Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stage Review: Theatre 68's THE AFFLICTED (+ Post-Halloween Recap)

At first, like any good Halloweenie, I was disappointed that my favorite holiday was going to fall on a Thursday this year. Now that the Halloween season is behind us (well...mostly), I have to say that I really dug this Halloween-on-a-Thursday business! Did anyone else feel like they had at least 3 separate Halloweens? It was like no one could agree whether or not the weekend before or after the 31st was going to be the unofficial party/celebration day, so both weekends were infused with Halloween goodness, in addition to the day itself. I had a particularly full Halloween season this year. Among my activities:
  • Pumpkin carving, natch
  • Lots of solo nighttime horror movie watching (the Paranormal Activity movies - especially 3 and 4 - REALLY freak me out still)
  • A wonderful visit to Knott's Scary Farm, complete with a live Elvira show
  • American Horror Story: Coven premiere party, at which I (very, very briefly) met Kathy Bates, saw Jessica Lange and Angela Bassett in person & drank themed cocktails...later in the month, one of my band's songs was featured on the show's Halloween episode (!)
  • One-year wedding anniversary celebration at the Magic Castle, my favorite place in LA
  • Cemetery screening of The Craft, which also doubled as my birthday celebration
  • Witnessing astonishing live performances from Goblin and Danny Elfman
  • Seeing one of my poems published in a UK horror magazine and reading one of my short stories at Stories in Echo Park
All told, this was my best October (actually mid-September through beginning-of-November) in memory. And I had a particularly great weekend planned to send it off in style: On Saturday, Mr. Spooky and I visited the Eternal Rest Cemetery yard haunt in Venice for the first time (LOVED it!) and attended a friend's costume/birthday party. And, finally, on Sunday, we headed out to the Valley to catch Theatre 68's production of The Afflicted, a zombie play at the NoHo Arts Center that bills itself as a "dark comedy" - albeit one with perhaps the most fake blood I've ever seen in a stage production...and hey, I've been a cast member at Zombie Joe's, so that's saying something. Like, oceans of fake blood. Like, here-are-some-ponchos-for-the-front-row fake blood. This was to be my last official Halloween-related event for 2013, so needless to say I was tickled.

But The Afflicted has more going for it than simply fake blood. Theatre 68 used to have its own location in Hollywood, where it would host a really cool annual haunted house, but they're currently in a transitional period as they look for a new home. While they couldn't pull off a haunted house this year, they did manage to put on a really fun zombie show that heavily - and explicitly - references George Romero, but often with tongue lodged firmly in cheek. The vibe is a bit like Night of the Living Dead meets Scream, as characters discuss the "rules" of a zombie apocalypse, or whether or not the Z-word should be used at all to describe "the afflicted."

All of the action takes place in a church, and the set design, while simple, is nicely done and very evocative; it's easy to lose yourself in this play. This is also an extraordinarily action-packed production: Doors fly open and slam shut, blanks are fired, power tools are utilized to gory effect, characters burst through windows and blood, of course, is spilled, squirted and splattered.

I have to admit that I do have some complaints about the writing. For example: It's 2013, dude. Can we please have a zombie apocalypse in which the female characters actively participate in, you know, boarding up windows and popping zombies instead of just crying, screaming or sniping? I know the hysterical woman is a genre convention, and this is a production that plays with conventions, but I still felt like rolling my eyes when not one of the three major female characters were given much to do in the way of actual and effective anti-zombie strategy and/or execution. At 80 minutes, the play also felt a little bit long - just a bit - especially during the "talkier" stretches.

Fortunately, all of the actors attacked their roles with admirable gusto. Jeremy Luke, who plays "Cop Guy," is all masculine swagger borne of intense insecurity, making his character both the primary source of comic relief and the most dangerous wild card among the survivors that populate the cast. (Incidentally, the program says that he has been cast as Mickey Cohen in an upcoming TNT show called Mob City, which sounds like great casting to me.) Shelly Hacco, as Tamara, displays a saucy vitality as a street-smart stripper who winds up seeking refuge in the church, and Eddie Alfano is memorable as a character called, simply, "Douchebag." 

Perhaps the best part of the entire play is the last 5 minutes. It's not exactly a surprise, but I'm going to refrain from saying too much about what happens and instead encourage you to go check out The Afflicted if you've got the post-Halloween, pre-Christmas blues.  It is, mercifully, running until November 16 (yay for Halloween things that extend past the end of October!), so you still have a couple more weekends. And don't forget to use that poncho if you snag a seat in the front - because, oh yes, there will be blood.

Theatre 68's The Afflicted runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through November 16 at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601 . Friday and Saturday shows start at 8pm, and Sunday shows start at 7pm. 
Disclosure: I was provided with complimentary passes to review this event.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fun, Spooky & FREE Tonight in LA

Come to Stories Books & Cafe in Echo Park tonight; there will be spooky stories & bloodcurdling mayhem on the back patio from 7:30 to 9pm, and it's FREE.

Boiling Bat Blood doubles the splatter this week... with two nights of terror...

WEDNESDAY | Oct 23 | 7:30pm

D.M. Collins and Cardoo
"Accompanied by scintillatingly strings, a possessed D.M. Collins narrates a caranaval-esque descent into torture, atrocity, villainy-- through the killer's eyes..." - Goodby Ennyman

Lola Rose Thompson recites haunting prose...

Melissa Pleckham (Kissing Cousins) orates a spooky story...

Plus, a head-rippingly horrifying tale from Scott Schultz...

Cafe specials will be available! And imbibes, too... Oh, the horror! The horror! (of missing this rare event...)

Stories is located at 1716 Sunset Blvd. Facebook invite here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Spooky Self-Promotion: My Time in the Sanitarium

I have a poem in Issue #014 of Sanitarium Magazine, which comes out TODAY, October 20, 2013! (Incidentally, also my one-year wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary, Mr. Spooky!) Please download and/or order a paper copy and enjoy my Shirley Jackson-inspired poem, along with tons of other great creepy poems, stories, interviews, etc.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

All Hail the Roseanne Halloween Episodes

So, Roseanne is the best, right? Both the woman herself and her titular show. And of course, the best part of every season was always the Halloween episodes. Before Roseanne, most shows didn't do special Halloween episodes (a fact she addresses in the commentary on the above DVD); after Roseanne, it practically became a requirement. There are shows which are perfectly suited to Halloween, of course: The Addams Family, The Munsters, The X-Files, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, etc. But there are only two shows I can think of off the top of my head that were not spooky normally but consistently deliver(ed) totally awesome very-special-episodes every October: The Simpsons, with their annual "Treehouse of Horror" anthologies, and Roseanne. 

I loved Roseanne when it was on TV, and I love it even more now that it's in reruns. Every time I catch a Roseanne rerun on in the middle of the day - and trust me, they are on constantly, at different times and on multiple channels - I start to watch for "just a few minutes" and end up totally engrossed for at least 4 episodes. Woe to the person who works from home and happens upon a block of Roseanne reruns; you can kiss your day goodbye, friend. Anyhow, for those of us who constantly turn on the TV hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the series' many Halloween specials, 7 of the 8 have been compiled onto a handy and super-affordable DVD. I was feeling very Halloweenie yesterday, writing my Knott's post and flipping the calendar to October and all, so it seemed like the perfect moment to pop in this collection and enjoy.

Here's a rundown of the 7 episodes featured in this collection:
  • Boo! - This is the first Roseanne Halloween special, the one where we're introduced to the concept of "Halloween pranks" as a Conner family tradition - something I've always wanted to emulate in my own life. It's the one where Roseanne dresses like a witch and they set up a "Tunnel of Terror" in their house. For a funnier recap than anything I could write, here's a link to Dinosaur Dracula's post about this episode.
  • Trick or Treat: Here we have a Halloween episode that also examines misogyny and sexism, but with laffs! And Halloweenie goodness! This is one where Roseanne dresses up in drag and learns what men talk about when women aren't around; it's also the one where DJ wants to dress up like a witch but Dan has some serious hetero anxiety about it. Again, Dino Drac has a more detailed recap that you should read.
  • Trick Me Up, Trick Me Down: In this episode, Roseanne and Dan pull a prank on their uptight next-door neighbor; see: Dan splayed out on the kitchen table with his entrails exposed. It's also the episode where they dress up as an undead ventriloquist act for the Lodge party.
  • Halloween IV: Roseanne is bummed because Becky can't make it home for Halloween, so she decides to stay home on her favorite holiday. This is the episode that riffs on A Christmas Carol, with the ghosts of Halloween past, present and future showing Roseanne how important the Halloween spirit really is. Can I just say how awesome young Roseanne and Dan are in the flashback sequence? Perfect casting!
  • Halloween V: This is one of the weaker episodes - not that it means much, because all Roseanne Halloween eps are great. Darlene is away at school and Roseanne thinks she's going to cheat on David so blah blah blah, but also Nancy thinks Dan doesn't like her so blah blah blah. I can't even remember what they dress up as, and I just watched it last night!
  • Skeleton in the Closet: Leon and Nancy host an uber-gay Halloween party at the Lunch Box. Roseanne and Dan dress up as Prince and "the Duke" (John Wayne), respectively, and Roseanne suspects that Jackie's man is gay.
  • Halloween: The Final Chapter: A weird and kind of disjointed episode, but it still has some awesome moments, like the scene between Roseanne and Jackie posted below. It's a truncated version, but you still get Jackie's demented victory face at 0:32. Shame they cut off the Mrs. Butterworth part though!

The most frustrating part of this DVD is that it's not complete! Roseanne was on the air for 9 seasons, and there are 8 Halloween episodes, since the network wouldn't let them do one for the first season. This set does not include "Satan, Darling," the AbFab/Rosemary's Baby-themed Halloween special from the show's final season. Of course, it's probably the weakest of the bunch, but it's still pretty good and, as a completist, it irks me to no end that it's missing. Of course, you can just watch it on YouTube, but it's still annoying! 

The lone extra on this DVD set is a commentary from Roseanne on the "Trick Me Up, Trick Me Down" episode. It's actually pretty great; she includes some interesting factoids (Michael Fishman's Russian accent led everyone on the show to think he had a speech impediment for years! No one on the show apart from Roseanne thought George Clooney was anything special so they would only put him in the episode if he wore a moose suit for most of it!) and she is so over it and it's awesome.

What's your favorite Roseanne Halloween episode? Are there any other shows I'm forgetting that do consistently great Halloween specials besides Roseanne and The Simpsons?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Knott's Scary Farm 2013, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Haunt

As you may recall from a certain sad and dramatic post around this time last year, I've been a little burnt out on haunts. I'm certainly grateful for all of the cool Halloween events I've had the privilege of attending and reviewing over the past few years, but I think going to a dozen different haunted houses every October for several consecutive years will do that to a gal. In any case, I was planning to continue my moratorium on professional haunts this year, but then something happened. Something busty and beautiful and far too tempting to pass up.

Elvira returned to Knott's Scary Farm!

Okay, for those of you who didn't grow up in the shadow of Buena Park, Elvira always used to do a show at the Charles M. Schulz theater, and it was really one of the highlights of the Haunt every year. Basically, it was like a Vegas show, starring Elvira - kind of like the end of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. A little ribald comedy, a few song & dance numbers, and a chance to glimpse the Mistress of the Dark in action with your very own eyes. Then the Elvira stopped. For years, no Elvira at the Haunt. It was a tragedy! A travesty! In short, I was totes bummed. So when I heard that she was back this year, I knew that my attendance was inevitable.

As opening weekend drew near, my anticipation reached feverish new heights. The mazes sounded so intriguing! Before I knew what was happening, I was back in the throes of Haunt fever.

And dude...Knott's really delivered this year! Mr. Spooky and I agree that this was our best Haunt experience to date. 

The mazes. Oh, those mazes. I'm not sure what's going on at Knott's, but I had the distinct feeling that maybe they hired new people with a real passion for their work, or perhaps the same staff is behind everything but they managed to rediscover what they once loved about their job. In any event, after years of feeling like the Haunt was becoming increasingly corporate and soulless, I feel certain now that their heart is back in the right place. All of the mazes that we went through were creative and lovely, with spooky atmosphere as well as the startle scares we've all come to expect.

A quick rundown of the mazes, in the order we went through them:
  • Trick or Treat: Halloween night at the Green Witch's house. Loved this one. The Green Witch is a wonderful mascot, and the trick-or-treating theme is perf, obvs. 
  • Endgames: Post-apocalyptic with a brutal metal soundtrack. I didn't expect much from this maze, probably because I didn't vibe on the theme as much as I did with some of the others, but I thought it was cool and gruesome and scary.
  • Delirium: Descent-into-madness meets Hellraiser. Lots of cool imagery in this one, starting with the eyeball-studded facade. I tried to get a picture, but it was too dark...alas. I loved the Asylum, but it was definitely tired and I think it's so clever that they replaced a maze about the horrors of encountering the criminally deranged with a maze that confronts the terror of spiraling into insanity.
  • Dominion of the Damned: Gothic vampire maze complete with a mausoleum, garden, and - my personal favorite - a churchyard full of rattling caskets. This one was beautiful and eerie; one of my favorites of the night. So glad to see them abandon Club Blood in favor of returning to their goth roots for the vampy maze.
  • Forevermore: Edgar Allan Poe-inspired. Creative scenes and of course I love the subject matter. Instead of an intensely loud metal or dubstep soundtrack, this one featured readings of Poe's poetry and short stories, which was a great touch, and very effective.
  • Pinnochio Unstrung: Killer dolls and puppets. I dug it, but I think I liked the Doll Factory better. Still, Pinnochio is a great fairy tale ripe for a disturbing makeover like this one.
  • The Witch's Keep: This is just the Mine Ride, but with witches. Witches! We went twice.
  • Gunslinger's Grave: Old West spookiness. I'm struggling right now to remember specifics from this maze, but I still liked it a lot and I love how Knott's went the Old West route with a maze this year. It reminds me of Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, which is one of my favorite video games.
  • Black Magic: Ah, the Houdini/evil magician maze. No surprise really that this was my favorite maze of the night. 
We skipped the Slaughterhouse - it just sounded too uncomfortably gruesome, plus we've gone through that maze or some variation of it countless times before - and Mirror Mirror, because it had a line and I had read negative reviews from several different sources online. Oh, and we were unwilling to pay an additional $60 for Trapped, so that was out of the question.
The five scare zones were less intensely decorated than in years past, but they were still a lot of fun. There were Old West monsters and killer clowns and a Gypsy Camp and steampunk vampires and beautiful Mexican girls in sugar skull makeup. We caught a few minutes of Blood Drums, which was cool. And, oh yes, there was FOG. So much of it, clouds of it, surrounding us as we walked slowly down the pathways as shapes of people - or monsters - slowly emerged from it. That's the kind of priceless Halloween experience I have only ever had at Knott's, Goddess bless 'em.

Elvira's Sinema Seance...what can I say? It was fabulous, of course. The stage was festooned with witchy, Ouija symbolism and a digital backdrop of candles flickering in Gothic archways between red velvet curtains. The show began with a dance number by Academy of Villains, which was so cool, and then Elvira came out, resplendent in low-cut black and red sequins, lobbing sassy one-liners and singing Halloween-themed parody songs. My heart felt full with love for the Queen of Halloween.

Crowds were so sparse - because it was a Sunday, because we got there early, because we went in September instead of October - that we were able to squeeze in some peripheral Knott's fun as well. We rode the Log Ride (not decorated for the Haunt this year, but still so fun), the Coast Rider (just the kind of weenie coaster I love!) and the Pacific Scrambler, which made everyone on it laugh hysterically.  And speaking of laughter, Mr. Spooky and I have to hand it to the monsters this year: They brought their fucking A-game. It felt 100% like being a kid on Halloween night, with roaming groups of fellow kids in costume making mischief and wreaking havoc.

One of the funniest things ever happened when we were walking to the Scrambler: A group of monsters surrounded us and one of them said to Mr. Spooky, "Cut your hair!" Another exclaimed, "I can't tell which one's the guy and which one's the girl in the relationship!" We chuckled as we walked away and I jokingly said, "Those monsters sexually harassed us!" and Mr. Spooky replied, "Yeah, and what's really weird is that I saw them put a note on some girl's back who was walking by." Just as the words left his mouth, I noticed a piece of paper on his back!

Yeah, that's right: ENTER HERE with an arrow pointing down to his ass! We both collapsed in laughter until we were crying. I have never encountered such a level of commitment to a gag at the Haunt; normally they just scream or snort in your ear, or shake a can of beans in your face or whatever. This took planning! It took diversionary tactics! Bravo, you beautiful bastards! And that's to say nothing of when Mr. Spooky and I were sharing a tender moment near one of the rollercoasters, and just as he put his arm around my shoulders, one of the evil clowns walked up behind us and began singing, "Loving you, is easy 'cause you're beautiful..." into a megaphone. Again, we laughed till we cried.

Man, what else can I say? Knott's Scary Farm is a Halloween tradition. They are back in fine form. You've gotta go.

Faith in haunts: Renewed. It's a Halloween miracle!

Friday, June 7, 2013

CONTEST: Design a Character for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights

I know things have been quiet on this blog lately (although I do update the Facebook page from time to time), but I just heard about this contest and I wanted to share with all of you because it's pretty cool.

Basically, your task is to reimagine a classic Universal monster and submit your original character design - either a drawing or a written description - by 5:01 PM PST on July 1st. Starting July 2nd, the finalists will be up on the HHN Facebook page, where the contest will then be open to voting. The winner will see their monster come to life at a red carpet ceremony on opening night of Halloween Horror Nights 2013.

For more details, go here. Good luck! Break a fang!


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