Professor’s Fall Journal: October Week 4


October 22nd: I borrowed the Cujo audio book from my local library’s Overdrive eBook collection.  I’ve never seen the film (other than bits of pieces of it that I was either too scared to watch or too deep in my “oh, not another damn Stephen King movie!” phase to watch) and wasn’t terrible familiar with the story, so this ended up being a move I occasionally regretted.  This is not because of flaws with the book. Cujo is a great thriller and an amazing piece of Rube Goldberg plotting where each seemingly unrelated decision or coincidence means Donna and Tad Trenton stay trapped just long enough in a broken down car with a rabid St. Bernard trying to get in for really bad things to happen. No, this is because Tad Trenton is a cute four year old child and I apparently waited 37 years until I had a four year old of my own to read it! It took me the rest of October to finish, taking care of my audio horror until the holiday was upon me, and I really enjoyed it, though there are of course some King ticks.


I also watched The Unholy Three, which is not really a horror movie despite featuring a killer chimpanzee that kills Hercules, a sideshow strongman played by future John Ford Stock Company member (and Pops Mortis favorite) Victor McLaughlin.  The chimp was let loose by Hercules’s little person partner in crime Tweedledee (Harry Earles of Freaks infamy), who did so because he knew Hercules was going to kill him.  No, this is the 1920s, when Melodrama was king, so this is really, at heart, a story about how Lon Chaney Sr.’s ventriloquist Professor Echo is willing to turn state’s evidence to clear the name of his pickpocket lover’s straight arrow sweetheart. Echo used the sweetheart as a patsy after Hercules and Tweedledee went against his orders and killed a man in a robbery.  Did I mention Professor Echo pretends to be an elderly woman and Tweedledee her baby so they can case the homes of the wealthy out of a pet shop?  Why, yes, Tod Browning directed this, why do you ask?


October 23rd:  Good old Ardentspork, a friend from my Bad Movie Message Board/B-Fest days who I occasionally watch movies with over Skype along with another board ex-pat friend, Juniper. I forget if we’re Skypevengers only when all three of us are present or if we count when it’s just two of us, but in any case Spork had offered to join me to take my mind off impending work news (more on the later). Knowing Spork isn’t the biggest horror guy, I chose Creature which answers the question “what if Alien hewed closer to Planet of the Vampires than It! The Terror from Beyond Space! and hired professional and amateur awful person Klaus Kinski?”  Other points of interest are the fact that Ferris Bueller‘s dad plays the obnoxious corporate guy, West German/U.S. rivalry is crucial to the plot, and, as ArdentSpork put it, these guys were at least as smart as the guys in Prometheus everyone thought were incredibly dumb.  I’ve never seen people more casual about finding an ancient alien zoo full of murderous creatures.


I also watched the Disney classic Lonesome Ghosts, which features Goofy, Mickey and Donald as ghost hunters and Scaredy Cat, which features Porky Pig moving into a house full of murderous mice and ignoring all evidence of danger while Sylvester tries to warn him in vain.  The kids loved both and Scaredy Cat always surprises me with just how gruesome it really is for a Warner Brothers cartoon.


October 24th:  I’d long realized that I was never going to get to my full Fall Horror Binge Plan-in the end I’d see just 20 of the 46 films I’d intended to watch, but I decided it would be best to watch as many of the films I’d requested from library networks as possible-in honor of the work it took to get them to me.  So I ended up watching Homicidal, which was possibly one of my favorite films I’d seen in the whole Binge.  Why?  Well, not because it’s exactly great, but I always find William Castle’s chutzpah amusing, and Joan Marshall gives a fascinating dual performance whose twist I didn’t quite have right but now realize I really should have seen coming.  Like Psycho this has dated poorly and is a cultural artifact, but if you can get past that it’s an interesting take on the material while it still screams “carnival show”.  I also enjoyed  how much it prefigured some of Mario Bava’s giallo touches, and was shocked by just how much blood and decapitation Castle managed to get in there in 1961.  The next day I happened to mention it to a film professor at work, and he talked about how much fun he had watching it with his mom, who apparently was terrified of it back in the day.


October 25th:  The Baroness and Von Mom left me alone with the kids until evening, so it was time to break out Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  This was at MicroMort’s request, as he decided earlier in the year that he wanted to see a “Dracula” movie and I felt this was a pretty good choice for a first film.  While Mort loved the jokes and the monsters, Lil’ Baroness was less sure she liked either and mostly ended up ignoring it, though in the games of monsters that followed she had a lot of fun pretending to be the Wolf Man.


The Baroness arrived later and I left to join the South Shore Movie Guild for the last movie night of the season, held on neutral ground at our local theater screening Fathom’s Night of the Living Dead anniversary  showing.  It was really great to get to see this in a nice, restored print on a big screen without a jerk in the audience (I had seen Night in the 00s at a Midnight Show with a guy yelling ‘funny’ jokes about race the whole time) and it was also fascinating to observe how great the gulf was between it and Abbott and Costello, made only 20 years apart.  The Universal monster movies had started with more teeth than they had by 1948, of course, but even the most fever dream Pre-Code moments in Universal horror films aren’t the full assault that Night of the Living Dead makes.  There is no safety, horror isn’t a spooky old castle you venture to or something your bring upon yourself by treading in God’s domain, horror is all around you and you’re steeping in it and it’s here right now.  What a film!


October 26th: I somehow ended up watching Moon of the Wolf, the 1972 TV movie starring David Jansen as a Bayou cop who conveniently can’t speak French and, like most of the rest of the cast, has never heard of a “Loup Garou” so when he’s told a “Loup Garog” has committed a murder he’s stumped. The film is more or less what happens when you mash together a made-for-TV mystery and 1941’s The Wolf Man, but perhaps I’m saying too much and will give away whatever twists you may have if you watch it.  Please do, as it’s a fun 70s TV movie with a great cast which includes, in addition to TV”s The Fugitive, Bradford “Twisted Heston” Dillman, Geoffrey “Juliette’s Dad” Lewis, Barbara Rush and Royal Dano.

October 27th:  I watched The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with the kids….it totally counts because, uh, Heffalumps and Woozles is trippy nightmare fuel and it all takes place in October, right?


October 28th:  After a short trip to Michaels for some extra  costume materials (and a fortuitous purchase of end of season clearance hand held novelty lights-and a discussion of how stores stock things for holidays), MicroMort expressed interest in The Nightmare Before Christmas, so we finally watched it together.  It was fun to revisit, but I always find it hard to place as it’s strongly Halloween oriented but really more of a bent Christmas movie.  While MicroMort enjoyed it, Lil’ Baroness was too scared and so we spent the time building with legos.  Spooky Legos?

Jack Pumpkinseed and Friend

Later we carved Jack O’Lanterns-I made the Jack Pumpkinhead head and MicroMort put a design on paper I helped him transfer to his pumpkin.  Lil’ Baroness chose to simply draw on her two very small pumpkins.

Arsenic and Old Lace

Later that evening I watched Arsenic and Old Lace with the Baroness. Arsenic and Old Lace really should be an annual tradition, both in my own home and generally.  It is set on Halloween, it’s funny rather than scary, it features great performances by Peter Lorre and Cary Grant and a whole bunch of lesser known (these days) character actors and it has a lot of meta-humor about thrillers.  Remember this the next time people think that meta humor about horror tropes is something just invented.


October 29th:  The Baroness was at an annual overnight work event and Von Mom was out of town.  I left work early to pick up the kids, and we bought plastic trick or treating pumpkins (MicroMort’s request), did a half-assed job making Jack Pumpkinhead’s body.  After dinner we lit Jack Pumpkinhead’s head and watched the classic Donald Duck cartoon Trick or Treat, where Donald messes with his nephews on Halloween and a witch who’s just traveling by destroys Donald for his crimes.


Later I watched Halloween (1978), since I know the Baroness is not a fan and I like to watch it as close to Halloween itself as I can.  I can’t say I have a lot of new thoughts about this one, which is basically comfort food for me, but I do believe it has a real spark that few of its imitators come close to equalling, despite its warts.


I also worked in a viewing of one of the Hammer House of Horror episodes over Skype with Ardent Spork.  The Silent Scream has an impossibly young Brian Cox as an ex-con facing off against a manipulative old German pet shop owner played by Peter Cushing.  I remember seeing some of the Hammer House of Horror episodes and enjoying them, but this one fell flat for us, seeming to be overlong for a limited payoff.


October 30th:  I felt somewhat burned out by this point in the month and earlier Carol recommended me The Tractate Middoth as not only is it a revival of the BBC’s “A Ghost Story for Christmas” adaptation of short stories, usually by M. R. James, but it centers on a librarian!  Well, my librarian bullshit made me spend some time trying to figure out if the lead is really a librarian, or if he’s some kind of library assistant or possibly a grad student hang about, but this is immaterial.  This is a fun reboot of an old tradition and a spooky old story set in the library and academic world and it lasts less than an hour…so it was a perfect cap off to my Falll Horror Binge.


October 31st:  I went to work, managed to miss the little kids trick or treating in the library who I bought boxes of Halloween stickers for, taught a library session for an engineering class (now THAT was scary!), felt dumb that I hadn’t lead the library in participating in the campus costume contest (NEXT YEAR), then raced home as early as I could to buy totally unneeded candy and help in prep for the big night.  MicroMort was going as The Flash (after some time thinking he would be Herakles-be still my heart-and Gronkowski-at least he’d finally own Patriots clothing) and needed some last minute hot gluing and Lil’ Baroness was a Mama Seashell (after some time wanting to be a Doggy, a Cat, or a Witch) and there was last minute mask fitting and adjustments.  I was really proud of thinking of using some glow bracelets for some of The Flash’s piping and to give Mama Seashell a glowing deep sea look.  I was also glad we bought some last minute LED spinning lights because, let me tell you, Trick or Treating where there are no street lights is scary dark!  In the end we had an excellent time and the kids loved every minute of Trick or Treating complete with a treat sorting session and some discussion of what they would be next year (The Falcon! and…a Dog…or a Lion…or many other animal choices!). After we put the kids to sleep the Baroness had some work to do and I read her most of the rest of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which I had started reading to her earlier in the season, and we turned in for the evening.


Post-Mortem: One of the things that happened during this year’s horror binge was I was applying for a major promotion at work.  This promotion means this is likely the first and last Professor’s Fall Journal, and it also most likely means that there will be no Hooptober or Hubrisween in my future.  I was thankful, however, for there were a few nerve wracking nights I spent enjoying the season with friends and family rather than simply waiting for news and I thank them for their help. I did learn one thing through all this:  as much fun as it is to READ other people’s Fall doings, I think I’d rather concentrate on finding the seasonal fun in my life and enjoying it where I can rather than trying to report on it  humorously.  We will see. By August next year when the enormity of the things that need to happen in the last 4 months of the year hits me I’ll start eyeing my old Fall Horror Binge Plan lists again.

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