Friday, January 27, 2012

On farewells, Hallowe'en style.

Welcome, everyone. Very glad you're all here.

Please gather 'round the fireplace with your drinks for a moment.

I want to take a minute to mention something more important than animatronics and monsters and models and music.

Well, those things are all pretty damned important to all of us, I know.

But I've been reading about something that has me thinking, and feeling, and I wish to express it.

One of the many fine, fun and instructive Hallowe'en sites on the spidery Web for many years has been Season of Shadows, a passionate and prop-laden labor of love. It has a blog, picture and video galleries, how-to's, a chat room, a live webcam of their haunt and workshop, and tons of other magic.

Season of Shadows is the brain-and-heart child of John Wolfe, a talented and crazy Autumn Person who loves Hallowe'en and has made it so special for so many grown-ups and kids over so many years. John has helped and inspired many other Hallowe'en Lovers to do it right on the Big Night.

And I've been reading that, sadly, John's health is in serious decline... and he has written his last blog post at Season of Shadows just in the last few days.

But if you would please go read that post, you'll find that, although his struggle has been painful and difficult and seemingly terminal, his SPIRIT is up, resolved to accept what's happening, and what will happen. It's at once a sad and inspiring post.

And it has me thinking about something that for some years now I've believed to be (mostly) true:

I believe most Autumn People, Hallowe'en Lovers, Horror Junkies and Monsterkids of all ages have a bit healthier grasp of What May Come, and perhaps a less-panicked, more accepting sense of our own mortality. It doesn't mean we grieve any less -- in fact I think it helps us grieve more fully and honestly -- but I think we just tend to face our most basic fear, our own 'ending', so much more often than those who are too afraid to explore the dark side of life. Facing it and celebrating it through Hallowe'en and all our other monstery rituals makes us more ready to deal with such things. Not better, not wiser, just more... attuned, perhaps.

I find such strength of spirit in that post, in John's acceptance of whatever is in store.

Indeed, it's sad and sobering, but it's RIGHT that in our quiet, ending hours we let our cares fall, entrust ourselves to the Great Mystery, neither jump for joy nor collapse in sorrow, but just BE.

We who live in this worldly realm truly live in a season of shadows, 
and then pass into the season of Light in our turn.
And any time we observe that passage of one of our own, as Autumn People we are obliged to toast, tribute, and promise to remember the Spirit that is moving to ever-greater haunts in that far October Country where dark and light are the same, where sadness is no more, where pumpkins glow like sunset.

... where real Hallowe'en is forever.

So, a toast.

Blessed be to you John.

Now let's the rest of us sorry fools promise each other to do up Hallowe'en bigger and better this year than ever before!


Ghost of the Ghoul Goes West, pt. 4.1

Hey, S&Pbrains!

Don't get up. This is just an update from the lab. I even 'posterized' the video just to do something a little different from the other videos. It's almost effective.


A better linkage system and smoother movement, and along with his head working like a champ, it looks like I might just pull this off.

Better not claim victory just yet.

But I'm enjoying the whole process and learning a lot about things I thought I already knew all about. Like servos, torque, wiring.

And my patience.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ghost of the Ghoul Goes West, pt. 4

Welcome, welcome, loyal S&Pers!

I hope you are enjoying your visit to our little pub, keeping cozy and warm.

I've tried to lay in a good supply of firewood this year -- it's getting awfully cold after such a mild start to the month.

So, I've been working and tinkering and sweating (and cursing and shouting and throwing) over my monster making lately, but I have made some progress.

I hesitate to show this but only because it's so hard to cleanly operate a 4-point animatronic controller and point and shoot a camera at the same time.

But it's progress:

I think this is the right direction, and with a few stronger servos and a new  linkage idea for the elbow, ol' Edward Van Bone will be able to gesture quite graciously (if not gracefully) for the museum crowds at Monsterpalooza. (And honestly, it does move much better and waaay more smoothly when I have both hands to operate things... I swear!)

Oh, he'll have hands, too. I'm just... going insane trying to make them work right. But they will.

Just an update from the laboratory.

Continue to enjoy Winter. If I get too wrapped up in my work, and don't always hear a call or a shout for something, you can always ask Fester or Mr. Chicken -- they know their way around the place and I trust them with the bar.

Well, I trust Mr. Chicken anyway... 


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ghost of the Ghoul Goes West, pt. 3


Actually, this was going to be a Ghost of the Ghoul Goes West post, but as I was getting video of the progress on this animatronic hand (over which I'd been sweating and slaving ALL FREAKING DAY), something horrible happened.

It's time to explain something about electronic things.

See, electronic things operate on magic smoke. There is magic smoke running through all those wires like water in your plumbing. Magic smoke is what moves and pushes and converts and pulls and makes things work.

And if you somehow let the magic smoke out --

 -- it won't work anymore.

And so, somehow, even though I checked everything many times, I somehow released the magic smoke from one of my digital servos.


... no finger motion, and very little wrist motion.

I mean, it's not like I was finished with the project, but after all the work I did all day, it's frustrating.

It would've been a good post too.

Oh well. Back to the ol' drawing board.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Happy 203rd, Mr. Poe.

Oh yes, pubgoers, one of our most celebrated icons, most beloved literary, horrorary and Hallowe'enary icons is having a birthday!


Sure, he's not necessarily 'around' to see it, but Edgar Allan Poe's spirit is alive and well -- well, okay, gloomy and brooding -- even 203 years after his birth in 1809.

A remarkable man was Poe. He is widely acknowledged as the inventor of the detective story. He is considered America's first true regularly published (and scathing!) literary critic. He wrote books of poetry before he left grade school. His works have been in print, continuously, since 1827. Ponder that a moment.

I have always enjoyed his works, even when I was too young to grasp the language or even the concept (in some cases) of much of it when I first attempted to read him seriously. Hell, even now I have to admit he's not an easy read.

But the great, dark magic that is a Poe work is a thing of beauty.

In honor of his birthday, the Skull & Pumpkin will be celebrating all day and night with Poe goodies -- fireside readings of his works in our library, absinthe and bourbon and cognac at the bar -- and I hope you will join us in our celebration wherever you are, if you cannot get to the S&P in person.

I'd like to think we are all here in spirit.

As a treat, do this: go here, and download/print/cutout/assemble this awesome paper Edgar Allan Poe from the cool folks at Toy A Day.


And then another treat: give a listen to the jukebox to the right. I've added two delightful tracks of Poe's genius recorded in the early 1960's, and sure to bring a smile to any Monster Kid who ordered things from the Captain Company in Famous Monsters magazine, and in fact any genre magazine from the '60s to at least the early '80s -- Richard Taylor reading The Tell-Tale Heart and The Masque of the Red Death!

Oh but I must comment briefly, here. You see, I don't know who Richard Taylor was, or is. I am certain (as you will be after hearing him) that he loved doing these things, and his heart is easily in the rightest of right places.  Heck, the back of the album says he's fast becoming the Crown Prince of Terror:


But when you get around to actually listening to it, Taylor's narration seems less "sinister", "mystifying" and "full of suspense", and more like the kid who played Fat Sam in Bugsy Malone reading Poe over the telephone in 1960. Amazing we haven't heard from him since.

And I love it. LOVE it. It works (especially with that cool jazz guitar back), and it's fun, and it's goofy, and it's timeless to us Monster Kids who pored over magazine ads like this:


It's the perfect stuff to listen to while making a paper Edgar Allan Poe doll.

Have a wonderful Poe Birthday, good Autumn Folk.

And happy birthday, Mr. Poe. A toast...


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ghost of the Ghoul Goes West, pt. 2

A little more hair, subtly backlit eyes, and a cheesy application of sepia tone and 'film grain' to pretend we're watching in 1931...

He needs a little more refining, especially programming his jaw to close/reset more fluidly -- at the moment he looks like he's chewing something as he speaks.

I keep trying.



Friday, January 13, 2012

(C)old tubes.

A quick word from our sponsor:

Yes, pubgoers, our Hallowe'enith console radio receives only the creepiest, kookiest, spookiest old shows and tales still flying through the ether, for our listening enjoyment here at the Skull & Pumpkin.

This time around, the ol' radio playlist (to your left) offers two chilling tales from years gone by, both steeped in cold, wintry terror, both from the radio dens of the Great White North.

First up, from the short-lived 1955 CBC radio series Theatre 10:30 comes The Wendigo -- taken from Algernon Blackwood's terrifying short story about a native American nightmare creature. The audio is a bit rough here -- some swishing and swooshing -- but it's complete and present and worth the 25 minute ride to hear the horror of the snowy beast...

source unknown, but very Grither-like...

Then, we move forward a few decades but stay in Canada for another horror tale, this time from one of the CBC's most revered and remembered radio shows from the early '80s, the fabulous horror anthology series Nightfall!

The 1982 episode Wind Chill tells the tale of a cabin, a blizzard, and unexpected company -- a chilling ghost story for a windy winter night.

Cold, creepy listening  for us all.

Grab a hot drink, I'll put on another log, and we can spend an hour forgetting the weather and enjoying the ol' Hallowe'enith radio.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Twenty Twelve Tunes.

 I know.

You've been wondering since the first of the year why your humble pubkeep hasn't changed or updated the jukebox to reflect the new month and year as he usually does.

Or maybe you haven't been wondering.

Maybe you couldn't possibly be less interested.

No matter. I have finally found a little time to remedy the matter.

I must say, though, that as I go back into the jukeboxian archives of this old pub, I find some things done well enough that I cannot do them better, or at least wish to do them again... so half of the 'new' tunes for January '12 are the same as they were in January '11.

Why mess with success?

Oh, for any newcomers (I'm lookin' at you, r l anger jr!), I will explain that here at the Skull & Pumpkin, our little audio player over there to the upper right has two songs that will always be in rotation -- Vince Guaraldi's The Great Pumpkin Waltz, which is the official theme song of the S&P, and The Anger-Higbie Quintet's Pumpkintime, the S&P's official incidental music. These two always open and close the playlist.

But each month the other songs change up here and there; some remain for another month, but most are replaced by more seasonally/monthally apropos tunes.

Feel free to us the term 'monthally' all you wish.

And feel free to listen to some songs I find just about right for the first month in the heart of Winter.

First, a song that was featured last January -- if you don't mind the repeat, I liked my liner note too:

"... in a North Wind kinda mood, I thought I would add Nick Drake's beautiful Northern Sky, from his 1970 album Bryter Layter. If you don't know who Nick Drake was, try here and then head to all the external links. To my mind (and ear), Northern Sky is one of his most perfect creations, a song that feels like all seasons of the year, sung to every lover you ever had, all at once. "Would you love me through the Winter?" Yep."

After Nick Drake, I feel a natural snow slide to a bit of gloomy longing -- and what Hallowe'en-loving, Poe-reading romantic doesn't love a good song featuring gloomy longing through the frozen winter? 

From the minds and hearts of the inimitable kd lang and her longtime collaborator Ben Mink comes Barefoot, the theme from the 1991 indie film Salmonberries and one of the most haunting melodies I've ever heard. It's not entirely bleak or despairing, and at its core is the promise of the warmth of a new love, but in its searching, shivering journey it is a distant wolf howl of nights when love is lean and scarce.

Still, there is something about a cold, lustrous winter night that causes one to somehow think of warmth, and plenty, and restful recovery from a Fall filled with harvesting the fruits of long labor. A sleep of the soul, just as the land sleeps, rests, prepares for new life to come.

Softly She Sleeps (1959) is a beautiful bit of 'Light Classical' from one of that genre's most commercially and creatively prolific masters, the influential British composer Cedric King Palmer (1913-1999).

 Palmer with his dog Nimrod circa 1963. 
He named all his dogs Nimrod. I like this guy.

King Palmer composed hundreds of motifs and melodies that we've all heard in commercials, cartoons, films and television shows (and educational slide shows and hygiene films and...) for generations. Search for 'Hackney Carriage', or 'Spindlelegs', and you'll know exactly what I mean, and why it's so... subconsciously soothing.

Another repeat player from last January, if only because it just doesn't get any better than Joni:

"... and as the years change, as the inevitable circularity of life enrobes us all, the time is perfect for Joni Mitchell's heartfelt The Circle Game. This particular recording is from her 1970 album Ladies of the Canyon, but she had written the song in the mid-'60s as a response to friend Neil Young's song Sugar Mountain, as a more positive take on growing up. That isn't to say it's not bittersweet -- the seasons do go 'round and 'round, and we are all captive on the carousel. But there is beauty, and truth, and there are dreams aplenty, before we're all done."

 And the final repeat tune of last year, because it's so grand:

"January means new, and pubs mean traditional. I think I've found a fine mix of both: Malcolm Dalglish's incredible hammer dulcimer piece New Waltz, from his 1990 album Jogging the Memory. It really is something you haven't heard -- it is new to you -- but it feels so very comfortable, so very old. 
So perfectly pub."

And finally, a song that reminds us that this is a Hallowe'en pub, damnit, and all this wintry musical musing is silly!

Remember when I brought my Panasonic 3DO game system to the pub so we could play Escape From Monster Manor? Well, I 'shoot ghosts' in the winter, it's just something I've done since I got that game, and every sound, note, flicker of the game means Winter to me. 

This is the theme song from that game, composed in 1993 by Robert Vieira for Electronic Arts. It's six minutes of goofy, spooky fun. Tread carefully now!

Ah, January.

First of the year, holding the most promise, but cold and searching just the same. These are the songs we'll enjoy chatting at the bar, perusing the library, or lounging by the fire at the S&P, until Runtmonth.

And speaking of searching -- is that the radio crackling and humming over there...?


Monday, January 9, 2012

Ghost of the Ghoul Goes West, pt. 1

That's right, longtime S&P patrons.

It's a new year, and that means a new Monsterpalooza, and that means your humble pubkeep is making new monsters to display at the Monsterpalooza Museum!

Now, if you aren't sure what a Monsterpalooza is or what its Museum might be, you must be new to the S&P. That's not a bad position to be in -- there's so much to discover here. So please click HERE to go to the Monsterpalooza convention site and find out the who, what, where and when. The why should be obvious to anyone visiting the Skull & Pumpkin.

Go on now and come on back when you're finished. We'll be here.

Hum, hum-hm-hmmmmmm, hum-hm-hmmmmm....

Alright, you're back? Sweet.

So! The Art of Monsters takes Burbank by storm for the 4th year in a row, and for the 3rd year in a row, yours truly will be an Artist In Attendance, showing off a bit of my animatronic nuttiness in the Museum alongside works from professional monstermakers and horror artists from all over the world.

It's such an honor for me, and gets more humbling every year.

This time around, I am hoping to supply two pieces to the Museum, and while I don't want to completely give away what they'll be just yet, I do want to share the last few days' progress on one of them.

I'm sure you recognize the audio. If not, you will soon.And as always, it needs refinement, better programming, and real finishing (paint, hair, lenses for pince nez, etc.) Then, the tuxedo'd body, the arms and hands...

I am calling him -- well, that can wait. The full details will come in their time.

But for now, just imagine this fellow standing on a barker stage, footlit bfore a velveted curtain, gesturing to the rest of the Museum with his long, bony fingers; beckoning guests to enter, explore and warn them that "there are such things..."

And that's progress.

Nearly forgot about January music, but that will come tomorrow.

Until then, if you feel this video might disturb your dreams, well... we warned you!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

The First Day.

And what a day it has been...

Sure, I've taken to my sick bed with a nasty cold, but I have Blu-Ray Ellen Ripley and I can shoot ghosts with my old 3DO game system and I can read and write and draw and post new posts to this ol' S&P.

And even as I cough and rattle and ache and sniff and when I speak the walls shake with the sound of Regan MacNeil's croaking demon voice, 2012 is already surprising me with good news...

I won a raffle!

One of my Monsterkid pals, Adam Dougherty, is an excellent sculptor and model maker, currently creating kits for Moebius Models. He's a professional and a true artist and a great fella -- here he is with another Monsterkid crony of mine, the great make-up artist and sculptor Casey Wong, from Monsterpalooza 2010:

These guys make me smile big. True Monsterkids, these two!

So... Adam just informed me that I won a raffle on his Facebook page, and it makes me awfully happy to report to all of you S&P-brains that Adam is sending me one of the amazing kits he created, signed by him -- and it's a real beauty:

YES! Moebius Models' Elvira: Mistress of the Dark kit is on its way to the S&P courtesy of the man who created it! By the way, Adam goes by the nickname KreatureKid, because of his lifelong fanatical fascination with all things Creature From The Black Lagoon! And who can blame him?

And this kit is so authentic, Elvira herself takes stunned delight in its beauty...

(courtesy Moebius Models and

At Moebius' website, and on the kit box, the details of this fine KreatureKid Kreation beKome Klear (Klick to enlarge):

I just cannot wait to get this -- signed by the KreatureKid himself! -- into my collection. This guy is truly one of the great new breed of Monsterkids, creating fine horror and Hallowe'en art for us to enjoy for years to come, and helping to keep classic Monster Madness alive and well.

And I honestly wasn't even aware that liking his page entered me into a raffle -- I liked it because I like his art, and him.

As your humble pubkeep I strongly suggest you each go to his page right flippin' now and 'like' it. Then, follow all the links to pictures of his Hallowe'en kits, his Bela Lugosi as Dracula kit, and amazing things in the works for the coming year.

Thanks Adam, and Moebius Models, and thank you 2012 for being so amazing on your very first day!

January music is on its way.

A happy, happy New Year to you all.