Happy Halloween, everybody! It's my favorite day of the year. Sure it's nice to watch Fourth of July Fireworks, pig out on turkey for Thanksgiving and to burn a large pile of groundhogs in a bonfire for Groundhog's day (That IS how everyone else celebrates Groundhog's day, right?).
Halloween is a real mutt of a holiday, and I mean that in a good way. It has its roots in both Celtic Pagan, and European Christian traditions which were then secularized to become the parade of monster movies, candy and costumes we know and (mostly) love today. The name is a contraction of "All Hallows Even" and refers to the fact that it is the night before "All Hallows" or "All Saints" day in Catholic Tradition.
The Jack O Lantern is probably the most recognizable symbol of the season. Like a lot about Halloween, it's a mix of old an new tradition. It's unclear how far back the tradition goes (carving faces into vegetables, apparently, is an ancient custom and not limited to Haloween) but the earliest recorded instances of doing it specifically for the Feast of All Saints goes back to the 17th century in Ireland. No Pumpkins to be had in 1600's Ireland though, so they carved their Jack o Lanterns out of turnips. When Halloween came to the new world, people found gourds and especially pumpkins to be easier to work with and larger, so the now familiar Halloween tradition of carving a pumpkin was born. I think the turnips look creepier than pumpkins, but I would bet they are harder to work with as well.
Trick or Treating is another fine tradition of the festival. In its modern form, it only dates to about the 1920s. But winter and fall holidays across the world do have traditions of people dressing up and going door to door for treats, Christmas Caroling is an example. So it is hard to pin down the exact origins of the practice. A likely source is the 15th-century tradition of "Soul cakes" where, on the Feast of All Saints, people would go door to door singing (again, rather like Christmas Caroling) and their neighbors would share small cakes (soul cakes) with them. Which makes me think that next year, I am going to go for authenticity and make trick or treaters sing me a song, but they will get a Twinkie for their efforts. But I digress. "Guising" (the wearing of a costume) became a custom for harvest celebrations of various types around the 18th century, and that is the most likely origin of the Halloween Costume. The phrase "Trick or Treat" itself seems to be an American invention, created sometime in the 1920s and never spread outside of our shores until the 1940s.
Trick or Treating is a mostly American tradition these days. It never really took off as a Halloween thing in the rest of the world until the 1980s and even now is nowhere near as popular in Europe and the UK as in the US of A. I know more than a few British and Australian friends of mine on Facebook seem to resent it. Personally, though, I love the idea of being able to be generous to some kids and make them happy, while seeing some cute costumes. So anyone who shows up at my door gets a treat. Don't care what age, don't care whether there is a costume, don't care if you are delivering a package, show up to my door tonight, you get a candy bar. It's the spirit of the season, after all.
Halloween is almost here, and over the weekend, I viewed The Houses October Built and The Houses that October Built 2. Both are about a group of people who are looking for the ultimate haunted attraction. Both feature lots of footage of actual haunted attractions and the people who perform in them thus making them pretty thematically appropriate, IMO, for Halloween viewing. Both are not, however, equally good.
The Houses October Built is by far the superior of the two films. The plot is simple, a few days before Halloween, a group of friends rents an RV and drives across Texas to experience various haunted houses. Their goal is to find the most "extreme" haunted house they can. Almost immediately, they piss off the staff of one such attraction by filming inside and begin to be stalked by costumed people. Eventually, they find a strange subculture of Haunted House performers, find rumors of a hard to find attraction called "Blue Skeleton" which seems to be just the sort of experience they are looking for and, without getting TOO spoliery, bad things ensue. It was a decent movie, though not the best. A solid four out of five though. I enjoyed it, though a few incidents in the film were caused by stupidity on the part of the protagonists and that always drags a movie down in my estimation.
The sequel, however, is a different bucket of smelly chum. For one thing, it completely negated the first movie. I HATE sequels that do that. But if that was all it did, I could forgive it to a point. But it did something worse, it took it a step farther, and filled in a few holes from the first movie in such a way as to make it all seem stupid. Any sequel can be a bad sequel, but it takes a very special kind of bad sequel to diminish the original to such a degree.
Overall, I would say watch the first movie, enjoy it. Forget the second one even exists. I can absolutely 100% guarantee that whatever you picture happening to the characters from the first film in your own head, after the credits roll, will be 100x better than the shitty sequel. The first movie was entertaining, the second stunk like a decomposing skunk.
Another Halloween themed film I watched lately is the newest reboot/sequel (or "requel" as I have seen it dubbed) of John Carpenter's classic Halloween. This movie is getting a lot of love from both critics and horror fans, and I just don't get it. It struck me as an almost complete rehash of the original with a couple of utterly predictable "twists" toward the end. Probably the most entertaining part (or if I really want to be mean, the ONLY entertaining part) is seeing how an older Lorie Strode, dealt with the trauma from the events in the original film. Spoiler alert: not well. You might also get some amusement from spotting the various easter eggs in the movie. Though this film retcons every single Halloween film except the first out of existence, they all get a little nod at some point in the movie. Even the totally unrelated Halloween III. So if you think a small glimpse into the psyche of a 'final girl' 40 years down the road might be fascinating, you might like this film. Otherwise, meh, there are better choices out there.
But regardless of what you choose to watch for Halloween, whether something gore-tastic like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a classic Universal film or more kid-friendly fare like Hocus Pocus, enjoy it. And Happy Halloween
At least for values of "Giant Lizard" that equal "Blue Screen of Death"
So today's story will be up tomorrow, I hope.
Update: It wasn't I will resume regular service on Friday
Still Working on today's story. But this pic so seems to fit with this weeks Kaiju theme that I had to post it.
I know what you are thinking but Hump Day was yesterday. Nope it is St. Crispins Day. Time to show the scars you got at the Battle of Agincourt. The day referred to in the rather famous scene from Henry V where King Henry rallies his troops for battle ("We few, he happy few, we band of brothers...") My favorite scene in my favorite Shakespearean play. Below is a clip of my favorite version of that scene. One of these days, I will have watched this scene and be so hyped up to fight some Frenchmen that someone will walk past me carrying a baguette and whistling Frere Jaques and tragedy will ensue
Gamera is filled with meat. We've been eating Gam-er-aaaaaaa
So goes the "Gamera Song" on MST3K. Gamera, for those who are unaware, is a giant flying turtle featured in various movies put out by the Daiei Film company. Though he began as a lower budget competitor to Toho Studios' Godzilla, Gamera has become an icon in his own right.
Gamera first came alive on screen in 1965 in Gamera The Invincible. He found his way to American screens in a dubbed version the following year. Godzilla was already a phenomenon in both nations, and the appetite existed for a second Kaiju for filmgoers to watch. And like Godzilla, Gamera would go on to spawn a franchise that continues to this day, though his career spanned a mere 11 films (compared to 33 for Godzilla) and there have been no new ones since 2006. On the brighter side (for the big turtle), five of the Gamera films have been featured on Mystery Science theater compared to only two for Godzilla. So this should tell you a bit about the relative quality of the movies.
The reason, I think, is that Godzilla went through kind of a goofy phase in the 60s. The films began to be aimed at children more than adults and Godzilla became a protector of the innocent and less of a rampaging menace. Gamera was CREATED in the midst of this period, so while he is a straight up monster in his first film, he quickly becomes "a friend to all children" and a protector of Japan.
It is interesting to speculate on why this is. By the 60s, I think, the memories of war between the US and Japan was fading, Japan no longer felt threatened by atomic annihilation at the hands of the US, and both the US and Japan began fearing annihilation at the hands of the Soviet Union. And both felt the only thing keeping that at bay were the atomic weapons of the US. Thus, the former stand-in for fear of nuclear war became something that protected the people. Protected the children. Plus horror was moving in a different direction from the atomic monsters that were so popular in the 50s, so Godzilla became...well...kind of corny. ANd with Gamera being created in this time, he had those attributes from the start.
Looked at in comparison to the Godzilla movies of the time, though, I think Gamera compares well. The films were corny and aimed at kids, but at the same time, so were Godzilla movies. And frankly, I think the film showed a little more imagination. Kaiju don't really make sense to begin with, they are things that really couldn't exist in the real world, thanks to pesky things like "physics" and "biology", but the makers of Gamera seemed to say to themselves "Well, this is all bullshit, but we might as well have some fun with it". So they did. Gamera's first opponent was a creature called Barugon, a big lizard with a tongue that emitted freeze gas and a horn that emitted a spectacularly deadly rainbow. And they only got weirder from there: Gyaos - a laser beam shooting bat thing, Viras - A giant alien squid, and many others. All much more bizarre than anything Godzilla ever fought, in my view.
Godzilla's and Gamera's paths never crossed, sad to say, though such a thing would be epic. But luckily, we can watch them both in action, and I recommend doing so.
On October 27, 1954, in Nagoya Japan, Godzilla first roared to life across movie screens. The best horror movies reflect the times and places in which they are made, and Godzilla is no exception to this rule. WWII had just ended in a pair of atomic fireballs for Japan and Godzilla was an equally formidable force of destruction leaving nothing but crushed and burning buildings behind him.
The name Godzilla is a cross between gorira, Japanese for gorilla and kujira, Japanese for whale. This is because the filmmakers had initially envisioned him as some sort of cross between those two types of creatures. And in those days, before CGI was a thing and when stop-motion was an expensive state of the art affair, Godzilla was portrayed by a stagehand in a latex suit.
A year later, Godzilla began to be shown in the US. At first, it was primarily shown in Japanese neighborhoods and in its original language, but it didn't take long for it to be picked up for more general release in the US. In 1956, a version called Godzilla: King of the Monsters was released. The Japanese language was dubbed over by English, and a few scenes were added to give the film an American face since the studio was unsure how a movie with a purely Japanese cast would play to an American audience. Raymond Burr played a reporter named Steve Martin (though THIS Steve Martin was neither a wild nor a crazy guy). His role was mostly to document the destruction wrought by the monster. It did keep the major beats of the film intact.
This proved to be a smart move for the studio. By '56, The Russian had the atomic bomb, and the cold war was in full swing. So it hit roughly the same nerve with American audiences as it did with Japanese.
Godzilla was the first movie of its kind, but it was far from the last. It became a franchise spanning 33 films. Including a failed American reboot starring Matthew Broderick where Godzilla was literally an overgrown iguana. It continues strong to this day, with the newest entry in the franchise coming to theaters in may of 2019. More to the point, it spawned an entire genre of Kaiju (giant monster) films. Gamera, Gorgo, and many others. The Danish even tried to get into the act with their own Kaiju, Reptilicus.
Further, Godzilla has escaped from the world of films. A dinosaur species has been named for the big guy, Gojirasaurus. More recently, Nasa gave Godzilla his own constellation.
Godzilla's enormous shadow has loomed over the movie landscape for 64 years, and there is no sign of it shrinking. So here's to 64 years of everyone's favorite giant atomic monster and let's hope for 64 more.
Happy Birthday to one of the greats of the genrea, Bela Lugosi. He would be 136 years old today. Holy Cow. A lot of people, myself included, when they picture a vampire, they picture Bela as Dracula. But he did a lot of other work as well. He played Igor in both Son of Frankenstein and Ghost of Frankenstein and he took a turn as the monster himself in Frankenstein vs. The Wolfman. He went on to play a variety of roles throughout the rest of his life, though he was mostly typecast as a horror villain. Finally he ended his career working with Ed Wood, and died early in the filming of Plan 9 from Outer Space.
So Happy Birthday, Bela. The Horror Genre just wouldn't be the same without you.
Those of you who know me personally know that I enjoy visiting places associated with horror films. And this weekend while I was in the San Francisco Bay area, I took a little side trip to Bodega Bay, California.
Bodega Bay is the setting for two of my favorite films; Hitchcock's classic The Birds and schlock favorite Puppet Master. So I kind of count it as a double entry on my "Horror Movie World Tour" as I like to call it.
I can see how it worked its way into two very different horror films. The town isn't spooky per se. It isn't a place of dilapidated mansions, scary looking trees and such, no but it IS very scenic, and it's also isolated. The first is a good thing for any movie and the second is a good thing for horror films. While I didn't really expect the place to have much reason to play up its connection to Puppet Master, a straight to video offering from the 80s that is well known to horror fans but not so much to the public at large, I was surprised by how little they made of their connection to The Birds. Most places I have visited play up their relationship to the hilt. For instance, even if you had no idea the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park Colorado was the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining, you WOULD learn this fact within 30 minutes of entering. There are a lot of little reminders. But Bodega Bay? If I didn't know The Birds took place there before I visited, I don't think I would have learned that fact while I was there. The sole reminder was a restaurant called "The Birds Cafe." That's it.
The movies that this little town inspired are each interesting in their own way. Hitchcock was inspired to make the film upon reading about an actual even, poisoned shellfish had made local birds act erratically and slam themselves into buildings in Santa Barbara. Alfred Hitchcock read about this, he thought it would make an excellent basis for a movie and then came across Daphne du Maurier's Novella "The Birds" and decided to adapt it. Among other changes, it moved the location of the story from Cornwall to Bodega Bay. Outside of his TV show, it is the closest he ever did to a straight up monster movie. And if you are one of the few people who has never seen it, remedy that immediately. Alas, my Wife and I were unable to find the Schoolhouse that was featured in the movie. I found out the reason for that is because the building is NOT in Bodega Bay, but in nearby Bodega which is a different town that we did not pass through.
Puppetmaster was a very different kettle of fish. It is probably the most famous product to come out of Full Moon Studios, a little company noted at the time for making schlocky but imaginative, low-budget, straight to video horror fare (I could write a whole article on them, and most likely will, eventually). It wasn't the first film to feature killer puppets, but in my view, it was (and remains) the most imaginative in the way it used them. Each of the killer puppets was a unique design: a man in a trenchcoat with a hook for one hand and a knife for the other, a man with a drill in the top of his head, a jester who has multiple faces that he spins around to show his mood, and many more. All only a foot or so tall. Far more interesting than some mere ventriloquist dummy or child's doll who can move and talk. The biggest disappointment to me is that the "Bodega Bay Inn" that is so prominent in the series is fictional, with several hotels in Southern California being used for various shots in the film.
All in all, the town of Bodega Bay is a hidden treasure for horror fans and an all around lovely place to visit even if horror isn't your bag. It's for the birds but in a good way.