Friday, October 20, 2017

Noche de los Muertos ~ preview

For my yard haunt last year I staged a vibrant, colorful Dia de los Muertos display. Earlier this year I decided to re-run the entire display but soon afterwards the thought of all that pink and pastel cheeriness gave me nightmares. So I am giving the display a makeover!

"Dia de los Muertos" is Spanish for day of the dead so I've been creating a "Noche de los Muertos" or night of the dead remix. Taking a cue from The Book of Life's Land of the Forgotten, everything is darker, murky, and even a bit spookier. The candy colored gravestones are now gray and weathered dripping with black goo, pumpkins are rotting and sinister, the flowers are decaying and brown, and the skeletons have a more decomposed appearance.

The woman is now named "Pecadora" (or sinner) and she is in a tattered, burnt dress that suggests a less than easy trip to hell. She has slimy organs (yes, a skeleton with organs) including a bloodied heart, drippy tongue, and her chin has broken off.

The man is "Malvado" (or wicked) and he is hell's hipster in a tattered black shirt. He holds one of his eyes in his hands ensuring he sees every moment of his torment.

We'll see how this all comes together in the next 10 days. (Trying not to panic.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Eerie Elegance Eats: A Halloween Cookbook of Creepy Cuisine

Halloween is the most creative holiday, with so many different themes to choose, whether you are purchasing elements or making them yourself!

I have always had such a creative drive since I was very young that I must constantly be making something, which over the years turned into focusing my efforts for all the fun food and decor for elaborate holiday theme parties, especially for Halloween. I launched my website Britta Blvd in 1996 including photos documenting my Halloween parties each year, and my Halloween Recipes webpage that started in 1997 grew to be the top hit on Google search for several years through at least 2008, when I released my first how-to book, Eerie Elegance.

After I released Enhanced Eerie Elegance in 2011, my second book combining decoration projects as well as recipes, I received several requests for all my recipes to be in a single cookbook, but I waited until I had plenty of new content to add to the collection. This year happened to be the 20th anniversary of when my Halloween Recipes first went online, so perfect timing! Over thirty exclusive new recipes plus all the favorites from both previous Eerie Elegance books are now organized in eight chapters as one convenient book, Eerie Elegance Eats: A Halloween Cookbook of Creepy Cuisine.

My Bizarre Brain Paté, from the Mad Scientist Body Parts chapter, is a tried and true savory classic that is easy and deliciously disgusting without being too gory. Just mix together the ingredients according to the recipe and chill until set in a human brain mold, easily found during Halloween season even at dollar stores these days!

Happy Haunting!
Britta, Webmistress of the Dark

Bizarre Brain Paté (featured in Eerie Elegance Eats: A Halloween Cookbook of Creepy Cuisine)

half a can cream of mushroom soup (full can is 10 3/4 oz)
4 ounces cream cheese, softened (can be lowfat Neufchatel)
1 (1/4 oz) envelope powdered unflavored gelatin, softened in 1/4 cup water
1 pound frozen cooked shrimp, finely chopped (or 1 pound crab meat)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Tabasco or creole seasoning to taste

Pour the powdered unflavored gelatin into 1/4 cup water and let stand to bloom. Chop the frozen shrimp finely in a food processor or blender, until almost a paste. This is easier when the shrimp is still frozen hard. Heat undiluted soup and mix in the half-block of cream cheese. Remove the mushrooms or blend the soup before adding to the mixture if you are concerned they will show in your brain texture. Stir in softened gelatin and blend well. Fold in remaining ingredients and pour into a lightly-oiled mold. Chill until firm and serve with your favorite crackers.

A Note from Editor-In-Mischief
Eerie Elegance Eats is truly a marvel, loaded with hundreds of full-color photos, a beautiful layout with a deep dive into making food look ghastly! It is an absolutely must-have for any Halloween library! A+

Britta is not only an incredibly talented individual, but I am also very fortunate to call her my friend and mentor. Since 2010, she has inspired me to make Halloween projects from scratch and not rely solely on Spirit Halloween. I have loved collaborating with her and Ghoulish Glen as part of the Scream Team, where I've earned the nickname of "The Human Clamp." I wear that badge with honor, and while I may not mention them often enough, they influence every aspect of wicked works. Thank you my dear friends, and have a scary Halloween!

Monday, October 16, 2017

October TV Viewer's Guide

We're halfway into October, and my DVR is bursting with so much scary TV. Here's list of some of the show's I'm watching. Did I miss something spectacular?! PLEASE let me know!!!


Ghosted on fox features the unlikely pair of Adam Scott and Craig Robinson (from Parks & Rec and The Office) as a duo working for a secret government agency trying to solve paranormal crimes. It's seriously funny show with lots of potential even though the premise sounds eyerollingly unoriginal. Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on Fox

The Exorcist: The Next Chapter takes our two exorcists (Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels) from the first season and puts them on the road with a new story. John Cho is a welcomed addition as the head for foster home where something is about to go terribly wrong. Fridays at 9 p.m. on Fox

American Horror Story: Cult is easily the most disappointing and uninspired season yet its worth tuning in just to see the masterful performances of  Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters. The show is mostly gross (and not in the good way) and not scary or thrilling in the slightest. Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on FX.
Supernatural — We might be in a very sad 13th season with Sam and Dean Winchester. Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.

The Walking Dead — It’s war when this comic book cable hit returns Sunday, Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. on AMC. I've stopped watching this but maybe someone out there still cares? Anyone?


Halloween Baking Championship pits bakers against each other as they create ghoulish treats. The witch fingers episode drove me mad as most of the bakers did not seem to know what fingers look like. Mondays at 9 p.m. on The Food Network.

Halloween Wars is back to make you feel completely inadequate about any cake you've ever decorated or pumpkin you've carved. But its great to see the experts create some stunning pieces or die trying. Sundays at 9 p.m. on Food Network.


Lore — podcast-turned-horror anthology series premieres Friday, Oct. 13 on Amazon

Stranger Things 2 — still reeling from the horrors of the demagorgon, survivors in Hawkins, Indiana, are threatened by a bigger, sinister entity in the return of this ’80s-influenced sci-fi horror series; premieres Friday, Oct. 27 on Netflix

Mindhunter — serial killers are at the center of this 1979-set series about the FBI’s efforts to solve open cases; premiers Oct. 13 on Netflix

1922 — based on Stephen King’s story telling of a man’s confession of his wife’s murder and his belief that she is haunting him; premieres Friday, Oct. 20 on Netflix


Michael Jackson’s Halloween — new one-hour animated special following two millennials who find themselves in a mysterious hotel on Halloween night, culminating in a dance finale featuring an animated Michael Jackson; airs Friday, Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. on CBS

The Simpson's Treehouse of Horror XXVIII – Season 29's Halloween episode features Neil Gaiman ad airs October 22 at 8 p.m. on Fox.

The Watcher in the Woods — this remake of the 1981 movie stars Anjelica Huston and airs Saturday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime

Terror in the Woods: Halloween Fright Night — Tuesday, Oct. 31 at 9 p.m. on Destination America


Helltown — Why did the federal government completely evacuate the small town of Boston, Ohio, in 1974? Theories have swirled for decades about what might have spurred the exodus including massive, mutation-causing chemical spills; a plague of paranormal activity; and the town being overrun by a satanic cult. Sunday, Oct. 29 at 10 p.m. on Destination America

A Haunting — Returns with new episodes, Mondays at 10 p.m. on Destination America

Paranormal Witness - Returns new episodes Sundays at 10 p.m.

Terror in the Woods — A new series similar to Paranormal Witness with stories centered in the woods. Tuesdays 10 p.m. on Destination America

Ghost Adventures — Saturdays at 9 and 10 p.m. on Travel Channel

Horror at the Cecil Hotel — Monday, Oct. 16 at 10 p.m. on Investigation Discovery

Haunted USA — Sundays at 10 p.m. on Travel Channel

The Murder Castle — Saturday, Oct. 28 at 10 p.m. on Investigation Discovery

Kindred Spirits — season 2 follows ghost hunters Amy Bruni and Adam Berry as they help real people tormented by paranormal activity in their homes; airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on TLC

Extreme Hotels — “Haunted Hospitality,” host Anthony Melchiorri visits the scariest hotels around the world; airs Monday, Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. on Travel Channel

This post brought to you by the excellent blog Scare Central on Rotten Tomatoes.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Ghosts of Manor House

Edmund can sense the house before he sees it. He feels its presence, a shadow over his soul like a cloud across the sun. He slowly squares his shoulders. With a deep breath, he meets the house’s gaze. Edmund is sure he hasn’t been here before but everything seems so familiar. Like he is finally coming home. *

Like a spooky story? Something creepy and suspenseful that keeps you turning the pages, wondering, guessing, at what will happen next? I have just the story for you. My name is Matt Powers and I’ve written a book that has what you are looking for, Ghosts of Manor House.

This is my first book, and it’s a story about a family trying to rebuild. And a house looking for companionship. It is about what a husband and father will do to be with his family, and to make his family whole again. And about what a house will do to ensure it isn’t alone.

I have always been fascinated by haunted houses and ghosts. And I thought a lot about how an entity like a house might have its owns needs and desires. I wanted to write a story that told just as much about the people as the ghosts and the haunted house itself. I’ve read many haunted house books and two that inspired me in my writing of Ghosts of Manor House were The Shining by Stephen King and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Both of these, in my opinion, are great haunted house stories and I worked hard to try and follow in their tradition of quality. I set my standards high, and it was a tough order to fill. I think I did a good job but in the end it is up to you, the reader to determine how I did. I hope you enjoy my tale, I look forward to hearing what you think.

Ghosts of Manor House is available now both digital and print. You can find it at Amazon. For more information, visit the website:

The house is good at waiting. It watches and waits, sometimes for years. The house is patient, like a spider, waiting for prey. It feels vibrations and reaches out, pulling the right people deeper into its web. The house has waited through long stretches of loneliness, but always, in the end, found what it was looking for. * 

Matt Powers is a video game producer by day, working at Zynga in San Francisco. He has always been a voracious reader, with a head filled with stories. When not making video games he is either reading or writing – writing his scary dreams. *Excerpts from Ghosts of Manor House reprinted by permission.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A Whole Lot of LORE

If you like podcasts, you must search for the LORE podcast. Every 2 weeks you get a spellbinding history lesson about some the greatest horror stories ever told. Each is carefully researched and only facts are presented. What you make of the evidence is up to you – and the stuff that folklore is made of.

Writer and producer Aaron Mahnke created the podcast in 2015 and soon earned recognition and awards from the Academy of Podcasters, The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly and iTunes. As of 2017, he's also had over 90 million listens - quite super for a supernatural e podcast. After roughly 70 episodes, we're about to get a lot more Lore.

Available today is the beautifully illustrated hardcover book, The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures. This is the first of three planned books, and features stories from from the podcast. Early supporters of the podcast used to get PDF transcripts of the show and most of us thought, 'Gee, this would make a great book.' I'm very excited that this has come to pass.

Bringing the podcast to life is the tv show, LORE, premiering this Friday the 13th exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. It's produced by the folks behind The Walking Dead and The X-Files, with six episodes comprising the first season. Not much is known about the format. Will it be more an anthology show like Tales from the Crypt or Paranormal Witness re-enactments with interspersed interviews? We'll see soon enough.

Add to this the East Coast and Southwest legs of the Lore Live 2017 Tour (next stops include Philadelphia, Washington DC, Charlotte, Phoenix, Dallas, Austin and Denver), and the Lore: A Haunting Experience attraction in Los Angeles, running October 5-November 12. Whew. That's a lot for the little podcast that could! 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ghostland: An Engrossing Buzzkill

Author Colin Dickey sounds extremely pissed. With an incredible admiration for history, Ghostland, An American History in Haunted Places takes us through the greatest spots of haunted lore including houses, hotels, bars, prisons, cemeteries, and towns with purported ghostly activity. Each stop is carefully scrutinized with (presumably) carefully researched history although it didn't seem like he interviewed many actual people with first-hand knowledge and often referring to other books, internet sources and their comment sections. I'm not suggesting this is bad approach. I mean how can you possibly interview someone at the Salem witch trials or the Amityville horror house? That stuff happened like a long time ago. But nonetheless, this is an engrossing history lesson of the events as they could have/likely happened.

Yet Dickey is still mad, mostly at the people who profit from such places by making them attractive to dark tourism by ratcheting up the haunted lore, reimagining history to enhance the lore, or just plain fabrication of lore. Folklore is essential to society as stories passed from generation to generation usually act a cautionary or morality tales and provide a basis of right and wrong. Dickey contends that considering lore as factual or using it to profit is deplorable and even harmful. And yet isn't this book that very thing? But he's not distorting it at all. He is confident that his version of the telephone game has righted the wrongs. That must be some burden to carry.

This book is also mis-marketed with good reason. Bookstore browsers will be intrigued by both the artful cover and title where the words "ghostland" and "haunted places" are big and highlighted. Dickey wants to sell this book to those interested in the subject to correct them about the lore. A better title would be “Chumpland: An American History in Supposedly Haunted Places that Aren’t Really Haunted at All.” It should also feature a cover where the Dickey is pointing and scolding people on a ghost tour. Of course, then he wouldn’t sell many books.

Strangely, towards the end, it also comes across that he is believer of... something? He recounts a specific occurrence in an innocuous location that shouldn't be haunted. He won't cross the threshold of revelation as he clearly states in the prologue: "This book is not about the truth or falsity of any claims of ghosts.... There is no amount of proof that will convince a skeptic of spirits, just as no amount of skeptical debunking will disabuse a believer." He also seems angry that he didn't have a more pronounced experience that would definitively sway his view, which explains his mockery of those who "feel" things at haunted places.

For anyone who likes a good ghost story this book will be a strong slap to the face. On some level, we are all skeptical and that’s not a deal breaker. However, Dickey's cynical, mocking tone that primly finger-wags to anyone who enjoys this topic comes across as snooty and unlikeable – imagine a crusty old professor with elbow-patched dinner jacket swirling a brandy snifter monologuing about their GE-niuuus essay. His world is black and white – although I imagine it's more of joyless murky gray. But fun is not the point of this book.

Ghostland succeeds in debunking the history associated with lore, giving context to actual historical accounts, and allowing the reader decide whether the subsequent haunting story still has enough merit to stand. Usually it crumbles like ruins. This is a very smart, scholarly and fascinating dissertation that breaks down the time periods, people and locations, and it's added at least 200 words to my vocabulary. In the end, science still struggles with the everyday phenomenon (things that defy scientific explanation) so a definitive theory on ghosts may not materialize anytime soon. For me, haunted lore remains an engrossing past-time and I will continue my dark tourism. Sorry if that also makes you angry Dickey.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Ghost Story ~ Review

Some scary movies wash over you quietly like a midnight fog. A Ghost Story is not a bonafide horror movie but its ambitious story is most definitely supernatural. It also happens to be completely original and often challenging head trip that defies modern storytelling. It will divide audiences especially anyone seeking a traditional horror movie rather than an arthouse contemplation on the afterlife and the futility of time. It is also deeply affecting and genuinely melancholy and proudly sentimental. And there's a now infamous overly-long pie eating scene that features Rooney Mara (and I beg you to get past it). Beyond these stumbling blocks lies a unique wordless performance from Oscar-winning Casey Affleck, fleeting moments of tense terror that are incredibly effective, and an aural soundtrack that is a character all of its own. It's a strange, conceptual film and a treasure for fans of movies that stray far from the norm.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Horror Summer Musicals

Summer is dead and buried, and I've been reflecting on a great summer, which included two horror-centric musicals. I am a bonafide (and BA-degreed) theater geek, so I seek out horror musicals wherever they are. My favorites include Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Little Shop of Horrors, and The Rocky Horror Show. (I have yet to see Evil Dead: The Musical, Carrie: The Musical, American Psycho: The Musical, or Silence! The Musical)

The Toxic Avenger: The Musical is based on Troma's legendary 1980 film of the same name. However, this show does not simply try to recreate the movie and instead becomes a love letter to all B-Horror movies and wrapped up in a hilarious, campy tunes. I witnessed The Stage's production in San Jose, California and it was absolutely fantastic. The reviews did not lie, this is a seriously entertaining show with a "comically overblown ’80s rock style, the songs are marvelously clever."

Meanwhile, over at City Lights Theater Company, also in San Jose the infamous 1892 case of Lizzie Borden was examined in LIZZIE, a bold, brash rock musical concert piece that defies categorization. It tells the story of the young woman accused of killing her father and stepmother with an ax. But it delves much deeper into her abusive father, the distant sister, and the unrequited love who spurned her as well. It's tragic and sad, and the feverish songs sear into your brain and heart and the four-lady ensemble belts song after song. It's harrowing and liberating. (Read the full Mercury News Review.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Stephen King's Sleeping Beauties ~ Now Available!

Just in time for Autumn's chilly dark nights is a new book by Stephen King called Sleeping Beauties, co-written with his son, Owen King. The story is set in a women's prison as a sudden epidemic sweeps the neighboring town causing all the women to fall asleep and start growing tendrils. Meanwhile, the men run amok, naturally, while trying to find a cure.

Stephen King's other son is also a writer. Joe Hill has published four books including 2013's outrageous, hilarious and horrifying NOS4A2 (a perfect horror read for Christmastime!) as well as Horns, and last year's The Fireman. This October will bring a four-novella collection called Strange Weather. I wouldn't buy a book solely by the cover but this cover is stunning!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

mother! ~ Review


It’s impossible to review mother! without divulging some of its greater mysteries, so here is the short review: a mind-numbing head trip that will prove frustrating to most audiences. For those few brave enough to endure the unrelenting terror and anxiety of an experience with an undetermined destination this film will be unique, absorbing, and utterly riveting feast for the senses and brain.





mother! is a riveting fever dream with no end or beginning that you cannot escape. It is obtuse, undecipherable and often vile but exhilarating and terrifying. Movies this unique follow no formula, give you no clues where they are going, and force you to experience them rather than understand them. This means most audiences will disregard this as fanciful, excessive artistry over substance, and write it off as nonsensical (“Stupid!” as one audience member shouted.) Quite the contrary.

The movie is so opened ended to interpretation that you can pick up any one of its allegorical threads whether an examination of God, religion, and extreme zealots, the act of inspiration and creation which is also destructive and consuming, or the decimation of our mother earth – and run with it. It's masterful what director Darren Aronofsky (director of Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream) has done in creating a film that can speak whisper on so many levels. It's also his least pessimistic film to date.

Both Jennifer Lawrence’s character, simply called “mother”, and the audience are abruptly shaken as incidents mount one by one in a remote house as people flood into and out of an idyllic country mansion to see the poet (played by Javier Bardem). Eventually the quiet home succumbs to madness once she is on the brink of giving birth to their child, crescendoing in a loud, clashing final act of violence and chaos. It’s horrific and harrowing, and the audience never gets a moment to reflect on the proceedings. The camera never leaves Lawrence for a single moment and we are forced to bear witness to every single act of cruelty from the beginning to the bitter end.

But while the events we see elicit strong emotions and revulsion but this is not the point. It’s the meanings behind them. Looking at the other characters names gives the clues needed to decipher the broader story: Him, Man, Woman (played by the sublime Michelle Pfeiffer), Younger Brother, Oldest Son, Cupbearer, Damsel, Fool, Idler, Defiler, Herald. These are not people, but rather symbols of the allegory. Is Him, capital “H”, supposed to be God? Is this a biblical allegory about mother as Mary (who at two points in the film is called a whore)? Or is she the mother Earth being pillaged by mankind after the creator is distracted? As soon as you discover the key, most of the story falls in place. And even if some mysteries remain, the overall experience is incredibly satisfying.

It’s perplexing that mother! is being marketed to a mainstream audience. They will hate it for not being a simple, straight-forward horror movie. This is arthouse horror at its best, a sub-genre that's admittedly pretentious but also challenging, enigmatic and artfully made. For fans, this will be an engrossing, terrifying and thoughtful journey. It resonates deeply and profoundly, and begs to be discussed and ultimately admired.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Halloween Village Preview

My Halloween village this year is shockingly small but potent this year. It's based entirely on the Department 56's Nightmare Before Christmas pieces released this year. Here's a sneak peak for Mandy and all Halloween villagemakers.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

IT (2017) ~ First Impressions

#ITMovie is the best and truest Stephen King movie adaptation ever. Yes, including The Shining, Misery, Carrie, and The Mist. Seriously outstanding. If you loved the book, you will love this emotionally resonant, often funny coming of age story, that keeps it's vicious underbelly and unsettling frightening sequences. This may be the first chance for a horror film to score an Oscar nomination since Silence of the Lambs, and easily the best horror film of 2017.

Look for the free, limited edition poster available at theaters this weekend! (Photo coming soon.)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Snap Judgement ~ American Horror Story CULT

American Horror Story: Cult is an extremely unsavory, cynical and pointless political satire rehash – and the first time in the history of the series that I’ve completely checked out 20 minutes in. The wonderful Sarah Paulson and Evan Peters where both made incredibly unlikeable caricatures, the clown thing was so uninspired considering a true scary clown (Stephen King's IT) is coming to theaters in the same week, Twisty's appearance was the ultimate bait-and-switch, and of course, we got to relive the 2016 election night. Again. America is rich with actual horror stories and even "cult" stories that seem more compelling for a horror series that this political posturing and absolute nihilism. Don't we get enough of that? Is it too much to ask to escape the terrible realities of every day life for one hour, be entertained and maybe even scared? Like every single other Ryan Murphy project (Nip/Tuck, Glee, Scream Queens), well into the run of the series (now in it's seventh year) the show has completely lost it's way. If anyone out there loved the premiere, why?

Monday, September 4, 2017

Spirit Halloween 20% Off

SPIRIT HALLOWEEN is throwing open the doors this Labor Day with it's annual 20% off your entire purchase coupon, good on Monday September 4 and Tuesday September 5.

Click here for the coupon.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Death Note ~ Review

Having only cursory knowledge about DEATH NOTE, I missed the outcry of the white washing of the Manga-inspired film. To me many Asian properties (The Ring, The Grudge, The Eye) have been reinterpreted, transplanting their Asian roots and resetting them in America with white actors. Cultural insensitivity aside, this particular story was much more beloved and carries a deeper resonance with Japanese audiences and beyond. And who can blame them. The story is a multi-layered and sensational exploration of right, wrong, God-complex, cults, and one malevolent trickster spirit.

The Netflix original film directed by Adam Wingard (who also directed the notable films You’re Next, The Guest, Blair Witch) stands as it’s own creation, albeit on very wobbly legs. It leans much more towards the horror genre and was surprisingly gory. Unfortunately, there is entirely too much story for one movie and it becomes a burden trying to cram so much narrative into 1 hour and 40 minutes – like the ridiculous montage of how a teenager launches a global cult! The more fantastical elements hit viewers right from the start with little explanation. There is no option other than to go with it and accept this talking, wise-cracking demon and the special powers he brings.

The cast is capable enough to bring some grounding with the standout being Lakeith Stanfield as the brilliantly affected “L” (who has a tiny but mesmerizing role in Get Out). But, of course, we wanted to know more about two things: the notebook that brings death to whoever’s name is written within it’s pages (How did this book come to be? How does it truly work?) and the chatty, enigmatic demon behind it (who would likely be happy to share all secrets if asked). The rules of the game remain murky, especially towards the second half when all rules seem to go out the window.

The action is fleeting (literally) and terribly edited and we are often lost in the spectacle, especially towards the end. I paused and rewound much too often to figure out what was happening. All this points to a slapdash process that was likely caused by an accelerated production schedule. By contrast, Wingard’s other films let you settle into the horror of the situation, savoring every beat and nuance like a piece of arsenic-tinged hard candy.

Death Note still somehow manages to be entertaining in that middle-of-the-week kind of way, but with so many missed opportunities, some downright weird tonal shifts, and a perplexing overstuffed plot that is also completely unsatisfying I'm not sure it warrants even a borderline recommendation. If nothing else, it did pique my interest in exploring the original Death Note manga.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Misty Keasler's Book Will HAUNT You

Who doesn't love a good scare? Photographer Misty Keasler spent a long time in the country's darkest haunted attractions and chronicled her adventures in a new book called HAUNT. This beautifully produced 212-page full-color book arrives at booksellers on September 1 from Archon Projects and is available for pre-order today. I interviewed Ms. Keasler about how this book came to be, her artistic process, and what things scared her.

My Scary Blog: What drew you to the topic of haunted attractions? Why document this?
Misty Keasler: Haunted houses weren't a part of my youth but I married someone who went to one every year from the time he was young and absolutely loved them. Once we started dating he'd drag me to one every year and we started taking friends. I loved going with him - he screamed louder than anyone else and was so scared he'd refuse to go first. I was never really impressed with the places until we went to Thrillvania in Terrell, Texas. Verdin Manor is their mansion and the place was unlike anything I'd seen. It was dripping with details, corners of rooms that piqued my interest and space full of implied scenarios. As soon as I went through there I knew I wanted to return to photograph it.

Proprietors closely guard their trade secrets. Was it easy to convince them to let you photograph the interiors?
I first gained access to Thrillvania by convincing our city magazine to commission me to photograph it for a feature in October. I was intrigued with that place and how intricate the tableaux were, so much so that I'd obsessed on how to get in. The magazine piece ran and after that I was even more curious. I made a sort of wish list and started reaching out. Fortunately I had one under my belt so I could show them what I was doing and I was in touch with the editor of my previous book. He was interested (though I went a different direction) so I knew the images would be a book. And some key proprietors got behind the project and helped open some doors for me. I found everyone pretty fantastic to work with.

These places are built to scare you on a deeper level. Did you personally feel scared at any point?
Of course! So first off let me say that I'm incredibly thankful that no one in any of the haunts took the opportunity to scare me out of my skin! There were many opportunities and I was pretty easy to scare, particularly in the beginning. But everyone acted with total professionalism.

There were several points I got pretty spooked. I made the photographs by shooting very long time exposures in the dark, with show lights on and sometimes full sound for hours at a time. Most of the time I could listen to headphones but when I was at Netherworld I was so unnerved. I just couldn't calm down while working. On my second day there I asked if I could have a pair of ear plugs I'd seen in the costume shop and they mentioned that the fear frequencies may have been getting to me. And at Reindeer Manor I got so scared I cut one of my evenings short. That haunt is sitting on a fairly big piece of land and the attractions are in different buildings. Alex, the proprietor, was working at one end of the property and I was shooting on the opposite end. Keep in mind this was very late at night. I was already on edge - dark, creepy place where I'm completely alone. I heard a woman screaming in the distance and then a huge door creaking. I just knew they were messing with me. I kept hearing those sounds and the more it happened the more I figured I just had to leave. I packed up my cameras, found Alex and tried to play it cool (but was really anxious to get to the safety of my car). I mentioned the screaming woman (who turned out to be coyotes) and the creaking door (actually screws in new wood). Alex is a kind, open guy and he explained the sounds but I figured I'd have to come back another time when I wasn't so scared!

Looking at your photographs, you’ve beautifully captured the rich, dark atmosphere as well as some stunning character portraits. Is there beauty to the mayhem?
I think all artists are drawn to beauty and I think some of the most compelling photographs in this work have both beauty and horror.

Many people dismiss these kinds of attractions as a trifle, but they can be highly theatrical and brilliantly orchestrated installations. What would you say to someone who might see these as low-brow?
I can only speak to the haunts in the book but they're huge productions who employ hundreds during season and keep a smaller crew that works year round. There are incredibly creative folks always working on new story lines, sets, and costumes. I've been surprised by how many people have told me they've never been to a haunted house. I think most of them would be shocked to know how much year round work goes into the short seasons they're open to the public.

Unfortunately the photographs don't even get close to portraying an immersive environment as rich as the places in the book - any documentation of a haunted house (photos, video, audio) won't do the subject justice. The visual is simply one element of the experience but to your point, these are indeed ornate, theatrical and orchestrated installations. Some of them feel like you've fallen into a film set only without the unfinished area for the camera. They're completely immersive in a way that can only be experienced and often involve light effects (like the entire storyline at 13th Gate lit almost entirely by lightning), extreme darkness, meticulous soundtracks, smells, and of course actors waiting to startle you. Photography actually operates in a different way and as I got deeper into this work I realized the most interesting images were pregnant with expectation. Often I found myself photographing what was on the edges of a scene as opposed to the focus of what might scare you as a customer.

Long projects often start one way and end another. Did you go into this project with certain expectations? Were they met, or did the outcome change two years later?
I am drawn to this idea of making bodies of work that act as a portrait of culture. I did this in Japan with Love Hotels and again with my family in East Texas. I wanted to make a portrait of American culture through haunted houses and looking at the intersection of fear and entertainment and I'm pretty happy with the book serving as that portrait. But as I progressed on the project and began to focus more on this idea about the edges of scenes I also began to edit images differently and cut photographs that were originally included in the final series. The portraits went through some big changes. Originally the idea was to do side by side portraits of actors in their street clothes and then in their costumes and makeup but in the exact same pose. I stole this idea from the photographer Timothy Greenfeld Sanders and his work about porn actors. But it didn't work - they just ended up looking really corny. So I started thinking about how to treat the actors in the same way I was treating the spaces and wound up with the fairly serious portraits in the book. I'd ask actors to think about the very still portraits made at the beginning of photography when they stood for me and I think these images ended up better representing what is frightening about their characters.

Every project adds to the tapestry of an artist’s perspective. What is the most surprising thing you learned throughout this project?
I did not realize the extent of the work that goes into these absolutely incredible places. And yet most people never get to really even see how rich the spaces are because they're literally running scared. Much of my work is about looking at what most people would never see.

Low-light photography is incredibly tricky. Were there any unexpected challenges in this particular environment?
All the square images were shot on film. I needed the negatives to contain detail in the darkest parts of an image and that required me to make extremely long exposures. No light meter would give me reading in a place as dark as a haunted house. It took a fair amount of experimentation but most of the exposures were half an hour long. But those types of exposures do strange things to colors, often making them too vibrant. I worked with Laura Steele, a pretty incredible photographer on her own, on extensive retouch. I was really attempting to get the images closer to my memory of the spaces as opposed to what the film recorded.

What do you hope an audience will get from this book?
There's something really fantastic about the spectacle of these places. This is a portrait of our culture and I think the more you spend time looking the more you get out of the body as a whole.

Without having access to a crystal ball, do think this is a topic that you might want to revisit in the future? 
I don't know. There's a tremendous amount of work and resources that go into the book creation and normally that signals the culmination of the work. But I did have an adventure of a lifetime visiting all the places and getting to spend as much time as I needed just looking. I wouldn't mind making more photographs but I guess we'll see how things go with the book.

Photo credit: All images courtesy of the artist and Archon Projects.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Mist ~ Review

The crap heap that was Spike TV’s adaption of The Mist has ended and now I am free. Like many diehard Stephen King fans, I tuned in week after week hoping that something – anything – would happen that would redeem this series or at least steer it back the master work of dread and mystery. King’s story unveiled monstrous possibilities of what a rip in our dimension would be like as other worlds seeped into ours. It also showed that the worst monsters are greedy, crazy humans.

The TV show sidestepped most of this in favor of soapy storylines (he’s not your father!) and big ideas with no real substance (rape, homophobia, religion, police, parents, nature are, like, all super BAD and stuff!). Then they sort of played up the secret government conspiracy angle, dropped it for most of the season, picking it up in the last hour with no reveal. Interesting ideas of a “black spring” and Mrs. Raven’s communion with nature were also dropped in the last hour (Frances Conroy deserves much better than this). Everything that we had seen was rendered pointless and like much of LOST’s run, the writers thought the allure of intrigue was far superior to actual good storytelling.

It didn’t help that characters were all annoying and unlikable with charisma and depth of week-old honeydew melon chunks. The poor actors were left to fend for themselves with awkward lines, no motivation, and burdened with the writers’ deep commitment nonsensical leaps of logic (they’re feeding the mist!). With no one to root for and a shapeless mist, the viewer just waited around for an action sequences which were few and entirely unsatisfying.

The biggest blunder, of course, was having no monsters. Did the writers really think they could improve this part of the original story? Instead we get an apparently sentient mist that judges you (but in the end, it doesn’t really), makes dead loves ones appear to torture you psychologically (but really just wants to suck out your juices), and may have a central giant figure (but that was never developed after the first sighting). Seriously, WTF!?! The writers manage to brilliantly frustrate viewers and alienate all King fans. Do yourself a favor and read the story or watch the brilliant movie adaptation. Avoid this altogether.

(Note: The show deserves an "F" but I just can't do that to Frances Conroy who was the single compelling aspect about this show.)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

RIP Tobe Hooper

RIP to Tobe Hooper, the man who made us fear chainsaws, and skin masks, and Texas. He always knew what scared us.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Yankee Candle Halloween 2017

Another Yankee Candle Halloween Preview Sale come and gone. The stores always make it a fun experience although I'm finding their Boney Bunch line, now celebrating it's 10 Year Scare-iversary, a little less interesting every year. Usually sold out within a couple hours, most of the line is still available with only one decidedly sinister piece (Head Chef) nearing "low stock". Perhaps its time to take this successful line in more sinister Halloween direction rather than their increasingly cutesy road? Their other offerings including their continued raven and steampunk lines offering much more interesting things. If you are shopping online use their promo code "FBLIVE" for free shipping. Here are some of my favorites: