Thursday, October 29, 2009

Christmas Needs to Stop

I've come to a realization that really is horrifying. Therefore it must be posted on Haunted House Writer, being that I'm sure it would scare other people who have personalities that are similar to the theme of this blog.

I love Halloween. I know most of my close friends do as well. During the month of October, I feel alive...which is ironic really due to the huge emphasis on death. But regardless I feel that it's the perfect time of year for people with active senses of humor. (Notice I didn't say good?)

The fall is a time of sadness. It represents decay, as the trees and plants slowly succumb to the colder weather. We must put away the shorts and pull out the warm coats. The darkness comes earlier. We are marching head first into the icy grip of winter. October literally is that transition. November starts the "cold month" run and September is still a wild card in terms of nice or awful weather. But October, you know you are going to experience a chill on those breezy autumn nights, as the spirits rustle through the trees.

So it is only normal and natural that the tradition/holiday/pagen feast of souls (as some radicals would call it) occurs during the month of October. As we approach at time where many are "sad" because they are forced to remain indoors for longer period of times, huddled around fireplaces or under layer upon layer of clothing. Halloween is a lovely distraction from all this. We get candy, can dress up, go to haunted houses, or just play tricks on our friends. Indeed for those with a sense of humor, it is our last gasp attempt to have a little fun before the desolate winter sets in and renders life so miserable that a little jolt or scare would not be able to melt the heart of even the most kindest of souls.

So October/Halloween is extremely important. It literally attempts to take the edge off before the cold season. Therefore we need to celebrate Halloween. We need parties, we need haunted houses, we need costumes, we need the Monster Mash, we need candy, we need to be scared, and we need to have fun. As Tim Burton would have it: Life's No Fun Without a Good Scare.

This brings me to the problem of Christmas. I will argue that nobody dislikes Christmas. There is gift giving, good cheer (usually,) togetherness, the birth of Salvation (depending upon religious views,) and at the very least, even if you are some horrible old miser, some time off of work/school. I like Christmas just fine.

What I don't like, as my favorite comedian Lewis Black says, "that Santa has started poking his ass into everything." Christmas dominates the calender. It really does. It is an important holiday no doubt, but it really needs to be more contained. It is "posh" to start putting up the Christmas decorations on November first, despite the fact Thanksgiving hasn't even happened yet. It is also socially acceptable to leave the Christmas lights up till the second weekend in January. That's roughly 65 days of Christmas. People who don't care about Halloween as much already have Christmas stuff up during October.

I will grant that you will start seeing Halloween items in stores near the beginning of September, but if you put up the decorations at your house at the same time, it would just not fit. It's still too warm, the summer still lingers, and pumpkins aren't even off the vine yet. You need to wait until the last week of September at the earliest to avoid looking "antsy." The major holidays usually get a month of preparation time in stores, which is why Halloween stuff will appear in September. Thanksgiving stuff will appear midway through October, and Easter stuff...well it just appears when the time is right since Easter moves each year.

But Christmas? You go into the right store and two weeks into October you will find impressive Christmas displays. It's almost like Halloween is over and they start to shrink the Halloween section. So even if you are the kind of person who waits for December to start decorating, you can buy your items in October. That is two and a half months of preparation. Why? Halloween is the only other holiday that comes close and that's only because of the costumes. If you didn't dress up on Halloween, you wouldn't see sections in stores until October 1st.

What good does shopping for Christmas in October do? Yeah I guess you can get all your shopping done in one stop. But let me bring this all home. October is a depressing month with Halloween as a sinister-joker-like feel to try and take the edge off. Christmas is a kinder and more gentle time. Literally a "present" during the midst of winter to remind us that all is not lost.

When you put Christmas trees and Santa Claus in stores, in October, you are completely destroying that atmosphere of Halloween. Rather than getting the "trick-or-treat/spooky/haunted atmosphere" of Halloween, you get creepy jokering mixed with seasonal good cheer. Jack-o-lanterns mixed with trees. Severed limbs mixed with boughs of holly. You get the complete antithesis of one another that while in a store literally assaults you from all angles rendering you completely overloaded to the point where despair once again reigns. Halloween feels like it's already past, and Christmas is still too far on the horizon. For Christmas people I suppose this isn't that bad of a thing. But for Halloween people it is a very discouraging almost existence ending feeling. It also destroys the point of Halloween, to give one last hurrah before winter over takes all.

Christmas can wait for November. We must do something about this. Christmas is fashionable until after Christmas. Halloween must achieve the same end. Halloween supporters must rise up and start to take the fight into November. The decorations are extremely similar as it is. I remember as a kid when November 1st hit, we'd just turn our jack-o-lanterns around so that they would be normal pumpkins again. Halloween must not literally vanish into the night as it always does on October 31st. It literally seems like a distant memory the next morning. We need to push into November. Haunted houses need to run longer. The delightful little tricks must carry us farther into the dead of night. Christmas needs to be hedged in and Halloween needs to share as much of the limelight. We must make a stand.

We don't want to go into December though...pumpkins are usually rotten and mushy by then.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lack Luster Halloween

So Halloween is the best time of year. I really really believe that. It's not quite so cold that you wanna die. You get to have fun and trick people. You can scare others without people thinking you are a creep. You can wear costumes and not get weird looks. Football. Lots of good things.

I always get pumped for Halloween. The energy of evil trickster spirits (that's just some "fluff" not a religious decree) run through my veins. Its almost like a calling.

This year...not so much. I don't know if its due to the swine flu epidemic. The horrible economy. The fact that Gravestone Manor was a pain in the rear to get ready this year. No idea why...but my usual Halloween thrill energy isn't as high as normal.

I think I figured it out though. There is a chain of stores known as "Spirit Halloween." They pop up for the Halloween season, then they vanish. All they sell is Halloween paraphernalia. They have awesome costumes, incredible masks (although expensive) and these really cool lawn ornaments that are usually set up in nice displays.

But this year....there is nothing in the store. All the masks are cheap and generic. The costume selection is lack luster. I have been in the store about 4 times this month and each time I've found myself bored. That's like....if Santa walked into his workshop and decided he'd rather go visit the Easter Bunny. I'm not blaming it all on Spirit Halloween...but when your only purpose in life is to supply people with their Halloween wants and needs, and your best mask is the Joker clown mask from last year, that's pretty bad.

Anyone else having a downer Halloween? Can't you even tell in the way this post is being written? Like its taken me forever to write this small post because I've just been so down thinking about it all. There is no energy in the post because there is no energy in me because this year there is no energy in Halloween. What has happened? This is supposed to be my biggest up shot of the year. It all goes down here from me usually....what do I have to look forward too? Why do I have a funny feeling that this year something will be wrong with the Cranberry sauce?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Zombieland Reveiw

Hello all,

Apologies for not being able to see this movie sooner, but when you help run a Haunted House...well in October that kind of takes precedent.

Review of Zombieland:

You must accept, going in, that this movie is going to be ridiculous. To assume that it is a serious zombie movie or to assume that it is an "intellectual comedy" are not wise decisions. It is in essence a Zombiedy. If you go in thinking the will probably be let down.

That being said, it was quite humorous. I laughed out loud at many parts, but will keep my lips closed in case there are readers who haven't seen it yet. My favorite part was when the take refuge in the LA house....

The movie also focuses on a number of rules. There are 32 rules but we only ever learn, I think, eight of them:

1. Cardio--To sustain long periods of running away from zombies
2. Double Tap--send the extra bullet into the zombie's head to ensure it stays down
3. Be weary of bathrooms--Zombies always seem to show up when we are vulnerable
4. Buckle your Seat belt--So you can slam on the breaks and you won't go flying
16? Limber Up--before you do anything so you don't pull anything
17? Don't be a hero--except when impressing Witchita
20..? Always check the back seat--A zombie or gun stockpile will always be there
32. Enjoy the Little things--Like Twinkies or "Caddyshack"

I agree with all of these, as I've memorized Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide inside and out. The only one I'd caution against is the double tap...and that's based upon the amount of ammo you have. In this movie the characters sure seemed to have a lot of it....

I liked these rules and I like how they were presented by the skittish, nervous, low self-esteem main character...I would have just liked to know more of the rules, since they clearly defined his life.

The other major issue that I saw was ironically enough, the lack of zombies. There would be very long stretches where you wouldn't see any zombies. Now that's okay, you can have a movie where that happens and it still works. Take either version of Dawn of the Dead. You might not see a zombie for 20 minutes, but you know that there is a hoard of them just outside the mall. Any pull away or establishing shot will confirm this, so the fear is real. I also get that the movie takes place during the later stages of the outbreak, so most zombies would probably have been pulled to major population centers in search of more food. But even at the end, when the major conflict occurs...when it really comes down to it...there aren't that many zombies. Aren't they supposed to be in LA? That is a huge population zone. I get that the point is to have Columbus attempt to rescue the other two characters but in a zombie movie the big fear is the endless hoard.

Maybe that's not what they were going for since the tone of the movie was clearly light. If that's the case then I am willing to back off my statement. My statement is also not a "Deal Breaker" as Liz Lemmon would say, because I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It was just a comment tis all.

Lastly--A lot of people have been comparing as the next "Shaun of the Dead." "Zombieland" was good. It was funny. I'm going to buy it to add to my zombie collection. It would fit nicely into a Zombiedy-athon. But it doesn't even come close to the humor, horror, tediousness, complexity, and all around amazement that is encompassed with "Shaun of the Dead." I'm being very serious. I know a lot of you may think I'm jaded because I like horror, comedy, the British, and zombies so its easy to think that I'm just a fan boy spouting off a love fest for Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.

But in all seriousness, I had to analyze "Shaun of the Dead" for a film class and I've been studying creative writing for a long time now. Everyone watch "Shaun of the Dead" again and pay close attention to the point that the movie is trying to make. The point is that humans are so entrenched in their routines that even a zombie outbreak might go unnoticed and that most humans would not noticed something was wrong until a zombie showed up on their doorstep. This is painfully obvious in the characters of Shaun and Ed as we laugh at them and their exploits. But watch the film again and only pay attention to the background. (I'm also referring to the first act of the movie before the zombies are everywhere.) Notice for how most of the movie there are sirens going off, even if they are just faintly in the background. Notice how sick the people look on the bus that Shaun rides. Notice how when Shaun is in his place of employment and he is trying to sell the TV that you can see three green army trucks rumble past the camera. Then notice that when Phillip leaves the store, those same three green army trucks rumble by him. How much of that did you notice? How much more is there that I haven't noticed yet? Isn't it creepy to think we don't notice things because we only care about our little daily routines? "Shaun of the Dead" scared me for the first them when I realized what I just pointed out and I counted driving past five ambulances with their lights flashing. That's a lot for one day. They could have been the first five outbreak patients and had it not been for "Shaun of the Dead," I never would have had that thought.

"Zombieland" although widely entertaining doesn't even come close to that level of sophistication.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fail! (The name of this post borrowed from my good friend Glen)

Okay, so this blog is about scary things. What follows in this post REALLY SCARES ME!

There is a certain road in the area where I live. Most people refer to it as "The Hillside Road." I'm not going to tell you it's real name, nor am I going to tell you the Township which in lies, but for any local readers...that should be all the clues you need.

This local police department has a reputation for being a little hard-line. Nay...incessantly hard-line. In my 24 years I've had 6 incidents where cops were involved. 2 were speeding tickets, one I will never argue...the other coming from a speed trap of 55 to yeah. One from the report I gave from being hit by another car. One coming from when I accidentally drove through a stop sign one late night after Gravestone Manor, to which the cop saw my make up and told me that Gravestone Manor was cool and let me go. These four incidents all involved police departments that are not the one that this post focuses on.

However, the remaining Situation the first: Two years ago on December 1st--DECEMBER--we had freak storms in my area. These storms were reminiscent of storms that you have on 90 degree days in July. They rolled in around 8PM. I waited until 11:30PM to drive home just to make sure that any sort of debris was cleaned off the road. Low and behold, when I reach the "Hillside Road," and came upon the section that is in no way lit, nor are there any houses, I find that I must swerve to avoid hitting a downed tree limb of substantial size. There is a car behind me. About 3 miles down the road that car turns on its red and blue lights. He pulls me over and talks to me about 15 minutes, thinking I am drunk. I can tell because he is shoving the flashlight in my face. (Did you all know that cop's flashlights have Breathalyzers in them--they aren't accurate enough to serve as evidence, but they are accurate enough to warrant a sobriety test--I learned that in Driver's Ed) But I'm not a drinker and of course I'm not drunk. I tell him that I was trying to avoid the tree limb. Eventually he asks what high school I went too and I told him. He said, "well I don't recognize your name, and that's a good thing. Next time, stay in your lane." Yes sir, next time I will plow into the large tree limb and cause damage to my vehicle.

Incident the second: This happened tonight on the same road, in about the same place. I notice on the roadway are those little white piles that form once signal flares have burned down. But there are no lit flares and there are no remnants of flares other than those white piles of phosphorus. A few feet down the road is a "Work Area Ahead" sign. A few feet behind that is one of those signs with the picture of the flagman. I turn the corner and I see a cop car with its lights flashing and several construction trucks down the road. It looks like they are repairing a downed telephone wire. The cop car's door opens and I see that he has one of those flashlights with the light up cone to signal traffic. You know, because they like to think they have light sabres or something. Now again this is all happening around 3AM so its all very surreal. Who puts out "Work Area Ahead" and "Flagman" signs that early in the morning?

I think the cop is going to wave me through but he instead walks up to my window and pulls out his normal (Breathalyzer) flashlight. He asks me where I came from and I tell him. He asks me if I saw the Road Closed sign. I say no, the only signs I saw were the "flagman" sign. Now this is a critical point in the conversation. He could think it strange that I have mistaken the image of a flagman for the words "Road Closed," and then assume that perhaps something happened to the "Road Closed" sign. Or....he could be a jerk and think that I have the intelligence of a jar of almonds. He picks the latter. He asks me "why I didn't see and obey the Road Closed sign." Now mind you also, I have a respect for authority, so when a cop talks to me I sound like a blubbering idiot. I say the following things, after each response he again asks me "why didn't you see and obey the Road Closed sign." I say: I was listening to the radio (this evoked an added--listening to the radio means you can't read a sign?--, I thought you were performing the same action that cops do on the interstate when there is construction, which is why I slowed down, and I thought you were the signal man.

I was so caught off guard by the fact that there was no Road Closed sign that I must have sounded drunk. I'm really surprised he didn't pull me out of the car in all actuality. He gives me this speech about how important it is to pay attention, totally demeaning my ability to confuse images with words and then tells me to turn around and go back the other way. Really? Couldn't he have just said that from the get go?

Now here is why I'm scared: I turned around I went all the way back down the road just to make sure that I didn't miss the sign and that I wasn't an idiot. There was no sign. Only the "Work Area Ahead" and "Flagman" signs. Theoretically this guy could have given me a ticket. Isn't that frightening? He didn't but he could have. I'm scared because if he did, I would have had to go through a protracted series of event to clear my name and avoid paying the ticket--or--suck it up and pay the immense fine, to which I just don't have the funding for at this point in time.

I will concede the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps the sign got knocked over. Maybe the road crew or another cop removed the sign, thinking that the area was secure. But I swear on my life I didn't see one. Also--don't you normally put "Road Closed" signs in the middle of the road to prevent people from going further? I saw those white piles of phosphorus from the flares....usually when you see those piles, it means that whatever happen has been taken care of and you can continue. Also, the cop car was on the side of the road as opposed to blocking it from on coming traffic. All of this, combined with no visible "Road Closed" sign, to me anyhow at 3 AM while listening to Sirus NFL radio talk about how awful JeMarcus Russell is, means to me, that the roadway is open, but to proceed with caution. It scares me that I was in a position where I could have received a ticket for in my mind, correctly interpreting the scene that was in front of me. I also would like to add that instead of trying to nose my way through the construction area, I did come to a complete stop and wait for the officer to instruct me further. I was ill prepared for the interrogation and lecture.

I also find it very peculiar that the cops in this Township are the biggest jerks. Two encounters; two bitter tastes in my mouth. All the other local cops of the municipalities in which I conduct most of my daily activities are really nice guys. I know not a lot happens in this Township...other than the occasional Prison Break attempt or the Water Reservoir coming under stress and almost breaking, thus causing a disastrous flash flood, so maybe a guy like me allows these cops to get their kicks and in so doing, take the edge off. But seriously--why you gotta be like that? What good is it doing you or the community you swore to protect and serve?

As I turned around and started backwards to determine whether or not I had missed the Road Closed sign, I saw three other vehicles, one of the drivers on a cell phone, heading past the "Flagman" sign. I, in someway, felt vindicated.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Haunted House Tips

Gravestone Manor has been running for two weekends. I really hope that my friends and family are able to come see what we've been working hard on for almost six months.
However, I realize that some people who may read Haunted House Writer might not know me as well as others. I also would like to encourage those who have trepidations about coming to Gravestone Manor, or any haunted for that matter.


1) Never tell anyone your name. Even if its the person selling you tickets or the person who tells you when to enter the actual house. Otherwise they will spread your name throughout the house and every room you enter. It can be creepy. If you are a polite person, kindly answer "What's your name" with "I'd rather not tell you."

2) Be careful about what you wear. If you wear a hoodie that says "U of Pitt" someone might say something like, "The sorcerer prefers souls from Pittsburgh" and then you are creeped out. Perceptive Haunted House workers constantly look for any little thing to add to the "creep" factor. Don't wear flip flops. That's for safety. Don't wear white. Sometimes white will glow in black light, thus painting you as the perfect target for someone lurking in the dark corner.

3) ALWAYS KEEP YOUR CELL PHONE IN YOUR POCKET!!!! The glow will also paint you as a target, it is distracting for both actors and other patrons. You may be scared and want more light, but the other people in your group may want to actually experience the Haunted House for what it is, so ultimately it's inconsiderate.

4) If something scares you, don't tell it that it scares you. Almost every tour I see something like this: A clown pops out of it's hiding spot, girl's huddle together and shout "I HATE CLOWNS," and now that guy in the clown outfit makes his way directly toward those girls and doesn't even care about the other people in the room. So even if you've just messed yourself, don't let anyone else know because you might mess yourself even more.

These are the things that come to mind right now. Please keep them in mind as you go Haunted House Hopping. Maybe you won't feel quite so anxious and you would be more willing to go with your friends. Please whatever you do, make sure one of those stops is Gravestone Manor.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Thoughts on RENT in local theatres

Again, apologies for the delays but its Haunted House season and Gravestone Manor is kicking it into high gear.

That being said some of you might also be asking "I think this post is about Rent the Broadway Musical. What is scary about that?"

I would counter with "that is a good question." Then I would stare at you until you asked me what the answer was because I'm so exhausted this time of year that I would need a kick in the rear to keep going.

Here is why I'm including Rent in a blog about scary things. Recently Rent left Broadway. When that happens, other theatres can purchase the rights for it and then stage their own productions. Recently I saw one of these productions. Now friends, do not automatically assume that I am going to say bad things about what I saw because everyone who acted in the show did really well. I was very much impressed. But there were some trends that I saw that might happen in many theatrical renditions of Rent that are scary because they take something away from the show. Rent is a finely tuned machine. There are very few liberties that one can take. If you do something a little bit different you have to make sure that you don't take away from the show's strengths. This is more so a warning for anyone considering putting on a production of Rent and again, this is not a slight on any of the actors involved because I think everyone did exceptionally well.

1. In my experience, it is the tendency of theatres to try to incorporate as many people into their cast as possible. When they aren't paid professionals, the inclination is to be fair and to give a lot of people a chance. This is fine. It is not fine however for a show like Rent. There are 8 principle parts and a variety of smaller roles for the ensemble. The ensemble is to represent the rest of the city and those that the main characters encounter. So there is definitely a need to have a number of actors.

But it is very unnecessary and in fact quite dangerous to load the stage with actors. The production I saw had so many people on stage for the big numbers that it seemed like they were hurting for room. Rent is so incredible because of its energy. To simulate energy you need movement. To have movement you need space. When you load the stage with have no space. That was the big problem I had with the production I saw was that there were so many people on stage that the possibility for movement was almost non-existent. The actors all wanted to move and they had lots of energy, but it got lost when they really had nowhere to go. Something to consider.

B. Sometimes I change to letters. That's right, who caught that?

I'm afraid of this as well: We all love the Rent soundtrack. We have grown up with it and have listened to the voices of the original cast for how long? Some of us also have the movie soundtrack and also the DVD of the Final Performance to study as well. We know these songs inside and out. It is only our natural instinct to try to match what we know and love. But we don't have to do this. Trying to match the original soundtrack can actually decrease the quality of the live performance.

That being said I think people need to be cautious of this as well. It didn't happen often, but every so often there were a few times when singers would add unnecessary runs and inflections and what not. It wasn't a deal breaker, but something that caught my attention. We aren't Idina Menzel or Adam Pascal. Taking risks is okay if you know your limits. If we are lucky enough to be cast in Rent it is because someone recognized and appreciated our voices. Stay true to yourself and sing the song that it sounds good regardless of weather or not it sounds like the original. Just don't over do it. Remember this the next time you are on stage singing "Take Me or Leave Me."

3/C. Lastly...the thing we all need to be aware of: Angel does not have to be portrayed as flamboyant. His costuming will take care of that. He is sincere, he is gentle, he is the heart of the show. He holds everyone together to the best of his ability. To "gay him up" is distracting and in actuality takes away from the character. Remember: If you play Angel, have fun, be a drag queen, dress like Santa, play drums, jump up on the table and love Collins...but whatever you do, don't be flamboyant.

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