October 27, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #27: Chillers by the Folktellers

Title: Chillers, by The Folktellers
Manufacturer: Mama-T Artists
Year: 1983
Total Runtime: 39 Min
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: Yes, seven of them
Music: No
Narration: N/A
Distinct Audio: N/A
Review: Connie Regan and Barbara Freeman are the storytelling duo known as the Folktellers. Chillers captures their 1983 Halloween night performance for a live audience. The receptive crowd is treated to seven eerie tales and poems that consist of both original and borrowed material.

This type of event reminds me of the sort of thing that would take place at our small town fine arts center. Something the English teacher would talk up for weeks, and even give you extra credit for attending. I can imagine my young self going to please my teachers, getting thrilled during the show, and leaving the auditorium to discover that the world is colder and more dangerous than I remembered.

The Chillers packaging feels educational. A gold sticker marks its status as an American Library Association notable record, and the cover illustration on heavy, textured paper somehow reminds me of art class. Maybe that's why it's surprising when the stories strike such a dark, and genuinely eerie tone.

Please indulge me here, but this album unlocks a floodgate of memories, and reminds me of the role that school played in making Halloween special. It started when I was a first grader going about my business when my teacher, so casual and unannounced, stuck a life-size Dracula on the wall. It didn't seem possible. It seemed like something she could get in trouble for.

As a kid you have so little control of your daily routine, and all of the sudden you find that your curriculum is sprinkled with spooky events that you didn't even have to ask for. Bats, ghosts, and pumpkins magically appear in the halls. The library display is full of books you didn't know they had: Alfred Hitchcock short stories, books on monster makeup, Halloween craft ideas and more. The school book orders suddenly rival the Christmas Wishbook.

In music class we were required to learn the Halloween song and Ghost of John. We were graded on our ability to be a creepy kids chorus! Our parents' tax dollars went towards teaching us to make proper skeletons and Jack-o-lanterns in art class. Everyone got marched to the library for a surprise screening of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," just thrown into a Wednesday afternoon!

October 31st wasn't even close to a normal school day. After blowing off the morning, the costumes went on and we were systematically paraded through other classrooms to be admired. Exotic students from older grades were brought to our hall for the mutual show-off session. Everything culminated with a personal desktop full of orange and black sweets. The plastic cupcake toppers were worthy decorations in their own right. Three decades later I still have some of them.

After a satisfying night of trick or treating we returned to school for... the Halloween carnival. The building was hard to recognize with all the streamers and balloons and costumed crowds. Classrooms were midway games, the cafeteria was a festive town square cloaked in the scent of popcorn. The sixth grade locker corridor that we passed through every day had become a walkthrough haunted house! Behind massive sheets of black vinyl were hidden student council members, bloodied up and waiting to scream at us. The fact that it all happened in the school setting made it incredibly surreal. Only Halloween had this much transformative power.

Sorry, where was I now? Ah, yes, the record.
A week ago we played through Chillers as we sat around my backyard fire pit under the October moon. It was ideal. The Folktellers, true to their name, use their charming accents and seasoned storytelling to tap into the fireside tradition. Their rural nightmares could have happened last year or last century. It's Halloween listening at it's best.

(By the way, the copy of Chillers that I bought on ebay was listed as "written on by previous owners." In fact, it's signed by both Connie and Barbara— the Folktellers themselves!)

Rating: 5 of 5

I can't find a source for easy streaming, but the album is out there if you know where to look.

Connie Regan still performs, and two of these tracks can be found on a CD called Chilling Ghost Stories: Haunting Tales for Adults & Teens, available on her web store...

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