Welcome to the Crypt!

Welcome to the Crypt!

Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

What's this? TWO updates to the Crypt in one month? That's right, fright-fans, the Unimonster is sending even more Halloween goodness your way! If only someone would perfect downloadable candy.....

Happy Halloween, and ... STAY SCARY!

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07 October, 2016

Halloweens, Past and Present

Adults measure time in dates… the date your mortgage payment is due each month, the date of your next physical, the date of your next business trip.  Children measure time in events … the time you broke your arm climbing a tree, the Christmas you got a BB gun, the grade you were in when you had your first kiss.  Childhood memories tend to flow together, mingling like streams feeding a large river, until it’s impossible to distinguish one from the other.  Only the major happenings of life stand upright, like islands in the river.

To be sure, there were the usual milestones in the life of a young Unimonster, as well.  My first kiss was in Sixth Grade; my little brother and I got matching BB guns for Christmas 1978, over the objections of my mother (thanks, big brother!); and I’ve never had a broken bone … despite totaling a Cadillac that hit me as I dashed across a busy highway when I was 15.  But along with these, rather mundane, highlights of my life are those of a more … unusual nature.  And some of the most prominent “islands” in the river of my memory center around my love of Monsters, Horror, and Halloween.

Halloween when I was a child was quite different from the two-month-long shopping extravaganza that it is now.  Now, Halloween is celebrated by nearly everyone, of nearly every age, and is second only to Christmas in terms of sales generated.  Halloween decorating is big business, with dozens of companies supplying everything the home-bound haunter could desire for their porch-side graveyard, from 99¢ hokey rubber bats to animatronic reanimated corpses costing hundreds, even thousands of dollars.  The same people who go overboard when decorating for Christmas have taken to Halloween with gusto, pushing the bar ever higher with scary, gory, creative displays.  And costumes have progressed far from the screen-printed vinyl pajamas of my youth.  Today’s parents routinely spend $40, $50, even $100 on costumes for their children … and even more on their own outfits, something of which my parents never would have dreamed.

In the early 70’s, my peak Trick-or-Treating years, any house with a Jack o’Lantern on the porch was considered decorated and fair game for a visit.  We thought ourselves fortunate if stores had Halloween supplies two weeks before the big day, and even then, the selection left much to be desired.  That never mattered to me, as once I was old enough to know better

the thought of wearing a store-bought costume was simply unacceptable.  Store-bought costumes, at least in my childhood, were anything but scary.  Rather than making a costume that would allow your average MonsterKid to in some way resemble Frankenstein's Monster, the companies that produced them gave you a cheap plastic one-piece with a picture of the Monster (and not a very good one, at that …) printed on the front, with the word FRANKENSTEIN in large block letters underneath.  Add to that a thin polystyrene mask, with a rubber band that was guaranteed to break before you got home with the loot and a far too narrow mouth opening that cut your tongue every time you tried to talk, and it’s easy to see I wasn’t missing much by passing on the mass-produced monster togs.  Not to mention the fact that, if you had to have the name of the monster you were Trick-or-Treating as stamped on your chest in order for others to identify you, then it wasn’t much of a costume.

No, for my cousin, my brother, and me, only homemade costumes would do.  As I’ve mentioned previously in this column, my usual alter-ego was a vampire; smooth, scary, but most of all cheap ‘n’ easy.  But that wasn’t the only creature I was capable of pulling together on a $2.00 budget.  I could be a very convincing zombie, with some fake blood, some mud and dirt for that crusty, just-dug-my-way-out-of-a-hole look, and some tattered clothes for the basic raw materials.  Once I was “Dr. Death,” complete with saw, stethoscope, and blood-soaked lab coat.

Once costuming was out of the way, then the hunt began for pillowcases.  This was before the days of fancy manufactured bags, buckets, and pails for the collection of our Trick-or-Treating loot.  We had two options—paper grocery sacks, which were tough to carry and prone to tearing; and pillowcases.  Pillowcases were strong, they were large, and they were convenient.  There was only one problem with them.  They were my mother’s.

There was no chance of us using her good linen, of course … we knew enough not to even try that.  But like everyone, we had some old, faded, stained, ragged sheets and pillowcases in the back of the closet.  We had precisely three cases with enough structural integrity to carry a load of candy:  one was white, one avocado green, (hey, it was the ‘70’s, after all …) and one a flowered print.  You did not want to Trick-or-Treat carrying a sack with flowers printed all over it … at least, not where I grew up.

Our preparations complete, we would set out on our route with the resolve of Caesar's legions off to vanquish the Gauls.  The ritual was the same from year to year, never varying.  We would wait until it was dark, and then head out.  We would then immediately turn around and ring our own doorbell, shouting “TRICK-OR-TREAT!” when my mother opened the door.  She would grumble, but nonetheless dropped a few pieces of candy in each of our sacks.  Then the adventure would begin in earnest.

For those readers who are parents of young children; no, our mothers and fathers weren’t exceedingly neglectful or careless of their offspring.  That was a different time, and only babies went Trick-or-Treating before sundown, or accompanied by their parents.  We knew our neighborhood, and felt completely safe and comfortable in it … even at night.  That confidence was doubled on Halloween, when we always traveled in a pack, constantly crossing paths with other, similar packs doing the same.  As we passed we would hail each other, like old-fashioned sailing ships meeting far out at sea.  We would exchange information on the houses we had visited; who was giving out the good stuff, who was tossing out the cheap crap, who wasn’t handing out anything at all.  It was a cooperative hunt, and like wolves word would’ve traveled swiftly of any threat to the pack.

Quite frankly, it never occurred to us that there could be any threat … at least, not the immediate kind.  We had all heard the stories about razor blades and broken glass in treats, of course, and our parents always told us not to eat anything before they checked it out.  We never were overly concerned about that, however.  Personally, I thought that was just an excuse to give the adults first crack at their favorite treats.

Once we had thoroughly covered the neighborhood we would stop somewhere, typically the 7-11 just down the street, and take stock of the night’s haul.  Seldom were we satisfied with the results of our officially sanctioned panhandling, but there’s a fine line between persistence and obnoxiousness, and we usually tried not to cross it.  Contrary to our parent’s instructions, we would eat a few pieces of candy while deciding on our next move.  Occasionally, we would have some change in our sacks, from people too busy or too disinterested to shop for candy, and sorting that out was a high priority.  As always at that age, if I had 25¢ to my name, it was going to be spent on a comic book … ordinarily, it would be Batman, Action Comics, or The Flash, but not on Halloween.  On Halloween it had to be Ghosts, or House of Mystery, or The Unexpected.  Not that I didn’t buy those titles throughout the year, but they were must-haves to cap off the perfect Halloween night.

When we finally did straggle on home, we would camp in front of the TV, watching a holiday-appropriate Creature Feature on one of the local stations, as we munched happily on our Halloween bounty.  My dachshund would throw herself protectively on the sack beside me, snarling menacingly at anyone who dared approach it—especially my little sister.  This never failed to earn her a treat; butterscotches a particular favorite, though she also had a fondness for Mary Jane’s.  The sight of her working her way through a piece of peanut butter taffy was guaranteed to bring laughs.
All too soon, the night would end.  We would be sent upstairs to bathe and prepare for bed, and as we scrubbed the residue of fake blood and Hershey’s miniatures off ourselves, another Halloween would officially draw to a close.  Those days are more than forty years in the past now, and I’ve known great joys in my life since then, as well as the heartaches that all of us are familiar with.

But I’ve never known pure happiness like Halloween nights when I was a child.

30 September, 2016

Halloween—Unimonster Style

As long-time readers of this column are no doubt aware, Halloween is, and has always been, a special time of the year for the Unimonster.  Most of my happiest childhood memories revolve around the month of October, and I’ve been pleased to share many of them with you.  Whether it was the effort expended in trying to come up with the perfect homemade costume, or the pleasure of sitting on the living room floor after a successful Trick-or-Treating expedition, bag of candy in my lap, dog by my side, and Lon Chaney, Jr. on the TV screen, my Halloween memories represent some of the simplest, purest joys one can experience.
But some have asked me if Halloween still holds that same charm, that same appeal for the middle-aged Unimonster, and obviously the answer is no.  I’m no longer that wide-eyed, (mostly) innocent MonsterKid, living in a much simpler time, and society does seem to frown on 45-year-old Trick-or-Treaters.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t found new ways to celebrate my favorite holiday, or that I’ve outgrown all of my childhood traditions.

Though there’s something of a chicken-or-egg quality to it, there’s no denying that my love of Halloween and my love of Horror Films are directly related, and those beloved Horror Films have assumed top priority in my seasonal planning.  Just as I used to plan my Trick-or-Treating well in advance, I now spend weeks scheduling my assault on the October Couch Potato Film Festival title [An October Tradition, October 24th, 2009].  I carefully choose the movies I’ll be viewing throughout the month, with more consideration given to quantity than quality, I will admit, but I never forget my favorites.  There are some movies that just have to be viewed each October; without them, the month would seem incomplete.  Some of these I discussed in a recent column [Halloween Movies to Watch, October 10th, 2009].

The first of these films is ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.  This 1944 classic, starring Cary Grant and Raymond Massey, is pure comedic gold; a shining example of Hollywood in its heyday.  I often devote an entire day during the month to Horror Comedies, and this one always makes that list, along with movies such as GALAXY QUEST, SCARY MOVIE, and of course the Abbott & Costello Monster pics.
Other days during the month are devoted to different themes…  Alien Invasions, Slasher Films, Euro-Horrors, and Giant Bug movies are favorite themes during the days leading up to Halloween.  Halloween night itself is devoted to the best of the genre, from DRACULA to the one movie that must be viewed to end the season—John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN.

But movies aren’t my only means of celebrating the holiday.  While the Crypt always has a ‘Halloween’ feel to it, from the middle of September to early November it is decked out from top to bottom (or as much as the Unimonster’s budget will allow…) with Ghosts, Goblins, Witches, and that most necessary and iconic of Halloween symbols, the Jack O’Lantern.  Real ones, plastic ones, foam ones, even glass ones… nothing screams “Halloween” at the Unimonster as loudly as Jack does.  In fact there are always three on display in the living room—a foam one that stays lit 24/7; a vintage plastic blow-molded one that was a gift from a dear friend, and is exactly like one I had as a child; and a glass candy bowl, that I try to keep full.  There are others that appear during the season, and of course, the highlight of the year is carving a real Jack for the front porch.

As I’ve mentioned before, my artistic talents, such as they are, start and end with the written word.  Though I can visualize the fantastic Jack O’Lanterns I’d love to carve, when I sit down in front of blank pumpkin, the same Jack always emerges—two triangular eyes, a triangular nose, a lopsided grin, vaguely triangular, with three or four triangular teeth—let’s just say that I handle curves like an overloaded minivan.  Not even those booklets of pre-printed stencils help… besides, that’s cheating.

Finally, everything comes together for the big night.  The Crypt is decorated, the Jack is glowing on the front porch, and Bela is waxing poetic over the music of his night-children.  And the large empty skull by the front door is filled with candy for the Trick-or-Treaters.  Now I’ve mentioned before that my friends and I had considered ourselves ‘candy connoisseurs’ once upon a time, and I can still remember the disappointment I felt as someone would thoughtlessly drop a handful of crappy candy, or even worse, a box of raisins, into my bag.  I resolved as a young Trick-or-Treater that I would always pass out the ‘good stuff’—M&M’s, Hershey’s Kisses, Tootsie Pops—when it came to be my turn at the door, and I still hold true to that resolution.  So here I sit—lights low, the room lit by the yellow glow of electric Jacks and the silver gleam of Lugosi and Karloff, skull full of candy—waiting for that first knock on my door, remembering the thrill and joy of being the vampire, ghost, or ghoul on the other side.