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Horrors

March 29th, 2011 No comments

During the year that I lived in West Hollywood, I found myself in horrific company. My roommate Guy and his circle of friends were all monster mask mavens, their homes decorated with row upon row of bodiless heads. Our downstairs neighbors were David and Laura Lady, a couple that seemed not only made for each other but constructed in the same laboratory. David was (and is) a talented mask sculptor, and Laura was (and is) a whiz at hairwork and costuming.

I moved back to Indiana in ’87, and the Ladys returned to their ancestral Ohio a few years later. They set up haunted housekeeping in a converted hotel that served double-duty as a walk-through Halloween attraction. I visited Horror Hotel once in the ’90s, but didn’t see the Ladys again…until this past Saturday. I dropped in on the Horrorhound Weekend convention, where Dave and Laura were among the honored guests of “Mask-Fest.”

I’ve always enjoyed monster movies, but–Godzilla excepted–I’m not an out-and-out fanatic. While I’m fairly well-versed in the history of horror, I’ve missed quite a few of the classics. And the genre’s recent trend of “torture porn” repulses me.

So, while I can generally get by at an event like Horrorhound Weekend, it’s not quite my cup of arsenic. I was uncomfortable with the amount of misogynistic imagery and bare boobage on display, moreso as there were small children in attendance. And then there was the DVD dealer with copies of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will sitting amidst the slasher films.

Awwwww, cute.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. There were plenty of old-school monsters loping amidst the Jasons and Jigsaws, as well as some very impressive costumes. The eight-foot-tall Frankenstein was himself dwarfed by a 10-foot Grim Reaper with light-up eyes and articulated skeletal fingers.

This ambulatory pumpkin patch took a well-deserved second place at Saturday night's costume contest.

There was an entire room devoted to TV horror hosts. Most of them seemed to be hobbyists taking advantage of the Internet and a large supply of “Clown White” makeup to reinvent themselves as wanna-be Svengoolies or Zacherleys, but at least a couple were making a serious run at it.

I had a surprisingly lengthy conversation with this robot.

A couple of Ghostbusters discuss what to do about Indianapolis' famed horror host Sammy Terry.

There were dozens of quasi-celebrities lining the walls, signing autographs for 20-to-30 bucks a pop. They ran the gamut from the relatively famous–Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator), Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3), Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) and Sid Haig (The Devil’s Rejects)–to the guy who wore the mutant mask in The Funhouse. I had a nice chat with Jeffrey Combs, with whom I had worked on a crappy, crappy* film called The Phantom Empire. (And, by “with whom I had worked,” I mean that he starred in it and I drove a shit-filled motor home as a production assistant.) I think he was amused when I showed up with a Phantom Empire DVD for him to sign.

Amongst the third Killer Klown from the left and a gaggle of cast members from Halloween III: Season of the Witch sat an honest-to-Cthulhu film legend: actress Barbara Steele. Her spike-scarred face from Black Sunday was one of the indelible images of ’60s horror.

It troubled me to see only a trickle of people paying their respects to Ms. Steele while at the next booth over Sid Haig (best known as “Captain Spaulding”** in House of 1,000 Corpses) always had about a dozen queued up. I have nothing against Haig, who has certainly paid his dues. He’s been in the industry long enough (including a star turn as the villain in the ’70s kids’ show Jason of Star Command) to have multiple generations of fans. But, come on…it’s Barbara frickin’ Steele. Attention must be paid.

Dave Lady, attired in seizure-inducing strobing goggles and gloves, gamely emceed the costume contest despite the distraction of a travelling geek show–complete with portable stripper pole–that simply refused to relinquish the stage. I was fond of the guy dressed as Robot Monster‘s Ro-Man of the Planet Ro-Man, but the contest was won by a duo who came as the bedroom scene from The Exorcist.

Unfortunately, you're not getting the full effect of Dave's light show here, as my camera flash washed out the coruscating colors.

It was great to hang out with my friends again, and I hope to do it again next year!

Please enjoy a final few random images from Horrorhound Weekend.

*Crappy.

**All weekend I had the Groucho Marx song “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” in my head.

31 Monsters #31: Happy, Happy Halloween!

October 31st, 2009 No comments

All right, I’ll admit that for a series named “31 Monsters,” this last entry is a bit of a cheat. Even more so than Dr. Sheila Frankenstein. There’s no actual monster here, but I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to wish you a Happy Halloween than the following.

In 1982, the makers of the Halloween films had a couple of problems. One was that their star character–slasher prototype Michael Myers–had met what appeared to have been a very definite and explosive death at the end of Halloween II. The other was that there wasn’t much more to do with the concept. I mean, really, could you imagine making another seven movies about a mute in a Captain Kirk mask?

So, in what turned out to be an ill-considered attempt to keep afloat a Halloween film franchise, producer John Carpenter decided to reinvent it as a yearly anthology series, with each sequel a self-contained story themed around the holiday. (Honestly, I think the idea is fun.)

Carpenter hired British screenwriter Nigel Kneale, best known for his sci-fi TV serials featuring scientific investigator Prof. Quatermass, to pen Halloween III: Season of the Witch. And it has to be said that Kneale came up with something about as far removed from a knife-wielding William Shatner as possible.

Instead, horror fans were met by Dan O’Herlihy as Irish-born maskmaker Conal Cochran, whose “Silver Shamrock Novelties” company had saturated the airwaves with a relentless commercial campaign for his line of Halloween masks. The masks themselves–a witch, skeleton and pumpkin–were standard enough, but the gimmick was the “big giveaway” to be held live on Halloween Eve.

Happy, happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloween; happy, happy Halloween, Silver Shamrock!

Cochran turned out to be a warlock attempting to return the holiday to its alleged roots. His factory melded science and sorcery, with each mask sporting a microchip embedded with a fragment of stone from a stolen Stonehenge megalith. The final Silver Shamrock commercial was encoded with a signal that would activate the microchips and cause the head of anyone wearing one of the masks to erupt in a mass of bugs and snakes. That’s right, bugs and snakes.

Now, goodness knows that Halloween III is by no means a good film–Kneale had his name taken off the final product–but I’ll give them credit for trying something different, even if it plays like a particularly nasty episode of Scooby-Doo.

However, the main reason that anyone remembers it at all is the damnable Silver Shamrock jingle which plays repeatedly throughout the film. Seriously, it’s probably been at least two decades since I saw it, and that thing is still stuck in my head.

I wanted to embed the Silver Shamrock commercial, but it turned out that for all the times it was seen, it never played all the way through on-screen. And YouTube didn’t give me what I wanted. So here is my very own Silver Shamrock montage, created just for you.

You’re welcome.


This wraps up my look at ghoulies, ghosties and things that go stomp in the night. It was fun (for me), but I have to admit that I’ll never again commit myself to 31 consecutive daily blog posts, especially when I have a vacation scheduled in the middle of the month!