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It’s Just a Bunch of Hocus Pocus

Halloween is this week, so I’m going to write about my love of a particular Halloween movie. I am not alone in my love for this film. Since its release over 25 years ago, it has become a beloved “cult” classic. The movie is, of course, Hocus Pocus

Hocus Pocus is not a horror movie, although it does deal with a horrific part of America’s past, the Salem Witch Trails. The Sanderson Sisters also lure children to their cottage to eat their life force, and of course, Winnie brings Billy Butcherson back from the dead as a zombie. It’s all in light-hearted fun.  

This movie, more than a traditional scary Halloween movie, captures the childhood feeling of Halloween. It has all the tropes of the holiday. Kids run amuck, amuck, amuck seeking candy wherever they can find it. Witches roam the streets and night skies. Zombies chase after the living, and black cats cross paths. Every year, I watch the movie, and I remember how it was to go trick or treating and worry about witches behind every dark pine tree. (I grew up in the country so there weren’t street corners.) 

Hocus Pocus gives those of us, who remember it coming out, the first time a moment to reflect on how great childhood was in 1980s and 1990s. It gives us the ability to relive that moment one more time. Like the sugar treats horded in a plastic pumpkin, the movie needs to be taken in moderation. Too much of a good thing can be a major problem. That is why, despite the dozens of airings the movie gets on cable, I watch it only once per year on Halloween night. It’s my Reese’s cup at the bottom of the trick or treat bag. 

 Here’s to the Sanderson’s Sister, to Max and Dani, to Binx the cat, and good, old Billy Butcherson. Happy Halloween

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Marianne Halbert Goes Over the Deep End for the Gillman

Marianne Halbert is a horror writer from Indiana, the scariest state in the Union if you’re trying to get anywhere on the interstate because of the constant construction. Her most recent collection of short stories, Cold Comforts, was released in July. Cold Comforts has been called “a piquant mixture of the whimsical and the terrifying.” In this blog interview, Halbert discusses her favorite classic monster, Gillman from TheCreature from the Black Lagoon.   

Halbert says her favorite horror is the kind that “breaks your heart.” She puts The Creature from the Black Lagoon into this category. For her the Gillman “manifests” longing and loneliness “that will break your heart.” This puts the movie and the monster squarely into the horror that Halbert likes the best.   

For her, the Gillman isn’t a traditional Universal Monster, although he is considered the last of the legendary line of creatures from that studio. Halbert says that he isn’t a creature that started off human, but a natural creature. “He just is and has always been the other,” she says.   

The Gillman is the last of his kind and only becomes violent to protect his habitat. He is an actual creature that has been forgotten by time. Only when he is forced to react to the human invaders into his world does the Gillman become anything close to a monster.   

The true monster of the film is Dr. Mark Williams. While all the other characters seem to have a genuine scientific curiosity or are sympathetic toward the creature, Dr. Williams is exploitive only worrying about “the money and fame.”   

The takeaway from The Creature from the Black Lagoon can be similar to other “monster” stories about natural creatures. The animal is not the inherent monster. Humans provoke the monstrousness out of them. Halbert feels like The Creature from the Black Lagoon is similar to King Kong or even Beauty and the Beast. “To switch it up and make this a Gill Man removes him even more from other beings that we might feel we share a closer genetic link with (like cavemen, apes, and Bigfoot). It also creates an additional element of challenge and suspense when we have to go into his underwater lair where he has the upper fin,” Halbert says. This might be what has made it a classic.  

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Michelle Lane on Vampires

Michelle Lane’s debut novel Invisible Chains dropped this summer from Haverhill House Publishing. It’s a story about vampires, so we’re going to talk to her about those bloodsuckers. Lane has also published several short stories and holds an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. Her specialty is writing dark fiction about women of color dealing with personal monsters and the creatures that lurk in our nightmares.

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4th Grader Wishes Every Day Was Friday the 13th

Hahaha kehkehkeh … Can you hear it in your head—the theme of death from Friday the 13th? If you can’t, I know someone who can, Walt G. He’s a fourth grader, so I’m leaving his last name off for privacy purposes. Despite being so young,  Walt loves the Friday the 13th movies and particularly loves the villain, Jason Voorhees.  

I decided to talk to Walt for my blog, because it’s not every day that you run into a kid who every Friday insists on wearing a TGIF Tshirt featuring an infamous hockey mask. Recently he’s added a new shirt still featuring the hockey mask but emblazed with the words Killin’ It. He said that his teachers are very worried about him wearing the shirts. “I’m not going to do anything like Jason,” Walt said.  

He also said that none of his friends and fellow students get weirded out by it either. It seems to be part of his charm. Jason isn’t his only creepy obsession. Walt has recently started enjoying the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s, which is about possessed animatronic animals at a shuttered children’s restaurant. He assured me that it’s as creepy as it sounds, but it doesn’t bother him too much in daylight.  

Walt admitted that at night he’s like any other kid. In the darkness, the real monsters might be lurking, and he doesn’t want anything to do with that. “I’ve woke up at like 3 a.m. before. It’s not my thing,” he said.  

With his apprehension about late night hours, I asked him why he liked Jason so much. Walt replied, “He wears a hockey mask.” I pointed out that he wore a sack over his head in one movie that only had a single eyehole cut out. “That’s okay too,” he said.  

Like so many people who love the slasher movie franchises, Walt has a favorite kill. “I remember these people were camping. Jason grabbed them up in their sleeping bags and slammed them against a tree.” He was a little excited talking about that scene. 

In the course of the interview, it came out that Walt has difficulty tying his shoes and goes around with them untied a lot. Of course this makes tripping a very likely possibility. When asked if he was aware that tripping and falling down was the number one way that Jason got you in the movies, he laughed and shook his head, appearing unafraid of that scenario.  

Walt isn’t a fan of all scary movies, however. The recent version of It didn’t sit well with him, and he stopped watching it after only a few minutes of encountering the new Pennywise. The night before our interview, he’d been introduced to Aliens. He said that he liked that movie okay, but it wasn’t Friday the 13th.  

So if you are ever worried that kids these days can’t appreciate the classics, don’t be. Kids like Walt are out there, loving the modern classic monsters and getting into things like Five Nights at Freddy’s, which promises to be a great segue into the love of horror.  

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Scott Johnson Still Haunts This Blog

Last week’s post was with author, Scott A. Johnson. He talked about why ghosts are his favorite monsters. This week’s blog will continue with Johnson discussing ghost stories and haunted house tales. In the way of a brief re-introduction to this author, Johnson has published 14 novels, three true ghost story books, a chapbook, and a short story collection. His latest novel: Shy Grove: A Ghost Story received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly

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Scott A. Johnson Haunts This Blog

Scott A. Johnson is a scary dude. He’s written 10 novels, three true ghost story guides, a chapbook, and a collection of short stories. Originating in the Lone Star State near Austin, Johnson recently earned his MFA in publishing and writing popular fiction from Emerson College, and he teaches at Seton Hill University’s MFA program for writing popular fiction. (Johnson was my teacher there, as well as, my mentor.)You might find him riding his Harley around the Austin area with his pug along for the ride. Just to make him a little more badass, he teaches Kajukenbo and has a stare that can unnerve a veteran psychotherapist. 

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Elsa Carruthers Loves Werewolves

This week I talked to my friend, Elsa Carruthers. She’s been busy editing a book of critical essays on Westworld and preparing a critical essay chapter for Not a Fit Place: Essays on the Haunting of Hill House. She also has works in Amazing Stories Magazine Spring 2019 edition and NonBinary Review 19. Fortunately, Carruthers took time to discuss her favorite monster—the werewolf.

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Teacher Talks Zombies

This week I talked with an old classmate, Tracy Tidwell, about zombies. In high school, I never really knew he liked horror movies as much as he does. Strange the things you find out so many years later. 

Tidwell is a TV Production and Technical Theatre teacher at Opelika High School in Opelika, Alabama. For those unfamiliar with the geography of the state of Alabama but are acquainted with its football teams, Opelika is the city next to Auburn where the state’s other football team plays. He has been a horror movie buff since the age of 5 when his parents let him watch Poltergeist

Zombie films became a fast favorite after watching the remake of Night of the Living Dead. The love of the genre also comes from Tidwell’s fascination with apocalyptic fiction and films. He feels that zombie films and stories capture the feelings of desolation that apocalyptic fiction is predicated on. With zombie movies being like apocalyptic film, he says, “[I]nstead of being alone, there are these dead things that make it more challenging to survive in an already impossible situation.”

With so many zombie movies and stories in the world today and more being written and created every year, Tidwell thinks there are still some good zombie stories being told. He points to television shows like The Walking Dead as a litmus test proving “the subgenre is alive and well.” He does believe, however, that zombie fiction and film are beginning to mix the horrific with the comedic. “Shaun of the Dead was able to make me laugh and is still a film about a friendship and love. It’s both scary and hilarious at the same time,” he said. Tidwell says that he feels the low-budget quality of a lot of zombie movies and some of the subgenre’s reliance of straight horror is making many of those pieces of fiction fall flat. 

With that being said, Tidwell has some other opinions about his zombies. He prefers them fast and victims of a viral infection like in 28 Days Later, which he states is his favorite zombie movie. “I went to see 28 Days Later, which was being shown on the Quad lawn by Auburn University’s student organization. It blew me away and was the first fast zombie films I can remember seeing,” he recalled. “We got there just as the opening scene played, and so I felt lost as far as the plot was concerned, and the next thing I knew, I’m seeing a singular figure wake up in a hospital equally lost as to what had been happening around him. It mirrored my confusion and made a powerful connection.”   

Tidwell also stated that he likes a zombie world where there are two kinds of zombies co-existing in the same place. He said that fast zombies are “alive and victims of a virus” and that the shambling zombies are the reanimated corpses of dead fast zombies. His favorite zombie book series The Morningstar Strain brought this grim zombie worldview to his attention. “Unfortunately, the author died before he completed the series, so I’ll never know how it ends,” he stated. He prefers flesh-eating zombies over those who seek out brains, stating that brain-eating seems “campy and goofy,” but he also finds the fleshing eating “a little thin” as well. 

As a teacher, Tidwell says that he has discussed the previously mentioned film 28 Days Later when teaching about planning a production and how music can set a scene. He further stated he discusses other zombie films when talking about subgenres. 

There is nothing like a teacher who appreciates a good zombie movie, except maybe a teacher who is a zombie. The last time I checked Tracy wasn’t trying to gobble down any brains, but I wouldn’t put it past him.