31 Days of Halloween 2021, Days 1-2: The Incredibly Strange Creature Who Stopped Living Because She Had a Migraine

So I began October with a freaking migraine. Great Pumpkin, how have I angered ye? But did that stop my Spooktobering? …It did dial me down from a speedy Living Dead pace to Romero zombie shamble, but I made some progress. And took two Witch Baby baths. More on that later. First, MEDIA CONSUMED:

Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, animation, Hanna-Barbera, 1999.

Having both a stellar headache and a 5YO present, I started off Spooktober with the annual family viewing of Scooby-Doo and the Witch’s Ghost, our Halloween Die Hard, if you will, in which Tim Curry, playing a ponytailed Stephen King simulacrum, invites the gang to his New England hometown. Of course, as dead bodies follow Jessica Fletcher, so must spooks follow the gang, and they quickly get caught up in busting the ghost of Tim Curry’s witchy ancestor. There’s also a fan favorite red herring in the form of the Hex Girls rock band headlining the local Autumn Fest. This is the only Scooby I have really gotten my girl child to latch onto, as misfit Goth Girls is one of her favorite subgenres of children’s entertainment, and the Hex Girls fit that bill. (I understand there’s a version of this called Scooby-Doo and the Hex Files that actually CUTS to make it more about the band. No one tell my Varmint this.) Pretty sure you can still get Hex Girls merch at Hot Topic, too.

I assume she will grow into Tim Curry appreciation naturally, as we all do.

This is one of several direct-to-video Scoobys of the era and a major reboot for the property ahead of its live-action adaptation and approximately 40,000 new versions since. Oh, I remember gathering around Cartoon Network in anticipation! I also remember it was slightly weird, but perfectly in sync with the zeitgeist, that these Scoobys tried to have it both ways with a fake monster for the gang to unmask and a real one. I think Witch’s Ghost does a great job threading that needle, but then Tim Curry makes everything 30% more believable.

I do wonder if there’s Velma/Ben Ravencroft slashfic out there. Daddy issues, Velma Dinkley got ’em.

Enjoy this original trailer that takes us back to the pre-streaming era of competing to rent one of 3 copies nested behind fat clamshell VHSes at Blockbuster. How did we survive such primative times?

Then, of course, the migraine set in pert hard, so I was driven to a dark bedroom and audio-only spookiness…

Snap Judgment Presents: Spooked, podcast.

Subscription on Luminary, but I listened to free episodes on Google podcasts.
Episodes: Green Demon, Fright at the Museum, The Watcher, The Curse, Possession, The Shadow Men, A Friend in the Forest

Now in its fourth season, Spooked gathers up stories of hauntings as told by the haunted, at least for the most part–ain’t every ghost survivor a natural storyteller. The show was recommended to me, particularly the first season, and naturally it was on my short list for this month, especially since all my traditional favorite ghost travelogues are now locked behind the Discovery Plus paywall.

Ghost Adventures GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I probably need to absorb more to really review it, but these few episodes left me with a couple strong impressions.

Impression the First: There’s a stereotype about how all UFO encounters occur to backwoods yokels in the middle of nowhere, but listening to a few episodes of Spooked made me aware of just how affluent and white this kind of paranormal show normally is…because Spooked isn’t. The show was originally produced at WNYC, and the stories and storytellers featured on the show actually reflect a city with more than the casts of Friends and Seinfeld living in it. That’s overdue, and it’s also one of those moments where it’s just…ohai, white supremacy is entrenched in every aspect of our lives and culture and I had the privilege to only just notice it…

Impression the Second: There’s something so genuinely nice about being told a straight-up, no twist, no punchline ghost story. It’s like a romance. Journeys end in lovers meeting. You know where this is going. This isn’t high art. This is barely drama. It’s pleasurable at least partially because there are no big surprises. That it’s a nasty visitation behind that door that won’t stay shut is beside the point. Same with serial killer documentaries, prob. …Maybe it’s less romance than porn, actually. This flies in the face of how horror often, if not always, elicits a response, by jogging your marionette strings between dread and surprise until you can’t help but shudder. But maaaaaybe that’s why these kinds of stories are so popular as comfort TV/listening, too. It’s a very cozy kind of thrill, even if these stories are purportedly true…

Midnight Mass, miniseries, written (first episode) and directed by Mike Flanagan, Netflix, 2021.

Episode: Book I: Genesis.

Speaking of Comfort Horror, oh, baby. This thing is just grab a blanket and a bevvie and settle in for a good slow burn…chill. Slow chill? Hmm. Anyway, this is Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, The Haunting of Hill House, Doctor Sleep), and I’m really happy he’s doing his own thing, not only because it’s irritating when he does his own thing and wraps it in Shirley Jackson/Henry James/Stephen King wallpaper (confession: I only got one episode into Bly House and may revisit it this month, we’ll see), but he is so damn good at his own damn thing! He’s brilliant. I don’t know where this will land, although even in episode one, I think I can read the code for the ending scrolling in the background, but that’s not a bad thing. All I know is I am bitter I couldn’t binge it all with my sweet husband (who actually rewatched episode one because he didn’t know I wanted to watch it) but this is life as a parent. More deets on the show as we get deeper in. I LOVE IT RIGHT NOW THO.

Oh, yeah, and my husband and I are both atheists, so this article can go up an alley and holler fish.

The Devil Rides Out, film, directed by Terence Fisher, written by Richard Matheson (based on a novel by Dennis Wheatley), 1968.

Feeling less like the guy in the beginning of Scanners on Migraine Morning 2, I chanced to watch rather than listen and put on a perennial favorite, The Devil Rides Out, also known as The Devil’s Bride, starring Christopher Lee, the might and virtue of white Anglo-Saxon Christianity in the form of the British upper class, and Charles Grey as Basically Aleister Crowley. I got the blu-ray from Scream Factory for my birthday last year and hadn’t taken it for a spin yet. I didn’t dive into the extras, but it was a GAWJUSS print of the film. I love this movie so much, it’s weird I’ve never written about it, but Carol Borden touched on it in her excellent essay on The Wicker Man, which I love as much as this movie and with far less internal qualification.

Underneath the satanic cosplay, The Devil Rides Out really just wants to be an exciting adventure story in the Ian Fleming mold, plus it’s so British, it was actually quite difficult not to type “mould” just then. Christopher Lee, of course, was friends with Wheatley and cousins with Fleming, and it’s all too easy to imagine them all taking an evening at their club, somewhere exclusive and walnut-paneled, being served unparalleled cognac, whilst all around them peers in smart suiting, I don’t know, save the Queen, whatever they do. This story is a missive from that time and that world, and as such, it has weathered itself some age spots. But it’s still an altogether beautiful piece, pure-hearted and true.

Lee plays Nicholas, Duc de Richleau, a recurring character in Wheatley’s works, an aristocratic champion of the light who just so happens to have a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of the “Left-Hand Path,” i.e. dark and satanic maleficium. Oooh, there’s an origin story I want more than Book’s in Firefly. The Duc and the Watson to his Holmes, Rex, become concerned when their young friend Simon, the son of a deceased buddy actually, disappears from social life. They check on him, and wouldn’t you know it? He’s fallen under the thrall of a satanic cult leader, Mocata (Charles Grey), and the rest of the film is pretty much the Duc and Mocata fighting for the poor dope’s soul like Betty and Veronica over Archie. There is also a gorgeous lady, Tanith, to rescue, because it just wouldn’t be right if there weren’t, and she doubles as a love interest for Rex.

Lee brought this project to Hammer in the first place and loved the resultant movie until the end of his days, and you can tell from his marvelously subtle command of the Duc’s character how invested he was in making it. This film played not just to all of his professional strengths, but apparently personal tastes, too. Never forget Lee was a devout Christian who truly believed in the occult. Plus, with no Peter Cushing in sight, Christopher Lee gets to be the occult expert hero in the gorgeous menswear for once! #CrushingOnCushing

I think it’s interesting, too, how similar this film feels to classic interpretations of Dracula, especially when you consider how underused Lee was as Dracula in his work for Hammer and how trapped he came to feel in the role. And yet, with all his good buddy Wheatley’s works available to him, he wanted to adapt this, which fits pretty well within Dracula’s basic outline. Lee may very well be your favorite Dracula, I don’t know, and I’m not saying he wasn’t a good ‘un, but for my money, this movie makes far greater use of his powers as a Van Helsing.

More on Occult Bathing Rituals/Unsolicited Witch Baby Endorsements in another post, but that’s 2 whole days of Halloween GONE. I will have to make better use of the next 29.

Charles Gray eyes on the prize.

If you’d like to read my venomous screed hating allllll over Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, click here.

If you’d like to read my heaps of praise for Mike Flanagan’s Hush, click here. (Sorry, the images for this article were bamfed in the site migration.)

I’d also like to take a moment to thank my sponsor, Dill McKinley, purveyor of gourmet pickles in living (dead) color! IT’S SPOOKLEBERRY™ SEASON again!