Friday, July 31, 2009

And speaking of pubs...

Here at the Skull & Pumpkin, we take our bar seriously. So... Behold! Kong... or something kind of apelike...

I guess this will make him a Monkey Bar *ya-dat-dat-tadat-dat-BOOM!*
I must explain. I DID NOT MAKE THIS thing. It was made by I don't know whom for a show here in town (pretty much a tribute to Mighty Joe Young; a girl played piano and this was underneath halfway through the song, lifting and turning her and the piano). When it had outlived whatever usefulness it once had, it found its way to my back porch (I have an image of it crawling slowly up our hill to get to my house, terrifying or amusing people along the way... I think like that).

Fittingly, it would have to crawl up Animal Safari Road to get to our house.

So... it had been living on my back porch for years.
Taking up space.
Becoming a spider apartment complex.
Eating all the bananas.

At any rate, we are turning our deck theming from pirates to old jungle safari (we're not Disneyland fans or anything) and V said 'You know, we need a monkey up here. Maybe a really big one holding up the bar..."
I thought it was a great idea! "YEAH!," I said, "like it was crashing through the decking, holding up our bar like some backstreet wino Mighty Joe Young!" Or something, I don't recall.

No it's not a Hallowe'en prop, though I suppose I will have it in the display one of these years should it survive its term on the deck.
Yes, I will be making it look better than this -- at the moment he looks like Nicholas from Eight Is Enough wearing a fanged Ewok costume. I will paint new eyes, add better teeth (or at least make the current ones better), and we'll fashion a bar top for it. OH, and we'll add splintered wood planks around him to make it look like... well, whatever, you get the idea. I'll update when I do.

And I know his name is Adam Rich. I was trying to be funny.

Ape out-

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Uncle 4E, Redux Redux.

Just an UPDATE... I got a lot more work done today:
-Painted lower eyelids to better match uppers, check.
-Moving-independent-of-each-other eyebrows, check.
-Better side-to-side eye mechanism and movement, check.
-Better moustache, check.
-Beat the rogue neck-turning servo into submission. Czech.
-Better animation/puppeteering, check. I think... I do like the 'radio on' expression.

I have to trim those brows a bit, and make a good wig for him, of course. Hell, I might be able to make a wig from the amount I trim off the brows; I don't recall him ever looking anything like Leonid Brezhnev. Or Sir Robert Morley. Or even Andy Rooney for that matter.

And I must spend a LOT of time programming and making him as real and warm and kooky as possible.
In 92 days.
Along with everything else I need to do.

I'm tired.

But happy so far. Very happy.


Uncle 4E, Redux.


I know. What in blazes is that?!?

One of the reasons I've been away from the ol' S&P is it's only 90-odd days (and boy are they ever odd!) until showtime and I've got lots to create. I knew I'd be away for most of the week; s'why I posted quite a bit to chew on for a while, during the previous week.
I figured the four people who frequent this establishment wouldn't mind.

At any rate, I'll tell you what in blazes is that. Inside the new Uncle Forry's skull, is what in blazes is that. A big, wiry, R/C servo group hug with hot glue and pan screws for flavor.
So far, this version seems promising.

I haven't added his eyebrows yet (they will move), or all the other decor, but it's moving (and moving along) pretty well, and with some programming/puppeteering practice (*ptui!*) I'll have him looking less like William Hickey having a stroke and more like 4E telling a story.

These two videos show two different programming tests (and a different lighting scheme). I threw the moustache and glasses on to aid in the programming; with style comes character comes personality, and so on.

I like his eyes better on this pass, but to be fair to the previous pass, it's hard to see the movement behind the glasses. This is why we proto and test. I now realize the glasses I use will not have lenses.
Another thing about his eyes... Forrest had a great sense of humor and his eyes always seemed to be smiling. The lower lids were always 'up', so to speak. I made his lower lids look that way, and I think it adds to that personality... I just haven't painted them to match the uppers yet, so he looks like he's suffering from sleep deprivation instead.

Also... I know we don't move our heads this much or this drastically (spastically) while telling a story in real life. When you're testing, you go extreme, and if there's an axis of movement available, you take it! So the tests will look like Forry Ackerman Starring in 'Awakenings'... but fear not.
It'll all work out.

More to come.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Constant Rotation, the fifth part.

Can it be? A pictureless post? Well, we'll see.

Music, after all, causes imagery in the mind and spirit, and requires not any added visual input.

My 'Making Hallowe'en' video library is decidedly monsterish. Horror, horror, Hallowe'en, and more horror.

But when it comes to music, especially when I'm outside with spray paint, drills, bandsaws, and so on, I go with a lot of not-so-monsterish audio.

Certainly I have Hallowe'en music in the rotation; the soundtracks from Mad Monster Party, Dawn of the Dead, IT, Plan Nine From Outer Space, Orgy of the Dead (it's hypnotizingly bad), The Haunted Mansion, and so on.

I also have filled one of my MP3 players with nothing but radio dramas from the 30's to the 80's, relating to Hallowe'en and horror. Of course, the Mercury Theatre On The Air's 'War of the Worlds' broadcast of 1938 features prominently, along with the better-known Hallowe'en episodes of Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Fred Allen, and many regular episodes of Lights Out, Inner Sanctum, X Minus One, Suspense, Dimension X, and loads of others.

But I have found (God bless the Web) some wonderful audio dramas like The Peoria Plague, a remarkably dark and effective alien/zombie plague drama from WUHN 106.9 Peoria IL, broadcast in 1971 or '72. There's no hard date for it (the station became WUHN in '71, but some say the production wasn't done during its first year). It's available on numerous torrent and sharing sites. I'm not about to become one of them so just get it from these guys here.

Also in rotation is another fine radio program from October 31st, 1973, a Hallowe'en on-air treat from WKBW 1520 AM, Buffalo NY ("KB 15"). They produced their own fairly popular War of the Worlds drama, and add a number of other features like the history of Vampires, and a telling of 'The Monkey's Paw'. They also riddle it with classic radio ads from the era for various bars, record stores (Sattler's!), and so on. A very charming, well done and worthy addition to the audio library for hours of tinkering time. I wish more stations did such things on Hallowe'en... and if they did, I wish someone would post them for us maniacs to share! You may be able to find it here.

But beyond those dynamite cuts, most of my audio-only Hallowe'en tinkering tunes are pretty mainstream, un-monsterish cuts.

A lot of Steely Dan and Donald Fagen. Makes the work go by quickly, and very groovily. I'd say funkily but that sounds more ridiculous than groovily. Those of you who already know and 'get it', good for you. Those who don't, please discover it.

I also give a lot of airtime to the late Nick Drake's brand of acoustic, odd, beautiful music. Five Leaves Left, Pink Moon, just search for him, you'll find everything you need to know. His River Man is so Autumn to me, likely because I first heard most of his work, and repeatedly River Man, during one splendid Autumn in the late 80's.

I know a lot of haunters can't create without a lot of metal and hard rock wonderfulness; it seems horror and hard rock go together for lots of people (not least the bands themselves) but I was just never into that kind of music, so you won't find anything remotely like it in my files. I guess for me it's akin to the difference between Rue Morgue or Fangoria, and Famous Monsters of Filmland (the real one). I'm more of a classics guy, with classic horror and traditional Hallowe'en tendencies.

I play a lot of Windham Hill label artists. These folks always seemed to speak to me through their music. It's not for everyone, but it certainly is a massive part of who I am. The Anger/Higbie groups (Quintet, 'Montreaux', etc.), Michael Hedges (the late 'guitarist from another planet'), Alex De Grassi, Will Ackerman (no relation to our beloved Uncle), Mike Manring, George Winston, and many others.

Their music is wistful, timeless, and lends itself without being intrusive, to those moments of thoughtful creation, mulling over colors, designs, concepts.

Of course, I have to give many listens to the music of the late Vince Guaraldi, he of the Peanuts cartoons jazz compositions. Anytime you can listen to any of his work is a good time to do so, but Hallowe'en especially works. Well... I don't listen to the Charlie Brown Christmas music until December, but you get the idea. Guaraldi rules.

Oh alright, here's a picture.Terrifying.

Now get the fruko y sus tesos outta here.

Shpoonk out-

Constant Rotation, the fourth part.

Everyone still enjoying their last round of Skull & Pumpkin fare?

Rather than overstuff everyone with videos you can find if you do even a cursory search, I'll round out the series at this point by just mentioning the core videos I need to have running.

-Night of the Living Dead, 1968. The original, the classic, the birth of a genre. In late September of 1984 or '85, I think, Mom bought a $3 VHS 'public domain' version of NOTLD at Ralph's grocery store, as a surprise for me. I watched it every day. EVERY DAY. For weeks! (I still have that copy!) So NOTLD is a Hallowe'en staple.
-Dawn of the Dead, 1978. Yeah, come on. The tunes, the dialogue, the utter coolness. Enough said.

-The Fog, 1980. John Carpenter's odd sea-faring ghost story. The music, Adrienne Barbeau's wonderful voice, and the cool early 80's synth music are always needed when I'm stuck in a project.

-Witch's Night Out, 1978. A fantastic animated tv special, with the voices of Gilda Radner and Katherine O'Hara. This was another of those Beta-taped favorites during the Hallowe'en season when we were kids.

-ANY of the classic Universal Monster films. Especially The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) -- so much wonderful music and clever dialogue (remember, I can't really 'watch' these while working; I listen!).

-Mad Monster Party, 1967. Rankin/Bass' greatest work. The soundtrack is astounding; that CD gets played as often as the movie is played!
-It's Grinch Night, 1977. A very quirky television special, featuring Dr. Seuss' charming characters and the delightful music of Joe Raposo. Yet another Beta-taped favorite of our youth. Originally titled 'Hallowe'en Is Grinch Night', it was changed for syndication and the VHS market. There is no actual reference to Hallowe'en in the special... but come on. Is the sour-sweet Grinch night wind going to blow during December? Bah!

-Hallowe'en: The Happy Haunting of America, 1997. Chuck Williams, Dan Roebuck and Bob Burns take us to various haunts and displays across America, and interview make-up artists, celebrities and collectors. A personal favorite, they made a 'Part 2' in 2007, and they both get plenty of DVD player time. (By the way, that URL and price are still good. Buy it. You'll love it).

-The Hallowe'en Tree, 1993. A beautifully animated television special, based on the sentimental, inspiring book by Ray Bradbury (and narrated by him). Four children have to save the life of their best friend 'Pip' and learn something about themselves and Hallowe'en in the process. An unexpected and neat ending for a 'kids' cartoon, and a pure delight for October lovers.

I also watch a number of taped (now burned to DVD) documentaries from years of Hallowe'en television viewing. AMC's Monstermania, Sci-Fi Channel's Martian Invasion: The War of the Worlds Broadcast, History Channel's The Haunted History of Hallowe'en, and many more.

Next up, the music.

Spook easy-

Constant Rotation, the third part.

Well, this is one will now be in constant rotation on the computer.

Raggedy Ann & Andy and the Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile was a 1979 television special created by the inimitable, instantly recognizable style of Chuck Jones. June Foray and Daws Butler provide the voices of Ann and Andy.
Poor Ralph isn't allowed to go trick-or-treating; he must stay at home and go to bed early -- so says his loving but stern and boring Aunt Agatha. She won't even let him have a jack o'lantern!
And there's a very glum pumpkin whom no one seems to want or need...
A simple tale, told with charm and sincere Hallowe'en love.
We absolutely adored this special when it first aired, and we taped it (Beta!) so it was in 'constant rotation' at our house every October for years afterward.

It's been a very hard to find 80's VHS release, and it has yet to see the light of day on DVD (as far as I can tell) so I had not seen it in its entirety in a very long time.

My favorite: "Pumpkin? Heh-whaddya mean, 'pumpkin'? Yer always yelling 'pumpkin'!"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Constant Rotation, the second part.

Of course... of course.

Anyone visiting the ol' Skull & Pumpkin already has this on VHS and Build your own custom video playlist at embedr.comDVD. And rightly so.


Constant Rotation, the first part.

As mentioned in the '100 Day Dash' post, this is the time when I corral all the necessary ingredients for a constructive, creative 3 month Making HaBuild your own custom video playlist at embedr.comllowe'en session.
Anyone who does this sort of thing will tell you: it's important to have the tools and supplies, but it's at least as important to have the right soundtrack at all times.
Whether it's from CDs, DVDs, VHS, or even vinyl (of course I have a turntable... what am I, new?), I must have certain audio constantly floating around and through my creative soul.
It helps me think. It lets me blank out for those days-long sessions of cutting PVC to make a dozen zombies, helps me groove out when a mid-afternoon paint job becomes a 'must rethink the whole color scheme' graveyard shift (so to speak).
This and the next series of posts will give you an idea of what I like to have in constant rotation while I make Hallowe'en happen.

And thanks to YouTube, I can actually show you much of the things I have running in the background for the next three months.

In March of 1970, The Wonderful World of Disney ran this special, 'Disneyland Showtime'. It featured Kurt Russell, The Osmond Brothers, and E.J. Peaker running around the park, and in the fabulous final ten minutes, a terrific mini-documentary on The Haunted Mansion, which had just opened some six months before.
While tinkering, this entire special runs at least twice a day on my DVD player (I burned it to save the old 'Vault Disney' VHS I had for a decade), and now you may enjoy it in five parts.
What's really cool is, I tend to see Wayne and Jay (Osmond) on Hallowe'en when they visit my house, and it's like a full circle feeling. Our families have been friends since before I was born, but it's awfully cool to talk to them about their vocal parts on 'Golden Rainbow' (see video 4/5) or have them compare my stuff to the Mansion (they are Disneyland, Haunted Mansion and Hallowe'en fanatics too!)...

At any rate, click and enjoy:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

See the previous post first.

A quick thought.

Notice the Ezra sculpt from a few posts back.

Now, note that in the below image where Ezra is next to Phineas, I have not touched a thing on Ezra; if anything, in regular light he looks worse than before because of the stretching and cracking which always happen with paper-based compounds. It's why I begin such pieces earliest -- repairs/rebuilds are easier in August than on October 15th.

But the point is, in COLORED L.E.D. LIGHT, Ezra looks damn near finished! Oh, he needs some pupils and some real contrast but seriously, LIGHTING covers up so much that you'd otherwise find wanting.

I look at it in real light and think 'UGH! Fingerprints, cracks, smudges!'.

I look at it in colored light and think 'Sweet. I'm done with this one!'.

Just a beginner's tip for builders and the aspiring artist types in Hallowe'en Display Land. With the right lighting and placement (among other factors) your 'I dunno if it's really good enough' prop becomes more than good enough.

Try not to try too hard.


The 100 Day Dash begins.

And so it begins in earnest.
The moment I realize we're a hundred days out, the quickening begins, the pull towards creation and hair pulling and the utter joy of self-surprise when an idea long suffered bears recognizable and tasty fruit.
The same questions come every year:
-Which boxes do I get out of storage now?
-Is that (insert name of obscure material piece which I've held onto for years) going to work for this?
-Will I finally be able to use the projector for more than showing movies?
-Does this look infected?
And so on.
Scripts, songs, layouts. Paints, messes, searches through junk drawers and scrap boxes. Deciding which DVDs, VHSs and CDs will be in constant rotation while I'm making Hallowe'en.

And I live for it all.

This afternoon I made the 'Phineas' face for the Hitchhiking Ghosts, seen here with Ezra for comparison.

I also began the redesign-and-build-proper of the hoped-for Uncle Forry animatron. Bigger skull, better materials, and more moving features... the dream lives exuberantly, the reality is a matter of time and focus.
I am using some micro servos for his eyelid movement (along with other features), and they present special problems all their own. But a size comparison might be fun for the uninitiated.
Futaba Micro Servo:

Next To Standard Hitec Servo:

I also fixed the jaw servo for First Mate Ficketts, which, as mentioned in an earlier post, burned out at some late point in last year's celebration. That was the biggest headache of the day; a larger servo with better torque (look it up) will not burn out as swiftly, but fitting a larger servo into the space where a smaller servo lived for many years is daunting.
I am happy to report it worked, but only a lot of sweating and swearing got me there.

But back to Uncle Forry for a moment. Got this much accomplished today, after making Phineas and fixing Ficketts... that ought to be a song.

Yes, that's the Haunted Mansion theme. I was listening to the Haunted Mansion internet radio station on Live365.
I'm still pondering eyelid material (it's a tight squeeze and requires swift movement and needs to take paint if it's not molded in the right color already), but this is a fine start to the process.
Latex!, I hear some shout, or Silicone!
Brass half spheres! Brushed aluminum wedges! Your own lids! (some of you are like that, don't lie).

We'll see. And I mean we; I'll post once it's ready.

Wait... it's nearly midnight CDT.

I like them odds.

Shpoonk out-

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hallowe'en 2009 Report from the Laboratory.

Hallowe'en's a-comin'.
This afternoon I was working on a design change for my Uncle Forry animatron, and hit a snag which required a complete stoppage of work until a few parts can be located (or flat out created from whole cloth... or metal, in this case).
I hate that.
However, I wasn't about to waste the afternoon so I decided to begin making my 'life-sized' Hitchhiking Ghost trio.
Yes, this year is the 40th anniversary of the greatest dark ride ever, Disney's Haunted Mansion.
In tribute, I am attempting to recreate some of the iconic imagery from that classic attraction.
Got these basic sculpts done in fairly short order:

This may not look much like the fuzzy prisoner 'Gus', but once I've painted him up all teal and glowy, and added his signature ZZ Top-level beard and hair, he'll be perfect.
And here's ol' Ezra, the hat-doffing hitcher. Of course, he's wearing that classic Haunted Mansion skeletal grin, seen all over the Mansion grounds. They're nowhere near being complete, of course. I do this much early, so they can dry and set and get all that out of the way, then I fill in cracks and give a final coat of glow paint. The details of the ears and eyes will be painted in at that time.

And yes, I'm doing Phineas too, just didn't have time to get to him today. Patience.

Hopefully they'll be thumbing their way through the night come this All Hallow's Eve.

I'll be back with more Lab Reports as progress warrants.

Spook Lives-

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First time Cap'n's got the blues.

I shot this very dark, grainy and frustratingly hard-to-see video, so blame me. Or blame bosses who were too cheap to pay me enough to afford a big, digital thingy to record video.
Yeah, that's it, someone else's fault.
This is the very first appearance of Captain Jack Lantern in my haunt, in 2003. I've chosen to show you the segment where he 'turns into a skeleton' (sort of).
I must say, even though this video doesn't support my arrogant contention, that this whole creation simply looked INCREDIBLE while you stood there live, and was a massive hit that night... but on video it just looks like... well, like what it is. But it's still cool, and historic (for me, and this is my pub so cockit!).
By the way, I notice the audio lags or something in the last 10 seconds or so. Must be some uploading thing.
One of these days I'm going to figure out how to do this betterOH MY LORDY I think I just did. No seriously as I'm typing, it just sort of popped into my head!
Heh, love when that happens.

Off to get a new video camera now. Thanks a lot nostalgia and creativity. Stupid jerks.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Long ago & far away, the third part

By now, you must begin to see how my world view, life's ambitions and basic philosophical foundation were formed, informed, malformed, from the beginning.

I started young.

Yes, very young.
Here's the smile I wear every year, all October long; this photo was taken in October of '68, the very first October I ever knew.
See? Even then, I was enthralled. This is in my baby book; 'Oct. 1968' is in my Mom's handwriting so I know it's true. My mother never lies.

The next photo I could find was in the same baby book, again in Mom's writing, as 'Hallowe'en 1970'. Well, you can see it there, no need for me to go on... except to say that I think I made one exceptionally cute little ghost.
This next is from '74, as The Wolf Man (one of my favorite classic Universal Monsters). I would love to say who is beside me in the Ape mask, but memory fails me. My instinct says it's my mama... Relatives, a little help?
UPDATE: It is my cousin Dee Dee, as suggested by my sister some time ago, and recently confirmed by Dee Dee herself.
By the way, that skull between our heads is actually a vinyl hand puppet that I absolutely loved and played with every day for what seemed like years. I haven't any idea where it went, sadly.
UPDATE: No, we have not found the skull puppet, but Dee Dee informed me she had that skull pinned to her shoulder as part of her costume. You have to love the originality of Hallowe'en-crazed kids!
In 1976 I decided to go with a Scarecrow, which in hindsight is kind of an odd choice for a die hard monster lovin' kid as I was. Still, I stalked around the yard and scared plenty of folks, so it was monstrous enough. The werewolf in the Crespi High School lettermen's jacket is my older brother Joe.
And then there was THE FLY! I recall Mom getting me this mask, oh what a day that was. I'd admired -- hell, lusted for -- this mask for a long time, and every time we'd visit the great old comic and magic shop, Fantasy Castle, I'd stare at it up on the high mask shelf. I think one day it was put on clearance and dropped from something like $75 to $25, somewhere in there. Mom's eye lit up almost as brightly as mine!
The Fly was in the top three of my favorite monster films (King Kong, The Wolf Man, The Fly) during my childhood, and finally having this mask thrilled me to no end.
Again, my brother Joey joins me in the photo. Here he's wearing some foam appliances; he doesn't really look like that. 1977?
This was another Wolf Man, in '78 or '79 (the calendar behind me is unreadable, and is likely only decorative anyway), only this pic was taken just after I'd removed my snout, brow and chin/fangs appliances. For whatever reason. You can tell by the look on my face that even then I thought it was a lame moment to take a picture.
Like many young (and I suppose not so young) people in the early 80's, I was worried about the End of the World and nuclear war, and this particular creation, a non-descript mutant soldier, reflects that anxiety. Yeah the pic's blurry, but it wasn't a great make-up anyway. I just like it because of its historical context... and because the ape-ish mutant soldier has such well-coiffed early '80's hair.
The next image I could locate is years later, and I'm now just out of high school, so this is '86 at the earliest. I was turning myself into a mad doctor, a la Alice Cooper (rather than Rocky Horror). Here my brother and my uncle are pointing out my make-up skills for the benefit of the camera.
In 1990, a production crew from the 'Home Show' on daytime TV came out to my Grandma's house and taped all of Hallowe'en day and night, as well as the clean up the next morning. The videos and some stills in these posts are taken from that footage.
For that special Hallowe'en, I thought I'd finally take the dive; instead of portraying something which represents evil, I'd go ahead and just be THE DEVIL his-infernal-self!
Again, I did my own make-up, put my costume together, and even grabbed a fiddle to play (kind of)... I also had with me a red book and a feather quill pen, and as I walked around the fence, anytime someone spoke to me, I'd stare at them, smiling, while writing (ostensibly their names) in the book.
It actually made some people uncomfortable!
During those last few years when we were all still living in L.A., I was making masks rather than complex applied make-ups. I was helping to provide a bit more of the props and helping everything to run smoothly, and I didn't have time to sit for hours building a make-up. I instead made odd masks a few weeks before, put the outfit together, and after setting up all day, I would simply black my eyes, put everything on, and go.
This is 1991, I believe. I believe. Sort of a skeletal House of Wax thing. Perhaps a Zombie Simon Legree? I made it with meltable, malleable Friendly Plastic and acrylic paints.
This last photo is, I believe, the last costume I ever wore on a Hallowe'en at Grandma's house, in 1993. I made the overhead mask out of latex, Friendly Plastic, acrylic paints, enamel stains, and even some fake hair. Then, of course, the suit was one of my dear old Dad's which I tore up, burned, stained, and then buried straight in the ground for a month before digging it up, bagging it with some dirt, and taking it to Gram's house. I had to dress outside because of all the muck still clinging to it, but let me tell you something: I looked, moved and smelled like I'd just come out of the ground after hanging out down there for a good long while. It was unnerving, actually.
Here I am with my godfather, Uncle Pat, in front of the staircase, ready to head out for one more Hallowe'en celebration.
1993 was the last year that all of the Lennons were able to get together for a traditional Grandma's House Hallowe'en; a lot of us moved to Branson MO the following Spring, and we were a family divided (in miles, not in our hearts). But for another few years, those who were still in Venice did their level best to put together a haunt, and while they tell me it worked and was fun, they all agree it just wasn't the same, by any measure. It didn't feel right without all of us there.

So... sadly, with the exodus of family and the eventual sale of the beautiful old house on Harding and Naples in the 90's, the Lennon Hallowe'en Era in southern California came to a close.

But with the move to the Ozarks, the era of my own haunts began.

There are, as with any good story, a thousand sidesteps, details, inside jokes, and in this case, pictures, tons of pictures. I will always be adding images and tales from the Hallowe'en front lines of Grandma's house.

Spook forward-

Long ago & far away, the second part

I am trying to find video clips which would give an idea of how it was to be there.
Perhaps this whole exercise is so ultra-personal that I'm overthinking things; these clips, at least, give some indication, however brief, of what a Lennon Hallowe'en sometimes felt like.
The first (above) is a minute or so of the organ 'playing' of my uncle Bill, who was the ringleader, robot maker, and head Dr. Insano Show writer. Good ol' Uncle Bill can be seen in the HGTV Extreme Hallowe'en video segment I posted back in June; he and I are Hallowe'en brethren. He inspired me, taught me, let me help him put together his robots (some of which can also be seen in the first clip here, when the camera pans to the right).
At any rate, he didn't (doesn't) actually play the organ, but he was out on that front balcony a dozen times a night miming to a handful of organ selections playing through a loudspeaker.

His traditional mask, top hat and tails can be seen, a decade and a half later, in that aforementioned HGTV segment.
The recordings used were played for so many years that they have all become Hallowe'en to me; I'm sure you each have Hallowe'en traditions, songs, and so on, which mean the same thing to you... it's impossible to express fully.

This clip is similar, but is just a very short bit to show how the crowd was all night long (and usually bigger than this... this is only one side of a corner lot!).

I am still endeavoring to get some Dr. Insano clips, and seeking permission to post them (nothing to do with legality or money, etc.; I just want to be certain my relatives don't mind being posted for all to see!).

On with the show...

This delightful fellow was one of Bill's best creations and inspired me to get into animatronics. I'd always loved puppetry and robots, etc., but seeing and operating this guy gave me the real sickness!
His head turned, he could move his arm up down to smoke his pipe (real smoke, too), his eyes blinked, and he spoke to the crowd, took questions, etc..
Some years later, I was able to begin adding my own touch to the robot display:

... and this eventually led to the animatronic figures you've seen in previous posts. This guy was a sort of apeman/Frankenstein's Monster, and his lip sneered while his jaw snapped, his head moved around from jolts to the electrodes around his temple and neck.

Speaking of adding my own touch... I think it's time to head into the more personal, rather than broadly familial, parts of my life-defining Hallowe'en existence.

Ponder that cumbersome phrase for a bit.

Spook ya later-

A brief (musical) note.

(Gratuitous Vintage Hallowe'en Postcard shown for no reason except that it's really stunning.)

Before I dash headlong into the continuing saga of family Hallowe'ens and my place in them, I wanted to take a second and point something out to the drunken (Max?) souls here at the ol' S&P.

On your right is a li'l jukebox, and while you certainly never have to play it, I feel obliged to mention that you're missing out if you don't.

Now, I made sure it wouldn't automatically play; that kind of thing annoys me on 'blogs.

But you can click it if you wish, and listen to some fine October tunes.

Of course, no Hallowe'en is complete without Linus and his Great Pumpkin, and Vince Guaraldi's 'Great Pumpkin Waltz' is a wistful 3/4 jazz tune which immediately sends me to All Hallow's Nirvana. This song simply is Hallowe'en.

Next, 'Pumpkintime'. An elegant 'new grass' instrumental from The Darol Anger/Barbara Higbie Quintet's 1986 album, 'Live At Montreaux'. It is harvest music. A glass of heavy red goes well with this tune, along with a slight breeze and the scent of distant rain.

The next track is the love song There Never Was A Love Like Mine from Mad Monster Party (1967), sung by Gale Garnett. This tune is Autumn to me. I grew up a jazz/bossa nova guitar fanatic, and this song always stood out for its pretty chords and changes on a classical (nylon string) guitar. So come Fall, when the film would run on TV, this song became a highlight. You may not like it but it's my pub. Don't make me call the bouncer.

Witch's Night Out (1978) was a remarkable little Hallowe'en special starring the voices of Gilda Radner and Katherine O' Hara. Adult, hip, witty, but still suitable for kids, it was a favorite for a generation. I still wait for a DVD release, but my DVD burn of a long-out-of-print FHE videocassette still does the job. A great tune.

Grim Grinning Groove, is my own piano jazz take on Buddy Baker and X. Atencio's legendary song from Disney's Haunted Mansion. It's me playing one of my favorite songs in my favorite style. Your mileage may vary.

Attaboy, Luther! is actually my pet name for the main title from Don Knotts' incredible spooktacular, The Ghost & Mr. Chicken (1966). You've seen it, you love it; if you haven't and don't, you do not belong at the Skull & Pumpkin (there's a nice divey, skanky bar up the way where everyone's talking about 'Saved By The Bell' and drinking Zima).

The Trees Weep Leaves is a beautiful and heartfelt piece from a relatively obscure CD, 'Autumn In New England' put out in the late 90's by David Huntsinger. The whole album's just gorgeous, so get it. But this song is my favorite cut.

And then there was The Gonk. Herbert Chappell's odd little tune was used to great and bizarre effect in George Romero's incredible Dawn of the Dead (1978). It's a zombie thing. Much like the score for the opening scene of Night of the Living Dead a decade before, it just reminds me of Hallowe'en (remind me to post that piece, Drive To The Cemetery, soon).

Then we have the title track from Mad Monster Party (1967). Sung by Ethel Ennis, it's a classic among horror and Hallowe'en afficionados; the core piece of the greatest score in Rankin-Bass' history.

Now I've added Bing Crosby's incredible Headless Horseman song from Disney's 'The Adventures of Ichabod & Mr. Toad' (1949). Total class, total swing, totally Hallowe'en.

I'm going to add more as time goes on, but this is a good start.

Really, it's great listening while reading, and if you can't multitask like that, then once you've read everything, give it a listen.

Good music is essential for any public house worth the name. I think this stuff is gold.

Chill you soon-

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Long ago & far away, the first part

This is Hallowe'en.

This is where, and how, it all began for me.
My Grandmother's house, the home where my mother and all her siblings grew up, was the county seat of the October Country in Venica CA, for decades, and for your humble pubkeep, from 1969 until the mid 90s.

In the old neighborhood at Venice and Lincoln Blvds, on the corner of Harding and Naples, the pretty old lady (the house, not my beautiful grandmother) thrilled and chilled visitors for over 25 years.

The whole family truly loved (loves!) Hallowe'en and had always decorated for the occasion with real enthusiasm, finding ways to scare and trick and treat the neighborhood.

In October 1969 my uncles and aunts, along with some friends, put on a yard haunt. The family had suffered a terrible loss in August of that year, and were slowly beginning to shake off the dust and try to move forward; a haunted house for the neighborhood seemed to be the ticket.

In mid afternoon set-up, circa 1990

Very quickly, the Hallowe'en haunt became a Venice tradition. If you lived anywhere in the neighborhood and didn't visit the Lennon house on October 31st, it was considered bad manners. By the 80's, kids who'd visited since '69 were bringing their kids.

There have long been well-known gang areas in Venice (V13, anyone?) and I remember seeing serious gang types among the visitors each Hallowe'en... but in the midst of the many hundreds of trick-or-treaters, relatives and friends who attended every year, I cannot recall a single violent incident. No cops breaking up fights. No knife wieldings, no gun shots, punches, not even loud swearing.

I guess they respected my Grandmother, her home, and what the family had given to the community for so many years.

Maaaaake-uuuuuup! Aunts, uncles, Hallowe'en lovers all, early 70's.
Aunts Kathy and Janet were the main make-up artists, and spent long hours every Hallowe'en helping us look our worst. From simple creme or cake colors to full blown foam rubber/latex appliances, they were our saviours. "WAIT! Don't go out without coloring your hands...!" or "Your wig is crooked, here let me...!" were often heard a few seconds before we costumed ghouls headed out to prowl the yard and spook the visitors.

It was here, at the huge oak dining table in my Grandma's den turned into a once a year make-up department, where I started learning about fake hair, collodion, tissue, mortician's wax, foam appliances, glues and hairdryers, light and shadow, positive and negative space, color mixing... how to become a monster!
And become monsters, we did -- well, in this case (1976) I was the non-monstrous scarecrow on the lower right, kneeling as if in supplication to the far more monstrous figures behind me -- all with the invaluable aid of those aunts of ours. And maybe a little help from Don Post and Topstone:
Properly garbed, suitably scary, we'd head out to the yard to creep among the tombstones and dummies, skeletons and robots, and try as best we could to scare anyone brave enough to get close.
To this day I am astounded that a bunch of little kids, regardless of make up, could scare the visitors just as easily as our grown up family members did.

And speaking of grown up, I now give you
Dr. Insano!
For two decades Dr. Insano (originally family friend Terry, and later my uncle Dan) enthralled, amused and enlightened Venice CA trick-or-treaters with his 'Dr. Insano Show' from the second story side balcony, three or four times each Hallowe'en night.

The basic 15 minute formula for an Insano show was simple; the good Doctor has just returned from an expedition or similar adventure, bringing back with him some dead (or frozen) creature or other, and will attempt to bring it to life. 

He does, the creature turns on Insano, and a battle ensues which results in Dr. Insano and his assistant Eddie/Schnitzel (uncle Joe) tossing the creature over the balcony railing and seemingly into the crowd below. 

The monster is vanquished, the Dr. is vindicated, and Hallowe'en is once again safe for children and grown ups everywhere... until the next performance.

In this show, the good Doctor battled the Alien. Yes, that Alien. Their battle was epic, so like a classic ringside fight that it was announced (see previous pic) by our cousin, Jimmy Lennon, Jr. (still a well-known and busy fight announcer)... but Insano won the day. Or night, I suppose.

Dr. Insano was something we all looked forward to, whether we were involved in it or not (some of us were, some of us weren't, everyone had different 'jobs' and skills to contribute). The show was always loaded with inside jokes and family humor, sure, but it was always full of slapstick visuals and tongue-in-cheek wordplay ("Happy Hallowe'en to you all! And to our Spanish-speaking friends, 'Feliz Jalapeno'!").

Everyone stuck around to see each performance. They always added jokes as the night wore on, and the final show was always for 'us', filled with family jokes and references. Classic.

Boy I wish we were still doing these.

Spook around, there is much more to come-

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I know. It's like a graveyard around here.

BUT PLEASE don't duck out o' pub just yet... I'm working on a series of posts for the next few days, and I think they'll be to everyone's liking. A little family and personal history as regards our favorite night of the year.

Spook on (presently)-

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Happy Birthday.

the author as hunchback, c. 1973

It is just past midnight as I type this.
Here in the old pub, I've lit my creepy wall sconces, my candelabra, put the lights up on my monster display, and am listening to Lights Out on my Sirius XM receiver.
You'd think, then, that this was just another night in my domain.
But I note that as of midnight I have added some 36 or 37 years worth of life to the little kid pictured above.
At 41 I am not complaining.
I also must note that the above photo wasn't taken on Hallowe'en, or even in the month of October. It's just what I did, all the freaking time, growing up (or not growing up, as it turns out). If I needed to be Quasimodo, I would; if Quasimodo had to wear a Snoopy sweatshirt, so be it.
Monsters, horror and the unstoppable Hallowe'en are a MASSIVE aspect of my life defined. That much should be obvious to anyone visiting the Skull & Pumpkin.
I believe one of my first recognizable phrases to Mom and Dad was "Ooooh, montah gunna getchoo!", and I know that some of my earliest birthday memories include Aurora monster models, spooky books/magazines, monster jigglers and action figures, and similarly wondrous scary stuff.
It's just what I did.
I thank my folks for giving me life, the ultimate unreturnable gift. But more than that:
Thanks Pop, for letting me be one of the kids who routinely made you shake your head and wonder "what in hootin' hell" is wrong with that one. For not discouraging me from being who I was, but encouraging me to be more truly who I wanted to be.
Thanks Mom, for simply being Mom. Every little (and not so little) gift, every special extra moment you found for me among the million special moments a day you found for everyone else in our lives; for not only letting me indulge in my spooky passions but for being a champion of them.
And thanks to both of you for never taking my monsters away even when I was calling for you to come sweep them out from under the bed at 2 am... every night... for a long time.

Aye, let's raise a glass.

41's a pretty fine thing, not least for being relatively indistinguishable from 40, 35 or even 25 when you really cut it into slices to count the rings.


Spook on-

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The What & Whoozits?

I find it fairly funny when I tell people that I have a blog now, they say 'YES! Finally, we've been saying it for years!' but when I then tell them the name, they get this look of confusion.

"Eh? Skulls and Pumpkins? That might be 'descriptive' but it sure isn't very clever or unique..."
Correction only slightly allays their concern.

"You are trying to run an online pub?" (Not kidding, I got this one this past week from someone young/tech savvy enough to know better).

I just wanted a cool name.

I like pubs.

I love skulls and pumpkins.

It's that simple.

I dig the idea of a little public house dedicated to the spookier things in my life, celebrating Hallowe'en and horror with family, friends and passersby needing a quick shot of Autumn -- the kind of place I wish I could discover on some chilled evening, along some old, stone-paved road.

So I add my own creations, and oftentimes (by permission or default) the creations of others.

If there was a pub in Hallowe'entown, or beside the Haunted Mansion, or on the block around the corner from the Addamses; if the October family of myriad Ray Bradbury stories had a regular watering hole (beer, blood, it's all good); if there was a tavern in the neighborhood beyond Linus' very sincere pumpkin patch; if all my favorite monsters had an after hours hangout...

...I would want it to be like this.

Well, real and made of stone and wood, etc., but you get the idea.

So send me pics. Tell me stories, set down and get into it, let's shoot the breeze about
all things All Hallow's.

Spook on-