Tag Archives: Halloween

CAPSULE: MURDER PARTY (2007)

DIRECTED BY: Jeremy Saulnier

FEATURING: Chris Sharp, Kate Porterfield, Tess Porterfield Lovell

PLOT: On Halloween night on a whim, Chris collects an invitation to a “murder party” with no explanation and shows up in a cardboard costume; the party turns out to be more than he’d banked on, as his hosts are a collective of artists out to commit a murder to win a performance art grant.

Still from Murder Party (2007)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Well, come on, it’s a black comedy/horror that never really strays into uncharted territory. Made on an impoverished budget, the premise is original and the characters are a raving cast of oddballs, but it only adds up to a fun diversion with chuckles and gore, not weirdness.

COMMENTS: Chris (Chris Sharp) plants his foot on a party invitation fluttering through the grimy streets of New York, and since the invitation isn’t directed at anyone in particular, he accepts it as his. It’s Halloween night, after all, and he just wants to party for once in his dull life. Woe betide Chris! His chakras are out of alignment, his lucky stars are in retrograde motion, and his karma is moldy. After fashioning a quick get-up, he sets out to find the party, attired as a cardboard knight. From the minute he arrives at a trashed warehouse in an industrial hell-zone, this party seems off-kilter. The other attendees scoff at the invitation and pounce on him, all but ignoring the pumpkin bread he baked for the potluck dinner.

Chris is tied up in a chair in the warehouse, and we get to know our hosts: Bill (William Lacey), a ghoulish baseball player who sullenly sits on the floor playing with his phone all night; Macon (Macon Blair), a drunk and insanely clutzy werewolf; Paul (Paul Goldblatt), a meek participant who has trouble living up to his aristocratic vampire costume; Lexi (Stacy Rock), in a gleefully deranged impression of Pris from Blade Runner; and Sky (Skei Saulnier), the closest thing to a normal person there, and also the most allergic to raisins. They’re soon joined by Alexander (Sandy Barnett), a purveyor of fine arts and hard drugs with a six-figure grant to hand out to an artist that impresses him. The gang of artists have decided that their art project will constitute committing a fully documented murder. But they needed to set a trap for a random victim, so they made this invitation—and they can’t believe it worked.

Now that we’re set up for a story, sit back and munch candy corn (no seriously, it’s featured prominently) and watch the festivities unfold. There will be lots of chaos, as none of these people, least of all Chris, are remotely capable at what they’re trying to do. Like any good horror movie, you will see lots of characters die, but this time most of them will be dismissed from this vale of tears by their own stupidity. Chris tries many desperate plans to escape, and what little success he has is by pure luck combined with a shocking lack of imagination. It’s a witty social satire for black comedy fans. It’s also the lowest-budget you could possibly have and still make a movie work. “Punk” is a perfect word to describe it; if you picture the people behind Repo Man making a Halloween movie that’s also a satire of pretentious artists—with an even smaller budget and no name stars—you’re pretty close to pegging it. The movie suffers from a lagging pace in a couple places, and some bits just plain don’t work. However, taken for what it is, Murder Party lives up to everything you’d expect from the title, just not much more.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“After an hour of entertainingly crass buildup, pic erupts in a riot of outrageous, quite funny violence that leaves almost no one alive. Punk/metal soundtrack is in keeping with gonzo tone.”–Dennis Harvey, Variety (contemporaneous)

SHORT: THE TRICK IS THE TREAT (2013)

recites a list of yummy Halloween treats, but something is a bit off… This short by 366 fave celebrates “the euphoria of the Halloween candy score… and the paranoia of the Halloween candy predator…”

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As our own Pamela De Graff  likes to say, everyone out there have an unsafe and insane Halloween!

THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (1976)

When it comes to Halloween entertainment there are perennial television special favorites.  Like most fans of the holiday, I would rank Charles Schulz’ It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966) and Rankin and Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) near the top of the list.  A few years ago, however, a friend sent me a slice of heaven in the greatest ever hour of Halloween entertainment : The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976).  Lynde, for the unenlightened, was a comedic entertainer who got his break in Bye Bye Birdie (1962), which lead to his popular role as the warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched (1964), to the The Paul Lynde Show (1972), and most famously to his entrenchment as the “Center Square” in the game show “Hollywood Squares.”  Lynde’s Halloween special is so stunningly beautiful, so representative of its era (and what an era the 70s was: the last great decade of American pop culture), that I felt a pronounced nostalgic lump in my throat.  This Halloween bash seriously belongs in one of those time capsule thingys that we occasionally shoot into space for Martians to peek at.

Of course, with the banality of reality TV and unimaginative attachment to hyper-realism, some will pooh-pooh my blushing exclamation as misplaced nostalgia.  Others may see the show as a bizarre curio from a long gone era (these are the boring and predictable types who think of everything pre-existing their entry into the world as relics from tens of thousands of years ago).  On my end, I will utterly dismiss the naysayers as being hopelessly constipated.  You know the type.  They prefer angst-ridden X-Men to Jack Kirby’s fun lubbin’ Jimmy Olsen who teamed up with Goody Rickles and the Hairys.  Stay far, far away from these people.  They will only bring you unhappiness.  They will turn you gray, incorporate you into their bourgeoisie, status-quo painted white picket fence world, or, heaven forbid, get you a job in a faceless institution.  Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!

Still from The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)Now that we have that settled, you can kick back and immerse yourself in the glories of quintessential 70’s camp! Just think of The Paul Lynde Halloween Special like one those Roselyn Bakery Cakes with six inches of icing atop an inch of cake and indulge in this one-of-a-kind hallucination.

Paul bitchily rummages through the closet because he knows there’s a holiday of some kind around the corner.  Nope, it’s not Santa (love the wig).  No, it’s not Peter Cottontail (Lynde literally becomes a flaming bunny!).  Dagnabbit, Continue reading THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (1976)

BORDERLINE WEIRD: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)

AKA Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Henry Selick

FEATURING: Voices of Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman, Catherine O’Hara, Ken Page

PLOT: Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, discovers Christmas and tries

Still from The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

to recreate it, with ghoulish results.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: As a children’s film, The Nightmare Before Christmas has a high hurdle to overcome. Since it’s aimed at kids, the movie is permitted to indulge in imagination and fantasy, so long as it uses a conventional story framework and takes a stab at conveying a useful moral lesson. Nightmare has a great, morbid motivating idea and is a triumph of macabre art design, but at heart it doesn’t stray very far from the childrens’ film format. If it’s eventually to be counted amongst the weird, it will be solely for its incidentals and visuals.

COMMENTS: The opening song introduces us to the ghastly denizens of Halloweentown, including the expected assortment of witches, vampires and ghosts, but also a creature with black and white striped snakes for fingers, the “clown with the tearaway face,” and a two-faced mayor with a spinning top for a head and a freakishly phallic stovepipe hat. This legion of scary weirdos are ruled over by Jack Skellington, an elegant but spindly skeleton in a pinstripe suit. A grim gray pallor hangs over the town, which features an Expressionist pumpkin patch/boneyard with slanted tombstones and a curlicue hill permanently posed before a giant yellow moon. Bored with the repetitive routine of  Halloween, Skellington seeks new vistas and finds one when he stumbles onto Christmastown, an eye-popping festival of lights and toys set among blinding white snowbanks ruled over by a jolly fat man; the town provides the perfect visual and spiritual contrast to gloomy Halloweentown. A holiday architect looking for a new challenge, Jack decides to “take over” Christmas (incidentally kidnapping Santa Claus). After futile attempts to ferret out the meaning of Christmas by dissecting teddy bears and placing crushed ornaments in boiling beakers, Skellington hatches a plan to pose as Kris Kringle and deliver toys himself, which leads to the film’s keystone sequence: a horrific Christmas Eve sleigh ride through a doomed village, where the Santa-suited skeleton leaves ghoulishly inappropriate gifts for Christmastown’s tots, including a severed head and a tannenbaum-swallowing snake. It all ends in disaster, as Jack, who began with the best of intentions, realizes that his amateur staging of Christmas was a Nightmare and that he has to set things right and reaffirm his devotion to the Satanic rites of All Hallow’s Eve. The moral seems to be, attempts to understand other cultures are doomed to failure; stick to your own kind.

The character designs and intricate, almost hidden gruesome details (like the skeletal Halloween cock that crows the dawn) are the triumph of Nightmare. With a couple of exceptions—the bubbly, Broadwayesque “What’s This?” when bemused Jack first discovers Christmastown (“There’s children throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads/They’re busy building toys and absolutely no one’s dead!”) and a deviant number sung by three mischievous trick or treaters who plan to kidnap “Sandy Claws” (“Kidnap the Sandy Claws, throw him in a box/Bury him for ninety years, then see if he talks”)—Danny Elfman’s songs are flat and unmemorable, advancing the plot but not thrilling the ear. The story is also exceedingly thin, even at its trim running time of under 80 minutes. The original concept came from a Burton parody of Clement Moore’s “Twas the Night Before Christmas;” to pad out the running time, a romantic subplot and an antagonist were added. The love interest is Sally, a stitched-together female Frankenstein forever losing her limbs.  She’s constantly scheming to escape her creator, a duck-billed mad scientist with a detachable brainpan who wants to keep her locked in his castle, and she acts as a cautionary voice for Jack, trying to warn him off his insane Yuletide scheme. There’s no spark to their relationship, though, and though their romantic ending is pretty, it’s also pretty meaningless in story terms. The villain, Oogie Boogie the Boogeyman, is another wonderful character in search of a plot function. A burlap sack stuffed with creepy crawlies, gruff Ken Page gives him a 1920s boogie-woogie singer’s voice, and he makes a hell of a hellish impression. But he’s introduced late and has no real motivation: it’s unclear why he thinks that bumping off Santa Claus will help him unseat Skellington as king of Halloweentown. He pads the film, but his main purposes are to set up an unnecessary, anticlimactic action sequence for the finale, and (more importantly) to provide Selick the opportunity to build another magical set. And Oogie’s lair is it’s own freaky, fun world: his hideout is casino themed, with living gunfighter slot machines and worms crawling through the pips of dice, and it’s bathed UV lights to give the puppets an eerie glow. Though the script could have done much more to make him a meaningful antagonist, the awesome visuals this boogeyman inspires are reason enough for him to take up space in Nightmare‘s world. The entire story takes a back seat to the cute, Gothic animation, so why should Sally and Oogie Boogie be any different?

The idea for Nightmare was originally sketched out by Tim Burton at Disney Studios, before they fired him for “wasting company resources” by making Frankenweenie. After the director found success outside the Magic Kingdom, Disney was willing to work with him again, and he served as Nightmare‘s producer and even got his name in the title. In a case of history repeating itself, the studio again found the finished work too morbid and were afraid it would frighten young children, so they released it under their Touchstone subsidiary. Despite rave reviews, Nightmare was not an immediate success, but it has found a cult audience on video. Disney has since fully re-embraced the movie, removing all traces of the old Touchstone logos and prominently slapping the Disney name back on the prints, just as if they had been 100% behind it before it became a hit.

Related: Alfred Eaker’s A Few Odd Yuletide Favs.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Burton] pulls adult minds down to the surreal darkness of childish imagination — where the real nightmares are. But through Burton’s eyes, these dark dreamscapes aren’t bad places at all. In fact, they’re quite wonderful.”–Desson Howe, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

SATURDAY SHORT: HALLOWEEN TRASH (2007)

What the heck is a Shaye St. John? From the evidence provided in this short, it’s a scary, androgynous mask wearing figure that likes to film itself verbally abusing passing trick-or-treaters, then remix the resulting footage to make it look like a low-grade acid trip.  Or maybe it’s a robot?  Maybe its My Space page would help?

Oh, and happy Halloween, you luscious piece of trash!

366 EXLUSIVE: HALLOW’S DANCE

We are pleased to debut James Mannan and Robbin Panet’s short film “Hallow’s Dance” on the web.  Although there is a mild Halloween theme to the film, Hallow’s Dance should not be confused with a horror film.  It is in fact a drama, with the only horror being moral horror at the treatment of Frank/Mom.  Co-directed by Robbin Panet and James Mannan, it co-stars 366 scribe Alfred Eaker along with Jason Hignite, Chelsea Rogers, and Terry Dellinger.  It contains very mild scenes of suggestive sexuality.  The weird part is the short, experimental dream sequence which ends the film, which is shot in black and white with streaming beams of light, accompanied by a catchy organ tune.  The short runs approximately 14 minutes.

At the producers’ request, this film will not be released to YouTube or other video hosting sites, and will be available here for one month only.

[Our license to display “Hallow’s Dance” has expired. We will inform you if this film is released, on DVD or otherwise, in the future.]