Tuesday, October 11, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” 1988


 And now for something new. From 1988. Narrated by Glenn Close, this version of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” is part storybook, part narrated moving painting. With gorgeous images and narration that are both accurate to the original text, this version of the tale is a spellbinding autumn treat. 

 I hadn’t even heard of this before a friend turned me on to it. Clocking in at under 40 minutes, this is long enough to take its time to adapt the tale fully, and short enough to not fill itself with too much unnecessary filler. And I thought I’d seen them all. 

 The illustrations and paintings are lush, gorgeously detailed and real in a way many— possibly all?— adaptations of America’s preeminent ghost story are not. The bright orange crisp fall of early American autumn, the harvest, the local lore of the superstitious and Ichabod’s ride home. Just gorgeous and spooky and everything this tale needs to be told. This is now a permanent fixture on my fall film list. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Something Different… and Sugary

 Earlier this Halloween season, I began seeing this premade
Count Chocula and Frankenberry cookies. After several trips to the grocery store, and a recommendation from What a Witch, I gave in and immediately made these. 

 They are worth every cent of the few dollars they cost. The house smelled amazing when both kinds were in the oven, and the results were sugary treats in cookie forms; that tasted like slightly elevated versions of the cereal. While Count Chocula is my favorite of the cereals, I have to say I think I liked the Frankenberry cookies just a little more. If you’re a fan of the cereals, give these a shot. 

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Hellraiser” (2022)


 Last night, with all the orange lights up in my living room, looking out on my neighbor’s across the street with orange and flame lights adorning their house, during a wind filled thunderstorm, I took a break from the classics, and watched something new. The brand new “Hellraiser” remake/reboot/sequel on Hulu. 

 As a fan of the original film, and a bigger fan of the uber disturbing novel by Clive Barker, I found this film a mixed bag. The good is the casting, especially of Pinhead. Jamie Clayton is a perfect actor for this character; her presence on screen, and her voice work is amazing, and actually terrifying. The rest of the cenobites are perfect as well, being truly original and scary. The rest of the cast is very capable as well, and I loved seeing Goran Vinsjic in another Halloween/horror film so soon after watching “Practical Magic.” The direction is also super strong.

 The not so good is the script. I was expecting a remake, or some variation on the original’s characters; their marriage, their desires and their traumas that lead them to the box. This film deals with none of that, and is more a straight up horror film that seems to not understand why Barker wrote the novel, or why the original film was so successful. The end result is not a bad film. It is extremely watchable; I just wish, given the huge opportunity and great talent involved with this, that they had done more, and more in line with the original Barker work. 

Sunday, October 9, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Wolf Man” (1941)

 Last night it was time to return to the Universal Monsters again, with one of their more recent monsters: 1941’s “The Wolfman.”I’d initially scheduled this one for later in the month, but I want it fresh in my mind when I was Disney/Marvel’s new “Werewolf by Night,” this week. 

 I love this film. There are an embarrassment of riches with great actors in this film, and Universal monster royalty. Lon Chaney Jr., in the title role, and Dracula himself Bela Lugosi playing the Romani fortune teller. The performances are perfect, and Chaney especially gives something that should be been recognized by the Academy. The makeup is one marvel, but the character work he does, struggling between and good and evil and what that means, and wrestling with his curse.

 Like all the Universal films, the storytelling is an economical one hour and ten minutes, and it wastes no moment and hits every best perfectly. I am always struck by the opening of the film in which Chaney meets his love interest, by looking with his telescope into her apartment. Even in the 1940s world of the film, it is remarked as being untoward and creepy— and while it absolutely is, it does start the film off on an interesting note, that we know our hero is not exactly a good guy.

 The wolf man himself is only on screen for a few minutes, and like his fellow monsters, those moments catapult him to the status of an immoral icon. Unlike the rest of the Universal Monsters, we watch our hero go from a regular person to a cursed monster. The journey is emotional, fascinating and scary. This one will never leave my October schedule. 

Saturday, October 8, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: Disney’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” 1949

 Of all the things I watched in October, Disney’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the concluding segment to “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad,” is one film that has perhaps been with me the longest. I believe I first came to it via “Disney’s Halloween Treat,”— the titan of Halloween nostalgia— which will come later in the month. But for more years than I can count, I’ve been watching the animated tale of Ichabod Crane and the ghost stories in Sleepy Hollow.”

 Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” is maybe my favorite ghost story. And I love ghost stories. The tale, about the fear of tales told in October and scary stories, about schoolmaster Ichabod Crane and his mysterious disappearance, is eternal and classic, and stands large over American horror. There is a lot in Disney’s short animated adaptation that shouldn’t work. Bing Crosby narrates, and he is iconic. Adding popular (at the time) songs to the animation sung by Crosby shouldn’t, on paper, work, but they do. And are incredibly charming. The segments of song with Ichabod, Katrina van Tassel and Brom Bones are always a delight to watch, and do a lot of character work to set up the mystery at the end. 

 Perhaps my favorite song is “The Tale of the Headless Horseman,” told by Brom Bones at the Halloween party. The animation is beautiful, and a Halloween wonder to watch. As the night progresses, and Ichabod heads home after the scary ghost stories, the animation becomes even more affective and iconic. The house with the wind in the trees. Ichabod and his horse slowly galloping though the silent woods, the cemetery, and encountering the ghostly (?) Headless Horseman. 

 I love this film, and could watch it so often I watched it twice last night. Things I noticed on this watch, are being more aware that Ichabod lives in his school house, and the background design of his bed is so detailed; with his bed and books and teapots. Every scene— the ghost story, the autumn fields, the Horseman’s woods— are this detailed, and I would live in them if I could. 

Friday, October 7, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Practical Magic”


Last night was one of my favorite nights of the year. The night, in October, when I watch one of my favorite movies— one that I watch several times a year— “Practical Magic.” Released to success in 1998, the film has since on home video and streaming become an autumnal cult classic among those who love magic and witches. 

 Based on the Alice Hoffman novel of the same name, the film takes several liberties from the novel, and they all work beautifully. “Practical Magic” is a beauty story of sisterhood, love, family and being different, told in only the way that witchcraft can. In more recent years, Hoffman has written now three sequel novels: “The Rules of Magic,” a prequel about the aunts Jet and Frannie and their backstory; “Magic Lessons,” the Owens’ family ancestor Maria’s backstory, and “The Book of Magic” and sequel that follows our beloved characters after the events of “Practical Magic.” For the few years, a series adaptation of “The Rules of Magic” has been in the works at HBO, and I sincerely hope it happens, as it is my favorite novel in the series, and one of my all time favorites. They also need to make it, so that a proper adaptation of “The Book of Magic” can be done; a story that practically begs for Bullock, Kidman, Weist and Channing to reunite and tell.

 Back to the magic of the film at hand. The story is beautiful. The lines I know by heart. The comfort is all around, and I will never tire of watching it. For plot points so fantastical, so much is said so aptly about human relationships, how we survive and the family we keep along the way. 

 Things that struck me on this viewing. The chemistry between all our actors; especially Kidman and Bullock and Channing and Weist. Also, the young actors who play Bullock’s daughters are so good. The house, oh goodness the house. Few houses on film, gorgeous and old and sprawling and covered with cats and books and plants and love— and a greenhouse— make me want to live in them more. Part of me always will live, however, in the house with rosemary planted by the garden gate. And where I fall in love as often as I can. 

Thursday, October 6, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Mad Monster Party?”


Last night it was time for another newer (to me) Halloween classic: 1967’s “Mad Monster Party?” Rankin and Bass, of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and other stop-motion animation Christmas classics fame, made this lesser known special as their answer to Halloween.

  Part love letter to the Universal Monster movies, part 1960s music extravaganza, “Mad Monster Party?” is an all that and the kitchen sink special that is incredibly endearing. Perhaps the program’s biggest claim to fame— and arguably best feature— is the get of having Boris Karloff himself voice, and sing, the part of Baron von Frankenstein, our Dr. Frankenstein character who’s discovery brings together our gallery of monsters— from Dracula, the Werewolf, the Creature (from the Black Lagoon) and others. And, of course, the Mummy. It’s the Mummy. It’s the Mummy.


 The first time I watched this, the songs didn’t make much of an impression of me, but, with their zany cheer they, they enchanted me. And that happens all the more so with each viewing.  On this viewing, I also realized that one of the things I love most about this is the incredible, gorgeous and painstakingly made and designed sets. The creepy ship, Frankenstein’s Castle, the island and the lagoon. This is art made by people who love the classic monster movies, and it shows. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Tales from the Crypt” (1971)

 Last night I visited with one of my more recent additions to my favorite seasonal films: 1971’s “Tales from the Crypt.” Part 1950s horror comic anthology, part 1970s Hammer horror film, “Tales from the Crypt” is a film all its own. 

 Several years ago, I randomly stumbled across this film, as you should, late one night about 1am, and stayed up to watch it all. I loved the 1990s HBO show of “Tales from the Crypt,” and I’ve even king loved the 1950s era comics on which it was based. But somehow I never knew there was a film that came first, in 1971, and it featured Joan Collins in the iconic segment of murder and a psychotic— and also murderous— Santa Claus.

I find something so comforting in the way the cemetery is shot in the opening, our strangers brought together on a cemetery tour of a crypt. And something so comforting about the 1970s, almost Hammer like horror effects. The fake blood and the zombie makeup, and the dead rising from their graves. What more could you want?

 Watching this again, I was struck by how strong each segment is. Joan Collins’ opener is epic, and gets a lot of the recognition for the film, but each segment— especially Peter Cushing’ tale of neighborly strife. From the moment each segment starts, we know how it will end, and we will happily go along for the ride anytime. 

 The character of the Crypt Keeper is also so well done in this. The polar opposite of the HBO series’ ghoulish puppet, in this version, the Crypt Keeper of the the tales is simply a man in a brown robe and hood. Not showy at all, letting the pure, pulpy horror fun of the tales take center stage. A beautiful piece of horror filmmaking. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935)


 There are so, so very many bad horror film sequels out there. Some in franchises I love. But horror sequels were once done right, and perhaps none so right as arguably the first, most-high profile time: with “The Bride of Frankenstein,” James Whale’s sequel to “Frankenstein,” released in 1935. 

 I could not love “The Bride of Frankenstein” more. Normally, I save it for a bit of Universal Monster magic later in October; however, last night, I decided to indulge myself early on. What makes this film so special? Perhaps it is the inventiveness found all around. From the opening, when we are treated to a terrific scene showing Elsa Lancaster as Mary Shelly talking on a stormy night with her husband Percy and Lord Byron. Lancaster is fantastic as Shelley, as she spars with Byron and Percy, in a gorgeously decorated room. Working on her needlepoint, there’s something so impressively confident about her Shelley, and we fully believe that this is genius that wrote “Frankenstein.” 

 Other things that set this film apart. The actors. Karloff’s Monster is allowed to shine even more here, as he gets lengthy character driven scenes like the ones in the cottage with the blind man, and delicious straight up horror film scenes, like his emerging from the burned windmill in the beginning, where he sends the parents of the girl thrown in the water in “Frankenstein” to join her. Colin Clive is again perfect as Henry Frankenstein, aided with an assist by Ernest Thesiger’s Dr. Pretorious, a new, deeply comic, deeply creepy and deeply horrifying character. 

 The score is sweeping and even grander than the first film. The sets, too. The sets which excelled in “Frankenstein” are expanded, and absolutely lush, gothic and gorgeous. My favorite perhaps being the graveyard being literally expanded, from the iconic opening scene in the first film, and takes us down into the crypt where the Monster literally stumbles upon a dead woman and asks, “Friend?”

 And, of course, Elsa Lancaster is perfect to immortality as the Monster’s Bride in the film’s horrific, heartbreaking conclusion. What a gorgeous horror film, sequel, and artistic achievement in its own right. 


Monday, October 3, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Dracula” 1931

  Maybe Tod Browning’s “Dracula,” from 1931, is my favorite of the Universal Monster films. Picking between them is a bit like picking a favorite child, I’d imagine— but, just maybe, “Dracula” is my favorite. I have long loved the myth of vampires, especially Bram Stoker’s masterpiece “Dracula” which popularized so much of the vampire mythology we have in current pop culture. And Browning’s film is a large part of that. 

 Last night was “Dracula’s” turn on the stage of 31 Days of Scary movies. This film is another I watch many times a year, and always, without fail, in early October. There is just simple perfection in the black and white crackling world of Renfield’s travel to Transylvania, where he meets the locals who fear Count Dracula— and then the count himself.

 And what a Count he is. Bela Lugosi’s performance will live as long as film is remembered, and rightly so. The performance he mastered for years on the stage is at full, captivating, haunting and frightening power here on film. 

 Things of note that stayed with me after last night’s viewing. The power of the direction. The scene where Dracula is first seen, rising with his brides from their coffins; in silence, among the rats in the cavernous crypt. The camera pans so expertly, and creates such a sense of unnatural and macabre dread that works as well today as it first did decades and decades ago when it was shot. 

 Also, while no adaption of Stoker’s novel has ever been quite faithful on film— and most vary wildly— for all the liberties Browning’s film takes, it works so well as a film, while keeping the main story beats. Yes, Renfield takes Jonathan Harker’s story in the beginning and is the one to travel to Transylvania, but the journey to Transylvania happens; they travel to England aboard the Demeter in a storm; arriving at Whitby. Lucy dies, and Mina is threatened; and Dracula, and his evil, eventually is defeated at the end. The changes the film makes just work, and are a large part of the reason this classic endures.

 Happy Halloween, “Dracula.” Maybe my favorite child of the night. 

Sunday, October 2, 2022

31 Days of Scary Movies: “Frankenstein” (1931)

 Last year, I attempted to watch 31, scheduled Halloween and or horror films in October. One each day. And write a blog post about them. It became overwhelming, swiftly, but I accomplished it. It became a juggling act; watching the 1.5-2 hour films each night, and writing a blog post that sought to do the films— some of my most beloved— justice. All while having a life and living my best life in the cool October light. This year I am doing the same, but in an attempt to be less overwhelmed, I will be writing some brief thoughts on each film in a quick post each night. 

 Last night was the immortal, amalgamated monster that is director James Whale’s adaption of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” from 1931. This is a film I watched many times a year, but most often in early October, as it stands tall among the early Universal Monster movies, and, along with tomorrow evening’s film, stands tall as perhaps the most culturally influential horror film of all time. 

 It won’t be many years before Whale’s classic turns 100, and the piece is accessible as it was those many years ago it was made. You would lose much time from your life is you were to list every film, book and piece of art that has taken elements of its neck bolted monster, rising from beneath the sheet from a jolt of lightning caused by a presumably mad scientist one dark and stormy night. 

 Things that also stood out to me in this viewing were the ground it manages to cover in its brevity. Clocking in at just under an hour and ten minutes, the iconography in this film strikes such the needed balances of intrigue, horror and emotion just the right way each moment, and is capable of doing more in its short run time that decades of films much longer have been able to. Much of this is due to Boris Karloff’s incredible performance, 

 Also, while perhaps not at the same level— or, more aptly, style— of its sequel “The Bride of Frankenstein,” this film manages to create some of the most beautiful, detailed and affective sets in all of film history. From the tower castle where the Monster is created, to Elizabeth’s bedroom, to the lake with its lilies— not to mention the windmill— each set is a masterwork. 

 One last note I wrote down was how much the assistant character, who would later come to be known as Igor, causes perhaps all of the mayhem of the film. It is his mistreatment of the monster— against Frankenstein’s orders— that first push the Monster to act out. 

 The lighting strikes, Dr. Frankenstein screams and proclaims “it’s Alive!” and Karloff’s Monster rises. Halloween is here. 

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Hocus Pocus 2

 And so we begin October with perhaps the most eagerly anticipated Halloween movie of the last 30 years: “Hocus Pocus 2.”

 The film, which easily should have been made ten (or more) years ago, has finally been made because of the dedication of stars like Bette Midler and millions of fans who have made “Hocus Pocus” into the cult classic— or, maybe more aptly, simply the classic— it is today. “Hocus Pocus 2” is as released on Disney at 3 am Thursday morning, and the Ghost has since watched it twice already.

 It’s simply magic to see Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy reprise their roles as the sisters Winifred, Mary and Sarah Sanderson. My only complaint when it came to their performances was that they weren’t longer. Although they don’t enter the film until almost 30 minutes in, every second of their screen time is worth the film. And that says nothing of Doug Jones’ reprisal of his role as Billy Butcherson, perhaps one of my most loved things about the film. 

 I had been expecting to not love the choice of opening with a flashback to the sisters’ childhood; it would deprive us of precious screen time with the original actresses. But the girls who play the Sandersons were fantastic, and one of my favorite things about the film. 

 The only real notes I had were that there’s not enough Halloween in the film. While the new cast of kids in the modern story are forgettable, they don’t seem to have an affinity for Halloween night, or any of the magic that time brings to Salem. There are no scenes of trick or treating, but we do spend nearly 10 minutes in a Walgreens (which, in fairness, is one of the funniest scenes in the film.) Also, the sentimental lean the ending takes is a bridge too far, and the way it is done is out of character, and something I wish they wouldn’t have done. Oh, and there’s no reason we couldn’t have had another talking cat character. 

 My notes being minor, they can’t take away the magic that does exist in “Hocus Pocus 2.” The film comes nowhere close to capturing the greatness of the first film; nor should it. “Hocus Pocus,” has captured the haunted hearts and minds of generations. If this sequel can bring more people to the incredible 1993 film, it is all worth it.