Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Target Halloween Gift Card

Target stores have just put out a Halloween gift card, themed to the Japanese "Domo" monster, on which they've based their campaign this year.

The card itself is the "Domo".

Unfolding the cardboard holder reveals 4 sheets of static-cling reusable stickers to dress your Domo.


Here's the inside without the stickers sheets.

And the rear.

Did I Steal This Gift Card?

The small print on Target gift cards states that they have no value until purchased, require no fee, have no expiration date, and can be kept and reloaded at any time. To someone like me who shops regularly at Target, that translates to "Go ahead and pocket one once in awhile if you like." I suppose I could go through the motion of having the cashier put a couple bucks on it, spend it right away on a pretzel and a Red Bull, then keep the card, but that would just waste every one's time and wouldn't net Target one extra penny.

I have quite a little collection of Target gift cards, but aside from this Halloween Domo one, the only other card in my collection that is even remotely appropriate to showcase on this fright-themed blog is this one...

That's right---see what the world would look like if you were transformed into a fly! Sorry for the blurry scan... the bejeweled eyes of this "fly-vision" card keep it from resting flat on the scanner. Curious how things look in "fly-vision"? Something like this...

Domo Nation website found here.
Or shop for Target gift cards here.
Or purchase The Fly on DVD here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

13 Ghosts (1960) and Illusion-O!

William Castle's "13 Ghosts" (1960) is perhaps the perfect Halloween film for kids.

A family inherits a spooky old house from mysterious Uncle Zorba, who was known to dabble in the dark arts. It doesn't take long for the family to realize the house is haunted by no less than 13 ghosts. Each ghost is represented as a logo-style graphic during the opening credits, almost as if they were collectible cards.

The screaming woman; the clutching hands; the floating head; flaming skeleton; and Emilio with cleaver in hand.

Emilio's unfaithful wife; her lover; hanging woman; executioner and decapitated head.

The lion; lion-tamer without head; Dr. Zorba; and the mysterious 13th ghost..could it be YOU?

Castle was of course notorious not so much for the quality of his films as for the gimmicks and hype he used to fill the seats. For "13 Ghosts", the gimmick was "Illusion-O".

Illusion-O was sort of a close cousin to regular red/blue 3-D. The film is presented in standard black and white, until a ghost enters the scene, and an on-screen caption informs the audience to use their "Ghost Viewers".

As you can see, the Ghost Viewers are merely standard red/blue 3-D glasses but stacked vertically. The idea is, looking through the red lens caused the ghosts to stand out in contrast, making them visible, while looking through the blue lens helped obscure them in the blue background. In the context of the film, Dr. Zorba had invented some mechanical glasses that allowed the characters to see the ghosts, so when they put on their goggles, you can put on yours!

Let's try it, shall we? Here's the scene as it appears without the glasses. There are several ghosts here, barely visible.

Now let's be daring and look through the red lens...the ghosts are more clearly seen (or is that just my imagination?)

Looking through the blue "chicken" lens obscures the ghosts...but they are still kind of visible.

Let's see what other ghosts we can find:

As is evidenced by these screen caps, the ghosts are pretty much visible even without the glasses, and looking through the red or blue lens has little effect. The whole Illusion-O gimmick seems to be a bit of classic Castle ballyhoo.

The viewers pictured above came in my DVD of the film, which I bought many years ago. There was even a coupon enclosed to order additional glasses for friends and family, but that offer expired in 2002. Apparently later pressings of the DVD don't include the ghost viewer insert. But don't let that stop you from enjoying the film. Like I said, the whole ghost-viewing aspect is more sizzle than steak. And you can always flip the DVD over and watch the film presented in standard black and white throughout.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Words Every 6-Year-Old Should Know...

force emanating from somebody or something: a force that is said to surround all people and objects, discernible, often as a bright glow, only to people of unusual psychic sensitivity

of corpses: suggesting death or corpses ( formal or literary )

behead somebody or something: to cut off the head of somebody or something

make ethereal: to make something very delicate or highly refined

materialization of spirit: a supposed appearance in visible form by a spiritual being

paleness: an unhealthy-looking paleness of complexion

sad-sounding: expressing sadness or sounding sad

commemorative music: a piece of music written to commemorate somebody who has died

appeal made to somebody in authority: a humble and sincere appeal to somebody who has the power to grant a request

Do these words seem a little advanced for a six-year-old? And yet I knew them (well, most of them), thanks to Xavier Atencio. He's the Disney animator-turned-Imagineer who wrote the script for the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland, as well as the long-playing record that dramatizes it.

When I was six, my Dad surprised me one day with the album, titled "The Story and Song From The Haunted Mansion." It became my favorite possession, and despite literally hundreds of plays, survived into adulthood without a scratch.

Rather than write down to his intended audience of children, Atencio wrote some of the most elegant prose ever associated with a theme-park ride. If that meant a young listener had to check the dictionary, or ask their parents what a word meant, so be it. Check out this excerpt from the gallery scene:
Even in this flickering gloom, your cadaverous pallor betrays an aura of foreboding. Your trusting mortal eyes tell you that these walls are stretching. But logic says, "No, 'tis mere hallucination."

Or this scene just after the seance, when the ghosts, previously only suggested by sounds and moving objects, finally become visible:
Come now. We must leave this cozy little circle, for the spirits have received your sympathetic vibrations and are beginning to materialize.

"The Story and Song From The Haunted Mansion" has been very well documented at one of the greatest websites of all time, found here.

Word definitions courtesy of MSN Encarta.

UPDATE: This album finally saw an official release to CD in August, 2009.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Cellar: Safest place, or death trap?

Seeing "Night of the Living Dead" (1968, George Romero) was a rite of passage for me. Every year, around Halloween, it would play on late night television, and every year my parents would have a little discussion over whether I was old enough to see it or not. The Halloween that I was 11-years old, they decided I was finally old enough to stay up (midnight!) to watch it. It instantly became one of my favorite horror films and still is today.

I have no idea how well the film has aged, because every time I go back to re-watch it, I am 11-years old again. I buy into it absolutely, every time. The tension, the claustrophobia, the feeling that the world is coming apart and there's nothing you can do to stop it...that all the rules that hold society together are being incrementally broken and rendered irrelevant by the worst kind of monster.

As I got older, and began reading books about film, I became aware of the cultural subtext that elevated this little low-budget zombie film to a cultural touchstone. "Night of the Living Dead" has been described as an allegory for everything from the Vietnam war to the civil rights movement, from class warfare and capitalism to government impotence and the hippy culture. These interpretations are all highly subjective, but interesting.

The main conflict is of course between the suddenly reanimated dead who are mindlessly clawing towards the nearest living thing in search of food, and the seven people that have fled to an abandoned farmhouse in hopes of survival.

But a side conflict erupts among our protagonists. Should they stay on the ground floor of the house, where the many windows and doors serve as avenues for escape, but also as potential points of entry for the zombies, or should they all bunker down in the cellar, which has only one very strong door, but no other exits?

"The cellar is a death trap!" -Ben

On one side is Ben. Ben comes off as intelligent, resourceful, organized, level-headed. When he first arrives at the house, he fights off the few zombies that have found their way in, then sets about tirelessly boarding up the windows and doors himself. He finds a shotgun, and a pair of shoes for Barbra, who is rendered useless by shock. When he declares the house safe, we believe him.

In writings on "Night..." much has been made of the fact that Ben is black. In 1968 it was unheard of to have an African-American leading man among a cast of whites, especially without any attention being paid to it in the course of the plot. In fact, Ben's race doesn't seem to factor at all--none of the other characters make any reference to it, direct or implied.

Director Romero, from what I've read, did not deliberately write the part of Ben for a black actor, and only cast Duane Jones for the part because he gave the best read. This hasn't stopped some critics and fans from reading a commentary on race relations into the film.

The windows and doors boarded up, Ben is the one who tries to organize an escape plan. He wants to get out of the house as soon as possible and get to the nearest rescue station.

"That's the cellar. It's the safest place." -Harry Cooper

On the other side is Harry Cooper. Harry has been secretly boarded up in the cellar the entire time with his wife Helen, their daughter, and friends Tom and Judy. He makes his presence known about halfway through the film, and is almost immediately unlikeable. Chain-smoking, shifting and tense, barking orders at his wife and everyone else, Harry is the last person you want to be trapped in a house with.

The actor that plays Harry (Karl Hardman) is about 10 years older than Duane Jones, and his character does seem to represent an out-of-touch, older generation. When he challenges the safety of the boarded-up house, it seems more a result of his own narrow-mindedness than a legitimate concern. He rejects Ben’s plan to go for the rescue station...he wants to wait the night out in the cellar, where there's only one door to protect.

The argument between Ben and Harry begins almost immediately and never lets up, in a series of escalating exchanges:

"I'm telling you they can't get in here. You lock yourself in the cellar and those things get in here, you've had it. At least up here you have a fighting chance." -Ben

"Those things are going to be at every window and door in this place! We've got to get down to the cellar!" -Harry

"If you’re stupid enough to go die in that trap, that’s your business. However, I am not stupid enough to follow you." -Ben

In these exchanges, Ben always comes across as trustworthy, proactive and practical, Harry as cowardly and stubborn. Slowly, Ben wins over every one else in the house to his plan, except for damned pigheaded Harry.You find yourself rooting for Ben against Harry, even after a boarded window is breached.

It doesn't take long before it is clear that the first window breach was no fluke. Harry was right. The windows and doors aren't sufficiently reinforced, and they begin to come apart, one by one.

Helen falls to the ghouls.

And then Barbra is taken.

Overrun, Ben is forced to retreat to the cellar.

Although I had seen the film countless times, it never occurred to me that Ben’s final flight to the cellar represented anything more than the random course the night’s adventure had taken. It was only when I got older that it hit me how absolutely wrong Ben had been....the windows and doors weren’t strong enough, his insistence on staying upstairs had cost the lives of everyone else in the house, and I had been rooting for him, against Harry, the entire time on the basis of personality and likability.

When I finally had this revelation, I perceived a guilty resignation in Ben’s face once he’d fled to the cellar, that I had not seen before.

Ironically, the cellar door is only secure because Harry and Tom had reinforced it. "Tom and I fixed it so it locks and boards from the inside." Harry had told Ben earlier.

Harry at this point is a zombie in the cellar, and Ben is now faced with having to shoot him to secure his own survival in the very cellar he declared a "death trap". Ben now rides the night out, the lone survivor, in the safety of the cellar, protected with a door Harry reinforced.

As morning comes, Ben is awakened by the sound of gunshots. A posse has arrived and is shooting zombies on sight.

As Ben approaches the window to look, he aims his shotgun out the window.

I previously never assigned any importance to Ben’s decision to raise his gun while approaching the window, but now I wonder if this was a suicidal gesture, born of guilt? None of the zombies so far has shown any intelligence other than the very crude use of rocks and sticks to break things. Ben must have known it was living humans, not zombies, shooting those guns. So why does he approach the window in such a hostile stance?

"Night of the Living Dead" has been reissued, remade and re-released so many times (Amazon returns 126 entries as of this writing) it can be difficult to sift through when trying to buy a copy. I recommend Elite Entertainment's Special Collector's Edition. It is the original 1968 version with beautifully restored image, and includes commentary tracks, interviews, and extras.