Friday, October 28

CDP Wayback Machine - Halloween Humiliation Edition.

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(Originally published October of 2005.)

When I was in Kindergarten in 1986 or 1987, it was the school's policy to have everyone in the building parade around each other for the afternoon. Every year, all the kids would dress up in their favorite Halloween costumes, and show them off for the remainder of Winneconne Elementary to view.

I think the big thing in the mid-80's was the California Raisins, so there were a lot of kids in purple-face, wearing garbage bags stuffed with newspaper. This was not only sad and lazy on the part of the parents, but also a tad racist. I never quite jived with the thought of 4 overweight prunes donning sunglasses and singing soul tunes. Maybe I'm just sensitive; after all, it was the most successful marketing campaign in fruit and vegetable history.

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Anyways, my Mom was far too refined to send me to school wearing a garbage bag. Man, I was set. Today, I was Sylvester the cat, complete with full costume and a giant head. I looked like the mascot for a football team, that's how rad this costume was. Screw the plastic masks with the cheap rubber band and staple, I was going for broke this year. If this didn't score me some more friends, I didn't know what would.

On the day of the parade, I brought my amazing costume, neatly folded and packed in a paper bag, and placed directly under my hanging jacket in our cubby section along the wall. There it would sit, unassuming and quiet, waiting patiently for the afternoon to arrive to spring itself free from the bag and blow the minds of about a thousand educated minds. I felt like a suicide bomber before the big moment. Before you could say "Allah," the afternoon was upon us.

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Frantically, the entire Kindergarten class darted over to the cubby, tearing their meager raisin costumes and cheap masks out of their tragic paper bags. I sauntered over slowly, as to not draw too much attention to myself. The time for that would be soon enough. As the dust began to settle, I strolled in and started looking for my costume.

But...I couldn't find it.

The bag that I thought it was in was empty, and all the other bags seemingly belonged to other kids. After a thorough check of all the bags again (thorough for a 5 year old, mind you), I realized that my awesome Sylvester costume was no more. It was either stolen or had simply disappeared.

Again, being a refined and dedicated parent, my Mother was actually there as a chaperone for the proceedings. She asked and re-asked me if I was absolutely positive that my costume wasn't over by the cubby. I gave her my word that it had dropped off the face of the Earth. Suddenly I went from almost being the coolest kid in Kindergarten to the loser without a costume. Something needed to be done, and my Mother was getting a bit frantic.

Mrs. Broderick, my Kindergarten teacher, had a plan. "We have some spare costumes in the closet," she said, doing her best to make the most of a bad situation. She was an amazing teacher, and away she went, digging around to find something for me, just minutes before the big parade.

"Here we go," she said. "Try this on."

"This" happened to be the saddest looking dog costume I've ever seen. Yes, a dog costume. Why someone would neglect a costume like this, leaving it for dead in a Kindergarten closet for 80 years was beyond me. Oh, wait, it was because the costume sucked a boatload of ass.

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Imagine the cheapest Halloween costume you can think of. Good, now pretend that it's of a dog. Okay, good. Now cross-breed that dog costume with a clown costume, make it horribly ill-fit and make it orange and yellow striped, and you're getting into the ballpark of what this costume looked like. It certainly didn't look like something a dog would wear, but the mask assured me that it was indeed a canine outfit. Perhaps this particular dog worked at a circus or something, but I was really in no position to ask questions. While my Mom literally held back tears of embarrassment and anger, I slipped into a skin-tight circus dog uniform.

(INTERMISSION.)

A dog walks into a hardware store and says, "I'm looking for a job."
The clerk says, "I'm sorry, we don't hire dogs. Why don't you work for the circus?"
The dog looks at him and says, "What would the circus want with a plumber?"

(END OF IMTERMISSION.)

Okay, back to the story.

So, furious, sad, heartbroken and humiliated beyond my wildest dreams, I was forced to get in line with my friends and respected quad-partners, and parade this obscene costume in front of every single person in the school, grades K through 8.

Peering at the other kids through the tiny plastic slits in the mask, I didn't know if they were making fun of me, or just didn't recognize who I was. For a fleeting moment, I was on top of the world. I had everything I needed for a successful afternoon, and in less than a minute, everything came crashing around me. Instead of going out with a bang, I was wishing to God that I would turn into a California Raisin.

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It didn't happen.

I learned a valuable lesson that day, at the tenderest of ages. Life is hard. Nothing should be taken for granted. If you think that everything's going to go well, that's going to be your first of many mistakes. Billie Joe Armstrong says, "Don't pat yourself on the back, you might break your spine." Well, on Halloween 1987, I gave myself a Christopher Reeve-style thrashing.

It was one of the worst days of my entire childhood.

So, after the parade, everyone was changing out of their costumes and getting ready to go home. I was peeling the circus dog outfit off of me, dripping with sweat and failure, when my Mom asked me a question that I'll never forget.

"Hey, what's in that bag over there?"

I don't think I have to tell you what I found in it.

Happy Halloween. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, October 27

The CDP's 24 Hour Halloween Movie Marathon.

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Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, here are 14 great Halloween films to watch over the course of 24 hours, right down to the minute. If you're looking for a scary movie marathon with your friends, cats or merely a bucket of Sour Patch Kids and deepest regrets, the CDP has you covered.

Honorable Mentions go to Seven, Race With The Devil, Rear Window, Poltergeist, Halloween, Psycho, Scream, Nosferatu, The Blair Witch Project and Frankenstein. Feel free to add these films if you ever wish to hold a 48 hour marathon.

Let's go.

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NOON – 1:36pm
Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

Might as well kick things off with a masterpiece. You'll soon see that when it comes to scary movies, I tend to stick with the classics, and Night Of The Living Dead takes residence in my Holy Trinity of Horror Movies.

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1:36pm – 3:27pm
The Omen (1976)

They don't make movies about Satan like they used to. Enjoy the Missus' choice for her favorite scary movie, and one of the only 'demon possessed kid' films that matters.

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3:27pm – 5:22pm
The Ring (2002)

The newest film on this list by a long shot, I argue that the American remake of The Ring is not only better than the original, but one of the top 10 horror movies of the last 10 years.

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5:22pm – 6:46pm
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

By now, the sun should be going down, so what better time to take in Movie #2 in my Holy Trinity of Horror Movies? Endlessly influential, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre spawned countless (for better or worse) knockoffs.

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6:46pm – 8:45pm
The Birds (1963)

One of three Hitchcock films I considered for this marathon, The Birds is a perfect example of mixing brilliant direction with suspense, mystery, and everything else that makes Hitchcock one of the greatest of all-time.

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8:45pm – 9:49pm

Freaks (1932)

Not 'scary' per se, but an absolutely essential movie to locate and view, if only because the concept (legit circus freaks murder a scheming trapeze artist and her strongman boyfriend) is guaranteed to never see a camera lens ever again. You'd be thrown out of Hollywood for even pitching it.

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9:49pm – 12:13am
The Shining (1980)

The Shining gets a prime timeslot in our marathon, and I consider it more than worthy. One of the most artful films of the genre, and featuring a legendary performance by Jack Nicholson.

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12:13am – 1:55am
The Burbs (1989)

After the emotional annihilation of The Shining, watch the criminally-overlooked comedy, The Burbs. I don't know why; maybe it's because the movie never quite decides what it wants to be (dark comedy, horror, spoof), but it's honestly one of my favorite movies ever. Due to the Missus not sharing my sentiments, I only watch it once a year with her, right around Halloween.

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1:55am – 3:42am
The Changeling (1980)

I watched The Changeling for the first time a couple of years ago, and it took me completely by surprise. George C. Scott is (predictably) fantastic, and the slow burn of the first half will suck you in and claim your emotions for the twisted climax. A really good, classic paranormal film, and I recommend watching it as I did, with no reservations of what it was supposed to be about.

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3:42am – 5:40am
The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

The influence, legacy and memory of The Silence Of The Lambs cannot be overstated. The only 'Horror' movie to ever receive a Best Picture Academy Award, it seemingly does everything perfect, creating a very real, very grimy world of serial murderers, psychological manipulation and the best leading cast in the history of the genre. Not just a must-see; but a must-own.

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5:40am – 7:18am
The Eye (2002)

For my money, one the best of the 'Asian Horror' films, The Eye takes an interesting concept (woman accidentally goes blind and can now see the dead), and sprinkles all sorts of Asian cinematography dust on each frame. Like The Changeling, The Eye snuck up on me, and if you're the kind of person that doesn't need wanton gore to be interested in a scary movie (like me), this should do the trick.

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7:18am – 9:34am
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Horror movies from this era did two things I really liked: First, they mentioned Satan a lot. Secondly, movies were allowed to end badly, meaning that main characters were killed, the bad guys got away, and in the case of Rosemary's Baby, the seed of the Dark Lord was planted in Mia Farrow. If you haven't seen this one by now, you may want to remedy that. Dark, looming, paranoid and remarkable.

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9:34am – 9:58am
Trilogy Of Terror – ‘Amelia’ (1975)

So, we've almost made it through the 24 hour marathon. Chances are a lot of your friends have fallen asleep, the DVD player is smoldering and you're almost completely out of Zagnut bars. What better time to watch the iconic final short film from Trilogy Of Terror, where Karen Black is terrorized in her apartment by a Zuni fetish doll come to life? Trust me, it's awesome.

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9:58am - NOON
The Exorcist (1973)

Here we are. The final piece of my Holy Trinity of Horror Movies, and without question the greatest (and arguably scariest) horror film ever made. The Exorcist wins, and most other arguments exist only because said curmudgeon doesn't want to accept that such a popular movie is also the best. It is. Nothing else comes close. Even at 10am, even upon the 20th viewing, it'll send you reeling.

Just to be sure, I re-watched The Exorcist shortly before I put this list together, and you know what? It was better than I remembered. If you've never seen it (or haven't seen it in awhile), it's more than Linda Blair flopping around on a bed (which she does brilliantly, I might add). The real star of the film, Jason Miller, does a masterfully understated job as Damien Karras, a priest losing his faith and wracked with guilt at the recent loss of his mother. An early scene with him visiting his mother at a psych ward was particularly unnerving. Also, Ellen Burstyn plays the role of Regan's mother with just the right combination of terror and frustration. There are no 'unbelievable' characters in this movie, and considering the subject matter, that's pretty unbelievable in and of itself.

The influence The Exorcist continues to have on horror is undeniable. Moments like listening to Regan's speech backwards, or the hospital surveillance footage of her mania are surprisingly contemporary. Finally, this movie is, at the end of the day, a huge victory for Catholics. I'm surprised they don't play this at least once a year during mass (okay, maybe not, but still).

The Exorcist earned a whopping 10 Oscar nominations, winning two. With a gross of over $450 million, it's also one of the most popular films of all time. Finally, The Exorcist was named 'Scariest Movie Of All-Time' by Entertainment Weekly, IMDB, Movies.com and AMC. Not too shabby. It's also on Netflix streaming in HD right this very instant, so give yourself a couple of hours and watch it tonight.

The marathon is over. Change your pants and get some rest. Sound off in the comments section, let me know what your marathon would look like and enjoy your day. More Halloween stuff tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 26

See You In Your Nightmares!

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(This pretty much explains it all, doesn't it?)

Considering that Halloween is my favorite holiday, you’d think I would have written about it extensively by now. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this last week, and concluded that while I grew up with many fun and memorable Halloweens, none of them are really interesting or unique enough to elaborate upon in depth. I grew up in a microscopic town, my cash-strapped family made the majority of my costumes (see the unfathomably tragic photograph above), and as I lived 30 minutes away from school, I didn’t spend the evening with my friends until much later on. It was usually just my parents and I, hitting up friendly faces for no more than a couple hours a year.

On one hand, it was beautiful and picturesque. Halloween in Winchester (Population: 700 at most) was as you would see it portrayed on an ABC Family movie, or The Adventures of Pete & Pete. The weather was perfectly cool, each yard was decorated meticulously and the children were free to run and roam as they pleased until late at night. On the other hand, it was brief and isolated. Once you were done with a certain street, you either had to be driven to another spot in the town, or you were just done for the night. Outside of visiting a few stray relatives, Small Town Halloween was relegated to a quarter-mile stretch of land. Exciting land, but extremely limited nonetheless.

I went to school in Winneconne (Population: 2000), and their gridlike streets and dense population of children in the late 80’s made it fertile ground for creating Halloween memories. That being said, I never spent a year trick-or-treating there, due to some longstanding feud between my mother and the Village itself. More than likely, her anxiety caused her to avoid any circumstance where she may have had to knock on the door of a former classmate. The first time I was able to celebrate Halloween in Winneconne with my classmates, I think I had a Learner’s Permit.

Very early on, I was able to travel to the town of Dale, where the family grocery store was located (see above). Dale is an almost comically small town, but their main drag of taverns and banks allowed for rapid candy accrual and consumption. Often times in my older years, I would stay home and rig up our front yard in an attempt to scare visitors. One year, I made a dummy out leaves, pillows, old clothing and a hand-painted basketball, and proceeded to heave it off the roof at trick-or-treaters. I was allowed to do this approximately once.

Perhaps my positive memories (like most aspects of my life) have more to do with the overall mood and media portrayal of the holiday than anything personally tangible. My happy nostalgia doesn’t necessarily lie in the house-to-house trips, copious amounts of candy or even what I was allowed to wear. It lies more in the advertising, movies and electric aura of Halloween.

Next to Christmas, Halloween is a holiday that you can feel in the air more than any other, and it’s a feeling you can take with you forever, even if the parties I attended were never as cool as the ones I saw in Kit-Kat commercials. As is usually the case with advertising, the products never made my gatherings as interesting than the ones on television. I sometimes think about going overboard on decorations and inviting everyone that I’m even passively fond of to my house in an attempt to recreate that magic, but the dorks would probably just end up standing around the kitchen or smoking on my deck. Nothing I do is ever appreciated as much as I’d like it to be.

With that in mind, here’s what you can expect to see on the CDP in the next few days.

For the remainder of the week and into Monday, we’re going to dig into equal parts personal and commercial concerning my favorite holiday. Tomorrow, I’ll compile my 24 Hour Halloween Movie Marathon. On Friday, we'll (re)revel in one of the most humiliating moments of my life, which just so happened to take place on Halloween. Finally on Monday, I’ll let you read my long-lost Halloween novel from 1990, and that's going to be awesome for you, incredibly embarrassing for me.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day.