Dark and Dangerous

Our neighbour remarked the other day, smiling, as he watched my hubby and I string eyeball lights along the roofline of our front portico and hang a moaning ghoul on one corner, “There’s another sure sign of fall – the two of you putting up Halloween decorations!”

Just two days until all of us pretend-ghosts and other creatures of the night (or whatever your favourite alter-ego might be) get to have a little fun. There’s been a lot of debate about whether Halloween should be celebrated this year, and I’m firmly on the side of Absolutely! There are so many ways that it can be done safely, and this year in particular I think we need to celebrate whatever we can to bring a little lightness into our lives.

We’ll be out front handing out treat bags with ‘mad-scientist’ tongs while fog creeps out from our bushes and a Bluetooth speaker spins out my favourite Halloween playlist in the background.

I’ve been bingeing on old sci-fi movies all week, but on Halloween night it’s time for something special – something like the best remake I’ve ever seen, the 2011 version of an old cult favourite, Fright Night.

If you’re not familiar with either, the 1985 original told the story of a teenager, Charlie Brewster, who notices that a mysterious gentleman has moved into the old Victorian house next door. Eventually he becomes convinced that his new neighbour Jerry, played deliciously by Chris Sarandon, is a vampire. Unable to convince anyone else of that, and terrified for his life, Charlie enlists the reluctant help of an aging horror movie actor and late-night host named Peter Vincent (played by the superb Roddy McDowell) whose persona was that of a vampire hunter. A young Amanda Bearse (Marcy in Married…with Children) played Charlie’s pretty girlfriend, who catches the dangerous eye of Jerry as well. With quirky charm and a credible plot of a likeable teenager faced with evil who can’t get anyone to believe him, plus the dark and sexy Jerry, some gore and mounting suspense, and an atmospheric music soundtrack, the movie became a cult hit that showed up regularly on television around Halloween.  

Fright Night (2011) did an amazing job of updating the plot to modern-day Las Vegas, where Charlie and his mom, played by the fabulous Toni Collette, live in a remote suburb in which half the residents have night jobs on the Strip and no one really pays any attention to the new neighbour who never appears during the day. Charlie, trying to be cool for his girlfriend, one of the class hotties, brushes off the vampire ravings of his geeky former friend Ed until he begins to notice all the classmates who’ve started disappearing, including Ed one day. This time Colin Farrell is a sexy but very sinister Jerry the vampire, and Dr. Who no.10 himself, David Tennant, is delightfully outrageous as Peter Vincent, a dissipated and blasé Las Vegas illusionist. A hip and edgy soundtrack, clever plotting that upends quite a few horror clichés, a fair bit of humour and some truly frightening scenes make this a much better movie than the 6.3 rating posted on IMDB. Chris Sarandon even makes a surprise appearance, but you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled – I didn’t spot him the first time around.

If you’re a fan of vampire movies and you have the time, you may want to watch them both – there are enough differences between the two that you won’t be bored. Turn out the lights, pour yourself some red wine, and enjoy Halloween!

“For ‘Fright Night’, we really want to convey the fun attitude of the movie and show the intensity of Colin Farrell as a predator. He’s not a brooding vampire – he’s dark and dangerous.” Stacey Snider

Do you remember when…?

I love the smell of fallen leaves in the morning.

It’s straight out of my childhood. I always looked forward to the return to school, Thanksgiving turkey, and, best of all, Halloween!

As an adult I only have Thanksgiving turkey and Halloween in my life, but I have a great deal of nostalgia around all of them.

People seem to either love or despise nostalgia — I know people who feel it’s just indulging in sentimentality — but psychologists have done studies around it, and results have shown that there are benefits to spending some time in pleasant reminiscing:

  • The boost to your mood when recalling a positive experience. My hubby and I often find ourselves laughing at something from our travels that happens comes to mind from something that’s just occurred. It’s really special to us that we’ve shared those experiences together, and those memories have on occasion been a bulwark against something stressful that’s happening in the present.
  • Researchers found a strong social component, where people experiencing nostalgia were more motivated to connect with other people. It may be for the often communal aspect of the shared memories.
  • When we’re reminiscing, it’s akin to reading or watching a good story, but better because it’s from our own lives and actually happened to us.
  • For the elderly, who can suffer from feelings of isolation, it may inspire them to share their experiences and the wisdom they’ve gained.

Autumn is my favourite season, and Halloween my favourite ‘holiday’, dating back to my childhood and a time when as kids we were innocently and fully free to enjoy it. It was the one night where we were allowed to prowl the streets without a parent in tow, and we made the most of it.

My neighbourhood was lined with trees, and as the air got cooler and the beautiful red and gold leaves began to drift to the ground, shuffling through them on the way to school every day, breathing in the earthy smell and crunching them underfoot, became an annual fall ritual. I would often pick up an especially ‘perfect’ leaf to press between book pages and keep in my room.

The scent of grapes would also fill the air – a lot of people had grapevines in their yards at the time, so it’s an aroma that instantly takes me back to childhood, although it’s increasingly rare.

Each grade at school always put on a Halloween party, and, at least for me, weeks of planning went into my costume. My mom had a trunk full of old clothes, which she readily helped me transform into a variety of outfits.

Anticipation on October 31st was intense – the daylight hours couldn’t pass fast enough. We would put our costumes on and wait feverishly for dusk to fall – it was an unwritten rule to not start trick-or-treating before dark! – and for jack-o-lanterns to come to life on front porches as the streetlights came on. As soon as that happened, our parents would let us out the door for a night of adventure.

We always made a beeline to any places giving out candied apples or popcorn balls, and then, in the mysterious darkness that could be concealing who knew what unearthly creatures and the chill breezes that felt like the tap of the grave on our shoulder, we would go up and down the streets, deciding which houses looked welcoming.

There were always a few houses whose inhabitants were either not kid-friendly, or (to us children) downright creepy. If the former, we didn’t bother visiting them, but if the latter and there was a pumpkin out, we would have a discussion as to whether we felt safe going up to the front door; sometimes we did, with some trepidation, but sometimes the risk outweighed the possibility of more loot.

Once we’d completed our circuit, and usually with a full pillowcase of candy, we’d head toward our respective homes to dump out the contents onto a table and see what goodies we’d accumulated. It was always a great night, and I regret strongly that children now can’t have the same thrill.

My nostalgia for those experiences has been a strong influence on creating a spooky effect for the kids that come to our door trick-or-treating. They all seem to enjoy getting a little scared, and their parents get a kick out of it as well. I didn’t realize how much the children enjoyed the creepy contact lenses I’ve worn with certain costumes until a parent commented once that his kids look forward to it every year.

My hubby helps me decorate our front entrance but allows me to do the dressing-up and hand out the candies. He’s invariably lurking in the background, though, to watch the kids react. We’ve put out a variety of decorations, including some large stone gargoyles that we added glowing red eyes to, and there’s usually fog swirling through the bushes and along the ground. Our house has a split entryway, and the kids have even commented on the interior Halloween décor that they can see behind me as I’m putting treats in their bags.

Halloween allows us to experience some chills in a safe way, and allows both children and adults to step out of our normal lives and become something entirely different for a night. It doesn’t have the emotional baggage or responsibilities of Christmas, and it gives us an opportunity for some good, silly fun.

The proliferation of Halloween-themed cooking contests on the Food Network have instituted a new annual tradition for me, and I now have a well-decorated Halloween tree on our dining-room buffet, but you might still sometimes catch me romping through a pile of raked autumn leaves, to my hubby’s combined dismay and amusement. Enjoy your autumn, and I hope you get as big a kick out of Halloween next week as I do.

Getting your vintage creeps on

It’s Halloween season — my favourite time of year, and clearly for many, many other people as well, judging by the spooky-theme TV ads that are already making their appearance.

There’s something about the fall weather, with frosty mornings and sweater temperatures, leaves drifting to the ground, and the earthy smell of Nature getting ready to hibernate, that signals the approach of the day when the Celts thought that the veil between this world and the next was at its thinnest.

I have several annual fall rituals for this time: prowling Home Sense and Pier One for things to add to my rather large collection of Halloween decor, watching the new season of the Food Network’s Halloween Baking Challenge and watching the contestants have inordinate amounts of fun making stylish but warped baked goods, and checking out TCM’s lineup of vintage horror and sci-fi movies.

In the days before CGI, movie producers had to get really creative with special effects — sometimes brilliant for their limited resources (Forbidden Planet), sometimes incredibly cheesy (Plan 9 from Outer Space). Whatever the end result was, they are always entertaining, whether you’re laughing yourself silly over things like not-so-terrifying Mole People…

poster for The Mole People, 1956, By [1], https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3327404

or getting genuinely creeped out, as with the amazingly effective 1931 Dracula.

By Universal Studios – https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/DRACULA-1931-Bela-Lugosi-Edward-Van-Sloan-10×8-LOBBY-CARD/122917865865?hash=item1c9e79c989:g:x9wAAOSwogpaXksB, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=67003766

While they may not seem remarkable by today’s standards, imagine what audiences at the time must have felt seeing these stories play out on a large screen in a darkened movie theatre, with effects they’d never seen before.

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8913138

One of my personal favourites, a movie that scared me so much when I first saw it as a teenager that it took me years to watch it again, is a relatively obscure little piece called Curse of the Demon, also known as Night of the Demon, about a curse that gets passed to its unknowing victims through a seemingly innocent piece of paper. That’s all I’ll say about it. If you’ve never seen it, turn out the lights, light a couple of candles and watch it on TCM on October 10th.

Sci-fi movies allowed both movie makers and all of us to let our imaginations run wild about what life might be like on other planets, and what might happen if alien life came to us. Our ongoing fascination with UFOs was just featured in a great article in the Scientific American blog.

Forbidden Planet took a marvelous look at the remnants of an ancient civilization as far advanced above ours as its home planet was from ours, mixed in with a horror theme borrowed from Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=871061

When construction workers in 1950s London uncover a mysterious artifact, Professor Quatermass and a couple of fellow researchers unearth the startling truth behind hauntings in the abandoned surrounding neighbourhood, where people decades before believed they saw the Devil. Things get increasingly more unnerving as the researchers and excavators try to figure out what’s going on, until they become in danger of losing their very minds. Five Million Years to Earth (called Quatermass and the Pit in England), is unfortunately not showing on TCM this season, but do keep an eye out for it some other time.

If you’ve never checked out some of the many creative vintage scary movies made in the earlier days of Hollywood, I think you’ll be in for a treat this Halloween. They were made with style and imagination.

Happy Halloween!

Pix from “Halloween at Greenfield Village”, taken at Greenfield Village, Dearborn MI, on October 12, 2013, for your Halloween enjoyment! If you decide to visit next year, though, a word of caution: this event is not friendly for those with mobility issues, and when I complained to the management I received a decidedly unhelpful response.

Attendees begin arriving in costume for the 8pm entry time - photo by E Jurus
Attendees begin arriving in costume for the 8pm entry time – photo by E Jurus

An eerie Grim Reaper stalks a field  - photo by E Jurus
An eerie Grim Reaper stalks a field – photo by E Jurus

The event 'mascot' looms menacingly over one of the walkways  - photo by E Jurus
The event ‘mascot’ looms menacingly over one of the walkways – photo by E Jurus

One of the main squares is lit by string lights  - photo by E Jurus
One of the main squares is lit by string lights – photo by E Jurus

Fans wait to have their fortunes told  - photo by E Jurus
Fans wait to have their fortunes told – photo by E Jurus

The opportunity for a 'ride' on a witch's broom in the mild night air  - photo by E Jurus
The opportunity for a ‘ride’ on a witch’s broom in the mild night air – photo by E Jurus

Yours truly with one of the many costumed characters available for photo ops  - photo by E Jurus
Yours truly with one of the many costumed characters available for photo ops – photo by E Jurus

The charming grandstand becomes a haunted place at night  - photo by E Jurus
The charming grandstand becomes a haunted place at night – photo by E Jurus

A ghostly woman haunts a widow's walk  - photo by E Jurus
A ghostly woman haunts a widow’s walk – photo by E Jurus

Entrance to the Sleepy Hollow haunted forest  - photo by E Jurus
Entrance to the Sleepy Hollow haunted forest – photo by E Jurus

A young cowgirl checks out the Halloween ornaments for sale in one of the barns  - photo by E Jurus
A young cowgirl checks out the Halloween ornaments for sale in one of the barns – photo by E Jurus

A tree haunted by grinning jack-o-lanterns haunts the end of the journey  - photo by E Jurus
A tree haunted by grinning jack-o-lanterns overlooks the end of the journey – photo by E Jurus

Halloween — in the mood

This week, with Halloween just around the corner and creepy movies all over the television (just watched Warm Bodies and loved it!), I thought I’d post some themed photos just to get you in the mood:

Halloween-village display at Bronner's Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI  - photo by E Jurus
Halloween-village display at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI – photo by E Jurus

Halloween in a cemetery in Peru -- perfect!  - photo by E Jurus
Halloween in a cemetery in Peru — perfect! – photo by E Jurus

For all fans of the new TV series Sleepy Hollow, you can really go there and visit the Headless Horseman Bridge - photo by E Jurus
For all fans of the new TV series Sleepy Hollow, you can really go there and visit the Headless Horseman Bridge – photo by E Jurus

A creepy gravestone-eating tree in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery - photo by E Jurus
A creepy gravestone-eating tree in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – photo by E Jurus

Fantastic  stalking pumpkin dinosaurs at the Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze, Croton-on-Hudson, NY - photo by E Jurus
Fantastic stalking pumpkin dinosaurs at the Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze, Croton-on-Hudson, NY – photo by E Jurus

Delightful recreation of a 1920s-style children's Halloween party, complete with resident ghosts, at Clermont Manor, NY state - photo by E Jurus
Delightful recreation of a 1920s-style children’s Halloween party, complete with resident ghosts, at Clermont Manor, NY state – photo by E Jurus

Adults outnumbered the kids at this trick-or-treat station by the eerie lagoon in Disneyland at Mickey’s Halloween Party on Halloween night – photo by E Jurus