Macabre Accolades

Admittedly, New Year’s Eve is one of my least favorite holidays, but the best part about the close of December is the prevalence of year-end retrospectives.  Here’s a compilation of links to different websites honoring the horror genre’s best offerings of 2022:

BookRiot: “The 10 Best Horror Books of 2022”

CrimeReads: “The Best Horror Fiction of 2022”

Paste Magazine: “The Best Horror Books of 2022”

Vulture: “The Best Horror Novels of 2022”

LitReactor: “The Must Read Horror Graphic Novels of 2022”

Esquire: “The 23 Best Horror Films of 2022 (So Far)”  [posted in October]

Rolling Stone: “10 Best Horror Movie of 2022”

Collider: “10 Horror Movie Protagonists Who Made Smart Decisions in 2022”

Dread Central: “Top 10 Horror Movies of 2022”

But when it comes to this kind of stuff, nobody does it better than:

Bloody Disgusting: “Top 15 Best Horror Movies of 2022”; “The Top Ten Scariest Scenes in 2022 Horror Movies”; “The 10 Best Kills in 2022’s Horror Movies”; “12 Best International Horror Films of 2022”; “The Year of Unforgettable Horror Monologues”; “The 8 Funniest Horror Movie Moments of 2022”; “10 Best Horror TV Series of 2022”; “2022: The Year Jenna Ortega and Mia Goth Dominated the Horror Scene”

Any other sites I missed, and which you would recommend checking out? Let me know!

***

Finally, I’ll weigh in here by citing my favorite pieces of horror-related media from 2022 (note that I say “favorite” rather than “best,” because I still have a big list of items to read/watch):

Favorite TV Series: “Wednesday” (reviewed here)

Tim Burton, The Addams Family, Jenna Ortega, and Edgar Allan Poe? Count me in(vested wholeheartedly).

 

Favorite Horror Film: “X”

This clever twist on the slasher formula had it all: a gripping story, stellar performances by the ensemble cast (led by Mia Goth in a dual role), crazy kills, and stunning visuals (both beautiful and grotesque)

 

Favorite Anthology: Classic Monsters Unleashed

Dracula and Frankenstein Monster and Dr. Moreau; Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, and the Headless Horseman: oh my, what an entertaining collection of new stories paying homage to legendary horror figures.

 

Favorite Novel: Reluctant Immortals

A clever and terrifically entertaining updating/reimagining of Dracula and Jane EyreI’ll have a lot more to say about this book shortly here at Dispatches from the Macabre Republic, in the next installment of Dracula Extrapolated.

Wednesday: Woe Joking

In the Addams Family films of the 90’s, Christina Ricci’s Wednesday was a shining fount of black humor (check out this past post for a survey of her finest deadpan deliveries). Jenna Ortega more than lives up to such mordant tradition in the new Netflix series centered on the Addams goth-daughter. Here are thirteen prime examples of the character’s snappy dialogue:

 

Wednesday: [My visions] come on without warning, and feel like electroshock therapy, but without the satisfying afterburn.
–Ch. I, “Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe”

 

Morticia: That boy’s family was going to file attempted murder charges. How would that have looked on your record?
Wednesday: Terrible. Everybody would know I failed to get the job done.
–Ch. I, “Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe”

 

Wednesday: It takes a special kind of stupid to devote an entire theme park to zealots responsible for mass genocide.
Lucas: My dad owns Pilgrim World. Who you calling stupid?
Wednesday: If the buckled shoe fits…
–Ch. I, “Wednesday’s Child is Full of Woe”

 

Enid: Want to take a stab at being social?
Wednesday: I do like stabbing. The social part not so much.
–Ch. II, “Woe is the Loneliest Number”

 

Wednesday: Let’s assess, shall we? Bag over my head for optimal disorientation, wrists tied tight enough to cut off circulation, and no idea if I’m going to live or die. It’s definitely my kind of party.
Ch. III, “Friend or Woe”

 

[After the sheriff leaves, Thing opens the door of the morgue drawer where Wednesday has hid herself]
Wednesday: 
Five more minutes. I was just getting comfortable.
–Ch. IV, “Woe What a Night”

 

Wednesday [about to enter the suspected lair of the Hyde monster]: If you hear me screaming bloody murder, there’s a good chance I’m enjoying myself.
–Ch. IV, “Woe What a Night”

 

Lucas: Wednesday, I come in peace.
Wednesday: That’s a shame. I brought my pocket mace. The medieval kind.
–Ch IV, “Woe What a Night”

 

Wednesday [unhappy to see her family arrive at Nevermore for Parents Weekend]: I knew I should have worn my plague mask.
Ch. V, “You Reap What You Woe”

 

Tyler: Is that Enid’s gift?
Wednesday: It’s perfect if you’re fleeing a war-torn country on foot.
Ch. VI, “Quid Pro Woe”

 

Enid: Oh, we should wear our snoods!
Wednesday: Oh, I…I believe I left mine at fencing.
Enid: Actually, you left yours at the Weathervane. Luckily, Bianca brought it back.
Wednesday: Like a monkey’s paw.
–Ch. VI, “Quid Pro Woe”

 

Wednesday: Of course, the first boy I kiss would turn out to be a psychotic, serial-killing monster. I guess I have a type.
–Ch. VII, “If You Don’t Woe Me By Now”

 

Wednesday: Typically, I have great admiration for well-executed revenge plots. But yours was a bit extreme, even for my high standards.
–Ch. VIII, “A Murder of Woes”

 

In Praise of Wednesday

The Addams Family and Tim Burton is a match made in merry hell. The runaway-hit Netflix series Wednesday conjoins the macabre humor of Charles Addams’s original creation with Burton’s gloriously Gothic sensibility. Throw in a compelling central mystery and a dazzling lead performance, and the result is the best new series of 2022.

Darkly beautiful to behold, Burton’s Wednesday is a feast for the eyes (starting with that lofty dorm room in a gargoyle-adorned Queen-Anne-style mansion). The show’s setting features murky woods and cobwebbed ruins, hidden passageways and secret underground chambers. Wednesday also clearly works within Burton’s American Gothic wheelhouse, with its depiction of neighboring town of Jericho–a modern-day village whose quaint appearance cannot cover up its sinister roots that stretch all the way back to Puritan times.

There’s a classic slasher element to the first season’s storyline, as a shapeshifting beast dubbed the Hyde preys on a sequence of cast members (while Wednesday, an aspiring dark-crime writer, works to “unmask” the killer). Along the way, references to Poe abound (the author’s tales in general, but also–via the series’ Nevermore Academy locale–to his ever-popular poem “The Raven”). Stephen King fans will delight in a midseason scene of an ill-fated school formal (a bloody brilliant homage that has been overshadowed by a certain dance routine gone viral). If the overall proceedings tend toward the formulaic, as the show recalls other Netflix ventures such as The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (with its plunges into paranormal romance) and Stranger Things (with Wednesday standing in for Eleven, as the heroic leader of a band of “outcasts”), at least it is a winning formula that is copied.

Admittedly, the casting does feel a bit uneven; Wednesday’s parents, in particular, disappoint. Catherine Zeta-Jones gives a wooden performance as Morticia (one unworthy of predecessors Carloyn Jones and Anjelica Huston), and Luis Guzman (Gomez Addams) delivers his lines as if he’s in a perennial state of gastric distress. But the statuesque Gwendoline Christie is the embodiment of glamor and British charm as Principal Weems, and Emma Myers is delightful as Wednesday’s perpetually-bubbly, would-be-werewolf roommate Enid. Let’s give a well-deserved hand, too, to the prestidigitator Victor Dorobantu, who steals scenes throughout as a convincing, more-than-just-digital-fx Thing.

Of course, the success of the series hinges upon Jenna Ortega’s turn in the title role. Anyone who watched her in X knows that Ortega possesses an incredibly expressive face; I was concerned heading in that the strictures of the Wednesday character would prevent the actress from demonstrating her dramatic range. But Ortega manages to channel the stoic snarkiness of Christina Ricci in the 90’s films while also presenting a more rounded figure. Wednesday’s ongoing series format (vs. the episodic nature of a sitcom) necessitates a character arc, and over the course of the first season the teenage Addams grows increasingly less standoffish and more human in her interactions. No easy task to come off at once as sneering and endearing, but this Wednesday makes it look easy. Already a star in the making, Ortega establishes herself here as the most talented young actress currently practicing her craft.

Ultimately, the series evinces a lot of heart–and not just the tell-tale kind. Wednesday’s child might be full of woe (according to the nursery rhyme line that inspired Morticia and Gomez’s christening of their daughter), but Burton’s brainchild Wednesday is full of wonderful entertainment. I’d be kooky not to give it two enthusiastic two-snaps.

 

The Losers’ Club Climbs Up into the Treehouse

Here it is almost two weeks into November, and I’m still catching up on Halloween season items. But no matter: most readers of this blog probably join me in adopting the Alice Cooper mantra of keeping Halloween alive 365.

I just had a chance to listen to recent episode of The Losers’ Club podcast. In “The Simpsons‘ ‘Not It’: Stephen King in Springfield,” the hosts survey King’s intersection with the animated series over the years. After discussing the Treehouse of Horror specials in general, they then zero in to dissect “Not It” (the first of two Treehouse offering by The Simpsons this season). As usual, the group does not hesitate to voice strong critiques, which is fine (better that than being shameless shills). My two common issues with the podcast, though, prove glaringly evident here. First, the Losers are not as funny as they fancy themselves to be, and once again spend too much time dispensing ostensible wit rather than genuine wisdom (the rant in this episode about the state of contemporary humor also seemed brash in its bashing). Secondly, they have a tendency to be incompletely prepared: I can’t believe, given the topic of this particular podcast episode, that no mention was made of The Simpsons‘ previous invocation of Pennywise (in the 2018 episode “Fears of a Clown”). But I’m not here to throw rocks at the Losers, simply to mention that fans of the Fox series and/or King will find the episode a provocative listen.

 

 

Comparing Countdowns

In a previous post, I covered Shudder’s The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time. Now that the Halloween-season-spanning, eight-episode series is complete, let’s compare its rankings to those in the similar countdown specials that preceded it on the Bravo channel.

Abbreviations:
B100= Bravo’s The 100 Scariest Movie Moments [2004]
B30= Bravo’s 30 Even Scarier Movie Moments [2006]
B13= Bravo’s 13 Scarier Movie Moments [2009] 

 

The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time

Episode 1
101. It Follows (2014)
100. The Orphanage (2007)
99. ‘Salem’s Lot (1979)
98. Horror of Dracula (1958)
97. Black Sabbath (1963)
96. Pulse (2001)
95. The Strangers (2008) [B13: #13] 
94. The Wolf-Man (1941) [B100: #62] 
93. Cat People (1942) [B100: #97] 
92. The Birds (1963) [B100: #96] 
91. Mulholland Drive (2001)
90. Child’s Play (1988) [B100: #93] 
89. An American Werewolf in London (1981) [B100: #42] 

Episode 2
88. Us (2019)
87. The Witch (2015)
86. Zombi 2 (1979) [B100: #98] 
85. The Changeling (1980) [B100: #54] 
84. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) [B100: #52] 
83. The Brood (1979) [B100: #78] 
82. A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
81. Demons (1985) [B100: #53] 
80. Doctor Sleep (2019)
79. Candyman (1992) [B100: #75] 
78. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
77. The Evil Dead (1981) [B100: #76] 
76. Dawn of the Dead (2004) [B30: #13] 

Episode 3
75. Annihilation (2018)
74. Cujo (1983) [B100: #58] 
73. The Fly (1986) [B100: #33] 
72. The Wicker Man (1973) [B100: #45] 
71. Nosferatu (1922) [B100: #47]
70. The Night House (2020)
69. Aliens (1986) [B100: #35] 
68. The Babadook (2014)
67. The Last House on the Left (1972) [B100: #50] 
66. Terrified [Aterrados] (2017)
65. Friday the 13th (1980) [B100: #31] 
64. Dawn of the Dead (1978) [B100: #39] 
63. Peeping Tom (1960) [B100: #38] 

Episode 4
62. A Quiet Place (2018)
61.The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
60. Phantasm (1979) [B100: #25] 
59. Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
58. When a Stranger Calls (1979) [B100: #28] 
57. Black Christmas (1974) [B100: #87]
56. Jacob’s Ladder (1990) [B100: #21] 
55. Threads (1984)
54. The Howling (1981) [B100: #81]
53. Gerald’s Game (2017)
52. Misery (1990) [B100: #12] 
51. Frankenstein (1931) [B100: #27] 
50. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) [B100: #17] 

Episode 5
49. A Bay of Blood (1971)
48. The Conjuring (2013)
47. Get Out (2017)
46. Twin Peaks: Part 8 (2017)
45. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
44. Rosemary’s Babysitter (1968) [B100: #23] 
43. Inside (2007)
42. Se7en (1995) [B100: #26] 
41. Zodiac (2007) [B13: #4] 
40. 28 Days Later (2002) [B100: #100] 
39. 30 Days of Night (2007)
38. The Silence of the Lambs (1991) [B100: #7]
37. Suspiria (1977) [B100: #24] 

Episode 6
36. The Blair Witch Project (1999) [B100: #30]
35. Paranormal Activity (2007)
34. The Sixth Sense (1999) [B100: #71]
33. Let the Right One In (2008)
32. The Invisible Man (2020)
31. Wait Until Dark (1967) [B100: #10] 
30. Don’t Breathe (2016)
29. Hostel (2005) [B30: #1] 
28. Lake Mungo (2008)
27. The Haunting of Hill House (2018)
26. It: Chapter One (2017)
25. I Saw the Devil (2010)
24. Hellraiser (1987) [B100: #19]

Episode 7
23. The Descent (2005) [B13: #1] 
22. Saw (2004) [B30: #3] 
21. Scanners (1981) [B30: #14]
20. [REC] (2007)
19. Carrie (1976) [B100: #8] 
18. The Omen (1976) [B100: #16]
17. Night of the Living Dead (1968) [B100: #9]
16. The Exorcist III (1990)
15. Final Destination (2000)
14. Jaws (1975) [B100: #1]
13. Scream (1996) [B100: #13]
12. Halloween (1978) [B100: #14]
11. Alien (1979) [B100: #2] 

Episode 8
10. Ringu (1995)
9. Train to Busan (2016)
8. Sinister (2012)
7. The Exorcist (1973) [B100: #3]
6. The Shining (1980) [B100: #6]
5. Psycho (1960) [B100: #4]
4. Audition (1999) [B100: #11]
3. Hereditary (2018)
2. The Thing (1982) [B100: #48] 
1. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) [B100: #5]

 

Some Thoughts:

*This 2022 list makes a conscious effort to be more culturally inclusive; a quarter of the list is comprised of non-North-American films.

*Freaks is the highest-ranked film from the B100 list (#15) to not make the Shudder list. The Haunting (B100: #19) is perhaps the most surprising omission, though (here, the film  is supplanted by the Netflix series).

*The Thing [B100: #48] makes the largest jump from the original Bravo list–a testament to how the film’s reputation has continued to grow over the years.

*The Silence of the Lambs is the Top 10 film from the original Bravo list (#7) to have the biggest drop here. It’s somewhat surprising, too, that the #1 film from the original Bravo list, Jaws, falls all the way to #14 here.

*Dawn of the Dead is the only film listed twice here–the 1978 original and the 2004 remake.

*Frankenstein and The Wolf-Man make this list but their Universal Monster cohort Dracula doesn’t. The top-ranked Universal Monster film on the list: the 2020 remake of The Invisible Man.

*The Shining is the top-ranked Stephen King film adaptation on both this list and the original Bravo list. Despite King’s vocal denunciations of the film, Stanley Kubrick clearly struck a horrifying chord with audiences.

*Twenty-two of the entries here were released after 2009, and so were not even available for consideration for any of the Bravo lists. The top-ranked film here that was eligible but didn’t make the Bravo lists was Ringu (but B100 did rank the American remake of the film at #20).

 

The 101 Scariest Horror Movie Moments of All Time was a wonderful treat this Halloween season. The series brimmed with stunning clips and astute commentary. Mike Flanagan’s closing remarks are so good, I have to quote them in full here:

One of the neat things about the genre is that, yes, we love to be startled, and yes, we love to be frightened, and sometimes we love to root for the killers. We can pour all of our kind of base instincts into sympathizing with the slasher. It lets us do so many different things. It’s cathartic in so many different ways. But it also, in all of its expressions, is just an invitation. For us to be a little bit braver in processing what we go through as people, whether that’s dealing with loss, trauma, violent fantasies, universal fears, fear of the unknown, fear of death itself, or just fear of what we are capable of doing to each other. All of those expressions of the genre all invite us to try to be honest about that, and to try to be a little bit courageous. Just brave enough to make it through the scene, just brave enough to make it through the movie, just brave enough to make it through the episode. And we collectively get that little bit braver.

 

Treehouse of Trivia ’22

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 Trivia quiz 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

b) Dreamcatcher

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?

 

Altogether Ooky October: The Addams Family and Halloween

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.

 

 

 

Cutting-Edge Horror

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.

 

The Terror from Beyond Springfield

This October, The Simpsons offers a double venture outside canon, with a pair of Halloween episodes. First up was last night ‘s terrific extended parody, “Treehouse of Horror Presents: Not It.”

Set in a Maine alternative to Springfield called Kingfield (“A Great Place to Bury Your Kids,” according to the town’s welcome sign), “Not It” has some fun and games with Stephen King’s epic horror novel It and the recent two-part film adaptation thereof. Various signature moments from the book and movies are Simpsons-ized: the iconic sewer-scene opening (toothy child-predator Krusto–a frightfully recast Krusty–takes young Barney Gumble’s sailboat and then the wind permanently out of the boy); the rock fight (in which “Super-Intense-Kid Chalmers” plays one of the bullies); the bathroom terrorizing (Loser Club member Marge has hers flooded by Krusto–not with blood, but seltzer). King fans will absolutely revel in these skewed, and often skewering, references.

Besides the gleeful grotesquerie (e.g. one of Krusto’s  victims has his intestines tied into balloon animals) expected of a “Treehouse” installment, the episode is stuffed with puns both verbal (grown-up Homer owns a tavern named “D’ohs”) and visual (the Maine town sports a “Lobster Lad” and the “Kingfield Chowder Plant”), with hilarious one-liners (“Bleach your mustache,” young Marge’s sister advises. “You look like El DeBarge.”) and witty self-satire (canonical Krusty’s career as a hack comedian is cleverly woven into the killer Krusto’s modus operandi). The extraterrestrial origin of King’s supermonster also facilitates a wonderful variation on the Kang and Kodos cameo that typically concludes a “Treehouse” episode.

Without a doubt, “Not It” is my favorite bit of viewing so far this Halloween season. The traditional “Treehouse of Horror” episode next Sunday is going to be hard pressed to surpass such horror-parodying excellence.

 

Horseman Courses

The recent passing of nonagenarian Angela Lansbury left me in a nostalgic mood, and sent me back to a childhood favorite–the hit mystery series Murder, She Wrote. And what better episode to start a re-watch with than the series’ most Halloween-centric installment: season 3’s “Night of the Headless Horseman.” As signaled by the title, the episode riffs on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” A love triangle is drawn at a Vermont private school, as the nerdy schoolteacher Dorian Beecher and the bullying riding instructor Nate Findley compete for the affections of Sarah Dupont, the headmaster’s daughter. Walking toward a covered bridge at night, Dorian is twice menaced by the eponymous goblin (whom Dorian believes to be Nate in disguise), once having a jack-o’-lantern hurled at him. On the morning after the second run-in, the body of the dispatched Nate is found (in surely the series’ most grisly turn) with his decapitated head missing from the crime scene. As always, Jessica Fletcher solves the murder and exonerates her friend Dorian in this witty, Irving-evoking episode.

While getting ready to write this post, I came across a strangely related item in my Facebook feed. It was an ad for the Headless Horseman Equestrian Event on October 30th in Montague, New Jersey. According to the Halloween attraction’s Eventbrite page, this is an “Interactive Archery/Swordplay and Horseback Riding Event,” in which participants (“Costumes Encouraged!”) can “Fight the Horseman!” Sounds like there won’t be any cravenly flights by Ichabod Crane-types in this neck of the woods…