Monday, October 26, 2015

Frightworld 2015

     It’s not Halloween until you walk into the darkness, and the screams fill the air. And that is exactly what happens when you walk out of the world—a suburban parking lot—and into the doors of Frightworld, America’s Screampark.

     Stephen Szortyka’s indoor haunted house park is put on every year in frighteningly spectacular fashion. Every year, What a Witch and the Ghost look forward to what Frightworld has planned to have jump out at us from our nightmares. Every year, we look forward to the originality, timelessness and terror Frightworld puts on—and this year was no exception.

     While other haunted attractions are content to rely on standard figures and (often copyrighted) characters of horror (Michael Myers, Freddy Kreuger, Walking Dead walkers)—Frightworld creates a world all original and all its own. And there is something for every part of the haunted heart. Whether you find you’re scared best in the walls of a creepy old Asylum, an outdoor cornfield and grave yard, in the creepy run down walls of secluded house, or in the dark—there will be something to make your heart race at Frightworld.

      In 2015, Frightworld did not disappoint. The mental hospital, the maze, the grind house, the dark. What rose to the top for us this year was a perfect mix of the old and the new. Our two favorite houses were "Grind House" and "Night Stalkers." 

      "The Grind House" is a house we have been scared in before, and we were again this year. The actors at Frightworld are top-notch, and their talent is on full display in grind house. The desolate, dirty, hoarded, grime and terror of Grind House-- with the sound of a chainsaw in the distance, screams Halloween. And makes us scream. Our favorite actor of the house (and night) was a woman who-- never breaking character, asks you to come play with her, in her room of dolls. It is such an unsettling, perfect haunt-- and the girl with the doll face and the unforgettable voice is truly horror film quality.

      "Nights Stalkers" was the new house this year, and it exceeded expectations. When you enter "Night Stalkers" one person in your group gets a flashlight handcuffed to their wrist. The flashlight is controlled by forces beyond you-- and you walk into the dark of the house, and the tone is instantly different. More adult, with few things that pop out at you, and more nuanced and with a fright far more lingering-- the darkness, and clinging to the flashlight in the house-- and how it fails you and reveals what is before you is the perfect experience of fear. The big reveal of the house is epic. We turned a corner and our flashlight revealed a room, large and populated with people, bodies. Shrouded and chained. Without spoiling the climax of the haunt, the experience is like no other we've had in a haunt before. "Night Stalkers" is a haunt that trusts you, and does not reveal all of its mysteries at once (if at all). And leaves you frightened long into the night and beyond.  

      We went to Frightworld on a Sunday night, and while the crowds were light when we came in, within a mere hour, hundreds-- if not over 1,000-- people had made their way into Frightworld, and created massive lines. Frightworld is always worth the wait, but we highly recommend the fast past as a money-well-spent investment. 

      Thank you, Frightworld, for another year of fear. 

Frightworld 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015

From the Pumpkin Patch

     Autumn brings many things. The colors of the world explode into vibrant beauty, the nights chill, dim, and the world swells with feasts of beauty—bright pumpkins and corn and apples and cider and spice and pies.

     This year’s harvest brought something new for What a Witch. The harvest’s beauty brought a little baby pumpkin. The new addition has us looking at our favorite season from a different perspective—one we have not looked from in some time. One of innocence.

     For What a Witch, gone are the days of blood, guts, and gore. Now the Halloween holiday is filled with cute pumpkins, sweet treats and pajamas with dinosaur feet, and chubby cartoon ghosts. What goes bump in the night, and haunts All Hallow’s Eve, is taking on a more family-friendly air.

     We’ve had the joy of introducing some of the autumn season’s magical things to our little pumpkin. A walk through the cemetery on a sunny day, the smell of mums in the peak or their blossom (did  you know mums have smell?); the sound of rustling leaves. The morning we took our walk, child and stroller in tow, was bright and warm. Fall was just beginning to peak out at us—in the flowering mums planted in 100 year old urns, in the deep red just beginning to seep into the trees. There was something so peaceful and sacred in walking around with the little one, passing beneath trees, seeing the lakes and the spiders spinning their webs. Reading names from stones, remembering if only for a moment the people who have come to rest in the cemetery, walking silently through the Chapel deep within the cemetery.

     The next week we took the little pumpkin to meet the great pumpkin, to a local pumpkin patch. On a Sunday morning in the later fall, at a farm in the country where goats ran free and horses watched from the barn, we took a horse-drawn wagon ride over the farm and to the pumpkin patch; a gray but nevertheless beautiful fall day. Pumpkins lay scattered on the ground, their vines twisting from the earth, and here and there were pumpkin guts and seeds from those gourds which fared less fortunately.

     We look forward to the years to come where we can watch the joy of the season grow, and last, through a child’s eyes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Finding Rolling Hills Asylum

     The day we set out for the asylum was grey, windy, just a hint of chill on the air. No other weather would seem so right. We drove down the New York State Thruway to Batavia, a small city in Genesee County. We passed through Batavia, streets of homes. It was early enough in the autumn season, but the sweaters were out, and pumpkins appeared here, there.

 We drove down a road where the houses, or any buildings, began to become more and more set apart. Farms and their houses would soon show up. As the road became more desolate, quiet, I began to wonder if we were going in the right direction.

 We stopped at a four way intersection, and there it was. Before us sat a large, old, weathered though not run down building with a large wingspan of a wing on its left, one on its right. Driving past the building we found the parking lot, and the historical marker that confirmed we were in the right spot. Prior to our tour, I had known little to nothing on what Rolling Hills Asylum had been, or was. It had been at one time the Genesee County Poorhouse house, had been featured on a ghost hunting TV show, and was now owned by people who gave or allowed tours of the buidlings and grounds. The New York State historical marker near where we parked confirmed that the site had once been the county's poorhouse.

 There were a few other cars parked in the back, but no souls appeared to be around. Outside, at least. The Ghost and the Witch approached the back door, or what we thought was the back door, and knocked to no answer. Taking pictures, we walked to the front of the buidling, and quickly found what had once seemingly been the front door to the building was no longer used. After trying the back door again, checking the time and date on our tickets, and an attempted phone call, we realized we were in a horror film. We had knowingly, willingly driven out to a secluded, presumed to be haunted location, and no one was around. We tried one, final knock. And that worked.

 The man who answered the door did not scare us away. Asking if we were here for the tour, he led us through a large door, into a stairwell and we were in the Asylum. Paint chips flaked the wall, fell on the floor. Light fell in streams through grim-coated windows. We followed him off of the stairs and into a corridor that seemed to be from a different, much newer building. The walls were painted, floors and windows clean. We were led into a general room that contained a merchandise gift shop, shelves full of books, and an area to sit. We were not the first to arrive for the tour, and we would not be the last.

 Our guides signed us in, and after our tour had assembled we were told that we would have a guided tour of the building, followed by a time that we could, on our own, explore the building, and be allowed to take photos at that time. Not knowing what lay in store, how this former poorhouse had become an asylum, we followed our guides down a dark hallway to begin our Rolling Hills experience.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Welcome to the Asylum

     The abandoned mental asylum. Insititution. Hospital for the Insane. The asylum has become a trope of horror, of modern fear. Second, it would seem, only to the haunted house. Whether the word “asylum” conjures up images of a towering, dilapidated gothic building you have near your hometown, countless horror films, the television show “American Horror Story’ or any number of paranormal, ghost-hunting programs—I bet the image is there. The building where people were imprisoned, to live damaged lives among the insane. It’s as Halloween as pumpkin pie.

The former Buffalo State Hospital, now the Richardson Olmstead Complex, in Buffalo, NY

     But what is it that fascinates our fear with asylums. Are we scared of the people who live there, once lived there, or whose spirits remain broken and left behind? Or are we afraid of how people ended up there? So quietly and effortlessly often committed against their will for being emotional, promiscuous, or the victim of a crime no person could believe. Are we afraid that, if we had been born 40, 75 or 100 years earlier, we would be committed to these small rooms with bars, to live life among a gallery of all the ways people can be damaged and broken?
     Whatever it is that holds sway over the modern consciousness, I am sure it is not the same for everyone. And that the middle ground of the in-between—fear of being committed, fear of those there—holds true for many people. And, regardless of what brings your nightmares to the doors of an asylum, the fear is true. And good fear is never fully understood.

     But we can try.  And so it was with this in mind that the Ghost and the Witch went exploring some of our local, long abandoned asylums. Western New York is rich in these sad places, that are clearly haunted, whether ghosts walk within their walls or not. 

      Tomorrow, I will begin posting about our trip to Genesee County, to the old Genesee County Poorhouse, now the famous Rolling Hills Asylum.   

Rolling Hills Asylum, Genesee County, NY

Thursday, October 1, 2015

October Country

     Welcome, October. We turn around, and it is gone. A world of winters, cold, shovels and snow, quickly becomes life. Turn around, and the spring has broken, when the world rains on muddy ground and the first seeds begin to grow. The sun shines brighter, and longer, and the world opens into summer. In summer, the autumn seems like a long ago dream. And then we turn around, and it's here.

     Happy October, everyone, from us ghosts and witches here upon the floor. For the season of the witch is finally on us, when the ghost of the world is truly wrought upon the floor. All due apologies for the lack of posting over the summber months-- we vow to make up for it in this October.

     This year, we are going to be showing you an October through the eyes of our world up here in western New York. We will visit our haunts, old and new. From the halls of an asylum our in the country, to the walls of one of America's premiere scream parks, to our New York pumpkin patches and apple orchards. We will be posting here as regularly as possible, and long into the dark, chilled flickering jack o'lantern autumn nights. 

     Tricks. Pumpkins. Treats. Ghosts. Goblins. Witches. Haunted houses. Apple cider. Pumpkin spice, and everything scary, everything nice. 

     Happy Haunts, all season long, from the Ghost. Won't you join us?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

"It Follows"- the Scary Movie of 2015?

    Ghost and What a Witch recently ventured out to see a new indie horror film “It Follows," and what followed was one hour and forty five minutes of pure suspense and terror.
The story centers around a girl named Jay who has been 'infected' by a horrific and deadly curse after a sexual encounter with her date. The curse is an entity that creepily follows the victim and, if it catches up, will kill the host. The remedy: pass on the curse to the next person by having sex with him/her.

     This whole movie serves as a PSA to remind us once again that STDs are terrifying.
The scares in this film are few and rarely the kind that makes you want to jump out of your seat, but that, is a good thing. The tension that comes along with the slow, tension building pace and eerie, at times ear drum-popping music only makes those few jumpy moments more intense. The film's cinematography, complete with an overall 1980’s era vibe succeeds in bringing out an ambience that is even more cold and menacing. The Witch and the Ghost sat down to discuss their thoughts on what has been called the horror film of 2015. Possible spoilers may be discussed. 

What do we think of the villain in this movie, the body shifting, slow moving nameless, background less entity?

What a Witch: It’s vagueness, combined with its relentlessness, makes it very, very unnerving. Are they one creature? Are they minions? Of whom? Why does it sometimes look like dead people, even when they are taking the form of someone who is alive in the story, and at other times, appear as a normal person?

     The vagueness and lack of back story makes this whole story very Carpenter-esque. Remember that before "Halloween" became a franchise, developing the story that Michael Myers was Laurie Strodes brother- the original movie was about a random evil killer, setting his sight on a random girl. The only connection being that she lived in the same town as he did as a child. I couldn’t help but think though, what if, instead of always walking, they took public transportation? I would, If I was a murderous supernatural entity that had to walk to get my victims.

Ghost: The last scare of the movie for me is the inevitable sequel, and what I fear will, as my good friend the Witch mentioned, be a lesser sequel trying to explain the monster more. Because I do not want to know more about the monster. I do not want the kids of a sequel to be shown finding the weaknesses of the monster on Google. Mystery equals terror, it always has, from "Halloween" to "Psycho" to "Aliens" to the original MGM monster movies-- and explainations make that terror less, and for a film like this would pull the rug out from so much of it's punch. Becuase, simply, this monster works. Yes whatever it is follows some odd rules, and shape shifts, but the execution is stellar, and the commitment this monster has to stalking its victims is frightening. I loved that this monster could take on so many different forms and be scary. At one point in the film, I thought we were going to get some kind of back story having to deal with the briefly mentioned abandoned psychiatric hospital, especially when so many of the monster's forms appear to be patients in such a hospital-- but we were never told. Which worked so beautifully for me. 

What about the music?
What a Witch: This is certainly another nod to Carpenter. The music sounds a lot like a vintage score crafted by John Carpenter with sinister synthesizer tunes similar to Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13.  
     The music terrified me. It provided its own jumps and scares for sure, but in the movies slow moments, it also created a sense of dread and tension.

Ghost: The music is an absolute love letter to John Carpenter. And I loved every note of it. Any critic who tries to dismiss the score as too much like Carpenter is having the point sail over her or his head. I want this score on viyl, and to play it this Halloween for trick or treaters. 

Was it scary?

What a Witch: Yes! This movie felt like an actual nightmare to me – what scared me was not the mindless terror but the notion of mindlessly trying to escape the terror. The evil was unrelenting, and even if you can manage to shake it, you always run the risk of it coming back for you.
     The lesson in this story is of course, that you should only have sex with really smart people who can keep passing it on and avoid their own demise.
     The few times the movie did provide a seat jumping scare, it was absolutely horrifying, especially with some of the scenes revealing the entity early on in the main characters experience…specifically, super tall guy in her bedroom!!!!
Ghost: Absolutely agreed, this was truly a scary nightmare of a film. You don't even feel like you've woken up from the nightmare once the credits roll. I would much rather be constantly unnerved by the atmosphere of a film, and occasionally jolted to fear, than any other experience horror can provide. Every scary in this film is worked for, and none are cheap or explotive in an era when the genre is oversaturated with such attempts at scares. 

What about the retro vibe of the film?
What a Witch: I loved the 80’s look of the movie- and the fact that there was hardly any modern technology (save for the super awesome compact/ clamshell shaped e-reader that I hope becomes an actual thing!!).
     And admittedly, I have a bit of an obsession with Detroit as recent movies like this one and "Only Lovers Left Alive" have somehow made the city’s urban decay sexy, hip and mysterious.  
     The cinematography in this film highlights Detroit’s mass scale degeneration and lack of inhabitants. And although it is filmed beautifully, the city becomes a menace of its own in this film. A place so large yet comes off as a secluded wasteland…and so, so stuck in it’s long ago and long past glory.

Ghost: The retro-vibe in here should win an Academy Award, seriously. Is that possible? It truly helped make the film for me. I don't think I will go as far as saying that in a modern, post 2015 setting, horror isn't as effective, but when you take our smart phones tracking our every move, and set us back in simpler times, horror thrives. Would John Carpenter's "Halloween" have been as successful if Laurie Strode used her smart phone to call Sheriff Brackett when she was trapped in the closet with Michael Myers outside? Would the chase to catch up with and destroy Count Dracula in Bram Stoker's novel be as thrilling if Van Helsing, Jonathan Harker and company were checking in at Transylvanian rest stops on Facebook every step of the way? I think not. 

      And that's what's so brilliant about this movie. It's like a dream. We see kids gathering around a small black and white TV to watch a scary movie that's being shown, and using phones with cords to call each other. They stop over at each other's houses instead of texting each other. And yet the one character has some kind of (primitive, futuristic, both or neither?) e-Reader. We don't know what time we are in, but we have known like times, and it takes us back to a scarier time, maybe the 1980s, when you were more isolated, alone and helpess when the mysterious other comes to terrorize you. I feel seriously sorry for children growing up today who won't know-- or can they?-- the frame of reference of growing up in a time before the Internet, when the world had so much more mystery to explore, and terrify. 

      But back to the movie. "It Follows," plays the retro-vibe up-- in setting, music and tone so perfectly. I'd watch it over and over again if for nothing else than the atmosphere. 

What, in the end, does the curse means?

What a Witch: Perhaps an allegory about sexually transmitted disease?

     Or maybe it is about death itself? The movie ends with one of Jay's friends reading aloud a grim Dostoevsky quote about the moment of extinction. Perhaps it is about the fear that we can never outrun or escape our inevitable demise.
Ghost: To paraphrase a quote from an artwork on roughly the same scale as Dostoevsky, the film "Mean Girls:" 'Don't have sex, or you will die.' 
      I think this is, at heart, the basis of the curse. But it's so much more than that. The now retro films that "It Follows" so expertly harkens back to-- "Halloween." "Friday the 13th," "Scream"-- so often boiled down to a cast of sexually active teen characters being killed by a killer who can never seem to catch the virginal character. "It Follows," remembers these films, and expounds on the concept with something deeper. There are few things in the world more primal, and occasionally frightening, than death and sex. Marrying the two together, and having these characters we so easily root for possibly spending their lives out running sex and death is something much smarter and more affecting than most-- well, nearly all-- horror films today have to say. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The 12 Scares of Christmas: Krampus

Tonight, we continue a seasonal series, exploring the darker side of Christmas. In this season of the darkest nights of the year and ancient traditions celebrating the passing of the season, those of us who are lucky enough to have haunted hearts appreciate the darker, creepy and sometimes terrifying aspects of the winter holiday-- some of which could not be more a part of the Christmas holiday in their own right.

There could be no other choice for the 12 Scare of Christmas. Krampus, the horned one of Christmas, bringing terror to the hearts of children at Christmastime for generations. And, if we haunted hearts are very good, generations more to come. 

 In German speaking folklore, Krampus has long held high court over Christmas. Some have even theorized that this devil-creature dates back to pre-Christian traditions. Although Krampus as a legend has no direct ties to the horned one, also known as Satan himself, the resemblance is uncanny, and one can clearly see the devil's influence on Krampus.

 The main idea behind the legend of Krampus is that he comes in the winter to punish bad children. Krampus often, like Marley's Ghost, carries chains he rattles, along with bells to create a commotion and scare. Krampus carries birch branches, which he uses to beat bad children-- much like Belsnickel. But Krampus goes much further than Belsnickel in his punishment of the bad children. Krampus is often shown with a sack or a washtub on his back-- in which he will take away the bad children to beat, to drown or take them back to Hell.

 In more modern times, the tradition of Krampusnacht, which takes place in Alphine communities on December 6. On Krampusnacht, Saint Nicholas travels with Krampus-- Nicholas, rewarding the good children; and Krampus punishing, or at least terrifying, the bad.

 For the nearly countless generations that Krampus has existed in legend, he appears to finally in our modern times be getting his due. On the sheer strength of how brutally terrifying his myth is, a modern pop culture interest has continued to gain traction in recent years. With a film on its way later this year, based on the popular recent novel "Krampus: The Yule Lord" by author Brom, Krampus is every dark this time of year.

 And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Krampus, from "Krampus: The Yule Lord" 

Photo Credit One: The Atlantic