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Spooked

All Hallow’s Eve circa 1905. Otherwise known as a turn-of-the-century spook. Is it possible this was Pat Robertson before he found Jesus? (Getty Images)

Happy Halloween!

Or as televangelist Pat Robertson likes to call it, “the day when millions of children and adults will be dressing up as devils, witches, and goblins … to celebrate Satan.”

Time to give the Devil his due!

Night of Terror

Those were the days! (Flickr)

Oh, how I miss the Halloween of my youth.

As a child growing up in 1970s America, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. I remember going to the local drug store with my parents, walking down rows of boxed costumes, selecting my identity for the evening and drooling over all the candy to come with the setting sun.

Sure, there were warnings about razor blades in apples, but none of us really cared since we would never eat the apples we were given. If anything, we tossed them into bushes, threw them at each other or chucked them back at the houses from whence they came.

All we wanted was candy, and lots of it.

Back then—and once I was old enough to handle things on my own—my friends and I could trick-or-treat without our parents. We never worried about pedophiles, psycho killers and other villains intent on doing us harm. The world was a safer place, we knew our neighbors and we all looked out for one another.

You think I’m kidding, but Kim Kardashian costumes could be all the rage this year (NY Daily News)

It was a far cry from today, in other words.

Of course, this doesn’t stop me from venturing out with my son every Halloween, collecting (and checking) mounds of candy and withdrawing indoors to watch scary movies until the wee hours of the morning. It’s not the Halloween I remember, but to my seven-year-old son it’s still new and exciting. And now it’s his turn to make some memories.

So as you venture out tonight with your brood—dressed as superheroes, monsters or even reality television stars (think Kardashians)—I hope you enjoy the spookiness that Halloween has to offer while also being safe. It should be a fun time for all!

Hacked to Bits

Birds of a feather: Leatherface and Vitaly Zdorovetskiy (drafthouse.com)

Kudos to YouTube miscreant Vitaly Zdorovetskiy for posting what might be the scariest Halloween prank video of all time—The Chainsaw Massacre Prank.

You can watch the video by going HERE, but I warn you that it is pretty graphic. People with small children or chronic medical conditions may want to watch cartoons or cat videos instead.

The video is set in a parking garage and features Vitaly dressed as a chainsaw-wielding madman. His victim, who appears to be hacked to bits (hence my title), is actually Nick Santonastasso, an actor suffering from a genetic disorder whose symptoms include missing limbs.

In other words, what you see in the video is as far from reality as you can get. That doesn’t keep passersby from getting the proverbial shit scared out of them, though.

I hope you enjoy the video, which obviously went viral shortly after its release. And if you really like it, take a look at Vitaly’s behind-the-scenes video over HERE. It’s pretty interesting stuff!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone! (Tahoe Paradise)

Happy Halloween, everyone! (Tahoe Paradise)

One of my favorite holidays—and by far the spookiest of them all (with the exception of maybe Valentine’s Day, which horrifies nearly every man I know)—is finally upon us: Halloween!

All over the nation, children are anxiously awaiting the final school bell so they can rush home, get into their costumes and start canvassing neighborhoods for candy and other delicious treats.

Incidentally, anyone planning to hand out fruit still has time to grab some candy and to avoid the tricks that will undoubtedly come once kids realize you gave them apples or oranges.

Rather than writing one of my usual posts—which would surely involve Halloween safety tips for trick-or-treaters and their parents (most of which are widely known by now)—I thought it might be nice to try something a little different. Here are some random facts about Halloween for your reading pleasure—with some commentary tossed in, just for the hell of it—followed by an original poem about All Hallows Eve by Richard Anderson.

I hope you enjoy them and that you all have a fun—and safe—Halloween!

JUST THE HALLOWEEN FACTS… AND OTHER SPOOKY TRIVIA

Ireland is believed to be the birthplace of Halloween and the tradition of Jack-O-Lanterns comes from an old Celtic tale that goes something like this: Jack was a stingy fellow who on several occasions managed to trick the Devil. As a result, he was forbidden entrance into either Heaven or Hell and was instead condemned to wander the Earth—waving his lantern to lead other people away from their paths.

All Hallows Eve is here... and the ghouls and goblins are coming! (Paul Harper)

All Hallows Eve is here… and the ghouls and goblins are coming! (Paul Harper)

In Great Britain, Jack-O-Lanterns were traditionally carved from turnips. When the practice reached America, however—where turnips were much more expensive—cheaper pumpkins were used instead.

Although some Christians I know refuse to celebrate Halloween because of its connection to paganism, the truth is that it celebrates the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve and precedes another Christian holiday, All Saints Day, which takes place tomorrow.

Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween. Try saying that five times quickly!

Halloween was once a festival that celebrated the boundaries between life and death. For this reason, the symbolic colors of orange (strength, endurance) and black (death, darkness) have been used to commemorate it.

Trick-or-treating has roots in the medieval practice of souling when the poor would go door-to-door to pray for souls in exchange for food. And these days, companies that produce Halloween-related items—from costumes to candy—could not be happier. Each year, candy makers collect roughly $6 billion, while costumes alone produce an annual gross of roughly $3 billion!

After Christmas, Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday.

The word witch comes from the Old English word wicce, which loosely translated means “wise woman.” In fact, the Wiccan were once highly respected people—not old, wart-faced hags who ride brooms and keep black cats as their familiars.

According to tradition, a person who wears their clothes inside out and walks backwards on Halloween is sure to see a witch at midnight. Give it a try!

Some of the signs for recognizing a werewolf include tattoos, a long middle finger, unibrows (i.e. one extended eyebrow instead of two distinct ones) and hairy palms. Damn it! Some of my friends might be werewolves!

Kids rejoice! Dentists, too! (Parent Dish)

Kids rejoice! Dentists, too! (Parent Dish)

The mask that terrified moviegoers in the Halloween films—worn, of course, by the crazed killer Michael Myers—was actually a cheap Star Trek mask of William Shatner, who incidentally was honored by its appearance in the horror franchise.

The largest Halloween party was in New Orleans and included more than 17,000 revelers; the largest pumpkin was grown by Norm Craven in 1993 and weighed a whopping 836 pounds!

Traditionally in America, the top three Halloween costumes for children are Princess, Witch and Spider-Man. Of course, expect to see Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian costumes this year, which are guaranteed to be even more frightening! 

HALLOWEEN

A gentle breeze rustling the dry cornstalks.

A sound is heard, a goblin walks.

A harvest moon suffers a black cat’s cry.

Oh’ do the witches fly!

Bonfire catches a pumpkins gleem.

Rejoice, it’s Halloween!

Richard Anderson, 1998

From Urban Legend to Reality

Urban legend or Halloween threat? (Persephone Magazine)

Urban legend or Halloween threat? (Persephone Magazine)

Wikipedia—the most reputable of all websites (and I am being extremely facetious, by the way)—defines an urban legend as “a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true.”

And I’m sure we are all familiar with some of the more popular urban legends: gang members who drive with their high beams on, wait for a passing motorist to flash them and then hunt down and murder them as part of their gang initiation; stomachs that explode after eating Pop Rocks and drinking carbonated soda; serial killers hiding in the back seats of cars; escaped murderers with hooks instead of hands; and so on and so forth.

Hell, there was even a string of mediocre movies about urban legends. The 1998 slasher film Urban Legend was the best of the bunch, and even that wasn’t all that great.

Nevertheless, urban legends are all around us and continue to spread through each generation—who incidentally continue this trend by creating urban legends of their own.

Personally, I find urban legends extremely interesting, even though I know most—if not all—of them are horseshit… or at least they used to be.

I thought only Cracker Jacks came with a prize! (KDKA)

I thought only Cracker Jacks came with a prize! (KDKA)

One of the most frightening urban legends from my childhood centers around one of my favorite holidays—and one many of us will celebrate tomorrow: Halloween.

I am, of course, talking about trick-or-treaters receiving apples—or candy—with razor blades hidden inside.

As a child, I didn’t worry too much about razor blades in apples because honestly, I never ate them anyway. People who hand out fruit mean well, but no one I knew ever cared for it. And we always considered playing a trick on them so the following year they would consider giving kids what they really wanted: junk food and other sweets to rot out their teeth.

Every Halloween, this same urban legend would rise to the surface, usually as warnings from parents: “Make sure you don’t eat anything until we check it for razor blades and such.” Kids didn’t always listen, of course, but many of us heard this every year.

Despite these warnings, though, I never knew anyone or heard of anyone who actually found a razor blade in their candy… at least not until recently.

Last Sunday, children in Scottdale, Pennsylvania went trick-or-treating—most likely since Halloween falls so late in the week—and among them was Matthew Hernley, a 12-year-old who seems to love the holiday as much as I do.

Michael and his mother Lydia Nelson made the rounds and collected tons of candy, but when they got home and checked it, they found something that turned an urban legend into reality. In one of the packages of M&M candies that Michael received, they found what authorities have described as a “razor-like blade.” Unfortunately, Michael could not remember which house the candy came from, but this would matter little once his mom contacted M&M/Mars, the company that produces the popular candy that “melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”

Watch the little ones tomorrow and be safe! (Bucks Happening)

Watch the little ones tomorrow and be safe! (Bucks Happening)

According to the people at M&M/Mars, the blade likely slipped into the bag during the manufacturing process—there were no visible signs of tampering, so this seems legitimate enough. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that other bags of M&M’s could also contain sharp objects… and kids all over the place will be ingesting thousands of the tasty treats soon—if they aren’t already, that is.

The obvious lesson to be learned from this situation is to always check your candy and treats before you start eating them. However, I might add that since this urban legend came true, it’s totally possible that others will, too.

So before you flash your lights at someone blinding you with their high beams or decide to wash down those Pop Rocks with an ice-cold Coke, consider whether you might be the next victim of an urban legend come true.

And tomorrow when you’re trick-or-treating with your children, remember what almost happened to “M&M Michael” and take the necessary precautions. Halloween is supposed to be fun, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be safe.

Pop-Up Post: Tribute to Miley

Miley and Muttley Cyrus: Separated at birth? (E! Online/Heather Signs)

Miley and Muttley Cyrus: Separated at birth? (E! Online/Heather Signs)

After endless criticism over her new, sexually charged image—and her extreme departure from Hannah Montana and her Disney days—it seems as if Miley Cyrus is finally getting the honor and recognition she deserves… and she didn’t even have to twerk to get it.

Paying tribute to Cyrus—who seems to have her tongue out in every picture taken of her recently—is another creature known for her wagging tongue: Groupie, a Miniature Dachshund who just joined 19 other animals as a finalist in PetSmart’s Monster Cute Contest—basically a Halloween costume contest for dogs, cats and other pets.

Grand prize is $10,000 and if Groupie wins, her family plans to donate the money to local animal shelters and the Humane Society. Groupie is also competing for a $25,000 prize in Petco’s Make a Scene Photo Contest. And judging from her cute costume—as well as her uncanny resemblance to that bitch from the “Wrecking Ball” video (to use a canine term)—Groupie has a real shot at the money.

If she does happen to win, though, I hope no one forces her to twerk in celebration. To me, that would certainly qualify as animal cruelty… even though dressing Groupie as Miley Cyrus—Muttley Cyrus, actually—isn’t too far off!

Super STARS Fight Racism

Black (STARS)

A group of students from Ohio University who call themselves STARS (Students Teaching About Racism in Society) have launched a poster campaign about racial insensitivity and Halloween costumes: We’re a Culture Not a Costume. Its purpose is to raise awareness about costumes that perpetuate racial/ethnic stereotypes or insult other cultures.

On the STARS website are posters of members holding photographs of costumes the group find offensive. And I must admit they are pretty powerful. But don’t take my word for it. The posters are down below and can be viewed once you’re done reading. Please.

These STARS people are sharp and I can respect their mission: “The purpose of S.T.A.R.S. is to facilitate discussion about diversity and all isms (sexism, class-ism, hetero-sexism, ethnocentrism etc.) with an emphasis on racial issues. We aim to raise awareness about social justice, and promote racial harmony. Our job is to create a safe, non-threatening environment to allow participants to feel comfortable to express their feelings. Our guiding principle is based on the principle ‘Each One Teach One.'”

I couldn’t help bold-facing everything that jumped out at me. And although I sometimes feel people can be too sensitive about things that could easily be laughed off, I want to support these young people for being brave enough to share their feelings with the world. Please check out the posters and consider a visit to the STARS website. You won’t regret it.

Stay Safe this Halloween

Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat (Photo credit: therapycatguardian)

Later today, millions of children will put on their costumes and venture out into their neighborhoods to trick-or-treat for Halloween, the spookiest of all holidays. Ghouls and goblins of all shapes and sizes will walk the streets like candy-craving zombies, anxious to stockpile sweets that will inevitably lead to the real-life horror of stomach aches and cavities. None of that matters, though, because everyone knows how wonderful this experience can be.

They also know how dangerous Halloween can be. When I was a kid, the urban legend that caused the most fear involved razor blades being hidden in apples. Fortunately, my friends and I never ate the fruit we were given and always shunned the people who chose to substitute it for Snickers bars and Sweet Tarts. We would normally heave the fruit into people’s backyards for them to discover later, always hoping they would “take the hint” and spring for real sweets the following year. I now understand why they did it—fruit is much healthier and causes less tooth decay, in most cases—but Halloween is supposed to involve junk-eating. It’s an important part of the tradition, for goodness sake!

Of course, more serious Halloween horror stories about kids being abducted, attacked or even killed always seem to garner headlines. Safety is important and there are tons of useful tips to be found online. Here are a few of my own to add to the collection.

Safety in numbers

The most obvious tip is to travel in groups rather than individually because it makes you less of a target. Thankfully, most people I know trick-or-treat with their parents or friends because face it, going by yourself is just sad.

Beyond safety, trick-or-treating with a group provides a number of other benefits. For one, you and your friends can mix-and-match your costumes and hit the same houses multiple times. This can quadruple your candy intake and ensure Halloween lasts well into November. Groups can also perform more elaborate tricks, especially on those people handing out the apples and oranges. Someone needs to teach them a lesson, after all. And if another group of costumed hooligans step to you—perhaps to try to steal the candy you’ve worked so hard to collect—then your posse can back you up. I would never endorse violence or any kind of Halloween rumble, but it never hurts to be prepared.

The right costume

When you select a costume to wear, there are certain precautions you should take to further guarantee your safety. Huge, plastic masks are fine—even though they cause excessive face and head sweating—but only if they allow for clear vision, especially peripherally. You never know who or what will be hiding in those dark corners or behind bushes. And if you can’t see threats coming, you stand little to no chance of avoiding them. Wearing a mask that allows for a clear line of sight—or that can be quickly removed at the first sign of danger—is always your best bet.

You should also make sure your costume is flame-resistant (or at least flame-retardant) and by all means, leave the capes at home. If someone does try to mess with you and you flee, having a long cape drifting behind you will make you much easier to catch, and potentially choke. It may also get snagged on a fence or tree branch, which could result in you choking yourself!

Candy!

Candy! (Photo credit: jeffadair)

Candy Land

One of the most dangerous aspects of Halloween involves the candy, and not just because it will fatten you up or rot out your teeth. You never know when some lunatic will tamper with their treats or even try to poison revelers, so checking each individual piece you receive is always a good idea. Look for the obvious signs first, like damage to wrappers, small puncture marks (needle-sized marks especially) or evidence it has been opened and re-closed. Once everything is clear and you start eating, pay attention to the taste and immediately spit out anything with a weird or unusual flavor. You just never know whether it comes from a bad factory batch or some psycho who dipped each candy into drain cleaner or liquid laxative.

One more thing about candy: Have you ever gone trick-or-treating and come across a house where the residents are gone, but where a huge tub of candy was left outside for the children? Normally, there’s a sign that says something like “please take only two pieces” or “make sure you leave some for the other children.” My advice in these situations is simple: ignore the sign. Do you think people really expect children to exercise restraint? They may hope for it, but I guarantee they have a better chance of meeting an actual vampire than having kids follow the honor system in these instances. And remember this: if you don’t take it all, then someone else will. And we can’t have that, can we?

Props sometimes hurt

My final Halloween safety tip relates to costumes and can be very helpful in preventing danger. It is never a bad idea to carry a prop that could double as a weapon if the need arises. Of course, it should match your costume because honestly, a werewolf with a Samurai sword just wouldn’t fly. But if you decide to be Harry Potter, why not grab a stick, call it a wand and then poke anyone who tries to do you harm? Wizards like Gandalf from “Lord of the Rings” carry long wooden staffs, which can also do wonders in terms of self-defense. Whatever the case may be, a sturdy prop can add a lot to your costume, but it can also keep the demons at bay. Something to consider, I think.

So there you have it: some rather unconventional tips to keep your Halloween safe and enjoyable. There is a lot of darkness in this world and the freaks definitely come out, especially since this is the only holiday where it’s acceptable to hide your identity. Take the necessary precautions, however, and you need not worry… at least not until your next trip to the dentist!

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Historical Horror: The Blood Countess

The Blood Countess: Elizabeth Bathory (property of Rebeca Saray, 2010)

Halloween is steadily approaching and all things spooky dwell in the darkness. Children ready their costumes, parents prepare their treats and everyone waits anxiously for the scariest day of the year. But even the most frightening slasher film or haunted house cannot compare with some of the horrors from history, including this terrifying tale from the 16th century.

Erzsebet (or “Elizabeth”) Bathory was a countess born in 1560 Slovakia and raised near the town of Vishine, just north-east of present day Bratislava. Her parents, George and Anna, were both Bathorys by birth, which made Elizabeth the product of inbreeding, a common practice among the European aristocracy at the time. The Bathorys were one of the most powerful Protestant families in Hungary. Among them were clerics, politicians, warlords and even royalty, including the Prince of Transylvania and future King of Poland.

As a child, Elizabeth suffered from seizures—most likely due to epilepsy connected to the inbreeding—and would sometimes lose control and go into a rage. She also witnessed atrocities committed by her family’s officers at their Transylvania estate. One story tells of a gypsy thief who was captured, sewn into the belly of a dying horse with only his head sticking out and left to die. For Elizabeth, grisly death and murder were commonplace. And they undoubtedly had an effect on her later in life.

At fourteen years of age, Elizabeth became pregnant to a peasant man and had to be isolated until her daughter was born. The child was given to a peasant couple to raise because Elizabeth had a different plan: she was to marry Count Ferenc Nadasdy and did so in May 1575.

Nadasdy was a soldier and was frequently away for long periods of time, leaving Elizabeth to manage the family estate, Castle Sarvar. She soon developed a reputation as a harsh master, behaving cruelly to her large staff—primarily young girls—and disciplining them endlessly to exert her authority. Bathory’s husband even joined her during his returns home, teaching her new and more sadistic ways to torment and torture her servants.

Sometimes, Elizabeth would stick pins into sensitive areas of her servants’ bodies, like under their fingernails or between their toes. In the winter, it’s said that Bathory would execute her victims by taking them out in the snow naked and tossing water on them until they froze and died. Rumor has it her husband even taught her a warm-weather version of this torture: the stripped woman would be covered with honey and left for the insects to devour.

None of this compared with what was to come.

Count Ferenc died in 1604 of an infected wound, the rumor being that it was inflicted by a prostitute he refused to pay. Elizabeth buried her husband and moved to Vienna, but she spent a great deal of her time at her castle Cachtice in Slovakia. Here she met Anna Darvula, a sadist who soon became her lover and helped Elizabeth commit some of her greatest and most disturbing atrocities.

One fateful day, a servant girl was combing Elizabeth’s hair and accidentally pulled it, leading the Countess to strike her. A few drops of blood fell on Elizabeth’s skin and she noticed that it seemed to reduce the signs of aging. According to several eyewitnesses, this was when Bathory began to kill her female servants and to drain them of their blood, which she allegedly bathed in and even drank. She was also known to bite servants’ flesh as she tortured them, a behavior that provided Bram Stoker with inspiration for his most famous character, Dracula.

Darvula died in 1609, so Bathory found a new accomplice and lover, Erszi Majorova, the widow of one of her farmer tenants. Majorova convinced Elizabeth to victimize noble girls as well as peasant girls, a move which brought the Countess too much attention. The King of Hungary eventually ordered her arrest and his troops raided the castle Cachtice. Inside, they found the bodies of Bathory’s victims—as well as some still alive and locked in cells—and allegedly discovered a register with the names of more than 650 people she killed. Elizabeth’s associates were arrested and later executed in gruesome ways—two had their fingers torn off with red-hot pincers before being burned alive, while a third was decapitated and tossed onto the same fire later.

Elizabeth Bathory was never convicted of a crime, but she did pay the price for her evil deeds. Bathory’s cousin, the King of Poland, had her confined to a room in Castle Cachtice with no windows or doors. There were only a few slits for air, as well as one for food and water. Bathory remained in this solitary room for three years and died in August 1614.

Now she bathes in the blood of eternal damnation, further proof that the “evil that men do” is always more frightening than Halloween fiction and horror films. Beware “The Blood Countess” as you venture out into the darkness of All Hallow’s Eve. She just might be waiting for you…

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