Category: Spooktober!

The Dark Shadows Television Series

Dark Shadows

Vampires, ghosts, and werewolves, oh my. Those were just some of the beasties on that spooky sixties soap Dark Shadows. And here were some of the show’s fans: teenagers, housewives, and hippies—who purportedly appreciated the trippy, otherworldly subject matter and play with time dimensions (oh, my).

The show had a huge following in its heyday, but an equally impressive cult following these days. It holds a place in history as the first Gothic daytime drama, as ABC’s first color soap opera, and, though this is a watershed tougher to measure, it was the first series with a broad Goth appeal. Even if spooky theatrics didn’t make for a kid’s regular TV viewing, they found themselves racing home from school, and moms found themselves racing out of the kitchen, postponing the preparation of that eve’s scrumptious family dinner for a half-hour of thrills and chills.

Dark Shadows was created by Dan Curtis, who would later compel viewers to whisk away tears in mini-series The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. The idea of a young lady governess who came to a seaside village to care for a rich little boy purportedly came to Mr. Curtis in a dream. Which makes good sense, because creepy Collinsport, Maine, and the even creepier Collinwood mansion (home of the Collins family) were certainly dream-ish places—dreams of the “bad” variety, that is.

After several months on the air, unfortunately, the show’s ratings were also of the “bad” variety. In a stroke of desperate revamping (awful pun intended), Curtis added a character named Barnabas Collins—an almost two-hundred-year-old vampire. This particular gentleman of the night was played by former Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid, who seduced legions of viewers with his blend of ghoulishness and humanity. After Barnabas proved a success, other supernatural characters were also unearthed—ghosts, werewolves and a witch named Angelique.

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Who Remembers McDonald’s Halloween Happy Meal Pails?

McDonald's Halloween Happy Meals

Right there on the advertisement, it says these are safe for children of all ages.  Well, I’m a thirty-something kid at heart, so I want these in my life again.

As a kid, it was a big deal to me to see these advertised in commercials, and wait anxiously for the day my Mom would take me out for a Happy Meal and I could get one.  Once she saw them, she thought the bucket itself was an incredible value, so we went each Saturday until we had two of each design.  And that wasn’t just for this one year, that was every year they had these things available.  Even the original run that were all jack-o-lantern themed with different faces on them.

I used them to trick-or-treat with, and then they would spend the rest of the year as storage for various toys and gadgets in my room.  My Mom used them to store clothespins in for taking laundry out to hang on the line.  I used to think that was such a waste for such an awesome bucket, but now as an adult (somewhat), I think it’s cool that she kept the Halloween theme on parade all spring and summer long as she took the laundry out.

What about you?  Did you have these too?  What kind of use did you put them to when Halloween had come and gone?

The Night Gallery

Night Gallery

“Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collectors’ item in its own way-not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, and suspends in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.”

Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone had a cult following like few shows this side of Star Trek, and ever since the program’s cancellation in 1964, the die-hards had been begging for new episodes. They wouldn’t get them during Serling’s lifetime, but the king of eerie TV satisfied the masses with an all-new anthology series in 1970. He called it Night Gallery, and while it wasn’t exactly the same thing as The Twilight Zone-in fact, it was considerably more horror-tinged-it proved that there were plenty of chilling stories left to tell.

A made-for-TV Night Gallery movie in 1969 introduced the format: Serling once more served as host, introducing each segment of the show by walking the guests at home through a gallery of creepy paintings. Each had a story to tell, and everyone was either darkly comic or just darkly dark. Like The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery rose and fell on those individual stories, and there were a number of highlights. Among them:

“Eyes” – Directed by a young Steven Spielberg and starring Joan Crawford, this segment from the pilot movie has Crawford as a blind woman desperate to buy or steal a working pair of eyes.

“Pickman’s Model” – In late 19th century Boston, a woman becomes intrigued by a strange painter and his horrible works.

“A Fear of Spiders” – A callous food writer turns to one of the recipients of his callousness when he finds a terrifying spider in his sink.

“The Return of the Sorcerer” – Vincent Price plays a sorcerer looking to unravel the secrets of an Arabic manuscript, hoping to find clues about his brother’s mysterious death.

“Rare Objects” – A gangster with a price on his head thinks he’s willing to pay anything for safety, but then, he doesn’t know what “anything” might entail.

As an anthology, Night Gallery had a cast that changed with every segment, and again like The Twilight Zone, the players included several famous faces: Crawford, Price, Leslie Nielsen, Diane Keaton, Edward G. Robinson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ozzie Nelson, Sally Field and many more. Initially, the series was part of NBC’s Four in One anthology hodgepodge, but by the fall of 1971, Night Gallery went solo.

The show’s popularity ebbed after the 1971-72 season – partly due to a shortening from one hour to a half-hour, partly due to conflicts between Serling and the producers and network – and after one more season of original episodes, the Night Gallery was closed. It may never have gained the same cult status as its Rod Serling predecessor, but Night Gallery lives on today, still chilling after all these years.

Elvira on The Fall Guy?!?

Elvira Fall Guy

For those of you keeping track of this sort of thing, I recently did a whole post on The Fall Guy, and my fond memories of it, and you should check it out if you were a fan, or if you’ve never heard of it in the first place.

Anyway, I came across this ad while going through some old TV Guides, and I was blown away!  I felt pretty sure I had seen every episode of The Fall Guy, but I’ve never seen this one.  I’m doubly surprised because I was a big Elvira mark back in the day as well, and yet somehow, this appearance has alluded me.  I will be quick to remedy this situation and track down the episode somewhere, somehow, and settle in and watch it in what I am sure is all it’s glory.

Any of you guys and gals remember this episode?

Ernest Scared Stupid Was Hokey, But Fun

Ernest Scared Stupid

Somebody with a runny nose is gonna die.

Having already applied his bumbling shenanigans to one holiday in 1988’s Ernest Saves Christmas, slapstick neighborhood doofus Ernest P. Worrell set his sights on Halloween in 1991’s Ernest Scared Stupid. Purring singer/actress Eartha Kitt joined in the spooky/goofy shenanigans, as did an army of slimy trolls.

This time around, Ernest is in suburban Missouri, working as a garbage collector. As always, he’s a friend to kids everywhere, so when a group of neighborhood preteens asks for his help building a treehouse, Ernest naturally obliges. But this particular oak tree happens to hold Trantor, a 200-year-old evil troll, and as local crone Old Lady Hackmore warns, the troll will be released if a Worrell puts his hand on the tree the night before Halloween and says, “Trantor, I call thee forth.” Well, stupid is as stupid does…

Once Trantor is released, the mean, mucous-covered munchkin sets out to capture the souls of Ernest’s young pals by turning them into wooden dolls. That’s bad enough, but when Trantor tries to pull his wooden magic on Ernest’s pet dog Rimshot, the little snotface has crossed the line. Ernest is out to kick some troll tushie, and this time, it’s personal.

The Halloween season wasn’t as good to Ernest as Christmas had been three years earlier. Ernest’s “human cartoon” slapstick still brought in fans, but not as many as previous films had. Ernest Scared Stupid was the last Ernest movie made in partnership with Disney subsidiary Touchstone, but director John Cherry and actor Jim Varney plugged ahead without the corporate backing, turning out Ernest Rides Again in 1993 and four more direct-to-video Ernest films over the following five years.

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Are You Afraid of the Dark

The age-old tradition of the campfire ghost story got a 1990’s update in Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? Debuting as part of the Friday night SNICK block in 1992, the show featured a group of teen and preteen storytellers, each telling tales of the spooky and the macabre.

Horror fan Gary was the founder of the Midnight Society, a club of kids who each week retired deep into the woods, lit a campfire and took turns scaring the living daylights out of one another. In addition to Gary, the original Midnight Society lineup included Betty Ann, Kiki, Frank, Kristen, David and Eric.

As each episode began, one of the Midnight Society members would begin spinning his or her web of gloom, and the show would segue into a dramatization of the story. The familiar vampires, werewolves, haunted houses, mad scientists, etc., were all present in the kids’ tales, but the stories also delved into Twilight Zone territory. Kids were given twisted morality lessons about prank phone call police, magic mirrors that showed inner ugliness, the problems with having your wishes all come true, and so on. And for the hard core scare fans, the Midnight Society also had its share of voodoo, cannibals, scary clowns and raising the dead.

The Midnight Society was the show’s only regular cast, as other actors took over during the stories themselves. That left plenty of room for guest stars, and Are You Afraid of the Dark? filled the bill with appearances by Bobcat Goldthwaite, Melissa Joan Hart, Neve Campbell, Boy Meets World’s Will Friedle and TV’s original Riddler, Frank Gorshin.

Midnight Society members came and went during the show’s first run, with Sam, Stig and Gary’s kid brother Tucker joining up to replace the exiting spook meisters. With the start of the sixth season—which came after a three years of no new episodes—an entire new Midnight Society was formed, with only Tucker hanging on as the group’s new leader. Excitable tomboy Vange, upscale Megan, burly farm boy Andy and streetwise Quinn were now the ones sharing their chilling yarns.

After more than seven seasons and dozens of nightmares, the Midnight Society continue to hold their macabre meetings in the woods, and as long as kids love good ghost stories, the tradition will surely stay alive.

And do you remember that cool dust they would throw on the camp fire to make the flames change colors?  Well you can get the can of crystals so you can replicate it at your own camp fire.  Check them out here on Amazon.

Who You Gonna Call? Ghostbusters!

Ghostbusters

They came, they saw, they kicked it’s-well, you know the story. Ghostbusters has become part of the pop culture Hall of Fame, spawning a film sequel, two cartoon series and a host of lines that are still quoted today- “Don’t cross the streams,” “Are you the keymaster?”, “Back off man, I’m a scientist,” ‘He slimed me!” and many more.

At the time, it was a gamble-a big-budget comedy starring a pair of Saturday Night Live alumni (Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd), a screenwriter (Harold Ramis) and Sigourney Weaver, who was still best known for her role in the original Alien.Ghostbusters would have to be a blockbuster to pay back its FX-inflated budget, at the time the highest ever for a comedy. Well, guess what…it did.

The title stars of Ghostbusters are three paranormal scientists-sarcastic “game show host” Peter Venkman, naive Ray Stantz and brainiac Egon Spengler-who just lost their university research grant. The timing could have been better. Paranormal activity in New York City is heating up, and the boys just had their first run-in with a real manifestation over at the public library. On Peter’s urging, Ray takes out a third mortgage and the three set up shop in a dilapidated old fire station, promising to fight all spooks, spirits and specters as the proton-powered Ghostbusters.

In a nicer part of town, concert cellist Dana Barrett has noticed some supernatural goings-on in her upscale apartment-eggs frying on the counter, an ancient pagan temple in her fridge, and so on. Against her better judgment, Dana makes the trip over to Ghostbusters HQ, where the womanizing Peter immediately tries to hit on her. Meanwhile, the lads have been up to their necks in ghosts, starting with a slime-trailing green blob in a fancy hotel.

Egon figures that something big is bubbling up, and Dana and nerdy neighbor Louis are inadvertently involved. The Ghostbusters hire Winston Zeddemore as their fourth member, but the whole operation is shut down by an uptight EPA official and the Ghostbusters themselves are thrown in jail. Even worse, the HQ’s “Ghost Trap” has been shut off, freeing the captured spirits to prepare the coming of the all-powerful Gozer. The Ghostbusters are freed just in time for a showdown in the Big Apple, taking on the Gozerian’s chosen form-the titanic, poofy, sugary-sweet Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

Co-written by Aykroyd and Ramis, Ghostbusters was originally intended to be a vehicle for Aykroyd and pal John Belushi. Belushi’s premature death in 1982 forced a change in plans, and the script was rewritten for Murray. No one knows how the original version would have turned out, but the Murray/Aykroyd/Ramis teaming, along with Weaver, Rick Moranis, Annie Potts and Ernie Hudson in key roles, was a winning combination.Ghostbusters became one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and its success was heralded with toys, video games, tee shirts and Ray Parker Jr.’s #1 hit title song.

In 1987, ABC debuted the long-running animated series The Real Ghostbusters, with new actors taking over the voice roles of Peter, Ray, Egon, Winston and the rest. The original cast was reunited in 1989 for a theatrical sequel, Ghostbusters II, another monster hit.

Eerie, Indiana

Eerie Indiana

This ultra-quirky sitcom was notable for any reasons. Not only did it place the family sitcom in a unique setting and situation, its sophisticated handling of its paranormal elements also paved the way for later non-sitcom shows like The X-Files and Roswell.

The show focused on Marshall Teller, a young man who felt quite homesick when his inventor father, Edgar, uprooted the family from their New Jersey home and moved them to Eerie, a small town in Indiana. Also along for the ride were Marilyn, Marshall’s mom, and Syndi, his narcissistic older sister. Marshall’s post-move depression quickly gave way to bemusement when he took stock of his new surroundings.

The town of Eerie truly managed to live up to its name. Bizarre things went on night and day: Elvis Presley lived in a little suburban house, there were two young men who had remained teenagers since the 1960’s by sleeping every night in giant plastic containers called Foreverware, and the dogs in the pound were making an escape plan that could only be heard over a friend’s set of dental retainers.

Unfortunately, Marshall’s parents and sister either were too busy to notice or wouldn’t believe him when he pointed these things out. Luckily, he found an ally in Simon, another kid his age who also believed that strange things were afoot in the town of Eerie. Together, the duo would ride their bikes around town and keep tabs on all the unusual goings-on.

Although nominally aimed at children, Eerie Indiana was smart enough to be enjoyed by older viewers. The series’ eccentric sense of humor made frequent use of in-jokes related to television and film, touching on everything from Twin Peaks to Godzilla. Also, the show wasn’t afraid to play with the medium of TV itself, something it did memorably in an episode titled “Reality Takes A Holiday.” In this episode, Marshall found a script for a television show in his mailbox and then realized his life was being turned into a show called “Eerie, Indiana.”

The show was canceled in April of 1992 after 20 episodes. However, it became popular again after the similar The X-Files became a hit, getting frequent reruns on various cable stations and building a cult of dedicated viewers. It remains popular with fans of the bizarre today for its mixture of eccentric humor and its sly knowledge of horror and science-fiction conventions.

Ouija Board

Ouija

So there’s no gray-haired psychic in your town? And you can’t sneak another call into the astrology hotline without your mom noticing the long distance charges? If you need some answers in your life, and answers more specific than the good old Magic 8 Ball can provide, the Ouija Board might be your next stop. Not only, for example, can the Ouija tell you if you should go ahead and color your hair, it can tell you what color you should choose. Fortune telling was never this specific! There is much debate as to what moves the pointer around on the board-is it the players themselves or the busybody spirit world? And if you think the 8 Ball has its fair share of literal-minded, no-fan-of-anything-you-can’t-reach-out-and-grab opponents, you should get a load of the apprehension and controversy that the Ouija inspires. All of it would make William Fuld, the board’s quirkily entrepreneurial patriarch, very, very proud.

In mid-nineteenth century New York, communing with the “other side” was all the rage. Spiritualist churches were popping up everywhere, and the city’s chic hostesses clamored for authentic mediums to attend their gatherings, so that chatty members of the spirit world could speak through them. As an alternative to all that zany vocalizing, there was “spirit writing,” wherein the medium would establish contact with a spirit, grab a pencil, and let the spirit do the rest. A doohickey called the “planchette” was invented for such parlor sessions-a small, heart-shaped plank (planchette means ”little plank” in French) with a pencil at the heart’s apex. The downside to spirit writing was that the mediums, or ahem, their spirit-communicators, didn’t always have the most legible penmanship, and message transmission tended to be a bore-and nobody wants that at a seance party.

“Talking boards,” the brainchild of three Americans named E.C. Reiche, Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard, came next. This rectangular wooden slab provided a flat surface for the wooden-pegged planchette to glide over, featuring the alphabet, numbers one through ten, and words “yes” and “no.” According to some, Kennard called the board “Ouija” after an Egyptian word for good luck, and even better yet (at least better for Ouija’s sometimes purposely murky history), Kennard claimed the board itself suggested the word. In 1892, Kennard’s ex-foreman, William Fuld, took the company over, named it the Ouija Novelty Company, and began producing the board in high volume numbers.

Ouija 2

Fuld, no marketing dimwit himself, concocted his own version of the Ouija’s genesis: claiming he invented the whole enchilada himself, and that the word Ouija was actually an amalgam of the French “oui” and the German “ja”-possibly just a way to force people to pronounce it correctly. Fuld didn’t own the market on talking boards (there was Milton Bradley’s Genii, for instance), but he certainly cornered it. In 1927, Fuld fell from a factory roof in his native Baltimore-some say suicide, some accident. Fuld’s children took over after that, and then in 1966, Parker Brothers bought the company.

Today, the board is made of folding cardboard instead of wood, and the planchette glides on velvet tabs instead of wooden pegs, but other than that, it looks nearly the same as it did over one hundred years ago. The alphabet spans the board in two crescent rows, the numbers are below that, and in the corners are the words “yes” and “no,” and at the bottom, “good bye.” All this handy data faces the player who sits at the base of the board, so if reading upside down doesn’t come easy, savvy players sometimes recruit a note-taker to jot down the letters, which can then be deciphered later.

The unspoken rules that go along with this game are legion. Never play it alone. Never play angry. Never, especially in the case of permanent hair color choices, let the Ouija be the final authority. Play at night, because according to Ouija aficionados, there is less traffic in the psychic atmosphere. Decide on one person who will ask all the questions, because there is less confusion to any, um, spirits who are out there, navigating said psychic traffic. Candlelight is recommended (the spirit world having always been a big advocate of energy conservation), and two players are best. The board is best placed atop the two players’ knees, but a table is okay if the candlelight is making a jittery player’s knees knock. Warm the planchette, or pointer, up by moving it around in circles, but then stop moving it altogether. Check for white around the fingertips, which indicate someone is pressing down, and then ask a clearly stated question. Hopefully, if the atmosphere is favorable and the traffic is light, the spirits will take over.

Or will they? Some believe the board is just a reflection of the players’ inner psyches no spirits at all, just us good old fashioned, earthbound folks who guide the pointer unconsciously. Fair enough, but let’s face it, sometimes the pointing isn’t always unconscious. Those same rascals who occasionally “borrow” from the bank in Monopoly when no one is looking are also known to form words on the Ouija Board deliberately. And then, of course, we feign great surprise (with a sly mental nod to their junior high drama class teachers) as that magic planchette spells out exactly what we want to hear.

Parker Brothers likes to avoid negative Ouija connotations, but when dealing with a supposed conduit for incorporeal intelligences, there’s a certain degree of creepiness can’t be helped. The board was supposedly banned in Britain during the 70’s, and there are plenty of parents and religious groups today who’d just as soon their kids just play checkers. Of course, all the mystique just sells more boards and makes impromptu Ouija sessions feel nicely forbidden and scandalous-a feeling you just can’t get from checkers.

The Monster Squad

Monster Squad

Long before the phrase “virtual reality” was coined, wax museum caretaker Walter accidentally brought replicas of Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man to life with his “crime computer.” The trio of leading men from horror’s golden age joined Walter to form the Monster Squad, dedicating themselves to a new after-life of fighting crime.

This show’s tongue-in-cheek attitude was reminiscent of the 60’s Batman series, but The Monster Squad didn’t reach the airwaves until the 1976-77 season, which was heavily laden with live-action series. Like many of its contemporaries, The Monster Squad featured a hip vehicle—in this case the squad’s van—and high-tech gadgets like the team’s belt communicators.

Character actor Vito Scotti played one of the villainous foes our heroes faced, a mad scientist dressed as a man on one side of his body and a woman on the other. Walter was played by Fred Grandy, who went on to TV fame as Gopher on The Love Boat. After ten years on that show, Grandy spent eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives. Alas, The Monster Squad was not as long-lived, returning to the grave after only one season.