Friday, October 30, 2009

Still Shining On

I have a confession to make: Halloween isn't exactly my favorite holiday. While other bloggers have been happily posting away this month about all things ghoulish, I've been quietly waiting for Oct. 31st to be over and done with so I could look forward to my favorite (and much less spine tingling) holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I'm a self-proclaimed 'fraidy cat - I cried like the little girl I was when my mother and sister took me to the town's community-run haunted house one Halloween. I was ten...or eleven.

That also means I'm not much into horror movies, especially ones where anyone gets tortured or slashed to bits. I do, however, make an exception for one...the greatest scary movie of all time, in my opinion: The Shining. Everyone else can keep their serial killers, creepy crawlies, and monsters. Jack Nicholson with an ax totally does it for me.

Even though Stephen King didn't think so (as Stanley Kubrick deviated from the novel with his 1980 film version), I just think it's the perfect horror movie - not too gory, but containing just enough disturbing imagery that you don't need to see more. Also, what makes the story scary is that the monster isn't some creation that stepped out a lab, but the family patriarch, slowly driven mad by cabin fever, writer's block, and the ghost of the former caretaker (who murdered his family) compelling him to repeat the act. Years ago, I worked in a hotel and on some early mornings, while leaving newspapers outside guest rooms in desolate hallways, I could not help but think of the movie. And then I would get a little bit scared, and try to finish the job as quickly as I could. Silly, really, but that's the kind of lasting effect this movie had on me. I guess I was too afraid of bumping into these two around the next corner:

"Come and play with us, GoRetroGirl. Come and play with us."

The movie has gone down in film history as a classic. For starters, you have Jack Nicholson in the lead role as Jack Torrence, a writer who has agreed to take a job as the winter caretaker for an old hotel in the Rocky Mountains. As sexy as I think Nicholson was in his younger years, no one else could play crazy like him. And to be honest, I thought he added a touch of comedy to such a grim story - the famous scene where he splitters a door with an ax, sticks his maniacal face in and declares, "Heeeeeere's Johnny!" at his terrified wife, Shelley Duvall, has always made me laugh, even though it's supposed to be one of the scariest scenes in the film.

Then there's the Torrence's son, Danny, who personally I always found even creepier than his father (but, as played by Danny Lloyd, did a remarkable job as a child actor.) Long before Haley Joel Osmont was seeing dead people, Danny was seeing them as well - and conversing with his imaginary friend Tony - "a little boy who lives in my mouth" - through his finger. Danny has what the hotel's cook Grady calls "the shining" - he is psychic and can see the dead. It's this gift that allows Danny to uncover the massacre that happened in the hotel's past, and that eventually puts him in grave danger - as his father chases him with an ax, at night, in the winter - in a hedge maze - that makes up one of the scariest movie sequences ever captured on film:

That disorienting maze is mirrored in the grand hotel itself, which is a series of winding hallways and rooms. I was disappointed to recently learn that most of the movie was actually shot in England, on a series of stages. However, the hotel that gave Stephen King the inspiration for the story is the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, which conducts ghost tours year-round to guests and non-guests alike (check out the link - could you imagine staying here in winter!!!)

Lastly, the music in this movie really gets me, especially during the opening sequence. As Nicholson's yellow VW Beetle winds its way through the mountains in Kubrick's wide angled glory, you hear the creepiest, most foreboding classical music during the opening credits, and a sense that something bigger and more powerful is...watching. It really sets you up to be scared for the next two hours.

I still think about the closing scene, and what it represents. We see a photograph of a roaring 20s-era party taking place at the Overlook Hotel...and in the very front of the crowd, we see...Jack Torrence. The date stamped on the photograph is 1921. Having never read the King novel, I don't know if this was his idea or Kubrick's. So did it mean that Jack Torrence visited the hotel in a past life? Was he the reincarnation of a lost soul meant to relive the same fate? I don't think a definitive answer has ever been revealed, which further adds to the mystique of the film.

I've read that Kubrick nearly drove his stars mad with his directing techniques - Duvall's hair started to fall out from stress and Nicholson's lines were changed so much he started to toss out pages of the script and memorize his part just before filming. Was it all worth the effort?

Hell yeah.

Happy and safe Halloween to all of my readers! Here's hoping more treats than tricks.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Halloween Costume that Really Pops

Images credit: Tasha Marie

Have you ever fantasized about what it would feel like to be a character in a Roy Lichtenstein comic? Well, here's your chance for Halloween. A representative from MAC cosmetics recently came up with this striking pop art costume, which I think would be fairly easy to recreate on your own (you just need a small wooden dowel to create those perfectly round dots.) I would love to see a full body shot of the finished model. All she needs is a cardboard speech balloon with the word "Pow!" attached to her head.

Here's the make-up artist's stupendous work in progress:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ghosts of Halloween Past

From and by way of Flickr comes a smattering of interesting vintage Halloween photos by collector Steven Martin. Looking at what some of these deprived kids (and grown-ups) had to wear, I can now appreciate my plastic 1970s Ben Cooper costumes. What's really cool about these photos, many of which appear to have been taken during the Depression, is just how unintentionally creepy many of them are. As Martin himself says, "I am really fascinated by how these photographs of people dressed in primitive, homemade costumes and memorialized in faded, black-and-white photos often seem to have a real sinister aspect to them. I'm not sure if it was intentional or not, but to me Halloween a century ago looks much scarier than it does now in digitalized color."

They're a gas - have a look for yourself (click on each for a larger view.)

This jester appears to be holding what looks like a decapitated head...or is that two heads? The plastic pumpkin shaped candy holders I had as a kid seem so innocent by comparison.

These two sorry looking tykes, who look like typical Depression kids, appear to be wearing paper mache masks.

The excessive fading in this photo really adds to the creepiness factor. I don't even know what the kid on the left was supposed to be - a devil?

Motley crew: I would love to know what the person with the pillowcase on their head is supposed to be.

Another group shot: I'm guessing that the fellow on the left is supposed to be Batman. It's interesting to note that there's very few costumes here that emulate a cartoon or pop culture character. That didn't seem to become popular until TV was invented. Note the two black cat masks or lanterns hanging in the background - I love them!

Where was this Halloween party supposed to be - in a prison basement?

There's more where these came from, if you click the link at the beginning of the post.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Go Retro this Halloween

If you're a fan of all things retro, then Halloween is a great time of the year for you. Now's your chance to take on a past persona. That got me thinking about some Halloween costume ideas for this year. Sure, you can go as a Mad Men guy or gal. But if you're looking for inspiration for some other costumes, here's some that you don't see too often at Halloween parties...and that I think would all be recognizable, at least to anyone over the age of 35:

Amelia Earhart

With the Hillary Swank movie "Amelia" set to open this weekend, Earhart is sure to be in the forefront of people's minds this Halloween season. Considered an icon of style, it's easy to get her high flying look. For a cute couple costume idea, have your significant other dress as Charles Lindburg.

What You'll Need:
* A bomber or similar style jacket
* Goggles
* Parachute pants or a jumpsuit (check out eBay)
* Boots - preferably hiking ones or Doc Martins
* A long scarf or men's tie

Julia Child

The popularity of the movie "Julie & Julia" is the yummy inspiration for dressing up like the French Chef this Halloween. Just pull a few key items together and declare "Bon Appetite!" in your best Julia voice.

What You'll Need:
* Any regular ladies blouse
* Tea length skirt, that ends just below the knee
* Heels (because Julia was over 6 feet tall)
* Pearls or another simple necklace
* Apron
* Cooking utensil such as a wooden spoon or mallet

Buddy Holly

Elvis is sooooo copied. Stand out from the crowd. Skinny and/or, dare I say, nerdy guys can fill this sometimes forgotten music star's shoes just fine.

What You'll Need:
* 1950s hornrimmed glasses
* Skinny tie
* Jacket
* Toy guitar

Tippi Hedren from The Birds

Now granted, this one isn't my idea - Joy Behar wore this costume creation a few years back for a Halloween edition of The View. Even though we all know birds are harmless, I think a costume inspired by the classic Alfred Hitchcock movie would give anyone chills.

What You'll Need:
* A vintage style suit, preferably in green
* Fake crows and sparrows, or similar birds (these can usually be found at Michael's and other craft stores)
* Some way of attaching them to your hair and clothing
* Fake blood on your face, for added effect

John Lennon

All we are saying is give peace...and a John Lennon costume a chance. For added fun, have your girlfriend/wife dress up as Yoko Ono (but please don't ask her to sing.)

What You'll Need:
* Military style jacket
* Long haired wig if your hair is short
* Granny glasses
* Peace symbol button

Mr. T

I pity the fool who doesn't think this would make an awesome costume...unfortunately, you do need to have the physique to pull this one off. I also recommend having the skin tone, as I don't think showing up in blackface would make you a hit at a party.

What You'll Need:
* Mohawk wig
* Lots and lots of jewelry - especially gold necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings
* Toned enough biceps that look good enough to show off

Needless to say, this is just a sampling of famous people that could be easily imitated this Halloween. If you have one you'd love to dress up as, I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Scariest Halloween Costumes Ever Made

If you were a child during the 60s, 70s, 80s, or even the early 90s, you probably owned or remember other kids wearing a Ben Cooper or Collegeville Halloween costume. In the 70s, I can recall seeing colorful rows of these sorry excuses for disguises stacked way above my head at the town five and dime store. And yet I wanted some of them anyway. I remember I had the Charlie Brown and Lucy models, as well as Bozo the Clown and even Spider Man. There was no real reason that I can think of for me to want any of these costumes, as both my mother and one of my sisters wielded excellent costume making abilities and in future years, my costumes were always hand made. But there is something fascinating about the Ben Cooper/Collegeville phenomenon, and today the costumes and their original boxes are considered collector's items.

In case you don't know what they were, they basically consisted of a plastic painted mask (with two creepy holes cut out for your eyes) and a matching smock (usually displaying poor graphics) and that's pretty much it. Not to mention they weren't exactly safe - the holes barely afforded enough space to see and breathe, but what would a childhood growing up in the later half of the 20th century be without living a little vicariously? The best part of these costume manufacturers were that no pop culture character was considered too out there - there were actually ones for members of The Village People, Morgan Freeman's Easy Reader character from The Electric Company, the "Small Wonder" robot girl, Rubik's Cube, and Cha Chi from Happy Days. (Check out this post from Retrocrush to see these unusual examples and other outrageous versions.)

But the only thing scarier than the costumes themselves were the catalogs that went out to stores showing the season's selection. These scans came from the site and highlight the costumes available for the 1980 season. I'm not so sure the artist who drew these spent much time around children; some of the body parts just look out of proportion and wrong.

Did you have one or more of these costumes growing up? If so, I'd love to hear which ones.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Go Retro's Retro Hottie of the Month: John Lennon

I think I'm just going to make it an annual thing to make John Lennon the Retro Hottie of the Month each October. Today is his birthday, and nearly 30 years after his death you have to admit the Beatles' staying power has proved admirable. The newly released Beatles Rock Band video game is a smash hit, with kids and pre-teens eating it up as much as their baby boomer parents. All of the Beatles' albums were recently remastered and re-released, and Cirque du Soliel's Love is performed daily in Vegas. Let's not forget there was once a time where even the Beatles themselves were not so sure they were going to last even a few years. Time has sure proven that wrong.

I love this photo that I found on a cat blog showing Lennon with his Siamese cat. Remember to love.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Today and Yesterday: The Today Show Gets Fun-kay!

Photos courtesy Peter Yang/People Magazine. Click on each for larger view.

No, you're not looking at the return of Life on Mars. To celebrate the 35th anniversary of NBC's Today Show, the current crew donned 1974 wardrobes and makeup to get back to where they once belonged. As you can see, things got hairy. Matt Lauer is looking very Ron Burgandy, Ann Curry wore a vintage Diane Von Furstenburg dress (my favorite dress style ever), and would you check out Meredith Viera's giant owl pendant!

Al Roker, however, really truly scares me. He looks like he's trying to channel Gene Shalit of the Critics Corner.

The photos will appear in tomorrow's issue of People magazine. The site Mod Cloth, by the way, has several 70s inspired owl necklaces. Here's a cute one that retails for $15.99.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Who You (Not) Gonna Call?

Ever since I learned that there was going to be a third Ghostbusters movie, I’ve been wanting to write about what a bad, terrible, stinking idea this is. Now that Halloween is fast approaching, it seems like the perfect time to explain why I don’t want to see Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson strap on their proton packs for a third time.

The 1984 Ghostbusters was a classic with lots of laughs, a giant marshmellow man, and was a very original idea for a comedy (who even knew before this film that such a thing as ghost hunters really existed?) It grossed over $500 million in the U.S. alone and spawned all kinds of toys and merchandise (I’m not ashamed to admit I had a Ghostbusters t-shirt.) A video game based on the movie was recently released, to rave reviews. So if director/writer Harold Ramis (who is behind the plans to resurrect the movie franchise) is in it for the money, he’s going to have a hard time living up to the original. Here are some other reasons why the whole idea should just be slimed and scrapped:

There already was a sequel, and it was bad.

Can anyone recall any of the lines in 1989’s Ghostbusters II, or even what the plot was about? My thoughts exactly. I just remember Sigourney Weaver’s character was now a mom and her baby (I can’t even remember if Bill Murray was the dad) was in danger.

Even if it’s funny, it won’t be funny.
What I mean by this is 80s comedy won’t work on today’s audiences. Much of the younger generation of moviegoers have become too accustomed to seeing sex, violence, and low-brow potty humor in their movies. The innocent humor that was so prevalent in PG rated 80s movies will be considered lame to younger viewers. Besides, the movie was just so 80s I’d prefer to leave it there. In Ghostbusters III, people will be summoning the doctors for help via email and iPhones and that is just something I can’t bear to watch.

That theme song.

I liked Ray Parker Jr.’s song when I was 12. Let me repeat that – when I was 12. Hearing it when I’m older means it gets stuck playing on a repeat-play loop in my cranium – not a good thing. The only thing worse would be giving the theme a 21st century hip hop makeover, which Hollywood loves to do with sequels of old movies.

The main characters are all going to have minor parts.
Ramis recently announced that the main characters as played by Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson, and himself will have minor roles in this latest incarnation. So who will star in the movie? Who knows. Perhaps Jack Black and Seth Ronin and whoever other obnoxious, fat, unfunny “comedic” stars are available to humiliate the legacy.

Thank anyways Mr. Ramis, but I'm content to let the Invisible Man stay in my bed (I am single, after all) then call on your ghostbusters this time.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

I'm Into Something Good: Herman's Hermits

I was telling a friend last night about the time I saw Herman's Hermits perform at a local fair a good ten years ago. "Who are Herman's Hermits?" she asked me. The short answer that I gave is that they were a British invasion band of the 1960s who tried to follow in the footsteps of the Beatles. The long answer, I realized, would make a perfect blog post.

Once I named some of their songs, she realized who they were. History seems to have forgotten this very successful band. Herman's Hermits released what I like to refer to as pure pleasure pop - lip smacking sugary hits such as a contemporary version of a British music hall song, "I'm Henry the Eighth, I'm Am", "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter", "Wonderful World" (a cover of the Sam Cooke song), "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat", "A Must to Avoid", "Listen People", and "There's a Kind of Hush." These were all hits in the U.S. - pretty remarkable when only one song saw success in their native UK, "I'm Into Something Good" (also a hit in the U.S.)

The group was made up of five Manchester boys: Keith Hopwood, Derek Leckenby, Barry Whitwam, Karl Green, and their cheeky fresh faced lead singer, Peter Noone (aka Herman.) They were presented as being clean cut fun - the perfect dreamy boys for any teen girl to tape to her wall. Noone was quickly singled out as a teen idol and I find it quite funny that in all of the Tiger Beats of the day he was regularly referred to as Herman. According to the October 1967 issue of Hullaboo, here is how Herman's Hermits got their name:

The name, Herman, came from a misunderstanding of the name Sherman of The Bullwinkle Show. Peter bears an amazing resemblance to this cartoon character. The name, Herman's Hermits comes from a sing-song rhyme addition based on Herman the Hermit. First, they were Herman and the Hermits; then Herman's Hermits.

A British invasion band's resume would not be complete without a couple of movies and in fact, Herman's Hermits did star in a few films. One of them was the obviously named "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter" (such a mouthful for a movie title, even if it was taken from one of their songs.) Noone himself had been a child actor, but it's safe to say the movie didn't stretch his talent. This 1968 flick, which will probably never see the light of day on DVD, has probably one of the best taglines in cinematic history: "You've got to sing...swing..and do your own thing...And no one does it better in merry young London than Herman's Hermits!" Needless to say, they really went to the dogs in this Mrs. Brown turns out to be a greyhound.

Sadly, none of the band's hits were written by the group themselves, even though they were competent musicians in their own right. Their own songs were reserved for B-sides and album cuts. When the 60s faded away, so did Herman's Hermits eventually, but Noone is still active (and quite cute) today.

This group has one of the best official sites of many pop bands of the 60s - it's just chock full of tons of photos and archived magazine articles. To play you out, here's a clip of the group performing "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter."

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