Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

In the spirit of Halloween and Time Fishing, here are five animated shorts from the golden age of animation (and theaters), in chronological order. Beware of haunted houses, grinning ghosts, and dancing skeletons!

1. Haunted House (Disney, 1929)

This is a classic tale of a gimmick-laden gag haunted house, complete with a lengthy skeleton dance number. But the main reason to watch this is for the joy of seeing the mouse prince of commercialism having the crap scared right out of him.

2. Hittin' the Trail to Hallelujah Land (Warner Bros., 1931)

This is one of my all-time favorite cartoons. I originally found it on one of those dollar store 6-hour cartoon tapes, sandwiched between some of the lamer color Popeye material and the 1970s Three Stooges 'toons. It's mainly known as one of the Censored Eleven, a group of Warner Bros. cartoons that have not aired publicly since the 1960s on account of their racist content. Frankly, I never really saw what was so racist about it, especially when viewed alongside cartoons like . I love it for its eerie graveyard sequence, catchy tune, and twisty-mustachioed villain. Also keep an eye out for the overt ripoff of Steamboat Willie.

3. Minnie the Moocher (Max Fleischer, 1932)

Here is one of the all-time weirdest Betty Boop shows. And if you've ever watched a Betty Boop cartoon, you know that's saying a lot. Betty gets upset with her parents, grabs Bimbo, and flees her house, running headlong into a cavern inhabited by a ghostly rotoscoped Cab Calloway disguised as a dancing walrus, while ghoulish creatures frolic in the background.

4. Skeleton Frolic (Columbia, 1937)

Admittedly, this film is more or less an outright plagiarism of Disney's 1929 short The Skeleton Dance. They were both directed by the same animation genius, Ub Iwerks, also known as the guy who actually created Mickey Mouse. But it is, to me, a more evolved and nuanced version of the earlier subject. It's also in color and brimming with frightful gags and moody color schemes.

5. Jasper and the Haunted House (1942)

The last cartoon on here is also one of the most unusual. It's a George Pal Puppetoon, a stop-motion feature from a series of other subjects also starring the young black child named Jasper. George Pal was accused of racism for his cartoons, but I think those were overblown claims from an overly sensitive time. This one I love just for how extraordinary is. Plus, the scarecrow and his raven are some of my favorite cartoon villains I've ever seen.

My favorite line from this one: "I SHO GOT ME A MESS O' PIE."

Happy Halloween!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

October Special: Part 4

As the October Special began, so also shall it end: with a house that is in every sense haunted.

In my early days of downtown-exploring, before I really knew the causes of small-town rot, downtown desertion and suburban sprawl, I was a lot more fascinated with ruinous buildings than I was the reasons for their ruin. One of the first towns I explored was the close-at-hand Judsonia (which I discussed in my second-ever post). This nearly-deserted town has plenty of charm; there are some brick storefronts, signs of old commerce, a rusty water tower, a picturesque trestle bridge.

And then, there's the house.

It rises from the ground like a recent corpse, shouldering off grasping, earthen tendrils. Some of its windows are blinded by rude plywood, others stare openly through ragged, blanched curtains. The low overhanging roof is tinged with a rotten green.

The front door is bizarrely offset, letting the sickly yellow siding and the crumbling red bricks take precedent. Two chipped and tapering columns barely support the spartan gable. Tentative cats dart in and out of holes in the foundation. The dwelling's most disturbing feature, however, is not located at the front door, but rather on the pediment at the other end of the house.

Positioned neatly over the sagging curtains is an unlikely element on any house: a clock. Probing vines have climbed all the way to the old time-piece's face, gathering it in their arms like a trophy.

The clock is itself an oddity, displaying an unused-for-bygones strip of fluorescent light. The hands have eternally frozen at about 2:14. Was it in the early morning or afternoon? Do the residential spirits take flight at this hour, causing neighbors to flee to their bedrooms, closing their blinds?

This clock presents a vast number of questions, but they will never be answered; neither will the questions raised by what we found sleeping in the old carport behind the house.

This ghastly vehicle is a 1947 Cadillac hearse. It has since vacated the premises, leaving the house alone with its clock and its cats. I imagine it might have departed this world altogether.

The car is at once terrifying and gorgeous. Being a 1947 model, it exemplifies the streamline modern style prevalent on just about everything in that era. Here are a few detail pictures:

The decaying house in Judsonia remains a mystery to me. I've asked folks living nearby about it before, but have never gotten any answers regarding its condition, the rusting clock, or the stately hearse. Though the Cadillac is gone, the house still stands, haunting the minds of the few explorers of downtown Judsonia.

Well, that concludes my October Special. Expect a return to normal postery once we pass into November (the realm of my nemesis: Christmas; that juggernaut of commercialism who has me crying "HUMBUG!" until about a week before its actual date, and who is always poised to strike out Halloween before it has even occurred). Ciao!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October Special: Part 3

October is a time for phantoms, specters, and revenants to wander the earth unchallenged. And what are more ghostly than ghost signs?

Signs peer out from behind peeled back plaster, like this nearly-unidentifiable example in Morrilton, Arkansas.

Astral beings are the only souls slinking through the old square in tiny Newark, Arkansas. Perhaps the apparition of the wall dog that painted this sign across from the railroad haunts the shadows of this building.

Whatever hotels still exist in Paris have certainly now been banished to sprawl zones, leaving this the only indicator of any such business.

This rust-colored wall in Paris has boiled away enough to show some of its previous identities.

The oldest building in Russellville is also an epitaph for Selz, a defunct brand of shoes, as well as a meat market, among other things. An enterprising denizen of the 21st century also has left his transient mark on the building.

The flesh of downtown Wynne's carcass is beginning to slough off, revealing sinewy ghost signs. This building's signs in particular seems to be reflecting the dismal conditions of the tarp-covered goods being sold in front of its facade. The face of this building reminds me of an afflicted older gentleman, gazing silently at the rot surrounding him and attempting to stand tall over it. I can only hope that he succeeds.

The side of the same building is a pale wipe of signs, all of them as mysterious as the cemented-in windows.

The ancient text "Royal Crown" is creeping out from under the "Wholesale Parts" sign, perhaps betraying an earlier, more glamorous purpose for this building. I'll leave you with this sad reminder of the state of almost all of Arkansas's dead and dying small towns. Be wary, this October 31st, when the souls of the dead walk the earth, of the wandering spirits of Arkansas. I am not so sure they will be happy with us.


(P.S.: I recently wrote an article on ghost signs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau magazine "Front Porch," which should be coming out sometime this week or next. Hurrah for being published!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

October Special: Part 2

When we drive to see Jenna's family in Albion, we always pass through a little town called Grayville. Like most small towns in rural Illinois, it has a crystallized downtown and some of those token treasures I always seek out, like ghost signs and old theaters.

However, there's one other thing in the town of Grayville that I had always heard about, denoted by pointing fingers and hushed tones.

Far up on a hill on the edge of town, there is an overgrown field. The old bones of some sport equipment poke up through the earth, calling back to a time when this field was frequently beaten by the cleats of young residents of Grayville. But the field is antiquated, as is its host building just beyond its borders.

Rising above the weeds of the old field is the ghost of Grayville's original high school. The vehement claim of "1911" looms over the bulging doric columns framing the building's doorway.

Any doubts of the building's original purpose are whispered away by the words "PUBLIC SCHOOL" rendered in terse capitals over the doorway. But no students have passed through these doors in at least forty years.

All the marks of a long-abandoned building are present: window panes yawn with gaping holes; names of errant vandals are scrawled on stone surfaces; smells of asbestos and decaying plaster waft out of the wounds sustained by time. The ragged teeth marks of an unchallenged storm still mark the entire right side of the building; a combination of questionable ownership, lack of funds, and general disinterest conspire to keep the high school in this partially-dismembered state.

Quoins and bricks and cinder blocks litter the ground like scattered entrails. Like most abandoned buildings we find, we did not enter this one, wary of poisonous air, wilting ceilings, indwelling monsters, patrolling officers, or a combination of the above. But despite this monolith's slow dissolution, it still dominates the hill as a symbol of the power and respect an education once offered. I see this high school as a defiant figure, challenging any new Styrofoam-and-plaster laden modern school to climb its hill and fight it in a battle of pure majesty. There is no doubt in my mind that this rotting sentinel would win that battle any day.


Saturday, October 3, 2009

October Special: Part 1

I love October. It brings with it a change of weather and color as the year begins to die, it breathes in dead leaves and cool breezes, and as it ends, the boundary between Earth and Elsewhere weakens, ushering in a time of skeletons, jack-0-lanterns and grim reapers. And I guess beer bottle and sexy nurse costumes, but I try to ignore that.

But in honor of this month of horror, we're going to do some Deep-Time Fishing. It's like Deep-Sea Fishing, in that sometimes you dredge up a creature which looks more at home in a Lovecraftian myth than on planet earth. Every now and then, I encounter these creatures.

Here's one for this week.

Highways in Maine are much less dreary than anywhere else in the nation (because many of them have yet to be transformed into freeways or interstates). While we were driving towards Bar Harbor, Jenna and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Me: "Wow, nice flea market. Should we--WHOA!"

Jenna: "What? What?"

Me: "Did you see that house!?"

Jenna: "No, I didn't!" She turned to see it. "Wooooww!"

This is what I had seen on the side of the road:

There may exist, somewhere, a more grotesque house than this one, but I don't know if I want to find it. Just the quickest glance of this house gave me a little sour nudge in the pit of my stomach. We didn't stop for pictures that same day, but we did on the way back.

The architectural style seems to be something like a Queen Anne or a Victorian Revival, but those values have been usurped completely by putrefactive horror. The forces of time and rot are dragging the house's structure quickly towards the earth. A man in the flea market across the street offered us no hints about the house's identity except to warn us that it's very near its catastrophic end. The "DO NOT ENTER" road sign mounted on the right seems out of place, and adds to its eerie quality.

Take a closer look at the sinking outbuilding:

The parabolic shape of this building's roof line reminds me of something out of Tim Burton's nightmares. If we didn't believe the house had become the residence of demon spawn, perhaps we would have ventured inside. But, like Lovecraft's doomed explorer of The Picture in the House, I think what we might have found in that building would be worth a special degree of madness.

Something about the unnatural bending and undulations of the woodwork literally sent shivers through my spine. If I had seen this house in the dead of midnight, I don't think I would be writing this blog post.

Here is a parting glance of this, the House on a Highway in Maine.

See you here again in a few days. In the meantime, you may wish to enjoy Cinemassacre's all-month-long Monster Madness, or indulge in X-E's Halloween Countdown. Until then, ciao!