Archive for october

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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Best Movies to Watch on Halloween

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 31, 2015 by smuckyproductions

THE DAY HAS ARRIVED! Movie marathons commence, costumes are fussed over, and legions of undead-for-a-day ghouls crawl the earth to celebrate Hallow’s Eve. In the spirit of this joyous and spooky occasion, here are my 10 favorite horror films to watch on Halloween.

It goes without saying that, for me, all of these films capture something about the essence of Halloween – the liminal autumn air, the dying leaves, and the electrifying sense of the impending uncanny.

  1. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

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Trick or treating gone wrong: everyone comes knocking at your door, but instead of candy, they want your guts. George Romero’s visceral, paranoid and ground-breaking classic is a must for October. (That’s why MTV plays it every 31st.) It’s disturbing, suspenseful, and phenomenal for its introduction of the zombie trope.

  1. THE HAUNTING

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From the brilliant novel by Shirley Jackson comes one of the scariest haunted house stories of all time. Fabulously acted, beautifully designed and utterly terrifying without showing any ghosts, this film is a landmark of horror. It reminds us that madness and anxiety are the true monsters. And there’s no better villain than a house that preys on those things.

  1. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

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Controversial, to be sure, but in the right mindset, ‘Blair Witch’ is exhaustingly disturbing. Set in the autumn woods and featuring a great folktale as its backdrop, the true terror comes from the breakdown of the human mind. It’s an exercise in restraint – which is why many will hate it – but for those with whom it connects, the experience is pure horror.

  1. THE FOG

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A perfectly simple ghost story, an eerie seaside atmosphere, and a score by John Carpenter – what more can you want? This film is calm and chilling until suddenly it breaks out in mist-shrouded horror. It’s perfect for a Hallow’s Eve sunset when things just start waking up.

  1. HELLRAISER

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One of the purest horror films of all time, Clive Barker’s cinematic debut is all visuals and world-building – and it does an amazing job at that. Disgusting without being tasteless, and featuring some of the most brutally scary villains of all time, this one is required viewing for the strong-stomached. Behind all the goo, it’s quite beautiful, too.

  1. THE EXORCIST

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Another example of pure horror. A genius work of cinema, this film attacks all the senses and also some of the basest fears. It takes no prisoners as it spins its tale of normality upended by pure evil, and what goodness means in the face of such a thing. Brutal, brilliant and bold – and, of course, monstrously frightening.

  1. SUSPIRIA

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With a terrific score and some of the most beautiful camerawork in all of horror, this Italian giallo is the perfect dose of surrealism for Hallow’s Eve. It shuns the idea of ‘plot’ and ‘logic’ in favor of a dreamy series of scenes, which crescendo into utter terror. This is one sick, bloody fairy tale.

  1. THE EVIL DEAD

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The original cabin-in-the-woods movie. It remains one of the most flawed movies on this list, but it possesses (no pun intended) such intensity and non-stop brutal horror that the viewer can’t pay attention to mistakes – they’re too busy having a ball. Like a haunted-house video game on film, it’s an unprecedented blast.

9. TRICK R’ TREAT

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Obviously. This one isn’t that scary, but it is one of the greatest homages to this holiday. With an onslaught of different monsters – from werewolves to zombies to a principal-turned-serial-killer – and a killer atmosphere, it’s hard to think of a better film to kick off the season. But…

10. HALLOWEEN

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One cannot ignore the master. It’s simple, it’s slow-building, and you hardly see it coming, but this film captures the October spirit – while also scaring the sh!t out of everyone – like no other film out there. Eerie, heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and completely phantasmal, this is the quintessential Halloween film – just look at the title.

That’s all for now, ghouls! Go out and haunt the streets tonight. Get ready to be scared.

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.

SABBATH SOLITARE: A Poem by Ben Larned

Posted in Halloween, Original Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Here’s a poem that I wrote in the spirit of this month. Thought it was about time I posted some original writing on here. The photograph is also mine.

Enjoy, and share. 

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Black thoughts moan silent in the eaves tonight.
Shadow-leaves imitate frenzy
Lightless, blowing in the breath
Of the phantom calling

Calling who –
Not me.

The voices do not break glass
Or call me into their circle
Wreathed in bleeding flame,
Ecstatic rites of black minds
Freed in false leaves, moon smoke
Sighing joy of the dead

The circle will not part for me
Nor admit my bones, forgotten inside
Deaf tombs obscured by howls
Darker than those which envelop
The hordes, agonized

But not alone

Project my spectre into a white
Hollow where no dead go
Where whispers echo

And put their howls to shame

Contemporary Horror Stories to Read in October

Posted in Best Of, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Only a week and a half until the big day! That means we’ve got to start stocking up on our Halloween-themed films and literature. The dark days are just around the corner… don’t be caught without your proper collection of spooks.

As a follow-up to Smucky’s post at the beginning of the month, I’ve dug up some other stories that fit the October bill – this time, ones that have been published in the last few decades. For some fresher terror, look no further than our list of CONTEMPORARY STORIES TO READ IN OCTOBER.

  1. JERUSALEM’S LOT by STEPHEN KING

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Mr. King is the obvious choice, but that’s because he has such a wealth of horror tales, ranging from more experimental to classic, atmospheric chillers. This one, a prequel to the amazing “’Salem’s Lot,” captures a Lovecraftian tone with degenerate themes and a terrifying secret lurking beneath an abandoned town. It’s got everything – a creaky old mansion, ghouls in the walls, a Puritan settlement that went to the devil, and a decaying church that harbors a horrific evil. And even better, it explains in part what makes ‘Salem’s Lot such a magnet for evil. Though published recently, this story is classic, in the best way.

  1. THE LADY OF THE HOUSE OF LOVE by ANGELA CARTER
Artwork by Lee McConville

Artwork by Lee McConville

Part of the monumental collection “The Bloody Chamber,” this is the only story not adapted from a specific fairy tale. Instead, it inverts the vampire myth, spinning a melancholic and beautiful portrait of a young undead woman who despises herself for drinking blood. The imagery – a shambling Gothic castle, a blood-stained wedding dress, and a corpse-like woman feasting on virile young men – is stunning. There’s quite a statement made about archaic spooks and real-life horrors, too. A must read for a rainy afternoon.

  1. THE DAEMON LOVER by SHIRLEY JACKSON

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You can’t have a best of list without mentioning Ms. Jackson. Though “The Lottery” is her most accomplished story, I find this one equally haunting, in an even more subtle way. It follows a woman who is supposed to be married, but she can’t find her groom – and no one else seems to think he exists, either. Like some of the best horror, it’s unsettling and disturbing because nothing happens, but the implications are awful. Perfect for its spectral plot and dark images of phantasmal New York in the rain.

  1. THE FUNERAL by RICHARD MATHESON
From the 'Night Gallery' episodic adaptation

From the ‘Night Gallery’ episodic adaptation

A bit of tongue-in-cheek macabre to lighten the mood this month. Richard Matheson is the master of the uncanny mundane, and this is a great example – a funeral director gets the strangest offer of his life when a man asks to host his own funeral. And the guests? They’re all monsters – from a witch to a werewolf, and some vampires thrown in between. This is a delightful mash-up of our favorite monsters, and Matheson’s genre genius elevates it to hilarity. Not scary in the least, but certainly a huge amount of monstrous fun.

  1. ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD AGAIN by NEIL GAIMAN

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Like “The Funeral,” this story is a melting pot of classic horror tropes – best of all, it’s set in Lovecraft’s fishy town Innsmouth, and narrated by one werewolf Lawrence Talbot – but it has a dreadful weight of its own. Gaiman has a ridiculously brilliant imagination, and here it wanders through dreary, fog-filled streets where hideous rites are being performed. With sea monsters, a creepy fortune teller, and a character from the Universal vault, it’s hard to go wrong.

I’m sure I’ve missed some, so send in suggestions at your leisure! And happy reading, freaks.

Film Review: CRIMSON PEAK

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2015 by smuckyproductions

One of the most anticipated genre releases of the year, CRIMSON PEAK is a gorgeous and impassioned return to form for Guillermo del Toro. This was at the top of my list ever since rumors and stills began leaking through the Internet catacombs. And I was not disappointed.

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The story is nothing terribly original – a young woman marries a mysterious man and follows him home to a decaying mansion, which is filled with ghosts and deadly ulterior motives – but del Toro plays it out sincerely and powerfully, making sure each emotional moment hits at the right time. He’s a terrific storyteller. And with such an amazing cast – Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, and Tom Hiddleston, to name a few – the story becomes vivid. But that’s not the best part. (What also might be said is, contrary to most Gothic stories, this one does not punish or weaken its women. The female characters are the strongest ones, which is refreshing and necessary.)

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What comes as no great surprise, but is still an absolute joy, is the production and costume design. Every image of the film explodes with color and detail. It’s a deliriously beautiful homage to the master of Grand Guignol lighting Mario Bava – sickly greens, vibrant reds, and cloying blues are all used boldly and to great effect. The success of these visuals is a testament to how ingenious Bava was as a filmmaker, and to see him referenced is joyous. Roger Corman also comes to mind, of course, but del Toro’s haunted house is more surreal than that.

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I don’t want to spoil too much, but the design of the ghosts was also profoundly original – it continues on del Toro’s concept from “The Devil’s Backbone,” but as if that film dropped acid. They’re polarizing, I’m sure, but I found them both fascinating and strangely terrifying. It’s rare that showing the monster can in itself be scary – usually the golden rule is to keep them in the dark – but in this case, every time they came on screen, I was frightened.

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It’s important to address, however, that del Toro did not make a horror film. This is not meant to be scary or shocking. There is violence and terror, but the main emphasis is placed on the theme of love, and the romance between the characters. So, don’t expect a traditional horror film. Del Toro himself said: this is a Gothic Romance. And that genre has been neglected of late. I am thrilled to see storylines that echo Sheridan Le Fanu and Nathaniel Hawthorne play out on screen. Del Toro is a huge nerd, just like me, and it comes through that he’s done his research.

While “Crimson Peak” certainly isn’t for everyone, it is a dream come true for people who love a classic ghost story and appreciate the beauty of cinema. Del Toro crafted this film with immense love and passion, and that shows on every frame. He loves his monsters and in turn, so does the audience. Beautiful, chilling and exhilarating, “Crimson Peak” is a macabre delight.