Archive for autumn

Halloween Dreams

Posted in Dark Musings, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2017 by smuckyproductions

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For the past few years, I’ve made it a tradition to reread “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” on October 1st. It’s standard to the point of being tedious, in some ways, but Irving’s prose is iconic for a reason: it perfectly captures the silent, ephemeral exhilaration of an autumn morning for me. As he states in the story’s opening, the enchantment of Sleepy Hollow calms and lulls the mind, so much so that it allows dreams to take on the sheen of reality. While this is an extreme example of the harvest season’s charm, it rings true. The blue-sky air is so clear on these mornings, almost fragile. It seems possible that anything might materialize within it, because it’s so empty – there’s an expectation that something has to happen.

Waking up on a calm autumn morning, when the mind has a moment to reflect on the uncanny stillness, is an unparalleled sensation. The air is so quiet that it demands reverence – this is a time for ritual and transgression, for crossing the boundaries into the unreal. It fuels the imagination, but sometimes in a morbid sense; mythology and religion have embedded themselves in our subconscious workings deeply enough to make us apprehensive. We are taught that these spiritual states of calm, of reverence, are something to fear; because they can’t stay quiet for long.

That’s what makes the October season so perfect for horror film viewings – there is extremely slim possibility that those stories hold truth, but the chance is still there, enough to make fairy tales and ghost stories more viscerally effective. Horror films require a suspension of disbelief, as they’re all built on superstitions or paranoia, unlikely worst-case scenarios becoming reality. The danger is thrilling – especially because we know that those forces don’t really exist, it’s just fun to imagine the what-ifs. Until suddenly they are real, and they aren’t so much fun.

The stillness of the October season allows for dreams, pretending, to lose incredulity – it isn’t so strange to consider that reality is bent, that spirits are waiting just beyond the veil, where metaphysical impossibilities are commonplace, rather than simple imagination. It drapes a shroud over logic and replaces it with wonder. But concealing the truth does lead to danger. That’s why we indulge in safeguarded fear, to tread with the possibilities and see the horrors that they lead to. You can always back out and return to calm reality, grateful that it was all a dream.

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Autumn Fragment: CROSSROADS

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by smuckyproductions

Autumn comes upon us tomorrow – here is a piece of a story called CROSSROADS, about a group of bored kids who occupy themselves with a dangerous, demonic game. It’s the time of year when we hear whispers in the air, bone-dry leaves tapping out code that something waits for us beyond the sky.

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Andy didn’t tell us all the rules at once – probably came up with them on the fly. He never wrote them down, and we never forgot them. “It only comes at dusk,” he said. “It needs those shadows to make itself real. Where it comes from, everything is shadow, beyond shadow. In the daytime or the moonlight, it’s just air. It can watch but it can’t do anything. So we have to bring it things right at sunset – so it can grab them up.” But also, “We can’t look right at it. In its real body – it’s too gnarly. Our brains would – BAM!” Fishface jumped at that one, and Andy cackled at him. Jenny hit his arm to make him stop – that laugh was ugly.

This went on for a few weeks, until the rules started to sound the same, and we were wondering what kind of game this was after all. We didn’t do anything different – still snuck into the movies, stole cigarettes, kicked trash around the newly-filled river – except we stopped going to the barn. No one brought it up, either, so we didn’t miss it. But we were still bored. Jenny started demanding answers. What was the point of the game? How did we play? Andy told us in pieces, but after a while we got the basics: we had to steal an offering, and take it out to the barn at sunset, and leave it there. If the offering was good, we’d get to live. But if it was bad, the thing in the dark would take us to its crypt and keep us there forever. Andy repeated this last part all the time. He never smiled when he said it. “Okay, sure, offerings – but when do we take them? Whenever we feel like it?” Jenny snapped one day. Andy glowered at her when she said it. “Don’t joke,” he said. “It’ll tell us when. We’ll know.”

When he said this, the game got interesting again. We all waited. Sometimes we didn’t talk at all, in case we missed the call. The wind – turning cold, brittle – might carry a slithery voice any day. Our teachers stopped yelling at us to pay attention, because we were listening, just not to them. Nighttime became something holy for us. In our bedrooms we stayed awake and tilted our ears at the empty windows. Of course, nothing happened, nothing came to us; though Jenny and Fishface sometimes talked about funny dreams, where they walked into the barn and fell down into a hole, but the hole was really a mouth that was about to clamp shut. Sometimes they woke up and their sheets were pulled off their bodies, they said. Andy chuckled, “That’s part of the game.”

It was toward the middle of September, when the leaves just started changing, that Andy told us the game had started. We were a little jealous – how come he got to hear the call and we didn’t? “Because it’s my game, turd faces,” he said.

Last time we’d seen the barn, it had been all lightning and rain, big blasts of thunder like drum beats. It set the right mood. This time it was a nice evening, a little cool, no stormclouds waiting on the skyline. A school night, too, to make it worse. The weather didn’t matter, Andy assured us – when it called, it meant business, gloom or sunshine. The problem was the offering, of course. Jenny suggested jewels from her mother’s vanity drawer. Fishface thought of hamburgers – “It’s hungry, anyway, you said.”

“None of that,” Andy snapped. “It told me what it wants.”

Fragment from THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT: Ghosts in the Dark

Posted in Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2017 by smuckyproductions

The air is turning cold in the forests and mountains; autumn is staking its claim. In honor of the darker weather, here is another fragment from THE NIGHT SHADOWS REPORT – this one relating to the character’s search for answers in a nebulous, eerie world. 

The mountain looks down on this room every night, just an outline against the stars. I stare at it from the window, listen to the wind slipping through the pines and the shaky hoot of an owl; but the mountain is all I can see. I intend to initiate a staring contest between us. It hasn’t accepted the challenge.

When it’s this late at night, with the bloodstream clogged and the air cold, inky – no need for ghouls or winged beasts or God up there. The town has its own ghosts roaming the dark. The ghosts of the miners, for example, trekking through the trees from that final place of rest that no one has bothered to uncover yet. The ghost of that suicidal woman, Janet, a rather new shade. Ghosts who lost their jobs, rich families who abandoned their legacy and patronage; fathers trying to start a fire with wet matches in the dark. And the missing girl, Stephanie. Her ghost is the most intangible. I still don’t know where she’s been or where she’s gone. I can feel all of them at the window if I try hard enough – maybe the regulars can, too, and that’s why they drink, to convince themselves it’s just the wind. And it is just that, just a lonely breath in the other room, gone cold by the time you hear it. That’s one thing about the city. Nights are just brown or grey gloom, depending on pollution, and you know someone, somewhere is still awake; the night and silence are never complete. Here, they’re sovereign. Anyone who wanders out there at this time of night might as well be a ghost, because no one will be there to see them, and with just the moonlight cast upon their doomed steps – there! There he is, at the window. Going to tell me one more story. This time the beast’s already breathing down my neck. My own breath, and it hardly stirs a hair.

Mom hated that I got drunk. But she never understood the medicinal effects. It’s fair, isn’t it, to get drunk? Breath no longer cold; vision unreliable enough to blame these shapes on the poison, a side effect. Graham and Roselyn and Stan get it. They’ve learned the secret of living with this empty air. But not with the ghosts. No, I suspect there’s no secret to that; the shadows will continue to creep, creep closer to the window and tap – polite until they lose patience.

But even ghosts need to sleep, and dream. My vigil on the mountain ends. It’s already against the window. I won’t invite it in.

How I Pick My Halloween Films

Posted in Dark Musings, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2015 by smuckyproductions

THREE. MORE. DAYS. 

Until the best, most horrifying day of the year. And one of my favorite ways to celebrate is to curate a marathon of films that speak to the spirit of Halloween. As a horror fan, this isn’t terribly difficult, but I still believe there is a precision to the selection process.

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When I mention this to the uninitiated, the response is usually simple – aren’t all horror films good for Halloween? My personal answer is: No. I am undoubtedly pickier than most, but many horror films don’t fit into the spirit at all. (It always confuses me why “The Shining” – year-round, my favorite movie of all time – is always chosen for October movie nights. It’s a winter movie, guys.) It’s a combination of atmosphere, imagery, and storyline, not just scariness.IMG_1097

So, what are my guidelines? I’m not totally sure. But it has to do with the spirit of Halloween itself. This holiday is a celebration of the spectral, the liminal, and the uncanny. The air itself is brittle with the impending change of seasons. Fireplaces newly lit exude a smell of homely smoke, and the quality of the light becomes shadowy as nights grow shorter. Houses drift and lunge with paper ghosts and fake spiderweb. It’s a unique time of year, tingling with a pleasant time of dread, as candles ignite and costumes conceal – so unique that film has a difficult time capturing the authentic atmosphere.

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Films that work for me, then, evoke the intangible and phantasmal quality of October. Surrealism and dream logic are the best examples. Synth-y music and dreamy camerawork combine to transport the viewer into a world apart.

There’s also the stories, of course. Monsters and ghouls make up so much of the childlike glee of Halloween – things that aren’t real become possible. Films that feature a terrific, fantastical villain, perhaps even several to give the film the quality of a well-produced haunted attraction, pay tribute to the variety of creatures that come to life on the 31st. These films don’t have to make their monsters scary, either. They just have to be honest.

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It isn’t precise, and is certainly ridiculous, but I hold true to my little science: autumnal atmosphere, ethereal score, dream logic, and a funhouse-esque parade of ghouls. Films that feature most, or all, of these qualifications are my favorite for the Halloween season.

Watch out for my personal top 10 list, coming out the day before Halloween, if you’re wondering what meets my conditions!

OVER THE GARDEN WALL: A Modern Classic

Posted in Halloween, Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Animation has been at the forefront of the avant-garde television movement, with countless shows – “Adventure Time” and “Rick and Morty,” to name just two – combining vividly unique styles with subversively brilliant storylines. It’s a genre-bending, form-defying renaissance. And from this revolution has come a great Halloween gift: OVER THE GARDEN WALL.

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When reading a logline or seeing the poster for the first time, this Cartoon Network-produced miniseries sounds fairly typical: two brothers get lost in a spooky wood and must find their way home. In execution, the show transcends this premise and fills it with subtle, sublime brilliance. The brothers encounter characters who reveal dark but poignant themes about isolation and loneliness, and also travel on their own philosophical journey, struggling with a purgatorial loss of hope and purpose.

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Through the music, the character design and the general atmosphere, the show places itself in an amorphous early-1900s period that is purely enchanting. The supporting characters range from animals dressed in old-fashioned clothes, grotesque witches, and skeleton-dressed pumpkins. And the forest through which the brothers must find their way is stunningly designed. The animation is luminous, with soft oranges and browns that evoke autumn perfectly. It evokes something akin to “Wind in the Willows,” with a gentle aura that can sometimes turn sinister.

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But these are just style elements. The true genius lies in the characters and stories. Throughout the ten episodes, the brothers encounter about as many different characters – my particular favorites were Auntie Whispers (voiced by Tim Curry) and the pumpkin people – who each evoke something of the lost purpose that the brothers feel themselves. And the villain, a terrifyingly simple creation called The Beast, stands as a testament that the greatest evil is often the most invisible and enticing. I won’t reveal the theme that this creature represents, but suffice to say, it culminates in a heartbreakingly beautiful finale.

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“Over the Garden Wall” also holds itself as one of the greatest examples of animated horror that I’ve seen. The Beast being the greatest example, but supported by a number of other ghouls and wicked creatures, this show displays an unsettling ability to scare the viewer – all without breaching its target audience of young viewers. For this reason, and because of the atmosphere, it’s ultimate Halloween viewing – standing alongside “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” I dare say. Horror does not have to be hardcore to unsettle; in fact, subtle can sometimes be scarier.

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With terror, philosophy, and beauty combined, “Over the Garden Wall” feels like a classic birthed in our modern era – not only for its craft, but for its sincerity. No note of this show comes off as false or pandering. The creators truly believe what they’re making, and each frame is instilled with that passion. It feels honest and raw, which causes it to touch the viewer so much more intimately. The humor, the fear, and the sadness all come from a real, truthful place. It’s cathartic, in the end – and who ever thought a children’s show could be cathartic? That’s why it transcends its boundaries and creates something universally brilliant. And, it so happens, one of the best Halloween watches of all time.

A Photographic Trip through Sleepy Hollow

Posted in Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2015 by smuckyproductions

I took a little trip up to Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown yesterday, to honor the season and the legend that evokes its name. For any Hallow’s Eve fanatic, this town is a dream – its entire tourist income is based around this month, of course.

Despite the clearly marked tourist draws and the commercialist air, I still found that Sleepy Hollow carried the aura that Washington Irving immortalized in his legend:
“A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the entire atmosphere.”
Time seemed to flitter away without measure, and the longer I stayed, the stronger sense I had of an uncanny peace coming over me. There is some sort of spectral quality to that area.

Here are a few photographs of the highlights, from the town center and the surrounding neighborhood.

Resident scarecrow.

Resident scarecrow.

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Music hall on Main St.

Antique store.

Antique store.

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One of the many impressive decorated houses.

One of the many impressive decorated houses.

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Forbidden Tomes (Halloween Edition): UNCLE MONTAGUE’S TALES OF TERROR

Posted in Forbidden Tomes, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Children’s genre literature is often dismissed, and for good reason – most publishers don’t seem to recognise that kids can handle scary stuff. But, there are some serious exceptions to this rule. Some children’s horror is even scarier than what they give adults. My favorite example of this is Chris Priestley’s UNCLE MONTAGUE’S TALES OF TERROR.

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The book is structured terrifically – a young boy listens to his spooky old uncle telling ghost stories, each of which increase in macabre nature. But as the house fills with noises and the uncle becomes distressed, the boy begins to wonder, what is Uncle Montague hiding?

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From the very start, Priestley’s word is full of the Gothic and the uncanny – a mist-shrouded path of gnarled trees, a dark house full of whispers, and a collection of tales all focused on children who meet horrific fates for their transgressions. He knows his horror, as evidenced simply by the uncle’s name, a reference to ghost story master M.R. James. It’s a deeply atmospheric book, liminal and chilly with a hefty dose of melancholy on top. This makes the overarching story just as compelling as the vignettes in between.

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Speaking of which, I was shocked the first time I read it by how dark they were willing to go. All of them center on child protagonists, who – usually because of mischief or disobedience – encounter the supernatural and suffer the consequences. From a demon bench-end that spouts murderous thoughts into the owner’s head, to an old woman who turns trespassers to trees, even a child-luring demon-cat, the tales are full of horrific protagonists. There is something gleefully classic about the stories, each set in the Victorian era and featuring a wicked twist. It’s a skilful throwback to the old masters like James and Poe. The illustrations, resembling the best of Edward Gorey, only make this homage more wonderful.

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As a young person’s introduction to horror, or just a seasoned fan’s autumn read, “Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror” impress and chill. It’s utterly perfect for reading aloud by the fire, to keep the shadows away.