Tag Archives: Halloween

Tricks and Treats

It’s Halloween! The one day of the year when everyone concedes that candy and horror movies are the best things in life. Therefore, I give you some thoughts on what I’ve been watching lately…

The Paranormal Activity movies (2009-) fascinate me. They’re yet another annual horror franchise, low on ideas and high on jump scares. But since they’re shot in the “found footage” style that’s been so in vogue lately (blame 2007’s one-two punch of [REC] and Cloverfield), the PA movies actually look and sound a lot like austere art cinema. The long takes, the static camera, the ongoing obsession with documenting the mundane, the lack of non-diegetic music… they’re like Michael Haneke if he fast-forwarded through all the “boring parts.” They’re formalist horror, fixated on mise-en-scène but devoid of any real acting or dialogue. Does that make them perversely experimental, or just cynical and hollow? Maybe both.

Universal’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) is catnip for a Bela Lugosi aficionado like me. You’ve got the “man of science” angst that afflicts Lugosi’s Dr. Mirakle; the vanilla hero (Poe’s detective Dupin) who hunts the mad doctor; and of course the hero’s girlfriend, with whom Lugosi develops an intense erotic obsession. All the typical tropes that crop up in Our Favorite Hungarian’s movies. As usual, Lugosi—hamming it up with a unibrow and jack o’ lantern smile—steals the show, although he does have competition from Karl Freund’s silken cinematography and some surprisingly florid dialogue. (Sample line: “Think of what all those walls are hiding! Broken hopes, bodies, hearts. Absent dreams, starvation, madness. Crimes of the streets; tragedies of the river.”)

The titular landmass in Isle of the Dead (1945) is a liminal space, constructed from shadow and illusion. There, modernity wrestles with superstition for the soul of General Pherides, played with brittle gravitas by Boris Karloff. Although directed by Mark Robson, Isle of the Dead was produced and co-written by Val Lewton, meaning it’s one of his wartime horror movies—and as such, it shares much with his earlier films, like Cat People and The Ghost Ship (the latter also Robson-directed). Evil is again represented as nebulous and invisible; fear as the genesis of fascism; and statues as omnipresent totems. Furthermore, all three are suffused with noir atmosphere and homoeroticism. Perhaps my favorite technique specific to Isle of the Dead is its repetition: of the words “No one may leave” and “vorvolaka”; of water drip-drip-dripping on a prematurely sealed coffin. Such a stark and haunting film.

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Spooky Specials: “Sugar Frosted Frights/Ed is Dead: A Thriller!”

Good evening. Tonight’s selection is a chilling tale of mayhem, shrubbery, and a wallaby who knew too much.” —Heffer introducing “Ed is Dead: A Thriller!”

My previous foray into childhood Halloweeny goodness was pretty gentle; Rugrats wasn’t really one to push the boundaries of children’s television. Rocko’s Modern Life, the subject of this week’s Spooky Specials, did nothing but push those boundaries. Along with the equally disgusting, adult-pitched Ren and Stimpy, Rocko was a media watchdog’s worst nightmare: brimming with crude toilet and nudity humor, thinly veiled sex jokes (the damn restaurant was named the Chokey Chicken for nearly four whole seasons before someone figured out that it was a masturbation joke), and absurdly adult themes and situations. (Does anyone else remember when Rocko was a phone sex operator? ‘Cause I sure do.) So, it follows suit that the Rocko’s Modern Life Halloween special is strange, disturbing, and very obviously not for kids (but fuck if we didn’t watch the hell out of it anyway).

The first segment really typifies the average Rocko episode. It starts off with a normal premise (Rocko and Heffer are going trick-or-treating!) before rapidly spiraling into a cacophony of screaming and toned down expletives. Then begin the non sequitur plot points, the plethora of adult jokes and references, all concluding with an out-of-nowhere or unsatisfying (or both) ending. Since the first segment sticks very closely to this kind of unstructured style I find it the weaker of the two. The plot (and I use that term loosely) has Rocko, Heffer and the ever-petrified Filbert going trick-or-treating and crossing paths with a Headless Horseman-esque ghoul (The Hopping Hessian). There’s a strange sub-plot about Filbert’s childhood Halloween trauma and him cracking out on candy, followed by a completely incomprehensible ending. “Sugar Frosted Frights” works for sheer manic spooky fun, but when it comes to constructing  an actual scary story “Ed is Dead: A Thriller!” just gives me goosebumps.

“Ed is Dead” is one of those great over-kids’-heads episodes that I’m sure many parents got a kick out of. For starters, the segment’s plot is an homage to Rear Window and the whole thing is a Hitchcock pastiche, which I’m pretty sure most kids in my age bracket didn’t catch. Also, the segment centers around Ed and Bev Bighead, two of the least child-friendly characters on the show: middle-aged toads whose embittered bickering and simmering-just-below-the-surface contempt for one another is only outweighed by the amount of disturbingly passionate sex they have. Ed is curmudgeonly and insensitive to his always horny, often frustrated wife, which brings us to the comedy of errors in “Ed is Dead.” A cursory familiarity with Rear Window (or any of its many parodies) is all you need to know the plot of this segment, as Rocko thinks he sees Bev brutally stab Ed to death from his window and begins searching for answers. The truth, of course, is that Ed was fine all along, merely away to get a bothersome wart removed from his ass.

For a child unaware that it’s just a wacky Rear Window parody, however, this shit was actually pretty horrifying. The disturbing sounds of the Bev “stabbing” Ed, the lightning and darkness that surround the Bigheads’ house, the tense moments where Rocko is in the house and Bev arrives home… it was all very scary but when coupled with exaggerated cartoon elements it was also silly and funny. I believed that Ed was actually dead but was still laughing all the while. And therein lies the twisted joy of Halloween specials and the holiday itself. They expose children to terrors that are normally hidden—and they make it fun. “Ed is Dead” makes marital murder into a game, tightly packed in a bright, frenetic bundle, and ready for juvenile consumption.

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Spooky Specials: An Introduction

When I was very young and the leaves would fade from vibrant green to burnt orange, excitement would stir in my little gut. The air, heavy with the smells of cider and pumpkin, would become chillier, crisper. It was October. You learn pretty early on that everything suddenly becomes spooky in October: themed cereals pop up everywhere; ghost-shaped chocolates are being sold in bulk; aisle after aisle of costumes and decorations pop up overnight in local stores. And it all culminates in that one blissful night of decadence, running door to door in disguise to get tons of candy. It’s enough to send any little kid into paroxysms of joy.

One of my favorite parts of the Halloween season was how almost every single cartoon I loved suddenly had a scary special to serve up. Otherwise normal cartoons had stories about ghosts, monsters, vampires and often the very holiday itself. And I don’t just mean The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror.” I vividly recall Halloween specials for shows on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and other kids’ channels. I’m especially fascinated by how these cartoons, and really the whole holiday, teach young children to be okay with scary ideas and images.

Often tame by adult standards, these specials were still sometimes a little too disturbing for kids. They often made references that I didn’t understand until adulthood. I think these special episodes deserve a little loving recognition, so throughout this most sacred of months, I’m going to write about some of my favorite spooky specials!

First up: Rugrats’ “Candy Bar Creepshow/Monster in the Garage”!

Stay tuned!

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Who’s Afraid of Baby Jane?

Happy Halloween, everybody! You can start celebrating this scariest/best of all holidays by reading my piece over at The Film Experience about Bette Davis’s riveting performance in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. It’s towering, terrifying work by a legendary actress, the kind of performance that really separates the girls from the women. Nobody else could have done quite what Bette does with the part.

Sorry we’ve been AWOL here at PGG for much of this all-important week—Halloween parties, part-time jobs, and nasty colds will do that to you—but now we’re back to help celebrate. The foulest stench is in the air! The funk of 40,000 years! Happy Halloween!

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Link Dump: #47

This week’s kitty is Pyewacket, the “familiar” for Kim Novak’s sultry witch in Bell, Book, and Candle. Novak’s using Pyewacket to bewitch Jimmy Stewart into falling for her… like any sensible person with magical powers would. And now I magically beseech you to read these links!

  • According to Jezebel, Americans plan to spend $6.9 billion on Halloween this year, over twice as much as in 2005. And it’s worth every penny. (The comments on that article include some amazing costume ideas, too.)
  • Popshifter’s September/October 2011 issue, “Halloween Horrors IV: The Awakening,” is now ready for your perusal. It’s got Lance Henriksen, My Bloody Valentine, Apollo 18, and much more.
  • Here’s a 2-year-old article by Noah Berlatsky published over at Bright Lights Film Journal. I’m linking to it now because it’s called “The Child Is Father to the Child: On the Friday the 13th Series,” and that’s awesome.
  • As part of his Halloween celebration, Marvin the Macabre wants you to send in your scary mixtapes!
  • Film critics Matt Zoller Seitz and Kim Morgan take on the dark art of desire in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (aka “The Best Movie Ever”).

Alas, not even the rise of October has brought us any strange or twisted search terms beyond the usual porn-tastic clumps of words. Better luck next week, I guess.

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Pussy Goes “It’s Fucking October!”

By Ashley

Happy October! Here at Pussy Goes Grrr, October is our favorite month of the year for a few reasons. First of all, summer loses its ungodly grip on these here parts and it (usually) stops being a thousand degrees outside. Second, and most important, it’s ALMOST HALLOWEEN! In case you’re new to Pussy Goes Grrr, Halloween is my and Andreas’s favorite holiday out of the whole year; it’s like Christmas and Valentine’s Day all wrapped in one. And we celebrate all month long!

So basically that means there’s going to be a lot of posts about horror, fear, dismemberments, and the like the whole month! We’re participating in the October Horror Movie Challenge hosted by Krell Laboratories: 31 days, 31 movies. Needless to say, we’re excited and hope to maintain once-a-day posting. In related news, I WILL BE WRITING THIS HALLOWEEN. (They really should just change the name of the whole month to “Halloween.”) Last October, due to a combination of high-stress classes and emotional problems, I didn’t write a single goddamn horror-related thing. NOT THIS YEAR. BE PREPARED.

Here’s to a spooky month, my ghoulish readers!

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Things That Confuse and Anger Me About The Harry Potter Series: Order of the Phoenix Part 3

So, here it is, finally. The end of my massive criticism of OotP! Enjoy!

1. “Young people are so infernally convinced that they are absolutely right about everything. Has it not occurred to you, my poor puffed-up popinjay, that there might be an excellent reason why the headmaster of Hogwarts is not confiding every tiny detail of his plans to you? Have you never paused, while feeling hard-done-by, to note that following Dumbledore’s orders has never yet led you into harm? No. No, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognize danger, you alone are the only one clever enough to realize what the Dark Lord may be planning…” BOOM. Phineas Nigellus, much like Severus Snape, is spot on about this kid. Why does J.K. Rowling make these absolute truths come out of the mouths of characters we’re supposed to dislike? What the fuck? And because Harry is exactly like what Phineas said, his immediate response is “He is planning something to do with me, then?” Like…wow, did you not just hear that entire paragraph worth of character analysis? Jesus Christ. Also, I’m gonna call people “poor puffed-up popinjays” from now on because that’s a sick burn.

2. Snape and Sirius are both such assholes who need to get over their old bullshit, like yesterday. But I expect Snape to be a doucher; there’s never been any evidence to suggest otherwise in any of the other books. Sirius’s behavior is just so much more annoying, mostly because he wasn’t like this in the previous book, but also because he is, once again, affirming Harry’s own distrustful attitude against Snape and Dumbledore. And anyone who’s read the fifth book knows where that attitude leads them.

Hit the jump to finally conclude this epic bitchfest…!

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