26 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 26: The War of the Worlds!

Posted by Bryan White | Monday October 26, 2009 | Whimsy

orson welles war of the worldsOn October 31st, 1938, the front page of the New York Times read as such: Radio Listeners in Panic, Taking War Drama as Fact. You see, the night before, Orson Welles took to the airwaves on a show called Mercury Theater on the Air and presented a series of news bulletins that described beings from Mars descending on Earth and roasting everything that moved with a frightening, unstoppable group of war machines. For nearly an hour, as part of their show, Welles kept listeners glued to their radios as he and his production team proceeded to freak out an estimated 6 million listeners. According to Welles in his live radio adaptation of the classic H.G. Welles sci-fi story, an invading force from Mars crashes in a field in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey and promptly begins killing everyone in sight before succumbing to Earth’s germs, which they were unprepared for.

Since the original broadcast, Orson Welles’ production has been cited as the undisputed case study for mass hysteria. History has adopted the press’ account from that night that people up and down the east coast were convinced that this was it for the world and were either offing themselves and their families in fear of death by death ray or they were holing up in their basements, waiting for the end to come. Yet, in the 71 years that have passed since that night, many have come to question the intial reports that the papers, then in fear of radio as the deathstroke for the printed word, were blowing this story wildly out of proportion and that suicides, rioting and looting were breaking out all over the place thanks to Welles and his brilliant way with fooling everyone. However, did you know:

  • During the broadcast, at the beginning, middle and end of the show, there are spoken reminders that it is a work of fiction.
  • Though broadcast in 1938, the story actually takes place in 1939
  • Hitler cited the broadcast’s effect as evidence of the decadence and corrupt condition of democracy
  • The War of the Worlds was not the first radio stunt to pull this crap. In 1926, the BBC aired a hoax broadcast called Broadcasting From The Barricades, alleging that London was in the midst of a violent, bloody uprising.

A couple of the root causes for the panic, which undeniably took place, just not in the capacity that history has accepted it, were that Mercury Theater on the Air was a small-time show, running opposite the top-rate show at the time, The Chase and Sanborn Hour. As the Chase and Sanborn show went into a musical number after the 12 minute mark, listeners began to channel surf and caught War of the Worlds in progress, just as the broadcaster began to announce the opening of the Martian meteor containing the invaders and their subsequent devastation of everything. Also, this was 1938 in the days leading up to World War 2. Hitler and The Germans were always in the paper and a war with Germany was an inevitability. What many people, just tuning in, thought they were hearing were the early stages of an invasion by Germans, not Martians.

The War of the Worlds has become so synonymous with mass hyseria and widespread public panic that it is an experiment that has been attempted more than once. Radio Quito, of Ecuador, broadcast their own version of the radioplay in 1949, and wound up at the end of the night with their studio in flames and 7 dead thanks to the ensuing riot. In 1992, the BBC aired Ghostwatch (review), an alleged paranormal investigation show gone horribly wrong on Halloween night that results in injuries, disappearances and the demonic possession of BBC news personalities. There are also countless reproductions and adaptations for film and television. Orson Welles and The War of the Worlds are an American treasure and proof positive of the public’s gullibility and willingness to melt down over the supidest things.

UPDATE: Why the hell not? Here’s the original Mercury Theater on the Air broadcast of The War of the Worlds

24 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 24: Chiller Theater returns to WPIX!

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday October 24, 2009 | Whimsy

chiller theater returns from the graveI talk it up a lot around these parts, but the one thing that drew me in to horror in the first place was the afternoon Creature Double Feature on Boston’s WLVI, channel 56. This was pure old school UHF goodness. Crappy flicks meant to influence the easily corruptible minds of New England’s children. Among those influenced was me. Now look at me! I’m one of the barons of the horror blogosphere! Between heavily echoplexed station bumpers set to Emerson, Lake & Palmer I was exposed to the wonders of the genre and it left a huge impression on me. It’s a crying shame that these things don’t really exist anymore. Creature features in the days of yore had long shelf lives and you were extra lucky if your local creature feature came with someone like Zacherley or Svengoolie. Every now and then my Creature Double Feature pops up on the radar thanks to local car dealership emperor, Ernie Boch Jr. but they never stick around. If you’ve never seen a Creature Feature like the one I’m describing, you don’t know what you’re missing. If you have, then I’ve probably inspired great tears of nostalgia. Go ahead. It’s okay to cry.

This coming Saturday, that’s Halloween, folks, you people with cable hookups to do so will be able to tune into New York’s WPIX for a taste of the good life, when the Uncany X-Men cost thirty five cents per issue and Tom Carvel assaulted your ears with his heavily accented New York drawl by way of ten cartons of cigarettes. Yes, Chiller Theater is coming back and if you have the means to do so, I strongly advise you to tune in. If you don’t, you’re not a troo horror fan. They’ll be running Hammer’s The Evil Of Frankenstein from 1964, starring Peter Cushing and the show will be hosted by none other than Elvira, Mistress of the fucking Dark! The show will feature the original opening, too, which is a staple of the program similar to the Creature Double Feature that I described above. The show starts at 8, so have your popcorn popped or you’ll miss it!

23 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 23: The History of Haunted Attractions

Posted by Bryan White | Friday October 23, 2009 | Whimsy

haunted overloadThese days, just about everywhere you look, there’s some kind of haunted house attraction. Right now, you can probably name three in your area(I can name 5, Haunted Overload, Spookyworld, Castle of the Damned, York’s Wild Kingdom Haunted Hayride,  and Fright Kingdom) without even thinking about it. It’s big money this time of year and everyone does it. I’ve seen some downright outstanding haunted house attractions and have been to and worked at some really bad, honky-tonk attractions that are completely full of shit. I set out to write this article, illustrating the beginnings of this movement up to their current state but ran into a problem. There’s really no defining point in global culture that kicked off a wave of haunted attractions. Halloween, being a festive time of year since its beginnings in Celtic Europe, has motivated people for centuries to embrace the spooky side of the season and let their imaginations run wild. So for years we’ve had people holding seances both tragically hokey and allegedly real, Grand Guignol style stage performances, horror themed on-rails Fairground rides and Museums of the Odd. It’s a no brainer that at some point in our global stage of history, someone would smash them all together and outfit their garage with a strobe light, a fog machine and some spray cans full of fake cobwebs to entertain the trick or treaters of their neighborhoods.

Probably the most commonly found haunted attractions are those put on the JayCees (Junior Chamber International), an organization founded in 1920 and dedicated to motivating young people for volunteer service. One of my earliest haunted house experiences was a JayCee’s haunted house put on at the Marblehead, Massachusetts YMCA. I was 7 or 8 and dressed in a bee costume as some jackass teenager in a hockey mask led me through the lamest haunted house I’d ever see, staged in the Y’s basketball courts. He promised that I could never leave and then promptly led me through a winding path that ended at a door with a brightly lit EXIT sign above it. Explain the logic in that. A couple of years later, I’d live in North Hampton, New Hampshire and find another JayCee’s haunted house one town over that markedly better. Those things were everywhere! Years later I would find myself hiding behind a covered bridge, wearing a rubber werewolf mask, yelling “BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA!!!” at truckloads of people on the York’s Wild Kingdom Haunted Hayride in York, Maine, arguably the worst haunted attraction I’ve seen since that one at the YMCA. The point I’m trying to make, though, is that these attractions make bank! Though neighborhoods had been putting these things on since the 50’s, most likely, the money would escalate the chain of commerce until entire corporations were open for business with no other intention than franchising the very concept of a branded haunted attraction. Terror On Church Street, a haunted attraction that used to be on the corner of Orange Ave and Church Street in Orlando, Florida, was on such attraction. Extremely elaborate in its presentation, Terror On was a part of a franchise or chain of haunted attractions with roots in Brazil that combined movie-set special effects and actors to torment visitors through the entire walk. I’ve never seen anything like it. Hot on its heels came Pasaje Del Terror, which was built beneath the Pleasure Beach Casino in Blackpool, England.

Everything escalates, of course, and while theme parks had been in the game for years, none of them took the haunted attraction quite as seriously as Knott’s Scary Farm (one of the first haunted attractions, in 1973), Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and Six Flags’ Halloween Fright Fest. Each park dedicates massive amounts of real estate and replaces their usual costumed characters with spooky folks in make-up or characters licensed from movies. Universal, being that it is a movie-lot theme park, is pimping The Wolfman for the upcoming remake, has a Saw attraction to tie in with the annual Saw movie release and others, like Chucky. They hire actors specifically for the job and contract some of the biggest theme park designers from around the world to make their parks the baddest in the world for the month of October.

fujikyu haunted hospitalThe king of all the haunted house attractions, though, is said to be the Haunted Hospital attraction at the Fujikyu Highland park in Fujiyoshida, Japan. At the foot of Mount Fuji, this attraction, more than your average walk-through is the largest haunted attraction in the world that boasts 4 hour long wait lines to get inside on any given day. What goes on inside to warrant such a long waiting line? From the looks of this video, not much.

22 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 22: Thriller Flashmob Central.

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday October 22, 2009 | Whimsy

The Portsmouth, New Hampshire Halloween parade is featuring a dancing mob of zombies this year. No matter what you think of the dearly departed Michael Jackson, you like Thriller. It’s one of my tested theories. Everyone likes Thriller. If you tell me you don’t, you’re lying. That’s all there is to it. It also somehow warms my heart that people will plan these sudden gatherings just to baffle everyone around them and dance. On the flipside, MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This routine has been getting the flashmob treatment lately as well. So in honor of this haunted Halloween, the Portsmouth Thriller Dancers and the fact that I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel for festive Halloween posts, here’s a collection of other noteworthy Thriller flashmobs and the original video, directed by John Landis.

21 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 21: Jesus is NOT the reason for the season

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday October 21, 2009 | Whimsy

sexy nunSay what you want about Celts and Pagans, they can be a pretty strange lot but Halloween has a tendency to bring out the weird in all of us. It’s like it’s the one day of the year where we’re given license to let the real freak flag fly. You’re certainly not excluded if you’re Christian. Most sane Christian people take the day in stride and have as much fun as the rest of us, but there are pockets of loons all over the country who flex their personal beliefs in some of the strangest ways possible. Ever gotten religious tracts in your trick or treat bag? It’s enough to sour a whole load of sickeningly sweet goodies and put a damper on the festivities when someone, instead of candy, slips you a short comic explaining how you’ll burn in hell for eternity because you wore a mask one night of the year and splattered pumpkins on the sidewalk.

For some reason, in Canton, North Carolina, Pastor Marc Grizzard has organized a Halloween book burning. Not of tomes of magic spells or evil Satanic heavy metal, but of Christian works, including bibles not of the King James persuasion, denouncing them as satanic and perverse. This is simply because their mild variations don’t jive with his strict interpretation of the bible.

Beginning in the 1970’s, Jerry Falwell kicked off a trend of Fundamentalist Christian haunted houses, better known as Hellmare, where depictions of drug use, rock music, abortion, homosexuality and so on to scare people out of their hedonistic antichristian lifestyles and straight into the loving arms of Christ. However, in 1990, starting in Texas, this trend exploded all over the country and started to infect other parts of the world. The general idea is that you’re guided through a series of scenarios meant to be horrifying and then in the end, you can either enter back into the sin cursed world or sit in on a sermon meant to put you on the path of rebirth. These things, as you might imagine are all over the south and throughout the mid-west. Living as I do in sinful, liberal New England, I’ll probably never get to taste these absurd Halloween treats. There’s an outstanding documentary about an elaborate Hell House production in Texas. Hell House makes for pretty interesting viewing around this time of year.

Remarkably, these days, that’s about all the protest you’re going to get. These are, admittedly, hardcore fundamentalists and in no way are they an accurate representation of mainstream Christianity, but it’s still fun to shine the light on these folks.

19 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 19: 13 Songs

Posted by Bryan White | Monday October 19, 2009 | Whimsy

My taste in music is what you might call “ecclectic”. Throughout the day I’ll taste every corner of rock music. If I keep my iPod on shuffle, it’ll take me through a fractured funhouse of hardcore, metal, hip hop, classic rock, avant garde, goth, industrial, electroclash, prog, psych and synthy scores to Italian horror movies. Yet, every October, the chill in the air, the early approach of nightfall, the leaves dying, you know, the general Halloween aesthetic has a tendency to put the brakes on my wildly fluctuating taste in rock and for the entire month, a few days leading up to and a few days trailing out of, my playlist stablizes and all I listen to is music inspired by or directly related to Halloween, horror movies, the spooky and the scary. To illustrate my point, I present to you the following 13 examples of halloweeny or horrifying music.

18 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 18: Black Cats For Satan!

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday October 18, 2009 | Whimsy

black catThis one goes out to Boo. The greatest cat ever.

The urban legend that black cats are sacrificed by clandestine satanic cults around the world at Halloween is one that has probably been in circulation since before the United States was settled. Since medieval times in Europe, where you could be burned or hanged simply for being an unwed woman in her forties or even for so much as looking at someone funny, there is probably no greater time for religious hysteria than now in the age of the internet where it would seem that everyone believes everything they read.

In many pagan circles, cats hold a certain significance. They don’t have to be black cats, either, but because of superstitions about black cats, in general, it has the power to stick out in people’s minds as sinister. Because of their often detached personalities, distant and predatory at times while at others, deeply affectionate, cats have a tendency to make some people nervous. The outsider natural healers of ancient Europe were often times the same kinds of people called Cat Ladies today and during their trials and subsequent executions, their cats were often thrown into the fire with them for being living channels to the devil. Sometimes called familiars. However, thanks to a persistent policy of no cat adoptions at many animal shelters around the country, the belief goes on that satanic cults working just below the public consciousness gather up all the cats they can get their hands on and sacrifice them to the devil, which goes against pretty much everything that modern pagans, even actual satanists believe in.

Obviously this is not true. It never was. It’s a really stupid hysterical superstition that most of Europe has given up on, the place that the legend began, yet a lot of really dumb-ass Americans still believe in. The sad truth is that fucked up people out there in the world make a sport out of hurting or killing these animals for pranks and good times or they adopt a black cat from a shelter, use it as some kind of Halloween decoration and then abandon it when they feel the prop no longer has any use or any welcome in their home. It’s a sad fact but it’s true and it continues to happen.

This isn’t to say that it doesn’t happen, though. There are plenty of cases of pseudo-satanic rituals carried out by crazies or stupid teenagers wearing too much fishnet and eyeliner to know that no matter what they do, there aren’t enough black cats in the world to sacrifice to turn them into real vampires via magic and rescue them from their boring suburban lives. Most people are just getting carried away with their Halloween night mischief. Shelters have a really hard time this time of year and spend a lot more time screening the people who are out to adopt cats so why don’t you do them a favor and kick some money their way? They could really use it.

17 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 17: We thought his dead body was a decoration!

Posted by Bryan White | Saturday October 17, 2009 | Whimsy

corpse decorationIt’s tough for me to categorize this one as “whimsy” because there’s actually nothing remotely whimsical about it. It’s really quite tragic, to be perfectly frank. On October 15th, this past Thursday, the body of Mostafa Mahmoud Zayed was found slumped over in a chair on his apartment balcony, dead from a single gunshot through the eye. His body had laid there since Monday and had been seen by many people. Many people who dismissed his decomposing corpse as a Halloween decoration. The entire fucking neighborhood saw the body sitting there on the third floor and did nothing. According to news people and police on the scene, the dead body looked quite unreal sitting there as it did.

But guess what? This isn’t the first time this has happened! On October 26th, 2005 the body of an unnamed woman was found hanging from a tree in Frederica, Delaware. The cause of death was suicide, but her body hanging there 15 feet off the ground was dismissed by the neighborhood as a really good looking Halloween decoration. However, Mr. Zayed seems to hold the record for longest amount of time rotting while mistaken for Halloween tomfoolery as this woman’s body was only mistaken for mere hours before it was taken down and investigated.

15 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 15: Dan Blakeslee’s Halloween Music!

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday October 15, 2009 | Whimsy

dan blakeslee halloweenSeveral years ago my brother Dave ran a record label called Spider Bite records. He put out a bunch of albums by guys lilke The Guts, Thee Monkey Butlers and My Magnificent Machine. He also put out a small run of orange wax 7″ records of a good friend of ours, Dan Blakeslee. Dan may be the hardest working man in the New England rock scene. He writes, performs, records, plays all the instruments, does the art for his own very elaborate flyers and promotes the hell out of his own shows, of which there are many. Simply put: Dan kicks ass.

Every Halloween, Dan goes undercover, comes up with a series of wigs, masks and disguises as Dr. Gasp and does a series of shows between Maine and Massachusetts. His usual deadly serious set is replaced by a set of original and very silly songs about Halloween. He has one about bobbing for apples, one about the local legend of Witchtrot Road, one about a wax museum (with a reference to Scissorfight’s singer, Iron Lung) and one about me, my brother and all the people who put the resources together to have that 7″ made. If you know the right people, you can still probably land one of your own orange wax 7″‘s with a hand silk screened sleeve, but for the rest of you, you can bag your own copy of the expanded CDs (or the MP3’s, individually).

Here’s Doctor Gasp’s Myspace page where you can hear some of his Halloween songs. And below is Dan picking out the perfect pumpkin.

14 Oct

Halloween Blog-A-Thon Day 14: Carve sweet pumpkins!

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday October 14, 2009 | Whimsy

sinister jack-o-lanternSeveral years ago we bought one of those pumpkin carving kits. It came with a couple of small saws and some templates to trace on to your pumpkin of choice so that when you finally cut into it, you could have one of those really elaborate jack o’lanterns bearing witches, vampires and Rosie O’Donnell if you so chose. It worked out really well and we wound up with the most kickass pumpkins in the neighborhood. It’s just too bad that we lived in a place where the kids didn’t trick or treat. What a waste, I tell you!

I strongly recommend you give this a try because there’s nothing cooler than a seriously sweet jack o’lantern. Handy with a knife? Know how to cut a stencil? The recent release of the soon to be classic, Trick ‘r Treat (review), brought with it a website with a frustrating all-in-one interface that packs the whole website in a Flash player, so I can’t link you to specific pages, but on the menu for the site is a series of Trick ‘r Treat related pumpkin stencils that I think are the balls. They have that awesome X’d eye and jagged teeth pumpkin and a couple of the film’s poster child, Sam. Do check them out and have some kickass pumpkins on your doorstep this Halloween.

Also, here’s a couple hundred more!

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