Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Weird Western Halloween: An Introduction

Ah the Western, the piece of American cultural myth that is almost completely lost to us today.  What does it have to with Halloween?
Well this season I propose to explore it and maybe we can come to a consensus on the subject.  Reckon we better git started if we're gonna make any progress at all.  Saddle up, and let's hit the trail, pards.
VHS box art for Ghost Town (1988 Empire Pictures)

The Western genre was once amazingly popular in American culture.  Westerns were prominent in early television and radio programs and definitely popular in film.  In some ways this is probably because the Old West wasn't yet that old.  We can say that the Wild West, the Old West, ends shortly into the 20th century.  The West was America's Frontier.  A frontier is the region of your nation that is not yet "civilized", or tamed and the region just beyond it.  It is the wilderness, full of danger and promise.  By the early 20th century with railroads and automobiles, the loss of aboriginal lands and finally airplanes we'd conquered the frontier.  A frontier no more.  This is not to say that the American landscape was one big paved road flanked by suburbs.  Indeed in rural areas all over the nation even as late as the 1950s there were families living on homesteads without indoor plumbing, without televisions, and certainly without HVAC.  The Old West just wasn't that old yet.  Cowboys were a popular topic for genre works and shows such as Rawhide (1959-1965), Gunsmoke (1955-1975), Bonanza (1959-1973), Death Valley Days (1952-1970), and Wagon Train (1957-1965), to name a few, where beloved by young and old alike.  Some shows, like Gunsmoke, had started out as radio programs, and there were several Western genre radio programs that never made the transition as well.  Need I even mention the Lone Ranger?  An intellectual property that was found in film, radio, television, cartoons, and comics.

In the world of print the cowboy or western was popular in comics books, themselves an outgrowth of pulp magazines featuring stories of adventure, mystery and imagination.  I cannot even begin to list even a fraction of the many western titles that have come and gone since the 1930s.  Before astronauts the American kids had cowboys as heroes.  Before (and after) Kal-L rocketed from doomed Krypton to become Earth's Superman, there were a slew of often interchangeable cowboy and gunfighter heroes for the kids to read.


It all starts with the Dime Novel.  Well, really it all starts with the folktale, but the Western really comes into prominence when oral culture gives way to print.  Similar to the Penny Dreadful, the Dime Novel was a relatively cheap (in both cost and quality) fictional novel marked by lurid tales of melodrama.  The West was one of many such genres of Dime Novel, but it had a great appeal to people back East.  Past the Mississippi, where the Frontier began the world was unknown, harsh, untamed and violent, and stories of the men and women who tamed it by blows and force of will made for exciting reading to an urban population.  Of course the Frontier wasn't really as lawless as the stories made it seem, but nobody wants to read boring stories about digging wells and building cabins.  The late 1880s saw the rise of Wild West Shows (Buffalo Bill Cody's signature show being the best known today...Cody even toured Europe and received much acclaim from the Royal Family of England), and these served in no small part to paint a colorful, if wildly inaccurate (or at least hyperbolic and apocryphal) picture of life on the Frontier for the tenderfoot Eastern audiences.  Even while the West was still being won, the legendary West, the Wild West, was a popular subject for fiction.  From the Dime Novels came the Pulps, magazines full of adventure, spies, detectives, and not a little sex (tame by modern standards) and from this, indeed from the publishing houses themselves, came comics.  It was only natural that comics would feature a plethora of westerns.
Women Outlaws #1 (1948) case you wondered what sparked the creation of the Comics Code.
The media tie-in is nothing new either.  Famous television and film cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers (and that Lone Ranger we mentioned earlier) would be the heroes of comic books as well, often featuring photographic covers but fully drawn insides.  The stories were simple to write and easy to read; naturally kids (and some adults) ate them up.  A western was often the easiest of movies to film as the natural features of desert were considered the ideal backdrop.  For plot a studio needed only some rustlers, train robbers, or bank robbers and a hero or two and the story was practically told.  Throw in some savage Indians and it was as easy as pie to knock out a Western picture for the crowds.  A proven genre, easy to film, the money guaranteed it would work.  As noted above, the Old/Wild West really wasn't that long ago either.  People could drive along Route 66 and see the desert, still largely empty of civilization and feel the pioneer spirit if they were so inclined.

In terms of genre the Western married well with action/drama and comedy, but could sometimes cross over into science fiction or even occasionally ghost stories.  After all, what is a campfire tale without a little spooky subject matter as the coyotes howl on the lone prairie?  Yet what was the Western, really?  It was myth.  It was the American Myth.
The word myth is often maligned, used as a pejorative for something that is untrue.  This is a disservice to the word and concept.  Myths aren't just stories.  Myths are stories that serve a purpose.  They explain beliefs, customs, ideals, and are culturally relative.  Just because they are proved to not be the reason for something in a purely scientific sense, does not destroy their value; they still serve cultural purposes.  Legends are similar to myths in that legends tell a culture a story that has relevance to it.  Ultimately both words derive from Greek words (mythos-a tale or story; legein-to say) and show us the importance of stories to a culture, indeed to the human psyche.  The Western is our American myth of how we formed our great nation out of a rough frontier.  It tells stories of rugged individuals standing up against threats to forge the American ideal.  Yeah, in a way its all bullshit, but nobody wants the truth.  Truth is ugly.


Which brings us to today and what all this has to do with Halloween.
In 1935 singing cowboy Gene Autry starred in The Phantom Empire, a serial about his cowboy, Gene Autry (played by Gene Autry) who sings and runs a dude ranch (so a contemporary Western) and ends up clashing with an underground empire that has ray guns and robots and all and was the remains of an ancient pre-Ice Age civilization.  Was that sci-fi or western?
It was both.  Genre crossover is nothing new.  Pulp magazines, which featured some of the early pre-Sputnik science fiction, even the work of E.A. Poe, these things worked in the fantastic and before the Fantasy genre became all dragons and elves and shite that meant things that were fantastic.  Genre crossover was long a common thing.  The true origins of the Weird Western are lost in the pulpy pages of the past, but today we know it is a genre wherein the Western is combined with some other genre, typically fantasy, sci-fi and horror or were the Western provides the trappings for one of these fantastic genres.  We could argue that the Western always had this potential anyway.  Like I said, campfire tales are no doubt places for a good ghost story and the West had just as many spooky locations and ghost tales as any other.  Where people gather the supernatural is never far behind.  Weird Westerns also easily cross over to Steampunk, indeed the line is often quite blurry, given that Steampunk defaults to the Victorian Era which is the same time as America was having its Wild West.
the Ghost Rider #2 (1949).  Covers like this promised more than the usual rustlers and robbers western fare for a public that had seen a man from Krypton fly.

The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1993-94), The Wild Wild West (1965-69), DC's Weird Western Tales (1972-1980), the Ghost Rider (Magazine Enterprises, 1949, later used by Marvel as Phantom Rider), are some examples of the Weird Western.  The PEGinc RPG Deadlands, the "spaghetti western with meat" is the ultimate example of the genre when all possible weird derivations are included.

If you can combine monsters, vampires, aliens, sorcery and ghosts (and maybe a little Lovecraftian cosmic horror) with a cowboy, you have a weird western on your hands.  The horror western sub-genre of the weird western is ideal for Halloween-time.

That's what we are going to explore this season.  The Weird Western in all its Weird Spooky Glory.

Saddle up, pards, we got pumpkins to light!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Rook Eats a HA1LOWEEN Whopper

Today I decided I had to try the HA1LOWEEN Whopper from Burger King.  I do not have a particular desire to eat an A1 burger or a bun baked with A1 in it, but I do have this thing about Halloween themed products so I purchased it for my dinner.
Space Kitty will not touch it, so she had a Whopper Jr.

Here we see the wrapper.  I like the wrapper.  It's a mummy, which is Halloween only in that it is a monster, being of the Egyptian Adventure sort of setting.  But what of the thing itself?
The actual burger I ingested today.  Not a model or promotional image.

Well, it's black and a bun.  I am not fool enough to think the actual product is ever going to look like the promotional pictures both because I watched an insider show on food modeling when I was a teenager AND because I used to do the food modeling at the Hardees where I worked when I was in college.  Still, it could have been a little nicer looking, I think.

Taste:  Well, it's a Whopper that tastes of A1 sauce.  A bit tangy.  A decent burger for a Whopper.

I did have a pinch of the bun first, just for a taste comparison.  As for baking A1 into the bun, meh.  It's a minor addition to the overall flavor profile.  The taste of the inside of the burger is more powerful and obvious than any extra bun flavor.

It turned my tongue black.  That's a cool Halloween bonus.

I doubt I will find myself having another during the limited run as I just don't go to BK that often and it was not a taste explosion that demanded more of my cash.  It is also not quite gimmicky enough for a Halloween meal.

Friday, October 2, 2015

In keeping with the season...

Which is also hurricane season here, so yay...

Another ridiculous Party City mask!

This selection is a buck ninety-nine job in felt.  As in "I felt like an idiot in this mask".
Our model is once again Rook Wilder, the proprietor of the Pumpkin.  The buck-ninety-nine-line at Party City is cute, obviously meant for smaller (read: child) heads and most affordable.  It's also total crap.
Never mind the label poking up behind the stem, that's just because I am putting these things on in the store.  The overall effect of a piece of stiff felt is to wrap about the face in a flat manner and make you look like a really low-budget superhero.
Just look at my eyes.  Do I look happy to you?

I get the impression that the jagged bottom is meant to be carved teeth or something, but I'm a grownass man and lining my eyes up with the holes to see puts the "teeth" just below my bottom lip.  What would this look like on a child?
Am I suggesting you should get the highest quality for a two bucks?

I'd never be that foolish.

And it has no nose.  This is not a comfortable mask.  You'd just end up wearing it backwards for "ironic" effect or lifting it up into your hair to get more food and drink into your eathole at the party.

Save your two bucks to pay the sales tax on a better mask.

I'd say keep your pumpkins lit, but honestly your pumpkin would be standing in a foot of water if you were here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

October has arrived

The first day of October...Autumn began back in 22 September...
I chose the Frankenstein Mask for my Cryptkeeper badge this year, and I promise that will have a bearing on this year's celebrations.
And of course, bloody Joaquin is threatening to force me to evacuate before I can even get started proper.

Bloody hurricanes.

I had hoped for a surprise space pumpkin for the background this year but...

It's been raining for two weeks...I can't get this pumpkin lit.

Send a canoe.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Oh the Horror...the Horror

Stocking masks.
They are a bit weird.  See, a normal mask covers the facial features of the wearer, which can make them look a bit odd or bulky, but at least they keep their shape.

And then there is this...

Yes, that's me, in a Jack O' Lantern stocking mask I found at Party City.
See my nose poking the stocking out a bit too high?
Well I didn't have a mirror handy to situate it, but I did want to see how it would look on my head.  It looks sad.  Just sad.
I weep.

This is an example of why I would never wear a Morphsuit, by the way.  I am not what you'd call "ripped".  Morphsuits leave nothing to the imagination.  Much like this mask, which was near the Morph masks on the shelf, the fabric of the Morphsuit clings to your body tightly, but not in a slimming way.  More in an embarrassing way.
I thought I had taken a picture of myself in a similar stocking mask with a green skull print, I'm not really good with the mobile phone and the camera, completely unbeknownst to me, was flipped around for selfie mode, but I was thinking it was not in selfie mode so I had the lense the wrong way round.
Got some interesting shots of the shelves, but nothing to write home about.

Or text home about, for you kiddies out there that don't know what an actual letter is.

Seriously, look at the shape of my melon.  I look like Sloth from the Goonies.

I suspect that even if I did situate it properly my massive fro and chubby cheeks would completely distort the noble pumpkin out of anything even remotely resembling spooky.

The Horror...

Oh, and you can totally see my skull ridges too.  Stupid mask.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Scream Queens and Badges

First, got the 2015 Cryptkeeper badge for Countdown to Halloween, excellent.

Second, if you missed the premiere of Scream Queens on FOX, boy did you miss out.
If you did not see the premiere, Jamie Lee is most disappointed in you.

It is funny, and it has killing.  I don't know any other way to describe it.  Think of the self-referential humor of Wes Craven's original Scream.  It's horror and comedy, two great tastes that taste great together.  Like Jason Lives, it knows what it is, and it revels in it.  

Which is exactly the sort of thing we need as we enter the Halloween season, something that blends the elements that make for a most enjoyable, and spooky season.

Website link, in case you are interested:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Trick 'r Treat 2

Some people don't like sequels.  I do like sequels if they don't suck, but not everything needs a sequel.  Too often I see sequels that never needed to be made.
Micheal Dougherty has announced and discussed, a bit, what to expect with Trick 'r Treat 2, a film that NEEDS to be made.
Because, as we have established in the past, I love Sam!

I don't have many details, for there are not many to go on, but we are possibly looking at an anthology of four stories set in different time periods tracing the Halloween holiday itself, origins-wise, and Sam's influence in it.
As I noted in my post linked above, Sam is, as far as my scholarly mind is concerned, the spirit of Halloween itself in all its myriad forms.  I'd like to see some Sam variations in this anthology, especially if we are going back to an ancient story.  Perhaps Sam was much larger and different back then.  We know from the first Trick 'r Treat film, in the segment The School Bus Massacre Revisited, that in 1977 when the bus full of special needs children is being driven to the quarry that Sam was on the side of the road watching it go by, and he looked then as he did in the current stories (2007 was the date of the film, but let's just call it modern and be done with that), exactly.  So the Sam of the modern age is a childlike creature, placated by candy and following the rules of his sacred night.  Was Sam always this way?
Was he once a Puckish creature, more fae than demonic or perhaps was he once a fae of the unseelie court, more majestic in form but still a fright of sorts?  There are so many ways it could go and footie pajamas aren't necessarily appropriate for a story set hundreds of years ago if such a story were to be told.

As long as it is Sam, I'm good with it.  If it holds up to the quality of the original, I'm happy.

As for when we will see this gem...nobody yet knows.