Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe!

edgar-allan-poe-portraitOnce upon a January dreary, while she labored, weak and weary, there came a gentle cry into the chill Boston air…

Born the second son of actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe and David Poe, Jr. in 1809, Edgar Poe became an orphan by the time he was two when his father abandoned the family and his mother died. John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia took him in and kept him until he grew to adulthood. Although they never formally adopted Edgar, they gave him the name “Edgar Allan Poe” and had him baptized in the Episcopal Church. During Poe’s formative years, the family travelled to Scotland and England. Upon his return to the United States, he served as a lieutenant of the Richmond Youth Honor Guard when the Marquis de Lafayette visited. Poe attended the University of Virginia for one semester, majoring in ancient and modern languages, but left when he couldn’t pay for higher education. Using an alias, “Edgar A. Perry,” and lying about his age, Poe enlisted in the Army in 1827 and published a collection of poetry “Tamerlane and Other Poems” as an anonymous “Bostonian.” He obtained the highest rank for a non-commissioned officer, but he ended his enlistment early.

After his foster mother died, Poe moved in with his Baltimore relatives, the Clemm’s, published a second book, “Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane and Minor Poems,” and entered West Point. His relationship with his foster father deteriorated, and Poe was disowned. He was court martialed in 1831 and pursued the life of a poet and writer. Fellow West Point Cadets helped finance his third book titled “Poems,” which was printed by Elam Bliss of New York. He placed prose in journals and won a prize for his short story “MS Found in a Bottle.”

27-year-old Poe married his 14-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm on 16 May, 1836. She died of tuberculosis in 1847, two years after the publication of his famous poem “The Raven.” Alcoholism plagued the Poe family. Edgar’s elder brother died because of alcohol in the early 1830’s, and Edgar himself lost positions due to drunkenness. He hoped to edit and produce a literary journal, but he died of unknown caused on 7 October, 1849 before he published.

Despite detractors such as Griswold and Huxley, Edgar Allan Poe left a legacy of writing, much of it gothic. Poe is credited with penning the first detective stories. To this day, Edgar Allan Poe’s iconic works influence popular culture in the United States and beyond. Several of his residences are preserved as museums, and The Mystery Writers of America present The Edgar, an annual award for distinguished writing established in his honor.

Halloween Forevermore remembers this amazing writer on his birthday.

“And so, being young and dipped in folly, I fell in love with melancholy.” Edgar Allan Poe


Autumn Sangria

autumn-sangriaAutumn is a time of change, so I suggest we switch up our Sangria, dress it with the proper spices and make it ready for the fall.

This simple recipe produces delicious and attractive results.

2 peeled and chopped pears
4 peeled and chopped apples
Jim Beam’s Fire Whisky (about 2 ½ cups)
Burnett’s Pumpkin Spice Vodka (about ½ cup)
½ quart apple cider
bottle Pinot Grigio
cinnamon sticks

To make a sangria suitable for an autumnal gathering, begin by cleaning, peeling, and dicing fruit of the season. I used Bosc pears and a mix of Gala and Granny Smith apples. Place the fruit in a bowl and cover them with Cinnamon whisky and Pumpkin spice vodka. I went heavier on the cinnamon because I like Jim Beam’s spicy bite. However, adjust the proportions to suit your taste. Float a few cinnamon sticks atop. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
When preparing the drink for consumption, pour the drunken fruit into an appropriate container. (I used my crystal punch bowl.) Add ½ a quart of apple cider and 1 bottle of cheap Pinot Grigio. Turning Leaf caught my attention with its pretty label, appropriate name, and inexpensive pricetag. Give the mix a gentle stir. When serving, be sure to add a scoop of the fruit to float atop the wine glass. (The fruit was my sister Heather’s favorite part of the drink!)
Cheers, and happy haunting!

(Book Review) Night Things: Undead and Kicking


Terry M. West tells twisted stories well. His “Night Things Undead and Kicking” is no exception.
In it, Carol, a social worker advocating for the rights of the undead, died and found herself reanimated after a brutal attack on her place of employment, the Children of the Moon Shelter. Dr. Herbert West achieved his greatest success with Carol, whose DNA may hold the secret to controlling zombie herds and overriding the “horde frequency” that inspires bloodlust in the zombies.
Johnny Stucke, self-appointed leader of the Night Things takes Carol under his protection, but his interests may have a sinister purpose. Also, an ancient being going by the name of Edmund Wraight proves ready to explore Carol’s insides to claim her power as his own.
Terry M. West includes nods to greats of literary horror including Lovecraft, Shelley, and Stoker. He reshapes familiar monsters and fleshes them out to suit his “Magic Now” world, a modern world where creatures of myth and nightmare coexist with humans. The undead navigate social dilemmas, civil rights violations, and less-than-human standing.
Enthusiasts of classic horror will recognize a kindred spirit in Terry M. West. Though many are renamed and “modernized,” the horror icons make themselves known through West’s creative interpretation. He introduces new characters, too, and gives them motivations and believability.
“Undead and Kicking” is an installment in the “Magic Now” series, which includes “Dracula versus Frankenstein” and West’s decidedly grittier prequel, “Monsters and the Magic Now,” but this newest novel stands on its own. With the back story established in the earlier books of the series, “Undead and Kicking” uses straight-forward writing, interesting characters, and flashbacks to provide a quick and enjoyable read.

50th Anniversary of Dark Shadows

dark shadowsOn 27 June, 1966, ABC introduced an American Gothic Soap Opera. It aired after school, targeting a teenage audience, and despite a slow beginning, the show garnered a following. It ran until 2 April, 1971, resulting in 1225 episodes exploring the angst-filled lives of the wealthy Collins family of Collinsport, Maine.
“Dark Shadows” leaned on inspiration from classic writers such as Poe, Bronte, Shelley, and Wilde. After a year, the series introduced its most popular character, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), a Vampire with an infatuation. Ghosts, werewolves, witches and warlocks, and man-made monsters joined the cast. Action began when Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke), an orphan with unknown ties to the Collins’ legacy, travelled by train to the Collins’ Manor to serve as governess for the reclusive Elizabeth Collins Stoddard’s (Nancy Barrett) two children, Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) and David (David Henesy).
The series made use of flashbacks, time travel, and a parallel universe. Actors often portrayed more than one character or returned as ghosts. A storyline set in the late 1890’s aired in 1969 and boosted ratings. The series next introduced the idea of unseen forces, Leviathan, controlling matters, which did not inspire as much enthusiasm from its viewership, and ABC cancelled “Dark Shadows” on 2 April, 1971. Its cancelation left several storylines unresolved, including disclosing Victoria’s parentage.

barnabas collinsCreator Dan Curtis said he came up with the idea from a dream. Art Wallace wrote for the series and Sy Thomashoff designed the sets. Robert Cobert created the musical score which earned a Grammy nomination and reached the Billboard Hot 100 charts. “TV Guide” ranked the television show “Dark Shadows” among the Top Cult Shows Ever. It was released in syndication, and movies inspired by the series were released in 1970 (House of Dark Shadows) and 1971 (Night of Dark Shadows). NBC aired a remake of the series starring Joanna Going as Victoria and Ben Cross as the 200 year old vampire, Barnabas Collins, which ran from 13 January, 1991 until 22 March of the same year. Tim Burton directed a 2012 comical cinematic release of “Dark Shadows” starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas.
During the height of its television popularity, “Dark Shadows” also found its way to novelizations, features in magazines, and comics. Board games, coloring books, jigsaw puzzles, and a View-Master reel sported “Dark Shadows” images.
Episodes are available on Hulu and available for purchase through various media outlets. There is talk in Hollywood of a revival series.

Send a Card to Bill ‘Chilly Billy’ Cardille

Chilly BillyWilliam Robert Cardille, better known as Chilly Billy, host of “Chiller Theatre,” spent years in Pennsylvania broadcasting. He began his career in Erie, PA, in 1952, and his was the first voice broadcast on 1 September, 1957 on WIIC Channel 11 (Now known as WPXI). He also lent his talents to “Studio Wrestling,” “Dance Party,” and “The Annual Jerry Lewis MS Telethon” as well as other shows.
For his iconic role with Saturday evening’s “Chiller Theatre,” Chilly Billy and his staff of costumed ghouls performed skits during commercial breaks and between the two featured films. Characters portrayed by Cardille included Captain Bad, Maurice the Matchmaker, and Mr. Magnificent. In addition to skits, he told corny jokes to an appreciative animated skull, read horror-scopes, shared trivia, and entertained guest stars including Vincent Price. He and WIIC publicist Robert Willis wrote the skits, and Henry Mancini and Al Caiola performed the show’s theme song, “Experiment in Terror.” The show ended 1 January, 1984, but the official website, http://www.chillertheatermemories.com/index.html, remains online. Bill Cardille continued his broadcasting career until his August, 2014 retirement.
Cardille played a reporter (himself) in George Romero’s 1968 landmark horror classic “Night of the Living Dead” and his daughter starred in the sequel “Day of the Dead.”
Cardille was awarded “The Heart Award” in 1976 for his volunteerism and named AFTRA’s Television Personality of the Year and inducted into the AFTRA’s Hall of Fame in 1979. The Pennsylvania Broadcasters Hall of Fame inducted him in 1997. Pittsburgh City Council declared 28 September, 2010 “Bill Cardille Day.”

He fathered three children, including his actress daughter, Lori, who recently posted the following plea to social media:

“My dear father, Chilly Billy, Bill Cardille, received a cancer diagnosis that will be quite challenging to say the least. His spirits are tremendous which is not a surprise. I thought it would be nice for dad to know how you enjoyed him during your childhood years or any years for that matter. I want him to feel the love that he so freely gave during his lifetime. Even just a card. You can send it to:

Chilly Billy, c/o Century Communications 313 East Carson Street , Pgh. Pa, 15219

Thank you friends. It will mean so much to dad. Please send this along to anyone you know that loved my dad. With a grateful heart, Lori Cardille.”


Preacher posterSo, after having spent the last few months threatening to “give it to us but GOOD”, AMC finally fulfilled that threat a couple of weeks ago by debuting PREACHER, the launch of a freshman series from two minds known more for subversive comedies, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on the graphic novel series by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. Now before I go any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to having never read the series. This may be a good OR a bad thing, depending on how much of a ‘purist’ you are when it comes to these kinds of adaptations. I know there are certain properties I feel pretty strongly about, but this was not one of them. I went in armed only with the intel I have gleaned from some wiki pages, and from my longtime best buddy, who happens to be my comic and graphic novel ‘guru.’

Just based on first impressions alone, AMC hasn’t served us up anything this “batshit-crazynuts” since Sheriff Rick Grimes had to off a not-so-cute little zombie pre-schooler, in the first season of THE WALKING DEAD. And folks, you know that in terms of TV time, that happened EONS ago.

I’m pretty sure Seth and Evan knew that they had to come HARD with some wild shit right out of the gate, and it seems they had no problem doing THAT whatsoever. The opener treats us to a ball of extraterrestrial force hurtling through the Milky Way, towards Earth, where it proceeds to find itself a suitable living host, in the form of several random holy men. Emphasis here on the word “SUITABLE”, because the unlucky ones who aren’t? Well, the resulting rejections are pretty explosive…as in more explosive than you would be after a 12-taco-5-bean-burrito-binge at T-Bell.

preacherframe1Meanwhile, in what seems like completely random fashion, we are introduced to three vividly unique characters, starting with our titular lead, Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper, who plays Tony Stark’s dad in the MCU). Jesse is not very good at this religion business and he knows it, barely hanging on to his congregation, spending more time rearranging the letters that some sterling wit chooses to change up each Sunday, to display some pretty raunchy messages. But with his church being in a place like ‘Annville’, Texas, something like that is pretty much par for the course.

Next up is Cassidy (Joseph Gilgun), with the smile of a viper and an Irish brogue thicker than an entire bottle of Jagermeister. He appears to be the hosting bartender and life-o’-the-party aboard a private jet seemingly, filled with rich Wall-Street-asshole types, but a marked-up Bible in the men’s room indicates to him that his clients are a lot more than that. Here, we get introduced to one of several intense action sequences that seem to explode out of left field (lots of things exploding in this pilot), and oh, by the way…did I happen to mention that Cassidy is a vampire?

preacherframe2But wait…before you even get a chance to catch your breath, here comes Priscilla Jean Henrietta O’Hare, aka “Tulip” (Ruth Negga), and her introduction is every bit as badass as Michonne’s was on THE WALKING DEAD, if not moreso. Fighting for her life against two men in a speeding muscle car, smack in the middle of a Kansas cornfield, (and the way this sequence is put together is nothing less than amazing), she enlists the help of a couple of local kids to further hamper the efforts of more ‘bad guys’ who try to come for her. The results are not good for THEM, of course, but for Tulip, they are – to quote the two tykes – “AWESOME!”

And that sets the tone and the stage for the rest of this eye-popping pilot, as the dynamics between Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy are established, and not to mention that strange force, which reappears to change the game completely.

And you know me…I love my character actors, and I didn’t think I could get anymore excited about this series, until I spied W. Earl Brown (DEADWOOD, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY) in the cast, as the Sheriff of Annville, Hugo Root, whose son, Eugene (Ian Colletti) is a friend of Jesse’s. Eugene’s nickname is “Arseface” in the books, from what I understand, and when you see him…well, you’ll understand why. He’s another of the many colorful characters that will have an important part to play in this majorly messed-up story.

If you are more than familiar with Ennis and Dillon’s series, none of this will be new to you. But if, like myself, you haven’t seen panel one of the graphic novels, it will definitely occur to you that PREACHER is not your grandad’s style of storytelling. In fact, we’ve been waiting for some time to see what the next level looks like after GAME OF THRONES and THE WALKING DEAD. This, folks, is just one series that is bringing it. Yes, more questions than answers are provided, as with any good show that you’ll want to follow, to obtain those answers.

preacherframe3From what I understand, PREACHER has been on the boards for a couple of decades, and had been turned down by several major cable outlets before AMC snapped it up. Well, the enthusiasm and love that Rogen and Goldberg have for this property shows in every frame, from casting to visuals, and pulling in BREAKING BAD scribe Sam Catlin ensures that even though they can’t just rip the stories off of the book’s pages, and splatter them all over the screen verbatim, there won’t be the kind of sugarcoating or watering-down that most of the books’ fans feared it would be. Looks like AMC invested wisely.

I know that these guys can count ME as being on-board to see where Jesse and his pals are going with this.

London After Midnight

lomframe1London After Midnight
Reminiscing about a lost film by Kerry E.B. Black

On this day, 17 December, 1927, MGM Studios released the American silent mystery film “London After Midnight.” Director Tod Browning of “Dracula,” 1931 fame, based the movie on his short story “The Hypnotist.” “London After Midnight” was Browning’s first attempt at a vampire film and starred Lon Chaney in a dual role. Chaney also provided uncredited makeup artistry which produced an iconic look for its monster. Some of the effects he used included sharpened teeth and a haunting eye apparatus which required monocle-like wire fittings. Fishhooks in his cheeks created the character’s eerie grin. Chaney exaggerated the vampire-like qualities of the nemesis to differentiate it from the film’s investigator, since he portrayed both. The movie includes a bit where Chaney used his famous makeup case. Modern filmmakers of “Babadook” found inspiration and incorporated Chaney’s dark-hatted character into its own monster. Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion also used Lon Chaney’s depiction as a model for their hatbox ghost.

A melancholy menace permeates the story. Roger Balfour (Claude King) supposedly committed suicide. Five years later, his neighbor Sir James Hamlin (Henry B. Walthall) discovered mysterious interlopers including a ghostly woman called Luna the Bat Girl (Edna Tichenor), her assistant (Andy MacLennan), and a black-hatted fellow capering in the abandoned Balfour’s estate. He and his nephew, Arthur Hibbs, called on Scotland Yard’s inspector Burke for assistance. Arthur (Conrad Nagel) feared the ghoulish intruders were vampires. Lucille Balfour (Marceline Day), Roger Balfour’s now grown daughter joined the investigation but began hearing a voice similar to her father’s calling from the garden. The Balfour’s staff, including Williams the Butler (Percy Williams) and the comedic new maid (Polly Moran) participated in the action as the cast discovered Roger Balfour’s body missing from its tomb. Hypnotism, requests for trust, gunshots, and an abduction spurred the action until they solved the mystery.

lomframe2When the film premiered at the Miller Theater in Missouri, set musicians Jack and Sam Feinburg heightened the experience for those in attendance by performing works by Greig, Rappe, Wagner, and Ase. The film’s production was $152,000, and it grossed $721,000 at the domestic box office, marking a successful collaboration between Lon Chaney and Tod Browning. Contemporary critics at the New York Times criticized the “sometimes incoherent storyline,” and Harrison’s Report felt the story was nonsensical. However, Film Daily called it “a story to disturb the nervous system of the more sensitive patrons,” and The Warren Tribune noted Chaney’s presence in most every scene “in a dual role that tests his skill to no small degree.”

Although the last known copy of “London After Midnight” burned in 1967 during a vault fire at MGM, Turner Classic Movies reconstructed the film in 2002 using the original script and film stills. It gives a feel for what the movie must have been like. The Internet Movie Data Base lists “London After Midnight” was release in eleven other countries. In Australia, it’s known as “Der Vampyr,” “The Hypnotist” in England, and “La Casa Del Horror” in Spain. Film enthusiasts hope to find an undamaged copy of the film. In 1935, Tod Browning remade the film as a talkie “Mark of the Vampire” starring Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi in the Lon Chaney roles.

One ill-intentioned soul cited Lon Chaney’s portrayal in this film as an unsuccessful defense for an attack. In the 1990’s, Californian songwriter and musician Sean Brennan began a gothic rock band named London After Midnight.

Animal Spirits

ghostdog (1)

I was lying in bed, not yet asleep, when I felt my cat Indy jump onto the bed and cuddle beside my legs. Of course when I looked she wasn’t there; Indy had died two days earlier. But I knew I’d felt her presence that night, and still do from time to time.

So do animals have spirits? Souls? Can they come back to their beloved humans as ghosts, or haunt their former abode?

The idea that animals have immortal souls is not new. The ancient Egyptians mummified their pets to have them with them in the afterlife. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c. 582 – 496 B.C.E.) believed that animals and humans had the same kind of soul and could, after death, be reincarnated into another animal or human body. In the Middle Ages, an animal could be held responsible for its actions, taken to court, and sentenced for its crimes.

The legend of a spectral black dog with eyes that glow red, yellow, or green is well-known in British folklore. It haunts graveyards, lonely country roads, moors, and coastlines, and may have been the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Many historical sites are said to be haunted by the ghosts of animals that lived or perished there. Tour guides and tourists alike have reported hearing the roar of lions and tigers in the Colosseum of Rome. Carew Castle on England’s Pembrokeshire coast is reportedly haunted by a small pet ape belonging to a 17th century tenant who was murdered on the grounds.

The Hollenberg Pony Express station in Kansas was only in operation from 1860 – 61, but some claim they have heard ghostly horse hooves galloping by. The misty apparition of a horse and rider sometimes appears on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania battlefield, and the sound of dying horses can be heard amidst other ghostly sounds. Also in Gettysburg, a bull terrier named Sallie, who was a Union Army mascot, is said to be heard growling as she watches over fallen soldiers.

The Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, founded in 1928, is the final resting place for over 40,000 animals. Like many cemeteries, it is said to be haunted. For example, actor Rudolph Valentino’s Great Dane, Kabar, who was buried there in 1929 has since been heard barking and panting, and even been felt licking visitors’ hands.

Several horses and riders have been killed over the years while trying to cross the intersection of 95th Street and Kean Avenue in the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Hickory Hills. Drivers and passersby have reported seeing horses and riders crossing the road late at night, only to disappear a moment later. Some claim to have seen a horse being dragged as though a car had hit it and dragged it before coming to a stop. There have also been reports of a ghostly dog warning riders of danger around the road. It is believed the dog may be the ghost of a local fire department mascot named Felix, who while on active duty was credited with saving a number of lives. Upon his death he was honored with a stone and buried at the intersection.

Animal spirits have appeared as a wisp of mist, an orb, a shadow, a warm presence, an indentation on a bed, a disembodied bark, purr, or whicker, and even a full apparition that can actually be photographed.

Entire books have been written containing anecdotal accounts of pets – especially dogs, cats, and horses – coming home to comfort their grieving human.

Just like my Indy.


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!