the Arclight in Hollywood. (Not familiar? Think Blair Witch-meets-The Haunting, and check out the truly excellent trailer.) I was seriously chomping at the bit to see this movie, to the extent that a) I actually had a nightmare about it before seeing it, and b) I was more than happy to wait in a line for nearly 4 hours. So what's the verdict? Was it worth the wait?

Um...yeah, sorta. Here's the thing about this movie: In my opinion, it absolutely has the potential for greatness. All of the elements are there: A simple yet effective concept ("What Happens When You Sleep?"), a lack of CG effects, unknown actors in the lead roles, etc. At times, the movie is extremely effective. There were at least 3 shots that made all of the hairs on my arms stand on end. (When your body physically responds to a movie, you just can't argue about its effectiveness.) And one scene in particular, involving a trip to the attic, had me actually looking away from the screen just because it was so unpleasant. (Not gross - nothing disgusting happens in this movie - just really unpleasant.) I was ready to love it. I wanted to love it.

And then there's that ending.

I won't go into detail, because I don't want to ruin anything for anybody and this is certainly the kind of movie where the less you know the scarier it will be, but for me, the ending can absolutely make or break a horror film. If your film is kinda meh, but the ending is incredible, I'm sold; conversely, if the movie is really good but the ending is super lame, I walk out feeling cheated. This ending was definitely an eye roller. Tonally, it's completely different from the rest of the movie, and in my opinion, betrays the spirit of the film, which is a shame.

And guess what? It's not the original ending!

Apparently, Paranormal Activity actually had two different endings prior to this one - and, from what I've read, both of them were superior to what I saw in the theater last night. My favorite, of course, is the original. It fits the movie, and sounds truly terrifying. Without that ending, this movie is simply good; with that ending, it could very well have become a classic.

Would I recommend Paranormal Activity? Yes. It's fun, it's scary, and it's easily the creepiest new movie to come out this year. But keep in mind that it is flawed - not only because of the revamped ending, but due to that perennial horror movie downfall, the Character Who Makes Stupid Choices. Still, it gave me nightmares. Again. So, in the end, it did its job - and if you don't believe me, you can ask all the little hairs on the back of my neck. They don't lie.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Creepy L.A. GIVEAWAY! Enter to Win

If your curiosity was piqued by my Magnets de los Muertos post, but you haven't yet experienced the unique pleasures of having a macabre magnetic poetry set of your very own, then I implore you to check out the MdlM giveaway over at Creepy L.A.!

Now through the end of the month, compose a horror-themed haiku and post it as a comment on the Creepy L.A. post (click on the link below), and you'll be eligible to win one set of spooky magnetic poetry - winner's choice. Good luck!

Magnets de los Muertos Giveaway! Win a Set of Macabre Magnetic Poetry

Saturday, September 19, 2009

TONIGHT: Rosemary's Baby at the Cemetery

If you haven't been to one of Cinespia's famous cemetery screenings yet, I demand you go tonight. Why? Well, for two reasons, really: First and foremost, they're showing Rosemary's Baby, Roman Polanski's 1968 masterpiece of witchcraft, pregnancy and paranoia starring Mia Farrow and her notoriously short hair. In addition, this will be the last cemetery screening of the season, which means you'll have to wait until next summer if you don't get your fix now. As always, don't forget the booze and the picnic dinner!

More info, from the Cinespia website:
directed by Roman Polanski (1968 136 mins)

gates 6:30 pm movie 8:00 pm NEW TIME!!
no reservation necessary
$10 donation tickets available at gate
as a courtesy to other moviegoers: NO TALL CHAIRS!!

Terrifying, hallucinatory and brimming with dark humor, Rosemary's is nothing short of a masterpiece of suspense. Farrow is an unsuspecting wife who believes her husband has become involved with a modern day witches coven. Is she being paranoid, or do they have diabolical plans for her baby? A brilliant performance by Mia Farrow made her a superstar overnight, John Cassavettes is phenomenal as her suspicious husband, and the incomparable Ruth Gordon (Harold & Maude) is hilarious as the next door neighbor. Join us under the stars for the last screening of the season!!

dj gas lamp killer spins before and after the screening
Hollywood Forever Cemetery is at 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., near the intersection of Santa Monica and Gower.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Paranormal Activity: Evidence of a Haunting

I consider myself something of a connoisseur when it comes to haunted house movies, so it goes without saying that I am absolutely dying to see Paranormal Activity. The premise of the film is simple, even familiar: A couple thinks their house may be haunted, so they set up a video camera to film the events that take place during the course of the night. In the vein of The Blair Witch Project - which, in my opinion, is a really good film that's seen its reputation tarnished by its notoriety - the movie was made for just $11,000 and has been the talk of several film festivals, including Slamdance and Screamfest. Finally, Paranormal Activity has a distribution deal through Paramount, which means that on September 25th you'll be able to see the film that Bloody-Disgusting calls "one of the scariest movies of all time."

Watch the trailer here:


Sunday, September 13, 2009

TONIGHT: Spirits With Spirits at Patrick's Roadhouse


Patrick's Roadhouse (photo source)

Members of GHOULA - the Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles - meet at a haunted pub or restaurant on the 13th of every month to swap stories about the supernatural. For September's event, the meetup takes place tonight at 6 PM at Patrick's Roadhouse, a seaside establishment located at 106 Entrada Dr. in Santa Monica. In a gesture that will surely be appreciated by all who attend, Patrick's Roadhouse will be closed to the public in order to give the staff an opportunity to regale GHOULA members with stories about the building's haunted history. An RSVP is required - check out the details on the GHOULA website for more information, and for some background on the roadhouse's resident ghosts.

This is poised to be the best Spirits with Spirits since the group's exquisitely creepy visit to the Queen Mary a few months back! Don't miss out.

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