Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Gruss Vom Krampusnacht

Illustration by James Bousema
Krampus is the goat-man demon that accompanies Santa Claus in Central European folklore to punish the bad children. What? Did you think Nicholas, that saint, would get his hands dirty? While the origins of such a figure remains a mystery, experts believe it predates Christianity and has been considered as troubling in many regions. In Austria, Krampus was labeled “evil” and prohibited early in the 20th century. True he carries birch branches to whip the children and a basket to collect them and take them to the underworld for dinner so its entirely reasonable to have qualms.

Nonetheless, celebrations persist from Krampus festivals to parades and bonfires where participants don horned masks and furry costumes to amuse and terrify onlookers. This culminates on December 5’s Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, which is the night before the Feast of St. Nicholas, which brings equivalent Christmas Day celebrations with gifts and food. Many regional variations exist but the message is always the same: be good or else you’re lunch meat for demons.

American awareness and celebration of Krampus is growing steadily. From books of vintage Krampus postcards (Krampuskarten featuring "Gruss Vom Krampus" or Greetings from Krampus), to novels, to a major motion picture (2015’s Krampus) the horned devil is taking hold. Columbia, SC, Portland, OR, Olmsted Falls, OH, Bloomington, IN, Philadelphia, PA, Rochester, NY, Los Angeles, CA, and of course New Orleans, LA all have notable Krampus celebrations. There was even a Krampus musical in Minneapolis, MN!

It’s clear that this yuletide demon is not for everyone, but why do so many people love it? It is counterculture rebellion at the most wonderful time of the year? Is our fascination with all things magical and fantastic beasts? Ahem, is it a refusal to let Halloween go? Maybe it's just kind of fun to see creatures stirring in the night. To learn more I recommend two books (both available on Amazon): The Krampus and the Old, Dark Christmas by Al Ridenour and Contemporary Krampus: A Modern Look at An Ancient Legend by Mike Drake.

Have a scary (and safe with all that fire) Krampusnacht!



Sunday, December 2, 2018

Terrified is One of the Year's Best Horrors

Terrified (Atterados) is an Argentinian horror film making it’s debut on the Shudder streaming service and it is one of the best and most terrifying movies of the year. (This film is not be confused with the film, Terrifier featuring one bad clown.)

Strange occurrences bring three investigators to a sleepy suburban neighborhood in Buenos Aires in search of paranormal evidence of a strange phenomena. The set up sounds mundane, I know, but the ensuing chaos multiples the dread, consistently delivers scares, and the horror it delivers veers well off into bizarre territory that evokes movies like Insidious, Event Horizon, and In the Mouth of Madness.

This is one efficient, tension-filled horror movie that hits the ground running from the very first scene and does not let you catch your breath. As the gruesome events mount, you never have a chance to consider all that is happening and like many unexplained mysteries much is left in the dark. The film is plot centric with very little character development and the story at best can be described as thin. You will need some imagination (it knows what scares you) to fill in the gaps. None of this however spoils the otherworldly atmosphere the movie creates, aided by the marvelous cinematography, unique sound design, and perfectly timed practical effects. I can only hope this is a first entry to a series of films. They seem to have so many sights to show us.

As a “Shudder Original” it’s tied to the streaming service and wonder if it has a chance to beget a cult following. For starters, it won the best horror feature at this year’s Fantastic Fest. and Bloody-Disgusting.com reported last week that Guillermo del Toro is producing an American remake of the film. Don’t let the Spanish language stop you from seeing Terrified now. No American film will ever recreate two particularly effective but disturbing scenes here – I can practically hear the pencils snapping in two at the MPAA.



Friday, November 16, 2018

AHS Apocalypse ~ The End is Meh

American Horror Story: Apocalypse (Season 8) wrapped up this week, and once again, it was a great concept thoroughly squandered by Ryan Murphy’s team of inept writers. The show looks great, has a great cast, but the time-jumping story was ultimately full of missed opportunities and a tone that abruptly veered from campy comedy to deadly witch wars to a guileless origin story about a whiny teen antichrist. It leaves viewers rooting for the missiles to destroy it all.

The advanced buzz was good – a direct sequel to Murder House (S1) and Coven (S3) from the heyday of AHS. Would it be possible to recapture the magic of those early seasons? The artwork showcased the very devil in our midst. Would this season return AHS from the absurd excess of the more recent seasons to a more scary, satanic showdown?

The first 20 minutes of the season induce palpable terror as missiles descend upon LA. It plays on our fear of having a cheetohead as commander in chief with access to The Button. But then, ridiculous and campy shenanigans ensue at Outpost 3. There's no electricity or food but plenty of gaudy Hunger Games-style costumes, overly theatrical stunt casting (Joan Collins), a pointless gaggle of characters, laudable cannibalism, poison apples, and robots – yes, ROBOTS! When the witches from Coven show up there’s a glimmer of hope, but the screen is quickly overrun with warlock fops in the dandiest garments and absurd hair and makeup. There’s a distinct struggle between the seriousness of the cast and the distracting and overindulgent art direction (gorgeous as it is) that is now the imposed brand of the show (a.k.a. Ryan Murphy’s personal brand). I imagine that with a different show runner, this would have been grittier, more realistic, and scarier season that would have amped up the horror instead of diffusing it with utter silliness.

Everything in this show feels like poo flung to the wall to see if it sticks. The timeline jumps around with flashbacks and flash forwards (also part of the AHS brand) that do not add to the muddled plot but serve to distract viewers from the amateurish pony tricks and overwrought revelations the writers haphazardly cook up. Is there a Ryan Murphy Law that insists on a contrived moment every 20 minutes or so?

The biggest atrocity is bringing back the grand dame of the series, Jessica Lange as Constance, and give her absolutely NOTHING interesting to do. WHAT THE HELL RYAN! You’re seriously going to have her sit at a table and tell us how the antichrist was a bad child? That’s all you got? Why not have the time traveling witch go back to convince Constance and maybe his parents that Michael must be stopped. Give those Murder House characters a real purpose and make them integral to the story. Instead you just have more pointless walk on roles for the prestigious alumni. As a result, American Horror Story: Apocalypse features the most anticlimactic ending to an antichrist in the history of horror.

With two more seasons of AHS to come, it’s likely unrealistic to expect the series to ever return to the heights of the first few years. I’m once again embarrassed for the amazing Sarah Paulson and the rest of the cast who deserve so much better. If the horror gods can hear me, please cast Ms. Paulson in the second season of The Haunting of Hill House or The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. She needs a bonafide win on a good show.


Monday, November 5, 2018

Pumpkin Tres Leches

I was very lucky to be joined by a group of fiends, mostly from work, to help me hand out candy this year. To add to our celebration I made Pumpkin Tres Leches which is a moist and creamy bread pudding type dessert. "Tres leches" means three milks in Spanish and it's the basis for a popular Mexican cake often served for the holidays and weddings. The cake is soaked with the milks and it essentially creates a rich, decadent bread pudding that I believe is best served cold. Warm bread pudding enthusiasts don't you give me that stink eye.


Pumpkin Tres Leches Bread Pudding

2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup apple cider
1- 17.5oz box of Trader Joes Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix (not cake mix)
1- 12oz can evaporated whole milk
1- 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup whole milk
whipped cream, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a ceramic or glass baking dish (not metal) with butter. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine eggs, oil and whisk until foamy. Slowly whisk in cider.  Add mix and slowly fold in then stir until batter is smooth.

3. Spread batter in dish and bake 45 to 55 minutes until toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

4. Meanwhile combine evaporated, sweetened condensed milk and while milk in a medium bowl and whisk until well combined.

5. After baking, and while the bread is still piping hot, create several small but deep slits with a sharp knife all over. Immediately ladle the cold milk mixture over the hot bread. It will take a couple minutes to absorb the milk so ladle a little at a time until fully absorbed. Repeat until all the milk is used. The absorption will slow down but trust me, it will soak it all up in time.

6. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours minimum, or overnight. Using a spoon, scoop out some bread pudding and serve cold with whipped cream.

Tips: You can add rum to the milks to make it a tipsy bread pudding. Avoid using some of the flavored sweetened condensed milks now available. It might sound like a good idea to use pumpkin spice sweetened condensed milk but it is not. That stuff is terrible.


Friday, November 2, 2018

The Day After Halloween

Call me crazy, but I actually love the day after Halloween. First, there’s Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) to celebrate with a vibrant altar, Mexican food, and margaritas. Secondly, while it’s sad to bury another Halloween up in the attic, there’s a profound sense of relief. I'm not sure why I feel the need to be so secretive about this as if I'm betraying the spirit of Halloween. There's no more worrying about getting things done on time, writing posts, fixing props, dragging people to haunts, running around town like a madman attempting to find supplies, and spending all my money on just one more Halloween thing. Again, it’s sad to see it all go but the emotional and psychological break is a sweet release. Plus I can finally catch up on all the tv & movies I missed.

My ritual begins at 12:01 a.m. sharp on November 1. I start breaking down my front yard display with a goal of having it completely out of sight by sunset since technically, Samhain ends at sunset. I think the neighbors appreciate it and makes them do a double take: was it all a bad dream?

This year we had 346 trick ‘r treaters – and guesstimating about 900 more visitors (parents, families and friends) – which was quite a feat for a school night. The weather thoroughly cooperated although I was sad to hear that so many people across the country were experiencing rain and even snow storms.

I was very lucky to be joined by a group of fiends, mostly from work, to help me hand out candy and count the tots. In exchange, I made a giant pot of my once-a-year Texan Chili, buttery sweet corn bread, and a creamy pumpkin bread pudding, Pumpkin Tres Leches cake to be exact.







Feliz Dia de los Muertos

If you slept through November 1 like I did fret not. You can still celebrate the second day of Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday that celebrates loved ones who have moved on.

Start with a viewing of the best (only?) Day of the Dead-themed movies, Coco or The Book of Life. If I had to choose only one then definitely go for the Pixar pic.





If you love the vibrant colors of Dia de los Muertos, you'll love the vibrant prints from artist David Lozeau. I own one tiny original that I absolutely love, but luckily he offers more affordable prints in a variety



Finally, no Mexican celebration is complete without a margarita. But if you can barely move after a hectic Halloween season, who has time to make one from scratch. I've finally found the BEST margarita mix on shelves today. It's made by Tres Agaves who also makes tequila but I haven't tried it. The Margarita Mix is flavorful with a tangy but not to tart lime pucker and sweetened with agave instead of corn syrup which adds an earthy finish. I preferred a 3 parts mix to 1 part tequila with my preferred tequila, Don Julio Añejo (I know, I know you're supposed to used silver tequila in margaritas but it has no flavor).





Monday, October 29, 2018

The Curious Christine McConnell

With only a few days before Halloween, you may be wondering what to binge this Halloween. The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell on Netflix is a wicked and mischievous delight. It's difficult to describe Ms. McConnell but I will start with stark raving mad genius. As a baker, seamstress, and stylist she creates delectable desserts that are beautiful and defiantly dark. Her six-episode show on Netflix is equally whimsical, funny, dark, and yes, even informative.

You may never attempt any of these projects but it is entertaining to see them brought to life. The show dabbles somewhat into the process along with some tips and tricks but never really fully reveals a whole project from beginning to end. I appreciated that this magician didn't give away all her tricks and she fully understands the motto: always leave them wanting more. In this case, you can pick up a copy of her book, Deceptive Desserts and follow her on social media (Instagram).

Craft and cooking shows can be a little dry so to keep things lively, her cast mates include a glib Egyptian mummy cat, a burly werewolf, and a reanimated racoon named Rose. Their petulant interactions along with Christine's deadpan humor is hilarious, and she even offers them sage advice like this:

    Christine: What have I told you about arson? 
    Rose: Never leave evidence.

Despite the obvious trappings, this is definitely not a kiddie show. Also surprising is an interesting through-line involving a gentleman caller, problematic neighbors, and of course, family drama. The last episode is set on Halloween, so make sure to make it all the way through the end. I have been a very big fan of Christine McConnell for years, she inspired my monster house display this year, and I cannot wait to see what she does next!


Saturday, October 27, 2018

A Burger Guaranteed to Give You Nightmares (or Regret)!

As marketing goes, this is brilliant. Burger King introduced a Halloween-themed burger called the Nightmare King which you can wash down with a Scary Black Cherry slushy. They conducted a 10-day study (a super Syentyfic TM study with controls and stuff, whatever) with 100 participants and they concluded the unnatural combination of chicken, beef and pork increased nightmares by 3.5 times. Maybe it was the icky green bun, the gross raw onions, or eating right before sleeping that did the trick. You can pick up these treats through November 1 but if your memory fails you, the HA1loween Whopper from a few years left a horrible aftermath in its wake. Beware!



Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Encyclopedia of HORROR

Why do love to be scared? We can't help it, really. It's an inarguable fact that people enjoy being frightened, and then realizing it's all going to be okay. That's the power of horror, even when things don't work out in the end. Sometimes because of it, in fact. With Halloween coming up, Centennial Media wanted to explore what scares us, and why. Thus, the , which takes a deep dive into all things scary, sometimes dating back thousands of years to early cave drawings. Vampires, wolf creatures, mummies, zombies and reanimated monsters, aliens, creatures, and creeps, as well as the more human kinds of monsters, with names like Voorhees, Kruger, and Myers. We even take a look at the current world of horror, how it has changed, and how a modern horror movie could win a prize as prestigious as an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Any fan of horror will want to immerse themselves in this extensive look at one of pop culture's most popular genres. Available now at Walmart, Barnes & Noble, all major supermarkets (Kroger, Publix, Safeway, Shoprite, Ahold etc.), and all major drugstore chains.











Editor's Note: I'm a sucker for those seasonal newsstand magazines that jump out at you at the supermarket check out lane. This one is especially visually awesome and well-edited with colorful layouts, great articles, and really interesting infographics. Take a look at the timeline of terror (above) to see a specific monster as portrayed in movies across the years. I sort of wish this was an actual coffee table book in hardcover!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

A Killer Podcast about "Halloween"

Loved the new HALLOWEEN movie? Take a deep dive into the legacy of John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Debra Hill and more with HALLOWEEN UNMASKED podcast. Amongst the riches to be heard are fascinating interviews with the cast and crew, and surprising perspectives on who/what Michael Meyers was with a psychologist who studies real serial killers.

It's terror-rific!

https://art19.com/shows/halloween-unmasked

Friday, October 19, 2018

This is the Halloween We've All Been Waiting For

The latest Halloween is a love letter to fans of John Carpenter’s original that clears away the dead weight of all the previous sequels. It returns to Haddonfield for the aftermath of the original film, following many of the beats of the original film so it is somewhat of a remake as well.

What stands out clearly is how genuine this all feels as we see familiar characters like the iconic Laurie Strode (a defiant Jamie Lee Curtis) deal with the consequences of being stalked by a madman 40 years earlier. Laurie is now a recluse living in the middle of the woods in a house built to keep out the boogeymen. Unfortunately, it's also made her a failure as a wife and a mother with her grown up daughter essentially disowning her. It’s all very sad – and genius move by writers. Evil makes monsters of us all.

While the homages to the previous film (and Halloween III, a love-it-or-hate-it film that I love) keep stacking up so does the body count that by all standards is absolutely brutal. These people don’t die quick and easy movie deaths. There is pain, suffering, crunching and lots of blood in each morbid kill raising the terror even higher.  This is a hard R-rated film that isn’t watered down for teens.

The action of course plays out over a suburban landscape on Halloween night adding that extra layer of spookiness and mystery that the holiday provides. The theater literally felt chillier and darker.  There’s even some well-placed humor and unexpected twists but ultimately this is a slasher flick through and through. Much like it’s 1978 predecessor there is no pretense to be anything more than a B-movie meant to terrify the audience and it does so very well. Even if it doesn’t quite capture the dreadful atmosphere of the original it is the best successor, a true sequel, and very fun time at the movies.







Tuesday, October 16, 2018

My October TV Queue

It's absolute madness how much fun TV there is to watch in the weeks leading up to Halloween. My DVR is packed, and I’m absolutely terrified that I won’t get through it all. So to calm my nerves I have to make a list. Many of these have already aired or seasons are underway so you might have to catch up with video on demand.

SPECIALS

  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XXIX (Fox) - 10/21
  • Decorating Disney: Halloween Magic (Freeform) 
  • Eli Roth’s History of Horror (AMC)
  • Halloween Cake-Off (Food Network)
  • Trisha’s Halloween Spooktacular (Food Network)
  • Ghost Adventures Live: The Las Vegas Haunted Museum (Travel Channel) - 10/31
  • Haunted Gingerbread Showdown (Food Network)
  • A Very "Wicked" Halloween: Celebrating 15 Years on Broadway (NBC) - 10/29
  • Hocus Pocus 25th Anniversary Halloween Bash (Freeform) - 10/20
  • Mysteries at the Museum Special: Zodiac Killer (Travel Channel)


STREAMING

  • The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell (Netflix)
  • The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix)
  • Lore, Season 2 (Amazon) - 10/19
  • Light as a Feather (Hulu)
  • The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Netflix) - 10/26
  • Creeped Out (Netflix)
  • Into the Dark (Hulu)
  • Huluween Short-Film Series (Hulu)


CABLE/SERIES

  • Channel Zero: The Dream Door (SyFy) - 10/26
  • American Horror Story: Apocalypse (FX)
  • Stan Against Evil, Season 3 (IFC) - 10/31
  • Midnight, Texas, Season 2  (NBC) - 10/26
  • Supernatural, Season 14 (Fox)
  • Charmed 2018 (CW)
  • Scariest Night of My Life (Travel Channel)
  • Most Terrifying Places in America, Season 3 (Travel Channel)
  • Halloween Wars, Season 8 (Food Network)
  • Halloween Baking Championship, Season 3 (Food Network)


Monday, October 15, 2018

It's ALIVE!!!

My MONSTER HOUSE is finally complete! Work began in May and very slllloooowwwwllly came together. The eye is projected onto the front window (thanks AtmosFX), it breathes smoke, and I assembled a moaning, growling soundtrack after learning the basics of Adobe Audition in one sitting. More photos and video are coming soon (after I learn the basics of Premiere Rush) and after I can walk upright again – but hey, at least I didn't fall off the roof this year.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

AHS Apocalypse is a #TOA

In the first 20 minutes of American Horror Story: Apocalypse armageddon descends upon Los Angeles via missile strikes. Its pandemonium, the pace is of brisk, the terror is palpable as we witness our worst nightmare. It’s absolutely terrifying and there's no mistaking the mushroom cloud is happening.

The show quickly pivots and next we are deep underground in a spacious, well-appointed bunker created by a shadowy organization. The political and social commentary nods like the purple theme (red Republicans mixed with blue Democrats?), and survival of the fittest richest evoke modern struggles. “The stew is Stu” is one of the best line of the series. Joan Collins is campy. The grown up boy demon is mysterious. And there’s mutants and robots–ROBOTS!!!

Unfortunately most of this is by way of an absurd Hunger Games homage, where we’re expected to believe the world goes to hell yet somehow skilled seamstresses, costumers, and hairdressers survived to provide survivors with ornate clothing, theatrical makeup, and silly hair because people have a lot of time on their hands. Yet no one thought to fill the place with food? Really? There's also candles everywhere (no power after the apocalypse) filling the sealed cabin with copious amounts of carbon monoxide so there has to be an overworked central ventilation system that cleans and recirculates the air that is powered by... hamsters? Perhaps I'm getting too mired in details but we're not asked to suspend our disbelief – we’re asked to obliterate it. Horror depends of creating a plausible environment and then adding super elements that upset the balance.

Perhaps this place isn't a "real" place? A purgatory between worlds for these few people? The witches of Coven, who should all be dead, were finally introduced and most if not all of the characters we've seen are also now dead, so perhaps the show will pivot into something more watchable. As it stands, I’m prepared to label this silliest of seasons (and yet another squandered concept) as a #TOA (turd on arrival).





Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Home Depot Wins Halloween...AGAIN

We're into the prime retail Halloween season, and while many Spirit Halloween stores are still struggling to open, the Home Depot(.com) has won Halloween... AGAIN. Whoever is working in their product development is clearly a genius who understand home haunters and Halloween fans love the orange branded home improvement center. Take a look at this years online offerings and keep your eyes open for their holiday weekend free shipping deals since most of the good stuff is online only (although they will ship it to a nearby store for free). Also, if you carry a Home Depot credit card that purchase of $299 or more can be financed for 6-months of no interest (sort of makes that $350 dragon more reasonable at $58 a month).











Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Nun Does Not Keep Its Vow

The latest movie in The Conjuring universe is unfortunately a squandered effort that should have been scarier and darker given the talent behind it: from the writer of Annabelle: Creation and IT (2017), from a story by James Wan (director of The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2), and from the director of The Hallow (2015). The production values are fantastic with amazing sets, atmospheric lighting, a great cast, and some really unsettling scares. So what the hell happened?

For starters, the tone wavered from scene to scene, at times old-school horror, then punny humor, then action adventure. The two leads Father Burke (Demián Bichir) and Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga) work well together but someone had a great idea to throw in a quasi-romantic hunk (?) for Sister Irene (??) who seems to be a different movie altogether (think Brendan Fraser in The Mummy). The rollicking tone sucks the tension and fear from just about every moment he's in. The film steadily loses coherence as it trudges along. There seems to be no rules as to what the demonic nun can or can’t do. She wanders freely among crucifixes, may have minions, can possess bodies and make them zombies, and can break any law of physics. There’s just no discernible logic. It seems the creative team came up with a bunch of individual great looking scenes first, and then strung them together into a story. And don’t get me started on that ending that seriously cheats the audience.

Nonetheless, it's still somewhat entertaining if you let go of all expectations (it’s going to be soooo scary because that nun is soooo scary), and accept this is not as good as the other films. Since this is part of horror franchise that is very closely tied, the comparison is inevitable and the results are judged quite harshly. One woman behind me in the theater literally yelled, “That was so disappointing!” Yes it was.