Mardi Gras Movie Madness: the Savage Bees

I’ve mentioned it many times, but there’s not much I like more than a holiday. Holidays give the lay person something to look forward to. A day off. A special meal. Time with family and friends. A plastic skull at the store where there’s normally styrofoam coolers.
These are the peaks of a simple life. A life that most of us these days are forced to grow accustomed to.
It makes no difference to me. Like many people, I feel like being content is a quicker route to a happy life than always chasing the dragon of material wealth.

There are many ways to celebrate our favorite holidays. For film fans, and a lot of other people, watching movies set during their favorite holidays is a must-do for the season. I start lining up the movies I’m going to watch for October in June and July.

A quick lap around netflix or amazon will reveal that there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of movies about Christmas. Halloween also seems to be catching up. Even Groundhog Day and New Year’s have their own Rankin/Bass specials.

But for a regional holiday like Carnival/Mardi Gras, the movie choices can be few and far between, and most of them aren’t available to stream anywhere, unless you count Candyman 2 or Hatchet. It’s really a shame too, because for people on the Gulf Coast, Mardi Gras is a holiday that is prepared for year-round, barring a brief hiatus during Lent.

It’s really hard to describe how big of a deal Mardi Gras is here. For many, including myself, the spirit of Mardi Gras is the spirit of the Gulf Coast and its people. It’s family, it’s excess, and it’s celebrating the common man ruling over the aristocracy… even if it’s just for one day.

So you can imagine what people would do if they thought a swarm of killer bees was heading towards New Orleans… during Mardi Gras!

If you can’t imagine that, I have some good news: you don’t have to! Because a made-for-tv movie in 1976 has a plot that is just that!

Let’s watch:

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The film starts with a boat being attacked by bees. This dvd I have is a straight rip of someone’s vhs tape, tracking problems and all. Could a swarm of killer bees from Brazil fly across the Gulf??? Writer of this film, Guerdon Trueblood (also known for writing Jaws 3-D), seems to think so.

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“Somebody poisoned my dog, and I’m gonna go to the Coroner in New Orleans and find out who!” – Small town Sheriff played by Ben “the Wild Bunch” Johnson. Sheriff Donald McKew is the law southeast of New Orleans.

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“During Mardi Gras???” Like most people from the area, the Sheriff’s wife, played by New Orleans local Lyla Owen, knows that only tourists try to get into New Orleans during Mardi Gras (which I think is referring to Fat Tuesday here). Most people are already where they’re gonna be, or are trying to get out to take the kids to Disney World or something (kids get out the whole week here).

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The acting Coroner, played by a young and soap-opera handsome Michael Parks (known for his roles in a lot of Tarantino films), retrieves a bee from the stomach of the Sheriff’s dog. “Yall got a bee problem down there in your Parish?”

There’s a whole lot of rigamarole that, as someone who grew up in Carnival, I found funny. For instance, they spend a lot of time trying to figure out who is going to actually do something during Mardi Gras. No one wants to work, so the problem keeps getting passed around. Our trash day is on Tuesday at our house, and I always laugh at the people who put their trash cans out on Fat Tuesday. No one who works for a city that celebrates Mardi Gras will be working on Fat Tuesday. Thus, the Sheriff has a problem.

But, enough plot synopsis. The real reason I wanted to see this film is because the internet told me it was set during Mardi Gras, so I was ready to see some Mardi Gras action.

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I tried to get a peek at that sign, for a clue as to what krewe this is, or what the float is supposed to be, but this is the best I could do. Float 20: Hold That ____.
Any ideas? To me, she almost looks like Giganta from Superfriends.
giganta

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I tried to get a screenshot of the revelers in the streets, but it was impossible to get a clear one. Everyone is just having way too much fun and dancing way too fast. There’s some good costumes in there, though.
One thing I’ve always loved about my home region is that having a good time isn’t restricted by your age. When I travel to other places, it seems that, for the most part, the only people out wining and dining and dancing are young people. Here, especially during Mardi Gras, everyone celebrates together and there’s no stigma attached to who can party and who can’t.

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I took this sceenshot mostly for the girl on the left’s costume. Is it a dog? An alligator? Who knows. My mom always dressed us up as clowns, but I always wanted to be something different.
That’s one thing that people don’t seem to realize. Growing up, Mardi Gras was a very family friendly event, even in New Orleans, as long as you stayed in certain areas. Kids would dress up and catch stuff. And look at this gal’s costume. These are the types of costumes I remember. Innocent. Fun. Nowadays, a “costume” is a thong.
Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy the bacchanal of Mardi Gras, but I also have a wistful nostalgia for a simpler time when locals were in the streets, in homemade gator costumes.

As far as the plot goes, who cares? As you can see from the shot, our heroes are still trying to untangle all the red tape and bureaucracy and laziness and revelling of the city government. Walking from official building to official building. This Sheriff is mad about his dog.

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This must be right at the start of the parade. I’m not too familiar with how the bands in Mardi Gras parades work, but according to the Savage Bees, they just chill on the corner until the rest of the band comes by, then they jump up and join in.
I wanted to share this shot just because the bands are one of my favorite parts of city Mardi Gras parades. The local high schools, and some colleges, march in the parade and you can hear them coming from miles away. When I first moved back home, hearing a Mardi Gras parade coming for the first time in years was a nigh-religious experience.

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A local news station is broadcasting live from the streets of New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Handsome Dan tries to tell the news that a swarm of killer bees may be headed to New Orleans. Somehow, it doesn’t get on the air. Actually, a woman who doesn’t want to panic the whole town tells the news that he’s not a real doctor, so they shut it down.

 

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This is a large night parade on Fat Tuesday, so I’m assuming this is the Mistick Krewe of Comus, as they didn’t stop parading until 1991. Being as this was 1976, I’m guessing their theme for the year was the obvious choice of the bicentennial.

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Here’s a rabbit float. The head was turning around. I like this shot because you can see the riders and their creepy masks (which I love).

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This float looks like it was a garden or courtyard somewhere.

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The first thing I noticed about this shot is that there are no barricades. I can’t quite tell where this is. Claiborne, maybe? The overpass was built in 1968, so it could be. I just like that there is nothing separating the revelers from the floats here. I feel like the barricades are a physical and metaphorical divider between the people who are “high and mighty” up on the floats, and the peasants on the ground, begging for the scraps. When I was a kid, there were no barricades. We were all there together.
I’ll make a “lawn” joke soon, I promise.

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I suppose this is the King of Comus’s float, Comus himself. Anyone have any thoughts who this would be in 1976? Of course, being a movie, this parade wasn’t necessarily on Fat Tuesday.

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Getting back to the flimsy plot, they find a guy who has been stung to death by the savage bees, floating in the Mississippi. Being a made-for-tv movie, this is about as gnarly as it gets.

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Also because this is made-for-tv, they throw in some soap-opera style romance. I don’t really know who this was for, but this scene lasts forever and could have easily been cut. I think it’s to set up what happens at the end, so you care about these characters, but it doesn’t really work. I know, I am way over-analyzing this.

[Jaws-style announcer voice]: Just when you thought Fat Tuesday was bad, you weren’t prepared for the horrors of…. ASH WEDNESDAY!!!! [/END]

The authorities wake up, hungover, on Ash Wednesday and decide that, miraculously, now is a good time to go try and do something about those daggum bees!

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“Two knuckleheads to the Sheriff, over.” [on the radio]
“Sheriff, over.”
“There’s some kind of symbol out here in the marsh, over.”
“Leave it alone, dummies! It’s Voodoo! Sheriff OUT.”

Good call, Sheriff. Best not to mess with things and things won’t mess with you. For half a second, you almost think this might take a Voodoo turn, but it doesn’t and these two fellas go back to looking for where the Savage Bee Gang is hiding out.

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They find the bees inside Broux Fine Eats. Can’t say I blame them. I bet that place has good boudin. Maybe the bees are cooking up some manflesh in there, mixed with rice, in a Motel Hell-style plot twist!

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From out of nowhere, and to raise the body count, two reveling pirates show up and get out of their car. I can only imagine the meeting that created these two characters.

Person in charge: “According to Corporate, it’s not a horror film if we don’t kill at least 6 people! And we at least hafta show someone getting killed! Maybe just throw a couple random pirates, coming home from Mardi Gras, in there somewhere.”

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Bad mistake, pirate lady.

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“Now the bees are attacking my Super Beetle!”
“Don’t worry, it’s airtight!”
Hahahahaa! Ok.

Here’s the plan these geniuses come up with:
The bees must be frozen, at least down to around 49°. But if it’s too cold, the bees will run away. They need to take the bees somewhere where it’s not already cold, but can be cooled down quickly. If we drive the Super Beetle really slow, we can take the bees somewhere. All of them. None of them will fly away. They are that mad.

But where should we take them?
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TEH MUHFUGGIN SUPER DOME, MUHFUGGER, WHO DAT BABAYYY!!!!

So, basically, no kidding, The Savage Bees has now effectively become a commercial for the recently-built Super Dome and its badass air conditioning system. Astrodome, who?

Yes. Their plan is to drive a killer bee covered VW Super Beetle from like Grand Isle or somewhere, up into the city, through the Ash Wednesday-quiet streets of New Orleans, and into the Superdome, where the Dome’s modern cooling systems will freeze them to death.

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Sheriff: “Everyone off the streets! We’re bringing a car load of killer bees through a densely populated area for no reason!”

There’s a few good shots of people with their ashes on scrambling indoors to avoid millions of killer bees that the authorities are bringing into the city. Thankfully, suspension of disbelief is one of my strong points.

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The BeeMobile enters the Dome. Is it gonna work? It’s almost time for the 10 o’clock news, so it better.
This scene is so obviously supposed to be tense, but it is not at all.

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Sheriff: “Turn that famous trademarked Superdome Air Conditioning down, old timer, before I plugs ya!”

Is the gun really necessary, Sheriff? Also, I can’t help but wonder who the old guy in the Superdome control station is. A producer, maybe? A real Superdome employee? I’m sure he’s been dead for 20 years now, so I don’t guess it matters.

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Are they really gonna do this? Are they really gonna drive out on the field?
You bet your ass they are.

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I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. I can just hear audiences in 1976 saying, “We need to go to a game in that Superdome! Nay, an event! It is climate controlled! Unlike most amphitheaters or concert venues in our primitive age, we won’t burn up! SEE? It can get down to daggum 49°! They just proved it!”

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The heroine gets out of the dead bee crusted car. The Superdome has successfully frozen the bees to death.

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“I still love you in your tight-fittin jeans!”

THE END.

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OR IS IT??? DUM DUM DUUMMMMM!!!! (that’s a bee on a seat in the Dome)

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Yeah, the same Bruce Geller who invented Mission: Impossible back in the day.

I guess that’s a wrap. Thanks for reading, and come back! Maybe it won’t be a year before I post something again.

Just out of curiosity, is there anyone around who was around back then, who remembers this movie? Or better yet, who was in New Orleans and remembers when they made it?
Please comment below. Surely there’s someone out there who remember them closing down the streets in the Quarter for the climax, or who was working at the Dome on the day they drove a Volkswagen covered with bees out on the field.

Posted in Gulf Coast, pop culture, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Summerween, aka October Friday

Or, “One Grown Man’s Experience Celebrating Summerween and October Friday, as told through a series of short reviews for useless things.”

Celebrating Halloween in the middle of Summer.

It’s something I’ve always done, at least a little bit, but it took a genius like WillBill from VeggieMacabre (and lately at his new blog, Casserole of Disaster) to put it into words, give it a name, and a few rules and parameters (not to mention, suggestions).

In his blogpost October For A Sunday, WillBill gave us details on his experience in celebrating Halloween in the Summer. He also reassured us that we’re not alone in being anxious for Halloween.

It wasn’t too long after that, the show “Gravity Falls” aired their episode “Summerween” (Season 1, Episode 12). Or rather, it wasn’t long after that when I saw it. It originally aired in 2012, but I probably didn’t see it until at least 2014. I don’t want to explain the plot of the whole show, but this episode is about a town where they love Halloween so much, they celebrate it twice a year. I am almost certain that one of this year’s Summerween collaborators, brandmed, introduced me to it and Gravity Falls.

Speaking of collaborators, last week my internet buddies and I decided that we would celebrate Summerween/October Day sometime this weekend and then blog about it, for the enlightenment and edification of our Halloween brethren out there. Myself, WillBill, Brandmed, and Sommerjam are all writing blogs documenting our own individual Rites of Fall Celebrated at the Summer Solstice (just to bring a little of that good olde thymey Halloween Pagan flavor to it all).

Being the Summer Solstice today makes this the longest day of the year. As someone who hates Summer, and hates the sun, I love it. Why? Because after today, the days start getting shorter. I know that’s common sense, but think of it this way: it’s really nature’s own countdown to Halloween! In other words, tomorrow nighttime begins its slow, but steady, annual takeover of the daytime. Bwahaha!

Ahem.

Anyway, I was thinking about how this blog would play out and realized that it was, more or less, just a series of pictures of products that I used and abused on Friday. I know that doesn’t sound interesting, and it may not be, but here we go…

Step #1. The Day Before. Collect, or make, the things you will use.

On Thursday, I set about icing down my pumpkin beers (saved from last year) and making two pumpkin pies. TWO.

My wife normally makes pumpkin pies, but I wanted to try my hand at it. I may be an ace at making gumbo and red beans and rice, but she has the dessert game locked down in our household.

They turned out ok. One was a little less “done” than the other, but they tasted fine, which is the main point.

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I used frozen pie crusts, which is kinda cheating, I guess? Also, canned pumpkin guts. I can only imagine how long it would take the vvitch in olden times to make a pumpkin pie. You can’t tell me she doesn’t make delicious pies, despite being laden with hallucinogenic drugs. It’s probably all the baby blood she puts in them. “Made With Love!”

Right. Anyway, to make two pumpkin pies, get two frozen pie crusts (unless you’re Bobby Flay, in which case you can go jump off a cliff). I used Mrs. Smith’s “flaky” pie crusts. Then, you mix two cans of pumpkin (I used some kind of organic hippie canned pumpkin because it was on sale), two cans of sweetened condensed milk, three eggs, and copious amounts of “pumpkin pie spice” together. You can whisk it by hand, or take the lazy way, which is my favorite: use a mixer.

Pour your sweetened pumpkin sludge into the crusts and bake for 15 minutes at 425°. Then, lower the heat to 350° and bake for about 35 minutes. Let it chill for awhile before you eat it.

Step #2. Morning of Summerween and October Friday.

It is important to have a good, Halloween-y breakfast on October Friday. You will need your strength to meet the challenges of the day head-on. Like sitting on the couch, soaking up the air conditioning, watching horror movies, and occasionally napping to youtube white noise videos like “Heavy Rain with Rolling Thunder“.

On October Day, I always try to do the exact same things that I would do on Halloween. The main one being, “don’t go to work”. My boss learned long ago that I do not work on Halloween. It just doesn’t happen.

Other than not working, I don’t have any other traditions that are set in stone. We used to have a big Halloween party every year, but too many people complained about the music (they wanted “dance” music, not Halloween music) or the movies on the television (the last year we had it, I made sure to show nothing but Jess Franco films).

Still, having a ton of pumpkin coffee on Halloween morning is a must.

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Clearly, I am not on the pumpkin spice hate bandwagon, and I never will be. People who hate on the pumpkin spice are either just being contrarians, or they have no sense of seasonal fun.

I’ve already reviewed some Fall seasonal coffees, so I’ll refrain from stomping over old graves. And yes, I added pumpkin spice creamer to pumpkin spice coffee, and it didn’t cause my head to explode and it didn’t open some sort of stargate into a land of perpetual Fall, unfortunately.

Everyone knows that holidays are also national diet “cheat days”, so instead of my normal breakfast of yogurt and granola, I had this:

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That’s right, a SEALED box of Yummy Mummy that I have been saving!

Let’s just be honest for a second, yall. This cereal kinda sucks.

I know it’s heresy, but we can all just be adults and admit that this kids cereal doesn’t taste very good and that it’s really just the art and nostalgia (and scarcity) that elevate the Monster line of breakfast cereals.

It’s too sweet and chemically tasting, and it gets soggy really quickly, which is gross. It doesn’t taste like “orange cream”. It tastes like mushy sugar chemical.

Moving on from my disappointing breakfast, it was time to watch something. I settled on a semi-rare gem from the ancient days of analog “tapes”:

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Yeah, flippin’ Hack-O-Lantern.

If you haven’t seen Hack-O-Lantern (sometimes called “Halloween Night”), let me put you on some game.

Hack-O-Lantern might just be the strangest, goofiest, Halloween movie I have ever seen. The first time I saw it, someone had posted the entire movie on youtube. It has been taken down now, but occasionally it will pop up. My friends Bo and Amy originally told me about Hack-O-Lantern, so I have to give a holler at them.

The plot is about a grandpa in the Midwest (I guess? It’s very Americana looking) who is in a satanic cult. That’s really all you need to know. And he throws the devil horns, but not in a heavy metal way.

After I watched Hack-O-Lantern, it was time to actually get my day going. Time to groom myself, using Fall and Halloween seasonally appropriate items.

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I cut my own hair. Thus, it looks like shit. But! If I use some pomade, I can hide my terrible haircut.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but it seems like all aging punks, at some point, turn to greasing their hair. I don’t know if it’s because we’re losing it (our hair) or what, but it seems like it happens to a lot of us. I think some of it is because, as you get older, you start looking for the roots of the music you love. The end result of this being that most people that I hang out with, that are my age with my background, listen to very little modern music. Instead, preferring roots music and, just like when you’re a kid and discover the Ramones, you start to think they look cool and want to emulate them.

Whatever your reason, Halloweeniacs, let me recommend this pomade to you. This is a pomade that was, supposedly, made strictly for the Halloween season, though I got it from a third party seller on amazon. It is black, naturally, and smells like brimstone, like Nightcrawler. What it smells like, to me, is the part in Spaceship Earth where Rome is burning.

Besides the smell, it works! It’s a medium hold, oil/wax pomade that is easy to work with and smells great.

And it can turn this rat’s nest:

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Into a well-groomed rat’s nest like this:

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You may notice that, in between pics I shaved.

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I just received this large tub of shaving soap from West Coast Shaving. Like the only other pumpkin spice shaving soap I have used, this one has a doodoo brown color and smells (and kinda looks) like oatmeal. It’s a very sweet odor, more akin to pumpkin pie than spice.

I also got to use the new brush I got with my new soap. A bucket list item for me, the Simpson Commodore X3. I think this brush is what’s known as a “lather hog”, meaning it holds a lot of lather in its bristles, forcing you to use more soap than maybe you’re used to.

That may have been the problem, but I had a hard time getting a good lather from this stuff. I plan on trying again once Fall gets here, of course. The tub is huge and a good value, if I can figure out the trick to it.

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Of course I used my “pumpkin whiskey” aftershave from Nevermore Body Company, which I’ve already reviewed here.

Once I was groomed, it was time to do what any adult with the day off and a fridge full of pumpkin beer would do…

Watch cartoons.

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I first watched “Halloween is Grinch Night” via youtube. This is/was a Halloween special that I’ve actually never seen. I’ve tried to watch it a few times, but since I didn’t see it as a kid, it doesn’t have that nostalgia power that Charlie Brown has. This was the first time I’ve made it all the way through it, and it’s not bad at all. It’s not nearly as good as the Christmas one, but that may be because of the nostalgia thing again.

It is, however, more strange than the Christmas one, which I guess could make it better. It has a stranger plot and a lot stranger beasts and characters. And it takes place before the Christmas one, obviously, because the Grinch still hates Whos and really enjoys scaring people. However, the cynic in me wants to believe that the Grinch never did really change at Christmas. It was all a ruse to get a slice of roast beast.

After the Grinch, of course I had to watch the Summerween episode of Gravity Falls:

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It’s a good episode, mostly because I can relate to wanting to celebrate Halloween twice a year. I don’t know if it’s the best one, but it’s close, and that’s saying a lot because for a modern cartoon, aimed at kids, Gravity Falls was a helluva show.

Then I brought out the big guns:

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In my book, Garfield’s Halloween Adventure is second only to the Great Pumpkin.

What makes Garfield’s so great is that, just like the Christmas episode, it has it all. It’s heartfelt, funny, and best of all, a little bit scary.

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Who can forget this terrible looking son of a bitch, who looks kinda like he has an anus for a mouth in this shot? I tweeted this also, but I love how he is drawn differently from all the other characters. He doesn’t have the trademark Garfield bug eyes, which even the other humans have. I can’t help but think this is symbolic. There’s got to be a specific reason that he is drawn like this. You know there was a conversation about how he should look. There had to be! To me, he’s different because he’s either a) real, or b) a dream. The final shot of the Special could be interpreted either way, but I won’t spoil it for you (if you want to discuss, feel free to comment below).

And going back to another point, about it being actually scary: the pirate ghosts are real. There’s never a point where we’re led to believe, even for a second, that they might be someone dressed up. Or what about when Garfield sings the song about not being a scaredy cat? He lifts up the kids’ costumes, only to reveal something even worse underneath! I can’t help but think that in a Halloween special these days, kids would be reassured that there is no such thing as ghosts and monsters, or ancient old cabin boys who roll drool between their fingers (props to Sommerjam for pointing that out).

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In accordance with rules laid out in Bill’s October for a Sunday post, it was time to start my pot roast. It’s in there somewhere, underbeneath the taters, mushrooms, carrots, and onions. It really does smell like Fall, while cooking. I don’t think I could think of a better Fall food than pot roast. It’s just so damn cozy.

And speaking of stuff that smells like Fall, allow me to recommend this candle, which I got off of amazon just for this occasion. Amazon rules for getting out of season items to your front door. Last year I ordered some Reese’s pumpkins though, and they showed up looking more like Reese’s dookies. The summer heat and humidity in the Deepest South was not kind to them.

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This candle smells great! And it lasts forever and was only like $9! Keep it in mind, next time you want to be a “basic white bitch” for a day (your words, internet, not mine). I don’t know if it has a distinct pumpkin spice smell, but it certainly smells like Fall, and having an open flame indoors, no matter how small, lends itself to the Fall feeling, especially when the power goes out, like it did on my Summerween.

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I eventually blew it out because I didn’t need anything else adding to the heat that was already in the house. The high that day was 96°, and with the humidity, the heat index was about 110°. My house never did get below about 85° inside. It was fucking miserable.

Since the heat was not wanting to let up, I decided to watch a beach-y horror film.

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Humanoids From the Deep!

It’d been a long time since I’d seen it, so I passed out and slept through it. From what I can remember, a bunch of mutant dudes show up and kill men and rape women. Yeah, it’s pretty weird.

Normally on Halloween, I would watch my favorites. My perennial go-to’s that I never get tired of. Halloween (1978), Evil Dead 2, etc.

On this Summerween, I wanted to watch something I’d never seen before, so I consulted Shudder to see what was up.

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I landed on this gothic tale, a typically British Amicus production about a gal tormented by a vengeful spirit from the past.

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It features the ghost of Thing Addams and a nasty specter with its eyes poked out. It also has Peter Cushing, of course, because he was in every British horror movie in the 20th century. It also has two things that I love in horror movies: billowing nightclothes and candelabras! Those things always remind me of the Haunted Mansion. And yeah, I know I’ve tweeted and wrote that before in several places.

That was really about the extent of my October Sunday, except for this:

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I saved plenty of pumpkin beer from last year, and didn’t finish half of it. I can’t drink like I used to. I get sleepy. Which is part of why I passed out during Humanoids From the Deep.

But, pumpkin beer will be here soon enough (only about a month and a half!) and from there it’s just a slippery slope to Halloween. The days are already getting incrementally shorter, leading to the dark days of Fall and Winter.

Until then, enjoy Halloween in Spirit every day!

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“The Witch” Review

I just spent way too long considering whether or not I should spell that the ole timey way, like “The VVitch” or not.

For a long time, I’ve really only considered two movies about witchcraft to be good: “Haxan” and “Anti-Christ“. I guess now I must put “The VVitch” up there as well, though it’s still not as good as either of those.

 

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To be fair, no movie will ever be Haxan, and I don’t think any movie would ever aspire to be like AntiChrist. However, like AntiChrist, The Witch is about our need to conquer and subdue nature, and nature’s obstinence and stubbornness to not just allow itself to be tamed and reigned in. _________________________________________________________________

I’m not sure when the occult and witchcraft became cool, but it certainly did, and I don’t see this trend going away anytime soon. I think its roots can be found in the rise of popularity in stoner rock, then stoner metal, and then black metal. People like that imagery. It’s nihilist. It’s misanthropic. It’s something we can all identify with, as the technology that was supposed to bring us together, keeps us separated more and more from each other, and from real and visceral experiences.

And I’m pointing the finger at myself too. If left to my own devices, I’d order everything to be delivered and stay inside and play games and watch movies all day. The less I can be bothered with other people, the better. And it’s this isolation that makes us hate our fellow humans even more.

And so comes “The Witch”.

A family in Puritan times moves into the wilderness to make for themselves a home. You know they are Puritan because they wear funny hats and talk in the olde timey kind of ways. Like “thee” or “thine” and “That displeaseth me”. It takes some getting used to. I honestly found myself almost wishing I’d gone to a showing tonight, just to see the reaction of all the rednecks who are bound to go see it, hoping for the next “The Conjuring”.

The father, good Christian Puritan man that he is, even says something along the lines of, “this wilderness must be conquered”. And that is, more or less, what the whole movie is about. None of us can live in harmony with nature. I know hippies are all about thinking they are living in harmony with nature, but they are not. Unless you are naked and starving to death, you are not in harmony with nature. You killed a plant to wear your cotton clothes. To be in harmony with nature is to be at war with man.

Nature would have its revenge, but our brains have finally sorted out bulldozers, Round-Up weed and plant killer, pesticides, etc. Our Puritan family does not have these things. They do not have the tools to contend with a wild, and malevolent, forest or the things that truly dwell in harmony within it. And thus, sadly for them, they become the ones conquered and subdued. __________________________________________________________________

I don’t mind going to see movies by myself. I don’t prefer it, but I don’t mind it. And if it means I can see something for cheaper, or without a crowd, then all the better. Still, I couldn’t believe it when I got charged $15 for a matinee movie ticket and some Twizzlers. I gave up “junk food” for Lent, yet I forgot and got some Twizzlers. Some FIVE DOLLAR Twizzlers. I’m sure spending that much on Twizzlers is a sin, in and of itself, not to mention it’s a Friday during Lent. What I’m trying to say is, I went into a film like The Witch already with a nagging sense of Catholic guilt. Though the Puritans are decidedly Protestant, you see where I’m going here.

Whether strictly in my head or not, religion has a hold on a part of me, no matter how small. Going into the film, I was curious if the witchcraft was going to be all in the characters’ heads, or if it would be real. Or better yet, ambiguous, like in AntiChrist.

 

antichrist

 

In the end, I guess it doesn’t really matter. What we get is a very spooky tale of a family breaking down in the face of the enormous maliciousness of an untamed country, and their own isolation in its belly. Isolated, both from their fellow man, and from their god.

The film is what some might call “a slow burn” and what most people who post on imdb message boards would call “boring”. In fact, as I was going to the message board to link to it, the top post is “my audience laughed at it”. That is why I go see movies during the day, on the weekdays. It’s almost understandable that today’s audiences would laugh at it. It’s a normal reaction of a person confronted with something that they can’t really make sense of, and are both confused and put off by it.

Personally, I love movies like this. It reminded me of another horror movie that I loved, but others hated, “The Innkeepers“. It just kind of goes along, with a little disturbing thing happening here and there, until the payoff… which is huge. Well, big.

The music is sparse, which I like. There are very few of the “jumpscares”, which is great for me, because I hate to be startled (and being startled is not the same as being scared or afraid). Instead, the music, like the film itself, just maintains the tension throughout the entire film.

It is a very quiet, very tense, movie.

It’s a self-labeled folktale, and it shows. Hints of Hansel and Gretel, and everything you’ve always heard about witches (including the popular origin story about the riding of broomsticks) are represented. This is not about neopagans or wiccans. This is about straight-up Haxan witches. Devil worshippers. Dancing and making sweet gravy with the debbil himself.

That said, the Church of Satan has openly said that the film is a very Satanic experience, seemingly in hopes of tying themselves to it. Ha! They wish! I’m sure they would love it if people thought their religion was actually real and this threatening. I guess if they spent more time actually cavorting with Lucifer, and less time playing Magic: The Gathering, that would be true.

One thing that AntiChrist gets into, and The Witch does not, is misogyny. I wouldn’t have minded a little more of that, to be honest, but The Witch just isn’t that kind of movie. Where AntiChrist was all metaphor (with witchcraft almost representing a very modern hate of women), The Witch still wants to scare you and disturb you.

In that way, it’s not nearly as complicated as AntiChrist or “The Lords of Salem“, but it’s not exactly “fun” either. I’ll probably never watch AntiChrist again, despite thinking it is brilliant, but I’d be willing to give The Witch another go or two. __________________________________________________________________

 

As I tried to find the exit in my local megaplex, I couldn’t help but notice the other screens and what they were showing inside.

“Zoolander 2”

“Kung Fu Panda 3”

“How to be Single”

And apparently, some Christian movie also came out today called “Risen”. It was playing to a packed house (for a Friday matinee), while The Witch had only revealed herself to about 3 people, including myself.

The “Coming Soon!” posters weren’t any different.

My only thought was that “The Witch” does not belong here, in this temple of vapid consumerism. It may only belong on a Criterion Collection release 10 years from now, next to movies like “The Beast” and “M”.

Still, I’m glad it’s there. It needs to be there. And I hope tons of ignorant idiots give it their money. And I’m not even saying it’s an “art” film either, or that it’s hard to “get”. It’s just that people who like their horror in the easily digested forms of movies like “Annabelle” will probably hate it.

7.5/10

UPDATE (2 HOURS LATER): While playing some Diablo 3 (something I do a lot of), and zoning out and going back over the movie in my mind, there’s really a lot more subtext than maybe I gave it credit for in the beginning. The problem is that these subtexts are never really fleshed out as much as I would like. There’s elements of repressed Puritan sexuality (which still messes with American society today), the pressures on a father to provide and the meaning of masculinity (yet another thing that is relevant to modern America), and of course, paranoia and the fear of the “Other”, which is what most critics like to harp on with this movie.

However, I still stand by my stance that, at its heart, this is a film about the malevolence of nature and the untamed spirits that live within us.

UPDATE, the Next Day. Saturday 2/30:
I wanted to point out that I hate how this movie has, somehow on the the internet, turned into a sort of “Donnie Darko” situation. Meaning, people who like the movie seem to think people who don’t like it are stupid and just “don’t get it”. I hate that. That sort of attitude could easily turn me against this movie. I hate “Donnie Darko” because of stupid people like this. It says absolutely nothing about your intelligence if you like this movie or not. NOTHING. Quit being pompous just because you like (or pretend to like) a movie. And quit being so defensive and aggressive if you didn’t like it. NO ONE CARES.

Now that that is off my chest, I want to say that I like the title “The VVitch”. The olde timey spelling is a clue to how the characters are going to talk. I also like that it is just called “The Witch”, meaning it could be a movie that is just about the trope, or the monster, in general, rather than about any specific witch.

A friend of mine sent me a Snow White gif this morning, and I realized how it must have been an influence on this film. This makes sense, since this is a folktale and Snow White is one also.

Just some random thoughts there…

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It’s a “Mardi Gras Massacre” Breakdown! (NSFW sorta)

There are a lot of horror movies set during the festive Carnival season, which isn’t surprising as the setting lends itself to horror. Masks, skeletons, excess, debauchery. How could a crazed killer resist such temptation?

If you go to imdb, type in “Mardi Gras” and see what pops up. Some of the search results may surprise you, but as a guy who actively seeks out films about, and set during, Mardi Gras, a horror film with Mardi Gras right there in the gotdang title is too much to resist.

Being one of the UK’s infamously banned 39 “video nasties” moved “Mardi Gras Massacre” straight to the top of my list of “must-see” movies. Unfortunately, it was almost impossible to find a copy, and has still never been released in the UK.

It was hard to find, that is, until a company called Code Red released the “Maria’s ‘B’ Movie Mayhem” version on dvd, which is easily obtainable via amazon.

The Maria in question is Maria Kanellis, who apparently is famous as a wrastling “diva” but also has tried her hand out as a “horror host”.

Mardi Gras Massacre 0On this dvd, you can “watch the movie with Maria”, which is where she does her best (but not very good) Elvira impression and makes comments throughout the film. If you like that sort of thing, it’s ok, but personally I can’t recommend it.

It also includes a music video for her original hit single, “Fantasy”, which I could only make it through about 5 seconds of, and is shot in Los Angeles and has absolutely zip to do with massacres or Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras Massacre 62Thankfully, you can just “watch the movie only”, which makes it sound really boring, but clearly is the best option.
So without any more introduction than that, let’s watch it!

Mardi Gras Massacre 1

Super cool title screen. I think that is supposed to be blood? “Mardi Gras” is written all festive, but “MASSACRE” is very matter-of-fact, and adorned with blood. I think.

Mardi Gras Massacre 2

The movie opens with this weirdo, immediately identified as the antagonist by his bad guy voice, his fancy suit in a bar full of ‘tutes, and his persistent desire to meet the “most evil” prostitute in New Orleans. Here he is approaching two willing ladies and asking about which gal in the bar is the “most evil”.

Mardi Gras Massacre 3

He is then introduced to, supposedly, the most evil woman in the bar.
You would almost think that this guy is going to turn out to be a “Se7en” style biblical avenger, the way he is going after evil women and prostitutes. Turns out, not so much..Mardi Gras Massacre 4

Yes! Ritual sacrifice! I knew it!
John (probably an alias, the wily bastard) leads the most evil woman in New Orleans (in 1978) to this odd room in his apartment. He bids her to disrobe…

Mardi Gras Massacre 5

…which she does. Willingly. I think they may have introduced him to the “stupidest woman in New Orleans” rather than the most evil. Common mistake.
Have prostitutes ever seen a horror movie? Surely they know that they are the number one target of multiple types of killer, right?
“Hey, take your clothes off, then let me tie you to this weird… um… bed.
I am not kidding at all. That conversation actually happens… AND SHE’S COOL WITH IT!

Then he comes out in his pajamas and booty shorts, with a gold mask.

Mardi Gras Massacre 6

“Behold! My god! PREDAKING!” (g1 Transformers reference yall, just to rep my geek cred)

Mardi Gras Massacre 7

This is one dirty lady. Get it? If not, check out the dirt lines in her armpit folds. Nothing says “grindhouse trash” like dirty dead women.

It is also during this scene that we get a look at the bright red “Kensington gore” blood that is used throughout the film. It’s a throwback to the theater days, when the blood had to be bright red to make sure the audience could see it and know what it was. Realistic gore and blood is actually a fairly recent thing. I also think this is a reference to this film’s inspiration, HG Lewis’s classic “Blood Feast”, considered the first splatter film, and features a guy sacrificing women to his Egyptian god.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 8

This is probably the first shot where I thought, “This really is filmed in New Orleans!”

They find her body dumped near the tracks behind Cafe du Monde. Not exactly what you want the tourists to see, but hey, it’s New Orleans. They’ll appreciate the “grit”.

Mardi Gras Massacre 9

Our two protagonists, Starsky & Hutch, finally show up to question the bar owner.

I know I didn’t show it, but the bar owner was instrumental in directing “John” to the stupidest woman in New Orleans, but yet here he can’t seem to recall what he looked like, except he wore a big gold ring. Maybe you can chalk it up to the proverbial bartender code of silence, but you’d think Geoffrey here might be interested in catching the guy who knocked off one of his top earners.

Instead, he directs the cops to the two gals from the beginning of the movie…

Mardi Gras Massacre 10

One of whom the detective takes out for a fancy dinner at a place with red candle holders, lacquered brick walls, vinyl seat coverings… THE WORKS.
Is it a little unprofessional for a detective to take a hooker to dinner? One who might even be a potential suspect? Nah! It’s Mardi Gras!

Mardi Gras Massacre 11

There’s a lot of scenes like this in the movie, as John keeps a look out for the most evil woman in the world, and I like it. The world could use more go-go dancer, burlesque-style strip clubs, and less Hustler Clubs.
After a little asking around, he is led to this weasel:Mardi Gras Massacre 12

With that scowl, I almost could believe it this time. Like a cornered rodent.Mardi Gras Massacre 13

Here is a superb shot of his get-up: pajamas, gold mask, ritual knife. Just in case anyone needed a costume for Mardi Gras this year. Actually, that isn’t a bad idea. An obscure reference, so anyone who knows what it is, is instantly your best friend!

Mardi Gras Massacre 14“First, I cut your feet, which brought you to this lifestyle and into my lair!”

Mardi Gras Massacre 15This is the second, but not final, shot of this fake body being disemboweled, as John cuts out the part used “for evil”. Looks like a liver to me. Maybe he’s just a frustrated teetotaller, mad because he must live in New Orleans, the drinkiest city ever, due to his job as a plastic bead stringer.

Or… maybe… he’s in one of the oldest, and most secretive. of Mardi Gras Societies? Ooooh, now that’s a twist!

 

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 16

I’ll be honest, I get the feeling that the filmmaker really loves New Orleans, which is something I can appreciate.

Our hero, and his newfound hooker love, spend their days hitting the hot spots. Jackson Square…

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 17Eating beignets at Cafe du Monde…

Mardi Gras Massacre 18…and, generally, being tourists in their own town. Can’t say I blame them, but shouldn’t he be looking for a killer, not canoodling with floozies?

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 19Oh, ok, there he goes.
Beavis and Butthead get a hot tip to go talk to a professor of ritualistic killings at the local university (Tulane, I guess?). He tells them all about the god that their killer is sacrificing hookers for, “Hjagctfehdncjfisacbg”. No really, it’s something like that. It actually sounds more like Jhahcndhsjkeikfn.

The cops are really worried that the publicity surrounding the murders will be bad for Mardi Gras. Being as this came out in 1978, does that sound familiar? Maybe a sea beast, killing people, driving away the tourists? That’s right, it’s ripped off from the horror classic, “Orca: The Killer Whale”.

womp womp.

Mardi Gras Massacre 20Meanwhile, it’s time for John to continue his hunt for the most evil woman in the world, who also just so happens to be the easiest to murder the shit out of.

It never really says what John thinks will happen with these sacrifices. Does he think Predaking will come to life and serve him as master? I would love it if he was sacrificing all these nubile young ladies as part of a “find true love” blood ritual.

“Dear Predaking, please help me find my true love. Yours always, John”

“Dear John, murder as many women as you can find. Love, Q.”



Mardi Gras Massacre 21“Uhhh, I like your devil costume. Does that mean you’re really eeevil?”

“It means I’m as evil as your $100 says I am.”

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 22

BOING-OING-OING!!!

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 23

This weirdo comes up to John, scatting and spitting all over the place.
“Hey daddy-o, give me a one and have a little fun! Give me two and more for you! Give me three and bang a tree!”
You get the idea.

Does this type of person exist anymore? The scumbag who “dooby-doo’s” his way around dark alleys, selling obsolete drugs and pimping out evil women? I like to think this guy would be murdered in about two seconds these days, but then again, I haven’t been to California in a while.

Mardi Gras Massacre 24

“Let me help you with your coat. Would you like some wine, or some Chinese take-out?”

“Boy, you really know how to treat a lady!”

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 25

The look on John’s face here is similar to ones I’ve seen on other guys’ faces (not mine, ever). It reads, “When is she gonna shut up so I can go play with my pajamas and gold knife?”

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 26

He asks his potential victim what her favorite thing to do is, and she says, “Dance”. Then she does a dance. I think it’s supposed to be a classy ballet dance, but kinda just looks like a wounded seagull. It could be a disco version of “Swan Lake”, I suppose.

Whatever it is, it works on John. He tried his best to get her to leave, apparently having a change of heart, but she says, “You paid good money for me, LET’S GET IT ON!”

 

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 27

This is “getting it on” in the only way John knows how. Poor guy.

That bush is standing up loud and proud tho, amirite?

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 28

While John is getting it on, a lover’s quarrel breaks out between our two sweethearts. This ends with Detective Frank swatting Hooker “Sherry” like a fly, creating a new twist in the completely unnecessary side story of their love affair.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 29

I haven’t brought up the incredibly pervasive disco music that vigorously permeates the entire film because I was waiting for this moment. The moment when “Sherry” goes out on the prowl, as people are wont to do after a bad breakup and subsequent swatting.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 30

Sooo much disco. Sooo much chest hair. “Cheee-aaa-eeers!”

 

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 31

“Sherry” dances with the wrong broad’s man, who looks like an extra from “Welcome Back, Kotter“. He’s on the left with the pink fly collar, thoroughly enjoying the first, and last, time two ladies fought over him.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 32

This is the Bourbon Street I remember from my childhood. I seriously remember walking down Bourbon with my parents as a kid, with my mom covering my eyes. I have no idea why we would be there in the first place, but there we were.
The next two pics are specifically to illustrate the 1978 Bourbon Street.

Mardi Gras Massacre 34

I know Big Daddy’s is still there, and you can sorta get a glimpse of the legs coming out above the window, but it’s never looked seedier than here in this 1978 trashy piece of cinema.

Mardi Gras Massacre 35

Once again, I feel like the people who made this movie really loved New Orleans. There are numerous shots of people that I am choosing to believe were local personalities at the time. People that locals in 1978 would recognize immediately. There’s no other way to explain shots like this one, where this badass dancer cuts a rug for a good few minutes before the cops ask him a few quick questions.

Mardi Gras Massacre 36

Up until this moment, the movie has only paid a little lip service to Mardi Gras, which led me to think that having Mardi Gras in the title was just a marketing ploy. Or that they were too cheap to actually film in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

But yet here we have Rex, rolling into view with their Boeuf Gras float, pulled by a tractor. I wonder how many permits they got to film this? My guess is none.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 37

One thing that people always talk about is how wild Mardi Gras is, but there are definitely places you can stand that are family friendly. Here in this shot, there are a lot of families catching the parade. In New Orleans, Mobile, and anywhere else that celebrates the Carnival season, there are tons of ways for families to enjoy it together, contrary to popular belief. And, while I stay clear of anything remotely “family friendly”, I do enjoy the memories of attending parades as a kid, and I want other kids to have these same positive experiences with one of the most unique celebrations in the United States.

Mardi Gras Massacre 38

Here we get to see a band march by. What I notice most in this scene? No barricades. It’s rare these days to find a spot on the parade route that doesn’t have barricades, but when I was a kid, you could walk right up to the floats and everyone had enough sense to not step out in front of one.

Mardi Gras Massacre 39

Here comes the Rex title float. This is the float that, in every Krewe’s parade, announces the theme for that year. I really like the person in the red costume. My mom and aunt always dressed us up as clowns.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 40

Look how huge that float is! As always, Rex rolls under the banner of “Pro Bono Publico” or “For the Public Good”.
Another thing I really like about these Mardi Gras scenes is that they could easily have been shot just last year. A lot of things change, but the traditions of Mardi Gras will always stay, more or less, the same.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 41Our man John hits the streets! Decked out in his normal business attire, but with a gold mask, John is fabulous as an Uptown reveler OR as a costar in “Eyes Wide Shut”. But John is not here to revel. He is on the hunt, in what we believe to be the culmination of all his sacrifices! The climax of which is… what?
I guess on Ash Wednesday, after Quatcalloptaeryx pulls a Great Pumpkin, John will go back to being just a boring ol’ Catholic, getting palm ashes rubbed on his forehead.

 

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 42

The cops know that the killer is on the loose, and prowling the Fat Tuesday streets of New Orleans for another evil woman or two. Or three.
In the background of this screencap, you can see a food stand selling “hot buttered corn”. These food stands pop up several times in the movie, which makes me wonder if people in the late 70s didn’t have funnel cake, or polish sausage, or chicken-on-a-stick. Was “hot buttered corn” really a treat back then? Coming from a world where deep fried candy bars exist, I really have to feel sorry for the Dickensian people of the 70s, thinking hot corn is hot shit.
But I mostly want to point out this pop-up Elvis museum.
Look at that thing. What awesomeness could possibly await inside? Some white cotton draws? A syringe of sweat from the King? ANYTHING. Or probably nothing, since they have your money at the entrance and the internet didn’t exist yet.
Still, I have vivid memories of these kinds of pop-up emporiums from my childhood. I particularly remember a “World of Snakes” one that sometimes showed up at the fair, or in the mall.
You’d pay your 2 bucks, then walk through a double-wide filled with aquariums containing the most miserable bunch of snakes ever put on earth. The close proximity made it a little uncomfortable, but I loved it. In case you haven’t noticed, this Elvis museum has sparked my imagination and my nostalgia.

Moving on…

 

This is just a random shot of a group of revelers. Drinking, carousing, making noise. All of it. And not a Girls Gone Wild film crew anywhere to be seen.

There is no way these people were paid extras. I wonder if they even knew what the camera was for. They probably just thought it was the local news.

Little do they know, there’s a killer on the loose! Who’s probably operating the camera right now, and holding the microphone, and directing.

All while stalking his next victims.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 44

This is a familiar scene. People throwing things off the balcony to the people below.

Was 1978 really such a simpler time? The earlier seedy shots of Bourbon would suggest otherwise. Yet, the people on the balcony are in full costume, and most of the people on the street, begging for trinkets, are grown men… not college girls from Iowa. Personally, I remember my childhood experiences at Mardi Gras as being a much more simpler time, but then again, they would be, right? All I cared about was hanging out with my cousin and friends and catching stuff.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 45

These people were definitely told they were gonna be on the news. Every single one of them is looking right at the camera. My favorite is obviously the lady on the right, although Clockwork Orange Doofus is pretty good too. I wonder where they all are now. Probably dead.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 46

John has lured three lovely flies into his web! And one of them is none other than Sherry!

“Look, are there beads up here or what? Or some of that peanut butter taffy?”

“No! Drink this.”

“Ok.”

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 47

There’s yet another Mardi Gras lesson here, ladies.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 48

Geoff finds the two good guys and tells them, “That guy who was in here the other night was in here and now he’s not here and now he’s upstairs with three of my best hookers… errr, waitresses!”

Mardi Gras Massacre 49

They’re at the right place! I decided not to screenshot it, but before they go in, they can’t get the door open… so they call the fire department. Then, they just chill by the door until the firemen get there, who knock the door in with two good whacks from an ax. These guys know that guns are stronger than axes, right? If this were a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, gun would beat ax, ax would beat door, and door would beat cops. Or something like that.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 50

Starsky and Hutch finally get through the door, after the fire department lets them in, all while some appropriately bad 70s porno music is playing.

Mardi Gras Massacre 51

John escapes out of the fire escape, and the detectives save the ladies! Yay!

But, no time for that! They must pursue the Aztec Killer!

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 52

“Here’s this thing.”

“Cool.”

I honestly have no recollection of what is happening here. I just took the screenshot because that cop looks so awesome and 70s. His nickname is definitely “Porkchop” around the Station.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 53

The cops pursue John to the Wharf, where they all (all of them!) run into this warehouse and leave the car running! John scrambles out of his hiding place behind a big yellow thing (I think it’s a front end loader) and jumps in the car. Bwahaha! Stupid cops!

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 54

He immediately does a U-turn…

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 55

And drives into the Mississippi.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 56

“Well, damn. He got away.”

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 57

Captain Nemo shows up to help! Seriously, even in 1978 this diving equipment was dated, right?

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 58

They pull the car out of the murky depths of the muddy Mississippi, where it has now collected enough asbestos and mercury to wipe out the Garden District.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 59

“A gold mask! It was our guy!”

But no body! Perhaps a sequel is right around the corner! Mardi Gras Massacre 2: Jazz Fest! Or maybe Voodoo Festival Massacre!

I could go on, but the sad truth is that John is probably crawfish bait now, and the camera crew that was documenting his exploits is now in prison.

 

Mardi Gras Massacre 60

THE END. No blood detail this time.

Mardi Gras Massacre 61Here is the genius behind it all, world’s biggest Blood Feast fan!

Thank you for reading this breakdown, and I hope you enjoyed it. The movie is actually pretty damn entertaining. How could it not be, right? It’s got it all! Full frontal nudity, booty shorts, bright red gore makeup and latex, MARDI GRAS, New Orleans, romance, beignets, etc. etc. etc.

So go pick it up, probably via amazon, and it will make a good addition to your Mardi Gras film collection.

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My Spoiler Free Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review

I am 38 years old.

I was born in 1977, six months after “Star Wars” had been released in theaters. In those days, movies ran forever because there was no home video. So if you wanted to see it, you had to go to the local cinema.

Or in my case, the drive-in. That’s right, Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw.

Of course I don’t remember it, I’m not a Jedi, but I do like to think it made an impression.

The first Star Wars film that I can vividly remember seeing was Return of the Jedi. I have memories in my mind of seeing Empire Strikes Back, but I may, or may not, be creating them myself.

1983 was the perfect time for Return of the Jedi for me. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Like an atom bomb going off in my skull.

The original Star Wars Trilogy is second only to Ghostbusters (1984) in my mind, as far as “all time favorite movies” go. This is different from “best movie of all time”.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

Lucas. Lucas, you idiot. I don’t even want to go into everything wrong with the prequels, or the redone original trilogy. I’ll just say this: Jedi Rocks.

A few years ago, I was having a conversation with my cousin, and he was describing this Jedi Rocks scene. By the time the reworked Return of the Jedi came out, I had already written off Star Wars, preferring to pretend like anything post-Jedi just plain didn’t exist.

As my cousin described the scene, I just simply could not believe what I was hearing. This had to be some new extra thing, separate from ROTJ. But it wasn’t. This was how ROTJ simply was now, for worse or for worse.

As my cousin said, the only explanation is that Lucas has a brain tumor.

And it was a perfect example of everything I hated about the prequels and the reworked trilogy.

I wrote Star Wars off completely until I heard about the “despecialized” editions (look them up) and that Disney was making a new Star Wars movie, and Lucas wasn’t involved.

I say all of this as a preface to my review. The backstory that, I’m sure, is very similar to many of you. Our personal histories with Star Wars that are as hopeful, and tragic, as the epic journey of Darth Vader to redemption.

This is the lens that I saw this movie in. The lens of someone who both loves, and hates, Star Wars. The lens of a person who, going into the cinema, is primed to both love the film, and be its harshest critic.

We are all the jilted lovers of Star Wars, aren’t we? Desperate for it to come back, but scared to death that it might hurt us yet again.

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To begin the review, I want to offer this disclaimer:
Everyone has their own idea about how far information can go before it ventures into “spoiler” territory. I will not give away any major plot points, or surprises, or anything like that, but to talk about the movie, you must do just that: talk about the movie.

In other words, Buyer Beware.

Also, yeah, I saw it early. How? None of your damn business….

If I had to sum up the movie in one statement, it would be: “familiar, yet different”.

In the end, is that not what we want? We want to go back into that world, that galaxy that is long past and far, far away. This was one of the greatest sins of things like Jedi Rocks: we were startled out of that world.

The Star Wars movies, like any old grande dame film series, needs to make us feel warm and cozy. It’s a cliché, but it really does need to feel like visiting old friends. Even if the characters are new, they must seem familiar and fit a certain archetype. A satisfied smile and a warm feeling spreading from your belly needs to come over you when you first meet the good guys, or see Chewbacca. That said, the Star Wars movies are not known for their subtlety, nor should they be. The bad guys need to make us feel a sense of dread.

My feelings about the characters are mixed, for now. The Force Awakens is definitely a product of its time. There are tough lady and minority lead characters, which is awesome, as far as I’m concerned. And the familiar characters are there, too, which is good. In fact, there was a point in the film where it felt like my whole body realized, “Wait. These are those same characters.” It’s hard to describe, but it took me awhile for it to sink in that I was actually, finally, seeing a new Star Wars film with Han Solo and Chewbacca in it.

But yet, the villains are not quite up to snuff, in my opinion. Instead of scary, tough, hardasses, we get an effete, conflicted beanpole with a complex. Don’t get me wrong, they are bad, downright evil sometimes, but in a sneaky bitch kind of way. I feel like Star Wars, to be true to the source material and the space opera serials that it was originally influenced by, needs bad guys that could stand toe-to-toe with Clint Eastwood in a dusty street somewhere.

And, while I’m not going to give away any plot points, it almost seemed like the plot of the film was just an afterthought to introducing us to the new characters. The characters, both old and new, are the point of the film.

Really, that is my only criticism. You’re going to see a Star Wars film, what can you expect?

Space battle dogfights? Check! As I mentioned, the movie is both different and familiar in that way. It’s always fun to see the new ships, and there’s tons of great TIE fighter and X-Wing action! Lots of classic Star Wars “Woohoo!”s also, which I personally loved. You’ll see ancillary characters, both old and new, and they are all awesome.

Lightsaber battles? Check! The lightsaber battles in this one are more sparse than in the prequels, and not as overwrought and ridiculous. This is a good thing, to me. The lightsaber action was more like the original trilogy. As in, a bit more realistic. I mean, I know Jedis basically have superpowers and all, but come on…

Cool locations that feel both familiar and different? Check! The locations in The Force Awakens will bring to mind the environments and locales of classic places like Mos Eisley and Endor. Critters and creatures from all over the Star Wars Universe mingle and go about their daily lives, and it’s cool and they all look cool and not Jedi Rocks-y at all.

Long shots, wipes, etc.? Check! The cinematography is great! Great shots of the landscapes that don’t linger too long, the space battles are shot well and so that you can tell what is going on, and the classic Star Wars/Kurosawa horizontal screen wipes are all present.

It also has some much-needed comedic breaks. The comedy is a little modern, for my tastes, and sometimes works, and sometimes falls flat on its face. Like a lot of people have said, the droids provide enough comedy. We don’t need any snarky, 21st century, internet wit that reminds us that we’re in a movie theater in the United States with a smartphone in our pocket. Still, the lighter moments are appreciated and are much more clever and subtle than Mister Meesa Peepee Poopoo from Episode 1.

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I know this is, mostly, a glowing review, but yet I still feel like I’m conflicted about this film. I just came out with a weird feeling. I hate to say it, but it’s similar to how I felt after seeing Episode I. Almost like I’ve been punched in the gut.

I know a lot of you will feel the same way.

Like I said, the plot is an afterthought and the main purpose of this movie is just to set up the next few. They want you to like the new good guys and hate the new bad guys, and on that, they certainly succeeded.

In my opinion, it will be remembered more fondly than the prequels simply because it feels more like a classic Star Wars movie. It will take another viewing or two, and I already have tickets for tomorrow night, but right now I feel like it’s not as good as the original trilogy, but not as bad as the prequels or redone trilogy.

I guess that’s why I included that preface. These movies, and any that may come after it, aren’t gonna be as good as the original trilogy to any of us. None of them will make you feel like a kid again. It simply isn’t going to happen.

But that’s not such a bad thing. As my friend who also saw it with me said, “Overall I enjoyed it. Not life changing, and I’m thankful for that. Because if it was, it would mean I haven’t matured in the least”.

We’ll never see any Star Wars movie through the eyes of a kid. Unfortunately, we are all too self-aware, and have seen the prequels and too many other movies, to watch it and give it any kind of a fair shake.

Anyway, go see it. It’s well worth it. Then get at me so we can discuss, with spoilers.

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Cajun Night Before Christmas

I’m not sure when coffee table books became a thing, but they are. They are a weird thing. Books that are mostly for decoration, but can provide a little light reading if your guests get bored or when you leave them alone to go pee out those last 12 cups of coffee. Perhaps Kramer’s coffee table book about coffee tables could shed some light on the history of this strange phenomenon, but I do not have a copy.

I want to share with you my two favorite Christmas coffee table books. One of which I grew up with, and the other was a recent discovery (within the last ten years or so).

The one that I grew up with, is the one I want to write about today. The other one can wait, but my love for this book will not languish another day without being shared with the world.

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“Cajun Night Before Christmas” was published in 1973, the first of what was to become a “Night Before Christmas” franchise, with hits like “Texas Night Before Christmas” and “Gullah Night Before Christmas” following in its wake.

Penned by the clandestinely named “Trosclair”, which I think is just a pseudonym for the illustrator James Rice and which I thought was hilarious as a kid because my piano teacher’s name was Mrs. Trosclair, “Cajun Night Before Christmas” is a must-read for all elementary school teachers along the Gulf Coast.

Growing up on the Delta, the locations and language of the book were very familiar to me, as a kid. In fact, I preferred this version to the original and just assumed it was a huge hit with other kids, everywhere. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I came to the realization that most people probably haven’t heard of this book.

Speaking of the language, it is written in a Cajun dialect, with a smattering of French throughout. This means that no one can properly read it without hearing the way that a lot of Cajuns speak. However, it takes someone with the accent to read it before you get a lot of the humor. Maybe check out this video, if you want to hear it read aloud.

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That may be the only line that is lifted directly from the source text. The rest, including a lot of major plot points, is changed to fit the regional culture.

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For instance, Santa is pulled in a skiff through the bayou, by a team of alligators.

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And instead of being in red velvet and white fur, he is wearing a muskrat suit and rubber boots (Bayou Reeboks, in local parlance). Now, personally, I’ve never seen anyone wearing muskrat fur, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. Maybe muskrat fur was popular in Cajun country in the early 70’s. Or maybe Santa, or “Saint Nicklus”, is immortal and just prefers the fashions of yesteryear. If he was gonna wear some form of rodent these days around here, it’d probably be nutria.

I also think this is a good time to point out how awesome the illustrations are in this book. Every line is meticulously drawn, with great care taken with the coloring. There’s just so much detail in every page, that I can only imagine how long it took Trosclair to write and illustrate this classic.

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I mean, just look at that double page spread, as the gators pull ol’ Santy up a cypress tree and into the sky! I love it!

If you pick up the book, you’ll learn that every one of the gators has a suitably coonass name: like Gaston and Alceé. I wonder what the other gators think of these guys. Maybe working for Santa is a sweet gig for them. Or maybe the other gators look at them as sellouts. I bet Santa feeds them all the nutria they can eat. Perhaps even takes them to the nutria cookoff.

I also wonder where St. Nicklus lives, exactly. I picture him possibly living deep in the swamp, and if you are poling through the blue cypress trees one day, dodging giant mosquitos and moccasins, his home may just appear before you, up on piers and covered in Spanish moss. I bet he eats a lot of frog legs.

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This book really should be read aloud at your next family Christmas gathering. It’s become a genuine classic here, and is meant to be enjoyed by a crowd. Just loosen up your tongue and give it a try! In fact, it may be more funny when heard from someone far removed from the region.

The success of “Cajun Night Before Christmas” pretty much bankrolled its publisher, Pelican Press, based out of Gretna, Louisiana, and helped make them “the largest independent trade book publisher in the South.” There’s even a coloring book version, which I hear is big with the “hipster” crowd. And 4-year-olds.

 

 

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The Reason for the Season

I’m not going to pretend to tell you something you don’t already know.

In 7th grade, one of my teachers gave the whole class a small pamphlet about the history of Halloween. Namely, its pagan roots. In an effort to get the kids not to celebrate the holiday.

Little did he know, but this made me love Halloween even more. I suspect it had a similar effect on a lot of my classmates. Anything dangerous or rebellious is automatically cool when you’re thirteen years old.

Halloween is really just the worst at hiding its roots. I’ve said it before, but one of my favorite parts of Halloween is that, during October, the type of stuff I like is everywhere, forcing people to look at it. I can’t tell you how many chuckles I’ve gotten in stores when I see typical rednecks make a disgusted face when they walk by the Halloween section.

It’s like the inmates have taken over, for one month. And as one of the inmates, I’m enjoying every minute of our brief rule.

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While you may be thinking this is going to be a blogpost about the pagan roots of Halloween, I have really tricked you into reading a record review! Bwahaha! Trick or treat, jive turkey!

But not just any ol’ album. This one:
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As many of you know, I recently spent 3 weeks touring Ireland and England with one of my old bands, filling in for the guy who took my place. While in England, we were with one of my best friends and favorite musical acts, Serious Sam Barrett. (Seriously, click that link and watch that video and check out his other tunes. He’s a total road dog and prolific songwriter.)

One morning, I got up before everyone else and Sam’s dad was already up. He was getting some breakfast together and we got to talking about music. Turns out, he was a folk musician back in the day, when folk music was king.  He also knew we were into roots music.

“Have you ever heard the Watersons?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“They were an English folk group. Here, let me play some of them for you.”

I will admit, it’s not for everybody. It’s mostly a cappella harmony singing, and some of it will remind modern audiences of one of the cheesier acts in “A Mighty Wind”.

To me, every time I hear the Watersons, all I can picture in my head is “The Wicker Man” and people in animal masks with malevolent intentions.

Robin HardyÕs THE WICKER MAN (1973). Courtesy: Rialto Pictures/ Studiocanal

The reason I wanted to bring this album up in my quarterly blog entry is because I recently participated in a facebook comment thread, that I immediately regretted, about Halloween playlists. Specifically, the question was concerning what we, as horror fans, put on our Halloween playlists.

Predictably, the thread was filled with garbage like Slipknot and Marilyn Manson, as each person tried to outdo and out-extreme the person in front of them. Not to sound too elitist, but it was all so pedestrian and boring. Like every person’s knowledge of horror, and thus Halloween, came packaged straight from Hot Topic. And yeah, I know bitching about Hot Topic is, like, so 2005.

To me, the Watersons are the sound of Halloween (Samhain). And May Day (Beltane, Walpurgis, etc.). And Christmas (Yule).

You get the idea.

I got into roots music because, as a rock fan, I felt like I needed to know where it came from.

As a Halloween fan, I want to know where it came from. I want to know its customs and its sounds.

The subtitle of this album is, “A Calendar of Ritual and Magical Songs”. It features a song from every holiday, and from each holiday’s roots (in Western Anglo culture).

I would recommend getting a physical copy of the album, as it contains the stories and rituals behind every song, including pictures of people participating in them.

A common theme seems to be, “the rituals that once were a huge part of each season are largely forgotten, or they’ve become mere horse-play and burlesque”. As in, trick or treating may just be a harmless thing for children to do now, but it was serious business to our ancestors.

Which is where my 7th grade teacher apparently had a problem with Halloween. Its roots were firmly planted in pagan custom, which many people these days interpret as “evil” or “satanic”.  I guess they just assume that all their pagan ancestors are getting fried up, down in hell.

Anyway, the song for Halloween on this album is “The Souling Song”. Listen to it via youtube here.

From the liner notes:
“The end of October and start of November is the time of Hallowe’en. All Saints and All Souls, a time once thought full of magic, when the dead temporarily returned to the world of the living and roamed around the villages on the misty evenings. Till recently in parts of the Midlands and the Northwest, children went from door to door begging for soulcakes, food for the momentarily-returning dead, so that they would not feel rejected and thus be made angry. The little trichordal tune based simply on a scale of three adjacent notes within a minor third, is one of the most primitive we have.”

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A group of “Soul Cakers” ready to go “A-Souling”.

And get this, friends: every holiday has a song like this and a note like this. Many of them are holidays I’ve never heard of, or holidays we don’t celebrate here in the States. Like Derby Day, when people would worship the ram as a symbol of strength and virility.

There are Christmas and Yule songs also. There’s a version of “Here We Come A-Wassailing” that doesn’t mention Christmas at all. Rather, the song is about drinking and talking animals.

There are songs about John Barleycorn, the mythical spirit present in alcoholic beverages.

Of course, May Day, the holiday celebrated in “The Wicker Man”, has my personal favorite tune. Check out the Watersons singing “Hal-An-Tow” live in the 1960s:

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In conclusion, this album has a song for every holiday’s mixtape. I know there are several that will be going on my Christmas and Halloween playlists.

If you’re tired of the same old Monster Mash (a great tune, not knocking it) or even worse, bad metal, give The Watersons a try. They are more heavy, and more pagan, than the darkest doom bands.

They are what the nouveau brand of pagan occult hipsters wish they were.

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