Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Nightmare 2?

The Next Nightmare?
Well Zombie, actually.
Nightmare was the US title of a VCR (and later DVD) board game that came out back in the 90s (I think) where the players went around a board trying to find keys to allow them to face their worst fear and beat a sadistic host called The Gatekeeper.  The Gatekeeper was on the video tape and would pop up at points during the 1 hour game to abuse the players royally.  Good clean family fun.  Outside of the US it was called Atmosfear, which is a pretty clever title, actually.
In its basic format the players pulled numbers and tombstones blind from a bag, set up some Fate and Time cards, dimmed the lights, popped in the tape and gathered around the board.  The board was just a circle of broken tombstones with a few spots called Black Holes (into which players were put by the Gatekeeper as punishment) and a central coffin where each player would place a card upon which he or she had written their "greatest fear" in grease pencil.  Players rolled dice, moved around the circle like young Conan on the wheel of pain, and tried to not be the player currently taking a turn when the Gatekeeper popped up on the screen.  When he did he shouted at you accompanied by a thunderclap and demanded you answer him with a, "Yes, my Gatekeeper!" and then he punished you for no good reason.  Obviously the only way this works is if everyone is into the spirit of the game as the other players are responsible for enforcing all this madness.  The company, A Couple of Cowboys Ltd. (out of Australia, I believe), would go on to make 4 of these Nightmare/Atmosfear games, each featuring a different host drawn from the playing pieces of the game itself.  These characters consisted of a zombie, a poltergeist, a mummy, a werewolf, a vampire, and a witch.  If you were a monster/horror fan, this was right up your dark and dangerous alley.
The game was rebooted as Atmostfear: The Harbingers where it gave the players a little more control (and sadly less difficulty, which turned out to be less fun for me personally), and then remade in DVD format, which added a random factor that the VHS tapes simply could not have.  Two games were made on DVD.
In order to play any of the Nightmare sequels one had to be in possession of the original game, as that was where the board and pieces were to be found.  The sequels were really just a new VHS tape and some extra cards.
You can find the videos on YouTube if you are curious.
So all that long introduction over, Nightmare 2: Zombie was hosted by Baron Samedi, which was one of the playing pieces from the original game.  This one had a bit more humor to it than the first with the Baron being a jokester compared to the Gatekeeper.  His look was meant, as is his name, to invoke the Voodoo loa associated with zombies.  Let's go ahead and have a look, shall we?

And there he is.  His dusty black tailcoat and top hat are imagery associated with Baron Samedi of Voodoo fame, but he's also a zombie himself, so he's not really meant to be a perfect analog.  The Baron's personality was jovial but deadly.  Unlike the previous host, who demanded a "Yes, my Gatekeeper!" from a player when he called upon them, the Baron expected the player whose turn it was to stand tall with speed and reply, "Yo, Baron, I can dig it!" whenever the player heard a "Thrill me!" from the host.  That's actually a multi-layered joke there.  Hip lingo that hasn't been fresh since before he went into the ground, zombie, graveyard, dig it...get it?  I knew that you would.

Another feature of the VHS series that was absent from my viewing of the DVDs was the progressive changing of the host along the hour of play.  With the Gatekeeper we saw a basically normal man become more and more monstrous until finally his eyes had become demonic and his skin an unhealthy shade.  With Zombie they stepped up the game and had the Baron progressively rotting.  At first it is not noticeable, but by the end he's pretty nasty.
Starting to look a little rough there, buddy.
By this point he's pretty much full rot and hella mean.

And then there was the timer.  Each game was an hour long, during which time the host would pop up at intervals that grew shorter and shorter until it seemed he just didn't leave you alone in the last 5 minutes.  All play stopped while the host was on the screen, so not insignificant part of the challenge was in beating the clock.

And that's the clock.  When the host is not on the screen a digital display counts up the seconds and minutes you've been playing.

The Gatekeeper's timer was just an innocuous night sky, but for Zombie they went with a clever EKG readout.
Literally seconds left to go...I have seen the Baron beaten even at this late stage...once.
As the hour builds the flatline begins to change denote a beating, and then rapidly beating heart as the Baron "comes to life" in his final and most nightmarish form!  In order to win one must complete the final task of facing the fear and TURN OFF THE TAPE BEFORE THE TIME RUNS OUT!  For the record, it was Scott, who with mere seconds cut to chase and yanked the power cords out of the wall.  Decisive thinking in the face of overwhelming danger, sir.  Most decisive.
"You lose, jive turkey"
And that was the game.  In most games I'm pretty competitive and would rather have nobody win if I can't win, but I felt differently about these video bastards.  As long as one of us won, I was happy.  It didn't often happen though.  The deck was stacked well against the players and the host made for an almost real player himself.  When we realized how hard it was to simply beat the game without all the back-biting, we realized that we had a gem on our hands in terms of replay value.

As for the Baron's look itself, I quite like it.  He's a fresh take on an old rotting monster with his out-of-date hepcat jive talk but he wears a classic ensemble and rots on the screen.  If you are so inclined you can hop over to YouTube and find the music video that was on one of the tapes advertising the game and its sequels where the Baron will thrill you with his MJ dance moves as well.  Of the various Nightmare tapes, this was probably the one we played most as well, because it was truly difficult (for us at least) and had a sardonic wit about it.  Here's a zombie I can get behind.  So I say, "Yo, Baron, I can most definitely dig it."
"Nighty-night,kiddies, keep those pumpkins lit."

Monday, October 16, 2017

Zombie Shitter!

Ah, the water closet, the dunny, the potty, the reading room, the toilette (pronounced TWA-let, for fun), the karzy, the privy, the shitter, yes I'm talking about the most popular room at your party, the bathroom.  It's a functional place, really, and that's why people want to know where it is at any party.  They need relief when nature calls (or when your special Halloween 7 Alarm Zombie-pocalypse Hobo Chili recipe does its evil work making normal people feel like they have a wicked case of IBS), or need a semi-private place to do some blow to "keep this thang going all night long, yee-ahh".
So naturally you want to decorate it.  You don't want a wonderfully decorated living space and then have a boring and functional crapper.  Oh no.
Luckily your local Halloween outlets have decorations specifically designed for your most intimate of publicly accessible household rooms.  I shit thee not.
First up for all you sick puppies we have:
THE must-have ass-wiping accessory of Halloween?

Zombie Head TP Dispenser!  It's just a simple thin plastic thing you slip over your regular TP dispenser and pull the paper out through the mouth.  That doesn't make it crap or anything, but I'm sure that storing it in your attic will warp it before next year.  It always does in mine.  What person sitting in a bathroom pinching a flaming chili loaf wouldn't want a zombie face upon which to look?  Exactly.

But that's hardly enough, is it?  You can't have just one zombie thing in the water closet.  That's why you need, I say NEED, a 3D zombie toilet tank cover.  This improbable zombie is made of coated cardboard, which is good because after the 7 alarm chili incident and the vodka & red bull vomiting, you really aren't going to want to keep it.  I can only imagine that by night's end the poor guy's arms are not going to be up and menacing your guests so much as crumpled and lying on the floor.

How about an opening shocker?  This is a toilet topper, meaning you stick it on top of the seat.  So before someone opens it, or you could put it on the inside of the lid, I suppose, and there'd be a zombie head meat gazing at dudes that are trying to pee.  Of course then it would look like the lid of the can was some portal to Evil Zombie Dimension, and that's just silly.  So stick with the classic, as shown in the top right corner of the packaging.  It will make your toilet seem like a bloody zombie head is floating in it when people are drunk.  Then they will poo in their pants, and that's always funny.

I bet you thought this would be a post full of tasteless puns, didn't you?

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Zombie Costumes Spoiled for Choice?

Or just plain spoiled?
Okay, puns aside, you have so many options for a zombie costume that it boggles the mind.  Some are good, some are okay, and some are shite on a cracker.  If you want to leave your manufactured off-the-peg costumes aside and make your own, you still have lost of tools available.  You have make up, appliances, masks, gloves, and little fiddly bits the stores overcharge you to obtain.  Keep in mind that a good number of these are gauzy or shredded as with pinking shears.
So your first question really is, to rot or not to rot.  I say rot.  The grodier the better when it comes to zombies.
These are a sample of what I call "the best".  I've given them names because I have warm feelings toward them.  Eddie is actually an old classic I've seen on the shelves for ten years or more.  That's staying power and why not.  Look at the wonderful exposed bone features, the grimacing face with pits for eyes, and the tattered clothing.  To me this is classic zombie at its gory best.  Tommy is a nice variation with stringier hair and more skull.  Less of the red blood accents, but that's quite alright.  Cliff is a newcomer to the bunch and the clothes work in gauze more than I'd like, but that's quite a good mask and the whole picture just works.  Any of these, or something like them, and I'd say you are a success.  Cliff gets bonus points for the lack of shoes.
Here we have a not-so-good selection.  Look at Heinz there.  This goes back to what I've been saying about a zombie just being a person that is undead.  He was going to Oktoberfest, he got zombified, decided to go anyway.  The half mask is minimal effort, the gauze on the costume serves no purpose and the lederhosen are just wrong.  While a knee-length lederhosen is fine, the tattering argues that these are not the proper length beforehand.  Father Funk there, well he's got a good mask, but it's just zombie priest.  We've seen it before, try a bit harder to be edgy, 'kay.  Street zombie over there is nothing you could do cheaper and better with your own clothes.  I just don't understand our Roman zombie.  If you have the build for a gladiator why go the zombie route?  That's a $73 costume and that's without the sandals, helmet, shield, and sword.  To top it all off, you need make up because, expand and look closely, that's not even a mask.  Sorry kids, this is not a costume, it's a tease for a costume.

Now these two are quite fun.  Why must your zombie be super gross and scary?  How about artsy, cartoony, and funny?  If your choice is between one of those embarrassing costumes like Oktoberfest zombie and Plants v Zombies, go with the big head cartoon.  Pop art zombie is a nice way to fit the theme and stand out from the crowd, but you must be willing to wear a bit of make-up and have the skills to do the line work.  Still, it's a fun option.

Kids actually look pretty cool as zombies.  I think it is because the proportions are scaled down for kids, but kept as adults.  Essentially they are all munchkin zombies.  This is a representative slice, but dig it, you have kid versions of many of the adult selections and in the case of homeless street hoodie zombie there in the bottom left, I'm given the award to the kid.  He looks 1000% more zombie than the adult model. Here we have zombies from all walks of human life, a couple of medical professionals, a homeless guy, a ninja...
Okay, let's be fair.  I did say you could combine zombie with anything, right?  Well once, when I was a wee kiddie, I combined werewolf and Ghostbuster.  That's just how kids think.  Zombies are cool.  Ninjas are cool.  You know what would be really cool?  Zombie Ninja!  If you are an adult doing this it better be superlative.  I mean it, it better be triple A choice, only for the professionals and executives.  I'll let a kid slide on a stupid mask, but not an adult.
Which is why I'm not having a go at our Zombie Southern Belle over there.  Here's a little secret info for everyone, a lot of little girls like to be pretty and glamorous.  Yeah.  It's not all playing in dirt and arguing for rights and stuff.  Here's a costume that takes glamour and marries it to zombies.  I think it's both a winner and a loser, to be honest.  Southern Belle, Louisiana, voodoo, classic zombie (that is, not rotting), but it could also be a ghost with the gauze and white make up.  Let the kids be kids.

I almost didn't include these examples because they aren't zombies and because they are crap.  Sorry, but it's true.  They are, however, part of the whole zombie thing.  Post-Zombie-Apoc Hunters.  Again this is nothing you couldn't do for yourself and likely better.  Most of what you see is not the costume, rather you see lots of accessories you must pay extra to obtain.  Look at our tweenage hunter girl.  Axe included?  Nope.  Boots?  You're kidding, right?  What about Mr. Five-O'Clock-Shadow there?  Did he kill a zombie and then shrink the head?  No other way to explain the hatchet.  Really he's just a douchy cowboy with some blood on him.  I might forgive it on a kid, but not an adult.  Really, outside of films made for SyFy channel, how often do you see this sort of zombie hunter?
Let's close out this article with a helpful anatomy lesson, shall we?
I realize not everyone is as devoted to costuming as, say, myself.  I'm no cosplayer, but I appreciate creativity, effort, and style.  Many of your store bought options have at least one of those qualities, sometimes two, but many don't.  You get what you pay for, they say, but sometimes what you pay for is total crap.  Here is a case in point.  Everything about this costume just screams lack of effort and style.  From the poor quality fabric that clings in all the wrong places and does not sit properly to the stocking mask and gloves, this is bad.  Stocking masks and gloves have been popular for some time now, and I can understand the reason.  They are cheap to make, lack all durability, and thus have a nice profit margin for the manufacturer.  When you go to grip things your fingers don't quite curl correctly and for your head, well nothing says immersion-breaking like realizing that your zombie has no ears, hair, or line of demarcation.  Avoid at all costs or become a laughingstock fit only for mocking.  Besides, you are going to pull that mask off 5 minutes into the party to eat and drink and your hair will be all wet with sweat.  Not fun for anyone.

That about wraps it up for zombie costumes, kiddies.  You have many choices and we didn't even look at masks and make up.  As always the choice is yours, but I implore you to choose wisely.

Keep your pumpkins lit.

Friday, October 13, 2017

How the Mighty Hath Fallen: Jason Voorhees

When I was a kid Friday the 13th was THE franchise that dominated horror pictures.  In the first half of the 1980s there was an F13 film every year, only slowing down in the latter part of the decade.  Along with A Nightmare On Elm Street's iconic villain Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees owned the decade for horror.  I am an admitted fan of the Halloween franchise as well, and I do like the Chainsaw franchise, but Jason and Freddy defined and redefined, respectively, the slasher villain and the genre.
We've never had so much merch as we do now, including Halloween costumes and decorations, but I seem to remember-through the nostalgia fog, of course-that the costumes were somehow better in the olden days.  Back then if you had a hockey mask you were Jason, period.  There were Freddy and Jason costumes, of course, and knock-offs as well.  In this day and age I expect you can find some of the highest quality costumes for these icons.
It turns out I am dead wrong about that.
Such a legendary figure of horror and what are our options?

That's about it.
Look at those sad bastards.
On the left is what appears to be an attempt at capturing the Jason look from the 2009 remake.  Sure, I guess.  Jason doesn't have an iconic sweater like Freddy or a standard mechanic's overall like Michael, so you have some freedom to work.  That can work against you, though.
I'm not sure what the right side costume is supposed to be.  I think it looks slightly better, but it just sort of says, "Jason" vice trying to hit a single film look.
When you are the costume or creature designer for a film, I expect you have quite a piece of work cut out for you.  After all, you need to make your signature villain recognizable but you don't want to go overboard and give him a ridiculous look.  This is not Riddick we are talking about here.
You could probably, as a fan, create an awesome look, but you'd need some gear and the ultimate piece of gear, the centerpiece if you like, is the mask.  A good old hockey mask.
These are not good options.  They are cheap, but they don't look like anything.  They sure don't look like hockey masks.  Why is the glow-in-the-dark option cheaper?
I will give some grudging credit to "Ice Rink Raider".  It's far and away from Jason's classic look, but it has an appeal of it's own if you just want to work with the psycho slasher in sports gear theme. These are well groomed killers too.  Just look at the coiffure on the first guy.  Clean cut killer.  That's flash.
Fun Fact: Jason did play a sport as a child, but it was tether ball and I'm not sure that counts.
Fun Fact: I just made that last fact up.

Now here's a combo for you.  The mask is official licensed stuff, but I've seen it in person and it's a soft, flexible thing, not a rigid piece of face protection.  As such it deforms to the head and that detracts from the look.  Oh for a good costume.
The hockey jersey is just right out, friends.  At no point in a Friday film would Jason stoop to such a poor joke as to wear a logo of himself.  This is a feral killer that was raised in the woods of New Jersey, not a superfan from Red Bank.  If you pair that mask with that jersey you've not gone meta, you've gone douche.  This makes me sad.
This is not cute.  This is just wrong.  Look at his eyes.  Look how sad he looks.  He's just tired.  This is not the role he expected he'd play in life and his rage has led him to murder your other lawn gnomes.  This is your classic part 3 to 4 look for Jason.  I get that Jason's look is not so easy to pin down and only hardcore fans would go the extra mile, but this is one of the greats of the genre.  Jason was, for many an adult of today, a beloved bogeyman of their youth.  It was a coming of age, cutting your teeth sort of thing.  You watched them on television sometimes, edited sure, before your parents would let you rent them, then you got to watch them for reals.  It was a major part of growing up, like getting your learner's permit or that embarrassing junior high dance where you said you were "going stag" because, honestly, nobody would go with you and you had to salvage your pride.  Jason was the image of a generation.  A horror icon deserves better, but what better way to sum up how this icon has fallen from greatness than a sad lawn gnome?
Okay, I'll admit, this is actually pretty cool.
Yeah, a candy bowl.  Jason does not give out candy.  Jason derives no pleasure from sugary snacks.

It's all in fun, right?
Okay, in fairness I am a bit serious.  Any fan that really wanted to do so, and had the time and skills, could craft a screen accurate Jason costume from any of the films.  Cosplayers, I challenge you!  As long as people get the gist, you've done your job for a costume.  I accept that.  Jason has long since ceased to be a figure of fear and menace, as my glowing words above can attest, so as long as you do it with your heart in it and make an effort, I'll be happy.  Still, that lawn gnome, and the paucity of official options to purchase tells me that the old boy just don't have the clout he used ta.  That makes me sad.

Keep your pumpkins lit.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Gender Equality of the Zombie

So stick with me, kiddies, because this is a weird one.

Zombies are sort of a gender equality monster.  Zombies are people that are dead but have the audacity to be up walking around.  They aren't super strong, they don't have cool powers, and they aren't sexy (unless you think they are, and if you do, then you are beyond the help of any psychologist or priest, my friend).  They have no ecological role or niche, and they don't procreate.  In a very real sense they are unary.  They are a singular.  A zombie is a zombie.  It's former identity, gender, sexual, species, really doesn't matter anymore.  A male zombie is no more privileged or special than a female zombie and vice versa.  Scary and gross is scary and gross.
Which makes them a great monster for these troubled times in which we live.  Furthermore whatever causes the zombies (unless it is a bokor and these are real, traditional zombies) is no respecter of persons and positions.
The same holds true for the "survivors" in a zombie film or story.  Nobody is special.  One set of skills may be more useful than another, true, but that's up to the writer in the end.  A major point of good zombie fiction is the normal people put in an extraordinary circumstance angle.  It's not uncommon for the trained and equipped persons, such as police, military, and so forth, to find themselves eaten and zombified while the "normals" survive, albeit in reduced circumstances.

Actually there's probably a logical reason for that.  In any survival situation those who put themselves in harm's way are the most likely to be harmed, while those who avoid danger have a more reasonable chance of survival.  One's risk of shark attack decreases dramatically if one never goes swimming.  Thus the more "heroic" types in any setting are the persons most likely to get killed.  If this sounds like I am obliquely suggesting that the Final Girl trope means that said Final Girl is not actually strong or competent, well I am.  Besides, the Final Girl, like everything else in modern cinema is a devalued joke.  Everyone just seems to forget that Nancy (played by Heather Langenkamp) actually did some solid research/detective work, then went all book nerd and read up on booby traps and such all in preparation for her final fight with Freddy.  Survival and success based solely on genitalia is just wrong, I'm afraid.

Sidebar over, that brings me back to zombies.  I've noticed that in a zombie story not only is the monster a gender equalizer, so too are the survivors.  The gun, the lovely, lovely gun was always the great equalizer.  Gramma with a shotgun is worth any musclebound thug, and who doesn't like a good western where some gramma with a rifle shoots a varmint?
Maybe I was just looking for an excuse to say "varmint".
Yeah, that was probably it.

All of which is to say that you have quite a lot of options when it comes to zombies, try to avoid making them sexy.

Keep your pumpkins lit.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Zombie Costumes: A Primer

When it comes to zombie costumes one of the easiest angles is that you don't actually need special attire.  Since zombies are dead people you can get away with wearing normal clothes.  That's a plus right there.
Naturally if you are going for a theme of some kind you'll need clothes to match the theme, like say you wanted to be a zombie check-out clerk, you'll need to obtain some clothes that instantly read "check-out clerk" but that's still just normal clothing.
It is very important in the costuming world that your costume reads instantly.  What do I mean by reads?  I more or less made it up, so I guess it is incumbent upon me to explain it.
When you look at something, a picture, a statue, a piece of art, you need to get an instant mental image of what is happening with the piece.  Many joke or humor costumes are, essentially, visual puns.
Kosher Hot Dog

Like that.
You see it, you get the joke.  No long-winded complex explanation needed or wanted.  That's what I mean by read.  Tropes, people.  They serve a purpose.
As I said before, with zombies you can pretty much go with your normal clothes and still pull it off, or you can tatter some clothes, or you can buy a costume.  Appliances, masks, complete (more or less) costumes...you've got lots of choices.  It's a very easy way to do up a Halloween costume and most people like it so you're not going to catch Hell or anything.  You might not win a costume contest since you will be in a very large pool full of undead fish, unless you go the extra mile of course, but you probably won't get that booby prize for worst costume.  Anonymity, it's what the zombie is all about.  Just another rotting face in a rotting crowd.  You can get a mask or some make up and viola, zombie.
See, there's really not much to a zombie costume at all, come to think of it.  It's no sheet ghost, but it's pretty pedestrian.
Get it?
Zombies...walking dead...pedestrian...

Which is no excuse for not trying, kiddies.  Make an effort.

And keep your pumpkins lit.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Zombies: An Introduction

I hate zombies.  I really do.  I used to love zombies and zombie media, but then you ruined it for me.  All of you.  The "zombie fans".   Maybe that seems unfair, and I'm willing to be reasoned with, I am.  Until such time as a really convincing argument is made, however, I'm going to lay blame.
Now I may hate zombies but they became very popular for some reason about 10 years ago (or more, I can't really tell) and suddenly everybody was making zombie films, zombie comics, zombie t-shirts, zombie television shows, and anything else that the marketing department could slap zombie on.  I saw zombie defense pepper spray.  How does that work?
Would a zombie care one whit about tearing up?  They're dead.  And what made it "zombie" pepper spray?  It had an atomic green plastic case and a picture of a zombie on it.
Zombie paintball targets.  Really.  Because as everyone knows once a zombie sees that it's been marked, it quietly lies down and goes back to sleep.
Yet, people seem(ed) to like them, so they are/were everywhere.  The biggest problem with such a glut of the market is a decline in quality.  Once something is determined to be hot property the money people rush to push out as much of it as possible to grab all the dollars they can.  Happened with pirates.  Happens regularly with vampires.  Happened with zombies.  So much stuff.  An embarrassment of riches (more like an embarrassment of shit, really) for the zombie fan.  Also I noticed suddenly EVERYBODY HAD A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE PLAN.  Yeah, well I had one when I was 12, so there.
So I asked myself, "why do people like zombie stuff so much?"
I think it is because you are all sick little puppies who want to smash skulls without any moral or legal repercussions and like the idea of a post-apocalyptic world where you have the freedom to loot, pillage, not bathe without an excuse, and, of course, don't have to pay your student loans.
Actually that last bit doesn't sound so bad.
Yes.  Are you suggesting those two things are linked?
Well, maybe they are a little bit.
So, Zombies.  What are they?
Here's where we get all technical.  Zombies are people that have been given a special poison by a bokor or houngan that makes them appear to be dead.  They are buried and then the bokor digs them up after capturing a portion of their soul in a receptacle, like a jar.  The bokor can command the person because a portion of their consciousness is in them, but another portion of their soul is trapped in the jar.  This be bad juju, man.
To put it in more realistic terms, a person that has been poisoned, given a form of brain damage, and revived, but is culturally dead, and so is neither alive nor dead, fit only to work as a slave in a field.
That's a zombie.
And that's pretty damn cool, but it's very few films that treat with that subject.  No, what people want is a corpse that has been brought a semblance of life via some mechanism, be it a virus (which is just bollocks), or magic (why not, it's made up anyway), or an alien parasite, to name a few.  The bodies are expected to be in various stages of decay and somehow transmit the zombie state to people they so much as lick.  That's what you all want.  Don't lie.
So like or not, this Halloween season I'm going to be Johnny-come-too-lately and talk about zombies, even if it makes me physically ill to do so.