Finally, I have a new book soon to be published! It’s a scary one, but it might not be ready in time for Halloween. That’s okay, the story has more of a late November feel to it. In the upcoming days and weeks, I’ll post some updates and teasers. The title is The Acquaintance.
Since I’m saving the spookies for later, what’s gonna happen here pre-Halloween? A whole lot of hilarity and/or stupidity, that’s what! It’s like that Queen song:
All we hear is, Halloween Ha Ha’s
Halloween Boo Boos
Halloween Ha Ha’s!
Yes, I will be reviewing a few comedy-related haunted house movies. I’ve reviewed Haunted House funnies before, but now I’m doing it as a theme. Get ready for what I’m calling The Haunted House Ha Ha’s! Some of the films I will review are soooooo stupid! Oh well, we all need our intelligence sapped once in a while, right?
So get ready, the first couple of posts just might be: Horrible Haunted House Ha Ha’s.
Hope you all are having fun with your ghosts. I love my ghosts. They create such a booo-tiful experience.
My last post was about gathering all my stray ghosts into one basket. These would be the ghosts of inspirations past; the things that fostered my love for the horror genre. Throughout the piece, I reiterated the complications involved in such a gathering. I couldn’t and cannot remember the first horror movie I saw. I couldn’t and cannot recall my very first encounter with the spookies! But I did my best to highlight the influences television and film had on me. As it turns out, some of those ghosts escaped my gathering efforts – slippery bastards! By restricting myself to horror-on-the-screen, I totally missed the off-screen influences that turned me into such a “horrific guy.” (relax, just some healthy self-deprecating humor). I was remiss.
Thank you Smidgy, my dear sister, for reminding me! And I will retread these spooky avenues of my life; these roads that I neglected.
Haunts and Spooky Props
In the previous article, I mentioned that I found scary-themed stories and images on the big and small screen fascinating rather than frightening. What really scared me were the various objects of horror outside the screen. This would include scary masks and the people that wore them in an effort to scare me. They succeeded in their efforts. Also included were scary noises such as ghostly moans. Now, where might one find these kinds of things all in one place? Why, they are found in haunted house attractions, or “haunts” as they are often called! When I was a wee lad, these places scared me so. But I was coaxed into them, dashing through the groans, nerves in a fray, through the house I go, screaming all the way – AAH AAH AHH AHH! Yeah Yeah, I know, I mentioned all this in the previous article. What I failed to mention (or if I mentioned it, I didn’t stress it enough), was the pride I felt AFTER experiencing such a nightmare. I was a survivor. The things in the haunt that scared me so were no longer in front of my face. They were stored safely in my mind as memories. And they were not the memories of nightmare, either. I relished reliving the experience, reminding the adult who took me through the haunt of the terrifying experience which had resurfaced as a fun experience. “Daddy, remember when our car passed by that vampire with the sharp teeth and outstretched arms? (okay, I probably didn’t know the word “outstretched” then, but just go with it!) “Smidgy, remember when that coffin opened and there was a creak and a hand popped out!”
See, when I had control of haunting visuals, when the threat of surprise and the dark notion of the unknown were removed from the equation, I loved the scenes of horror and the props that brought these scenes to “life.” I loved the Halloween decorations my Mom would put up every year. Black cats and skeletons hung on the walls. A light-up plastic ghost holding a pumpkin stood on our table. Every year my Dad would carve pumpkins, one with a Casper face and the other with a mean face. Lit up, they were placed outside above our front door. But what was most fun were the “props” that I could handle, play with. My favorite was a plastic skull connected to a black stick/handle below its jaw. It had pebbles inside its head and it was made for shaking. I guess it was supposed to resemble a skull prop in some Voodoo ceremony. I also had plenty of masks, slimy spiders and bats, and other ghoulish things.
(*Side Note – In them there days, we bought most of our Halloween stuff and a store called Tom Naples on North Avenue. They had a pumpkin patch and sold other produce. They also had plenty of Halloween props. Down the street on North Avenue was the yearly carnival with Amlings Haunted House. North Avenue near 1st Avenue was the place to be during Halloween season!*)
DIY Haunted Houses
One day, my sister Smidgy suggested the we could make our own haunted house.
“REALLY?!?!” I was so excited. I survived Amlings Haunted House. Now the tables would be turned. No longer would I be the haunted. I would be the haunter.
I wanted to know when this could happen.
“Oh, we can do it today,” Smidgy said.
Today?? Did I hear right? Not only was I going to be a haunter, but I was going to be a haunter immediately! What more could a kid want? Instant gratification.
We got to work. Using a tape recorder, we recorded spooky sounds onto a tape. We took over the top floor of our house, which consisted of two bedrooms, a hallway, a bathroom and two closets. In the bedrooms we hung props galore! I remember a bloody doll hanging from the ceiling.
The “victims” of our house would be the other family members. I was the guide. I led them up the stairs and into the hall. Smidgy hid in the closed-door bathroom. Across from the bathroom was a closet. Inside the closet was a stuffed animal snake attached to a rope. Smidgy held the rope’s end from inside the bathroom. I opened the closet door for our victims when all of a sudden, the snake would spring free! Scary!
I then led the victims into one bedroom, closed the door, while Smidgy sneaked out of the bathroom and into the second bedroom. The victims were “scared” when seeing the scary display. I then led them to the second bedroom, where Smidgy hid in a closet, holding a rope that was tied to a small rocking chair that held a doll. She pulled the rope and…wow…look! The chair seemed to be rocking all by itself! How ghostly!
Another time my Dad made a haunted house with me. He took my favorite skull and created a body for Mr. Shaky Skullhead. Mr. Shaky Skullhead wore a hood and my Dad hung him in the closet with an eerie light shining on him. Once again I was to guide the victims into the den of the spookies! I took them into the dark bedroom where my Dad stood in the shadows holding a rope that was tied to the closet doorknob. He would pull the rope and “AAAAAAAHHHH!” – there was the spooky skeleton!
After these experiences, I wanted to make haunted houses all the time. It didn’t need to be Halloween season. I made them year-round. I made them with friends, dragging my poor Grandma around while we hid in toy boxes and jumped out of closets. She pretended to be scared. She was a good sport. We tired the same thing with Blanche, a neighbor lady who babysat me and prevented me from being a young latchkey kid (until I became a latchkey kid at the age of twelve). She…well, instead of walking into the room and following the cue of “Oooo, it’s so spooky in here,” she would utter, “What are you doing messing up your fadder’s room?” When she finally “cooperated” she said something like, “That’s a neat trick”. Oh Blanche, it wasn’t a trick, it was a haunted house!
As a teen, I made a haunted house in our basement with my young nephews. We would scare their school friends. I spent and entire Saturday hanging sheets from the ceiling to create passageways. My buddy was trying to egg me on to go with him some place. “Can’t. I’m making this haunted house”. He be like, “WTF? Danny this is stupid!” It wasn’t stupid, it was fun. I had the props, I had the scare actors (my nephews!). The victims came over, ran as fast as they could through the haunted house, and it was all over in the span of one minute. Oh well, like I said, it was fun.
Many many many years later, I worked as a scare actor in a haunted house. Me an old man compared to my ghoulish peers (mostly teens). Minimum wage, but what the hell, I just wanted to finally, for once in my life, be a “legitimate” ghoul in a “real” haunted house.
So, my experiences frequenting haunted houses and making my own were a huge contributor to my love for the horror genre. I needed to set the record straight. I had to catch those stubborn ghosts that refused to be packed into my basket.
Are there any other stray ghosts? Probably, one can never gather all of life’s influencers. I’ll keep a look out for the possibility of others. In the meant time, I say, “Happy Haunting to you all!”
Welcome to the post that will kick off my contributions to the Halloween season! I thought it would be interesting to share with you the history behind my love of horror related entertainment. So without further “a-boo” (GET IT? A”boo” instead of “ado”?) here it is!
How many have encountered a Facebook post asking about the first horror film you saw? Or a post inquiring about the film that scared you the most? Oh but we aren’t supposed to give out this kind of personal information on social media anymore because such a post could be linked to a phishing scam! And that’s why I never give these posters the answer!
Ah, that’s only half correct. It’s true I never answer but that’s only because my response would be far too complicated for such a platform. Okay, fine. I can uncomplicate a response. A short, direct to the point answer would be:
First horror movie – I don’t remember.
Horror movie that scared me the most – None.
Be honest, my responses are unsatisfying, aren’t they? And you might be saying, “Really? You don’t get scared? That’s bullshit!” Well now just hold on a sec there, part’ner! Give me a chance to explain. My explanation is what this entire piece is all about.
My First Attractions To The Horror Genre
It’s no secret that I am a fan of the horror genre. Hello! I operate a horror-themed blog for Christ’s sake! But when did all this love for horror begin? Sorry, I don’t have an exact moment or memory that can serve as a catalyst for my fandom. As far as I can tell, I have always been attracted to all things spooky (perhaps I have inherited “horror genes”?). Growing up, whenever a normal run-of-the-mill TV show had a special horror episode, I was glued to the set. Whenever The Brady Bunch aired an episode where the kids would haunt their own house, I was there. Whenever The Three Stooges ran away comically from spooks, I was present and attentive.
Did televised or big screen horror ever scare me? In terms of fictionalized horror in general, I was often scared, but not so much from ghoulish things on the set or the screen. I will explain this distinction later. Perhaps it was the Saturday morning cartoons and other children-themed shows that aired during those weekend AM hours that gave me my first taste of horror. It was a programming paradise for us little kids born in the 1970s! I was between the ages of 4-8 when I took part in this paradise. Saturday mornings would not be complete without a healthy dose of Scooby Doo, Where are You? . I loved the gang’s adventures inside haunted houses where they would encounter ghosts and monsters, which of course always turned out to be villains in disguise. Maybe this cartoon fostered my love for haunted houses?
The premise: Wax figures depicting Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein come to life and become crime fighters! Okay that sounds hokey, but as a kid I loved it. Even before The Monster Squad, I remember being fascinated by the fab-four of horror monsters. This quartet includes Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. I had Mego-Action figures of these monsters and I loved to play with them.
Was it these toys, gifted to me, that attracted me to the larger legends surrounding these monsters? Or was it the comic books that featured these four scare kings that brought me up to speed? It’s difficult to pinpoint. It seemed as though these monsters were embedded into my psyche at an early age. They were staples of childhood culture just like the Teddy Bear and The Choo-Choo Train. We kids of the 70s even had breakfast cereals based on them. Skits on the children’s show The Electric Company feature these monsters. Morgan Freeman played Dracula. Check out the youtube video below!
Looking back, I find it very interesting that little kids in the 70s enjoyed the same movie monsters as their parents or even grandparents. While Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster originated in novels, most people were introduced to these grisly creatures from the movies. These were, as I have already mentioned, the movies of previous generations. And yet, these monsters went on the be icons for future generations.
Speaking of the movies…..
The First Horror Movies I Saw on Television
I can’t tell you the first. I just don’t know. The best I can do is relay my memories of watching horror movies on TV Saturday afternoons. Perhaps I was watching WGN’s Creature Features?
The link has the show airing late Saturday nights in the early 70s and I was in bed then, but maybe it reran in the late 70s in the afternoon? Again, I don’t know. But I do remember watching horror movies some Saturday afternoons when I was five, six and seven years old. Usually, it was at the suggestion of an adult, like my older sister. No, she was NOT trying to scare me. She knew that I ALREADY liked this kind of stuff.
I remember watching a haunted house movie about a loud banging noise coming from behind the walls. I remember staring at the TV set in fascination. This movie was The Haunting. I also remember another movie about a Haunted House where a ghost kept possessing people. “See Danny, she has a ghost inside her” my sister explained. “Now Danny, the ghost is inside him!” This movie, I discovered later in life to be The House That Would Not Die.
Do I remember being scared watching films of this nature? Not at all. Seriously. Somehow at an early age, I learned that what happened “inside the glass” (on the TV) was fantasy. It was not real. Reality happened “outside the glass”. The picture tube of the TV served as a barricade to lock all horrors inside a box of fantasy where they belonged. I felt protected by this barricade. Armed with this mental security, I was able to let my fascination take over.
So, what about the horror movies featuring the Fab-Four? I honestly can’t remember if I first saw these movies as a real young kid (age 4-9) on Saturday afternoons or if it wasn’t until I was a little older (age 9-12) on Saturday Nights on the television show called Son Of Svengoolie. It’s safe to say that it was Chicago horror-host Son of Svengoolie (now just “Svengoolie) that got me to pay attention to these films. Well, as best as a 10-year-old can pay attention, anyway. I often had my Mego Monster action figures out when the Son of Svengoolie aired. I created my own stories with the figures while the weekly movie aired.
I do remember paying attention to the ending of the movie Frankenstein. My Dad was explaining to me why the villagers were chasing the monster. He let me know the monster drowned a young girl, but he didn’t mean to. He thought she would float like the flowers he had been tossing into the water. So when the villagers’ burned down the windmill that the Monster was hiding in, causing the rafters to fall on him, trapping him, I felt something. When the flames surrounded him and The Monster cried out, I wasn’t sacred per say. I felt disturbed. I felt sorry for The Monster. The next scene featured maids gleefully wishing Dr. Frankenstein’s bride-to-be Happy Nuptials. I thought “this isn’t right”. A living person (the monster) had just cried out in fear as he was burning to death and the next thing us viewers know, we are watching happy ladies.
Along came The Bride of Frankenstein (again I saw this on Son Of Svengoolie). Yay, the monster somehow survived the flames! My Dad watched with me again. He explained that the created “Bride” would not like the Monster. He was right. She shrieked at his face. Again, I felt sorry for him. This poor guy, he never gets a break. After being rejected, the Monster killed this “Bride”, along with another scientist and himself. Was I horrified at this murderous rampage? Not really. I was kind of rooting for the monster to do his thing.
Oh, I almost forgot about a horror movie I saw when on television long before I started watching Son of Svengoolie. (well, maybe one or two years before; that’s a long time in child years). This time it was my Mom that suggested I watch this film. Again, it was because she knew I liked this kind of thing. “Danny, it’s about a young girl who everyone is mean to. But she has magic”. The movie was Carrie. It was edited for television, of course. But looking back, I think, “gee this was a creepy film to show a young kid”. She did send me to bed before the infamous prom scene, when blood was dumped on Carrie’s head, triggering her to kill everyone with her magical powers. Surprisingly and perhaps nonsensically, she told me I can get out of bed and watch the end of the movie (I was still awake). This would be the scene where Carrie kills her mother and then herself. Again. I felt disturbed, not scared. I felt sorry for Carrie but not afraid of her as some kids might cower from a horror monster. Even at the very end when her hand reached up from where she was buried, I didn’t see Carrie as a monster to be feared. I might have jumped at the surprise of such a thing, but I never ever thought that in real life, a bloody hand would emerge from underneath the soil in our backyard or anything like that.
The First Horror Movies I Saw At The Theater
This I do remember. I’m not going to count King Kong (1976) or Jaws 2. I’m going to pass over those flicks that I saw in the theater and go to Funhouse (1981). My Dad took me to see this film. I wasn’t scared but I guess I was a bit “disturbed;” that’s the word I’ve been using in place of “scared,” so why stop now? What disturbed me was watching characters that had been with me since the beginning of the movie get picked off one by one. Though I had encountered movie deaths before, never had I seen the “heroes” die so unceremoniously. When the poor guy got an axe stuck into his head as he rode the Funhouse car, I knew he was never coming back. When the young lady stabbed the monster in the back and he still went on to kill her, I worried that the monster was unstoppable. In short, this was my first introduction to slasher films. But I didn’t leave the theater with a fear of carnivals or psychotic Funhouse proprietors, or a fear in general of slasher movies. Instead, I was ready for more.
Funhouse was my gateway drug to harder, “slashier” films. The gate opened and I invited the rest of the slashers in. Come on in, Michael Meyers! Entre vous to you, Jason Voor Hees! I couldn’t get enough of them. Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Silent Night, Deadly Night – a killer Santa Claus! Ohhh yeah, I was on board! Cheesy or not, I had to see them. My Bloody Valentine, Midnight, One Dark Night. I was hooked. And still, I wasn’t scared.
What the Heck was I Afraid of Then?
Oh my God, was I a fearful kid. I really was. I was afraid of spiders (I’m still not very fond of them). I was afraid of loud noises. The weekly Tuesday morning screeching of test alarms (you know, in case a nuclear was at hand they had to make sure the damn thing worked) sent me running off my big wheel crying into my mother’s arms! Not-so-loud noises freaked me out as well. Firecrackers off in the distance frightened me. Hell, a kid with a cap gun scared me when I was four-years-old.
Ghosts and monsters scared me too, when they were “outside the glass” of the TV. If some adult pretended to me a monster and came at me, I screamed. When my Dad moaned into the furnace “Ooooooo GUUUURRRRRU!!!” in such a way that his moan travelled throughout the house via the heating vents, I cried and cried. See, the protective barrier that was the TV tube was absent in these situations. The fourth wall was crushed. The sounds of the haunting banging from the movie “The Haunting” didn’t frighten me because they came within the world of pretend inside the television. But the ghostly sounds of my Dad’s moan were right there inside my very own house. Even when I knew it was him making those noises, I was still scared. It was unsettling.
Haunted houses as Halloween/carnival attractions scared the shit out of me. I was terrified when my Dad took me into a cheesy sit-in-the-car-and-watch-motorized-ghosts ride. The creepy, motorized thing that came out of the coffin at Amlings Haunted House in a suburb of Chicago freaked me out. The first time I went into a haunted house with live actors, my Dad had to carry me through the whole thing.
After I became a veteran of these “Haunts” as they are sometimes called, I learned to enjoy them. Yes I would be afraid going in but that was part of the fun. Not too long ago, I worked as a scare actor at a local Haunt. It was fun.
I guess it’s a dimensional thing. Ghosts and goblins existing in the 2nd dimension, on the flat screen, hardly every scared me. The same creatures in the 3rd dimension though, that was a totally different story.
What About Books?
I learned to read at an early age. I was even spelling words before I mastered the art of talking, so my parents and older sisters have told me. Alas, as a young lad, I didn’t use my gifts to their fullest potential. I didn’t read much during my single digits. I had comics but mostly I just looked at the pictures. This includes horror comics as well.
I read a little bit more during my middle school years. Here I took in some Young Adult horror. I read novels that were part of a Book series. One such series was called Dark Forces, the other Twilight (No, NOT the vampire stuff). In these books, teenagers were encountering ghosts and demons, but in the end, everything turned out okay. Not in a Scooby Doo way. The ghosts and demons were real, in the story, but the endings were usually happy.
Somewhere around this time I did read a Stephen King Book or two. In my high school years, if I read anything it was either what was assigned to me in English class or some rock and roll bio, like a Jim Morrison or Led Zeppelin book. But not horror for some reason. I was losing interest in that sort of thing.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I delved into reading. I read all kinds of genres, including horror. But then I would read more horror. More. MORE! Horror from the 18th century. Horror from the early part of the twentieth century. Short stories, Novellas and long novels.
When I finally took up writing, what was the first thing I wrote about? Horror! I love writing about this genre.
So there you have it, the history of Dan Cheely’s love for the horror genre and what scares him. Have a Happy Halloween season and look out for more posts from me during this season of ghosts and witches!
Stephen King’s long-awaited novel – the sequel to The Shining. In a twist, the movie is not a sequel to the book. It is a sequel to the movie “The Shining”. See, the book and the movie (The Shining) have different endings. The book ends in a way that the Overlook Hotel cannot be a part of the sequel. The movie does not have this limitation, thus the Overlook returns!
I’m sorry Mr. King, but I thought your book was a bit hokey. A travelling band of senior-citizen psychic vampires in Winnebago’s with straw hats and tanks of “psychic energy” drained from victims resembling oxygen tanks? In the film, the tanks are there, but at least the roaming band of psychic vampires appear more threatening. They almost resemble a motorcycle gang in appearance. And in the film, we get to visit The Overlook Hotel again and watch in suspense as all of its ghosts reawaken. It was cool! For a more detailed comparison, read my article:
“Modern Gothic at its Best.” This was my tagline for the article I wrote about Susan Hill’s novel The Woman in Black. Written in 1983 yet capturing the writing style of a piece that might have been written one hundred years prior, Hill’s novel is a such a treat in an era that had seemed to have long forsaken the literary “ways of the Goth”. Sadly, the 2012 movie starring Daniel Radcliffe strays considerably from the tone that Hill gifted us readers. Yes, the film has the old mansion surrounded by marshes, a staple of Gothic horror. It is a visually stimulating film. But Mr. Soundman is too eager and he can’t resist sliding the volume lever on the music whenever the film is going for something suspenseful. Funny, because it’s the sounds as described in the book that chill the reader. These would be the sounds of an unseen horse and carriage that struggles in the foggy marshes, not some hyped up musical score. The film barely touches on this. What the film does show, over and over, are one second flashes of a woman in black. Jumps scares. Meh. And the film’s story is considerable different than the book, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the story as conveyed by Hill is much better. Read my review of the book: The Woman in Black – Modern Gothic at its Best
A 1999 horror movie starring Kevin Bacon. A 1958 sci-fi horror novel written by Richard Matheson (the third time that author makes this list.) I really liked the film. Did I love it. Um…no. But it was an interesting ghost story. Mr. Bacon gets hypnotized and suddenly a wall in his psyche breaks down and he now has certain psychic abilities. The ability the film focus’s in on the most involves the ghost of a girl who communicates with him in fragmented visions. The scope of his abilities is wider in the book and it details them more carefully. Therefore, I favor the book.
The film I am referring to is the 1989 version, not the most recent adaption of Stephen King’s novel, which came out I believe in 2019. I didn’t see the newest version and after I read the reviews I didn’t bother to try. The movie from the 80’s didn’t fare much better. Not having read King’s book, I rented it back in the VCR days and I didn’t care too much for it either. I remember Herman Munster was in it without his Frankenstein’s monster makeup. Honestly, I don’t remember what faults I had with the film, other than I wanted the makeup back on Herman.
I was reluctant to read King’s book on account of my disliking of the movie. Eventually I did and it turned out to be one of my favorites of his. (In his top 10 somewhere). The “sematary” was creepier, and the hike to the “sematary” was creepier as well. In the film I don’t even remember that there was a woodsy trek to the graveyard. On the trek in the book, there were a lot of spooky noises.
By Author Scott Smith who also wrote The Simple Plan, later made into a movie starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, and Bridget Fonda. Oh and directed by Sam Raimi – The Evid Dead dude. I both read and saw the film The Simple Plan. Oops I’m supposed to be writing about The Ruins. Let me redirect.
Anyway, with The Ruins, Smith writes a suspenseful, gory book about young American tourists trapped on the ruins of a Mayan temple in Mexico. Local Mayas will shoot them dead if they try to leave, and eventually, the vines that grow all along the pyramid-like structure will kill them. They are nasty things, these vines. They pry into the skin, strangle the neck, and their flowers are like mouths and they mimic the screams of its victims and replay personal conversations to pit the survivors against each other.
The book and the film (directed by Carter Smith) pretty much tell the same story with some variations. What happens to certain characters in the book happens instead to other characters in the movie, etc. The endings are different. The book goes for a hopeless conclusion while the film has an inkling of hope.
Book or movie? Hmm. When working out my decision, I kept alternating between “a tie” or “the book as the winner”. But since I reserved one option for the book as the sole winner and no option for the film as a standalone victor, then I have to go for the book.
Yes I actually read the novelization of this film. I remember reading and then exclaiming “Wow, this character, his head got “severe + d.”” That’s how I pronounced it; severe with a “d”. My sister didn’t know what “severe + d’ meant, so she looked at he word. “Danny, that’s severed!” she said. (But it was a severe act, you have to admit.)
What do you think I thought of this book? Well, I got some Jason backstory I didn’t get elsewhere. But overall, it’s more fun to see teenagers get sliced to death that to read about such a phenomenon. Plus, the words didn’t jump out at me in 3D like the eyeballs did in the movie theater. Jason put some guy’s head in a vice (or was it a vice-like grip with his own two hands? I can’t remember), all that pressure and boing! His eyeball shot out and almost landed in my box of popcorn. That’s better than the book, doncha’ think?