In TV-land, All Hallows Eve is a very special time of year. In the writing rooms for televisions shows across the globe, writers excitedly pitch there ideas for parodies of their favourite Stephen King books, believing that it will be the most original and hilarious thing anyone has ever seen. Of course, the Halloween special is the cousin of the lame-duck Christmas special, so this means that Halloween Specials can often be as cringey as November 1st’s facebook photos. However, when these specials hit the mark, the Halloween special can be a glorious thing. Here’s a list of times when things went spooktacularly (sorry).
Perhaps you haven’t heard of Ghostwatch if you reside outside of the UK, but given its notoriety on those endless Channel 4 list programmes, I thought it was worth a watch for the purposes of this article. Essentially, it was a one-off mockmentary based around a haunted house in London who had been terrorising its residents, to the point where they had to get Michael Parkinson to make a TV show about it.
It deserves a mention due to the fact that it was actually pretty clever in the way that it had you questioning what you had seen by flashing images of the spector on the screen, and then later having presenters in a studio go over the clip to find there was nothing there, which must have been maddening in the days before you could simply go back in the youtube video and check.
Dead Set – Episode 1 (2008)
Keeping things British, let’s move on to one of the best writers the country has to offer at the moment, Charlie Brooker, and his self-proclaimed “zombie nonsense” series Dead Set. Whilst the episode that actually occurred on Halloween was the finale, I’ve chosen the first episode because it’s a better place to start, for obvious reasons.
The episode sets the scene of a typical Big Brother eviction night, complete with a cameo Davina McCall herself. However, the twist is that a zombie outbreak has occurred in Britain, and the housemates stuck inside the Big Brother house are absolutely clueless as to what is happening. Cue scenes of confusion and disbelief from the housemates when they are finally confronted with the outbreak, and a zombie Davina, which is really a lot more badass than it should be.
Parks and Recreation – Season 2, Episode 7 - “Greg Pikitis” (2009)
Parks and Rec has become a lot more popular over the last year, and it’s because of one simple reason: it’s fucking brilliant. Season 2 was where the show was really starting to find its groove, and the Halloween episode for this season, “Greg Pikitis” was a beast of an episode. It revolves around Leslie going all vigilante on us in an attempt to catch a local high-school kid who she suspects has been vandalising a statue in the park. Meanwhile, Ann throws a horribly awkward Halloween party, where doctors turn up dressed as doctors, which eventually is saved by Tom channelling T-Pain, which is reason enough to watch on its own.
Courage The Cowardly Dog – Season 4, Episode 7 - “The Mask” (2002)
Courage The Cowardly Dog has gained notoriety in recent years due to a generation looking back on it and collectively going “what the fuck was I watching?”. Of course, there is no shortage of snarky stoners pointing out that cartoons are weird (man), but Courage was genuinely frightening, due to the use of classic horror tropes and a uniquely creepy mix of animation styles. As expected, they really pushed the boat out for their Halloween special.
For a glimpse at the terror contained within this two part cartoon, just google image “courage the cowardly dog the mask”. Just looking at the mask’s creepily human anime eyes is enough to give you nightmares, and the scene where it is seen spying on Muriel is enough to make you check your windows before you go to sleep at night. The story itself is also strangely bleak, with allusions to urban decay and abusive relationships running throughout, which leaves you with a strange depressed feeling watching it as an adult. Still, it contains surprisingly great storytelling and animation, especially considering it’s a kid’s cartoon, so check it out if you’re feeling nostalgic.
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – Season 6, Episode 7 - “Who Got Dee Pregnant?” (2010)
What’s scarier than getting your twin sister pregnant after a drunken one night stand? No, this isn’t just a horribly inappropriate hypothetical question I’m throwing out there for no reason, it’s a major plot point in this It’s Always Sunny Halloween special.
In typical Sunny style, the episode revolves around a drunken party that the gang can’t quite remember. After Dee tells the boys that she’s pregnant, and that one of them is the father, they have to collectively piece together the night out from what each of them remember when they were “browned out” (the stage before “blackout drunk”). Cue some classic Sunny retelling of the same scene from different perspectives, some dumpster love-making, and a giant bird, and you have an instant Halloween classic.
The Simpsons – Season 4, Episode 5 - Treehouse of Horror III (1992)
Every year, The Simpsons make their Treehouse of Horror specials seem like an event. Let’s face it; with the 25th Treehouse of Horror airing this year, The Simpson’s Halloween specials are quickly becoming as much of a part of the fabric of Halloween as bobbing for apples and minor acts of vandalism.
The three stories told in this episode are the Child’s Play spoof “Clown Without Pity”, the King Kong parody “King Homer”, and the Romero-channelling “Dial Z for Zombie”. There are way too many classic moments within this highly quotable episode to mention, including a creepy salesman’s attempt at selling Homer poisoned frozen yogurt (“It comes with your choice of topping!” “That’s good!”, Smithers declaring that “women and sea men don’t mix”, Homer declaring “the dolls trying to kill me and the toasters been laughing at me”, the Krusty doll simply being switched from “evil” to “good” and the death of zombie Flanders.
To put it simply, The Simpsons’ genius is often taken for granted these days, but episodes like this are the reasons why the show has remained a cultural phenomenon for over two decades. Your Halloween won’t be complete without watching it.
Halloween approaches! The holiday celebrating gluttony, drunken revelry, fake blood, terrible costumes, excellent costumes, and pranks that border on vandalism. Don’t you just love it? I sure as hell do!
To get everyone in the mood for the festivities, I’ve taken it upon myself (i.e., I was asked to by our dear editor-in-chief Alex) to put together a comprehensive list of songs that suit this slightly sinister season. My taste in music ranges far and wide and I’m no snob, so be warned: cheese ahead. Cheese with fangs and guitar solos.
Misfits - Monster Mash
This little beauty was originally written in ‘62 by Bobby Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, and has been covered a ridiculous amount of times since. This particular incarnation is my absolute favourite. Misfits made two versions, one which features on their album Project 1950, and this one which is from their ‘rare & unreleased’ compilation Cuts From The Crypt. It’s better produced and has a little more energy to it, and has a sort of unpretentious geeky joy about it. It’s the way the lyrics are sung, I think. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the way they’re sung in the original version. In any case, It’s a must-have for any Halloween party playlist, and it’s sure to get people dancing and doing the monster mash. The monster mash; It’s a graveyard smash.
Other fantastic versions of the song by: Zombina & The Skeletones, Murphy’s Law, Mannheim Steamroller.
Alien Ant Farm - Smooth Criminal
Right, okay, hear me out. It’s got the same kinda sound as the previous song mentioned, and basically everyone knows it. If I’m at a party and this comes on, you bet your arse I’ll be first on the dancefloor (even though my style of ‘dancing’ is embarrassing, horrifying, dangerous, and probably illegal in certain countries). I shouldn’t even have to justify this song. If you don’t like it then you hate fun. The same applies for the next song I’ll mention…
Electric Six - Infected Girls
As I said, if you hate this song then you hate fun. Heck, if you hate Electric Six then you hate fun. While they’re most famous for almost universally-known songs such as “Danger! (High Voltage)” and “Gay Bar”, I recommend that everybody have a listen to the rest of E6’s discography. “Infected Girls” is supposedly about this guy who catches a particularly nasty STD from a lass whom he had sex with, but it’s ambiguous enough that you can pretend it’s about zombie girls instead. The music itself is reminiscent of ’80s horror soundtracks - the synth, the beat that could you can easily imagine hordes of undead staggering along to… it’s all there. It’s all perfect.
House of Pain - Back From The Dead
This along with “Boomshalaklakboom” and “Jump Around” are the only songs by House of Pain I really listen to. I don’t know much about them but this whole song is about how Everlast is too fucking tough to stay dead, he’s back up outta the grave and looking to cause harm; “like Steven Seagal I’m hard to kill/Like GG Allin I’m crazy ill”. It’s got a great beat, the theme is appropriate and it sounds just sinister enough to warrant a mention on this list. I advise listening to this during the pre-drinking portion of your Halloween evening.
Diablo Swing Orchestra - Balrog Boogie
The only way I can even vaguely describe the genre of this song is “operatic satan-worshipping swing metal”. The lyrics are in Latin, if that gives you any idea of how dark and halloween-y this song is. The weird thing is that you can TOTALLY dance to it, provided your costume allows for energetic and fast movement. Be careful of forming circles or pentagrams in the room while dancing though, you might summon some kind of hellbeast, and they’re terrible at parties.
Warren Zevon - Werewolves of London
I have a very strong attachment to this song, I used to sing it all the time because Warren Zevon is one of my dad’s all-time favourite musicians. He even took us to the restaurant mentioned in the lyrics, once or twice. It’s a relaxed, kind of silly song about a werewolf causing havoc around the greater London area, and with choice lyrics like “I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s/and his hair was perfect” how can you not love it? Again, this is probably one for either the pre-drinking portion of your evening.
Michael Jackson - Thriller and Ray Parker, Jr. - Ghostbusters
I don’t know how this got here. I’m sure I never typed the name of those songs just there. I think it’s some kind of ancient Halloween law that every playlist created within 10 days of the holiday must contain them. Do it. Don’t anger the Halloween Gods. I’m not even controlling my hands at this point, some unearthly and terrifying force is guiding them. These are not only the songs that guests EXPECT at a Halloween party, they’re songs that will cause a party mutiny if not played.
Kanye West - Monster
I couldn’t possibly leave this song out. I’ll personally maul anyone who says that this isn’t a fantastic song in which Nicki Minaj doesn’t absolutely kill it. There’s not much else to say apart from a recommendation that you ask everybody to wear fangs and shutter-shade sunglasses while this song plays.
SSQ - Tonight
I know absolutely nothing about this song or this band apart from the fact that it’s a core part of the ’80s film Return of the Living Dead, which features attractive young punks dancing naked in a graveyard and getting eaten by zombies. The song itself absolutely REEKS of typical ’80s music, but in a fantastic way. I highly recommend watching the film, too - it’s one of those “so bad it’s good” movies except it’s not even that good, apart from *that* zombie. That bastard gave me nightmares, it did.
Betty Curse - Excuse All The Blood
This, I’m afraid, is not one for the lads to enjoy. Betty Curse is a one-album pop musician who surfaced in 2006 and then disappeared into obscurity shortly after. You might know her better for her acting role as Hannah in 28 Days Later, but we’re not talking about that here. We’re talking about this song. Oh, what a song. What a beautiful, formulaic, very of-the-time song. If you had an emo phase but were bad at it, this song will bring on waves of horribly embarrassing nostalgia. I recommend playing this during the “everybody is off their tits” portion of your evening.
Marilyn Manson - The Beautiful People
I had a really hard time picking which song of his to include on this list, and I’ve settled on this. Deal with it. Halloween laws dictate that at least one Marilyn Manson song be played at every party, and this is my choice.
- "Sabotage" by Cancer Bats
- "Touch Me I’m Sick" by Mudhoney
- "Sick Sick Sick" by Queens of the Stone Age
Yo, Apple, next time you wanna deposit a surprise new album from a major act into my iTunes without my consent, can it be the new Kanye or Kendrick or hell, even a new One Direction album. Anything but a goddamn U2 record.
Let’s face it, the only things Songs Of Innocence will be remembered for is its release strategy and the subsequent worldwide backlash (which I’m now gleefully joining in on). I can’t recall anyone having much positive to say about waking up to the news that they were owners of a fresh album from the Irish megastars, one which was unable to be deleted (until Apple provided an app to do so). The implications of being forced to own an album you never asked for, especially with a never-ending debate over privacy rolling on, aren’t good, especially when you consider just how politically active Bono is known to be. You can’t imagine others known for similar leanings, like Springsteen et al, pulling a similar stunt.
Musically, U2’s thirteenth studio album belies its unique release, as it’s soulless to the point where any glimmer of sincerity is extremely well hidden. The power and energy that their music once carried has all but dissipated; the sole exception being the slightly raw “Volcano”, but even that devolves into mindless chants and bombast. Nothing quite sinks to the level of the abominable “Get On Your Boots”, but still, that can barely qualify as praise.
The band now sound like a pale imitation of the groups who aped and have since overtaken them in the stadium rock game. They’re audibly grasping at straws to sound as big and accessible as Kings Of Leon or Coldplay, it verges on laughable, especially with Dangermouse’s production continuing to be the flattest in the game. The Edge’s iconic guitar sound, once a defining element of contemporary rock, has faded to a barely identifiable buzzing, whilst Bono’s hollering and yelping has lost any subtlety it once had, every line now dripping in more faux-earnestness than ever before. That this sanctimonious prick dared to name a song after one of the writers of some of the greatest dumb, simple, fun pop songs (namely “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”, one of three parentheses’d song titles on the album) is an affront to anyone who calls them a fan of rock music. Never mind that it’s possibly the only decent track on the album and annoyingly catchy, it’s bloody offensive.
This very much seems like the official point where we can give up on U2 as an act capable of creating something truly worthwhile, if you hadn’t already done so. When it prevents this kind of tripe entering the public’s consciousness, it’s absolutely to burn out than slowly, sadly fade away.
If there’s one person you don’t starring in a film which is best described as a “bawdy sex romp”, it’s Woody Allen. Even if you ignore the allegations that surround him (tough to do, I acknowledge), just the man himself is the antithesis of sex appeal; a neurotic, nebbish Jewish guy who looks increasingly like a sentient flaccid penis, his presence negating any potential eroticism in whatever film he may be in.
Fading Gigolo is one such “romp”, written, directed, and starring everyone’s favourite character actor John Turturro. But for all the goodwill I have towards Turturro, I can’t in good critical conscience be positive about this. On paper, a farce centring on an octogenarian pimp and his middle-aged, near-mute prostitute has some comedic potential, but in reality it spurns barely nascent laughs for pretensions of depth, a flavour of melancholy and regressive characterisation. The women of Fading Gigolo are either sex-crazed nymphos or meek wallflowers, but either way, they’re given little life or shading outside of their interactions with the wrinkled male lead duo, who are themselves barely sketched out. And you’re stretching the suspension of disbelief beyond breaking point when you ask your audience to believe that women as beautiful and successful as Sofia Vergara and Sharon Stone are having trouble finding a willing man to be the third point in a menage a trois with them, to the extremes where they have to pay someone to participate, especially when that someone looks like Turturro.
With a pace akin to molasses, uninspired humour and a weak attempt at criticising Orthodox Judaism for its prehistoric view on women (not exactly a daring move, but if you’re going to commit to it, then actually commit to it), it’s amazing none of the famous faces involved didn’t pull Turturro aside to convince him to either not make this, or give it a few dozen more rewrites. It’s an unfortunate addition to the droves of shameless vanity projects which already pack the annals of popular cinema.
Trailer: Inherent Vice: The trailer for Paul Thomas Anderon’s much-anticipated Inherent Vice, the director’s first film since The Master and an adaptation of the Thomas Pynchon novel of the same name, has finally arrived. The film will be the first feature adaptation of a Pynchon novel, and will star Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Owen Wilson, Martin Short, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom and newcomer Katherine Waterston.
The film is set to premiere at the New York Film Festival this weekend. Here’s NYFF’s synopsis:
Paul Thomas Anderson’s wild and entrancing new movie, the very first adaptation of a Thomas Pynchon novel, is a cinematic time machine, placing the viewer deep within the world of the paranoid, hazy L.A. dope culture of the early ’70s. It’s not just the look (which is ineffably right, from the mutton chops and the peasant dresses to the battered screen doors and the neon glow), it’s the feel, the rhythm of hanging out, of talking yourself into a state of shivering ecstasy or fear or something in between. Joaquin Phoenix goes all the way for Anderson (just as he did in The Master) playing Doc Sportello, the private investigator searching for his ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston, a revelation), menaced at every turn by Josh Brolin as the telegenic police detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen. Among the other members of Anderson’s mind-boggling cast are Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Owen Wilson, and Jena Malone. A trip, and a truly great American film. A Warner Bros. Pictures release.
Inherent Vice is scheduled for release in select theatres on December 12th (meaning it probably won’t reach the UK and Europe until 2015 unfortunately)
Despite attempts at carving himself a niche as Britain’s answer to Eminem, Professor Green has never once seemed dangerous or fiery. His neck tattoo belies of just how sanitised and palatable his music has been, never exemplified as much as on this latest album, Growing Up In Public. There’s far too much in common here with fellow quasi—rap star Example (who pops up like an unwanted zit on the dreary schmaltz of “Fast Life”) for Green to continue to be taken seriously as a musical prospect.
Despite having an eventful few years since his last album At Your Convenience in 2011 - being banned from driving, being mugged outside his home, getting married - very little of that potential interesting subject matter makes its way into Green’s lyrics. Instead the tracks seem divided into three flavours; painfully-eager-to-be-funny banter, self-obsessed bemoaning of the fame game, and stony-faced string-laden “realness”, all of which are neutered by Green’s nasal whine and basic flows. Even the production seems to give up most of the time, falling back on glossy but uninspiring commercially-viable dance, with nods to dub step and classic house.
As a basic, established pop-rapper, we can’t really expect Pro Green to be as innovative or creative as the likes of Kanye or Kendrick or spin harsh gritty narratives like Freddie Gibbs, but even so, this is an extremely poor, pallid effort. No wonder its released was delayed and pushed back so often.
Hollywood is probably one of the most alternately self-aggrandising and self-loathing institutions in the world. It absolutely loves to jerk itself off with one hand, whilst ripping its own hair out and punching itself with the other, resulting in the likes of, amongst others, Sunset Boulevard, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Entourage, The Player, Adaptation, Tropic Thunder, the interminable Canyons, All About Eve, and David Lynch’s two most recent films Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. But where this films are content with taking most pot-shots and throwing quick jabs, David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Stars comes out swinging at Tinseltown like The Bear Jew at so many Nazi soldiers.
But for the viciousness and bile Cronenberg and script writer Bruce Wagner serve at the LA city’s fame culture, it still feels a little like shooting dead fish in a barrel with a BB gun. Sure, the outrageous lines spouted by the small clutch of characters are likely ripped from real life encounters that Wagner has been a part of, but the character archetypes employed feel ancient - the wild child teen star, the desperate aging has-been, the wide-eyed ingenue, the constantly-auditioning wannabe - to the point where there’s little milage left in them. A 13 year old child actor with a drug habit calling his agent a ”Jew faggot” almost feels passé, like an aching-to-be-relevant transparent Justin Bieber analogue (despite the script being around long before Biebz’ late-teen meltdown), whilst an actress clinging to middle-age and deathly afraid of losing out on roles is pretty outmoded in an age when roughly 50% of the nominees for the female acting Oscars have been middle-aged and over.
It certainly doesn’t help that the narrative is equally as thin as the characters in it. Maps pieces itself together from a few intriguing strands which look like they might possibly build towards something, but instead just float in mid-air without anything particularly satisfactory happening. Curious elements like ghosts, incest and murder are mostly pulled from the conversation as soon as they’re thrown in, and if they happen to remain, they’re not built on. As a whole, the film rather odd and entertaining sure, but that’s not because of the writing or the directing, which are just simply flat. David Cronenberg is one of the most unique and strange filmmakers of the last 40-odd years, but lately he seems stuck on autopilot; this would be fine if he were still a body horror-obsessed auteur, but 2011’s A Dangerous Method, 2012’s Cosmopolis, and now Maps are nowhere near as visceral or interesting as even a standard piece of genre cinema like Eastern Promises. Overly sterile and filmed like an ugly network drama, we’re kept as too much of a distance from these characters - even as we get a front row seat to Julianne Moore shitting in a toilet, noises and all - and never really get a feel of what they’re truly like beyond some shallow characterisation.
As an aside, I have to make brief mention of a short scene which comes late in the film, a scene which includes some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in some time. Maps is a film that had a budget of $13 million, yet it seems that only $50 of that not-insignificant amount of money was allocated of visual effects. How anyone could’ve seen this scene and allowed it to be in the finished version is baffling.
Were it not for a tremendous anchoring performance from Moore (who appears to have transformed into Lindsay Lohan’s elder sister) as haunted and abused older actress Havanna Segrand, Maps would probably be an out-and-out failure. Moore is backed up great support from Mia Wasikowska (who’s building up quite a sterling highlight reel with her choice of roles recently) and Evan Bird as the infinitely punchable teen star terror Benji Weiss, who help provide a little spark and verve but not quite enough to move the film to punch above its weight. Of the actors in the tertiary roles, Robert Pattinson is hamstrung by a virtually tiny-if-important role, Olivia Williams phones it in as Benji’s typical monstrous Hollywood mother/manager, and John Cusack (face rendered rubbery and still presumably by plastic surgery) doesn’t have the outward, radiant charisma to pull off his role as a bullshitting celebrity self-help guru.
Perhaps, it was the sheer lure of the name of Cronenberg which drew such a stellar ensemble to the film, in spite of his recent output and such a messy script. Even as two hours of awful people being awful and saying awful things to one another, it pales in comparison to the likes of American Horror Story or Game Of Thrones. However it this a trip to the slightly darker side of a fictional Hollywood is a trip worth taking, if only for Moore’s performance (which won her the Best Actress award at Cannes) and for one of the odder cinematic experiences of the year.
Things We Wish Were Real of the day: Disappointed that the Buffy The Vampire Slayer cartoon series was developed but never got off the ground? Welp, this fully realised intro from artist Stephen Byrne is only going to make you pine harder for a trip to an animated Sunnydale. Watch out for a ton of in-jokes and call backs to the original show, and be weirdly okay with a rather funky take on Nerf Herder’s immortal theme song, and then petition those US TV companies to make this a reality.
At some point within the last decade, Halloween became a month-long celebration. It’s not even October and I’ve already been asked by several people what my costume will be and, worse yet, I already know. But whether or not you too have succumbed to the Halloween Industrial Complex, there is no better way to celebrate the spookiest time of the year than with King Tuff’s shtick-y new album, Black Moon Spell.
King Tuff has resurrected the bloated corpse of glam rock along with all of the flamboyance and none of the machismo of its first wave. The mastermind behind it all is Vermont-to-L.A. transplant Kyle Thomas, who has a knack for keeping a tight balance between goofy and grounded. His third and latest album is rife with visions of black cats and hexes backed by cartoonishly loud guitar riffs. It toes the line of kitsch with imagery straight out of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown but is held together by Thomas’s ability to be self-aware without being bitter and insincere.
He employs impressive technical skill while reviving classically simple lyricism. Standouts include the lead single, “Eyes Of The Muse”, which recalls hazy ‘70s summer jams with an added mystic twist, and “I Love You Ugly”, a twangy retro-pop track that sounds like a Schoolhouse Rock song with no educational value. While not necessarily the most memorable track, “Black Holes In Stereo” neatly distills the vibe of the entire album into a measly two minutes—like a Bowie song for children, Thomas sings about boys and girls from outer space and 45s falling from a UFO. Considering Thomas’s obvious vintage influences and his played up devil-may-care attitude, the song’s line “I learned more working at the record store than I ever did in high school” could be the album’s thesis statement.
Thomas’s talent for being intelligently cheesy has never been more apparent than it is on this album. There isn’t much range stylistically, so the album can get a little tiring by a certain point. But luckily Thomas is very skilled with the specific sound that he has crafted and because of that Black Moon Spell is still a good time all around.