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Welcome back to my recap of Comic-Con 2012 and the second half of our journey through the vast tract of vendor booths on the floor of the exhibition hall! As you’ll recall from part one, my Comic-Con shopping cart was completely empty after encountering one high ticket disappointment after another.

Today, we’ll change all that.

Yes, in fact, I did manage to find a few awesome items to buy that fit quite nicely within my modest budget. No, nothing as grand as a Mystic Seer or The Private Life of Helen of Troy, but I’m very happy with the odd and unique purchases I scrounged from the dealer room. For example, this:

Naughty swiveling seated belly dancer figure from the 50s (?)

What is it, you wonder? Near as I can figure, it is a titillating amusement from the 1950’s that was probably sold from under the counter at stores that specialized in men’s magazines. The base is made of wood and the figure is some kind of very soft rubber. Beneath the base is a short, rotating metal handle, which—as you turn the handle back and forth—causes the beige little beauty on top to wiggle and dance!

Don’t believe me? See for yourself…

We pause here for readers to catch their collective breaths and take a quick cold shower

I guarantee that this talented lass will make it into one of my photos very, very soon!

One booth I aways make a point of visiting is Cards and Comics Central, a cool little store from San Francisco that sells lots of fun miniatures imported from Japan. Last year I bought a pair of mystery boxes containing human body parts, and this year I was excited to see a second series of similar mystery boxes available at the show! Now, the problem with these mystery boxes is that you never quite know what you’re getting, as the boxes are glued shut and don’t indicate what is inside, instead tantalizing the shopper with pictures of what might be contained within. The series includes the 7 different body parts seen on the box, plus a super secret mystery organ.

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The picture on the front is, of course, the most coveted of all possible prizes, and last year I scored by finding the human torso featured on the face. This year, I expected nothing less than the skinless musculature-man you see in the slideshow above.

You might think that the act of selecting a mystery box is as random as the spin of a roulette wheel. Not so! There is an art and a strategy to increase the odds of finding what you desire. No, shaking the boxes does not help; there is padding inside and every box responds silently to insistent jostling. Luckily, the weight from one box to the next varies considerably, and no doubt the muscle man would be one of the heavier items. I carefully weighed each box, grouping them into heavy and light boxes, then bought one of each so I’d be guaranteed that the contents would be different (nothing worse than duplicate body parts!).

Upon returning home following day one, I broke the seal on the heavier of my two mystery boxes to find…

Teeth. Not exactly what I was looking for. Oh, sure, they are nice teeth, but they are still merely teeth and not as satisfying as an entire flayed body.

Box two revealed a human hand reaching into the air and stripped of skin and muscle to show all the bones and tendons within. Again, nice, and I have a lot of respect for the mechanics of hands (which are currently dancing madly upon the keys of my laptop as I type this post), but not anatomically spectacular.

Returning to the exhibition hall for day two I beelined to Cards and Comics Central and found another full display of body parts. Today’s strategy would be a little different. I’d neglected to notice that the mystery box containing the teeth was bottom heavy. Argh!! Big, glaring oversight! Surely, a mystery as glorious as a WHOLE BODY would be equally weighted from top to bottom. Again I separated all the boxes, weeding out the light items, then went about testing to see which boxes would balance like a see-saw atop an index finger fulcrum. Only an engineer would apply physics to the otherwise simple task of selecting a toy figure….

After much concentration and observation I finally selected what I believed to be the most evenly balanced of all the heavy mysteries.

Apparently, a uterus is very balanced, because my mystery box contained a uterus. Ah! But not just any uterus… a uterus with a removable baby!!! He (I think, I haven’t checked) is all pink and fetal-like, and tucked snugly away behind a removable pelvic bone. Yay!!

Body parts from the three mystery boxes I bought (the eye was from Comic-Con 2011)

Comic-Con has long been one of my sources for the finest in provocatively titled and illustrated pulp magazines and novels. Past events have unearthed such treasures as Eastern Shame Girl, The Love Toy, and Illicit Wife, all of which have served as essential background scenery for my fine art photographs. Though it is unfortunately becoming more difficult to find pulp vendors at the Con, as all the little mom’n’pop vendors of the cool and unusual seem to be getting squeezed off of the floor by big time movie studios, but I did manage to find a couple of booths offering a small but outstanding selection of tawdry tales.

For I Have Sinned, 1955

At Bud Plant (a Comic Con fixture) I discovered the sultry selection to the left, For I Have Sinned — The confession of a Paris streetwalker, by Ruth Sachs. I already have a photo in mind that will use this cover as an essential element of the background imagery. This cover so moved me that I was immediately inspired to scan the web for something with a similar composition: pink night gown, dark green backdrop, but with the model on the left instead of the right. How specific is that?!?! And guess what? I found one! Both will appear in an upcoming photo, so keep your eyes open for future announcements.

There were actually a ton of other cool titles at the Bud Plant booth, and I had a nice little stack of pulps going before I whittled my purchases down to only two: For I Have Sinned, and…

The Son of the Grand Eunuch — Charles Pettit, 1949

Complete and unabridged… oooooooooo! I’ll leave it you, Patient Reader, to contemplate the genealogy that would be required to produce the son of a grand eunuch.

Another of my favorite booksellers is Altair 4 Collectibles, located in Orange, California. They always have a cool selection of rare books and sci fi pulps. I picked up the two vintage magazines you see below: Astounding Science Fiction from January 1947, and Fantastic from October 1956.

Astounding Science Fiction — January 1947

Fantastic, Volume 5 — October 1956

Call me crazy, but I’m a sucker for “red scare” literature and any story that involves a well-mannered business man materializing into a women’s locker room.

Question: When did t-shirts become so bloody expensive?

Answer: When the Comic-Con staff discovered that people would be willing to line up in the hundreds for ticket vouchers that would entitle them to buy a conference t-shirt at some later time when shirts were again “in stock”—or so I was told by someone standing in the endless line at the Comic-Con souvenir booth.

I’m not sure what the Con was charging for official conference shirts, but the going rate elsewhere in the hall seemed to be $20 to $30 for custom t-shirts, with occasional price breaks if you chose to buy a whole wardrobe of witty T’s to bring envy to your friends and coworkers. I suppose this is a bargain compared to the $40-and-up price charged these days at most rock concerts, but still…

IT’S A T-SHIRT!!!

Enough complaining! We know you bought at least one t-shirt. After all, weren’t t-shirts and shorts the mainstay of your “business” wardrobe during all those years you worked as an engineer?

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster T-shirt

Yes, okay, I shouldn’t be whining, because I did find a couple of incredibly cool t-shirts, and I definitely did get my money’s worth, and (one more time) I do plan on selling my own similarly priced T’s when I eventually have a booth at the show.

So, what did I get? Two incredibly cool shirts from the fine folks at the Retro-A-Go-Go. Robots! Pin-ups! B-Movies and horror pulps! That’s my kind of booth!

To the right is t-shirt number one, which reproduces poster art from Frankenstein meets the Space Monster. Yes, it’s a real movie! No, I’ve never seen this 1965 “classic”, but I invite you to checkout the trailer!

I have no idea what the source is for the second t-shirt, Dr. Yen Syn Fortune Teller, which you see below. But isn’t it just too, too, too cool?!?!? Imagine what psychic powers I will have while wearing this shirt! Oh, and to think of how unbounded my cosmic powers might have been with the Dr. Yen Syn shirt AND the Mystic Seer machine!! No doubt, the Universe has conspired against me out of malice and jealousy, to limit my ultimate power.

::: sigh :::

Dr. Yen Syn Fortune Teller T-shirt

That’s it for my trip around the exhibition hall. Hope you enjoyed the shopping!

Up next: Celebrity sightings!

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July already? Well boys and girls, you know what that means… Comic-Con! I’ve been attending the annual pop culture fest for more years than I care to remember, and owe a large chunk of my sublime collection of Weird & Unusual Things to exhaustive hours wandering the darkest corners of the cavernous exhibition hall. Without Comic-Con, many of my very best photos would not have been possible, as the exhibition hall has been the source of everything from Frankenstein flashlights and lascivious lobby cards, to plastic body parts and scandalous paperbacks.

How was the shopping at this year’s event?

Hold on tight as we snake our way through the costume-filled aisles and take a look at some of the wonderful things that tempted (and sometimes defeated) my wallet!

Original Beatle Bobbleheads — $950!!

Our first stop is at a vintage booth near the front of the hall where I spotted the above set of original Beatles bobblehead dolls from the early 1960’s. Those of you familiar with my photography have no doubt seen the smaller (and far more sadistic looking) version of these dolls in many of my conceptual art pieces (examples here and here). This figures are much larger, and actually bear a reasonable resemblance to the Fab Four. Best of all, they were RIGHT THERE on the faux velvet tablecloth where anyone could pick them up or tap their bobbling brows to watch them nod along to whatever Beatle classic that might be floating through your head. Under those circumstances, and with the really good stuff saely locked up behind glass… how expensive could these really be, right?

Try $950. There. On the table.

No, I did not buy them. But I did make their heads bobble. Ooooooooooooooooooo!

The Private Life of Helen of Troy — John Erskine, 1947 edition

Having just saved myself almost a thousand dollars, I was now empowered to seek out more reasonably priced collectibles and ventured into one of the dwindling few booths that still sell vintage pulps and paperbacks. There, I was very excited to feast my eyes on the incredible paperback to the right. Oh wow!! Just the kind of thing I would buy! Well, except for one problem, quickly corrected as I fumbled for my reading glasses to better make sense of the price sticker.

$50?!?! Hopes dashed! Magnificence shattered! Desire unsatisfied!

Another cool item that did not pass the wallet test, but I took a photo of the cover all the same for a couple of very good reasons:

  1. It’s just so cool!
  2. To collect as much information on the book as possible, as the search now begins for a more affordably priced copy.
  3. The author… John Erskine! Coincidence of coincidences, John Erskine was the author of another amazing book that just so happens to be a feature player in my most recent photograph!! Is it any wonder that Erskine wrote The Influence of Women… and its cure, after putting Helen of Troy in a Victoria’s Secret catalog?

Quick! Run with me from this booth before reverse buyer’s remorse gets the best of me!

Onward we trudge through the sweaty masses and stumble upon…

Mystic Seer fortune telling machine!

OH MY GOD IT’S A MYSTIC SEER MACHINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Just like that famous Twlight Zone Episode starring William Shatner (Are we going to live in this country?). They actually worked and dispense fortunes on specially printed Mystic Seer cards.

How long have I wanted—no, needed—a Mystic Seer machine of my very own? Wait, that’s not a Yes or No question and the Mystic Seer would be of no use. Let us rephrase: Would a Mystic Seer machine make my life even more wonderful than it already is??? The answer, of course, would not be the usual read-what-you-will mystic ambiguity; it would be a resounding YES!

Oh… but as you can see from the photo, the Mystic Seer was locked up in a glass case, and that spells dollar signs that would require an affirmative response to question number two on the boldly printed examples. Worse, to the left of this traditional red Mystic Seer was a limited edition silver model (signed by William Shatner, by the way!), and while any color but red could not possibly be trusted to lend guidance on one’s mystic journey, the mere presence of a limited edition model had to add up to big bucks.

In this case: Glass Case = $250 for the red model, or $500 for the limited edition.

So, no, I do not have a Mystic Seer sitting here beside me that—for the bargain price of a copper penny—would be able to predict whether or not you, the reader, are enjoying this post. I just have to wing it.

But I will, someday, have a Mystic Seer.

Creature from the Black Lagoon bust

It seemed as though collectibles from my distant youth were popping up to tempt me in every aisle of the exhibit hall. Everywhere I turned enticements plucked at the strings of my memory, calling out, “Hey! Remember me? You like me! You want me! Buy me!” There were DVDs of old TV shows, vintage toys, horror comics I remember buying (without telling my parents) off the rack in Mission Beach, and… our friend to the left: The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Last summer I wrote a collection of posts on “Really Scary Things,” but completely neglected to mention the Creature! When I was a kid, the Creature from the Black Lagoon was the ultimate monster! All it took was one wide-eyed viewing of the original 1954 film on Science Fiction Theater—San Diego TV’s Saturday afternoon horror show—and I was hooked! The Creature was gross and scaly, and breathed through bellowing gills. His webbed hands were HUGE! The size of canoe paddles and tipped by razor sharp claws. He was inhumanely STRONG, and was relentless in pursuit of his startled prey. I thought the Creature was AWESOME! But he was also kind of scary because, you know, monsters could be real, and we happened to live up the hill from a large lake that didn’t look… all… that… different… than… the Creature’s Lagoon! So, yeah, I was fascinated by the Creature—but also scared and a little freaked out by the Creature. And isn’t that what makes all the best horror work?

Note!
Incidentally, just in case you’ve never seen Creature From The Black Lagoon, it may have the most immediately identifiable “monster movie” score of all-time.

Dunt-dunt-DUN! Dunt-dunt-DUN!

Yeah, that’s exactly how it goes. See for yourself.

Back to the scaly fellow above who was trapped in a glass case on the convention center floor.

When I was a kid I had a Creature from the Black Lagoon plastic model kit that I built and painted (badly), to honor my favorite movie monster. Really though? What am I going to do with a giant bust of the Creature? My home decor is adventurous, but tasteful, and I’m afraid a giant green amphibian cast would push me beyond “edgy” into full-on weirdness. Besides, I already have a small Creature on display in a bookcase along with his Universal monster friends.

I have no idea what he cost, but it was an easy decision to pass on my beloved Creature.

Original Major Matt Mason — Not for sale!

Another icon from my past is pictured to the right: Major Matt Mason, on display—and not for sale!—in the toys-of-yesteryear section of the Mattel booth. Matt Mason was an awesome toy figure created during the space race before man had actually landed on the moon. How cool was Matt Mason? He had a jet pack! That’s right—a jet pack! Everyone is always complaining that “we were promised jet packs.” Well, Matt Mason had one! Okay, in reality it was a doo-hickey that attached to his back that zipped along on a string… but if you had any sense of imagination, IT WAS A JET PACK!

Beside the jet pack, Matt Mason was cool because he had posable arms and legs. See the black accordion things in the photos? The accordion joints allowed his rubbery spacesuit to bend and remain in position. In reality, Major Matt Mason was filled head-to-toe with a substructure of stiff wire that sooner or later either broke (resulting in limp limbs) or poked through the rubber turning Matt into a saber wielding space maniac that could scratch and puncture the delicate flesh of his adolescent astronaut cadets.

Mattel had all kinds of Major Matt Mason figures and accessories on display in pristine condition. I rarely see Matt Mason figures anywhere—including Comic-Con—so it was a delightful treat to see him standing inside the glass case with his trusty space helmet at his side! Amidst the menagerie of space stations, moon suits and space sleds were a pair of Major Matt Mason accessories I had as a kid: the much coveted ATV Space Crawler and one of Matt’s space “buddies” (?!?) Doug Davis riding his Space Tractor. Each of Matt’s fellow astronauts wore a different colored suit and Doug Davis wore yellow.

No, Major Matt Mason was not for sale, and that was probably a good thing, locked glass cabinet and all. After the Beatle Bobblers, the jiggling Helen of Troy, the Mystic Seer (whose demonic head bobbles, by the way), and the Creature cast, could I bear yet another incident of exhibition sticker shock? Or would the temptation break me? Would I make a mad dash through the hall, filling my arms with limited edition wonders, as gleeful vendors stripped fat rolls of greenback from my pockets? Surely, Comic-Con 2012 could not pass without me making a single pop culture purchase; could it?

To learn the answer to these and many other crucial, overly dramatic questions… stay tuned for Part 2!

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Time moves quickly in the world of Wind-up Dreams, and where I’ve had a host of posts planned around my springtime trip to Los Angeles, it’s suddenly summer and almost July, and does it really make sense to write up a review for a couple of concerts I attended back in April? No, of course not!

Ah! But that now long ago trip north did yield a pair of fairly amazing vintage finds that have found a life together and forever in a brand new photo and video animation. Where some may direct their travels to resorts, tourist destinations, and upscale shopping districts, I’m a bit more adventurous, wandering into odd little shops, swap meets, or tiny indy record stores where (my kind of) treasure surely awaits. One such store is Permanent Records, a fantastic little record store on the main drag in Eagle Rock with an incredibly diverse selection of new and used vinyl, plus a very knowledgeable staff with great taste in all kinds of music.

“Lazy Rhapsody” Lou Busch and his Piano Orchestra, 1957

In the stacks at Permanent Records I found Lazy Rhapsody, an album released by Lou Busch and his Piano Orchestra (imagine the stage required for that!) in the late 1950s. The record had loooooong been included on my Records Want List, a comprehensive spreadsheet I’ve maintained for many years to track the album covers I see on various vintage vinyl websites that have good potential as background subject matter for my photos. The best are those covers with a glamorous gal of the 50’s gazing off into negative space where my devious mind can construct an alternate universe for her to contemplate, and—for obvious reasons (I mean, just look at it!)—Lazy Rhapsody was VERY high on my want list!

Vintage books have made several memorable appearance in my photos, and I’m always on the lookout for old texts with unusual titles or fancy gold lettering on the spine. The day before my trip to Permanent Records I discovered the Cosmopolitan Book Shop, a jam packed used bookstore on Melrose Avenue, east of La Brea. Wow! Inventory, inventory, inventory… Floor to ceiling and wall to wall. It would take days to fully appreciate their stock, and I basically found the store while filling 10 minutes before heading off to  other locales. Luckily, it took only 9 minutes to spot an absolutely incredible vintage book! Crazy title—gold on the spine. Yay!

“The Influence of Women… and its cure” John Erskine, 1936

To the left is The Influence of Women… and its cure by John Erskine, a non-fiction book published in 1936 as a call to attention to men across the land that, basically, this whole business of (gasp!) gender equality could screw up the good deal that men had enjoyed since the beginning of recorded time. Oh, the horror! Inside is a stern text bemoaning the perils of women’s rights, the outlandish notion that women could be teachers, and that men have sadly allowed their wives to control the purse strings of family wealth. I’m convinced that I could leverage the book into a career as a standup comic by merely taking to the stage and, in a serious and knowing tone, recite passages to my delighted and far more liberated audience.

Best, though, is the inscription inside the front cover:

To Roy,
with best wishes,
from Lea — 1936

 What a lovely gift! Doesn’t it make you wonder about Roy and Lea? Was Lea a strong independent woman sending Roy a message? Or was she subserviently giving Roy a gift that in present day would have been on his Amazon wish list? In any case, The Influence of Women seemed like it would be perfect as a treatment in one of my photos.

I ended up combining both of these LA finds in a new photo and video. Behold!

Malcolm was never a popular boy, until he won The Irish Sweepstakes

This was actually a very simple photo, as it involved only a single background image and very few foreground elements, whereas most of my recent work has involved much more elaborate staging. Still, building the narrative and getting the overall composition right took a fair amount of time.

Added bonus… As I’ve done with many of my recent photos, I created a video animation of the photo during deconstruction of the set! For the video I tried to imaging why Tuxedo Guy might be surrounded by all those women, and tried to find music that would sort of carry the story—though from the perspective of the women, rather than the perspective of Tuxedo Guy. Many songs were auditioned; none of them worked. And then I recalled a number one hit from 1970 that ruled the airwaves to such a heavy-rotation extent that, now, decades later, there remain people suffering from the annoying effects of an “earworm” as this invasive slice of bubbly pop drivel continually spins inside their heads. Not daring to use the original and perhaps risk the peril of worldwide audio infection, I chose a harder edge 1991 cover version from Voice Of The Beehive.

Enjoy!

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I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t post new blog entries anywhere near as frequently as I would like. Ideally, I’d be blogging on a daily basis, sharing news about new photos and videos, art exhibits, great books, cool records, and posting articles that dive deep into my creative process. Trouble is… I have a difficult time churning out prose without laboring over every word, sentence and paragraph. Plus, just to make matters a little worse, I can’t… stop… writing. Simple topics—hey! I like this record!—turn into exhaustive (but still, of course, interesting) accounts worthy of a short chapter in a book.

Yes, it’s a problem, but now… a solution!

RIP Jonathan Frid—the “real” Barnabas Collins!

I now have a super cool Tumblr account where, throughout the day, you can find quick and interesting posts from me and the merry minions at Wind-up Dreams Central. Everything we post is, of course, Super Cool. Take, for instance this scary photo of the recently departed Jonathan Frid. Oh, sure… I could have dedicated a 4,000 or 5,000 word blog post on Dark Shadows (and, come to think of it, I may do that), but I could spend a week or more in Creative Writing Hell in an effort to produce a Pulitzer caliber post on campy daytime horror. Instead, as quickly as a vampire could sink his teeth into an alabaster neck… there it is on:

Vintage Vinyl

My official Tumblr site!

While the Tumblr focuses on cool vinyl records, in recent days we’ve also made posts on awesome art, vintage advertising, weird toys, pulp novels, and outer space.

I hope you enjoy this foray into more frequent sharing of interesting things, and if YOU have a Tumblr, don’t be shy… feel free to reblog any of the images you find on Vintage Vinyl. We’re scouring the universe for cool finds to share with our followers, so let us know about your interesting finds!

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Plastic Prophets of Vinyl Redemption — Deluxe Edition

I’ve posted from time to time about the digital coffee table book of my photograph, Plastic Prophets of Vinyl Redemption, which was released this past summer, exclusively for Apple’s family of iOS devices. Creating the book was tons of fun, and I’ve been very pleased with the reception the book has received from the ebook community.

However…

Being a collector of books (and toys, and records, and art, and CDs, and devils, and, and, and…) I remain completely enamored of objects I can touch and relate to in ways that will never be matched by the bits and bytes trapped within a digital device. What can I say? I like the feel of a book in my hands, and there are great untold mysteries in slipping a sleeve from a big, beautiful album cover and reading the liner notes as black vinyl spins beneath the soft touch of a diamond stylus. Real books feel special. They smell like knowledge.

While I’m very proud of my digital book, and I’ve been quite excited to see how people have enjoyed flipping and zooming through the colorful pages on the iPad, I still wanted to produce a physical object that people could turn in their hands, explore, and connect with in ways that are difficult to mimic in a digital book.

And, so…

Over the past couple of months I’ve been hard at work creating a deluxe edition of Plastic Prophets, and I’m very excited to announce that the package is now available!!

Deluxe Edition box with cover photo printed on glass!

The Deluxe Edition comes packaged in the box you see on the right. Each wooden box is hand painted, signed and numbered, with a cover image that’s been printed on beveled glass and mounted to the lid. Inside are all kinds of collectable treasures you couldn’t possibly replicate in a purely digital release. The highlight is a 32 page full color “mini book” featuring many of the standout images from the digital book—here, reconfigured to be printed and bound in a limited softcover edition.

Hidden away in the box are other printed goodies, including a Plastic Prophets sticker, a Wind-up Dreams web card (randomly selected from a dozen different designs), and a signed, miniature, Certificate of Authentication.

Want a little more?

You’ve got it!

Your new best friend inside the luxurious Deluxe Edition box!

Lift the glass cover and inside the deluxe box you’ll find your very own kewpie doll, just like those you see in my photos! Your kewpie comes direct from Japan, and wears around its neck a miniature flash drive filled with a host of exclusive digital content.

The drive holds two digital versions of Plastic Prophets of Vinyl Redemption. The first is exactly the same as the digital ebook available on Apple’s iBookstore and compatible with the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. And just in case you don’t have access to one of those devices, the flash drive includes the full 135 page book as a PDF that can be viewed on any personal computer.

iPad users will find another added bonus on the flash drive: 95 custom wallpaper images pulled from the pages of the book to give your iPad a custom Wind-up Dreams look that will be the envy of all your friends! Kewpies, bathing beauties, robots and presidents. They’re all on the flash drive to brighten your electronic day.

So what are you waiting for? Click on over to the Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares Etsy shop for more information!

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I started out this post—the fourth in my continuing series on Really, Really Scary Things—intending to reflect on a bunch of frightening movie scenes that left their collective shivering impressions on my surely scarred and damaged soul. However, as I dove into the subject and began to write my “Recollected Tales of Cinematic Terror,” I quickly realized that the post was becoming dominated by my reaction to film adaptations of Steven King novels. So, switching gears and in the spirit of posting sooner rather than later, my Scary Scenes post is being recast as a Stephen King post. Fear (?) not; I promise that all the other heart pounding scenes of eye-popping terror will be covered in a later post.

So, yeah. Stephen King.

Stephen King has the reputation of being the preeminent writer of horror. I suppose that’s an adequate layman description, though it places his work in a tight little genre box that a lot of people won’t touch.

It — Stephen King, 1986

I remember standing in line at a bookstore around the time that It was released in 1986, and getting in a rather ludicrous argument with the old codger behind me who pointed to the “coming soon” poster and commented to his wife that he “…could tell that book is a piece of garbage.” Troublemaker that I am, I asked him if he’d ever read anything by Stephen King, to which he answered, “No, I don’t need to. Just look at the cover.” As someone who enjoys collecting life experiences of the Truly Stupid, the irony of this exchange in a bookstore was rewarding.

In any case, I personally don’t find the majority of King’s exceptional body of work to be super scary. Rather, he tells really, really good, riveting stories based on circumstances (call them supernatural, if you will) that we don’t often encounter in the “real” world. I enjoy immersing myself in his vividly told stories, and savor the creepy moments, but I’m rarely sleep-with-the-lights-on scared.

Those moments, for me, have been more likely to occur in the film adaptations of his earliest novels. Let’s turn on the projector and dare to take a peek!

Carrie White Burns In Hell

Carrie in her lovely prom ensemble.

Carrie was the first of countless Stephen King adaptations to hit the silver screen, and for my money it’s still one of the best, garnering Oscar nominations for Sissy Spacek and the delightfully deranged Piper Laurie. It smartly stayed close to the original novel, and had lots of creepy visuals (Sissy Spacek drenched in blood, staring down her classmates like a crimson statue of hate; Piper Laurie hiding behind a bedroom door clutching a 12″ butcher knife—good stuff!). The first time I saw the film, I really didn’t find it all that scary. I’d read the book, so I was well prepared for the eventual rampage of telekinetic revenge, and that played out—for me—with more satisfaction than fright.

So, yeah, the fires rage, the house implodes, Carrie is dead and the movie is over. I thought it was good. And I didn’t think it was scary.

Oh wait, the movie isn’t over. Susan Snell, the lone survivor of Carrie’s Prom Night of Death is carrying a bouquet of flowers. This isn’t in the book, I think. And then… the final scene.

Is it possible to have every ounce of blood suddenly evaporate from your entire body? I think that’s what I experienced, and—with the frenetic score and Amy Irving’s screams—it’s quite possibly the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen on film.

The Shining – Dead little girls are SCARY!

While Carrie was a reasonably accurate retelling of a Stephen King novel, The Shining is notorious for the “liberties” Stanley Kubrick took in directing his 1980 film adaptation. Yes, the book and movie tell the same basic story, but they do so by radically different means, and while King has been famously critical of the film, I think both are successful at delivering really good scares.

Dead Girls of London (to borrow a song title from Frank Zappa)

And for me, the best of those really good scares came every time the “creepy dead girls” appeared on screen. The creepy dead girls weren’t in the novel. Well, they were, but no one ever saw them. Kubrick decided to exploit their calm creepiness to the hilt! Hello… Danny. Come and play with us. Forever… and ever… and ever…

I will forever be scared of really long hotel hallways with ugly carpeting.

Salem’s Lot – Real vampires don’t wear mousse

One more early Stephen King adaptation before we move on to other horrors. I give you now Salem’s Lot and the best screen vampire since Max Schreck in Nosferatu. ‛Salem’s Lot (yes, there’s a leading apostrophe in the book title, but not the movie) was a really, really scary book about vampires slowly infiltrating a small town in rural Maine. It seemed perfect for a screen adaptation and originally aired as a two part miniseries in the fall of 1979. Despite what I thought to be some really cheesy casting (David Soul? Lance Kerwin?), the series, as a whole, was one of the best things I’ve ever seen on broadcast television, and was filled with the kind of eeriness that creep into your subconscious late at night to screw with your rational mind and leave you with the lights blazing until daybreak.

One role that was masterfully cast was that of antique dealer Richard Straker, played with supercilious big city euro-arrogance by James Mason. So superb is Mason in this role, as he plays down to the unsophisticates of the quaint little town, updating them on the impending arrival of partner, “Mr. Barlow,” that you just know something really, really bad is headed for the town of Jerusalem’s Lot.

Waiting for Mr. Barlow to arrive, we the viewing audience are treated to floating dead children, freshly buried dead children, and various other scares, but NOTHING like the first screen appearance of Mr. Barlow. With town hothead Ned Tebbets cooling off in the local pokey, his dimly lit cell is disturbed by strange shadows fluttering upon his face from beyond the bars. Ned, restlessly swats at the shadows, then awakens to see a mysterious shrouded arm unlatch the iron bars with the wave of a boney hand.

And then… Hello, Mr. Barlow!

Seeing this scene for the first time, alone, was absolutely chilling. Seeing it a second time, with a house full of we-don’t-scare-easily college roommates, was delightful. Heh heh heh heh heh…

Undead, foul-mouthed, murderous toddlers are REALLY scary!

Didn’t I earlier boast that I’m rarely truly frightened when reading Stephen King? Oh, sure, there are hair-raising moments across his entire canon of well-told tales. But seriously, psychologically messed up from reading words on the page? Nah. Well… there was one book.

Pet Sematary — Stephen King, 1983

Released in 1983, Pet Sematary was supposedly a story that King himself found so extreme in its themes and consequences that he originally held it back from publication. Naturally, I wanted to read it! The weekend following the book’s release my parents were to be out of town, leaving me home all alone at their secluded house in the country.

Who are you kidding? The house isn’t “secluded.” Yes, it’s off the street and sits on two and a half acres, but that’s certainly close enough for neighbors to hear your screams in the event of an attack by the undead!

Yeah, okay, whatever. This is my dramatic blog.

So… Alone. Secluded. There was also a rather nasty, blustery storm brewing so I set out to read what was supposed to be One Scary Book.

::: Spoilers Ahead!! :::

And it was! Raising the dead is only so scary, but when the dead come back “not quite right” with wicked, nasty, spiteful intentions… that’s downright unsettling. There were all kinds of memorably creepy scenes, the most disturbing being that of a distraught father robbing the grave of his freshly buried son, a precocious little toddler named Gage. It’s really pretty frightening, and heartbreaking (which really makes the horror that much more effective). Little Gage comes back as if possessed, going on a killing spree in which he taunts his victims (notably, about the sexual proclivities of the neighbor’s long deceased wife), and commits matricide. I read the entire 400+ page novel over the course of two nights as a storm raged outside.

The book was so scary that on the second night I just kept reading and reading because I was frankly too scared to go to sleep. And to stop reading would be to leave the horrifying and suspenseful tale hanging, unresolved, to play with my overactive imagination. Page by page I allowed the story to fill my mind, until the book came to its unsettling conclusion. Then, I had to go to bed.

I had a bedroom on the second floor above the garage, and I can’t recall how long it took me to finally fall asleep as the book sat on my nightstand and the wind howled outside my window. Nor can I recall what I dreamt that night. But sometime in the pitch of darkness I was awakened by a banshee wind shuddering at my window, and the large umbrella tree that covered the back patio was suddenly taken up and smashed through the window on the other side of the room.

Yes, that was scary.

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Envy springs forth from the pious song of man, 2010

Hi there boys and girls! Gather round and let’s play a game!

Oh, aren’t you all just the sweetest things? So dressed up and well-behaved! Your parents must be very lucky to have such obedient and well-behaved children. They love you so much. God loves you too; you know that? Why, I’ll bet you never cause your parents aaaannnny grief at all! Because, as you know boys and girls, if you don’t behave…

YOU ARE ALL GOING STRAIGHT TO HELL!!

Final frame at the Cuius Deo Optimo Open, 2006

Yes, I grew up Catholic. I went to parochial school where I was taught by nuns dressed collar to toes in black habits. I was also an altar boy, and served mass for brash Irishmen of the clergy—free drinking Jesuits, more likely to dive headlong into a bare-knuckle whiskey scrap than fall prey to modern day indiscretions. The lessons taught by the nuns and priests provided heavy doses of consequences and guilt, where punishment for potential wrong-doing was sternly described in wary terms of “or else,” rather than the vivid Bosch-esque images of torment you may imagine. Implied damnation can be so much more effective than the real thing.

Besides, the priests and nuns really didn’t need to describe the torments of hell. Not when they had effective teaching aids to scar the Holy Hell right out of your soul! One such teaching aid was a monthly magazine that parents could subscribe to for their kids.

Catholic Children’s Treasure Box – so wholesome!

The Catholic Children’s Treasure Box was published monthly by the Maryknoll Sisters, and each issue was chockfull of games, activities, and Bible stories about children who obeyed their parents and had all of the good graces of God. Just look at how happy those children are in the cover illustration above!

Issues of the Treasure Box were handed down from my oldest sister Gina, to my sister Marianne, and eventually to me and my brother. I LOVED pouring through the Treasure Box each month, and spent hours and hours engaged with their simple activities and reading the wholesome stories. There were stories about Adam and Eve, Saint Theresa, a mischievous guardian angel named Wupsy, and then….

Be good… or else! (Click for a SCARIER view!)

OH MY GOD! THIS DEVIL SCARED ME!!

Encountering images of devils, demons, fallen angels and the like was not at all uncommon throughout the pages of the CCTB; the story of Adam and Eve, in particular, was like a hornets nest of demonic illustrations. But where those devils were clearly drawn with evil intent (sly prankish grins, orange skin, reptilian wings), they at least looked somewhat human. This devil was nothing of the sort. Flaming hair! Red eyes! Warted nose! Pointed tail! Spots! And scaly, sharp toenails!

This devil was far, far too much for my impressionable five year old psyche to bear, and my mind commenced to imagine this Orange Haired Devil lurking everywhere. I envisioned him not just standing behind walls, but actually living within the brick and mortar, plotting and planning, biding his time and collecting his wicked thoughts. Surely, he waited for just the right moment to reach forth a scaly hand to pull me screaming into the fiery depths below. I didn’t dare sleep with my back to the wall! How would I ever see his fingers materializing through the wallpaper if I was not duly vigilant? But to face the wall was to face his glowing red eyes emanating from the wall, watching and waiting until I drifted off to sleep. What was a kid to do except run to the protective safety of mom and dad’s room!?!

Heeeeeere… red berries… these are delicious…

Eventually I got over my fear of the spotted devil and his many minions of tempestuous troublemaking brethren. In fact, a quick perusal on my fine art photos would likely reveal that—next to my ever adorable kewpies—devils probably take second billing of recurring characters that appear throughout my work. I put them in photos; they don’t reach through my mattress and grab my ankle. Seems fair, yes?

And, to close, let’s all enjoy Unbeknownst to her Creator, Eve longed to become a cheerleader—wholly inspired by the words that filled my adolescent imagination as I read the Catholic Children’s Treasure Box.

What terrified you as a child? Don’t worry, your disclosures won’t be shared with Satan.

Dixie’s Diabolical Decision, 2009

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