Day 13: My favorite of the classic Universal monsters, The Wolf Man, was released in 1941, starring Lon Chaney Jr. Lawrence Talbot, having returned home to Wales, enjoys an evening out with performances by a traveling gypsy caravan. A gypsy girl is attacked by a wolf an Lawrence goes to her aid, killing the wolf, but being bit in the fight. As it turns out, the creature was not a mere wolf, but one of the other gypsies, cursed with lycanthropy. Lycanthropy is the supernatural transformation of man in wolf or hybrid. In most folklore, it is a curse, being a involuntary and often extremely painful shift usually brought on by the full moon. The curse can be transferred through bite.
So here is poor Larry Talbot, becoming the wolf man and hunting unsuspecting villagers and nobody will believe him. The one who does believe him is a fantastic character, Meleva played by Maria Ouspenskaya. The movie also give us a great score and Chaney reprises the role in many sequels.
The Wolfman was remade in 2010 starring Benicio Del Toro as the lead. I found this to actually be a rather good movie, capturing much of what made the original so good. It’s unfortunate the ending was kind of goofy and didn’t seem to fit.
“Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”
Did you know: The church scenes were shot on the old “Hunchback of Notre Dame” set where Chaney’s father had played Quasimodo in 1923.
Day 12: Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns. Our clown weekend wraps up with Pennywise, the dancing clown. It is part coming of age tale and part monster tale. Published in 1986, the novel tells the story of a group of misfit kids and their struggle to fight off an evil entity once as children, and then again after they’ve grown to adulthood. The monster, known as It, feeds on fear and often took the form of a Pennywise the Clown in an effort to lure children to their demise. In the novel, the entity shape-shifts many times into the children’s worst fears.
In 1990, a two part miniseries was released with Tim Curry as Pennywise, for which critics praised the role. Part one reveals the events of the children in the “Losers Club” facing their fears and vowing to avenge the deaths of the neighborhood children. Entering the sewers, they confront and defeat the clown, agreeing to return should It come back. Part two details the events of the “Losers Club” as adults, having to return to town to defeat It once again.
Did you know: On the DVD commentary track, the actors note that Tim Curry’s characterization of Pennywise was so creepy and realistic that everyone avoided him during the filming.
Day 11: The year is 1995. Video gamers get their first E3, Playstation hits the market, and a few months later Twisted Metal. The game is a demolish derby with Gatling guns and missiles. The cast of deranged characters included an escaped mental patient and killer clown Needles Kane, driving an ice cream truck called Sweet Tooth. The name becomes synonymous with the character.
Sweet Tooth appears on the cover art of every Twisted Metal game to date. In my opinion, and the opinion of most critics, the best of the series was Twisted Metal: Black in 2001. Each character has a unique story, being let out of the asylum by the tournament’s creator, Calypso, and being offered whatever they desire should they win. What could a psychotic clown desire? During his failed execution, Sweet Tooth was cursed with the fire, continually burning atop his head. He wishes the curse gone.
Did you know: Sweet Tooth is the only vehicle in the series to have the same driver in every game.
Day 10: Time to lighten things up a bit with three days of clowns. In 1989, direct to video Puppet Master. Puppeteer, Andre Toulon learns the secret of life from an Egyptian and uses it on his puppets to be more popular with the crowds. Apparently the Nazis want the secret and track him down, forcing the puppeteer to commit suicide to keep the secret. The main story in most of the movies is someone controlling the puppets to do evil, only to have them turn against their master.
I also love the opening theme for the movie, composed by Richard Band. Of all the puppets, the theme fits Jester best with a whimsical, almost circus quality.
Jester tends to serve as a watchman or diversion for the other puppets, not performing the violent acts himself. The other puppets also watch out for him. Jester stands a 1’8″ and his head can spin to show five different expressions, happy, devious, sad, angry or surprised.
Did you know: Jester, along with Blade and Pinhead, are the only puppets to appear in all eleven movies.
Day 9: Ghostbusters was released in 1984, and although appearing for just a few minutes at the end of the film, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man became an iconic character. “It just popped in there… I tried to think of the most harmless thing…something that could never possibly destroy us.” Ray tries to explain what he inadvertently conjured to destroy New York. Spoiler alert: The scene begins with the impact tremors, very much like Jurassic Park as the T-Rex approaches. It’s a great opener, telling the audience and the characters that something big is heading their way. Mr. Stay Puft is the chosen form of the Destructor, an ancient Sumerian god. The Ghostbusters must destroy the otherworldly gate in order to defeat their foe, melting him.
Did you know: The “marshmallow” goo was actually shaving cream. More than fifty gallons was dumped on Walter Peck (William Atherton), almost knocking him to the ground.
Day 8: Oogie Boogie is the main antagonist in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman’s second film to hit this list. When Jack kidnaps Santa Clause, the three Halloween Town kids take Santa to Oogie Boogie despite Jack’s wishes. Shut away from the rest of town, Oogie Boogies lair is a casino/fun house lit in black light. He is a terrible gambler, often cheating to get the dice rolls he wants, with the plan to add Santa to his batch of snake and spider stew.
Oogie Boogie is basically a burlap sack full of bugs, and a few spiders, and maybe a snake or two. He is the representation of the boogeyman, and is much more evil and scheming than the rest of Halloween Town, who just want to scare people for the enjoyment of the holiday. He is voiced by Ken Page in every appearance.
Did you know: Oogie Boogie was going to be Dr. Finklestein in the suit, mad at Jack because Sally had fallen in love with him, but Tim Burton scrapped the idea.
Day 7: In honor of Arkham’s first D&D Encounters session, I’ve chosen Count Strahd Von Zarovich for Day 7. The Count is the ruler of the realm of Barovia, originally appearing in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons module Ravenloft: Realm of Terror in 1990. When Strahd was a noble mortal, he made a pact with Death, promising to kill his brother Sergei for a chance to win the heart of his brother’s fiancee, Tatyana. Strahd murders Sergei on his wedding day with unfortunate consequences. Tatyana, distraught, throws herself from the balcony of the castle and Strahd was shot by the castle guard only to rise as a vampire and dark lord of the realm. Strahd is a Lawful Evil, Human Vampire (Ancient Class 400-499 years), Fighter/Necromancer and definitely not an easy foe.
Ravenloft is my favorite D&D setting, filled with stories of gothic horror, the land is straight out of the Universal horror movies of the 1930’s. Your normal D&D monsters of orcs and dragons, are replaced with zombies and vampires. Villages and castles teeming with ghost stories, people locking their doors for fear of what goes bump in the night. I have run many an adventure in Barovia, under the shadow of Castle Ravenloft, and each time is new and exciting with a different take on a classic horror story.
Did you know: The magical mists of Ravenloft could appear anywhere in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, drawing evil-doers (or player characters) into the Ravenloft setting.
Day 6: In 1986, Clive Barker publishes his novella The Hellbound Heart. Frank Cotton searches the world for the heights of sensation when he comes finds the Lament Configuration, a puzzle box said to open a portal to unfathomable carnal pleasure. He is instead greeted by the Cenobites, who’s agreement sends him into an eternity of torment. The leader of the Cenobites is the character which is to be known as Pinhead.
Every inch of its head had been tattooed with an intricate grid, and at every intersection of horizontal and vertical axis a jeweled pin driven through to the bone. — The Hellbound Heart, Clive Barker, ch. 1
In 1987, Hellraiser is released in theaters. The film and the novella have actually little to do with Pinhead, focusing on Julia’s affair with Frank Cotton, the betrayal of her husband, and the husbands daughter Kirsty who is caught in the middle of it all. Pinhead and the other Cenobites have a few appearances serving as antagonists to Kirsty and the films main antagonists Frank and Julia. Unlike other 80’s movie monsters, Pinhead was intelligent, articulate, calculating; and like other 80’s movie monsters the rights owners decided to make too many sequels. For me, Hellraiser ends with Hellraiser II, or III if I’m feeling generous, with some interesting story pieces in Bloodlines.
In addition to providing creepy imagery and great monsters, Hellraiser I and II have great scores by Christopher Young. The films’ influence can be seen in the Warhammer 40K race of the Dark Eldar, particularly the Homunculi.
Did you know: It took six hours to apply the Pinhead makeup on Doug Bradley.
Day 5: From 1989-1996 Tales From the Crypt graced the screen with creepy, humorous, gruesome, half-hour stories, often with a twist. The show opened with the camera approaching an old mansion, through the doors and down the hallways, into a secret door and down the spiral staircase into the crypt to be greeted by that high-pitched laugh. The show’s great opening theme was composed by Danny Elfman. Each story was introduced by the Crypt Keeper, voiced by John Kassir, and most episodes contained famous guest stars/directors. Maybe it was the dark sense of humor, maybe it was the terrible puns; the Crypt Keeper made for a great host.
Tales From the Crypt was originally a bi-monthly comic published by EC Comics starting in 1950. Due to mass insanity by conservatives (“Comics are the devil.”) and an extremely restrictive Comic Code, EC cancelled the title in September 1954. Fortunately, there have been reprints on the old stories where you can also find fellow storytellers the Vault Keeper and the Old Witch.
Additionally, an animated series aired for three seasons starting in 1993, replacing the adult themes with more of a Goosebumps feel.
Did you know: It took six puppeteers to operate the Cryptkeeper during his scenes, four puppeteers alone just for his facial expressions.
Day 4: Chernabog is a giant evil demon who appears as the only main character in the “Night on Bald Mountain/Ave Maria” segment of the 1940 Disney animated feature film Fantasia. He has been praised as Disney’s best representation of pure evil, and as animator Vladimir Tytla’s greatest triumph. As a very “raw” representation of evil, he, in his original appearance, is not placed in the context of any real story, and he and his minions’ actions are not committed in pursuit of any discernible goal other than general havoc–wreaking and tyranny on all. (Disney Wiki)
Night on Bald Mountain was composed by Modest Mussorgsky in 1867. It remains one of my favorite pieces of classical music in part because I can picture the animation as I hear it. I remember watching Fantasia, back when all the Disney films were release in those giant plastic boxes, easily set apart from other VHS tapes on the shelf. The final short was always the “coolest,” with the fire and the skeletons and the demons.
You can listen here: https://youtu.be/iCEDfZgDPS8
Did you know: The words in his name, “cherna” and “bog”, mean “black” and “god” in Slavic languages.