halloween haiku

Okay. Let’s admit it. We love a good fright. Most of us can’t resist a horror film. You might say that it is written in our DNA. If it wasn’t, why is it that we love a good horror ride. We’ll lay down our bucks just to feel the fear. Whether it’s a ride or a movie, it doesn’t matter. And how many of us have been tempted to say “Beetlejuice” three times? There’s even a rumor that Tim Burton will ultimately make the Juice into a trilogy. Because he can’t wait till the guy shows up. One thing’s for sure. Tomorrow night, when you’re out halloweening please, oh please, do not go down into the basement. If you do, don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

the house on the hill
downright scary the hauntings
no screams at midnight

Keep off the moors


John Landis, director of “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers”, directed “American Werewolf in London” (1981). It’s a horror movie. Not that “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers” were not horror movies. It may be a stretch but I’d say those had a monster or two in them. Only this time Jake Blues and Blutarsky are no where to be found. Imagine how awesome this one would have been if Blutarsky had been slumming in the north of England.

You heard that right. Northern England. Can’t say there is a better place for a horror movie. Unless it’s the woods in Northern Michigan or a Gothic little Southern town. When someone drops you off in the middle of nowhere and says, “Keep off the moors”, wouldn’t you tend to keep off the moors. Even if you didn’t know what moors are. Unfortunately this is a horror movie and it is pretty well established that someone is going to end up on the moors. Especially if they are American tourists. In this case, David and Jack.

David Naughton plays David. He could have been a Tom, a Dick, or a Harvey. Perfectly good American names. Instead he gets to be a David. An actor can go his entire career and not play a character with his name. I mean, Richard Burton was a great actor and he never played anybody named Richard Burton. Maybe the director thought David Naughton had way too many lines and it would help to take the load off by giving him the name David. Jack is played by Griffin Dunne.

David and Jack are taking in some of the fresh English air before they go off to see the Colisseum in Rome. Our two tourists come to a small English town with a pub, The Slaughtered Lamb. If I came across a pub with a name like that, I’d tend to want to get out of Dodge real fast. Or, at least, off the moors.

In the pub, there’s a five-pointed star painted on the wall right out there for everybody to see. One of our two young Americans comments, “Maybe it’s to ward off monsters.” You think. The pub regulars give the two the very cold shoulder. As David and Jack leave, they are warned, “Keep off the moors.” We’ve already warned them, but they didn’t listen to us. You’d think they’d listen to the locals in a pub named The Slaughtered Lamb with a five-pointed star out there for everybody to see. But no. They’re Americans, and like Americans everywhere, they ain’t afraid of any moors.

Unfortunatley it’s a full moon night. As sure as this is “An American Werewolf in London”, the Americans fumble their way off the road and into the moors they were told to stay off of. But this would not have been a horror movie if they had stayed on the straight and narrow. Evidently these two may be the only two people on the planet who have not seen movies with moors in them.

Guess you can guess what happens next. And yes, you’re right. They encounter the Big Bad Wolf. Before you know it, the two young Americans are down to one. When the survivor asks “Where’s Jack?” it’s obvious he didn’t climb a beanstalk.

Next thing we know, David wakes up in a hospital bed. Within minutes, he is having himself some visions.  And they are not of the Virgin Mary. They’re nightmares. Really bad stuff. If that isn’t enough, Jack shows up in bad make-up. I wonder why David doesn’t ask who did the whack job on your makeup. But he doesn’t. The two have a very normal conversation. If you call normal, being urged by Mr. Bad Makeup to kill yourself. Before Jack leaves, he’s doesn’t say, “Keep of the moors.” No, that one is way too late to say. Jack says, “Beware the moon.”

There is a consolation prize for all the bad stuff coming down. David gets to hang with Nurse Alex Price, played by Jenny Gutter. I’ve heard of a lot of pickup lines but the one he uses on her takes the cake. “I’m a werewolf” just won’t get you a second date 99.9% of the time. Unless she’s a werewolf too. Then the two of you can have a howling good time next full moon.

Evidently the werewolf bit works. Nurse Alex invites David to her apartment. Then she delivers one of the all-time classic romantic lines: “Perhaps you’d like to watch the telly while I take a shower.”

Yadda yadda yadda and it’s later. Jack corners David and urges him to kill himself. Otherwise there’s going to be trouble in River City. David will turn into a big bad wolf and kill people all over the place. David tells him to bug off. He’s not taking advice from a meatloaf.

David’s doctor, Dr. Hirsch, goes to check things out at Werewolf Central, The Slaughtered Lamb. He immediately notices the five-pointed star. The regulars boo him out of their home away from home. One of the men sneaks outside and meets the doc. “There’s something wrong with this place,” he says. Of course, there’s something wrong with the place. It’s got a five-pointed star in a pub named “The Slaughtered Lamb” and there are moors and there are folks bitten into werewolves. I’d say that’s enough wrong for two movies.

Nurse Alex is on night duty. She leaves David in the apartment. He goes for a walk. A dog barks at him. A cat hisses at him. That ought to give him a clue. Maybe, just maybe, David is a werewolf. You think.

Maybe this is England’s way of getting even for losing the American Revolution. The Brits every so often choose a young American tourist and turn them into a werewolf. Take that, you naughty Americans. And here I thought we’d made up.

Doctor Hirsch returns to the hospital. Nurse Alex is on duty. He tells her, “We have a werewolf problem.”

One thing is for sure. If, on a full moon night, you find yourself alone and you hear some growling a half block away, it’s obvious. You have a werewolf problem.

After your trick or treat extravaganza tonight, enjoy your treats and watch “An American Werewolf in London” tonight. It’s the Halloween thing to do.

A Spooky Kind of Marriage

Ken and Kendra chose Halloween for their divorce. It made perfect sense to them. Their marriage had been one long horror story since their wedding reception. With costumes, no less. Ken’s Uncle Irving showed up at the wedding reception drunk. Later they found Kendra’s aunt, Alice, in the closet with Uncle Irving. It was not a pretty sight.

On the way to their honeymoon, the car had four flat tires all at the same time. The bed in the inn where they were staying broke during their first sexual encounter. And these were simply omens of things to come.

During the honeymoon, Ken got food poisoning, Kendra was bit by a rabid dog. While they shared a hospital room, their nurse was the spitting image of Nurse Ratched. And she behaved like her as well. It was becoming pretty obvious God did not want them to have a honeymoon.

Finally, they came home. And found that burglars had broken into their new house and trashed the place. Ken went back to work and was told to pick up his walking papers. Kendra was given her pink slip too. “Cut backs,” she was told.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Kendra’s favorite aunt, Hortense, died. At the funeral, Ken couldn’t help himself. He laughed out loud during the eulogy. Kendra pinched him hard. He had a sore spot from the pinch. His dermatologist told him it was cancer.

They started looking around for help. They went to a gypsy, Drina, and she supposedly removed the curse. Then they saw on tv that she was arrested. She was impersonating a gypsy and didn’t have a license to impersonate a gypsy. Who knew you needed a license? They went to a Catholic priest and he suggested an exorcism. Instead of delivering them from a demon, the exorcism invited more demons in.

They went to a Rabbi and he pronounced that the couple were Canaanites and worshippers of Baal. Then he said, “Let my people go.” Turns out his name was Moshe and he was practicing his lines for a new version of “The Ten Commandments”.

The procession of bad events during their marriage was like a Mardi Gras parade on steroids. After two years of broken legs, broken arms, poison ivy, legionaire’s disease, the swine flu, and poor employment prospects, they both decided they had had enough. They loved each other but enough was enough. They were not meant to be together. And they were definitely not soul mates.

They went down to the courthouse to receive their final divorce decree from the judge. They waited and waited, then they were told the judge was running late. By the end of the day, it was announced the judge had died. From food poisoning no less. As they walked out of the courthouse, the stone arch above the door pulled loose and fell, missing the two of them by six inches.

At that, Ken looked at Kendra. Kendra looked at Ken. Kendra said, “You go east, I’m going west.”

“Fine with me,” Ken agreed.

And off they went running in opposite directions.

Six months later, Kendra’s mother received a short note from her daughter. “Mom,” it began. Kendra always called her mother Mom. It seemed the right thing to do. “I arrived at the Mombai airport on April 7. And I am catching an Air India flight to Nepal. Love, Dra.”

Kendra gave the ticket taker her ticket, crossed the boarding walkway, ducked and entered the small twin-engined air craft. She looked around for an empty seat. She saw one at the front and headed for it. She took her seat and buckled her belt. Then she looked at the man sitting next to her. It was Ken.

Later, in the day, CNN, Fox News and the other news organizations announced that an Air India plane had disappeared. The flight had last been seen flying somewhere over the Himalayas.

All one announcer could say about the ill-fated flight was this. “Let’s hope they landed in Shangri-La.”

Ultimate Halloween Movie: One Haunted House

It’s that time. The time the scary stuff comes out. We dress up the pumpkins. We put on someone else’s face. Usually a scary someone like Dracula or Frankenstein’s Monster or a Werewolf or a Kardashian. It’s a time when we really don’t want to go down in the basement. It gets so scary some years we may find ourselves calling for the Ghostbusters. (“Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters.”)

It’s time for a spine-chilling movie. What better spine-chilling movie than a haunted house film? But I gotta tell you. For me, there have been very few haunted-house movies that can measure up to a Big Scare.

The Haunting measures up. It was directed by Robert Wise. You mean, the Sound-of-Music, The-Day-the-Earth-Stood-Still Robert Wise. Yes, that Robert Wise. A Robert Wise who came out of the Studio System when directors got to work in a lot of different genres.

“The Haunting” is adapted from Shirley Jackson’s novel, “The Haunting of Hill House”. Nelson Gidding’s screenplay does not deviate much from the novel. It is filmed in black and white, creating an aura that accentuates darkness the house gives off. (Please don’t ruin your experience by seeing the 1999 remake. It’s not good.)

The movie opens with the house silhouetted against the night sky, not an inviting scene. The house whispers to the viewer, “Stay away if you know what’s good for you.” With the appearance of the house, there is the discordant music of a harp and a piano. Then the narration begins. “An evil old house…Whatever walked there, walked alone” Suddenly I realize that it might not be good to watch this one alone.

Then there is the cast. Not your usual horror movie cast. Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn (from “West Side Story” fame) and Lois Maxwell (the original Miss Moneypenny). No Vincent Price. No Boris Karloff. No Christopher Lee. No blood and gore either. Just fear.

“The dead are not quiet in Hill House,” Mrs. Sanderson, the current owner, warns the scientist. He has approached her, asking her to allow him to research the psychic phenomena in the house.

Soon we learn just how not-quiet the dead are. Which makes this one a perfect Halloween movie.

Do you have a favorite Halloween movie?

How to make a horror movie

Some students say they believe the three story building of The California Film School is haunted. Some students say it isn’t. Quincy doesn’t take a side. All he knows is that six Oscar-winning Directors and beaucoup Academy Award winners have gone there. Although students report a ghost sighting from time to time, he pays the stories no-never-mind.

Quincy, known to his friends as The Q, drops his book bag on a desk and takes a seat at the back of his Intro to Film classroom. He is the last of the twenty film students to arrive for the 8 p.m. class. It has taken him a good twenty minutes to find the room deep in the chasm of the building. While the professor, a thirty-year-old Pauline Betelgeuse, babbles on about the course and its requirements, he checks out the Facebook pages of several of his buddies, typing a snide remark on one, a congrats on another.

Listening with one ear, his interest perks up when the teacher says, “So I want you to sketch out a scenario, showing how you make a horror film. You can use the rest of tonight’s class to work on the assignment. Oh, and if you have any questions, I will be in my office for the rest of the class. Just zap me an email.” Then she slips through the wooden casket lid of the classroom door, disappearing into the hallway.

The Q closes his Facebook page and opens a blank document. He types his title, “Three Zombies”, centering it on the top of the page, then smiles. He is sure the instructor will be pleased with his story idea. He begins pouring words onto the page as fast as he can. Ten pages later, he glances up from his laptop. The room is empty, almost dark with the lights dimmed. The clock on the wall says midnight. If the silence was molasses, it would be  thick. There would be no pouring it. The windows of the classroom are like dark eyes spying on him. A chill slithers through the room like a snake after its prey.

He hurriedly saves his text, shuts his Mac, stuffs it into his backpack and slips out into the hall. Across from the door is a framed copy of Hieronymous Bosch’s painting, “The Last Judgement”. He doesn’t remember it there when he came to class. Scary stuff, he thinks, and makes his way left and down the hall. The lights flicker as he continues past paintings of the Grim Reaper, a Goat’s Head and a One-eyed Cyclops. No way they are going to scare him with this crap. He’d seen all thirteen of the “Friday the Thirteen” movies, and he just laughed his way through Jason’s antics.

He comes  to an exit. Thinks, “Good. This place is about to give me the willies.” He opens the door and steps into another hall. The door slams behind him. The hairs on the back of his neck rise. Maybe it’s not a good idea to go this way. He turns and pulls on the door. It doesn’t budge. The hallway before him is the only way to go.

Everything is as quiet as a graveyard. Through a window, he sees a blood red moon. He shivers with a chill. In the distance, the howl of a wolf. Good thing there is no such thing as werewolves,” he comforts himself. Something scratches on a window. He checks it out. Only his reflection stares back at him. The scratching stops as suddenly as it began. He steps up his pace to the door at the end of the hall.

The exit leads into a narrower passageway. On the wall more paintings. Werewolves tearing open the throat of a man. A vampire biting the neck of a woman in a black negligee. A decrepit house barely holding onto a hillside. A cemetery under the light of a waning moon and several pallid residents shaking themselves free from the grip of their graves. He passes each of these with the beginnings of a trepidation driving him onward. Then he comes to another door, and hope. Maybe this one will take me outside. He grasps the large doorknob of a gargoyle figure. As he attempts to turn the knob, teeth bite into his hand. Then he wrenches it open and rushes through the door.

A spider’s web nets his face. His pushes through it. This door slams behind him like the others, sealing him inside another hall. He moves slowly onward, passing under a man hung from the ceiling, a hangman’s noose around his neck. The smell of death rises from the floor in a fog. A nervous agitation takes control of him. His feet, now the weight of lead, moves sluggishly past the caskets lining the wall

It is then that he realizes these halls he is traveling, these same halls are found in his story, “Three Zombies”, and he is the one living character. Just like in the story, the halls seem to be streams of madness leading to he knows not where. But where are the three zombies, their dead sockets for eyes to gaze upon his body, then attack him with a ferocity that he can only imagine? It is then that his feet break free from the lead holding them down and begin a fast walk, then a dead run toward the exit at the end of the hall.

This door easily gives, and he emerges into a new passageway, its walls painted black, its ceiling pressing down on him. An invisible steel hand tightens its grip around him. Cold sweat pours out of him.

Like the man in his story, he feels that he is traversing through a maze of passageways, a deadly labyrinth which leads him from one door to another, each a false lead. Fear fills his head with the chatter of questions. What is there to be afraid of? How did he get himself in this mess? Why can’t he find his way out of the building? Why does one door lead him into narrower hallway? What did he do to deserve this? With each step, another question. His heart pounds louder and louder and louder. Each footstep is a drumbeat, signaling to the unknown that he is available for terror.

Finally The Q hears a soft hum. It sounds like voices. Maybe it isn’t voices. He slips off his shoes and progresses through yet another door on padded feet. The sound changes from a hum to distinct voices and some laughter. Is he imagining the voices? Maybe it’s something else, some unknown, unnamed terror. He takes a deep gulp and tries to slow himself down, but that invisible hand pushes him forward. To the next door.

Forced to open the door or be crushed against it, he steps into a classroom. He finds himself facing his Intro to Film classmates and Professor Betelgeuse’s back. “And that is how you make a horror movie,” she says, then turns to welcome her victim into the classroom.