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

Letting fear rule your life

Halloween night at Disneyland - photo by E. Jurus
Halloween night at Disneyland – photo by E. Jurus

There’s been quite a kerfuffle in the Niagara Region over the past few days.  A number of elementary schools have announced that they’re no longer letting their students dress up in Halloween costumes. The students will be allowed to dress in orange and black and celebrate what’s being called a Spirit Day.

Officially the premise is that Spirit Day is a more ‘inclusive’ celebration, and to a certain extent I can understand the desirability for inclusion, but when it comes to Halloween, in my experience there’s always someone’s hidden agenda when celebrations of this much-loved holiday are quashed. In other words, someone has religious objections.

Everyone has the right to practice their own religion, but they don’t have the right to impose their own restrictions on other people. For those who aren’t comfortable with the concept of Halloween, it’s easy for them to abstain from the celebrations. Destroying the fun for others is mean-spirited.

Let me state categorically that those of us who love Halloween do it for fun and to let our hair down. We are not going to hell, we aren’t witches or devil-worshipers, nor are we necessarily pagan – I’m Catholic, as it happens.

We enjoy the chill in the air, brightly-lit pumpkins, the sense of the mysterious, and a good ghost story. Halloween provides a lovely vicarious thrill – we enjoy the feeling of danger without actually being in any.

My hubby and I have had some great Halloween parties, and we love it when guests get really creative with their characters and costumes. My favourite to date was when one of our buddies dressed up as the Hunchback of Notre Dame and spent 10 minutes moaning while he tried to open the bar fridge door – it was hilarious.

Halloween is a chance to step outside our ordinary lives, to be anyone or anything, to indulge in a little healthy spookiness and some shivers. I love decorating my house with gargoyles, pumpkins in all shapes and sizes, spider web table cloths, flickering candles – I have an entire Halloween village in my office that lives there all year round.

I can understand that some of the more extreme celebrations can be disturbing to some – I don’t like goriness and many of the more sleazy/suggestive costumes either, but everyone has different tastes and I can choose to avoid places and events that include them.

One of my former occasional co-workers was a bit distressed by a tombstone with a couple of mild skulls and the words “Happy Halloween” that I put on my desk. We had a friendly discussion about it, but what she told me was a bit disturbing: her religious background had raised her to believe that even looking at something like a Halloween skull would invite eternal damnation.

Fear is a powerful way to influence someone – it’s our most potent emotion, and organizations have used it for centuries to control people. You only have to look at most of the marketing in today’s media to see how fear is used to manipulate: are your teeth white enough, do you have bodily odour, are your shoes/clothing not cool enough, do you have incredibly bad bacteria contaminating every corner of your lives…

Many of our fears are self-imposed as well. Some are healthy fears – avoiding things are known to be harmful, like poison ivy – but I continually run into people who fear all kinds of nebulous things, like change, or stepping outside their comfort zone.

Our fears limit us. They put chains around us that can take over our lives. I felt awful for that co-worker, who essentially lives in in a prison of fear that the devil’s influence lurks around every corner waiting to trap her. Surely a strong sense of faith should preclude living in such fear. All of us should take the time to examine our fears and decide whether that’s the way we want to live, or if we can reason through them and break free.

To those who want to ruin Halloween for the rest of us, I say Boo Humbug!

Fall – a feast for the senses

View from the terrace of Montgomery Place historic estate along the Hudson River, NY - photo by E. Jurus
View from the terrace of Montgomery Place historic estate along the Hudson River, NY – photo by E. Jurus

Everyone has their favourite season, and you could drum up a lively debate about which one is best. For some people autumn represents only the impending return of winter, but to me it’s the most sensual season — if you take the time to appreciate it.

Forget the equinox date — to me autumn begins when kids return to school at the beginning of September, just as winter feels like it really begins at the beginning of December.

I loved starting school again each year, but it wasn’t just the return to classes and the schoolroom — it was picking out a new dress for the first day of school, buying new school supplies (I’ve always loved the smell of new notebook paper!), walking to school as the leaves began to drift down until every step became crunchy, the screech of blue jays on chilly mornings, eating a hot bowl of oatmeal with cream and lots of brown sugar, the scent of grapes growing in neighbours’ yards, Thanksgiving turkey with stuffing, and the building excitement as Halloween approached.

For a couple of years my family lived on a farm in northern Ontario, where autumn is extravagantly beautiful — great swathes of colour lining the winding dirt road that we walked to and from school, the tang of wood smoke in the crisp clear air, gold-tinged fields rolling away under a bright blue sky… Moving down to southern Ontario brought a gentler season but better opportunities for trick-or-treating in a more urban area. How I missed the wonderful autumns of the north, though!

I’ve taken my hubby Mike up to northern Ontario a couple of times over the years so that he could experience a bit of what I loved so much. Autumn has become our favourite time to travel almost anywhere (except parts of Africa) — to enjoy the milder weather and fewer crowds, to enjoy the outdoors, and quite a few times to enjoy Halloween events.

The first time we went to England was in early November, and we had a fantastic time. We bundled up in trench coats and toasty sweaters, had tea in cozy pubs by the fire. We visited Stonehenge on a cool, cloudy day, but besides us there were perhaps only about a half-dozen other people about. All the cities and towns had Christmas decorations out, so we had great fun in Oxford buying little university sweatshirts as gifts for all our tiny nieces and nephews. I remember driving down a country road to Bath in the dusk and watching autumn mist creep down the hillsides — if a Druid had come floating through the trees collecting mistletoe I wouldn’t have been at all surprised.

October in Paris is equally enticing. We had a chilly day on the Eiffel Tower, which gave us the perfect excuse to visit the café on the second level for a thick, dreamy Chocolat Chaud Viennois (rich hot chocolate with a generous helping of whipped cream on top).

Autumn is the perfect time for a road trip. One of our favourite places to go is the Hudson River Valley in New York State. There are magnificent old estates dotted along the river, lots of great hikes, delightful small towns to poke around, plenty of history, an abundance of farmer’s markets with fabulous artisanal food (can’t give you names, just stop in at any market you come across), and best of all for all Halloween buffs, this is Washington Irving country. The denizens of the Valley make the most of the whole Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle atmosphere — in fact, there’s a real town called Sleepy Hollow where you can walk across the Headless Horseman bridge and visit Irving’s grave in the very old cemetery (which you can catch glimpses of in the new TV series that just debuted this week). Irving based his tale of the Headless Horseman on a genuine old legend, and believe me, if you wander up into the Catskill Mountains you’ll get some eerie shivers when the wind moans through the forests. There are a ton of Halloween-themed things to do, including the Headless Horseman haunted farm, which is the top-rated haunted attraction in the U.S. and an absolute blast!

In our increasing urbanization, people are missing out on many of the sights and sounds of autumn. It’s not a season to be depressed about — it’s a season to celebrate as Nature puts on her finest show, but you may have to go looking for the best stuff. Go hike in the woods and breathe deeply of fallen leaves. Visit a fall fair and buy some good home-made sausages and apple butter to take home for dinner. Have a picnic on a plaid blanket spread out on the leaf-strewn grass, with a thermos of tea, some sumptuous sandwiches and crumbly pumpkin squares for dessert. Line your porch with pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, then enjoy chocolate eyeballs and some cheesy old sci-fi movies for Halloween. Life is too short not to make the most of this most glorious season.

Filling your dreams to the brim with fright…

Entrance to Disneyland on Halloween night - photo by E. Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland on Halloween night – photo by E. Jurus

Entrance to Disneyland Hotel - photo by E Jurus
Entrance to Disneyland Hotel – photo by E Jurus

If you’re thinking of spending a Halloween with Disney, now’s the time to start planning! Tickets will go on sale next month, and they go quickly.
My husband and I went to Disneyland for October 30 & 31 two years ago, and we had a blast. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel, which overlooks Downtown Disney. In California everything’s accessible by foot – we walked out from our hotel into the thick of the shops, restaurants and entertainment ‘downtown’, and a further 10 minute walk brought us to the gates of both Disneyland and California Adventure.

Shop window on Main Street USA - photo by E Jurus
Shop window on Main Street USA – photo by E Jurus

Signs of Halloween were everywhere – hay bales, pumpkins both real and faux (including a giant pumpkin-head Mickey at the entrance to Main Street USA, Halloween treats for sale in shops and restaurants, and lots of creepy/cute merchandise in the shops.

On Halloween, Disneyland closes to the general public around 3pm, and re-opens at 6pm for people with tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. These tickets must be reserved in advance and are an additional cost over and above your park-hopper passes, but they’re well worth the extra cost! During the late afternoon on October 31st there’s an air of excitement – people dressed up in costume ( both children and adults) begin heading for the park, street entertainers come out, and the lights at the entrance to Disneyland start to glow. The atmosphere is like a big street party.

Food is available in the parks in the evening, but we chose to fortify ourselves at one of the restaurants in Downtown Disney first, then went back to the hotel to change. If you’re going, please note that the temperature can drop considerably at night even in the sunny states, and our night was no exception. I had on a long-sleeved costume and was still chilled by the end of the party.

Once inside the park, there are loads of things to do. All the day’s rides are open, but there are also dance

Main St USA on Halloween Night - photo by E Jurus
Main St USA on Halloween Night – photo by E Jurus

parties in different locations, the opportunity to have your  photo taken in front of the giant pumpkin Mickey (the professional photographer will use either his own camera or yours, or both – you pick) trick-or-treat stations that were patronized just as much by adults as kids when we were there, the opportunity to meet and pose with your favourite Disney villain (very popular and they rotate shifts, so if this is a must-do for you line up early before your character leaves for a break), shops galore, fireworks and a Halloween parade as the finale.

Adults lined up at the trick-or-treat station along the lagoon - photo by E Jurus
Adults lined up at the trick-or-treat station along the lagoon – photo by E Jurus

Glowing ghostly Mickey heads light your way around the park, an eerie blue fog billows across the lagoon and haunting music makes your feet itch to dance. It’s a night to celebrate all that’s dark and creepy, Disney style. Lest you think this party is just for children, let me tell you that at least half the people there that night were adults, and most of them were in costume. Although I’m not a fan of the commercialism that has crept into the Disney parks, nobody does parties like they do! This was an item on my bucket list, and it didn’t disappoint.

I haven’t been to Disney World for Halloween, so I can’t compare between the two, but there is

The gates to the Haunted Mansion, Jack Skellington-style - photo by E Jurus
The gates to the Haunted Mansion, Jack Skellington-style – photo by E Jurus

one significant difference: in Disneyland, for the Halloween season the Haunted Mansion is converted into The Nightmare Before Christmas both indoors and out – the plantation-style mansion drips with Spanish moss, special black & white-ribboned Halloween flower arrangements, pumpkins and Jack Skellington’s Christmas list, and of course Jack himself presides over the entire thing.

Inside, the ride has been transformed as well, into a spectacular multi-coloured journey tweaked with Jack’s special style – it’s so cool, even my hubby was impressed. Disneyland also sells a lot of Jack Skellington merchandise, so if you’re a fan, that might be an added incentive. My hubby bought a ‘Tall, Dark & Gruesome’ t-shirt that he wore under his lab coat as a mad scientist; I was his freaky-looking re-stitched and partially-revived creation.

photo by E Jurus
photo by E Jurus

Planning tips:

  • When I booked, tickets went on sale at the beginning of July for Disney club members, and later in the month for non-members. The online order system had gone down, so I spent a dedicated 45 minutes on the phone calling back repeatedly until I got a live person.
  • There are rules for dressing in costume at Disney: 1) you can dress as a Disney character but you’re not allowed to pose for photos with people you don’t know; 2) costumes can’t drag on the ground (tripping/ride machinery hazard); 3) your eyes must be visible (coloured contacts are allowed – mine were dead white); 4) your costume can’t scare small children. Most people do dress as Disney characters, but you don’t have to, although doing that will likely increase your chance of being selected to ride in the parade.
  • Daytime temps are quite nice but, as I mentioned previously, the temperature can drop quite a bit after dark, so be prepared – I saw quite a few women shivering in sleeveless outfits.
  • Buying an ‘all-inclusive’ package can save you some money. You get vouchers for meals that are supposed to be specific to certain restaurants and meals, but when we were there the serving staff encouraged us to use them for just about any meal.
  • Wear comfy shoes; even in Disneyland, which is more compact, you’ll still do lots of walking.
  • If you’re interested in doing the Disneyland version, there’s transportation between the airport (LAX) and Disneyland. In Los Angeles, there are tons of things to see, including the original Universal Studios park, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Hollywood, other movie studios, the fabulous Getty Museum…the list is practically endless. If you rent a car, you can drive up the coast to Malibu, visit beautiful Santa Barbara, and generally enjoy the wonderful California weather, scented with the ocean and eucalyptus trees.
  • Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party runs on selected nights throughout the Halloween season, so if you can’t make it for Halloween night itself, there are still plenty of other dates to enjoy it. The one on Halloween itself wasn’t nearly as crowded as I was afraid it might be, just a nice amount of people wandering around and enjoying the ambience. Please check this year’s dates and times on the Disney websites (Disneyland and Disney Worldfor the most up-to-date information.