It’s all coming back to me. I type about stuff that I like, and hopefully it will result in a handful of people finding some extra amusement during their lunch break. What’s in it for me? I, along with future generations, will have access to documentation of this year’s Halloween. At least until Google inevitably kills off Blogger.
For a variety of reasons it was difficult to invest much time towards spooky fun during the last couple of Halloween seasons. For a different variety of reasons this year presented more opportunities for me to engage. So that’s what I’ve been doing, in as much as reality has permitted. I’ve also decided to return to form and write about the many ways that I’ve been experiencing this Halloween season.
Some years are defined by a new, sought-after Halloween product release. A few years ago there was the twelve-foot skeleton. Last year everyone was assembling the three Boo Buckets. This year, one item was able to overshadow even the new Carmella Creeper monster cereal. At least for me it did. In early August I saw a tweet from Sammy Hain that showcased a piece of wall decor that simply says “Halloween is Skeleton.”
I laughed out loud in a rare, literal LOL moment. These are some of my favorite words, and yet I’d never seen them arranged in this baffling and hilarious new way. My questions were answered a couple of replies later when Graves Make RosesBloom pointed out a product from a previous year that said, “Halloween is Skelefun” that featured a more appropriate image.
The misfire of a decoration shot to the top of my want list. I recognized the logo on the nearby stuffed pumpkin's tag from the Dollar General store, so the next morning before work I raced to the nearest location. Their Halloween stuff was only half unpacked but I saw a printed schematic taped to the shelf. No space was reserved for “Halloween is Skeleton.” There are two more Dollar General stores in my town (which says a lot about my town) but neither of those had the prize either.
A second look at the Twitter thread revealed that the decoration came from a place called Popshelf. I would later learn that this is the “upscale” version of Dollar General, and it’s pretty new. I followed a link to their site and I happily added the piece of decor to my virtual shopping cart, yet soon I realized that ‘in-store pick-up’ was the only option for anything on the site. Useless! Except for the fact that it shows the product availability at stores near me. They were plentiful, but unfortunately the “near me” was an hour and a half away. My afternoon plans changed in an instant, fueled by fear that this item would be recalled.
After my lengthy drive, on which I pondered why I’m like this, I found the Popshelf store. I trotted through the automatic doors and honed in on the Halloween section. It was soon evident that Halloween was NOT skeleton in that place. I asked an employee if they had it and she directed me right back to the shelves I had just scoured. I mentioned the “in stock” message on the web site, and sheepishly asked if I could talk to someone else who might be in the know.
A few minutes later a manager emerged. I showed her the jpeg image and laughed nervously as I tried to explain my new obsession out loud for the first time. Then to add some gravity I found myself admitting that I’d just driven ninety miles for this one and only purpose. I can’t even imagine the weirdo vibes I was giving off, but to my shock, she agreed that it was funny, and seemed to understand my fondness.
I know the concept of locating a missing product “in the back” is practically an urban myth, but I asked anyway. Suddenly more shock as she said to me, “Would you like to go in the back and look around for yourself?” This statement defied all logic. For retail workers (and I have been one of them) the back is a privilege, a bastion, and a sanctuary. It’s one of the few things that separates them from the masses, and I had an invitation.
I rambled on about how honored I was as I crossed the threshold. My delight faded when I saw a maze of tightly-wrapped Tetris-like boxes, on dozens of pallets, all at least eight feet high. The man arranging them said there was no way that we could locate a specific anything. I knew he was right. I went ahead and explained my absurd desire. Lo and behold, he too was sympathetic! He chuckled and his hopeless demeanor shifted. He started moving pallets around while describing the type of box it would be in, but I foresaw a lengthy search ahead. And while he seemed game, I didn’t feel right putting a halt to the afternoon’s business, regardless of how Skeleton Halloween may be. I think it’s due to my experiences growing up with some people who habitually abused the the kindness of store employees. I let him off the hook and asked if they would call me if they found it. As I wrote down my number (next to which I drew a large illustration of the product) I lacked any faith that they would follow through. I was already envisioning myself traveling to the next closest location on some upcoming weekend.
The next day “Popshelf” appeared on my phone screen. Without hesitation I repeated my journey, reveling in the absurdity of it all while trying to ignore the sheer wastefulness of the endeavor. Yet on the other hand, the physical pursuit is a big part of the fun. The hunter/gatherer lobe of my brain was more than content to see the lengthy quest to completion. Plus I knew that I was carving a new Halloween memory into my pumpkin head.
When I barged into the store, the guy spotted me instantly and yelled “Man, we already sold out of them!” During a long, breathless pause I decided that he was joking. And he was. They were happy to deliver the goods, and I picked up a couple extras for some other Halloween-loving friends who also understand pure greatness. I was also pleased to know that at the very least I had given the Popshelf staff something interesting to talk about over the last twenty-four hours. All of this is exactly why Halloween is indeed Skeleton.
As the season approached I ebayed a few more additions to my vintage Halloween cassette collection. I’d never seen T.A. Hamilton’s Terror Treats (1988) for sale before, probably because it was only available through the magicians’ black market. Though it warns that it’s “FOR HAUNTED ATTRACTION USE ONLY” somehow this copy found its way into the private sector. Presumably, the disgraced party responsible for this has been ousted from the haunted attraction guild.
I think the recording is better than most dollar store tapes, but some bold claims on the package set me up for disappointment. It says it’s the “single most diabolical Haunted House Soundtrack ever created,” “designed by experts in the field of Audio, Theatre and Illusion,” and contains “psychological stimulants and subliminal enhancements to produce desired effects.” Best I can tell that’s referring to some low oscillating tones throughout.
Spooky Halloween Sounds (1990) is my least favorite spooky tape approach, which is to say it strings together a series of isolated sound vignettes with pauses in between. It would be fine for an editing library, but it's not a great way to “Turn your home into a Haunted House!” I recognize some of the sound effects from other tapes, but I haven’t the will to do any cross-referencing.
The best of the bunch is Halloween Tricks and Treats from the Madacy label. It’s a sister release to the beloved Horror at the Graveyard. My all time favorite narrator has another spooky story to tell, and I would listen to him read a multivitamin label. You can hear it here.
In the realm of vintage horror paperbacks, I had some fun finds over the summer. I managed to locate both Dark Gods and The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein in two different states within just a couple of weeks. He was once the editor for Twilight Zone Magazine which seems to have trained him in the art of originality and avoiding cliches of the genre. He spends a great deal of time fleshing out the worlds and characters before he introduces the horror. I saw a tweet by Matt Cardin that had this to say about The Ceremonies…
“Did you know that Klein's classic 1984 novel not only tells a gripping horror story but gives the reader what amounts to a mini-course in the history of weird, Gothic, and supernatural horror literature? In making Jeremy, the novel's protagonist, a graduate student and college instructor who is preparing to write his dissertation on Gothic and weird literature, Klein creates a narrative vehicle for conveying insightful reflections on many classic texts, presented as entries in Jeremy’s journal. These include the likes of: • The Castle of Otranto (1764) by Horace Walpole • The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe • The Monk (1796) by Matthew Lewis • Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) by Charles Maturin • Carmilla (1872) and "Green Tea" (1872) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu • Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker • Northanger Abbey (1817) by Jane Austen • "The White People" (1904) by Arthur Machen • "Ancient Sorceries" (1908) by Algernon Blackwood • Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927) by H. P. Lovecraft These same works—especially "The White People"—also form a thematic background to the cosmic horror at the center of Klein’s novel. This clever approach makes The Ceremonies a must-read not only for its own literary and entertainment value but as an instructional and inspirational text for both students and writers of supernatural horror fiction.”
This is why I’m currently reading that one.
I also found several titles by Clive Barker at my local thrift store, which is about as unusual as finding a cloven baker, or a clove burger on the shelf. Then I stumbled upon a new-to-me used book store in the area that has somehow escaped my google map searches for years. I picked up some cool stuff there too, especially during a buy-one-get-one-free sale. I finally reclaimed the first printing of The Shining paperback, a book I had foolishly donated to some lucky thrift store years ago.
A spooky project I’m working on sent me down a research rabbit hole of 1970s unexplained-type documentaries. I've seen many of these and I'm extremely fond of the In Search Of television series, but I was entirely unaware of The Amazing World of Ghosts (1978) written and directed by Wheeler Dixon. It’s a scattershot masterpiece of stock footage, library music, and truly unhinged speculation. The narration by Sydney Paul is both earnest and soothing all at once. The show puts me in a wonderful headspace, scratching an itch I didn’t know I had.
At times there is a welcome contrast between the grim subject matter and the upbeat, seemingly random production music. It’s as if to say that ghosts and UFOs should be celebrated, and not feared because the possibility of their existence is exciting; not scary. It reminds me of one of my favorite recordings, the street audio from the defunct World of Illusions attraction in Gatlinburg, TN. If Amazing World of Ghosts leaves you wanting more, there’s an extremely similar “sequel” called World of Mystery (1979)
In September I finally completed The Last of Us Part II. It’s a great game that is made even greater with the inclusion of this Halloween shop environment.
Thanks to a tip from Trevor Henderson I started listening to Nightfall which is a horror radio drama that was aired between 1980 and 1983 by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. For the most part the writing and production value is great, and there are some truly chilling episodes. The stories are surprisingly potent considering that they were on the public airwaves. These have been my go-to for every dog walk and day trip, so I’ve now heard nearly every episode.
If there's time, I enjoy creating something Halloween-related during the spooky season. This year my friend, an artist named Rumwolf, invited me to show some of my work at a Halloween event at a nearby art gallery. This motivated me to create this new painting of a dime store display of Halloween stuff, a subject firmly wedged up my oeuvre. The rubber skeletons pictured are the first ones I ever owned. When I was a kid I won them at ski-ball at an amusement park.
I displayed it with some older pieces and made a little sidewalk installation. The trick or treater represents my childhood fear of having to wear a winter coat over my Halloween costume.
For the last ten or so years I’ve frequented a nearby Halloween festival with various friends and family members. This year we decided to take things to the next level by driving to St. Louis to visit Creepyworld, a haunted park that boasts over 13 spooky attractions.
The line just to enter the park was surprisingly long. It eventually rounded a corner to reveal a sea of people ahead of us, standing in the same line. This seemed to be the norm judging by the "Freakshow" production that was in place to entertain the queue. I grew concerned that we wouldn’t get to see all the spook houses during our dwindling time frame. The line finally filtered directly into the first haunted house which had a mental hospital theme. The actors, props, and environments made for a solid haunt, and as I approached the end I was eager to see what else was in store. The exit emptied directly into another line that led directly into the next walk-through. Thankfully it was much shorter. After exiting the next haunted house, the line continued into the next one, and the next! The entire park was one continuous line!
While this was a bombshell for me, it wasn’t all bad. Mainly because if you’re in that line before they close shop, you are guaranteed to see every single thing in the entire park. But I’m still perplexed. It seems like the sort of idea you’d come up with at an elementary school sleepover. “What if there was an amusement park, and it only has haunted houses, and it’s all just one giant line.” Creepyworld has been going on for twenty-five years, so I’m sure they’ve learned a lot. Still I was surprised at the lack of opportunities to buy snacks, or souvenirs, or just wander around, or go to the bathroom, or even sit down. We opted for the additional hayride package, and getting to sit was worth the price of admission. I was also surprised that there was no pre-entry mention of this whole system. (Unless somehow we missed it.) Well, consider yourself warned.
We stopped by Half-Price Books on the way out of town, and I must give a huge shout-out of gratitude to my friend Kyle for pointing out a book that I had walked right by. Haunted Houses by Larry Kettelkamp was in my elementary school library and frightened me like no other! It has photographs of ghosts. So why do people continue to debate the issue? This is a major relic of my spooky existence.
The last time I threw a Halloween party I was in my mid-twenties, and it ended with a house fire. At this stage in life my entire assembly of local friends could only constitute a “gathering” at best (which is not a bad thing.) However, this year some of my former students who share my aesthetic wanted to have an old fashioned Halloween party at my place. This gave me an excuse to deck things out more than usual, and we had a great time. One of the highlights for me was getting everyone in a darkened room and putting on my Dr. Druid’s Haunted Seance album. The first side is all about unifying the group for the spiritual task ahead, so he goes through a bunch of goofy old parlor tricks that make it appear that everyone is all-knowing and powerful. The crowd totally got it. Then I played a chilling story called Mr. Fox by The Folktellers, followed by The Haunting, a short record from 1971 (which was sold through comic book ads) that’s designed to be played in the dark for a group of kids. It creates the illusion that a blood banshee is moving around the room devouring little boys. It was magical to hear these recordings played and appreciated by people in the year two thousand and twenty-three.
Other random tidbits:As usual, throughout the summer I started piecemealing physical media to be enjoyed in October. This year I was drawn to movies that involve haunted attractions, be it dark rides or walk-throughs. These include titles like The Funhouse, and Ghoulies II for their dark ride content and haunt-centric films like The Houses October Built, Haunt, and Hellfest. I can overlook countless cinematic shortcomings if a movie feels like Halloween
One of the movies with the strongest Halloween feels is the WNUF Halloween Special. I ordered a new version of the blu ray slip cover. This is the first time I've ever ordered a slip cover for a film I already own. What a weird phenomenon, but that art is too cool. It’s even sillier since the existing slip cover is one of my all-time favorites.
I thrifted this Boogymen DVD, which is something I’ve been aware of for decades but had never watched. It’s exactly what I expected.
I bought one of these little skeletons at Target because they are gorgeous.
There is an odd trend this year of products breaking from the traditional Halloween color scheme with a palette that leans towards Easter. I'm not a fan of most of it, but here's another one that I liked enough to get.
Well, that’s my report so far, and there’s still some time before the big night. Sadly, I’ll be teaching a two and a half hour software class to college freshmen that evening, so it’s a good thing I’ve already been able to do so much celebrating.