Proverbial hell breaks loose on Halloween night, and the twists come wicked quick. We discover who murdered who, and who isn’t really dead (and has a surprising affiliation). Non-players appear at the manifestation ceremony and physically interfere, while others affect the outcome through more subtle manipulation. Like a trick-or-treater’s candy bag, this entire climactic chapter of Zelazny’s novel is stuffed with sinful delights. But the ultimate highlight comes from the great banefire the players gather round:
It goes all the way back into the misty vastness of our practices. Both sides require it, so in this sense it is a neutral instrument. After midnight, it comes to burn in more than one world, and we may add to it those things which enhance our personal strengths and serve our ends. It attracts otherworldly beings sympathetic to both sides, as well as neutral spirits who may be swayed by the course of the action. Voices and sights may pass through it, and it serves as a secondary, supportive point of manifestation to whatever the opening or closing object may be. Customarily, we all bring something to feed it, and it interacts with all of us throughout the ritual. I had urinated on one of our sticks, for example, several days earlier. There are times when players have been attacked by its flames; and I can recall an instance when one was defended by a sudden wall of fire it issued. It is also good for disposing of evidence. It comes in handy on particularly cold nights, too.
Hearkening back to the ancient roots of Halloween, this hilltop scene of blazing flame is perfectly bewitching in its atmosphere. Snuff’s description of the banefire also captures all the wittiness and occult complexity that has characterized the narrative all October long.
This Halloween season, The Simpsons offered two holiday episodes, Treehouse of Horror Presents: Not IT and Treehouse of Horror XXXIII. So this year’s Treehouse of Triviaquiz is going to have to be doubly challenging. Not for the faint of heart or unobservant of eye!
[Answers appear in the Comments section of this post.]
1. In “Not IT,” what is the town slogan scripted on the “Welcome to Kingfield” sign?
2. According to Carl in “Not IT,” what purpose did the clubhouse serve before the Losers took it over?
3. Which of the following was not pictured in “Krusto D. Clown’s Group of Oddities” in “Not IT”?
a) Lobster Boy
b) Fat Man
c) Dogface Kid
d) Mole Man
e) Bearded Lady
4. In “Not IT,” the bakery Krusto haunts is called “Needful Sweets.” True or False?
5. On the walls of D’ohs Tavern in “Not IT,” two different pennants can be seen. One has “Regrets” blazoned on it. What word does the other sport?
6. Which of the following Stephen King titles does not appear in Kang and Kodos’s bookcase at the end of “Not IT”?
a) Dr. Sleep
c) The Dead Zone
d) Dolores Claiborne
e) Pet Sematary
f) Skeleton Crew
g) The Dark Tower
h) Needful Things
i) The Tommyknockers
7. Complete the title of the book that appears alongside The Pookadook in Maggie’s bookcase: Don’t Let the ____ ______ _______.
8. In “The Pookadook” segment, why do Homer, Bart, and Lisa come home early from their overnight stay at the aquarium?
9. According to Steve Johnson in “Death Tome,” what was the most popular name in his nursery cave?
10. Lisa’s “justice spree” eliminates at least ten employees of Mr. Burns’s company Globo-Warm. List four different means of death.
11. The “Simpsonsworld” segment contains to references to Edgar Allan Poe. What are they?
12. When the Simpson robots eat at Bob’s Burger’s, what is the advertised Burger of the Day?
13. In the episode epilogue, how do Kang and Kodos come across the Treehouse of Horror XXXIII meta-tome?
Yes, I was really disappointed to learn that Tim Burton’s new Netflix series Wednesday wouldn’t be premiering until after Halloween season (three more grueling weeks to wait!). But that just sent me back to view earlier incarnations of the Addams Family, and it turns out that the creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky household has a rich history of Halloween association.
The Halloween connection traces back to the inception of the Addams Family. Charles Addams’s vintage New Yorker cartoons more commonly skewer the Yuletide holiday, but there is one signature piece in which the Addamses descend en masse on the wilds of Central Park in late October (with Uncle Fester even toting a jack-o’-lantern under his arm).
As a 1960’s sitcom, The Addams Family featured two separate Halloween episodes. In episode 1.7, “Halloween with the Addams Family,” a pair of robbers on the run (Don Rickles and Skip Homeier) attempt to hide out at the Addams home and get caught up in the family’s crazy celebration of its “favorite holiday” (the festivities include “bobbing for the crab”). And long before The Nightmare Before Christmas, the Addamses gather for a recitation of a special holiday-splicing poem: “It was Halloween evening, and through the abode / Not a creature was stirring, not even a toad. / Jack-o’-lanterns are hung on the gallows with care / To guide sister witch as she flies through the air…”
“Halloween–Addams Style” (2.7) means bite-size salamander sandwiches prepared via guillotine, and porcupine taffy crafted by Grandmama. After an insensitive neighbor spoils the trick-or-treating Wednesday’s holiday joy by claiming that witches don’t exist, a séance is conducted to contact the Addams ancestor Aunt Singe (who was burnt at the stake in Salem). Comedic confusion ensues when a witch-costumed neighbor out on a Halloween scavenger hunt shows up at the Addams mansion.
The sitcom’s original cast returned in living color for the 1977 TV movie Halloween with the New Addams Family(a film that features extensive scenes of an Addams-hosted costume party at which various bits of hilarity occur). Halloween is clearly Christmas for the Addams Family, as is evident from the legend of Cousin Shy, a jolly spirit who “carves a smile on a specially hidden pumpkin, and leaves beautiful gifts at the feet of the Halloween scarecrow.” As if all this wasn’t festive enough, the closing scene presents the Addamses in candlelit procession, singing a macabre carol: “Scarecrows and blackbirds are always together. Spiders spin cobwebs in overcast weather. Cauldrons are brewing and banshees are doing a weird and ghastly routine, to wish you a merry, creepy Halloween.”
The 1991 cinematic adaptation The Addams Family concludes–you guessed it–on Halloween night. Gomez carves a cyclopean jack-o’-lantern; Pugsley dresses as his Uncle Fester, and Wednesday (in her everyday clothes) as a “homicidal maniac.” Then the Addamses head outside for a rousing game of Wake the Dead, which involves digging up departed relatives from the family graveyard.
For Halloween 1992, The Addams Family animated series served up “Puttergeist.” While the title references a certain Steven Spielberg horrorfest, the episode itself riffs on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Granny regales the family with a Halloween tale: four decades ago, a golfer hit the links on Halloween night, only to lose his head to a lightning strike. Thereafter he haunts the town as a specter with a giant golf ball for a head–quite a swerving from the pumpkin originally employed by Washington Irving.
In 1998 came the Canadian reboot The New Addams Family, whose series premiere “Halloween with the Addams Family” is a redux of the same-titled episode from the 60’s sitcom. Old gags are updated: Fester goes bobbing for hand grenades; Gomez wipes the smile off a jack-o’-lantern, carving a scarier expression with his fencing sword. Pugsley and Wednesday (dressed as Siskel and Ebert) wreak havoc on the neighborhood when they go trick-or-treating (one candy-stingy couple who foolishly demand a trick before handing out treats end up in a homemade electric chair rigged to their doorbell).
This survey of Halloween legacy should also make mention of the influence of the Addams Family on Ray Bradbury’s Elliott Family (a positively monstrous clan who, in the author’s classic story “Homecoming,” gather in an Illinois manse for a Halloween night reunion). In his afterword to his 2001 Elliott Family chronicle From the Dust Returned, Bradbury details his relationship with Charles Addams. Their plans for a book collaboration never came to fruition, but Addams did create an elaborate illustration of “Homecoming” when the story was first published in Mademoiselle.
For an outré crew like the Addams Family, every day is Halloween. But this First Family of Gothic comedy has also treated fans to plenty of October-31st-specific content over the years. I am eager to see if the forthcoming Wednesday follows this fine tradition.
The penultimate chapter of Zelazny’s novel clarifies the parameters of the Game and establishes the stakes for the players. Snuff explains: “Those of us who remain will gather atop the hill at midnight. We will bring kindling, and we will cooperate in the building of a big fire. It will serve as illumination, and into it will be cast all the bones, herbs, and other ingredients we have been preparing all month to give ourselves an edge to confound our enemies.” The participants will encircle “the Gateway–which we have already determined to be the stone bearing the inscription.” The Opening and Closing Wands will be wielded. Things could get physical, and “psychic attacks may be shot back and forth. Disasters may follow. Players may fall, or go mad, catch fire, be transformed.” And eventually, “at the end of our exercises, which may take only a little while, though conceivably they could last until dawn (and in such a stalemated case, the closers would win by default)–the matter will be decided. Bad things happen to the losers.” All this stage-setting for the Halloween night mayhem represents the highlight for October 30th.
“Checking out the aftermath of the fire” at the Good Doctor’s place, Snuff encounters Needle sleeping in the hayloft of the barn. The two are soon attacked by the crossbow-wielding Vicar Roberts, but are saved by the Great Detective in his Linda Enderby disguise. The Great Detective then conveys to Snuff everything he has deduced about the Game and its players. Snuff tries to play dumb, affecting all the mannerisms of a beast of “subhuman intelligence”: “idiot slobbering,” yawning, scratching his ear with his hind leg. The Great Detective (who also announces his intention to try to save Lynette from being sacrificed during the Halloween ceremony, since Larry is likely to be hampered by his own “moon madness” and the silver-bullet-loaded pistol of the vicar) isn’t fooled one bit by Snuff’s act. But the amusing contrast between the detective’s expression of Sherlockian brilliance and Snuff’s simultaneous “dumb dog” routine forms the highlight for October 29th.
Set shortly after the events of the beloved Tim Burton film, Shea Ernshaw’s YA fantasy novel begins with the wedding of Sally to Jack Skellington. While happy to be married to the bone man of her dreams, the newly crowned Pumpkin Queen frets over her new title and role. Riddled with self-doubt and feeling crushed by the press of expectations, she flees Halloween Town for a quiet walk through the Hinterlands. Beyond the grove of holiday trees, the hidden entrance to a forgotten realm is discovered, and when Sally accidentally leaves the door to this mysterious tree ajar, a worlds-spanning scourge is unleashed–a new Big Bad who makes Oogie Boogie seems cute and cuddly by comparison.
The novel offers readers the chance to revisit Burton’s colorful cast of monsters and to learn more about the dark holiday realm they inhabit: “In Halloween Town,” Sally notes, our graveyard rests on the outer border near the gate, where the howling voices of the dead can be heard echoing through the streets each night.” But it’s the excursion to the various other holiday towns that proves most remarkable here, as these fantasy worlds (Valentine’s Town, St. Patrick’s Town, etc.) are finely imagined and depicted via vivid detail.
Written in the first-person present tense, the narrative can feel a bit odd at first, but this stylistic choice creates a sense of dreamlike immersion that is appropriate to the plot. Ernshaw’s prose does shade toward the purple at times, and Sally’s repeated description of her emotions in terms of her ragdoll makeup (“My leaves stir wildly in my chest”; “dread slithers up and down my patchwork seams”) seems overdone. The metaphors get messy: after stating that her body is stuffed with “dried, shriveled leaves” and that she has “no bones to break,” Sally later refers to ” my linen bones” and an echo that “sends a spike of cold down to my tailbone.” But that’s my only real critique of this highly inventive and entertaining book.
Long Live the Pumpkin Queen is a fun fantasy novel that will delight Nightmare fans of all ages. I’m already dreaming of a potential screen adaptation by Disney–what better way to commemorate next year’s thirtieth anniversary of the original film’s release? Time to get started, Tim, on those stop-motion puppets…
Various plot pieces fall into place on this night. With his recalculation of the pattern, Snuff at last identifies the site of the Halloween face-off: “It was here, Dog’s Nest, amid its broken circle of stone, where the final act would take place.” Bubo also conveniently summarizes what the Game is all about, articulating to Snuff the story “of how a number of the proper people are attracted to the proper place in the proper year on a night in the lonesome October when the moon shines full on Halloween and the way may be opened for the return of the Elder Gods to Earth, and of how some of these people would assist in the opening of the way for them while others would strive to keep the way closed.” For all the neatness of this chapter of Zelazny’s novel, its highlight arises from a reference to previous bit of professional messiness. After Jack comments that the other players will also divine the pattern’s central location within the next few days, Snuff replies, “…And the word will be passed. True. I can only recall one time when no one figured it properly.” It was a rare occasion a long time ago, Jack remarks, and Snuff provides further exposition: “Yes, and we all sat down to dinner together, made a joke of it, and went our ways.” Skilled, veteran players Snuff and Jack may be, but their Game record does contain one laughable tie.
The Good Doctor’s residence/secret laboratory has burned down (in a plot echo of the climax of Frankenstein). At the site of the razed home, Snuff and Graymalk meet Bubo, who explains: “The experiment man got mad at the Good Doctor and started wrecking the lab. Sparks from some of the equipment set the place burning.” More importantly, the rat confesses that he has been passing himself off as a Game player to “get respect and decent treatment from the rest” of the animals in the neighborhood. “I’d been hanging around the Good Doctor’s place already,” Bubo says, “for the leftovers from his work. So I let on that he was in the Game and I worked for him.” In actuality, the Good Doctor had just taken up residence there for the privacy it provided him as he conducted his experiments. This key bit of information concerning the Good Doctor (neither a closer nor an opener) also explains why Snuff’s calculations of the pattern have been consistently off: he’s included one Game participant too many (not failed to identify a “secret player”). The revelation that Zelazny has been employing a red herring in the case of this particular Universal-Monster-movie-alluding character comprises the highlight for the October 27th section of the novel.
David G. Hartwell’s classic anthology The Dark Descent is a massive textual chest brimming with terrifying treasures, but none more captivating than Michael Shea‘s 1980 novella “The Autopsy.” Shea’s unique blend of medical inquiry, body horror, and cosmic horror forms one of the most truly unnerving tales I’ve ever read. From my very first encounter with the narrative, I thought it would make for an incredible short film. Decades later, that adaptation (by director David Prior, from a teleplay by David S. Goyer) has finally occurred, with “The Autopsy” serving as the third episode of the new Netflix series Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
The hour-long episode proves quite faithful in its translation of Shea’s into the televisual, capturing all of the creeping dread and visceral gruesomeness of the original narrative. Actually seeing the various autopsies performed might be even more affecting than reading about them (I’ll admit that at times the depth of medical information in Shea’s text has overwhelmed me). The postmortems–mostly conducted by forensic pathologist Dr. Carl Winters (F. Murray Abraham)–depicted onscreen here (via stunning fx) make The Autopsy of Jane Doe seem like a fun game of Operation. Fans of Lovecraftian horror will not want to miss this sublimely chilling effort.