Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

(Submitted by a truly hardcore fan of the entire Ape-y series, Mr. Anton Phibes…Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, ya dang dirty human!! ūüėČ xoxo)

We’ve all been to the Planet of the Apes before. Many times, in fact. The first visitation was in 1968 and it was a most magnificent trip. We made frequent stays throughout the ’70s. All were incredibly lovely, but lacking the majesty of the first. After a long hiatus, we journeyed back with Tim Burton in 2004, but I think we’d rather forget about that one. Our last two “Ape” vacations were pleasant enough, but I feared that the magic was gone. They certainly looked nice, but there was nothing really memorable about them. That’s why It is with great pleasure that I report that War for the Planet of the Apes is not only a fantastic return to the Planet, but perhaps the best since the first.

War for the Planet of the Apes is still very much a Planet of the Apes,¬†but the “War” aspect is very prominent . The film takes inspiration from¬†war movie classics like The Great Escape, Bridge on the River Kwai (based on a novel from the author of Planet of the Apes), and¬†Apocalypse Now.¬†Odd influences for a science fiction film, but it all works so very well. And while War¬†of the Planet of the Apes does indeed draw from these sources, it still feels very much like its own film.

Picking up not long after the previous film, the movie depicts the further escalation of the conflict between ape and man. The ape clan, led by the chimpanzee Caesar (Andy Serkis), is at war with a military faction known as Alpha-Omega, lead by The Colonial (Woody Harrelson) ¬†Not wanting to suffer any more ape casualties, Caesar plans to relocate the clan from San Francisco to the desert. ¬†However, on the the night before their journey, the apes are attacked by¬†Alpha-Omega, who kill Caesar’s wife and child. Filled with rage, Caesar begins a quest to avenge his kind.

The film is truly spectacular in every sense of the word. There’s a grandness to the entire picture, not dissimilar to the epics of David Lean. Director Matt Reeves does a masterful job balancing summer movie thrills, genuine suspense, and moving drama, even offering moments of silence that add weight to the proceedings. ¬†Reeves maintains a dark tone, but tempers it with moments of beauty. War for the Planet of the Apes is a grim film in some respects, but it offers hope and still serves as a rousing display of ape-based action.

Of course, a planet like this is only as good as the apes that inhabit it. And these apes are among the most human in the entire franchise. All of the ape actors are incredible and imbue their simians with personality, but the movie rightfully belongs to Andy Serkis. Serkis was fantastic in the previous entries, but his performance is downright perfect here. His face, his emotions, and his power all shine brightly through the digital make-up. It’s easy for one to forget that Serkis is actually a human in real life. If any modern performer comes close to the magic that Lon Chaney had, it’s Andy Serkis.

As Caesar’s great enemy,¬†Woody Harrelson is dynamite. Fearsome, cold, brutal… Harrelson’s Colonel is beyond chilling at times. Along with this version of Caesar, ¬†I believe The Colonel is destined to become one of the icons of this franchise. Newcomer Amiah Miller¬†is beyond endearing as the mute Nova, named for Linda Harrison’s role in the first two original PotA. She often steals the scene without saying a word, although she does get to sign a few.

War for the Planet of the Apes ends on a landscape that brings to mind the original film, hinting at what lies ahead. If they do another sequel, I will certainly see it. But I think they should end the reboot franchise here. I can’t imagine a more beautiful conclusion to this franchise than this. If this ends up being our last trip to the Planet of the Apes, I’d be more than satisfied. ¬†Hail Caesar.

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)

(Here’s a Creepy Cl-ass-ic recommended by Anton Phibes…Thanks for the Spooky Summary, Dr. P! I’m totally adding this freaky flick to my Must View Queue thanks to you! ūüôā xoxo)

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The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake is not a particularly thought-provoking film. You probably won’t have a deeper understanding of the human condition afterwards, nor will the plight of any of its characters move you to tears. This film will not inspire you to better yourself in any way and the only lesson one could conceivably learn from it is not to have your head chopped off and/or shrunken. There is absolutely no reason for this film to exist outside of ¬†delivering some gruesome shocks and lurid scenes of human heads being shrunk. For these precise reasons,¬†The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake¬†is a truly fantastic forgotten gem that’s just begging for rediscovery!

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After highlighting a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the film begins with three superimposed skulls menacing a man and I am already convinced of this film’s magnificence.

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The story concerns the unfortunate Drake family and the curse placed upon their them by a vengeful witch doctor. At the age of 60, every male member of the Drake family succumbs to death, ostensibly due to heart disease. If that wasn’t curious enough, their ¬†heads go missing and their skulls mysteriously show up later in the family vault. After his brother is claimed by the curse, Mr. Jonathan Drake¬† (Eduard Franz) is rightfully petrified of this ancient hex. As Jonathan quakes in fear, his daughter (Valerie French) and a police lieutenant (Grant Richards) investigate the bizarre theft of Mr. Drake’s brother’s head. The curse is the work of neighbor and shrunken head expert Dr. Emil Zurich (Henry Daniell) and his exquisitely gruesome zombie-like servant (Paul Wexter), both of whom were wronged by Drake’s ancestor. Will this macabre curse be complete, or will the Drake bloodline live on?

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Clocking in at a mere 70 mins., The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake¬†is a rather compact little chiller with absolutely no flab. Within it’s obvious budgetary confinements, the film ooze atmosphere, with the sequences at the head-shrinking parlour being especially creepy. Paul Wexter’s witch doctor is a fright to behold with mouth sewn completely shut and his feet covered in shoes of human flesh. The whole business with the shrunken heads is incredibly gruesome, especially for the era! No gore is shown, but we are treated to these uncomfortable sequences¬†in which a very fleshy head is processed in a vat of boiling liquid.in order to create the little noggins. For a film of the ’50s, this is really grisly stuff! The big reveal at the end is just so amazingly ludicrous, I wouldn’t dare rob you of its pleasure!¬†¬†The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake¬†is perfect cinematic fast food. You won’t get a lot of substance, but you’ll sure as heck get a lot of shrunken heads! If the promise of shrunken heads, sewn-mouthed creeps, and floating skulls isn’t enough to entice you, you are a tougher customer than I!

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Director Edward L. Cahn does an admirable job of cramming as many thrills and chills into a lean 70 minutes. His work here reminds me of a William Castle film,¬†which is just about the highest compliment I can give any B-movie maker! Mr. Cahn is also the man behind It! The Terror From Beyond Space, Invisible Invaders, and Invasion of the Saucer Men, so the gentleman knows how to make a pretty nifty fright film. During its initial run, this film was on a double bill with Invisible Invaders, an alleged influence on George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Nice work, Cahn Man!

FourSkulls7As treat to all you groovy ghoulies and cool ghouls out there, here is The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake in all its head-shrinking glory!¬†Enjoy this freakish film and don’t lose your heads!

In the immortal words of Ghoulardi, Stay Sick!

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#TBT: The “The Tell-Toon Heart” Edition

(Submitted by our Poe-tic Pal, Mr. Dr. Anton Phibes. Thanks, Mac(abre) Daddy!! ūüėČ xoxox)

A darkly happy birthday to that American Master of the Macabre, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe!

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Students of the macabre are very much familiar with the work and influence of Mr. Poe. In fact, there are very few practitioners of the scary story that don’t owe something to the exquisite horrors spawned from his wonderfully twisted imagination. Even as a child, Poe’s stories captivated me with their melodramatic fancy and lugubrious mood, and I know for a fact that Mr. Poe’s tales have had the same effect on all the other Pugsleys and Wednesdays out there. To honor this High Priest of Gothic Fiction, I’d like to take a moment to discuss 1953’s¬†The Tell-Tale Heart,¬†one of the most extraordinary adaptations of the Master’s work to ever grace the screen.

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Narrated by the legendary James Mason, UPA’s animated retelling of The Tell-Tale Heart is a masterfully animated dive into the depths of pure insanity. The surrealist imagery,¬†incredible colors, and limited animation¬†perfectly illustrate the escalating madness of the nameless narrator, creating an unnerving atmosphere that is, in a word, scary. The¬†British Board of Film Censors thought so too, making it the first animated feature to be given an “X” rating. Despite this controversy,¬† it was rightfully nominated for an Oscar in the ‚ÄúBest Animated Short Film‚ÄĚ category. Capturing the gloomy spirit of Mr. Poe, it is as perfect an adaptation as one could hope for.

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In all its eerie glory, here is UPA’s The Tell-Tale Heart!

As a bonus cartoon, here is an episode of Cartoon Network’s Time Squad¬†in which Poe gets his groove back! It’s decidedly lighter short than UPA’s short, but it’s still a delightful tribute to our dear Mr. Poe.¬†

Happy Birthday, Mr. Poe. Your influence and work will live on for evermore.

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Scary Shorties: The Jester (2016)

(Submitted by Dr. Anton Phibes…Thank you, Sinister Sir! ūüôā xoxo)

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Greetings, boils and ghouls! We here at Kinky Horror like to shine a blood red spotlight on some glorious grotesquies that you may have missed. Today’s hidden gem is a shocking short from MakeDo Entertainment¬†simply titled The Jester.

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The Jester¬†tells the tale of the titular ghoul, a¬†petrifying prestidigitator who punishes those who lack the Halloween spirit. With a spider-like grace and a silent charisma, he stalks the night to search for an audience for his macabre magic. At only ten minutes, The Jester¬†creates a wonderful monster that could easily support a full-length feature. Heck, this mad magician has the potential to become a franchise figure! While there are some conceptual similarities to Sam from Trick ‘r Treat,¬†The Jester stands on his own as a guardian of Halloween. For those looking for an early Halloween treat, check out The Jester¬†below!

Coal for your Stocking: 5 Creepmas Episodes of Terror-Vision Favorites!

(Submitted by a gent who is chock fill o’ Ho-rrorday Cheer, Mr. Dr. Anton Phibes. A very scary Creepmas to you, my good ¬†very bad sir. ūüėČ xoxo)

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GOOD LORD!! *choke*

We only have five days until Creepmas! We have to get as much Merry Madness out there before the big day! The “slay” bells must ring so loud as to wake the dead and we must drown ourselves in Egg Nog! There’s only so much time to make the our days scary and dark! To help keep Creepmas in your wonderfully dark little hearts, we here at Kinky Horror would like to share with you some must-see Horrorday class-sicks ¬†to keep that Ghoul Log burning! These little lumps of coal are some the most festive installments of some of our favorite horror shows on the small scream and we hope these winter scary tales scare the (Charles) Dickens out of you and help to make your Creepmas delightfully weird.

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1.) American Horror Story – Unholy Night

American Horror Story: Asylum is a firm lock for my second favorite season (my heart belongs to Freak Show), and a perfectly macabre bit of genre television with a host of creeps and madmen to delight and drive mad. One of the craziest crazies in the crazyhouse is a psychotic “Santa Claus” ¬†with a mean naughty streak and a penchant for spreading Creepmas fear! Ian McShane plays the krooked Kringle to repugnant perfection and his slaying is made all the more gruesome when juxtaposed with the warm trappings of the season. Christmas with the inmates can be a scream!

“There is no God, but there is a Santa Claus!

-Leigh Emerson, Killer Santa

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2.) Tales from the Darkside – Seasons of Belief

You know Krampus, The Grinch, The Bumble, and the Gremlins… but do you recall the most fearsome monster of all?

The Grither is a ferocious beast that¬†lives in a cave on the other side of the mountain that Santa resides, housed inside the wreckage of a ship. The Grither hates nothing more than to hear his name taken in vain and will punish any fool who dares to utter his name. Tales from the Darkside was never my favorite horror anthology shows, but this episode is a woefully under-seen¬†Creepmas treat. Just… don’t say his name, okay?

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3.) Invader Zim – The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever

Invader Zim¬†is perhaps the darkest program ever to masquerade as a “kid’s show”, and we absolutely adore it for that very reason. The plot concerns a hopelessly inept alien invader looking to conquer a small, obscure planet… Earth. For this Creepmas special, the titular Zim looks to achieve conquest by pretending to be Santa and sending us to his homeworld to be imprisoned. This is perhaps the only animated “family” special to end with Santa mutating into a horrible, ungodly monstrosity and being launched into space to die. Merry Christmas, Earth Monkeys!

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4.) The Addams Family – Christmas with the Addams Family

Terror-vision’s first family of fright celebrate’s Creepmas in their own inimitable way. Of all the specials on this list, this is probably the most traditional, complete with seasonal decor, a reaffirmation to the existence of Santa, and a warm carol sung to the audience. However, the whole affair is seasoned with that special arsenic-flavored humor that has made the Addams clan so dear to us all. Why not spend Creepmas with the Family?

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5.) Tales from the Crypt – And All Through the House

We close this selection Creepmas goodies with a visit to the Crypt of Terror. And All Through the House¬†is certainly a class-sick of the highest order, first appearing in the pages of Vault of Horror, being brought to death by Hammer director Freddie Francis in the Amicus version of Tales from the Crypt, and finally making it to the small scream. This sadistic Santa story¬†is a favorite of many of us here at KH and as a treat to all you festive freaks, we present this Ghoultide masterpiece in its entirety! Naughty… or nice?

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We hope these creepy chestnuts make your Horrorday as scary as it is merry and we’ll end our seasonal offering with a sincere and simple…

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and a Happy New Fear! ūüôā

 

Arrival (2016)

(Submitted by Anton Phibes…Thank you, Kinky Ho-bot. PS- #AmyAdamsRules!! ūüėČ xoxo)

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Isolated on a relatively small ball of dirt and water, ¬†Mankind has always longed to know if, on other worlds or in the unexplored depths of what we call “space”, there exists intelligent life to equal or even surpass us. ¬†Inquiries of this nature have been explored so often in science fiction, it has become standard practice for the genre. However, stories of alien visitations or journeys to uncharted planets continue to fascinate us because we, despite our best efforts, are no closer to knowing the truth. Through our fancies and fantasies, we try to envision what an encounter with honest-to-goodness extraterrestrials would entail. Would they be the war-mongering nightmares H.G. Wells cooked up in War of the Worlds? Is it possible that we would disturb the creatures with our customs? Would their arrival be a grand explosion that will instantly alter our existences or would it be subtle, to the point where none of us our even aware that they are here? Would they be humanoid or something more incredible than we could ever dream of? These are questions that may never be properly answered outside the realm of fiction, but what fascinating tales they lead to.
arrivalfanartDirector Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016) is one such story that imagines what an encounter with visitors from another world may play out. Much like The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), Arrival presents this scenario with a sort of optimism. The story deals with mysterious spacecraft that appear across the globe. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and an elite team of experts are brought together to investigate and perhaps establish some connection with the unearthly guests, eventually known as “Heptapods”. Squid-like in appearance and communicating through an advanced ink-based language, the Heptapods and their intentions are nearly impossible to decode. As¬†Louise and ¬†mathematician ¬†Ian (Jeremy Renner) work desperately to understand the Heptapods, world¬†leaders begin to lose their patience with the alien presence, fearing the Heptapods are here to destroy Mankind. With tensions quickly growing, Louise and Ian must push themselves to fully understand the Heptapods before Earth attacks the potentially peaceful creatures.
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Like the best of science fiction, Arrival is rich with mood and thought-provoking concepts, as well as alien spectacle. With an eerie quality and suspense that would fit well within a more horrific sci-fi outing, the film draws you in with its clever story and otherwordly atmosphere. Though there are no huge invasion sequences or alien attacks like many other films within the genre, there are never any dull moments and the imagery is as awe-inspiring as any alien-loving sci-fi fan could hope for. Its pacifistic message of understanding is truly refreshing and gives it feel like a worthy descendent the aforementioned Day The Earth Stood Still.¬†Though I dare not spoil the story, I will say that there is an element involving time that’s both intriguing and beautifully heartbreaking in ways that only the best genre fiction can achieve.

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Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker as the US Army Colonel are both excellent in their roles, but it’s Amy Adams who dominates the picture. Haunted by the loss of her daughter and driven by her thirst for knowledge, Louise Banks is both a largely admirable character and a sympathetic figure and Adams is able to convey this with a very human complexity within very alien situation. Adams’ Louise stays strong through her personal tragedy and emerges as a throughly brilliant and likable heroine. I truly believe Adams deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance.

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Arrival is a most extraordinary sci-fi picture that lovers of the genre ought to love.  In a way, it feels like a journey into a wondrous land of imagination that Rod Serling might have guided us on. With heart and mind, this picture is a science-fictional fable that reminds us of the power of the genre and fascination we all have with extraterrestrials. Though may never have the pleasure (or horror) of an actual alien visitation, Arrival is a brilliant and surprisingly human encounter with beings from beyond the stars.

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#MMM: Guillermo del Toro- At Home with Monsters

(Submitted by Mr. Anton Phibes…Thanks, you total del Toro Super Stan, you!! #SoNotABadThing ūüėČ xoxo)

One could describe Guillermo del Toro in a multitude of ways. He has called a genius, a visionary, an innovative filmmaker, and many other lovely things that certainly do apply to a gentleman of his talent and imagination. Of the many ways he has been described, I think “fan” stands out as describing him as much as his appeal as a genre filmmaker. Many make horror and fantasy features, but del Toro thrives on them and respects them. Del Toro sees the inherent beauty in a much-maligned spectrum of film and unearths the elegance that was always there. With a keen eye for fantastical imagery and an empathy for the most unusual creatures, del Toro demonstrates the exquisite beauty of the peculiar to a wide-reaching audience. Del Toro sees what the horror community sees. He is one of us.. Gooble, Gobble!

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“Bleak House”, as it has christened it, is del Toro’s own House of Horrors, a personal museum of the macabre to honor the ghouls and monsters that have inspired his work. surrounded by blood-red walls and filled to the gills with eldritch artifacts that range from movie memorabilia to medical oddities, it is essentially what one imagines what del Toro’s mind looks like, if it had taken physical form. Much like the catacombs of The Phantom of the Opera, it is a sanctuary in which the artist creates. Whether it be writing, storyboarding, or any form of creative expression, del Toro believes that an artist should be surrounded by images and items that inspired and will continue to fuel the imagination. While it is unlikely that we will be invited to the real Bleak House, The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) gave us a glorious taste of it with Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters, an¬†exhibition¬†showcasing nearly 600 pieces from del Toro’s collection! While the exhibit closed on November 27th, I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey through the bizarre world of¬†Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters.

Guests are greeted by the skeletal visage of the Angel of Death from Hellboy II: The Golden Army. A grotesque spectre and personification of Hellboy’s inevitable demise, he guards the entrance and serves as beautiful preview of things to come… the overture to this symphony of horrors.

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The exhibit is organized into eight sections: Childhood and Innocence, Victoriana, Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult, Movies, Comics, Pop Culture, Frankenstein and Horror, Freaks and Monsters, and Death and Afterlife. Each representing a theme in del Toro’s work or a personal fascination that has shaped his art. This exhibit is as much a celebration¬†of macabre works in various media as much as it is of del Toro’s own work. For all lovers of the fantastic and the horrific, there is something here to adore.

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Del Toro’s fans were not disappointed, as all of his films were brought to vivid life through storyboards, props, costumes, startling recreations of his most memorable monsters. Guests were able to stare down the eyeless menace of Pan’s Labyrinth’s Pale Man and gaze upon The Faun from the same film.Artifacts from the Hellboy films were scattered about each section. The Gothic nightmare of Crimson Peak was well-represented by costumes and paintings.¬†Pacific Rim‘s Mako Mori was honored with her costumes (both as an adult and as a child) prominently displayed near the entrance. This was about as close as one could get to being in one of del Toro’s fairy tales.

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Of the many wonders on display, I was particularly awe-stricken by¬†Thomas Kuebler‚Äôs hyper-realistic renderings of three principal cast members from Tod Browning’s masterpiece, Freaks. Freaks¬†is a film of profound importance to myself and to see Johnny Eck (the half boy), Schlitzie (the pinhead), and Harry Earles (the dwarf) resurrected in silicone was waking dream. Their splendour was encapsulated in Kuebler’s figures and we had the rare chance to admire the beauty of these performers outside of that magnificent film.

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Like many monster lovers, del Toro holds a special fascination for Frankenstein, a story that will forever be synonymous with monster fiction. I, too, hold a special place in my heart for Boris Karloff’s iconic turn as the Monster, so Frankenstein’s significant presence in the exhibit was almost as thrilling as the Freaks tributes. Anyone who has ever felt a tad strange or different can relate to Mary Shelley’s creation. On the monster, del Toro said, ¬†“I saw in the creature of Frankenstein a beautiful innocent creature in a state of grace who was sacrificed.’ Of the numerous tributes to the great horror story, I was very much amazed by Mike Hill’s recreations of Karloff’s Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester’s Bride, and¬†Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Pretorious, all from 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein.deltoro10

There were sculptures of not just monsters, but the men behind them. After all, behind every great lab creation is a mad scientist. Among the sculptures were Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Dick Smith, Ray Harryhausen, and Jack Pierce. What great ghouls to honor. Art from iconic horror artists, such as comic legend Bernie Wrightson and Famous Monster’s of Filmland’s Basil Gogos were on display, along with other fantastic paintings. Concept art from Disney classics, including the Sleepy Hollow segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, hung proudly near anatomical oddities. Mechanical oddities sat near busts of great magicians. A 1907 edition of Alice‚Äôs Adventures in Wonderland¬† was not far from original pages from Alan Moore’s From Hell. To put it mildly, it was paradise on Earth in every regard!

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Del Toro’s exhibit is a true treat to his fellow fans or for those who seek beauty in the grotesque. While the LACMA run may have ended, the exhibit will be traveling to Minneapolis and Toronto, giving more of us a chance to walk through our delightful weird fantasies. Guillermo del Toro, despite all his success, is one of us and has shown no signs of turning his back on horror culture. Like Lovecraft, Poe, and all the other giants he looked up to, del Toro has inspired younger monster lovers, perhaps eventually creating new monster makers in the future. A brilliant filmmaker/collector may commission a del Toro statue at some point. He’d certainly deserve it.

Thanks for making the world a little weirder, Guillermo!

Ho-stess’s PS- My take on our #MMM’s Mad Monster Museum. ūüėČ xoxo

Celebrating #Simpsons600, Halloween-Style.

As you’re probably well aware, FXX is currently enabling our Thanksgiving-time bingeing tendencies by airing 600 eps of The Simpsons in a row.

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In my humble Ho-rror Ho-sting opinion, The Simpsons was pure magic for over a decade or so. (As of this writing, they are only up to #235 or so, so still plenty o’ prime Simpsons viewing pleasure to be had. :)) It’s gone waaaaaaaaaaay downhill over the last few seasons, but that’s to be eXXXpected of any show that’s been on for centuries. (Literally…Look it up!!! ;))

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I will always love the characters, but it’s no longer a must-watch show for me. Save, of corpse, for the Treehouse of Horror eps; those I will tune in for till the end of time. (Which seems to be their plan… ;))¬†I remember watching the very first ToH as a youngin’, and being terrified/mesmerized. From that moment on, Simpsons was mandatory viewing for me every Halloween season, and I know I’m not the only freaky fiend out there who feels that way.

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Here to offer us his (enchanting! :)) take on the OG Treehouse of horrors is Mr. Dr. Anton Phibes…Thanks for this, ho-mie. Now back to the marathoning I go… ūüėČ xoxo

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“The wind outside nested in each tree, prowled the sidewalks in invisible treads like unseen cats.Tom Skelton shivered. Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows’ Eve. Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet. Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades. From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.”

-Ray Bradbury

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“I love Halloween.”

-Homer Simpson

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It has been said that for horror aficionados, everyday is Halloween. There is a truth to this, but it undermines the majesty of Halloween and the black spell she casts. Halloween is the time for ghosts and ghouls, but we who love horror make time for those sorts all the time. What makes Halloween beautiful is that it is the time the world shares our love for the strange and macabre. Even the folks who generally don’t love all things spooky and kooky take time to honor monsters along side us. Pop culture makes no exception to this. It makes no difference if you are Elvira or Madea this season… all of us surrender to the eerie glow of Halloween.

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One of my many traditions is to pay a visit to The Simpsons and their Treehouse of Horror. Ever since the second season of the long-running sitcom, the Simpson Clan has done a trilogy of terror-infused tales every season. Though there have been many fantastic tales over the years, the first Treehouse of Horror remains my favorite and was very much a major influence on my love of Horror. After Tricks or Treats, Bart and Lisa decide to tell horror stories in their treehouse, making this the only Treehouse of Horror… with a treehouse! The tales are quintessential Halloween fare starting with a haunted house yarn, an alien terror tale, and a surprising straight retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven. What is most impressive is that each of these segments are directed like “real” horror stories. Hitchcockian camera tricks and eerie lighting worthy of Mario Bava are prevalent throughout the special, as are some genuinely creepy moments. In Bad Dream House (the first segment), there is sequence in which the beloved Springfield family is under the influence of a malevolent presence in the house ¬†that used to genuinely unsettle me as kid.

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This first special draws from EC Comics, the delightfully demented folks that gave us Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear, and other fantastic comic titles. Executive  producer James E. Brooks
stated, “The idea to parody EC Comics was really original and kind of shocking for a cartoon on network television.” EC was known to combine the humorous and the horrible to great effect, so this is an appropriate model for a Simpsons Halloween Special. From the fright scenes in which the entire frame is covered in garish light, to the macabre nicknames of staff members, to the pun-based segment titles, to the very idea of doing a anthology of fright fables, EC’s influence can be seen in every frame. Unfortunately, while some of this attributes would carry on to future installments, this is the only one that is overtly inspired by EC, though in Treehouse of Horror XVII, Mr. Burns would appear as the Cryptkeeper in a spoof of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt.

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Marge’s warning at the beginning of the episode masterfully sets the tone of the episode while paying homage to the Edward Van Sloane’s warning at the beginning of Frankenstein. From there, the Simpson children begin to weave their ghoulish yarns. Bart begins with Bad Dream House, a tribute to haunted house tales of all shades. As I mentioned before, this segment did give me the willies and I’m sure I’m not alone. The atmosphere is as thick as fog, essentially building up to two punchlines. For the most part, this is pretty creepy tale. The House itself is modelled after the Addams Family mansion… but the Addams home never changed its interior to match its mood, a brilliantly creepy touch. Though most of you have probably seen this episode, I dare not risk¬† spoil the ending.

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Next is Hungry are the Damned, a tense take on The Twilight Zone’s To Serve Man. As with that episode, the Simpsons are taken in by benevolent aliens… but are they as benevolent as they seem?¬† For the most part, this is one that is primarily on the horror side… until the show reveals that we’ve been played like a fiddle. The twist on the twist is both hilarious and clever, with a final thought reminiscent of the best of sci-fi literature.The aliens Kang and Kodos first appeared in this segment.¬† Their designs are brilliantly grotesque, calling to mind the aesthetic of ,50s sci-fi while managing to be wonderfully gross within the world of The Simpsons.¬†Since this first appearance, they’ve become a staple of the Treehouse of Horror series.

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The final segment is the one that had the biggest impact on me… The Raven. Edgar Allan Poe’s words are treated with reverence rare for any sitcom. The Gothic gloom of Poe’s poem is visualized beautifully in a way in which the gothic and the ¬†goofy dance together gracefully. There are visual gags, but they never distract from the mood Poe was so brilliant at. Having seen this at a young age, it opened my eyes to two things: the power of Poe and what perfect partners Horror and Humor can be. I’ve since devoured all of Poe’s work and I’m always in awe of work that can capture the dark of Horror and the light of comedy in one magnificent moment. Creator Matt Groening was concerned that this segment would be perceived as “pretentious”, but it seems to remain a favorite of not just myself, but many Simpsons fans.treehouse8

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Treehouse would become an annual tradition, producing many wonderful segments to come. However, it would eventually give rise to stories that would have less-and-less to do with horror the holiday they should be celebrating. This previous episode had little to do with Halloween, even spoofing spy films, a decidedly non-spooky subject. Despite this, I will always turn to The Simpsons for Halloween thrills. No matter how long they continue to make these Halloween specials, this first one is will always put me in a cheekily ghoulish mood.

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Quoth the Raven, “Eat my Shorts.”

By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth: A Look at Doctor Strange

(Submitted by Dr. Anton Phibes, who totally intended for this to be a #MMM post, I’m sure. ūüėČ #BecauseBenedictCUMberbatch!! ūüôā xoxo)

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Doctor Strange certainly lives up to his name. As Marvel’s eminent man of magic and Sorcerer Supreme, Dr. Stephen Strange has encountered werewolves, vampires, ghouls, satanic cults, demons, Lovecraftian abominations, living nightmares, and many more of my favorite things. Doctor Strange stands out amongst the other mainstays of the Marvel universe because he and his stories often revolve around the bizarre and the mystical, sometimes invoking the horror genre. There was a surrealistic, almost hallucinogenic quality to some of the stories that further helped to distinguish Strange from his fellow cape-sporting do-gooders. As someone with an affinity for the mysterious and magical, Doctor Strange is a more alluring figure to me than the average Marvel hero and remains my favorite of that company’s collection of comic champions. When I heard the Master of the Mystic Arts was to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I had worried that the wonderfully surreal magic of the property would be mostly lost. I’m more than pleased to report that this live-action Doctor Strange remains strange and is by far the best film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (“Um…Have you not seen Guardians of the Galaxy¬†and/or Daredevil???!!!” -D.P.)

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For those unfamiliar with the Good Doctor, Doctor Strange was created by Steve Ditko, and made his comic book debut in a 1963 issue of Strange Tales. Inspired by Chandu the Magician, a popular radio program of the ’30s, Ditko created Strange to bring themes of mysticism and black magic to the Marvel universe. The occult, astral travel, alternate realities, and dimensions were all central elements to the comics, naturally leading to some rather odd imagery. Ditko’s art depicted almost abstract oddities and colorful realms like no other Marvel title before. These attributes lead to Doctor Strange’s becoming sort of a countercultural icon. In T. Rex‚Äôs Mambo Sun, Marc Bolan sang, ‚ÄúOn a mountain range, I‚Äôm Doctor Strange for you.‚ÄĚ A 1965 psychedelic concert in San Francisco was called A Tribute to Dr. Strange, and he was hidden
on the cover of the Pink Floyd album, A Saucerful of Secrets. The Sorcerer Supreme made his live-action debut in the 1978 TV movie, Dr. Strange and lead to Dr. Mordrid, a direct-to-video Full Moon picture made when Charles Band’s rights expired before production. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe being wildly successful, it was inevitable that Doctor Strange would make a proper theatrical debut.

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docstrangeThe film (and comics) concerns the titular Dr. Stephen Strange, a surgeon whose brilliance is matched only by his arrogance. When a car accident renders his once skilled hands utterly useless, he searches desperately for a treatment to restore them. When contemporary medical science fails him, Dr. Strange journeys to Katmandu where he discovers a secret order of sorcerers, led by The Ancient One . He quickly learns that the sorcerers are engaged in a supernatural war against unseen dark forces bent on destroying our reality. Having been taught the means in which to save his hands, Strange is forced to decide between returning to his former life of fortune and success or to selflessly leave it behind to protect us from metaphysical threats, damaged hands and all.

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Doctor Strange was directed by Scott Derrickson, a man who works primarily within the horror genre with films like Sinister and Hellraiser: Inferno under his belt. Derrickson admirably honors the weirdo nature within the confines of the Marvel movie formula. There are some shades of the first Iron Man, but this film largely maintains its own feel and identity. Benedict Cumberbatch is absolutely perfect in the role of Strange, balancing pomposity with charm in way that has you invested in Strange, even when he acts like a complete ass. There is an ambition and even a likability to the character that makes the audience genuinely want him to grow and become the hero we know he must become. Tilda Swinton is fantastic as The Ancient One, effortlessly bringing out both the cruelty and kindness of the character with a twinkle of mischief in her eyes.

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Doctor Strange takes full advantage of the fantastical nature of the material and builds a world that is beyond the limits of our own and delivers genuine wonder. Chases take place on buildings melting into M.C. Eisher-like landscapes, souls leave their physical bodies for further adventures, and characters are sent through other dimensions beyond the capacity of men in just a few of the sequences that had me thinking, “this is what the movies are about.” This film reminds us of the majesty of fantasy and the power movies have to make us tourists in realms we may never know in the waking world. What’s also refreshing is that the final confrontation here relies not on violence, but the clever thinking and magic of Doctor Strange. Not a single punch is thrown. We have the rare superhero film where the titular character does not have to rely on brute force to save the day.

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In a year of Superhero epics, Doctor Strange stands above the rest and truly casts a cinematic spell that only the best film fantasies are capable of. It artfully juggles the weirdness of its material and the expectations of a superhero film. How wonderful it is to be a little Strange.

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Ho-stess’s PS- Much More Manly Meatiness, CUMberbatch Style!! ūüėČ xoxo

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Fangs for the Memories (aka Happy Birthday, Bela!)

(Submitted by Anton Phibes, on behalf of all of us Kinky Ho-s…HAPPY BIRTHDAY BELA!!!! ūüôā xoxox)

belabdayToday we remember Mr. Bela Lugosi on what would’ve been his 133 birthday.

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Mr. Lugosi, as I’m sure the lot of you know, was one of great icons of the golden age of horror and the most iconic Dracula to have ever risen from the grave. So inextricably tied to our modern conception of The Count is Lugosi that nearly every pop culture parody or tribute to the Vampiric Prince of Darkness speaks with an extravagant Hungarian accent. To many, Chaney is the only man behind The Phantom‘s mask, Karloff is the one true monster of Frankenstein, and Lugosi is the only Dracula with bite. No matter who sports the cape, Lugosi’s Dracula is the one we will all remember and has earned his place as one of History’s Greatest (Movie) Monsters.

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For those who have tasted the blood of Dracula and crave more, I recommend Return of the Vampire from 1944. Our Dark Lord Lugosi plays Armand Tesla, a vampire not far removed from Dracula. Curiously, this was only the second (arguably, the third) time Lugosi, an actor so very associated with Dracula and the Undead, has portrayed a vampire on the Silver Scream. This is also one of the few straightforward vampire films of the era, long before Hammer would open the mausoleum to a plethora of delightfully cheap Fang Features.

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Though not a Universal Picture, this film does fit in with the kind of fare the House of Monsters was doing at the time. I would be lying if I said I thought this was one of the finest Vampire films of all time, but I do have certain soft spot for it. With beautifully gothic sets, fog so plentiful is seems to seep from the screen, and a werewolf thrown in, it almost feels like a Horror’s Greatest Hits package and what fan of creepy creatures and gothic thrills could resist that? There is a kind of magic here only a good gothic fairytale can cast.

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Speaking of that werewolf, he’s one of the very few werewolves to speak like a Human! Not particularly frightful, but certainly memorable in his own right. Imagine if Renfield was a sideshow wolfboy and you have the werewolf here. Of course, the true star is our Birthday Boy, Bela. Lugosi is truly in fine form here, despite given very little memorable dialogue to work with. He commands the screen, like Tesla commands his lycanthropic lackey. With his always musical delivery and intense stare, Lugosi once again proves he is king of all vampires.

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Happy Birthday, Bela. Like a true Creature of the Night, you shall never die.

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