Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I Wanna Be A Scarecrow

Ah yes, the traditional "What the hell am I going to be for Halloween?" process has begun.

Anyone who remembers last year will remember my great desire to dress as a ghost and the efforts I put forth to make that happen.  I felt it was a reasonably successful.
I also mentioned being a scarecrow last year and it was close there for a while in my head.  I've long desired to do a scarecrow costume but I honestly don't have enough time to really craft it up right.  A scarecrow costume would seem to be a simple one to do, but if you are not careful you end up looking like either a farmer or a hobo.
I want something I can like and be instantly recognized as being.  We aren't going to repeat that Beowulf fiasco of 1996...
I mean, I had a monster arm torn off at the shoulder and I was dressed as a Viking.  How could I NOT be Beowulf?
I've been cruising the costume sites and I've seen some nice masks and some not so nice masks.  I've seen some decent costumes and some shite costumes.
I've had to ask myself what a scarecrow really has to do with Halloween anyway, as I once mentioned here.
As I determined they are associated through harvests and ancient fertility rites and just being bloody creepy.  Which is good.
I like it; I can't help it.  It is "vaguely creepy".
I saw this costume for the first time this year on Spirit Halloween's website.  Deathcrow scarecrow is simple and inexpensive.  I like it, but I'd like to do more with it.  You don't really need straw and cornstalks but it certainly sells the image.
Straw and dripping eyeball really sell this image, but I'm not buying it.
I considered the very popular pumpkin-headed scarecrow but have dismissed it for two reasons: 1) I did the pumpkin-head thing two years ago (and once many years before that) and 2) I like the burlap sack head look for a scarecrow costume.
I also like button eyes.
Not button eyes, but creepy stitching and a bleeding eye.  Very nice.
Mask or costume?  Always a good question.  I have clothing bits I can use, so a mask would work, but then I will need a good mask or I will have to make one.
And won't it just be me in my own clothes?
Well, yes, but I'd add "features" like corn stalks and some blood or something.  I suppose I could make my own mask...with BUTTON EYES!
Hard to be scared of Senor Scrotum-Face
Which is a helluva lot better than this official Scarecrow from Batman mask.  I mean look at it.  It looks like a ballsack.
I also want to avoid the "friendly" scarecrow:
If I only wasn't lame...

Kinda douchy really.
Straw, creepy face, scythe, a crow...this is a good scarecrow, although failing at its primary job
But there is a variation that is more badass, seen above.
Cool and hip?
Now I like this guy (above) with his sewn lip molded face, pointy fingers and burlap hood.  It's creepy in the way that the 1988 classic Scarecrows was.

No.  Just...no.

Darn it all, but I love that guy.

I'm sure I'll make another last minute decision .

Keep your pumpkins lit, kiddies.

Pumpkin Carving

Despite the weather from Tropical Whatever Sandy ruining the shit out of our Samhain bonfire for the second year in a row, and despite the almost total lack of support from the world around, and lack of interest, and generally crap temperatures...

I'll come in again.

Despite all that stuff up there we carved two Jack O'Lanterns tonight.  Our pumpkins had been out on the front steps during the inclement weather and as it is a rainy, crisp 45 degrees outside they were quite chilled when we started to carve.

Frau Punkinstein had a particularly tough rind on hers that made delicate carving a real chore and after a few unfortunate knife moves she decided to change her plan and ended up with a very nice bat silhouette design.

I went with a silly face.  I don't plan these things, the pumpkin tells you what personality is inside and dammitall if this wasn't a happy-go-lucky Jack-O, which it was.

Speaking of Jack-O...
NOT the original VHS box art which was much more interesting to me as it featured much more Jack-O!  This looks more like a Fulci film poster.
Have you seen that film?
I rented it years ago solely on the basis of its VHS box art.  Yes, V-H-S.
It is not nearly as lame as you would expect.  Killer Jack O'Lantern man, undead warlock shoehorned into the film via the magic of stock footage of the late, great John Carradine, scream queens, 1990's sort of hard rock low budget sort of slasher vibe, heroic child...this is a classic in its way.  I'd put it in with killer scarecrow movies but Jack-O is more demon than straw man, even if he does look a bit scarecrowesque.

See you on the flipside.  Keep your pumpkins lit.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ghost Spotlight: The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow

Greetings Fright Fans.

I'm not sure when I first discovered the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, but I do know that from my young days this ghost and the story from which he comes have been favorites of mine.  I don't really know why the Horseman appeals to me, but I have long enjoyed various interpretations of the tale, an original by one of America's greatest ever writers, Washington Irving.
A card from Magic the Gathering (a Wizards of the Coast product) showing a very well done painting of the classic character and as the flavor text says...it is just what it says on the tin.
The basic story, as I am sure we all know, is that of a Connecticut schoolmaster by the name of Ichabod Crane who takes up residence in  Tarry Town in New York state, decides to woo the heiress of a vast Dutch family farmstead, comes up against her chief suitor, Brom Bones, and ends his time in the community being chased by the Ghost of the Headless Hessian and is never seen or heard from again.  Irving's particular writing style gives the tale a familiar, fireside spook-tale feel and it is telling that it is still enjoyed today both in its original form and in several adaptations on the big and small screens.  There have even been comic books based on the tale, so well-written is it.

I don't remember what the first version of the tale was that I encountered.  I believe it was either Disney's version found originally in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad  or the made-for-television version from 1980 that starred Jeff Goldblum as Ichabod Crane and Dick Butkus as Brom Bones.  I confess I enjoy both.  When Sleepy Hollow (directed by Tim Burton) was released I was most impressed thanks to its captivating style, story, and gorgeous visuals.  There have been many other works based on the short story and I have enjoyed many of them.
From the Wizard's of the Coast website, this is the 3rd edition DnD horseman.  It's okay.
The Headless Horseman- Not the main character of Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the Headless Horsemen is certainly the draw for the audience and the main event as well.  In nearly all the subsequent adaptations of the work the Horseman is the character around which the tale revolves and even though Ichabod Crane is essentially a more important character to these works, it is the Horseman that we all remember time and again, and that includes the Tim Burton version as well.
In character the Horseman is a ghost, said to be the spirit of a Hessian soldier that died "in some nameless battle during the Revolutionary War," and nightly rides forth from his grave in search of his missing head, carried away by a cannonball.  The Horseman rides, as his name suggests, a horse (called a goblin horse by Irving on several occasions) and in his one appearance in the story (which might have been Brom Bones) carried what seemed to be his head on the pommel of his saddle, but was later revealed to be a pumpkin, or so it appeared the next day.

Most Hessian soldiers wore blue coats and calf high boots, it would seem, but this is of little consequence to the story as the Horseman is supposed to be a ghost and can dress as he likes.  In most film adaptations the Horseman wears black.  It's slimming and fashionable any time.

The Horseman as he appears in Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow taken from the comics adaptation.  This Horseman was famously played by Christopher Walken with teeth filed to points, a gigantic longsword and attire reminiscent of fantasy leather armor.  In Burton's completely supernatural tale the Horseman is definitely a ghostly force to be reckoned with and the minion of a powerful witch.

The Headless Horseman from AD&D 2nd Edition Ravenloft setting.  Throughout the Ravenloft setting one can find characters from literature and film (gothic horror and more modern cinema horror).  This Headless Horseman rides the roads between the realms followed by the severed heads of his victims.  A pretty intense villain but under-used I'm afraid.  Surprisingly his picture looks more traditional than one would expect from a fantasy game, but then Ravenloft was not the usual fantasy setting.

The Horseman from Disney.  This version of the Horseman is simple, hardly more than a black silhouette, but the purple cloak, the red-eyed steed and the flaming pumpkin, along with its being one of the first depictions in moving pictures, makes for an iconic Hessian.

So enduring is the Horseman in popular culture that he appears as a unique monster in World of Warcraft...and that's about all I am willing to say on that subject.

John Quidor, a personal friend of Irving, produced an iconic painting depicting the Horseman wherein he looks much as we would expect a Hessian to look in dress.  This is perhaps the original defining picture of the horseman.  Note the colors of the clothing and that the pumpkin is not carved into a Jack O' Lantern.  The Hessian's horse's wide-eyed look is a bit comical, I think.

Fantasy artist Frank Frazetta went with a rustic, old America charm for his take on the Galloping Hessian.  This is a very detailed painting and very good in my opinion.  The horse looks a bit out of sorts but I like the expression on the pumpkin's face.  An odd, but interesting choice, was to simply create a flat featureless surface for the neck.  Not quite what one would expect from a body that had its head carried away by a cannonball.

This old issue of Classics Illustrated is one example of the Headless Horseman in comics and a simple but decent cover to boot.

The second issue of Eternity comics two part Headless Horseman miniseries.  This story was a departure from the traditional version but a good tale all the same.  The covers are in color but the interior art is all B&W.  I like the look of the Horseman's black cavalry outfit, although it is of a style more reminiscent of the later Napoleonic era or even the American cavalry of the Old West period.  The wispy flaming face I am less keen on.  If I remember correctly this version actually makes Brom Bones into more of a hero.

There many more versions of the Galloping Hessian in art, music, film and print, but I think we've seen enough for now.  A little research will reveal that headless ghost figures, including mounted headless ghost figures are not uncommon in legend and story.  There is something of a universal appeal to them wherever people have heads and ride horses.  I won't say the Headless Hessian of Sleepy Hollow is the best, but he was the first I encountered so that puts him head and shoulders...well shoulders at least, above the rest in my book.

Long may he ride.
Keep your pumpkin (heads) lit.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween Album Review: Halloween's Gravest Hits

Spooky?  Ooky?  Lappadookie?
This little gem I picked up from my local library after hearing several tracks while listening to Pandora: Halloween's Gravest Hits.
From it's EC Comics inspired cover to its interior art and yes, even its music, I call this one a winner for your Halloween musical needs.  The tracks on this album are all previously released material and all quite old.  I consider this a major plus, by the way.  The cover of the disc clearly states "Resurrected From the Capitol Crypt" which again has the EC flavor and lets you know what you are getting.
Visual Aid!

1. Thunderstorm (sound effect), 1961 EMI records
2. Monster Mash-Don Hinson and the Rigamorticians, 1963 Capitol Records
3. The Twilight Zone-The Ventures, 1962 Dolton Records
4. Spooky Movies-Gary Paxton, 1963 Capitol Records
5. Squeeky Door Open & Close (sound effect), 1961 Capitol Records
6. Dracula's Deuce-The Ghouls, 1964 Capitol Records
7. The Munsters Theme-Jack Marshall, 1964 Capitol Records
8. Castin' My Spell-Johnny Otis, 1959 Capitol Records
9. Ghostly Sounds PT. 1 (sound effect), 1961 Capitol Records
10. Hearse With A Curse-Mr. Gasser & the Weirdos, 1964 Capitol Records
11. Werewolf-The Frantics, 1960 Dolton Records
12. Riboflavin-Flavored, Non-Carbonated, Polyunsaturated Blood-Don Hinson and the Rigamorticians, 1964 Capitol Records
13. Creaking Door (sound effect), 1961 EMI Records
14. The Lurch-Ted Cassidy, 1965 Capitol Records
15. Fear (Main Title from "One Step Beyond")-The Ventures, 1962 Dolton Records
16. The Graveyard Shift-The Ghouls, 1964 Capitol Records
17. Howling Winds (sound effect), 1961 EMI Records
18. The Stroke of Midnight
19. Opening Castle Door
20. Wrought Iron Gate Squeak & Close
21. Stairs Creeking
22. Squeak One
23. Squeak Two
24. Ghostly Sounds PT. 2
25. Ghostly Sounds PT. 3
26. Ghostly Sounds PT. 4
27. Ghostly Sounds PT. 5
28. Ghostly Sounds PT. 6
29. Ghostly Sounds PT. 7
30. Ghostly Sounds PT. 8
All Bonus Tracks 1961 EMI Records

All in all it is a good disc.  I like the old surf rock spook tracks quite a bit.  The weak point for me is "The Lurch", which is just not a good song musically speaking.  The tracks represent the work of rotating studio bands like the Ghouls, which was a Beach Boys side project as I understand it.  I don't like the Beach Boys at all, but I dig these tracks.
I loathe sound effects tracks.  I absolutely despise sound effects discs.  A sound effect is a great thing when used properly but too often on these Halloween discs the sound effects are comprised of one or two good spooky sounds and a bunch of pointless noise tangentially related to Halloween.  Storms, rain, bubbling cauldrons and then something like "gasps and shrieks" that sounds more like an asthmatic running a footrace in high humidity.  If used properly a sound effects disc can make your front yard haunt seem all the better and moody, but too often it is just put the bloody disc on repeat and listen to sounds that pull you out of the haunt mood.  When interspersed through a disc it can provide a flow and feel that makes the whole album feel organic, but again that is too often a failed attempt.  I am ambivalent to the sound effects cut as tracks between the songs and as for the bonus tracks...well I don't feel like it was much of a bonus.
There is an expanded version of this disc available on Amazon with a purple cover vice red that I have not heard but would like to do.

Give it a shot and keep your pumpkins lit.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pirate Costumes-Creaking Rigging on the Midwatch

Don't breathe, mates, for there be spirits about on this vessel.  Ghost pirates...the very concept should chill the marrow in yer bones.  No good can come of it, I'll be bound.
Why ghost pirates?  Why not?  It is Halloween we are speaking of, and it is a time for ghosts and goblins and spooks of all sorts.  Pirates might have inspired terror in their day, but today they are just so much fan-fic fodder.  Ghost pirates, into which group I include skeletal and zombie pirates, and any other horrific take on the classic form.  I likes pirates I do and I likes monsters.  Combine them and you have a winner in my logbook any day.
Our first trio of spooky pirates features a Wicked Neverland Captain Hook.  Say what you like about Captain Hook, he's pretty cool.  The Disney cartoon incarnation from Peter Pan is sort of sissy by pirate standards, but the character is at heart a nasty, villainous pirate.  The Wicked version above has a mustachioed skull face and a stylized skull hook for a hand.  I like how the blade-like hook juts from the mouth of the skull.  The skull motif epaulet and tattered jacket are very good as well.  The kicker-boots are a bit jarring, but it is a good costume all the same.
The fellow in the middle has an uninspired jacket and trousers and the one gloved hand and one skeleton hand are an asymmetrically unpleasing combo.  The only good part is the slightly oversized skull with its raised eyebrow ridge.  I like the smirking nature of it.  It is Jack Sparrow's swagger without the swishing.
On the right we have a more serious looking skeleton pirate.  It is a decent costume with a washed out look and plenty of bones.  It may lack style, but you could work with it.

Of these three I put the clear winner as the ghostly buccaneer amidships.  Larboard we have a decent boney buccaneer, but note that the face is done in make-up, which is something you'd have to do yourself.  If you lack the skill or are allergic this would be a disappointing costume indeed, but a nice skeleton mask (a basic one would do) would make this a fine choice.  What I like best is the gauze torn shirt and the trousers.  It fits no specific theme or time but can be for any of them.  The costume highlights the bones, which is where the spook-factor comes in.  Get some top-notch accessories and this beats a Jack Sparrow any day.
The cigar-chomping, hook-handed swab in the lower right is my least favorite of them all, but it has appeal.  The gauze is what makes it work, lest it look like a cheap mask (a mask indeed, but cheap it is not).
The ghostly fellow dead center requires a bit of accessorizing to work.  The costume itself could be paired with a mask of some sort (skull, demon, ghost, etc.) to make a frightening variation, but to go the standard route you'll need some sort of make-up kit.  It is a shame the hands are not done as well, but then a creative and skilled artist could work wonders with the attire.  A zombie parrot would be a welcome addition to any of these costumes.
This is not a costume but damn it all, that is how a ghostly undead pirate should look.  If you could pull off that look you'd be the star of any pirate party, Halloween or no.
I'd put him up against Barbossa (cursed, obviously) any day and Blackbeard'd never stand a ghost of a chance.  Have him skewered in a brace o' shakes, he would.

Make your heading north by north-east and set a course for Nassau, lads; we've finished this cruise.

Keep yer pumpkins lit.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pirate Costumes-Accessorize! Work it, girl!

Avast mates, we've weathered the worst of the storm but we're not clear yet.  We've a lee shore and treacherous sailing ahead still.
A primer
We've talked about the basics of pirate costumes in both history and traditional American Halloween, but we should look more closely at those accessories that really make the costume work.  Take a look at the picture above.  That collection of pirate accessories is really all you need to be recognized in costume during Halloween.  You could put on a pair of sweat pants and a white t-shirt and as long as you had the basic accessories you'd be recognized as a pirate at Halloween.  Conversely you could have a beautiful coat, waistcoat, slops and buckle shoes and people would wonder what you were supposed to be.
As bad as those items are on the picture above, they create instant recognition of your buccaneer status.  The waistcoat or vest is almost guaranteed to get you in, especially if it is gauche enough to sport the old skull and crossbones.  I wouldn't be caught dead in it, but hey, what pirate would.  (Well, all of them, logically)
Hands on hips not the best look for a pirate trying to be intimidating.
Perhaps you feel like you need a puffy shirt to sell the pirate look.  I do not recommend it.  The two gents above have chosen a puffy shirt, hat and eye-patch look and nothing else.  Yes, just slip on your flared club pants and your puffy shirt and spend the night by the punch bowl talking like a twat and saying arrrgghh.

The two pictures above show a really nice bad-ass set on the left, with stylized eye-patch, cutlass and hook, again all you need to say, "I'm a pirate of no great skill or luck," and on the right is a Jack Sparrow accessory kit.  No, really.  See, if you want to be Jack Sparrow you can purchase a Jack Sparrow costume, but all the little details will not be provided.  This proves that costume shops are also into piracy.  I'm pretty sure that the furry thing is an official Jack Sparrow merkin...but then I don't go to those kinds of parties.

Hah hah hah...so you are on a tight budget, eh?  Down to yer last few doubloons and need some new kit?  What you see above is the most "affordable"* pirate accessories in any port.  You can tell they are pirate accessories because they have the old Jolly Roger on 'em.  I'm pretty sure they are made of plastic and denial.
Where would a pirate be without his weapons?  We all know pirate weapons of course thanks to television and movies: the cutlass, the pistol, um...that's it right?  Well, no, it isn't.  As I've said so many times before it depends on location and time period.  The sword of a pirate is essentially a hanger of some kind, but it need not be a cutlass.  A land fighting buccaneer could have a backsword.  An Elizabethan sea dog might have a rapier.  Pirates might use boarding axes, pikes, knives, clubs, or even a marlinspike or gaff.  Of the selection above I fancy the fantastical cutlass (middle, second from left) for looking badass and the Disney Blackbeard Sword of Triton on the right.  Weapons are one area where I like to go large.  That being said, I will forgive a non-accurate, historically speaking, weapon if it looks good.

Here's fun: Pirate Masks!  You don't have a beard?  Don't want to wear a fake one?  No problem, buy a mask.  Of these masks you can see that only one looks human (and that mask-glove-shirt combo on the left is wretched I might add).  The reason for this is the wonderful undead pirate concept.  POTC did it and made it look great, so why not give it a go, yeah.  1 is pretty bad, though.  The mask is subpar, the gloves look crap and the beard on the skull is just wrong.  I'm not saying you can't have a bearded skull (well, yes, technically you can't, I know) but if you are going that route wouldn't a grizzled grey one look better?  This particular undead pirate looks as though he's just used a comb through hair dye.  Is he going ashore for wenches and wishes to cut a more dashing figure?  Who can say?  And if you find someone who can, get them to explain why his eye-patch is so raggedly torn open.  (Yes, I know, so the wearer of the mask can see...but it can be hidden so much better).
How about #2?  I like it.  It's cheeky and fun.  Here the classic pirate headscarf, earring and patch are paired with a stylized skull.  It's a great mask but it would need a costume.  It deserves a good one, but a classic striped shirt and torn pants would probably work just as well.  Waistcoat is optional.
Now #3 is a fine mask indeed.  It is gruesome and horrid and wonderfully nasty and it extends to the chest, so you can get that all over effect.  I like the hat as well.
4.  The less said the better.
Shiver me timbers and all that rot.
And with that we are primed for our last installment.  See you on the midwatch, mates.

*read: shittiest

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pirate Costumes-2 Bells

Batten down the hatches, things are getting rough out there.
Oh do me a favor...at least try.
Egad!  It's the Pirates of Not Too Much Effort!  Each of the gentlemen above is in a costume that just doesn't cut the mustard with me, I'm afraid.  Take a look at A.  I sincerely hope that is a wig.  Even if it is, the whole thing is just bad.  The hat is too small for one thing, the mustache and goatee and shirt...hell the whole thing..is giving off a musketeer vibe.  You could use that costume if you were going as Ritchie Blackmore, if were thus inclined.  Now with B we see the decent start of a Dread Pirate Roberts costume (again with the Princess Bride references?), but it looks as though the guy either lost interest halfway through or couldn't find a good mask.  Need I mention the boot toppers?  I do like the two guns vice a sword thing because it is a different way to do the pirate trip, but the whole thing fails to say "pirate".  Out of respect for some friends of mine I won't tell what it does say.
C is bad and were it not for the conspicuous skull and crossbones motif on the scarves you wouldn't even know it was supposed to be a pirate costume.  It is more of a 80s hair band look.  I think this guy was actually going for a hair band costume, maybe Trixter or Warrant, and then he took a tube steak to the eye and had to wear a patch, at which point someone said he looked like a pirate and the costume was born.  I do like the stripey pants, but the boot toppers are shite.  So let's skip on to D.  Ah, the "classic" pirate look of striped shirt and faux wearing in giant triangular cuts for the pant legs and shirttails.  Oh, Poseidon, lord of the deep, drown this wanker.  This costume in a combination of several classic kiddie pirate costume bits all thrown together in the wrong way.  The boot toppers, which do not meet the trousers really sell this picture, don't they?  I don't know what is better the big skull and crossbones belt or the headband.  Daniel-san, I teach pirate, you learn pirate.
Because I said it couldn't get worse...
Ye gods!  That other batch may have shown no effort, but this lot has...and in so doing has managed to somehow be worse.  Nay, they are the WORST I COULD FIND.  I realize that seems like hyperbole, but trust me, these are the worst that I could find given the amount of effort I was willing to put forth.  Things like this sap the will, you know.
From the left: Wow.  The whole thing seems to be made from pantyhose.  We've seen the faux tattered pants before and even shirts, but now witness TATTERED EVERYTHING.  Perfectly tattered.  Somebody went buck wild with the pinking sheers I can tell you.  It's horrible.  Just horrible.  But hey, no boot toppers.
Cruising along toward the starboard, amidships if you will, we have...what is that?  It's shiny, it's silly, it's...I don't know what.  As though the diaper on the head and giant eye-patch were not bad enough (and they are) what really sells it for me would be the two toy cutlasses.  Oh yeah, very intimidating to be sure.
Finally we have Captain Soap Opera.  He really does look like the sort of pirate you see in soap opera flashbacks and dream sequences.  Yes, I have found a pirate costume so crap it couldn't even be on the cover of a cheap romance paperback.  It looks like felt and tatters and the best bit is, if you look beneath the boot toppers...yes...Cowboy Boots!  Yee Haarrgggh.

You might be thinking that you could do better.  I assure you that you could.  Of course if you've a mind to make a costume and be either a classic Halloween pirate or a historically accurate pirate you will need accessories.  Maybe you have some of the gear already (from those Ren Faires you go to) and you just need a few things to "complete the look".  Fear not, for in our next installment we will discuss accessories.  Frankly this is a necessity since none of the costumes I've shown you thus far come with all the little fiddly bits that really make it work, such as it is.  Purchase any one of the costumes I've shown you and you will find yourself missing at least a third of the "good stuff".  You'll have shirts, vests, coats, pants but no earrings, beards, hats, swords or guns.
Be brave and sail on with me, won't you?

Where's my pumpkin?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pirate Costumes-1 Bell

Make our heading south-by-southwest and furl the topsail, we've more pirate costumes to discuss.
In the matter of pirate attire the question of coats, waistcoats, both or neither is a reasonable topic to consider.  As we saw with the Jack Sparrow costumes BEFORE, a pirate look can be achieved in different ways simply by varying your upper body attire.
Pirates in coats
A is horrible.  The coat option is a good one for cold weather locales during Halloween as it keeps you warmer than the no shoe, waistcoat and headband options.  There is a certain logic to a pirate costume, or any costume for that matter.  You have to decide how you are presenting your subject matter.  In the case of pirate costumes consider that you are not out to sea (unless you are at a party on boat, which you could be, how would I know otherwise?) but indeed ashore.  Your pirate look would be most appropriate as the pirate or pirate captain shoregoing rig, yes?  Sailors, and thus pirates, would have their normal workaday set of clothing and then a better set for going ashore.  The coat, boots/shoes, fancy hat and jewelry look does have its place as an interpretation of a swaggering, successful pirate ashore.  That being said, A is like a pirate that wants too badly for you to realize he is a pirate.  Sure, I can see that on some sort of recruitment drive, say gathering up a crew at Petit-Goave, but even then adorning yourself in skull-and-crossbones motif is just trying a bit too hard, wouldn't you say?  Also I think the mustache is far more Wyatt Earp than pirate.  The lacy jabot shirt front?  I don't think he's recruiting for a crew.  Oh, he's looking for some men and there will be booty...
B is clearly going for the Blackbeard angle and it is not bad.  The black and gray color scheme is a bit severe but imposing.  The hook hand is cool and sets him apart from the basic pretty-boy pirates we've seen thus far.
C has me confused.  On the one hand the stylish waistcoat faux gold trim and red sash add a splash of flair and the eye-patch is classic Halloween pirate.  There are no questions that he is a pirate.  The shirt is more nonspecific medieval fantasy and the trousers are just loose like sweats.  The boot toppers ruin the look I think.
D is just crap.  The velour trousers, the big black doo-rag, the crappy boots and pseudo-Sparrow wig all combine to make this character look like a polyester poseur.  The coat would look better on a highwayman or Regency gentleman.
That first guy is totally going to try and sell you pizza.
Still want a coat but don't like the first set of options?  Why not go for more of a Captain Morgan look?
These three options are inspired more by a rum bottle than a film idol.  The first is wearing shoes.  Blessing of Heaven...shoes!  The buckle look is due to an accessory that you add to regular shoes, rather like spats, which make them pass as buckle shoes at a distance, in the right lighting or if the observer has been drinking.  The stockings and short pants really sell the look but then you get to the cummerbund the whole thing starts to fall apart.  The coat is not bad (nor is it good) and I really think the eye-patch and mustache combo is going a bit far.  Man I hope that is a false mustache.
The second guy is just a twat.  He looks like one of those town crier guys you see in European tourist towns (or at Ren Faires).  The too bulky closed coat, shapeless indeed, is clearly meant to hide a lack of accurate garb beneath and he suffers from SPBS (shitty puffy boot syndrome).  Thankfully he's got that drunken douche face and fake rum bottle to help "sell" it.
I like the guy on the far right; I can't help it.  That's a nice outfit.  The flare in the blue overcoat, the gold patterned waistcoat and the frills on collar and cuffs (yeah, those are attached to the waistcoat and jacket respectively) make for an authentic looking pirate ashore.  This particular costume is called Cap'n Cutthroat and will set you back about $170.  It does have it's drawbacks of course.  That's not a hat, for one thing.  It is a "headpiece".  It is open crown.  Such a nice coat and waistcoat, but you get a tiara?  Sod that.  A costume like that with shoes instead of boots and you'd be on your way, mates.  The eye-patch does add some flair.
Maybe coats aren't your thing.  Maybe you live in a warm climate even in Halloween season.
Maybe you are just pro-waistcoat.
A bit hot out here for a coat, don't you think?  
If your pirate is going into action but not ashore you might say a coat is too much.  That's when you go for the waistcoat look.
Check out the bloody buccaneer on the left.  Yarr, there's a pirate.  Cutlass and gun are a nice touch and the all black look is intimidating.  Not accurate, but intimidating.  Of course the beard doesn't look too good and the boot toppers are showing the laces of the sodding shoes!  Very poor costuming.  Lest you think this costume is a good choice I should tell you that according to the product description it does not come with "eye patch, facial hair, gun, sword, pants or shoes." But hey, you get those crap boot toppers.
The other guy comes with everything but the pants (and shoes beneath the boot toppers).  It is not a bad look, being somewhere between classic literature pirate a la Treasure Island and classic Halloween pirate look.  If you dressed in that fashion people would know you are supposed to be a pirate.  Uninspired pirate, but a pirate all the same.

Steer a course for the worst of the storm and let the winds blow...things are going to get charybdic.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pirate Costumes-8 Bells

Ahoy, mates (look, I'm afraid there might be quite a bit of this nautical language throughout these pirate posts...so bear with me).

Here begins our exploration of pirate costumes for Halloween, a vast subject indeed, so keep a weather eye open and let's turn to, handsomely now.

Jack Sparrow
We might as well start here, with Jack Sparrow.  Due to the overwhelming presence of Johnny Depp and the unexpected success of the POTC franchise, Jack Sparrow has become for the modern audience what Long John Silver was for previous audiences, that is to say, the default celebrity pirate.  As such your Jack Sparrow and Sparrow-inspired options are many including licensed, unlicensed, and knock-off options.

Two true costumes here.  Each of these is a very nice Jack Sparrow option.  They look great, but take warning, many of the items pictured don't come with the costume itself.  You will need accessories, including the footwear and the whole package is likely to set you back a few hundred bucks.  The coat on the left is the more complete picture, but he is wearing the hated BOOT TOPPERS!  The boots on the right are at least a hundred and a half so really your whole outfit could run you $300+.  You don't have to go "official" however. Oh no.  There are options.
Mock Sparrows
These three above are what I call "Mock Sparrows".  With their dreadlock wigs and gypsy looks they invoke the idea of Jack Sparrow without having to actually look like Jack Sparrow.  Ah yes, the unfortunate conflation of gypsies and pirates is perhaps the most damming of all the Sparrow Sins.  Huge hats, scarves, braided beards and all manner of jewelry and "rock star" attire, including eye shadow make these fellows less pirates and more prostitutes.  A is not too bad.  He's far too happy and he has boot toppers that do not match his shoe color in any way.  B is clearly Mia Sara of Legend "cleverly" disguised as a pirate, no doubt to escape the attentions of Matthew Broderick.  Mia has chosen, instead of boot toppers, to wear some sort of puffy false boot, which actually manages to look worse than A's mismatched footwear choice.  I'm not seeing pirate so much as rent boy.  C is very likely comedian and filmmaker Sacha Baron Cohen (look carefully now) and is not a bad costume either.  Remove the sash, the braided beard and the wig and you have a decent coat, waistcoat, frilly shirt pirate.  A little too slick, but hey, not bad.  Of these three C's boot toppers are the least offensive but also the least piratical.
From "lovable" rogues we move to "heroes"
Jack Sparrow began not as the be-all end-all of pirates, but as the roguish mentor to Will Turner.  In Will Turner we had a more traditional pirate film type of hero.  In the pirate films of yore the star was often not so much a pirate as a privateer or adventurer or even a victim of circumstance keeping his heroic code while walking the line of piratical activities.  Men like Henry Morgan and Francis Drake, adventurers and privateers were the model of the pirate heroes of old and this is the style of pirate we see in the picture above (the Fabios).  Simpler in design and attire without the gypsy locks and jewelry, free of the eye shadow and devilish grins.  Yes the guy on the left looks like the pirate you see on countless romance novel covers bearing titles like Her Pirate Passions or The Buccaneer's Wench and his look makes a good gateway to bring us from the Jack Sparrows to the Heroic would-be Will Turners.
The key thing about these three is the simplicity of it all.  Puffy shirts, tight trousers, boots (toppers) and maybe a sash.  These are the heroic types evoking Errol Flynn.  They are decent enough with the right accessories, although they guy on the right is just boring.  He could be the hero in any number of made for SyFy movies set in non-specific time periods or fantasy worlds.
I'd even use that as a basic Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride in a pinch.

Never fear, mates, they get better...and worse.

Keep yer punkins lit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

22 things I learned about Mexico

1. Outside of the resort area of Cancun the Yucatan looks like North Carolina, sometimes Pungo and very often P-Town.
2. South Park is still funny in Spanish.
3. They still have the WB, vice the CW, and it sounds so much more dramatic when the announcer says, "Somos Warner!".
4. If you give them USD they give you back Pesos and their personal exchange rate is based on convenience.
5. Tamarind tea tastes lovely.
6. There is an amazing amount of Scottish people on holiday in Cancun.  They burn easily.  It is amusing.
7. They drive very fast and whip round traffic, but don't seem to have much road rage.  I put this down to the Jesus medallions hanging from the rearview mirror of all the taxis.
8. A taxi driver will take you anywhere for "5 dollars" whether it be 20 miles or 4 feet.
9. Everyone in Cancun pronounces "Virginia" as "Birginia" but people from Mexico City say "Vir-hi-nia" and that sounds a bit naughty.
10. Iguanas don't give a shit about you.  They sit in grassy patches on the side of the road unconcerned with your endothermic arse.
11. You can, if you so choose, purchase silver, hand made jewelry, Cuban cigars, marijuana, cocaine, Viagra, and/or prostitutes from a nameless guy on the beach.
12. When you cross state boarders the Army will try to hold up the bus driver.
13. They have a "Police Touristry Department".
14. They put pico de gallo on hot dogs.
15. The Spanish word for Hot Dog is Hot Dog.
16. The bus driver interprets your hotel's location "as the crow flies" not as is convenient to your getting to the front door.
17. You can have "Beef Tips Mexican Style" for breakfast.
18. It is fun to barter with a street vendor but you still pay too much.
19. If you don't know how much something costs it is 20 Pesos.
20. Lupina is the nickname for girls named Guadaloupe.
21. My name does not translate well.
22.  There is a bloody Starbucks, Margaritaville, Hard Rock Cafe, and McDonalds everywhere.

And 1 thing I learned "in" Mexico:
23: People are people no matter where you go and regardless of your nation's political and economic views the free market is alive and well in the hearts of mankind.

Light a pumpkin, mates.

Pirate Costumes-An Introduction

Greetings Halloween Fans.
Who doesn't love pirates, eh?
One of these two is a pirate...the other is not.  Can YOU spot the difference?
Pirates have been hot ever since Johnny Depp sashayed onto the dock of Port Royal in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl although in all fairness they were hot before that as well.  Hollywood went through a NO PIRATES phase for several years as the films just weren't money makers in a world jaded by explosive action movies.  POTC:CotBP brought new life into the pirate genre, which was a good thing, but with it came the inevitable slew of disease infected poo-water following in the wake.  After the surprise success of POTC any, and I do mean any, material related to pirates, no matter how tangentially, was published, filmed and merchandised.  This pirate renaissance also dramatically increased the variety, availability and popularity of pirate costumes for Halloween.
The pirate costume is indeed a perennial favorite of American Halloween costumes going back to the days when children made their own outfits from whatever they had about the house.  As a result of this long standing tradition coupled with the pre-POTC popular image of pirates in literature and fiction, a basic attire was formed that made the wearer instantly recognizable as a pirate.  The common items found in early pirate costumes were: gold hoop earring, stripey shirt, tattered sleeves and trouser cuffs (usually in a ragged, oversize triangular pattern), vest, head scarf, fake beard, eye-patch, and perhaps a hook-hand.
Where did these uniform items come from?  What does a real pirate look like?
Somewhat accurate depictions of pirates
Above are some pictures of real pirates from history.  Not a hook-hand or eye-patch between them, I'm afraid.
The problem, as I see it, is that we don't have accurate pictures of pirates from their own eras.  What we do have are engravings, woodcuttings, and paintings made after the actual persons pictured were dead, in most cases, and often published in contemporary works of the time.  The best-selling The Buccaneers of America (1st Dutch edition 1678) by Alexandre Exquemelin was a contemporary look at piratical activities in the Caribbean from a first-hand perspective (and incidentally the subject of a libel suit by one of its subjects, Henry Morgan).  Most works about pirates are not first-hand accounts, are not written contemporary to the subject matter and are of dubious authenticity.  Add to this the fact that most famous pirates were pirate leaders.  We remember the exploits of Bart Roberts, Henry Morgan and Blackbeard because their stories were told, printed, read, and retold.  These were bits of sensationalist literature.  As a result we don't really know Tom Cooper the angry seaman turned pirate who held no rank at all on a sloop that encountered no great trouble and died of too much drink in Tortuga.  Why should we?  How could we?  We occasionally know a quartermaster, but this is almost always because that quartermaster would go on to be a pirate captain later.  Thus the image of pirates we most commonly have is of the fanciful pirate captain or of the dirty sea-roving rogues we encountered in the painted plates published in Stevenson's Treasure Island or even in Barrie's Peter Pan.
Scottish Pirate Heavy Metal band called Alestorm, seems fairly accurate to me
So how should a pirate look?
Pirates looked like sailors from whatever era they happened to live.  Sailors have long had a distinctive look, often going shoe-less aboard ship and in the warm Caribbean wearing very little.  They have tanned skin, tarred pigtails/ponytails, they may indeed have tattoos.  In the era of the buccaneers there are three distinctive looks: the true buccaneer who wears animal skins and lives on Hispaniola (and surrounding isles); the sailor; and the Henry Morgan type of adventurer who organizes them (in which case the buccaneer looks more soldier than sailor with bucket boots and a buff coat).  Of course a Chinese pirate or Barbary corsair would look period and culturally appropriate to their time and place.  Even Christians who "went Turk" and joined the corsairs would be expected to dress and look like their Ottoman shipmates.
For my own part I can say that a pirate should not wear boots.  Boots are the footwear of landsmen and soldiers.  Pirates should wear shoes or no footwear.  If you are going for a Henry Morgan style buccaneer by all means wear boots.  I'm not even sure how boots became the default fictional pirate choice of footwear given that the classic fictional pirates of Barrie and Stevenson wore shoes.
Trouser choices are also a bit controversial.  The "traditional" sailor trouser would be slops in the Blackbeard days and knee-length cuffed trousers in the Morgan days.  In the picture of Blackbeard at the very top we see slops.  These loose fitting, flared trousers stop between the knee and the ankle, usually mid-calf.  Vertical strips are entirely a matter of personal choice.
Shirts can be trouble.  Collars, no collars, frilly cuffs, no frills, laced, not laced, the choice of shirt usually has to do with time period, but the classic striped shirt is not usually on the list.

In the coming posts I will explore your costume options on the market today, including accessories and...(gag)...BOOT TOPPERS!  (I despise boot toppers).  Boot toppers, in case this term is new to you, are really gaiters.  These gaiters are slipped over the trousers and rest atop the shoe, often laced tight, to provide the look of a boot.  To pull off the illusion successfully the shoe color should match the topper and laces should not be seen.  Unfortunately boot toppers for pirate costumes, are often decorated with skull and crossbones motifs.

Keep your smoking lamp lit.

Break time over

So I've just gotten back from my vacation to Cancun and as a result I have not posted in a week or so.
I will rectify that now.  And in keeping with the Caribbean spirit of my trip, my post will meld Halloween and the beach...

Oh, and I got purified by a real brujo, so that was nice.

Keep your sugar skulls colorful.

Friday, October 12, 2012

More Solomon Kane

Following upon my previous post about finally getting to see the feature film Solomon Kane I want to delve a bit into the character himself.  Trust me, I will make this appropriate to Halloween somehow.
Monsters most likely.

The character of Solomon Kane is, nominally speaking, a puritan wanderer who lives a life of grim contemplation and action.  In this manner he is similar to the character of Conan of Cimmeria, the most famous of R.E. Howard's creations, who he preceded in creation and print by several years.  Looking at the work of R.E. Howard we see a number of iconoclastic heroes that all share a similar set of attitudes and values, most common being a grim attitude, a sense of personal freedom, a mistrust of the decadence of civilization and self-reliance.  Writers discussing Kane have noted that although he is a Christian and man of faith who should eschew violence, he is drawn to it and seems to put himself into situations that lead to the inevitable action for which we read the works in the first place.  Howard set his Kane stories on Earth in the late 16th and early 17th centuries he includes enough supernatural elements to qualify them as fantasy stories, though not the sword and sorcery that would mark his most famous creation Conan.  In a Solomon Kane tale one will often find sorcery and plenty of swords, but the magic is usually less fantastic.  One thing that you can count on is an air of the supernatural and often there are monsters or spirits.  Later writers taking up the task of creating new Kane works seem to enjoy the monster aspect very much and there is usually a good chance that any Solomon Kane story in comics that is not adapted from a Howard short story will have a strong supernatural element to it.  In this way Solomon Kane stories are not unlike horror stories, albeit horror stories with a strong hero to beat back the darkness.

Indeed I think it is the supernatural element that makes the character so interesting to me.  Well that and his setting in general.  I have a particular affinity for black powder weapons and swords, so how can I not enjoy such a character?  I also think that the puritan aspect, though only a minor detail, adds to the character immensely.  I'm not speaking of turkey shooting, native abusing, religious miscreants here, but rather a certain somber individual stand against the most powerful socio-political organization of his age.  You know, the stuff of heroes and all that.  Be that as it may, back to the monsters: Solomon Kane fights monsters both human and not human.  We live in an era where we expect certain visual cues in our heroes and we love a gimmick.  If we did not there would be no steampunk.  We often associate heroes with some signature weapon or item, but Kane's signature weapon is not guns or swords or even that stunning hat (I love the hat), rather it is his indomitable will.  In a good supernatural horror story the monster is often overwhelming in some way, immune to normal weapons or just plain impossible to overcome by mortal means.  Vulnerability is the key to horror and Kane is certainly a mortal man, but his will is such (or I could say his faith, but some writers have argued that it is less faith and more personal strength of character) that even if he does not come out victorious he comes through.  In his time he has faced necromancers, ghosts, vile men, werewolves and African vampires and in later expanded works all manner of demons and monsters.  If that doesn't make for good seasonal reading I don't know what does.

Keep your pumpkins lit.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Go Go Boots o' Doom!

This is part 3 of Zombie Hippie Massacre 1966.  Part 2, in case you need to catch up, is available HERE.

The Thanatobiblion, Gallowes thought (you thought I forgot), foolish New Agers playing with forces they do not, nay, cannot understand.  But is there something more here?  To translate such a tome requires a learned individual indeed.  I would not be the least bit surprised if there were not an evil mastermind behind all of this.
But who could it be?  The Fantome Gris, that would-be world conqueror?  The Reconstructionist, that angry Yankee who sought to destroy what remained of the South making economic slaves of the Free Peoples?  Old Mr. Jenkins, whose amusement park was to be torn down by the Big Company Corporation?  Who could say?
Must...get...to front...door
Gallowes made his highly destructive way to the front door.
I hope the owners have good insurance.
And thence to the yard.  A brief zombie respite as Gallowes trod along making his way to the back of the spacious yard.
I think I saw this on Supernatural one time.
Something was not right.  "The Blue Oyster Cult?  But BOC's first album won't be released until 1971...either there has been a total temporal breakdown in this area or these hippies have been undead far longer than I first suspected!"
"I must get to the family crypt and find the talisman to end all of this," Gallowes said.  And what happened to my internal monologue...oh, there it is.
It is moments such as this when "day for night" shooting would come in handy.
As he crossed the backyard, seeing the all-but-drained decorative fountain and pool, he spotted it: the Family Crypt.
Easy Peasy, pop inside, get talisman, end hippie zombie menace, go bowling.
At last, the Crypt.  Gallowes paused for a moment to recall a previous adventure with an underground world domination group and their high tech tools...
Nope, apropos to the present in no way whatsoever.
This adventure was nothing like that, so it really didn't apply.
As he stood musing a figure exited the crypt.  Honestly, it would have been in his best interests to not wander off into the land of memories at such a dramatically critical juncture.

Hello, my old nemesis!
"Go-Go Gertie, the Mod Witch!", Gallowes gasped in surprise.  "I did not expect you of all people."
Heh heh heh
"Did you not?" Gertie asked.
What did I just say?
"Well, no, hence my previous statement.  If you check above you will see that I thought you might be The Reconstructionist or Old Man Jenkins.  You never even crossed my mind."
Hell hath no fury...
"Ha!" Gertie spat.  "That's not surprising.  Typical male!"
Innocent face
"Is this about that Salem thing?  I mean, I really didn't expect..."
"You stood me up, you prick.  I swore then and there that I would have my revenge!"
"So you summoned the Hippie Dead, knowing that I would come here on Halloween, just to trap me because I didn't make a date?  That's a bit pathetic, you know that, right."

"Typical; you think this is about you.  Your egotism and vanity know no bou...hey, don't walk away from me!"
Gallowes had better things to do.  If Go Go Gertie wanted to raise the dead with an ancient talisman that was fine by him.
"You won't be so full of yourself when I am through with you, buddy boy.  Face the dual wrath of my new boyfriends!  Billy, Billy, destroy him!"
Aaahhh filthy serape!  Oh, and a machete.
Twins of evil!  Billy and Billy, two less than bright but exceptionally mean hippies appeared from behind the crypt and attacked the lone Punkin Cowboy.
That was my favorite shirt, dick.
Blood covered the ground as the Billies and Gallowes fought.  Despite her obsession (yes, OBSESSION) with our hero, the evil (or at least annoying) Gertie seemed singularly unimpressed by the conflict.  It was all she could do to let out an evil hiss or chuckle.
At least they are frozen in Good Humor.
"Clearly you don't care much for these boys.  And honestly, two of them?  And you call me egotistical?  Ouch, well I guess it's time to end this nonsense."  Gallowes unleashed his super-icing lighting smash, turning Billy (and Billy) into statues of frozen waster.
Gertie realized her scheme was undone.  She screamed in frustration, but without her army of politically misguided social miscreants and her Twins of Stupidity, she was powerless.
"I still have the talisman," she laughed.
"Yeah, about that...it's not so much use when it has been Zapped," Gallowes said and shot a bolt into the artifact.  The talisman hit the ground a smoking ruin.

"Nooooooooooo," Gertie cried.
Gallowes turned and walked away, quite satisfied with himself.
"I'll have my revenge yet!"
"Let it go Gertie," Gallowes said as he left the grounds.
"Don't turn your back on me!"
"I can't hear you, la la la la la la."
Victory and Happiness
The Haunted House was again safe, but for how long.

Keep your pumpkins lit.