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....

Monday, February 15, 2016

WHY HALLOWEEN?

(This was originally in Hauntcast Magazine #1, released sometime in early 2013...I've altered it slightly to reflect my current status on the Big Scary Show...) 


Why Halloween?

For that matter  - why monsters, why haunted houses, why this glorious obsession?

Hw did a grown man evolve from a sweet innocent *coughcough* little boy into this....this...THING on the Big Scary Show?!?!?!

If I had a nickel for every time that I've been asked that....well, I think you know the rest.

Aside from various psychological dissertations, maybe a little trip down memory lane might better explain this process.

I've loved this sort of ting since my earliest memories. My first exposure to *anything* monster related was The Munsters when I was two or three - Herman scared the crap out of me, but left quite the impression, and, as time went on, I grew to adore the lovable oaf.

...by the way, have you ever noticed how children's programs like Sesame Street and The Electric Company have always been loaded with all kinds of creatures....?

I vividly remember my first Trick or Treat - it had to have been in '72 or '73....my grandfather had bought me a clown costume for the event. (I suspect my mother had something to do with the outfit, too, but never mind!)

Me? I wasn't having any of it! I wanted to be something SCARY! I waned to be a MONSTER! Mom said otherwise. "You go like this or you don't go!"

I caved, but I took note.

To this day, I remember one week of my childhood in particular. It was in pre-kindergarten. I grew up in the southern suburbs of Chicago and one of the local channels had a morning movie every weekday at 9 A.M.

Lucky me, I became aware of the program on Horror Week - and what a week it was!

King Kong vs. Godzilla, Horror of Dracula, Evil of Frankenstein, Curse of the Werewolf and the Phantom of the Opera.

Ruined for life. Y'know, I can still feel the rush of anticipation as I awaited the monsters appearances, and the utter joy as they burst onto my little black and white screen in all their glory.

(As a side note, King Kong vs. Godzilla was my first exposure to Godzilla, who instantly became one of the Loves of My Life and sent me careening on a life long path of Tokyo Smashing Obsession. But that's another story.)

After all this, my little mind wanted ANYTHING WITH MONSTERS!!!!!

I ate Monster Cereals - remember Count Chocula, Frnakenberry, Boo Berry and Fruit Brute? I drank Nestle Quick Monster Chocolate Milk, I played monster board games like Which Witch and Green Ghost, I had the Mego Monsters action figures, and, of course, the complete line of Aurora's Glow in the Dark Monster Model Kits.

Chicago has always had a love affair with monsters and Halloween, Every weekend the local UHF channels would play literally hours of monster goodness. And what a menu to choose from!

Almost every weekend were things like Creature Features, The Monstrous Movie, Chiller Theater, Thing Theater, The Monster Rally Movie, Monster Movie One and Two, and, of course, Svengoolie (early '70s) and the Son of Svengoolie ('79 onward).

Honestly, without these programs, I would have missed out on a lot of fantastic movies. I also would have managed to avoid some truly awful ones as well, but I digress.

Things like Dracula and Frankenstein were the norm for that era, but more obscure gems like Masque of the Read Death, Die, Monster, Die!, Kronos, and The Colossus of New York would have gone by me if not for these shows.

One birthday in particular I never forgot - June 15, 1974 - Creature Features ran The House of Frankenstein, and it was like Monsters on Parade - Dracula, The Wolf Man, and Frankenstein - all in one movie - talk about a great present!

That same year, I caught Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein with my Dad that Halloween - and, to this day, it's the film he and I bond over the most and laugh the hardest at.

Mainstream television had some terrific stuff as well - there were the usual suspects: The Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and Kolchak, the Night Stalker,  There was also this little-known sci-fi series called Doctor Who...

The first run of these I ever saw featured the late Jon Pertwee as the Doctor, and stories like The Mind of Evil, The Claws of Axos, and The Daemons were full of alien monsters and sent my imagination running.

I've devoured plenty of horror fiction over the years - some good, some not so good, and some I never finished. The one's that stuck the most were Bram Stoker's Dracula, Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot and The Stand, Peter Straub's Floating Dragon, and a host of Poe and Lovecraft anthologies.

Halloween season always made me so happy as a kid - a time full of ghosts and goblins and all manner of things spooky.

I got to decorate the house - a little, anyway - my mother did not care for it - but I did the best with what I had. I was always envious of the other kids in the neighborhood whose parents would let them run wild in terms of decorating.

Some of the home haunts were just wonderful: crank ghosts, huge lawn cemeteries filled with life sized monsters.

Remember, this is the mid-70s were talking about - no internet, no manuals, whatever you came up with, you did it on your own. It was definitely inspiring!

Trick or Treat was such a wonderful thing then. Just the joy of running around, dressed as my favorite creature or character, and gathering a bag full of goodies. It didn't get much better than that.

Chicago haunted houses were a mixed bag - Jaycees did the lion's share of them, and some were great, some not so much. If you wanted something really scary, you  had to go out to the farmer's field or an independent spot - I've gone into a few of my experiences in my segments on both Hauntcast and Big Scary Show, but I still maintain the Chicago haunts are truly some of the most unique n the country. They have a flavor all their own.

As a teenager in the 1980s, I "outgrew" Halloween and became a full on Heavy Metal Maniac - but even this had spooky elements to it. Bands like AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Dio and Ozzy Osbourne all had horror themes in their lyrical content. 

Funny thing is, I may not have decorated or gone Trick or Treating or any of that sort of thing - but I would still try and hit a haunted house or two during the season, albeit secretly. 

This was also the period that influenced me the most as a home haunter - the movies of this period were some of what I consider the best int eh horror genre -  An American Werewolf In London; John Carpenter's The Thing; The Howling; Fright Night, and this was also the period where I took in George Romero's Living Dead trilogy.

Fast forward to 1988 - my family relocates to Dayton, OH, and the rules of Halloween change drastically. The city of Dayton is not that far removed from the country side, and farmer's fields are everywhere. Many of them have seasonal haunts to boot. Add to that, we're not that far removed from both Columbus and Cincinnati with all their possibilities. 

Things were different here - the haunts were far more independent, and all  kinds of scenes were produced that I had never even dreamed of. For example, imagine being chased through a cornfield by a demon possessed hay bailer! 

I met my wife Lisa on Memorial Day weekend of 2001. We were married that November. We  quickly found out that we both loved Halloween with all the trimmings, not to mention long road trips to destinations unknown. 

We started to toy with the home haunt idea in a serious was around 2003 - we had a good sized party and decorated a bit, but, it did set things in motion for us. By 2006, we were really getting going, and every year since then have strived to come up with bigger and better ideas. 

We're apartment dwellers, but we have never let that be a deterrent. Lisa and I have managed to create some fantastic scenes with our limited space. 

Travel is such a large part of our life together - we love exploring different locales, no matter what time of year. Exploring haunted attractions only sweetens the deal for us.

In regards to my involvement with both Hauntcast and Big Scary Show, I was just someone who managed to have a conversation with The Powers that Be in both cases, pitch an idea, and they were willing to take a chance on it. The rest is history.

Where does this leave us at?

I'll continue to contribute to The Big Scary Show as long as people enjoy it and as long as it's enjoyable...for as  long as they're willing to put up with me, I'm going to try to be part of it in one capacity or another.

Every year brings a new run of road trips, every year brings a new batch of haunts, every year brings new and fantastic people in Lisa and my lives...all because of Halloween.

Our own home haunt seems to grow by leaps and bounds, each season being an opportunity to try and trump the last...and, with a few minor exceptions, we've been pretty successful.  The last few years have included the blessing of our landlord to set up a full blown cemetery in the front yard, and that gets more ambitious with every passing season.

In the end, and most importantly, I am married to a wonderful woman who not only supports my obsession, but actually enjoys it as much as I do...almost! 

Without her indulgence, none of this would have happened.

To quote the Grateful Dead: "What a long, strange trip it's been!"

And you know what?

I wouldn't change a thing.












Sunday, February 14, 2016

THE AURORA MONSTERS and their Legacy

Ah yes, the Aurora Monsters - what got me started into the modelling hobby, and what probably turned me into a home haunter as well!

Still have the entire set, still love 'em...

The Aurora Monster Models are SO ingrained in the lore and legends of that period - the famed Monster Craze of the '50s, '60s and '70s - that a little background info is necessary to bring it AL into focus
Aurora Plastics Corporation was founded in March, 1950 by engineer Joseph E. Giammarino  and businessman Abe Shikes  in Brooklyn, New York (moving to West Hempstead, Long Island in 1954), as a contract manufacturer of injection molded plastics.
With the hiring in 1952 of salesman John Cuomo, the company began the manufacture of its own line of plastic model kits. These kits were marketed to young hobbyists, as were the kits of rivals Monogram and Revell. Aurora profitably targeted to a younger demographic than their competitors, creating smaller-sized, less detailed models at a lower price point.

The first kits came in late 1952 and were 1:48 scale aircraft models.  The Aurora logo at this time appeared in narrow white letters and in a semi-circular form across the top of the script. The more recognized Aurora oval did not appear until 1957. Boxes were a simply illustrated orange color. The slogan under the Aurora logo was "U - Ma - Kit" (You Make It). Aurora's market approach was to make kits simple, thus undercutting the competition. Along these lines these first two kits appear to have been Hawk kits measured and copied to Aurora's own molds.

In 1956, monster mania swept the nation, thanks to Universal Pictures releasing its classic monster movies to local television stations. By the time of Aurora's first customer survey (disguised as a contest) in 1960, kit builders were howling for monsters.

Aurora's first monster model--the Frankenstein Monster--rolled off the production slab in 1961 and became an immediate success. Retailers sold the kits almost as fast as they could stock them, and the demand prompted Aurora to keep production running 24 hours a day. The company even tooled a second set of molds, turning out three kits per minute--more than 8,000 kits each day!


Believe it or not, the entire nearly didn't happen as several higher ups at Aurora were concerned thee kits would give children nightmares and fear of mass lawsuits was bandied about. Several psychiatrist quelled these fears and the line went forward, but not without trepidation....

At the end of the day, whoever, the success of Frankenstein led Aurora to develop and deliver a total of 13 monster kits within six years. Dracula and The Wolf Man came in 1962, while 1963 gave rise to The Mummy, The Creature, and The Phantom of the Opera. In 1964, Aurora debuted The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde, King Kong, and Godzilla. And in a nod to femme fatales, the Salem Witch and The Bride of Frankenstein were also unveiled. In 1966, Aurora released its final classic monster kit, The Forgotten Prisoner of Castel-MarĂ©. This unique release wasn't a movie creature but rather a collaborative effort between Aurora and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.


From the start, Aurora carefully devised how it would package and promote its monsters. Noted artist James Bama was commissioned to create the striking images on the kit boxes. For many collectors today, the kit boxes are often more desirable than the monster inside. Aurora also chose to package its monsters in "long boxes" made of rigid cardboard. These measured 13-by-5-by-2 inches and allowed Bama's full-body renditions of the creatures to be faithfully and fully reproduced.


Aurora's shrewdest move, attributed to the company's marketing director, Bill Silverstein, was to advertise exhaustively within the pages and on back covers of DC monsters and Famous Monsters of Filmland. Die-hard Aurora collectors often haunt comic shops' DC and monster magazine bins for issues featuring Aurora monster ads.

When the hot-rod craze of the '60s hit, Aurora stepped forward to mesh monster with machine. Monster Rods raced into hobby stores, featuring oddball creatures in wacky roadsters, such as Dracula's Dragster, Wolfman's Wagon, and the Mummy's Chariot. Alas, in 1969, Aurora executives determined it was time to spend more energy on nonfigure kits. Rather than produce new monsters, the company decided to reissue its existing line in a new light--monsters that glow in the dark. 


When first issued as Frightening Lightening kits (with the slogan "Frightening Lightening Strikes!"), Aurora's glow monsters were packaged with slightly modified box art but the same old long box. Kids had trouble telling the glow kits from the nonglow offerings. Within six months, Aurora pulled the Frightening Lightening boxes and replaced them with new square boxes (measuring 8-by-8-by-4 inches), heavily retouched artwork, new company logo, and new box splash--"Glows in the Dark." (These are affectionately known as the square box kits or glow kits.) Regardless of the initial box bungle, Aurora's refashioned glow kits injected new life into the monster line and carried sales well on into 1975.

Unfortunately, the box snafu was a harbinger of things to come. In 1971, Aurora introduced a new series of plastic malevolence: Monster Scenes. Consisting of four new figures (Dr. Deadly, Frankenstein, Vampirella, and the Victim) and four ominous settings (The Pain Parlor, The Hanging Cage, The Pendulum, and Gruesome Goodies), the scenes were pitched with the box slogan, "Mix 'em and Match 'em," encouraging kids to make up their own monstrous situations. Unfortunately, the other half of the box slogan read "Rated X...for Excitement." Angered parents and religious groups across the country picketed Aurora's factory. New Aurora owner Nabisco Foods promptly axed Monster Scenes and practically all the company's executive staff--just 2 weeks before Christmas 1971.

By 1975, most kids who were once wooed by Aurora's plastic terrors were now being distracted by muscle cars and the opposite sex. Still, Aurora made a final attempt to revive its monsters, producing beautiful new sculptures of its mainstays in the Monsters of the Movies series. Collectors were treated to imaginative new poses of Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde, and the Creature. Also released were Tokyo titans Rodan and Ghidrah. Sadly, sales were dismal, and plans for future kits were scrapped. Finally, in 1977, amid declining profits and rising costs of raw plastic, Nabisco closed the Aurora Productions operation, closing a truly imaginative chapter of toy history."

And without further ado...a look at my kits, along with the box art and my own reminiscences...these are to the originals, by the way - and I use florescent and glow in the dark paint as my own touch...

For the record, my first kit was Dracula, followed quickly by Godzilla, both of the glow variant, which my father put together for me - and then got fed up with me incessantly bugging him every five minutes with "is is done yet?" and figured I was intelligent enough to do all this myself 











Notice how James Bama's art here resembles more Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf than Lon Chaney Jr's Wolf Man....?


Now THAT'S more like it!
























The Prisoner of Castel-Mare was to have a back story and tie in to Famous Monsters, something that never did come to fruition – basically leaving the kit that of a skeleton chained to the wall, but it sparked enough curiosity that was to have an echo effect years down the road, but we’ll get to that a bit later…
















I went ultra-fluorescent happy with this one...







The infamous Monster of the Movies line - they were smaller, a bit less detailed in some cases, but still fun - all I have is the Creature...











The '80s were an odd time for monster models – the classic Aurora molds were thought lost, then resurfaced and companies like Monogram would reissue a few from time to time -  vinyl kits were all the rage, resin style molds were on their way up however.... there were a few distributors – most notably Horizon, who introduced a line of classic nicely detail 10” monster figure kits that included Lugosi’s Dracula, Chaney’s Phantom, and the Invisible Man – the company went on to produce a wide variety of larger scale figure kits in the 90s, including good Wolf Man, Creature (I had that one! Gave it to a friend years ago...) and a remarkable Tom Tyler Mummy sculpt, adding to their amazing interpretations of both The Joker and the Green Goblin in the middle part of the decade...I had those, too, and, silly me, gave 'em away, too...












Two companies really held the market when it came to this type of kit – Japanese distributors Billiken and Kaiyodo, who tended to specialize in kaiju related materials, and both companies had an amazing array of the Godzilla family available….I own Billiken’s 1962 and 1964 version of The Big G, and they are amazing pieces…
It must be said that Billiken did a brief run of the Universal Monsters, which include Lugosi’s Dracula, Karloff’s Frankenstein, Chaney’s Phantom and these are to DIE FOR – AMAZING sculpts, and while they are available on EBay, they carry a rather impressive price tag. Caveat Emptor. 










...and a few goodies from Kaiyado and some other Japanese note worthies...






For horror buffs, the big company to watch in the 1990s was SCREAMING – they released a line of large scale kits – usually about 18” tall  - and this included a Howling-styled werewolf, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, several of the Hellraiser Cinobites, Lon Chaney as the vamp[ire from London After Midnight,  not to mention some fantastic representations Batman, Catwoman and the Penguin form BATMAN RETURNS, but also a truly spectacular Darth Vader and Yoda and even an Elvira and Tales form the Crypt Cryptkeeper figure - this stuff was to die for....they are on EBay, but, again, be forewarned of the sticker shock! 













Worthy of note were Monarch Models, a small one-man operation that, while not producing a huge amount in terms of sheer volume, what they did produce was of the finest quality – and all fit to scale and packaged in the style and packaging art traditions of Aurora…and quite a few had glow in the dark versions produced as well!
Starting with a spectacular Max Shreck Nosferatu kit in 2007, their line included Sinbad, Gorgo and a spin off on Aurora’s Prisoner kit, The Ghost of Castel Mare, and a lot of these were reissued later with Glow in the Dark extras as well. This line was very much in the spirit of Aurora's classic kits, being of the same scale to sit comfortably next the the originals.
Sadly, in January 2016, found Scott McKillop announced the dissolution of the company, bringing to close a truly great small scale producer of quality kits...they will truly be missed!
















The Glow Heads of the late 1970s


Moebius Models – they’ve been around for a while - but starting around the latter part of the 2000s, they began producing some amazing figure kits of the classic monsters, stating in 2008 with the Invisible Man and releasing a few annually until about 2013 when their focus switched to other subject matter, most recently focusing in on the ships and vehicles of shows like Lost In Space, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and a remarkable line of figures based on the 1960s BATMAN TV series…
In regards to their monsters, in all fairness, they could be very hit and miss in terms of scale and likeness accuracy…I don’t want to start criticizing what went wrong with what kit, but, suffice it to say, the highlights included their Boris Karloff Mummy, replete with a finely detailed sarcophagus, a Bride of Frankenstein kit sculpted by Jeff Yaeger, a Bela Lugosi Broadway Dracula, which was later re-released to include a female victim, a fantastic replica of the Munsters House, and a slick Creature from the Black Lagoon kit complete with a Julie Adams figure nestled in the Creature’s arms...
























\




Another series of kits pertaining to here would be Jeff Yaegher's Aurora Box Art Monsters - these are available most directly from Monsters In Motion and include Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Wolf Man, Frankenstein and the Bride and the Mummy all interpreted as done by James Bama's original cover artwork...



And that's all for now - hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!

See ya next time!