Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween Memories- Costumes In A Box

Hail all! I know I've been slacking off of late, as real (and unreal) life has been intruding on my blogging. This is inexcusable during this month of my favorite holiday. I'm going to try to make up for it from now on, that is if anyone gives a shit. Anyway, on with the show!
Halloween was always my favorite time of year, even as a child. I looked forward to Fall, with it's changing colors and cooler temperatures (in Michigan, where there is more than one season, anyway). Apples went on to become cider and pies, and the stores started to carry Halloween decorations and costumes. I loved going to get my Halloween costume...when I was little, the aisles seemed huge, with hundreds of reality, there were probably only dozens, but it seemed bigger than that back then.

Readers of a certain age will remember those costumes...made more often than not by either Ben Cooper or Collegeville, the costumes came in thin cardboard boxes with a cellophane window on the front, the mask inside peering out at the world and its potential owners. These costumes consisted of a thin plastic mask which covered the front of one's face, with an elastic band to hold it in place . The other main element was the costume, as it were, a sort of jumpsuit that tied in the back that usually has a picture of the character you were supposed to be on the front, instead of , say, a picture of the character's costume printed on it. Looking back at these costumes, they weren't all that great...but back then, especially when you're only , say, 4 or 5 years old, they were pretty damn cool. I remember going to the department store, like a K-Mart or a local store like G.L. Perry's , and searching for my yearly never had the same costume for more than one year because they were so cheaply made they wouldn't last any longer than one Halloween and a few wearings afterwards.I would try to find something cool, and hope they had it in my size. Among the costumes I remember having were The Spider, an obvious Spider-Man ripoff ( Steve Miller is wearing the mask for this character on the cover of his album 'The Joker'), and a guy from a line called the Creature People that was either named Bat-Man or The Bat....he was sort of a were-bat. My cousin had the Cheetah -Man outfit that year from the same line.

As I write this, I can recall the plasticy smell of the masks and costumes. I remember all the kids in elementary school marching around to the other classrooms to show off their costumes, eyes peering out of eyeholes in their masks. I remember being pissed when it was cold out and our Mom making us wear our jackets over our costumes, which , of course, ruined the whole look...Mom valued warmth over Halloween asthetics, obviously. I remember going over our hard-earned Trick-or-Treat loot when we got home, and putting candy in one of my dresser drawers like pirate treasure. I remember wearing my costume after Halloween, until it fell apart...which , as I stated earlier, wasn't very long.

As I got older, Trick-or-Treating gave way to parties, and the pursuit of candy gave way to other pursuits (girls, if I have to spell it out for you), and those cheaply-made boxed costumed faded into the past, and eventually from the store shelves as well. Now costumes are in bags and on hangers, and though they're , for the most part, still of less-than-stellar quality, they're quite a bit better than those allegedly flame-retardant , elastic-banded ones I grew up with. Still, when October rolls around, I always think of those store aisles full of those boxes, plastic faces peering out, and it makes me smile.

Steve Miller as The Spider!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Halloween Horrors- Frankenstein (1931)

Off to a late start, but my first Halloween film post is on a personal favorite, Frankenstein. The story, for those of you who have lived an incredibly sheltered life, is based on the 1818 novel written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who was a teen when she wrote it, though the film is merely based on it, and not a direct adaptation.

The film, directed by James Whale, is about the efforts of Dr. Henry Frankenstein (played admirably by Colin Clive), who strives to make a living being using parts of dead bodies, literally creating life from death. Assisted by his huncbacked employee Fritz (Dwight frye), he assembles enough pieces to make his creation. However, Fritz manages to destroy the brain Henry had designs on during his fumble-fingered scavanger hunt, and brings another brain of not exactly equal but definately lesser value. When he realizes that his creation isn't of the caliber he had hoped for, he decides to wash his hands of him, but the Monster (portrayed by Boris Karloff, in a stellar performance) has other ideas, and escapes. Murder, chaos, and fear lead up to a final confrontation in a burning windmill in one of the all-time classic horror films ever made.

Frankenstein is a classic, and after a recent viewing, it does still hold up well today. The plot moves along at a decent pace. It starts right off in the graveyard, with the good Doctor and Fritz gathering parts for Henry's big science project, and goes along from there. The creation scene in the lab is great, with all those crazy , pseudo-scientific contraptions ( created by master propman Kenneth Strickfaden) crackilng , whirring, and blazing. The sets are mostly of the studio-standing-in-for -outdoors type, but it gives the film a kind of storybook feel, albiet a dark storybook. The acting is well done, too, and not as 'stagey' as some films of the era. Clive does an excellent job as the Doctor, giving an intense performance of Henry Frankenstein as a basicaly good guy who is obsessed with his pursuits, and perhaps a bit insane as well. Frye sets the standard for hunchbacked, morally depraved lackeys as Fritz, and Karloff knocks it out of the park as The Monster, billed in the opening credits as '?'. His Monster is indeed scary, but he manages to also give him a sense of innocence, almost like an unwanted child...a big, scary, undead child, who can be violent when provoked, but a child nonetheless. When Fritz is tormenting the Monster with fire, I know I wanted to see him grab that hunchbacked bastard and let him have it( which he does later). The famous scene with the little girl also illustrates the child-like nature of the Monster. Wandering the countryside, the Monster finds a litle girl playing by a lake. She is unafraid of him, and invites him to play. The towering brute is joyful at making a friend. They play at tossing flowers in the lake. When they run out of flowers, the monster, with his less-than-adequate mental capacities, decides since the flowers were pretty, it'd be Ok to toss the little girl in the lake, too. As she drowns, we see the the Monster visibly upset at his mistake...far from a mindless murder machine, he didn't mean to hurt the little girl, but is unequipped to let the villagers know it was a mistake, as he is mute, communicating only with growls, grunts, and whimpers...not that the villagers would probably listen, anyway.

I don't know how it is for generations younger than mine, but Frankenstein is one of those characters that is universally known (pun intended). Frankenstein set the bar for monster movies...the mad scientist, the hunchbacked assistant, the monster, the angry villagers, the dark castle, the stormy night, the graveyards to creep around all started here, although I believe Dracula(1931) was made first, it's Frankenstein that , to me, that remains the gold standard of horror film mythology. Frankenstein(the monster), as a character, has become immortal, like other literary characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, James Bond, and Conan. Also like these characters, Frankenstein is better known through movies featuring him than the original source novel. He has also, like the aforementioned examples, gone on in countless other media, like comics, TV shows, toys, and in spoofs such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and the brilliant and hilarious Young Frankenstein(1974), done by Mel Brooks. Even folks who don't watch horror movies know who you mean when you mention Frankenstein. Something about him has etched itself onto our popular culture psyche. It may have to do with the fact that he's both monster and innocent, or maybe it's because most of us have grown up with these movies, and they've left their mark on us in one way or another...or maybe it's a bit of both. I often wonder , just how I wonder what Robert E. Howard would think of his characters still being popular today, what Shelley would think of her creation being such a part of the horror ( if not cultural) landscape...I think she would probably like it.

If you've never seen Frankenstein, I humbly suggest you do so ...and this is the perfect season for it. And if it's been a long time since you've watched it, get a copy and revisit and old classic...and an old friend of mine.

"Here's to a new world of Gods and Monsters"-
Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), Bride of Frankenstein,

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Leif Erikson Day, Oct. 9th

This Friday, the 9th, is Leif Erikson Day, celebrating the Nordic fellow who just happened to discover what would become North America about 500 years before that Columbus dork. So fill up your drinking horns and hail Leif with a hearty drink of mead (or the beverage of your choice). You damn well know I will. Hail and skoal!

Monday, October 5, 2009

#554; The Fiction Generator.

#554; The Fiction Generator.

Very writers should especially like it.