Monday, September 1, 2014

MONSTER SERIAL: An introduction by Magus Peter H. Gilmore

(Editor's note: A few weeks ago, someone on asked me why I was encouraging people to follow the Church of Satan on Twitter. The short answer? Because they've been good to The Collinsport Historical Society. The Church of Satan has been willing to provide signal boosts to our various projects during the last year. It's leader, Magus Peter H. Gilmore, provided some kinds words about our work for inclusion on the jacket of our first book, MONSTER SERIAL. If that wasn't enough, he also wrote the introduction to the follow-up, BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL. Below is the full text of that introduction, titled "Aye Monster!" Gilmore is a classy guy and I'm grateful for his support.)
 Aye Monster!


At about five years of age, I lived in an oddly evocative place, an enclave in New York’s Orange County which had been established in 1885 by tobacco baron Pierre Lorillard IV. This exclusive, walled, deeply-forested valley sheltered he and his wealthy cronies while they pursued their varied pleasures apart from those of lesser means. It is called Tuxedo Park. That eponymous item of formal attire was first worn at an evening gathering in one of the estates that perch on its pine-shrouded mountain sides above dark, mysterious lakes. Those still, secretive waters later offered practitioners of organized crime worthy locations for body disposal.

I lived in several houses beyond the stone guard towers and iron gates that bar entry to non-residents. One, primarily meant as a place for dog breeding with many chain-link fenced runs, included carved stone headstones for canines long dead. Another was formerly a carriage house, which my father was converting into a full home. A favorite was a Tudor-styled building which was approached by a driveway bordered by fieldstone walls. It was in that home that my identification with and sympathy for monsters was cemented.

My first excursion to the cinema was to the nearby Lafayette Theatre, built in 1923 and then still impressive as a well-worn movie palace. I always ensconced myself in a balcony seat in that aged ritual chamber, thrilling to the ornate curtains swooshing open as the darkness descended and the screen illumed. At home we had a black and white television, and it served to further kindle my love for film. My parents had no qualms about me watching fare such as the science fiction marionette sagas SUPERCAR, FIREBALL XL-5, and SPACE PATROL. The darkly disturbing anime works ASTRO BOY and THE EIGHTH MAN also stimulated my imagination and my speculations about human behavior. And when the Universal horror films were broadcast they fascinated me deeply. Browning’s DRACULA with that castle in the remote Carpathians made it look like The Count might dwell nearby. Rather than fearing him, I found him to serve as a role model for my future. When watching THE WOLF MAN, hearing lonely lupine howls during those full-mooned nights was comforting, since I too could look at Luna above the trees and at such moments had at times heard distant dogs baying. And the power given Lawrence Talbot during those few monthly nights I felt could be better harnessed—if he just embraced it as I surely would.

FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND once discovered became my gospel since I had already absorbed Stoker’s DRACULA and Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS as my first two novels. It not only gave me details about older existing films to seek out, but promoted newly minted efforts that I must pursue. I saw GIGANTIS, THE FIRE MONSTER but knew his proper name as Forry Ackerman had done a revelatory article showing how that wizard Eiji Tsuburaya had brought life to Godzilla and the other daikaiju. The techniques of Harryhausen the mage were therein disclosed, enhancing my pleasure at seeing his creations play out their often fitful lives. The denizens of my reading and viewing might inspire horror in others, but they provided me with both solace and excitement. Such beings who moved outside of the normal realms, whose often extended lives were filled with strange magic, these were my mentors, my brothers, my friends.

Many of the films discussed herein provide experiences that will touch you in ways that stimulate, amuse and disturb—they leave marks. They clearly have done so to the authors in this collection and if you haven’t seen them, be prepared to be newly wounded. If you are already an initiate, these reviews may prompt a return viewing, impelling you to stroke the scars they’ve left in your consciousness. I feel privileged to have seen many of them in their initial theatrical releases. RE-ANIMATOR thrilled with its gleefully graphic mayhem while ANGEL HEART realized Hjortsberg’s evocative novel in such a humid, neo-noir manner. THE EXORCIST III brought George C. Scott another fine performance to his roster as Brad Dourif served-up the mania that is often his signature. THE OMEGA MAN’s contemporary twist on Matheson’s classic I AM LEGEND brought Heston another chance to be a pivot-point for the destiny of the human species. Quatermass AND THE PIT was splendid summer night’s viewing at a drive in theatre, while THE NINTH CONFIGURATION showed me a more probing face of Blatty in a film that vanished for years, though it was deeply etched in my memory after but one viewing.

This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
Buy it today on Amazon!
Perusing these passionate reviews offers participation in a dark fellowship giving weird, compulsive beings their due appreciation and where those who gave them vivid existence are celebrated for their achievements. We monsters-at-heart are well-met here, and you may rekindle memories of films you know well or discover some fine cinematic fiends who have not yet had the opportunity to seize you in their grasp. As I did as a young boy, you might find that the domains and entities depicted in these plays of light and shadow may not be so very distant from your experiences, discovering empathy where others encounter revulsion. These strange realms could be but a bold step or a surprised stumble away or they may simply offer you a welcome homecoming. Do let that chilling chorus from Browning’s FREAKS provide an enticing invitation as the dark portals open and you are drawn inside this collection: “One of us! One of us!”

Magus Gilmore has represented the Church of Satan since “The Satanic Panic” of the 1980s, being interviewed on numerous television and radio programs dealing with the topic of Satanism, including appearances on The History Channel, BBC, The Sci-Fi Channel, Point of Inquiry, and Bob Larson’s Christian radio show. His audio, video, and print interviews are numerous and continue to grow, making him the most interviewed Satanist in history. In 2001 he was appointed High Priest of the Church of Satan by Magistra Blanche Barton. Gilmore studied music composition at New York University where he earned B.S. and M.A. degrees. His solo album Threnody for Humanity presents orchestral-styled electronic music composed and performed by Gilmore. His book The Satanic Scriptures was published in 2007 and is currently available in a number of translations.

Friday, August 29, 2014

James Storm launches WANDERLUST photography campaign

One of the most interesting pieces of news to come from this year's Dark Shadows Festival was that actor James Storm was planning an adventurous photography trip. This week, he launched an Indiegogo campaign to finance the project, dubbed WANDERLUST. Storm has a genuine vision for the project, and has connected with a non-profit organization to allow all donations to be tax deductible. The campaign ends Oct. 24.

Here's what he's got to say about WANDERLUST on his campaign website:

James Storm
"The heart of America is the open road."

What is it about the open road?

What is it about the constant motion no mater where you are heading or what direction?

What is it about the WANDERLUST?

Combined with two great passions of mine, travel and of course photography, it's the 'Unknown." 

It's the thrill of being in the moment the present moment and hearing the stories of people  and capturing there lives and the events surrounding those lives through the  the lens.

So in October of this year I am jumping on a Greyhound Bus, leaving Los Angeles and heading for Billings Montana. On this journey I will be photographing the folks that I will be traveling with on the bus. 

I want to take a in-depth look of folks who travel  on this means of transportation whether it's for just pure pleasure or maybe out of necessity , to hear there  stories and capture those stories and events of the unknown.

You will become a fellow traveler on this journey because I will be blogging daily captivating images on Facebook and Twitter.

Now in order to do this I am asking for your support in helping me document these events and the good news is, that all donations will be a TAX DEDUCTION. I have recently been accepted to, FROM THE HEART a non profit organization and all contributions will go for supplies and post production work.

In 2015 my work from this journey will be seen at, THE LOST STUDIO PHOTOGRAPHY GALLERY in Hollywood Calif. Contributors will have there names printed as sponsors to this event . Now of course you are invited to see this work either in person or via Skype. We will have Skype set up bring you right into this event so you can share and be a part of this show. There is also a coffee book in the near future and all contributors will of course be acknowledged.

For your support of donating to this adventure, spreading the word to friends and families I have created some truly wonderful gift ideas from this project. And again, all contributions are tax deductible.

Over the years, and there have been quite a few, I have been influenced by just extraordinary photographers and it seems appropriate, given this subject, that I dedicate this project to the iconic photographer Robert Frank who gave us the magnificent book, The Americans.

I want to thank you for your time. Thank you for taking this journey with me and being a part of documenting  history of people on the move people with the WANDERLUST.

Thank you.


Get it from AMAZON.

If there's anything to be learned from William Shakespeare, it's that nothing is more important to a story than its telling. The idea of yet another take on HAMLET, MACBETH or ROMEO AND JULIET should be about as intriguing as another FAST AND FURIOUS film, but inspired storytelling almost always captures our imaginations familiarity be damned.

For fans of the original television series, DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE is going to be very familiar ground. A retelling of the 1796 storyline, which introduced the witch Angelique to the series and explained how Barnabas Collins became a vampire, is one of the show's most popular tales. Part of this is its role as narrative touchstone. Whenever anyone tries to revive DARK SHADOWS, its almost impossible for them to resist the urge to return to the 1796 storyline. Dan Curtis did it for the 1991 "revival" series. Tim Burton did it for misguided 2012 film. And, last year, Dynamite Entertainment did it with YEAR ONE.

Of those efforts, Dynamite's is easily the best of the bunch. DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE is arguably the finest comicbook ever published about Barnabas Collins, retelling the fall of Barnabas Collins at maximum volume. That's faint praise when compared to its competition, which has been grotesquely uneven since the first issue of the Gold Key series was published back in 1969. DARK SHADOWS was a big, lumbering beast that needed five days of weekly storytelling to fully express itself. When whittled down to 20-odd pages of illustrated storytelling each month, much of the show's personality was lost in translation. Even though daytime dramas and comicbooks have a lot in common, the four-color format has traditionally been too small to contain DARK SHADOWS.

That's not to suggest DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE is essential reading. If you've seen the television show, you pretty much know how this story unfolds. But, here's the thing: writer Marc Andreyko isn't interested in fixing what he sees are problems with DARK SHADOWS; he's interested in discussing what he loves about the show. Thanks to the book's monthly publication cycle (and, perhaps, my own distaste for some of Dynamite's other DARK SHADOWS comics) it took me a while to recognize that.

Many of the story's changes exist to streamline the narrative, for better and for worse. There are some actual improvements made to the story, though many are superficial. The "bat on a string" that cursed Barnabas on television has been replaced by a swarm of bats that descend from the night skies as he tries to outrun them on horseback, making the moment more urgent, dangerous and primal. Because comicbooks aren't hampered by the stagebound nature of television series, DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE lets us see more of Collinsport than ever before. And, thanks to artist Guiu Vilanova, the book never fails to look like DARK SHADOWS. Finding an artist with a flair for atmosphere and actor likenesses is rare, and any book would be lucky to have him. The page layouts are dynamic and easy to follow, and squeeze as much story as possible into the book. (It's also worth mentioning that Vilanova manages to make the characters recognizable without relying on the same six promotional photos to depict the original cast members.)

One of my favorite narrative changes is how it shifts the perspective away from Victoria Winters to Barnabas Collins, making the time-traveling governess a more interesting (if cryptic) player in the story. Presented from the Collins family's point of view, Victoria is a minor character with some David Lynch-ian personality quirks. Her actual history is hardly even hinted at in the story, which is a fascinating decision. She's an otherworldly agent provocateur.

The presence of Lt. Nathan Forbes was my first clue that Andreyko had a better understanding of this story than many of the other writers who've tried their hands at it. Forbes was absent from the 1991 "revival" series and the 2012 TIM BURTON movie because, on the surface, he seems to be a superfluous character. But Forbes' own spiral into corruption not only mirrors that of Barnabas Collins, it facilitates it. Both men are delusional about their own failing ethics, have prior romantic attachments that come back to haunt them, and eventually surrender to their own baser natures to become monsters in the story's climax.

The non-linear nature of DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE also keeps things moving at a brisk pace, allowing characters to be introduced in terms of relevance. Many of the story's dramatic confrontations have a sense of  danger that was sometimes missing from the original show, at least in regards to the Barnabas/Josette story. As a character, Josette du Pres was always a little underwritten, presented to the audience as someone to care about mostly because we're supposed to. Her interactions with Barnabas in YEAR ONE feel more organic and genuine than in the original TV series, and the book pulls no punches in her death scene (though the coloring make it appear Barnabas watches it happen in broad daylight, which is a little confusing.)

Pacing is a bit of a problem in YEAR ONE, which is both ironic and apt considering the  pacing issues of the original television series. The comic rushes Barnabas' transformation into a vampire as if there were concerns that readers would lose interest in the story if we didn't get to see the fangs from the very start. Barnabas appears for the first time as a vampire in the early pages of the book's second issue, robbing us of time to get to know the various players.

The biggest departure from the original story is the presentation of Joshua Collins. I imagine Andreyko worried the cast of characters was already overrunning with assholes, so Joshua's character arc was considerably softened. He says and does things in this book he never would have done in the original series, but he's a welcome voice of compassion during the story's final act. This character reversal also makes him a more proactive character. Obsessed with ridding his son of the vampire curse, Joshua seeks out another witch to undo the spell, which feels strangely reasonable given all the weirdness taking place at Collinwood.

The depiction of Angelique, though, is problematic. Vilanova's art elaborates on the character's elemental nature, but YEAR ONE continues the mistake of presenting the witch as being little more than vindictive and disturbed. There is more to Angelique than a FATAL ATTRACTION riff, which was the approach used by both the 1991 revival series and the Burton film. There's an assortment of gender politics and class issues that can be explored with the character (as was done on the original television series), but those concepts get sidelined for yet another "Don't stick your dick in crazy" morality play. This decision is even more baffling in DARK SHADOWS, where dicks tended to carry lethal doses of crazy, themselves.

Overall, though, I'm pretty fond of DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE. The world doesn't need a beat-for-beat retelling of the original TV series. These kinds of projects become fun and interesting when you look at them as a products of their creators, and the tension you feel while reading this kind of interpretation is actually a good thing. You should be thinking about these changes. Not as an exercise in resentment, but in terms of what these changes mean. It's perfectly OK if you arrive at a different conclusion than Andreyko and Vilanova because there's room in the world for different points of view. While I didn't like every change made to the original 1796 story, the book has an astonishingly strong ending that brings together it's varied influences. It's equal parts DRACULA, WHAT'S OPERA DOC?, DON GIOVANNI and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Had Jonathan Frid been given a chance to play this version of Barnabas Collins in a feature film, he might have taken the job with a great deal of enthusiasm.

(Note: This review is a revision of two separate pieces published during the original run of DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE. As I mentioned  above, it took me a while to get a grasp on what the book was trying to accomplish, forcing me to revise some of my earlier sentiments.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monster Serial: DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, 1973


We never again get scared the way we do at age eight. At eight we’re old enough to know the world is a bit more complex than moral fables would have us believe, and there’s a growing suspicion in the back of our brains that maybe Mommy and Daddy don’t know everything. Maybe nobody does. It’s a few years more before we learn enough for this to be a certainty.

October, 1973: Eight year-old me sits on the sofa in our suburban apartment’s living room, probably with mouth hanging open eagerly, definitely with legs tucked up under me—Who knows what might be scurrying along the floor, grasping at my legs with feverish strokes of tiny claws?

All week long I’ve seen commercials for a TV movie that my mother thought far too scary for her innocent son. I would not be allowed to watch it. Yet there she is, asleep in the chair, her crocheted afghan incomplete on her lap. Dad sits at the dining table on the other side of the room, working on a jigsaw puzzle and oblivious to the third-grader going insane with worry and fear about eight feet behind him.

First comes the ever-pompous ABC Movie of the Week tune—viewers know they’re going to see something intended to be important and great, even if it turns out to be total drek like The Mod Squad reunion movie (Solid, Link? I don’t think so).

A succession of images follow: The moon breaking through clouds, a black cat, a vaguely Gothic house, a gnarled tree, autumn leaves blowing—and this is all within the first minute. It’s a Halloween fantasia. Somewhere on the other side of the country Ray Bradbury is probably heaving with excitement.

Suddenly little over-processed voices start asking questions like “Will she come? Do you think she’ll come?” From the weird intonations and repetitions of parts of phrases you know two things: These are not normal people and there are several of them.

I wouldn’t have registered at the time that the opening credits listed John Newland as director. I didn’t stay up late enough to catch One Step Beyond on late night repeats. I’m glad I didn’t know Newland’s show dealt with creepy and inexplicable events and horrors that were reputed to be true. Yep. Glad I didn’t know.   

What follows is the first daylight scene. Like many horror pics, the film has an alternating structure between the normality of daylight scenes and the encroaching horror of the interiors and night.

The house looks different by daylight. It’s all pastel hues and soft colors. There are flowering trees outside. I often think Frankenstein’s Monster must have looked pastel green and sweet when the little girl met him for that flower throwing game that went bad. I’d love to have seen Karloff painted by Thomas Kinkade. All is peaceful and well this first morning.

Oddly, even the humans are initially heard in voiceovers:

“Alex, are you sure you don’t mind?” A woman’s voice.

“About moving in here?” A man’s.

We then meet Sally Farnham, an actress I instantly recognize as Miri from the Star Trek episode of the same name. You know, the one where the adults unleash some biological infestation upon the world, get a horrible skin disease, die in frothing madness, and all the children are left horribly alone. That one.

I identify with Sally immediately. Not only is she an adorable suburban housewife, but actress Kim Darby is really short and looks about fourteen.

Not only that, but the handyman she hired to fix up the place is Uncle Charley from My Three Sons. If he protected Chip and Ernie for years, what could possibly go wrong? Just as all the Halloween imagery beginning the film set a dark mood, the bright pastel morning and bringing in trusty Uncle Charley sends a different signal to viewers of all ages. How much does the terror increase later when even he can’t stop it? Sadly, William Demarest, clearly hired for his gravelly voice and ability to look worried, is to be no protection at all.

In a conversation with her interior decorator it comes out that Sally was left this house by her grandmother. She pulls him downstairs, fabric samples and all, to look at the basement. The door was locked, but they found the key among Grandma’s unmentionables. No, they don’t mention them. Stop thinking of Grandma that way. It was in an envelope in her desk.

Sally says she doesn’t think the basement room has been used since Grandfather died.

“How did he die?” I ask nobody. My father looks up, grunts, and goes back to his puzzle.

Not only are all the window shutters nailed tight, so as not to let in the light, but somebody bricked up the basement fireplace. The bricks are four deep and reinforced with iron bars. Grandpa clearly hated s’mores.
Turns out Uncle Charley—I mean handyman Mr. Harris —did this on Grandma’s instructions twenty years ago after Grandpa ... we won’t say.


“We’re seeing him next month,” my mother mutters in her sleep.

“Some things are better left as they are,” Mr. Harris says, as if to answer me.

Okay, I think.  My imagination has Grandpa sucked into the fireplace by the owners of the weird voices and dear old Grandma and worried looking Mr. Harris hushing it up.

“Morris?” Grandma would have said to the detective. “He went to visit his sister. I think she’s with a travelling circus. No idea where he is.” Mr. Harris would nod in agreement, covering for her the way he did so effectively for Chip and Ernie.

But now Grandma was dead and the chimney vocalists are hungry again. Here’s my question: Knowing about the evil in the basement hearth, why would handyman Harris let the nice young family move into the house in the first place? Why not burn it down? Why not sell it to that charming family from Amityville? Why not do something?

“Some things are better left as they are,” he says again. Oh yeah. He has a policy of non-interference. In a textbook example of TV land cross-pollination, apparently Uncle Charley follows Star Trek’s Prime Directive better than Captain Kirk does.

Mr. Harris tries arguing Sally out of using the dirty old basement for an office. Her husband gets home in time to agree. It’s Jim Hutton, father of Timothy Hutton, about two years away from starring in his fondly remembered role of Ellery Queen. He agrees. The basement room is cold and damp. They should leave it be.

Jim Hutton’s character is a practical man, a thirtyish lawyer—which is probably just as well since he may be brought up on charges for marrying a fourteen year-old girl at any moment. He also towers over his wife by what looks like a foot and a half. He is the adult figure, the voice of reason and sanity, and is convinced everything inexplicable is in her mind. He’s also work-obsessed and driving hard for a partnership—which means he’ll be away much of the time, leaving Sally and her sotto voce midget friends to their devices.
Hutton’s Alex tells her to abandon her plan to open the fireplace. “See things my way?”

“I guess I’ll have to,” she responds. She should, after all, be a submissive housewife. Here are two men telling her to be sensible.

Sally, in a stubborn burst of decisive action—the results of which set women’s lib back about forty years—decides to not only defy the menfolk and use the basement as an office, but also unscrews the fireplace’s ash door and leaves it open. That’ll show them. “If only she had listened!” screenwriter Nigel McKeand seems to be saying. McKeand was later best known as a scribe for the Kristy McNichol series Family.
“Free! Free! She set us free!” cry the little voices. Is that a green glow?

Fade to black.

Commercial over, we pull back from a close up of the basement shutters bathed in an unearthly emerald glow for no particular reason. Not only no particular reason, but no explicable one, since this is the only window of the house shining at all. We expect a man with a goofy mustache to pop open the shutters and say, “Why didn’t you ring the bell? No, you can’t see the wizard!”

What follows is a truly disturbing sequence where the unseen critters—now free to crawl out the ash grate door—escape the basement by pushing the key from the other side, forcing it to fall on a piece of carpentry plans, and pulling it under the door—a crack illuminated by that same disturbing green light. Not only do they enjoy a good babble, but they’re deviously clever and apparently have access to old St. Patrick’s Day flashlights. This viridescent light and a scuttling sound are used to indicate their movement around the house.

The rest of the film is a journey into psychological terror that stands head and shoulders above any of my other childhood memories. Average rooms are turned into terror zones—and Sally doesn’t even have to get miniaturized like the guy in The Incredible Shrinking Man.

They first venture behind a trash can in the kitchen. We can see the hairy shadow of a tiny arm and a claw. Upstairs, as Sally sleeps, one is on her nightstand mere inches from her head. They call her name. Do they mean her harm? They do smash her glass ashtray, so apparently they at least want her lungs healthy.

Another pastel morning Sally is prowling an outdoor shopping mall with her friend Joan, played by Ironside’s Barbara Anderson.  The two women have been friends for years. After all, they both had crushes on Captain Kirk during Star Trek’s first season. At this point Sally thinks the place may be infested with mice. In yet another knock at the changing times, Nigel McKeand’s script has Joan reply, “I don’t care what women’s lib tells me. The very mention of a mouse drives me crazy.”

Our first full glimpse of the creatures comes as Sally is throwing a catered housewarming party. All of Alex’s co-workers are present. At a moment that you can imagine the screenwriter himself giggling over, Sally gets something to drink and spots one of the creatures staring at her out of a flower arrangement. That’s right: She gets a literal punch and a supernatural punch at the same time.

Something must be said about the gremlins themselves. They seem to be about a foot high, with claws, suits of fur and heads that look like dried out peach pits. One of them is played by Felix Silla, Cousin Itt of The Addams Family and Twiki the robot of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I hadn’t realized he was in this movie, so when I met him years ago I never knew to throttle him for scaring the heck out of me when I was eight.

Uncle Charley—Mr. Harris—revisits the house to pick up his tools. Earlier he tried resealing the ash door and was fired when the couple found it open again. The husband thought he was a practical joker. He tries to warn Alex, but only in the most general terms and without revealing any details. Even that was too much.

Uncle Charley gets his—ironically by three small fry—as they cut open his hand and chant “You told him! Why did you tell? You know what happens to people who tell!” He barely escapes with his life and is not seen again until the end of the film. Presumably he spent the time shivering under Fred MacMurray’s couch somewhere muttering “I’ll never moonlight again. Carpentry? Bah!”

The creatures also kill the decorator by this point, for reasons that remain unclear. He wasn’t planning on redecorating the basement. Perhaps they didn’t like that he was going to carpet the stairs in blue. It would clash with their evil green light. They do him in by that tried and true method of stringing a line across the top of the stairs. Down he goes, fabric swatches flying. A bizarre tug of war ensues, with Sally trying to snatch the cord away from the creatures.

“We want you! It’s your spirit we need! Become one of us! Live with us!” say the gremlins. Sally says nothing. In fact, her silent response to the creatures becomes unsettling in itself. Only in the final scenes of the film, when she is doped up, does she have an excuse for this strange silence. She only shrieks once in the film, when one of the critters snatches a napkin off her lap during the party scene. Other than that moment, she remains almost expressionless much of the time—as if she knows her inevitable fate.

After the decorator is killed and Sally is resting in her room comes the iconic shot of three gremlins hiding behind books in Sally’s bedroom bookcase. This is a strange perversion of something every reader who ever owned a cat has experienced. Sally refuses to take any sleeping pills, yet the box is open and two are missing—and there’s Sally’s coffee right next to the package.

At friend Joan’s insistence, husband Alex rushes off to see carpenter Harris to get the real backstory. The house was built circa 1880. The fireplace was bricked when Grandma and Grandpa moved in. One day he decided to unbrick it, worked in the basement for about a half hour, and started screeching. The basement had been trashed and Grandpa was gone into the fireplace. Why burly 1950s police officers with flashlights and long ropes never went down looking for him is never addressed. They could have brought in the guys from Them! They had spelunking experience and would have wiped out any giant ants they came across as a bonus.

The husband and Harris rush back to find Joan locked out of the house and the power cut. Apparently Grandpa, now presumably one of the gremlins, clued them in about how electric wiring works. Sally is in there with them alone, zoned out of her mind on the two missing sleeping pills. By the time they break in and get to the basement it’s too late.
This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
Buy it today on Amazon!

The movie’s finale is probably the most memorable cinematic scene of my childhood. Drowsy Sally’s legs are tied and the gremlins pull her slowly down the stairs towards the basement. Luckily, Joan’s husband George left his camera behind at the party the other night. Sally snatches it off a table as she’s dragged past. This moment, where she only has a little 1970s camera and a set of flashcubes to ward off the creatures by blinding their sensitive photophobic eyes, is stunning even by today’s standards. It will live forever in my memory.

As will the film’s dark ending.

The resolution, if you can call it that, is bizarre in itself. Sally is dragged through the ash gate and into the fireplace. Her husband, Harris and Joan are too late to save her.

Sally is not dead. Instead she apparently becomes the mistress of the creatures—kind of a short Snow White with some really ugly dwarves—and we hear her conversing with the gremlins in the basement. The creatures want people to come and “set us free in the world!” She consoles them by saying, “Of course they will come. We know they will.”

They laugh gleefully.

As the credits roll, I am no longer on the couch. I am behind my mother’s chair, visibly shaking. My parents died years later without ever knowing I’d watched that movie—only that I developed a permanent aversion to both sitting with my feet dangling on the floor and the color green.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK would be all we talked about in our third grade classroom the next day.

But school was a long night away—and who knew what might be scurrying underneath the bed before then? I didn’t even have useless Uncle Charley.

FRANK JAY GRUBER In addition to his freelance writing and editing gigs, Frank Jay Gruber teaches literature, composition and online course development at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. He sometimes covers New York and Philadelphia area events for, appears on convention panels and writes for genre websites like The Collinsport Historical Society. CNN interviewed him about Star Trek in his collectible-covered lair and consulted him about Dark Shadows after Jonathan Frid’s death in 2012. You can read his extremely infrequent musings at and follow him on Twitter @FrankJayGruber.

Help select the 5 best DARK SHADOWS audiodrams

Big Finish is helping to keep the DARK SHADOWS flame alive like nobody else. Since 2006, the company has been reuniting the show's cast through original audiodramas. They even managed to recruit actors from later incarnations of the series along with way, not to mention a handful of DOCTOR WHO veterans, as well. In 2010, Big Finish also managed the impossible when they conjured Jonathan Frid from retirement to play vampire Barnabas Collins for the first time since 1971.

In July, I asked you to name your 10 favorite episodes of the original DARK SHADOWS series, and the response was tremendous. I think everybody had a good time crafting their lists and discussing it with other fans. The results of that poll were sometimes surprising. While hardly scientific, I suspect the episodes chosen as the "10 Best" included more than a few "dark horse" episodes. So, let's see what happens when we try to determine the five best DARK SHADOWS stories told by the folks at Big Finish.

There was some criticism of the last poll directed at my choice of words. A few readers didn't like using the words "best" and "favorite" interchangeably, though I have trouble imagining the person who doesn't think their favorite episodes are the best. That's why we're running with the tag THE FAVORITE FIVE. All you have to do is e-mail the titles of your five favorite DARK SHADOWS audiodramas to my e-mail address in the top left corner of the page. Please label your favorite as #1, and so on.

While I won't be making individual votes public, you might want to identify yourself because the good folks at Big Finish are giving one lucky voter a free download of all 13 episodes of the forthcoming DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST serial due out in January. The winner will be selected at random from the voters participating in this poll. The episodes will be automatically moved into your download queue as soon as they become available to the public.

The contest begins midnight, Aug. 25, 2014, and ends midnight, Sept. 8, 2014. Start voting!

Friday, August 22, 2014

TGIF: "SEIZURE" compared to THE EXORCIST, 1977

If you ever want to confront the limits of language, try explaining the 1974 movie SEIZURE to someone.

SEIZURE is a weird movie, but the word "weird" doesn't quite do this film's oddball sensibilities justice. "Weird" is a word we use to describe the taste of that milk in the fridge that's on the verge of spoiling, but is still OK to drink if it means not having to make a trip to the grocery store. "Weird" is what you call that stand-up comic who pretends to have serious mental problems on stage, but seems well-enough adjusted after the show to pose for selfies with fans. "Weird" is just too tame of a word to use as a short-hand explanation of SEIZURE.

Even though it's difficult for me to believe, SEIZURE is coming to Blu-ray in a few short weeks. It's not exactly a good film (there's that language barrier again) but it's uniquely fascinating. Many of the people you'll see on screen in this film had previously been part of cultural groundswells so massive that they remain influential even today. Mary Woronov had been a part of Andy Warhol's "Factory" gang, and had been a dancer for the Velvet Underground's live "Exploding Plastic Inevitable" performances. Former teen heartthrob Troy Donahue was fresh off a performance in THE GODFATHER: PART II. Martine Beswick had appeared in THUNDERBALL, a film so successful that it's still in the Top 10 grossing James Bond films to this day (and might even top the list, if adjusted for inflation.)

And, of course, there's Jonathan Frid, who had been a living cultural touchstone during his days on DARK SHADOWS. His face was on trading cards, board games, comicbooks, posters, records and just about anything else that Dan Curtis Productions could attach his likeness to. For a few years, he was arguably the biggest star on television.

On the opposite end of the career spectrum is director Oliver Stone, who was making his feature film debut with SEIZURE. I'm not sure Stone's fans will see much of the director in this film, but the collection of personalities on both sides of the camera make SEIZURE an irresistible experience for movie buffs.

Below is a 1977 story from the UK publication, "The House of Hammer," a magazine that primarily focused on the films of Hammer Studios. This story mentions the "limited" availability of SEIZURE in the UK, as well as another film from the same mysterious distributor, THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON. That film featured an appearance by DARK SHADOWS alumnus Thayer David, for those of you keeping score at home.

(NOTE: Many of the images used for TGIF: Thank God It's Frid-Day, are courtesy of Elena Nacanther, who is part of an effort to get Jonathan Frid nominated to Canada's Walk of Fame, a non-profit, volunteer-driven organization that recognizes Canadians who have excelled in music, sports, film, television, and other artistic endeavors. You can find the NOMINATE JONATHAN FRID TO CANADA'S WALK OF FAME Facebook page by clicking here. Please pay them a visit. You can see more selections from Elena's scrapbook each Friday here at the Collinsport Historical Society.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


So, what the hell is CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY?

Well, here's how the game's creators describe it:

"Cards Against Humanity is a party game for horrible people. Unlike most of the party games you've played before, Cards Against Humanity is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends.  The game is simple. Each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with their funniest white card."

Back in June, we uploaded free, printable "booster decks" for it, bringing dozens of DARK SHADOWS references to the gameplay. CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY is easy, fun and almost always a little lewd. Shoots and Ladders it ain't.

Recently, Patrick McCray got together with some friends and recorded a session of CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY using our DARK SHADOWS-themed cards. The episode begins with a short explanation of the gameplay, followed a full session of the raunchy game. A scaly manfish with a mild erection makes a cameo appearance.

If you want to play the game for yourself, you can find download links for everything you need HERE. Many of the DARK SHADOWS cards were suggested by readers. If you'd like to contribute to a future deck, leave your ideas in the comments section below!

Listen to the episode streaming above, or download it as an MP3 by clicking HERE.

And subscribe to THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY podcast on iTunes for free by clicking HERE!   

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monster Serial: SLEEPAWAY CAMP, 1983


What kind of a summer camp lacks so much supervision that its campers skinny dip and smoke weed and get murdered? What kind of camp also has open pedophiles on staff? The answer is Camp Arawak, the setting for 1983’s SLEEPAWAY CAMP, a relatively bloodless horror film from the golden era of slasher flicks. 

Oh, and did we mention the DVD set for this film violates the Geneva Convention?

Wait. What?

When we were considering SLEEPAWAY CAMP, our friend said, “Hey, I’ve got a copy you could borrow. You have to be careful with it, though. It’s a collectible.”

She wasn’t kidding. Apparently, the first design for the box set of SLEEPAWAY CAMP DVDs (yes, there are 3 1/2 original movies — the fourth was so bad, the entire crew dropped out of the production halfway through) had to be recalled. The box cover was designed to look like a first aid kit, complete with the crimson plus sign, bloody gauze, scissors, and smeared handprint. After its release, the Red Cross sent Anchor Bay Entertainment a “cease and desist” letter, demanding the box set be taken off the shelves. According to them, an impersonation of the Red Cross symbol was a violation of the Geneva Convention.

It’s a good thing they recalled the box set. Wouldn’t want anyone to think a masterpiece such as SLEEPAWAY CAMP was officially sanctioned by the Red Cross.

We had such high hopes in watching the illicitly issued DVD copy we borrowed. But through most of the movie, we were left wondering what all the fuss was about. Then came the final scene of the film. The scene that changed the whole tone and made SLEEPAWAY CAMP a cult classic.

The film opens on a summer day in 1975. Two children, Angela and Peter, are boating with their father on a serene lake. The boat capsizes, and an amateur speed boater runs straight over the floating family. There are screams and shots of shocked faces, then the father’s body is seen floating atop the lake in a puzzlingly bloodless manner. We always thought getting diced in a rotor blade would create more of a splatter spectacle.

Flash forward eight years. Little Angela has grown up and now lives with her crazy aunt and cousin, Ricky. Surviving the boat accident has apparently left her near-catatonic. And guess what — she’s being sent off to summer camp to live near a lake. Who decided sending a girl with PTSD to live near a body of water was a good idea? Oh. It’s also the same lake where she watched her father die eight years earlier? Just brilliant.

While at camp, people ask Angela direct questions, and she stares, wide-eyed at them. This kid probably shouldn’t be away for the summer. She should be somewhere supervised by people with PhDs.

You can guess what happens next. Campers and counselors start dying off, one by one. Some of the death scenes are novel. It is fun when the pedophile gets dipped in a giant, boiling vat of corn cobs. Another person is killed instantly by honey bees. Yes. Instantly. Honey bees. Improbable? Of course. But the hilarity factor was off the charts. 

Then, Angela meets Paul, the one boy who gets through to her. His voice brings her out of her near coma. There is even some pleasant interactions between them, including light kissing, but Paul eventually meets his untimely end as well, so don’t start planning to hear any wedding bells in their future.

If you think guessing the movie killer is part of the fun, here’s a hint: go really obvious. The film should feature a flashing, red arrow that says, “This is the killer.” But even though you know who it is, you can’t figure out a logical reason why the killer would do it. Then you remember how illogical the rest of the movie is, and making sense of the killer’s motivation doesn’t matter.

This flick ignores the technique of enshrouding anything in mystery. Somehow, it holds all its cards until the last five seconds. If a twist ending right before the credits is your kind of thing regardless of the previous 87 minutes, this film is for you.

This movie did bring us back to a more innocent time, when food cooks could smoke cigars in kitchens, and it was okay for muscular men to wear shorts so diminutive, you can almost tell if they’ve been circumcised.

One kitchen scene took us back even further, to a time before the Civil Rights movement. After the head chef/resident pedophile is practically boiled alive, the camp’s owner, Mel, takes Ben and the rest of the camp’s cooks aside - the only people of color in the entire film - to offer them money for their silence and threaten their jobs if they open their mouths.

Innocent conversation about covering up a brutal attempted murder? Or most racist dialogue we’ve ever heard in a movie not about race relations? We couldn’t come to a consensus, and you’ll have to hear it to make your own judgement. But Sarah sure thought Ben had a nice, mellifluous voice that sounded very familiar.

Quick! To IMDb!

Ben was played by Robert Earl Jones, father to the famous James Earl Jones and patriarch of the Earl Jones acting family. Robert Earl Jones may be the only actor in the film you recognize, if only for his family resemblance and that deep, baritone voice.

However, the scene did bring us the second biggest question of the movie (after, “What did we just watch?”.) Mr. Earl Jones, how does your son — who did STAR WARS six years earlier — let his father sign up for this movie? We thought his son should’ve pulled some strings with George Lucas and gotten his dad at least a cameo in RETURN OF THE JEDI.

In one of the movie’s more improbable subplots, Mel, the 60-something-year-old camp manager is seduced by a beautiful, young counselor gal who is probably around the age of 19. When Mel finds her lifeless body in a shower, he chooses not to stoop and examine her, seeing if she is alright. Instead, he decides to stand over her, waving his fist in false umbrage, declaring out loud to seek vengeance upon her killers. Perfectly improbable.

Horror films from the ‘70s and ‘80s had a peculiar element we don’t see very often in contemporary horror. Many movies of that era, including SLEEPAWAY CAMP, featured their own theme songs, written specifically for the movie, complete with moderately-relevant lyrics and bad hair.

1981’s MY BLOODY VALENTINE features a theme song that sounds eerily like “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot.

Who could forget “Ben” by Michael Jackson?

1985’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD had the totally rad tune “Tonight, We’ll Make Love Until We Die.” Very fitting for the zombie movie that started the whole “Braaaaaaains” craze.

One of the highlights of horror rock is The Ramones’ “Pet Sematary” for the movie of the same name. They are one of Stephen King’s favorite bands and they totally nailed this horror theme. We hope the master of horror was pleased.

Of course, even some of the greatest rockers succumbed to the awful side of the ‘80s. Most notable was Alice Cooper’s song “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask.)” It was for the 1986 film FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI: JASON LIVES. Lots of bad acting in the video and lots of bad synth in the song. We’re sure Alice doesn’t pull out this tune too often when his fans scream for the hits. 

In some ways, this musical tangent brings us back around to the cult classic, SLEEPAWAY CAMP, a low-budget ripoff of FRIDAY THE 13TH. From the bloodless killings to the screaming, scheming counselors, it took a while for the film to come into its own definition and set itself apart from the films that came before it.

You literally have to wait until the last scene for the entire movie to pay off. It’s not until the final seconds, when the credits roll, that you understand why your friends have been telling you for years to watch this movie.
This column is among those featured in
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The major problem with “splatter” films like SLEEPAWAY CAMP is they are only possible in universes where the smartest people have the IQs of chimpanzees. The dialogue is hard to swallow and the performances are amateurish at best. It’s as if the casting director put up some “Actors Wanted” flyers at a local New York all-night diner and gave jobs to whomever showed up. He certainly didn’t censor anyone for their heavy accents.

But that amateur quality and accidental hilarity is also why movies like this are so memorable. And that’s also why the film’s ending takes its audience completely by surprise.

SLEEPAWAY CAMP has secured its place among the best cult films, and rightly so. It’s a sleeper movie in the best sense — stringing viewers along as it traipses through the woods, spooking campers and counselors alike. Then, out of nowhere — seriously, where did this plot line come from? - the film throws you a curve ball and hits you right in the jugular vein.

If you haven’t made a drinking game out of SLEEPAWAY CAMP by the time Angela’s crazy aunt sends her and Ricky off to camp in the second scene, then you’ve missed a prime opportunity to earn a first-class hangover. And that’s probably the best way to enjoy this film. In a group of friends, drinking and laughing. If horror can’t bring us together and help us enjoy life, then what’s the point?

JIM MACKENZIE and SARAH GIAVEDONI are the creators of and two self-proclaimed movie lovers and hijinks creators extraordinaire. Stuff Monsters Like (SML) is the most comprehensive, satirical anthology of stuff monsters like on the web, highlighting the various themes common in many horror flicks. The blog is also the proud sponsor of Intergalactic Hug A Monster Day and the prestigious annual Monstey Awards. When they are not writing about monsters, Jim and Sarah are devoted to watching horror films, running a completely unrelated nonprofit, and making money at their respective full-time jobs. Connect with SML on Facebook and Twitter.
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