The Ghosts of Winter

VGS 2At this “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” such crooners as Andy Williams promise “scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago”. Certainly, Charles Dickens in the Victorian era put his pen to good use, writing fictions including his beloved “A Christmas Carol” peopled with ghosts and spirits, but he followed ancestral examples in so doing.

Washington Irving mentioned listening to tales of “popular superstitions and legends” in his 1819 “Sketchbook.” William Shakespeare incorporated the supernatural into his theatricals. In his “Winter’s Tale,” it is said, “…a sad tale’s best for winter; I have one of sprites and goblins…” (Winter’s tales are sometimes synonymous with ‘old wives’ tales.’) Christopher Marlow’s Barnabus in his “Jew of Malta” from 1589 said, “Now I remember those old women’s words, who in my wealth would tell me winter tales and speak of spirits and ghosts that glide by night.”

Some scholars point to telling such supernatural stories as echoes from ancient times, when rituals and rites shaped the activities of the midwinter. Ancient Celts and Northmen set fires and scared one another with their mystical adventures.

Perhaps something in the deeper and longer periods of darkness of the season inspires writers toward Gothic sensibilities and Romantic inclinations. H.P. Lovecraft wrote an account of Yule horror called “The Festival.” In 1904, “Ghost Stories of an Antiquary” was published by M.R. James. The impeccable “Turn of the Screw” by Henry James begins with a recollection at a holiday gathering. “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You,” “A School Story,” and “Number 13” all have aspects of the festive season involved as well.

Victorian ghost storiesI’ve recently heard of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, with its religious recitations and occult rituals. Richard Darby edited “Ghosts for Christmas” in 1988, Peter Haining “Christmas Spirits” in 1983, and Horrified Press just released “One Hell of a Christmas” in 2014.

“There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas, something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts…” rightly said Jerome K. Jerome in his preface to “Told After Supper.”

So perhaps is behooves us to pull a chair close to the hearth, snuggle together with a hot cuppa, and nod to our ancestors with a spooky remembrance. Thus I wish you Happy holidays to all, and to all a good fright!

Happy Birthday, Tom Savini

tom_savini1Born today in 1946, Thomas Vincent “Tom” Savini is known throughout Hollywood and the horror world for his outstanding special effects makeup. Called “The Sultan of Splatter” and the “Godfather of Gore,” Tom’s interest in FX makeup began as a child. Lon Chaney inspired him, and he experimented on himself and any friends willing to serve as test subjects.

After graduating from Central Catholic High School in Oakland, Pennsylvania, Savini attended Point Park College in downtown Pittsburgh for three years before enlisting in the Army. He served in Vietnam as a combat photographer. In a 2002 interview with the Pgh Post, he described the haunting images. He said, “To cope with it (the hideous reality of war), I guess I tried to think of it as special effects.” When he returned from his tour of duty, Tom Savini attended Carnegie Mellon University.
Tom Savini acted and served as a stunt man in many films, including “Martin (1977),” “Dawn of the Dead (1978),” “Knightrider (1981),” “Creepshow (1982),” “Monkeyshines (1988),” “From Dusk Til Dawn (1996),” “Planet Terror (2007),” “Machete (2010),” “Django Unchained (2012),” and “Machete Kills (2013).” He also produced makeup effects for many of these films. Additionally, Jason Vorhees from “Friday the 13th I and IV” and Leatherface from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” are his creations. He directed the remake “Night of the Living Dead (1990)” and three episodes of “Tales from the Darkside.”
He’s written two books, “Grand Illusion” and “Bizarro” (the second with George A. Romero and Stephen King) on special makeup effects, and he heads a school for FX Makeup outside of Pittsburgh. Additionally, Tom Savini is an accomplished fencer and gymnast.

TV Review: Ash VS Evil Dead Premiere (2015)

ASHvsEVILDEAD1Like most fans of the Evil Dead franchise, I’m one of those guys who cringed and glared suspiciously through skeptical eyes at the announcement of an Evil Dead TV series.  I’m also one of those guys who feel that the original Evil Dead is far superior over its sequel as well as Army of Darkness, so when I was finally able to see for myself what Raimi, Campbell and company did with their baby, I was pleasantly surprised.  As a matter of fact, I’m fairly certainly a grin never left my face through the entire show.

A bit of history here:  I’ve been an Evil Dead fan since about the age of 13.  My mom rented it for me on a whim in the early 80s under the condition that I would babysit my sister and brother while her and my father went out on the town.  She knew I loved horror movies and so judged the film by the cover, brought it home and presented it to me in a transparent case with no visuals to help feed my curiosity.  Nevertheless, I wasn’t expecting the grueling terror I experienced that night.  Since then, it has been the film I’ve seen the most.  I know more about the making of this film than any other.  And I’m a Michigan boy where the movie took place as well as a handful of it actually being filmed here—some only 10 minutes from me—so naturally I’m a bit of a fan boy.

ashvsed2Eventually I befriended the makeup FX artist, Mr. Tom Sullivan, who happens to be a local.  He’s been to my house a few times for dinner and to hang out, lugging his props, paintings, and home movies of Campbell and Raimi’s old college indie films that most have never seen—all packed into a single VHS tape complete with a copy of “Within the Woods,” the short film made by Raimi, Campbell, and friends to raise money for the original Evil Dead.

As you can see, Evil Dead is very dear to me.  Heck, I haven’t even bothered to watch the remake.  I certainly wasn’t down with it being made.  In my opinion, much of the charm of Evil Dead is in its amateur and experimental composition.  From using cheap acrylic paints for makeup to jerry-rigged camera shots, it’s unique in every sense of the word and a movie that I feel will forever hold up on its own.

All that being said, I watched the entire 45-minute premiere episode of Ash Vs. Evil Dead under a microscope, making comparisons and looking for things not to like.  This proved to be a rather difficult task indeed.  Between the deadites, their voices, the sound effects, and particularly the camera work, there was no mistaking this was Raimi’s creation.  The deadites looked and sounded like deadites, Bruce played Ash just how we’ve always loved him—in the middle of a heap of trouble, sprayed with blood, and clumsy as ever.  Heck, Raimi even had Ash driving the original “classic” (Raimi’s Delta 88 that has made appearances in all his films, including the Spiderman trilogy), and when Bruce stripped off his work smock and you saw that blue denim-colored button-up shirt, you knew it was on!  Ash was back, baby!

ashvsed3If I have anything bad to say about the show at all it’s that the blood was clearly CGI, to the point where I wonder if they even tried to hide that fact; and the second—and this could be because I’m biased—but I think it would have been great to see Tom Sullivan’s original sketches from the book of the dead incorporated into the show rather than someone else’s work.

Kudos to Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert for pulling this off and giving the fans something they all knew we’d love.  I can now see why a second season has already been greenlit.

I have yet to see anyone say a bad thing about the premiere, and understandably so.  Although Ash Vs. Evil Dead is not dark and gritty like the first Evil Dead, I felt like Raimi and the gang paid very close attention to what people loved about Evil Dead I and II, because every little nuance is there.  I really cannot say enough positive things about the show; even my wife loved it.  We sat, laughed, cringed, and were left wanting more.  And as I turned off my television with a smile stuck to my face and a feeling of complete satisfaction, I knew it would be a long week ahead waiting for the second episode to air.