Friday, September 28, 2012

THIS WEEKEND: Spider Baby & Carnival of Souls



Thanks to Ms. Merricat Blackwood for alerting me to this weekend's amazing double feature of Spider Baby and Carnival of Souls, two black-and-white horror films from the '60s that are screening at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' "Film-to-Film Festival." Both movies, which are screening Saturday, September 29th (tomorrow!), were recently restored by the Academy from the original negatives, and the Spider Baby screening will have writer-director Jack Hill on hand as a special guest.

If you've never seen Spider Baby - one of my personal favorites - you're doing yourself a serious disservice. It's a groovy weirdo movie about a family that suffers from a terrible curse - a disease that causes them to regress to some sort of bizarre primal state, indulging in their every disturbed, childlike whim. It has a young Sid Haig, an old Lon Chaney, Jr. and two of the creepiest ladies ever to wield knives. Carnival of Souls is subtler and slower, but it's also chilling and eerie, and the perfect kickoff to October.

Spider Baby screens at 7:30pm, and Carnival of Souls at 9:30pm. Tickets are $5 each per feature (so $10 per person to see both).

Screams and moans and bats and bones
Teenage monsters in haunted homes
The ghost on the stair, the vampire's bite
Better beware, there's a full moon tonight!
Cannibal spiders creep and crawl
Boys and ghouls having a ball
Frankenstein, Dracula and even the Mummy
Are sure to end up in somebody's tummy
Take a fresh rodent, some toadstools and weeds
Add an old owl and the young one she breeds
Mix in seven legs of an eight-legged beast
Then you're all set for a cannibal feast
Sit around the fire with the cup of brew
A fiend and a werewolf on each side of you
This cannibal orgy is strange to behold
And the maddest story ever told!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Horror in Store: Movies to Watch

It's almost October, so scary movies are on my mind now more than ever (if that's even possible). From upcoming releases to movies that are just now making their way to DVD/Blu-Ray to recent releases that I somehow managed to overlook when they were in theaters, here are a few films that I'm looking forward to catching in the coming weeks:


Okay, The Cabin in the Woods came out forever ago but it's just coming out on DVD this week. Have you seen it? You really should. It totally deconstructs your favorite predictable horror tropes in a really fun, clever way, and the last 20 minutes or so are completely crazy. Don't read too much about it, just watch.


Beyond the Black Rainbow is another movie that's new to DVD. My understanding is that it's some sort of pseudo-retro weirdo sci-fi movie about mind control, a sinister psychiatrist and the patient he's trying to hold captive. I dig 70s/80s homage movies (see also: The House of the Devil) and I'm thinking this is one, with some bizarre David Cronenberg/David Lynch elements thrown in. Good title too.
 
I haven't actually heard too much about The Loved Ones, but I saw a capsule review of it that mentioned it was new to DVD (even though Teh Google tells me it's an Australian film from ye olde 2009) and described it as some sort of prom night revenge flick. Specifically, a girl gets all murderously vengeful when the dude she asks to prom turns her down. Shades of Carrie and/or Prom Night? Could be interesting. Plus, the drill on the poster makes me think of Slumber Party Massacre.


I've been dying to see The Pact ever since it first came out earlier this year, but it was only in one theater for like one week, so I missed it. It's about a woman who returns to her childhood home for her mother's funeral and encounters "unsettling" forces. Creepy haunted house movies are my favorite, y'all! And look at that poster. LOVE. Looks like this one will be out on DVD in November.


Perhaps the only thing more delicious than a haunted house movie is a haunted house period piece. So classy, right?! This movie is set in 1920s England, and involves a woman who debunks paranormal phenomena investigating ghost sightings at a boarding school. Although it came out last month here, perhaps there's still a theater near you showing it? Otherwise, you'll probably have to wait until the DVD comes out in March. :(


Ah, found footage horror movies. While others are deriding you as a played-out trend, I'm watching from between my fingers. From Blair Witch to Paranormal Activity, I think found footage movies are invariably scary. And V/H/S, which I believe is still available via OnDemand, combines two of my greatest loves: Found footage and horror anthologies! Also, everything I've heard has been extremely positive. I believe this one will also be in theaters on October 5. 


Hotel Transylvania pros: It's an animated horror film. I love spooky animation, i.e. ParaNorman, Coraline, Corpse Bride, Nightmare Before Christmas, et.al. Also, the premise is kind of cute: Dracula's castle is a luxury resort for monsters, and Drac is an overprotective dad raising a sheltered teenage daughter who isn't allowed to experience the outside world. Could be good, right? Cons: Adam Sandler is the voice of Dracula. I'm scared. And not in a good way. Catch it in theaters (maybe?) on September 28.


...And speaking of spooky animated movies, here's one that I am whole-hoggedly recommending even though I haven't seen it yet: Tim Burton's Frankenweenie! This is a full-length film based on Tim Burton's live action short of the same name about a boy who resurrects his beloved dog. It's going to be adorable. I can't wait. Hits theaters on October 5.


I don't know a lot about Sinister - sometimes I prefer to avoid a lot of pre-movie hype when it comes to horror, because I think it makes the scares that much more unpredictable - but I do know that it, as the poster says, comes from the producers of Paranormal Activity and Insidious, and that seems like a pretty rad pedigree to me. Also, this is the production company behind L.A.'s Blumhouse of Horrors, my most anticipated haunt this year. I feel like Blumhouse has singlehandedly rescued us from torture porn, and for that I will gladly fork over my cash. Catch Sinister in theaters October 5.


Oh, and don't forget about Paranormal Activity 4, coming out on October 19! Plot details are hard to come by, but this one looks like it focuses on the family that lives next door to Katie's sister circa the action in PA2. I'm pretty sure you already know whether or not you're going to see this movie based on how you felt about the first three, so what else can I say? I'm excited. 


And, finally, a documentary that I'm very much looking forward to will be premiering on the Chiller channel on Sunday, October 28. Titled The American Scream and coming to you from the directing/producing team that gave the world the Troll 2 documentary Best Worst Movie (which I also recommend - it's on Netflix streaming), this one profiles a handful of people who build elaborate haunts in their homes every Halloween. A yard haunts documentary! Definitely setting my DVR for this one.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2012 Haunts

It's that time of year: Haunt season is upon us. No more lurking in the shadows and watching horror movies in darkened movie theaters or the privacy of our own homes to get scared - no, friends, it's time to come out of the terror closet and get scared in public!

This October looks to be a busier one than usual for me, since I'm getting married in Vegas on October 20th (!), so I'm not sure how many haunts I'm going to make it out to this year, but I will try my damnedest to see as many as possible. Here's an exhaustive look at the most promising newcomers, as well as what our perennial southern California favorites have in store for 2012, arranged by opening date:

OPENED SEPTEMBER 14:


Disneyland's Halloween Time  was the first out of the gate this year, opening on Friday, September 14th. You can read my 2009 review of the park's Halloween festivities here. It looks like the attractions are pretty much the same this year as in year's past: The Haunted Mansion will be transformed into Haunted Mansion Holiday with a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay, Space Mountain becomes Ghost Galaxy, and there will be a Dia de los Muertos celebration in Frontierland. Additionally, you can view the Art of Frankenweenie exhibit over at California Adventure for a look at props and puppets used in the making of the upcoming Tim Burton movie. Halloween Time at Disneyland will probably never make you scream in terror, but it will definitely make you feel like a kid again, in the best possible way.

Tickets to Disneyland are $87 to visit one park for those 10 & up, and $125 for a one-day park hopper ticket to visit both Disneyland and California Adventure. Halloween Time runs through October 31.

OPENS SEPTEMBER 21:


Knott's Scary Farm looks to be pulling out all the stops this year in honor of the 40th anniversary of their legendary Halloween Haunt. While the Haunt will always be a favorite, in recent years I've noted that some of the mazes were becoming a little stale. But even if you're an annual visitor, Knott's seems to have a lot of surprises up their collective spooky sleeve for 2012 - starting with their mascot, the Green Witch. YAY WITCHES. There are 13 mazes and themed rides - still more than any other local haunt - including holdovers like the excellent zombie maze Virus Z, the darkly romantic Terror of London and the vibrant Dia de los Muertos maze. There's also a return to form with the gothy vampire maze Dominion of the Dead, an Evil Dead-themed Log Ride and exciting new offerings like homicidal puppet maze Pinocchio Unstrung and the Halloween-themed Trick or Treat. For an additional $60 (for a group of up to 6 guests) you can also experience Trapped, a reservation-only interactive maze that you go through sans crowds for a more intimate (albeit somewhat costly) haunt experience. Unless you're flush with cash, better bring a few friends along for that one so you can split the fee.

Tickets to Knott's Scary Farm start at $36. The Halloween Haunt runs through October 31.


Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights is the other Big Haunt in the LA area, and while it can't match Knott's in terms of seniority or volume of mazes, it has frequently surpassed it in quality of makeup, maze design and fx, and it has the arguable advantage of basing its mazes on actual movies and popular horror franchises, from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th to Halloween and Scream. (Read my previous HHN coverage here.) I mean Jesus, they even have the Psycho house sitting there on the back lot! This year the Terror Tram (which is, in my opinion, the best part of HHN) is based on AMC's The Walking Dead, as is one of the mazes, along with Texas Chainsaw, Silent Hill, La Llorona and a new Alice Cooper maze. There is also a witch-themed scare zone, to which I again say, YAY WITCHES.

Tickets to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights start at $41. HHN runs through October 31.

OPENS SEPTEMBER 27:


One of the most intriguing new haunts (well...it's sort of a haunt, sort of a play) last year was the interactive theater experience Haunted Play presents Delusion. Guests enter a real crumbling old mansion and find themselves immersed in a terrifying plot as they dart from room to room, occasionally performing tasks or trying to escape the clutches of monsters and madmen. This year's attraction, called Haunted Play presents Delusion: The Blood Rite, has an entirely new backstory and promises to be even scarier than last year's. If you're interested in something a little different from the standard maze trudge or you'd like to see unbelievable stunts unfold right before your eyes, I highly recommend this event.

Tickets for Haunted Play presents Delusion: The Blood Rite start at $45, and the play runs through November 10.

OPENS SEPTEMBER 28:


Santa Monica's Paranoia Haunted Attraction, new for 2012, is - as far as I know - the first large-scale professional haunt to take place on the Westside. While it's exciting to think about not having to drive out to the Valley or down to Orange County for a little Halloween action, the 3 mazes at Paranoia don't sound terribly innovative in terms of content: There's a clown maze, an asylum/hospital maze and something called "Granny's Manor of Mayhem" which might be evil hillbillies (Pig's Kitchen?) but then again might be Washington Irving-inspired (Headless Horseman?). I am in no way writing off this attraction, mind you - in fact, I'm excited to find out how they fare in their first year. Definitely one to watch.

Tickets to Paranoia start at $24, and the attraction runs through October 31.


Anaheim's The Empty Grave is one of those haunts that I've always heard about, but I've never made it out to visit. Perhaps this year we can remedy that. The back story seems to center on some sort of haunted cemetery where the vengeful spirits of the dead have possessed the graveyard's groundskeeper. I kind of love the fact that there is no demented circus angle, no killer clowns with chainsaws, no slaughterhouse-dwelling inbred freaks...none of the standard haunt mainstays, just a simple cemetery overrun by the evil, evil dead.

Tickets to the Empty Grave are $13 (or two for $20), and the haunt runs through October 31.

OPENS OCTOBER 4:


Here it is, ghouls: My most anticipated haunt for Halloween 2012, the Blumhouse of Horrors. This is another brand new one. Why am I looking forward to it so much? Three reasons: First, because it takes place in the old Variety Arts Theatre in downtown LA. I love old theatres! They always have such a spooky melancholy about them. Second, because the back story centers around a "twisted dark art magician." I love magic and magicians! The darker the better! And third, because this haunt is brought to you by the producers of the films Insidious, the upcoming Sinister and the Paranormal Activity franchise. I unabashedly love found-footage horror movies, and the movies that finally dethroned Saw at the box office will always have a special place in my heart. I'll take ghost stories over torture porn any day. Bring on the Blumhouse!

Tickets for the Blumhouse of Horrors start at $29, and the haunt runs through November 3.

OPENS OCTOBER 5:


Ah, the Los Angeles Haunted Hayride. Still the only attraction of its kind in LA. I love the Hayride and its haunted carnival vibe. (Read my coverage of LAHHs past here.) This year's theme is "The Congregation," and it looks to be a prequel of sorts to past Hayrides, with a special focus on cults. Ooh, creepy cults! Love it. They also promise a longer ride than in years past, and offer guests a brand new "You will get wet!" caveat. Color me intrigued. The In-Between dark maze (much improved last year) will also be returning. If you're looking for an attraction that evokes something a little more rustic than most LA haunts, I recommend the Hayride.

Tickets for the LA Haunted Hayride start at $29 for the Hayride only, and $37 for the Hayride and the In-Between maze. The LAHH runs through October 31.


Queen Mary's Dark Harbor was a fun surprise when I visited it for the first time back in 2010, and this year will see the addition of a brand new maze, called Deadrise, as well as several new monster mascots based on the ship's ghostly lore and naval history.

Tickets for the Queen Mary's Dark Harbor start at $20 (for early entrance between 7 and 8pm, price not valid after 8pm), and the event runs through October 31.


The Reign of Terror Haunted House in Thousand Oaks is, oddly enough, one I've never experienced with the lights out and monsters roaming the corridors, although what I did see when I took a behind-the-scenes tour back in 2010 was enough to make a hugely favorable impression on me. ROT is an independently owned and operated haunt with a lot of heart and impeccable attention to gory detail. If you're in the area, you're morally obligated to attend, and if you're a little far from Thousand Oaks, believe me when I say it's worth the drive. This year's haunt features four different mazes, from the OG Victorian-style haunted house that started it all to the brand new Miner's Revenge - well worth the almost absurdly low price of admission.

Tickets to Reign of Terror are $15, and the haunted house runs through October 31.



Pasadena's Old Town Haunt is another independent maze that offers a nice alternative to the steep prices and long lines of an amusement park haunt. Taking place in an old bank vault in Old Town Pasadena, this haunt - like the Queen Mary and the Blumhouse of Horrors - boasts a location that is potentially haunted year-round, adding an extra element of creepiness to the proceedings. I've only been once, but the Old Town Haunt was one of my favorites when I went a couple of years ago, and a definite must-do if you've never been. Note: Prepare to get on your hands and knees and conquer that claustrophobia!

Tickets for the Old Town Haunt start at $15, and the event runs through October 31.

OPENS OCTOBER 12:


The Backwoods Maze in Burbank is one of the best yard haunts I've ever been to, and it's open for business again this year. It's amazing what they can do with such a small space. The maze is free, but donations are accepted, so bring a few bucks to pitch in toward their operating costs.

The Backwoods Maze is open on select nights through October 31.

OPENS OCTOBER 20:


Another amateur Halloween spectacle that truly must be seen and experienced to be believed, Boney Island was a holiday stalwart in its Sherman Oaks neighborhood for many years before it was closed down due to the complaints of a crotchety neighbor. (Boo!) Luckily, said neighbor moved and last year Boney Island was back in business! The theme of this interactive family-friendly Halloween display (it's not exactly a haunt, since it's not scary in the least) used to be a carnival populated by skeletons, but since its resurrection it's taken on a whimsical skeleton magician theme. If you're feeling at all "grinchy" about Halloween this year, a quick jaunt to Boney Island to see the skeletons in action - and the delighted reactions of spectators both young and old - will put you in the spirit immediately.

Boney Island is free, and will be open on select nights between October 20 and October 31.

OPENS OCTOBER 27:


Again, not a haunt, but an area tradition nonetheless: The annual Dia de los Muertos celebration at the always delightful Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There may not be Halloween screams, but there will be plenty of opportunity to take joy in the macabre at this always-packed event. If you're planning to go, get there early. And I mean EARLY, because parking will be impossible and the line will be insurmountable if you wait until night falls to get there. Good luck!

Hollywood Forever's Dia de los Muertos celebration will be held this year on October 27, and general admission tickets are $10 (bring exact change).


The Haunted Diary Presents: Haunted Hollow is another brand new haunt this year - at least to me, although it looks as though this isn't their first year in operation. According to the write-up on Hollywood Gothique,
The Haunted Diary promises a “classic, vintage Halloween feel” that will recreate a 1970s small town. Trick-or-Treaters will first pass through cornfields and a swamp on the outskirts. Next, they will enter the village of Paxton and encounter the victims, before proceeding inside the Dent residence and the Paxton School house.
"Classic, vintage Halloween feel," you say? "1970s small town," you say? I'M THERE. This Hollywood yard haunt sounds totally unique and right up my alley.

The Haunted Diary Presents: Haunted Hollow is free, but donations are accepted, and it will operate on the nights of October 27 and October 31.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Spooky Little Delights


So many spooky delights have been tickling my fancy lately that it's hard to decide where to start, so let's just dive right in to the gooey green fondant center, shall we?


Allow me to be a little more specific: CADBURY SCREME EGGS ARE HERE!!! THEY'RE HERE!! For those of you who don't regularly scour the Internet to read about Cadbury treats that are only available in the UK, Europe and Australia, let me provide a little background on these treats: They are HALLOWEEN-THEMED CREME EGGS. If that doesn't mean anything to you because you think Cadbury Creme Eggs are gross or whatever, then move on to the next item, sister. But if you, like me, live for that moment in early March when Creme Eggs first pop up by the register in the grocery store or on drugstore shelves, and if you've often thought the only way they could be improved upon is if they were somehow associated with a more exciting holiday than Easter, behold! I bring you tidings of green joy! For not only are Creme Eggs now available in fall as well as spring, they also: 1) Have a scarier name (Screme Eggs?! eek!), 2) Have a cool purple/black/green wrapper, and 3) Contain goo that is more akin to swamp muck than egg yolks. I swear, they even taste a little better than regular Creme Eggs. I found these at Rite Aid, but they should be everywhere by now. Unless I've already eaten all of them. Tee hee.


I know I'm a little late on this, but have you seen ParaNorman? It came out last month and it rules! It's an animated film ("from the makers of Coraline!" proclaims the poster, and it's similar to that movie in tone and subject matter) about a boy who can talk to the dead and who finds himself as the last line of defense between his town and a zombie apocalypse brought on by a witch's curse. Or was she a witch? Snap! Anyhow, this movie is so cute and fun and spooky.


My current favorite spooky TV show - at least until American Horror Story starts up again on October 17 - is Syfy's Paranormal Witness. Seriously, are you watching this show? If you like ghost stories, you MUST. YOU MUST! Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it's really compelling, well-told stuff - similar to that show A Haunting, but with better production values. The episode about the two security guards in the haunted theater was excellent. So spooky. This show kind of makes my Wednesday every single week, and I'll miss it when it goes on hiatus again.


I just started reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and I'm only like 50 pages in, but it's so good that I feel compelled to mention it already. If you like mysterious circuses and 19th-century magicians, pick it up.


And, finally, every horror fan should know and love the divine Sharon Needles, my new favorite drag queen since she won last season of RuPaul's Drag Race. When she came out in the first episode wearing a black minidress and a pointy witch's hat, I knew I was a fan. One of her signature moments came when one of the other contestants tried to diss her by bitchily snarking, "Go back to Party City where you belong!" Sharon remarked later, "Party City. Fuck you! I like Party City!" Haha, me too, Sharon! Don't let a bitch drag you down, girl! And it looks like Ms. Needles will have the last laugh when her gig as a horror hostess on Logo starts this fall.

Beginning November 1, Sharon Needles will be hosting FEARce!, which will feature screenings of her favorite horror flicks every Thursday night. To whet your appetite, Logo will be launching the series with a "FEARCEfest" on October 28, and a "Halloween FEARCEFest" on October 31. This may not totally fill the void left by the cancellation of Elvira's rebooted Movie Macabre, but it comes pretty damn close.

Friday, September 14, 2012

HALLOWEEN in Theaters This October


John Carpenter's original Halloween is my favorite movie. Ever. Not just my favorite horror film, but my favorite, full-stop. I could watch it over and over again (and frequently do). But since the movie was originally released in 1978, I've never had the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen - so I'm very excited that it will be returning to theaters on October 25 in honor of its 35th anniversary, along with the documentary You Can't Kill the Boogeyman: 35 Years of Halloween. Seriously, I am unspeakably excited for this.

You can check out a list of theaters that will be screening Halloween this fall here. So far, there's only one theater listed in Los Angeles - the Regent in Westwood - but more theaters are set to be added to the list through the end of the month, so check back if your city's not represented.

To quote from Halloweenmovies Facebook, looks like Halloween 2012 will be the night EVERYBODY comes home. YAY.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tales That Witness Madness (1973)



Here's something I just figured out that's kind of blowing my mind: The reason I love horror anthology movies can be almost entirely traced back to The Simpsons' annual "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween specials. Anthologies offer an excellent return on investment in the 90 minutes or so they take to watch; instead of following just one storyline, you get 3 or more. If all of the stories are creepy and engaging, it's like hitting the horror jackpot, and if a few of them suck, the production can still redeem itself with one killer segment. (Example: Creepshow 2 isn't exactly a great movie, but I sure love that menacing lake sludge in "The Raft.")

Tales That Witness Madness, a British anthology from 1973 that is currently available via Netflix streaming, is a keeper through and through. First, the title...the poster...the tagline that promises a veritable orgy of the damned! Made in 1973, this is a movie that is very much of its time visually, especially in terms of costume and set design. If, like me, you love how intensely ugly the 1970s could be, this is a must see.


The four stories contained within the movie are framed by a rather clever device: Each one is a tale that has been told by a madman (or madwoman, or madchild) to his or her psychiatrist, who relates the macabre missives to a colleague while guiding him from room to room through the retina-searingly white halls of an ultra-sterile Clockwork Orange-ish mental hospital. The shrink is played by a pre-Halloween Donald Pleasence, doing that doctor-profoundly-haunted-by-the-presence-of-unspeakable-evil thing he does so well.

In the first room, we meet a little boy with a very dangerous imaginary friend. While there were creepy moments, this segment turned out to be the weakest of the bunch. But hang on to your trousers, because next up is a segment about a sinister penny-farthing and the antiques dealer it terrorizes.

Yes, friends. A possessed penny-farthing.


Just when you're beginning to think, "Dude, this is one of my new favorite movies!" it gets better. Because out comes Joan Collins. Early '70s Joan Collins, wearing filmy negligees and floppy bows in her hair and bitchily throwing her drink in the face of a rather feminine-shaped tree that her husband brings home.


Finally, the movie reaches its climax with a segment about a satanic luau, which sounds kind of like the plot to a Scooby Doo episode, which it kind of it is, except no kids meddle so no one's evil plans are foiled, nawmean?

The movie wraps up with a nice little twist - sort of predictable, but fun nonetheless. The morals of this movie seem to be: Don't bring home every crazy thing that you find in the street, or the forest, or your uncle's estate sale or wherever. Handsome men who murmur lasciviously into the ear of your teenage daughter every time you turn your back might have some sort of diabolical ulterior motive. If your child tells you that his imaginary friend hates you, you're probably going to get murdered. And don't fuck with Joan Collins. Hesitate to ax a bitch, she will not.

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