Welcome One and All!

For all you Halloween Fanatics....this will be a review and links site of the Best Haunted Houses in the country that my wife Lisa and I have had the pleasure - or displeasure - of gracing....

I've been a *huge* Halloween and horror fan since I can remember...I dunno...it just brings the kid in me out...by the end of September, our place is suitably adorned and we await each weekend with anticipation of which haunts to hit next....

We've been blessed enough to be able to travel quite a bit around the country and see some wonderful attractions and the cities they lurk in...and we're hoping to pass on the fun we've had on to anyone willing to listen in....

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

HEAVY METAL and HAUNTING: A Ghoulish Pairing


For this edition, we're going to take a look at the correlation between Pro-Haunts and Heavy Metal - specifically the period of the 1970s and 80s, when both areas had huge growth surges.

Halloween and Heavy Metal have long had an intertwined relationship, one section often looking in on the other for ideas to further along their own agendas...many technical folks who have done - or do - major rock tours often end up lending their technical skills to major haunted attractions…and there’s a key poi9nt – it’s almost like cross pollination! *cue the Body Snatchers reference*

We begin with Alice Cooper, a guy who’s just about synonymous with Halloween, haunting and horror, without whom, people like Marilyn Manson  and Rob Zombie (who’s stage shows look like a 1960s counter culture acid trip gone horribly wrong mixed in with a fluorescent paint overdose) – to name just two  - would not have a career! 

Alice – whose real name is Vincent Furnie – in the 1970s was everyone’s favorite year round Trick or Treat – with a stage show including be-headings, impalements, straight jackets, dead babies and who knows what else!

Alice embraced everything spooky with plenty of Hollywood kitsch added in, coming from the standpoint of being rock’s first villain…recently, he hired Distortions Unlimited to create a FrankenAlice…



Here's a few samples from the past and what he does for a show nowadays.... 



…the legend goes than Gene Simmons once said that if one guy in make-up can sells, records, how about four?

Of course, I’m referring to – and making a quick aside here about - none other than KISS, whom, along with Led Zeppelin typified the rock’n’roll excess of the ‘70s like few others – sure, these guys sang about sex and precious little else, but in terms of a stage presence?

A comic book brought to life was what one critic describe them as, with their greasepaint, costumes, elaborate stage show with smoke, fire, spitting blood and flash pots galore…like these guys didn't influence the haunted attraction industry…not to mention their appearance on Paul Lynde’s 1976 Halloween special…?






…speaking of KISS, once they hit it big, they took a number of acts that became huge – and quite influential – themselves, both in terms of metal and Halloween…

First off would have to be Judas Priest, who toured with KISS in ’79 and, as they themselves admitted, learned a lot about stagecraft and spectacular stagecraft from them…

Now, Priest were never ones for being all that creepy, stage presence-wise, but in 1984, they toured behind an album called Defenders of the Faith, and the stage set was this HUGE metal monster depicted on the album cover…




BTW, I defy anyone to try and duplicate the cover to their 1976 album Sad Wings of Destiny onto a tombstone or turn it into a lawn character!


A word on Blue Oyster Cult - originally touted as the American Black Sabbath, songs like Screams, OD'd on Life Itself and Career of Evil got them branded as ghouls by the rock press, and even with lightening their image as the 1970s progressed, their big hits Don't Fear the Reaper, Godzilla and Burning for You all came for a darker place.



These guys were the first band to ever use lasers on tour until expense and practicality forced to stop doing so - still, these guys embraced fog machines, black lights, strobes and even a 15' tall Godzilla in their heyday...everything that typified 70s style haunts…













....if you can find it, Black And Blue - a documentation of their 1980 tour with Black Sabbath - feature them at their full creative powers and full on special effects.



Speaking of Black Sabbath...


...we could spend the next few weeks discussing their significance on an array of levels, but, in terms of haunting their influence really didn't begin until the early '80s…



The Mob Rules tour of 1981 magnificent Haunted Chapel or Castle motif linked in with the drum riser, with numerous back drops depicting cemeteries, torture chambers and the like which I saw emulated in more than one or two haunted houses after the tour had passed through the Chicagoland area...it as a remarkable sight, all flashpots, fog and strobes, and I can attest to a couple of local haunters who nicked more than a few ideas from it....




Now, call me a sucker here, but in 1983 Sabbath toured behind an album called Born Again and the stage set for that tour was a huge mock up of Stonehenge – yes, this is the bit that was parodied in Spinal Tap – but, I have to tell ya’, in person, that thing was awe inspiring, accompanied with their 800 plus bulb lighting rig…and yes, I saw a few Stonehenge set ups that following Halloween, too…




Speaking of Sabbath, I have to mention Ozzy in the early '80s as well - specifically his tours behind the Diary of a Madman and Bark at the Moon albums - both had elaborate haunted house stage set up with all manner of gimmicks and goodies going on...





And while on the subject of ex-Sabbath members, we must make mention of the late great Ronnie James Dio’s solo project Dio – throughout the ‘80s, this guy was the Cecil B. DeMille of Metal, with huge, lavish stage productions – the tours behind ‘83s Holy Diver – which replicated the album’s cover – ‘84s The Last In Line – which featured a hug Egyptian/Mummy’s tomb motif (which, oddly enough, Iron Maiden were doing simultaneously as well – much to each other’s chagrin, I suspect – but more on Maiden a bit later) and ‘85s Sacred Heart, which featured a medieval theme, complete with dueling knights, huge crystal balls and an enormous fire breathing dragon Ronnie dueled with…

That dragon was a HUGE breakthrough in regards to early animatronics….I saw a LOT of duplicates of it during the ‘85/’86 haunt seasons when this tour was on the road…it really was a sight...









The last three years of Dio’s life was spent under the Black Sabbath banner, going out as Heaven and Hell as to stand apart from the Ozzy era.

The three tours they did from 2007 to 2009 all had some marvelous stage shows which, if you didn't know better, would swear were crafted by home and pro haunters!  

In all seriousness, this is one of those cases where the Halloween industry influenced the Metal circuit…you want proof?

The 2007 tour – documented on the Live at Radio City Music Hall DVD – showcases a haunted chapel augmented with video screens set up to look like stained glass windows…



Their final tour with Dio is documented in the Live at Wacken DVD, released in 2010 – take special note of the gargoyles on either end of the stage…also worthy of note here are the tributes Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice pay to Ronnie.




That brings us to Iron Maiden – an English band whose career has been soaked in the Hammer Horror films – check out their first three albums in particular – and their rotting corpse mascot Eddie, who you still see EVERYWHERE on t-shirts, even nowadays – I mean, you gotta love a band like that!

 Maiden had a huge run of success all throughout the 80s, but for our purposes, I’m going to mention their 1984 Powersalve album with it’s Egyptian/Mummy motif and the accompanying tour…

You want to see how to do a mummy’s tomb properly? Check out their videos Live After Death from 1985 and Flight 666 which documented the band’s Somewhere Back in Time tour and re utilized and updated the Powerslave set…



In another neat piece of reversal, it seems Maiden definitely had it’s eye on the haunted house industry in 2003 for their Dance of Death tour – a more Gothic haut you could not find anywhere at the time, and we’d all do well to take a peek at the DVD of the tour, titled Death on the Road – you can garner quite a bit from this beast….



In conclusion, I’d like to add that all of these acts have a lot to offer in regards to haunts, be they pro or home – go and take a gander, you will defiantly find something to inspire you…

…so then, until the next time, this is Eric Vysther reminding you to always remember Svengoolie and brush your fangs, comb your face, drink your milk before it clots and always keep in mind that I hid the body…

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN - The DEFINITIVE Halloween Movie






...Halloween is yet again within our grasp....
With it being the month of all these ghoulish and ghastly, I wanted to take a look at classic film that, for myself anyway, encapsulates Halloween, haunting and all things spooky – I’m referring to none other than 1948’s “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein”….
…yeah, yeah, yeah, I can hear a few of you now “That flick’s so old! And hasn’t there been tons written on this it already?”
Hmmmm…..perhaps, but, follow me, dear reader, I have a few things to enlighten you with…
...so what DOES make this film so special? What's it's appeal to so many generations?
Well, for starters, just about every horror and Halloween cliche by way of set pieces is in the film!
Darkened wax museums, Gothic castles, mad scientists laboratories, hidden chambers, sinister swamps and even a masquerade ball make appearances during the course o the film - Universal made a career out of these!
Next up is the cast -
For my money, this is the funniest Abbott and Costello ever got in terms of movies....oh, sure, films like Africa Screams and Buck Privates have some hysterical gag spots, but, for my money, this was their crowning achievement comedically....the duo play their strengths to the hilt here, with Bud's cynaical straight man Chick Young bouncing one liners and insults off of Lou's simpleton, rubber faced Wilbur Gray...
As an side, and, not surprisingly, the success of this film began a series of films with Bud and Lou meeting he Invisible Man, the mummy and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Jekyll being played by Boris Karloff, who, even when semi-sleep walking through a role like he does here, acting wise, lays waste to the entire cast without even popping a sweat!
Anyway!   
...and then there's the monsters....
Bela Lugosi gives a tour-de-fore performance as Count Dracula - all restrained menace, malevolent eyes and gestures and veiled threats - this was only his second time performing the role onscreen, although, by this point, he had done it thousands of time on the live stage...Lugosi is just on fire here, one of his finest performances....he also some of the best lines, too...the one about young people making the most of life...while it lasts...has such a sinister edge to it, while being so darkly funny...priceless!
Lugosi was in his '60s by this point, and although he is heavily made up for the role, looking very much like a walking copse, but his appearance only adds to the threat, emphasizing the Count's vanity and age... 
Lon Chaney turns in another terrific performance as the tormented Larry Talbot a.k.a. The Wolf Man, and he, too, gets some terrific lines and the funniest scenes in the film are with he and Lou, especially in the hotel room...and how could anyone ever forget:
"When the moon rises I'll turn into a wolf!"
"You and about twenty million other guys!"
Cheney's still in good shape in the film, and his werewolf action sequences are still quite physical and top notch...
BTW, did it occur to anyone that, in the prior film, 1945's HOUSE OF DRACULA, that he was actually *cured* of his lycanthropy...? Hmmmm.
This was Glenn Strange's third and final turn as the Frankenstein Monster, and he does admirably well with what he's given - which isn't much really - by this point the Monster had been reduced to a lumbering brute, but, hey, whatever works, and he goes into a suitable rampage in the film's final comic reels....
A point a lot of folks are unaware of is that Strange was coached by none other than Boris Karloff himself during 1944's HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN...and, at the film's, Strange drags Karloff to his death in a quicksand bog...and that is gratitude for ya'...
Speaking of Karloff, by this point, he was so disillusioned with Universal's treatment of the Frankenstein Monster, that, when the studio asked him to do some promotion for the film, he agreed only to have his picture taken by a poster for picture, and only if he didn't have to sit through the movies.
In a word: Ouch.
Finally, let's not forget Vincent Price's cameo as the Invisible Man in the film's final moments...a forerunner of things to come?
The supporting cast does it's job admirably, with Lenore Albert as the Black Widow scientist in league with Dracula to put Lou's brain in the skull of the Frankenstein monster worthy of particular mention...yeah, I know, kind of a dumb plot, but, hey it was the 1940s...
This has been mentioned before, but one of the major points to the films success is the fact the monsters are played straight in the middle of Bud and Lou's antics - they are still a very serious threat, despite the boys buffoonery.
There's comedy aplenty here, with all sorts of gags - in particular, look for the dungeon sequence with Lou sitting on Frankenstein's lap, a scene that took multiple retakes as Glenn Strange couldn't stop laughing...
The last twenty minutes are just pure hysteria, with Bud and Lou trying to escape the cross fire as the monsters do their mash and all hell breaks loose - I don't know how many times I've rewound the VCR or DVD to re watch this section, but it never looses it's hilarity for me.
Incidentally, the original working title for this was The Brain of Frankenstein - and a lot of the action sequences were lifted from a proposed Dracula vs. The Wolf Man feature that never quite got off the ground.
This movie - along with House of Frankenstein and House Dracula - are the beginnings of the Monster Rally creature feature flicks - a trend that continues even today - I mean, if one monster is box office gold, how baout two or three all together?
For better or worse, these films lead to feature like Mad Monster Party, The Monster Squad - both the 1970s TV show and the 1987 feature film, Van Helsing, and, most recently, the animated feature Hotel Transylvania, which has some direct references to both of the House films and this one as well....
Heck, even the upcoming Godzilla sequel - scheduled for June of 2018 - follows this pattern - in addition to Godzilla, we're getting Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidroah as well....in other words, the ploy works!
The film is available on DVD via Amazon.com, with a behind the scenes documentary and audio commentary hosted by David Skaal, noted historian of the Universal Monsters series, included on the disc. 
Wrapping it up here, A & C meet Frankenstein is a wonderful way to being kids to both Universal Monster AND Halloween - my father and I spent quite a few evenings enjoying this one together, too - even when we couldn't communicate on hardly anything at all, there was always this movie...and that is it's magic, for me, anyway...
...this year, when Trick or treat is over, and everyone is settled in for the night, pop this one in the DVD player and take your family on a funny and scary ride that has etched itself into several generations of my family's lives....and many others as well...
In closing, my wife Lisa and I would like to wish everyone a very happy and safe Halloween for 2014 - may your night be filled with treats and no tricks, may all the monsters you meet be sweet and may the Great Pumpkin overflow your goodie bags with your heart's desire...
Til then, always remember Svengoolie and brush your fangs, comb your face, drink your milk before it clots, have a terrific Halloween, and, now more than ever, have a Night of Fright!