Happy Halloween! The New Decorations: 2016

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

We’re breaking records for October rain here in this part of the world–as well as having just generally rotten weather–so much so that I kept blowing off putting up the decorations.  I still haven’t gotten the lights set out–the big LED lamps that illuminate the whole Halloween display.  I’ll get to that as soon as I’m done posting this…and well before I dry out from having just gone out to hang the new decorations.  (Yep, taking it down to the wire, despite Halloween and tricks and treats falling on a school night plagued by terrible weather).

Both of the new pieces are based on drawings the kid did many years ago, when she was about five.  Of course, there are modifications.  I’d post images of the source material, but I didn’t ask her permission for that.  Maybe later.

deca-hand

What is it?!?  Isn’t it obvious?

So, the ten-armed creature here (which was a twelve-armed creature in its original form) is a random monster from the days when the kid would sit around drawing picture after picture, or very involved pictures with numerous characters.  So far as I know, it has no name, and isn’t any particular kind of beast.  I always envisioned it as floating about, or perhaps ‘swimming’ through the air.  At any rate, it was made to hang from our plum tree.  It’s about six-and-a-half feet tall.  And, in case you’re wondering, yes, cutting something like that out of a single piece of 4′ x 8′ plywood is rather time-consuming.

new-witch

With an actual, aged broom…y’know, for realism!

The witch here was taken from my favorite material object in the entire world…a construction paper haunted house that the kid made all those years ago, with numerous drawings of monsters glued to the outside.  Her witch was standing, not flying on a broom.  And I added the gym socks.  But I think I retained the spirit of the original pretty well.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Halloween Upgrades, Part 4: Monster Caterpillar

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

The idea for the monster caterpillar came from one of the kid’s drawings.  I went looking for it, but am not sure where it went.  Usually, the drawings that are used for Halloween decorations end up tacked on the garage wall somewhere or other, but it’s not there.  Nor is it in my other file of potential Halloween decorations.

As usual, the original version was done rather last minute, so the overall look was a bit rushed.  It was also made out of a partially-used piece of plywood, accounting for some of the odd shapes.  At the time I first made it, I posted a picture of it online, leading a co-worker to ask, “What is it?”  That interaction led me to be deeply concerned with higher education in the U.S.A.  If a person with an advanced degree cannot readily identify giant, house-eating caterpillars, then we are truly doomed.  But I digress.

The original, rushed version, with our vicious guard dog looking on.

The original, rushed version, with our vicious guard dog looking on.

The caterpillar needed some fresh paint, so I made it look a bit more like I originally wanted.

With some fresh paint, and our vicious guard dog nowhere to be seen.

With some fresh paint, and our vicious guard dog nowhere to be seen.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Upgrades, Part 3: The Graveyard

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

A lot of the tombstones were looking pretty shabby.  Also, I still had some store-bought, styrofoam ones that I managed to patch up and keep using over the years.  So, I decided it was time to get the graveyard in order.  The styrofoam ones are finally gone, replaced with tombstones cut from a single, heavy board.  There’s one other new/replacement tombstone cut from the seat of a broken down dining room chair.  The rest–taken from a variety of different wood sources over the years–were touched up with primer, then “Make it Stone” paint, then spray sealer.

The graveyard--along with Murder Teddy and the purple alligator monster that lives downstairs.

The graveyard–along with Murder Teddy and the purple alligator monster that lives downstairs.

The lettering is all done freehand, in a variety of styles, partially depending on how the paint, paintbrushes, and the surface is behaving, but mostly just based on me winging it and hoping I don’t screw anything up too much.  The tombstones, per tradition, all involve the names of various fictional characters from books, comic books, and song.  The only one not visible in the picture (blocked by a zombie) is Caddy Compson.

But first, all of the tombstones and zombies got fitted with hinges or brackets (if they didn’t already have them) paired with a single metal rod to serve as a stake for holding them in place, then got their backs “blacked out” with a coat of primer and a layer or two of black paint.

From the back--all blacked out and much less sloppy--note, I am talking about the tombstones and zombies, not the deplorable state of my landscaping.

From the back–all blacked out and much less sloppy–note, I am talking about the tombstones and zombies, not the deplorable state of my landscaping.

The whole process was rather involved, took several steps, and involved a lot of delightfully toxic fumes.  I really should work on the tombstones in the summer, when I can more reliably use spray paint and sealer outside.  I did all the spraying in our “workshop”–an added-on room where the previous owner used to work on stained glass–but which has no windows.  There’s a definite trade-off between leaving the door open to air it out, and closing the door so that all the cold, wet air doesn’t prevent the paint from curing in a reasonable period of time.

At any rate, I went to all that work, because previously the backs of all the pieces had a wide range of different “looks”–from bare plywood, to various colors, words, and images, from reclaimed wood.  I don’t have a picture of the backs when they were in the pre-blackened state.  I never thought to take one.  Still, it always bothered me that when I opened the door for trick-or-treaters, and when they were walking away, we would see a whole lot of mess on the back of the tombstones, and a weird array of sticks and stakes, and wire and string.  Now, it’s all more uniform, and masked much better.  Fascinating, I know.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Upgrades, Part 2: The Evil Candy Corn Gang

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

I did some minor updates to the evil candy corn gang as well.  Somewhat hard to make out in the pictures, perhaps.  But they are all seeing red now.

Overall, I had to “update” them by repainting and sealing all of them.  Although they were all cut from the same sheet of plywood years ago, the ringleader is starting to warp and crack.  Hopefully, he holds up so I don’t have to completely re-create him next year.

At any rate, the idea for these came from the kid–who, after seeing a “cute” candy corn decoration in a garden center, said that candy corn should not be all smiley and happy, but should appear as it is–evil.

Done.

With their original look.

With their original look.

I have been meaning, for years, to make a lot more of these guys, of varying sizes, and then throw some actual candy corn on the ground around them, as if some magic spell has caused them to grow, morph, and attack.  One day, maybe.

Newly painted, sealed, and slightly more evil.

Newly painted, sealed, and slightly more evil.

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Upgrades, Part I: Monster House Front Door

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

I’ve been rather quiet on the blogging front lately.  That’s because it’s October.  Priorities shift.

See, I’m one of those weirdos who makes a mess of the house (outside mostly) for Halloween.  And I always push it up to the last minute.

So, as I get down to the house-messing-up wire, I’m also going to make at least a feeble attempt at catching up on blogging by putting up posts/photos of some of the new decorations/upgrades.

For years, the big goal has been to get rid of all the store-bought stuff, and have all-original decorations, with a few beloved exceptions.  Plywood and paint is the order.

Also, this year being the first October in over seven years when I wasn’t working at least two jobs and/or running a business out of my house, I had (what I thought was enough) extra time to update old things that I did on the fly in years past, and which did not turn out exactly the way I intended.

The original version of the unofficially titled ‘monster house door’ used what scrap wood I had, leading to some teeth that weren’t quite as scary as I wanted, but still pretty cool.

The old, little teeth, with the house bathed in green light.

The old, little teeth, with the house bathed in green light.

Here is the updated version, with bigger, scarier teeth, and even some teeth for the lower, right door.  Also, the teeth are now coated in reflective glass beads now, although I’m not sure whether that is really accomplishing anything.  I might be doing an update next year with a different grade of reflective beads.

The new teeth, with the photo taken early in the morning, just because.

The new teeth, with the photo taken early in the morning, just because.

Happy Halloween!

Three Frightening Movies that Aren’t Traditional Horror, or Suspense, or…

Well, Halloween is over, but who cares? You can still keep on scaring yourself, right? Only, rather than the usual gore and mayhem, how about some unsettling horror, the kind that makes you question the reality of the movie, it’s characters, and your own thought processes?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the traditional monsters-and-bogeymen (bogeypeople?) style of horror. But sometimes it’s good to be scared by things that aren’t quite so over-the-top. And speaking of over-the-top, you’re probably already irritated with all the ‘Early Black Friday’ specials and the ‘Holiday’ ads anyway.

The movies listed here also get at some small bit of what it is/might be to cope with various forms of mental illness, or to deal with others who are struggling with it. They spotlight what it is like to be unsure about what is happening, and to have a difficult time understanding what constitutes legitimate forms of support. These are movies that cause a tightness in your chest, and not the kind that is alleviated by the next hissing cat springing out of a cabinet, or garden tool splitting open some body part or other.  They carry with them the kind of dread that has a real impact.

And I’m going to say there’s probably a good chance that these movies should come with some trigger warnings, in case that’s not obvious from the descriptions.

Safe (1995): From Todd Haynes, writer/director of Velvet Goldmine, I’m Not There, and Far From Heaven, Safe sees Julianne Moore as Carol White, a woman who, after much confusion from a wide range of medical, mental health, and ‘other’ providers, is diagnosed with Environmental Illness, a disease that makes her hypersensitive to various chemical agents that are common in everyday life in modern American.

But is she really suffering from anything, or is the disease a physical manifestation of the sheltered nothingness her life has become? The only people who claim to understand her and her disease have clear motivations for convincing her she’s sick, while those who tell her she’s fine seem to lack any concern for her whatsoever.

As much an indictment of the “American Dream” of being completely carefree (there’s no such thing as “safe”), as it is of various forms of mental and physical healthcare, and the lack of clear, irrefutable knowledge to address all maladies (despite ‘professional’ claims to the contrary) Safe will have you clearing your throat, checking your temperature, wondering just what that smell is, and…wait, that’s probably not the best way to encourage anybody to watch a movie.

Safe is a bit difficult to track down. They don’t have it available on Netflix in any format, and Amazon only has it for sale as a DVD or Blu-Ray. Here’s a trailer (that kinda sucks)…

Affliction (1997): Written and directed by Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, and writer and/or director of numerous other impressive works), based on a novel by Russell Banks, Affliction sees Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) descending into unreality, or perhaps hyper-reality, during what should be the routine investigation of a hunting accident. Having grown up in the shadow of an abusive father, played in frightening fashion by James Coburn, Wade never quite makes it out into the light that might help him establish some reliable sense of self.

An occasionally brutal meditation on familial abuse, PTSD, and other forms of trauma, this one is a slow crawl over gravel, peppered with the occasional hot coal. It’s available right now streaming or by disc on Netflix, as well as on Amazon Prime.

Here’s a trailer (that isn’t all that bad…)

Take Shelter (2011): From Jeff Nichols, also writer/director of Mud, Take Shelter stars Michael Shannon, aka General Zod and numerous other amazing roles, as Curtis, a man convinced that tornado season is bringing something much more sinister than twisters. Curtis jeopardizes his job, his financial security (including money saved for a cochlear implant for his daughter), his friendships, and his marriage to Samantha, played by Jessica Chastain, to build a storm shelter that can keep his family safe from not only storms, but perhaps the end of the world.

Nichols keeps the audience off balance by providing plenty of information that is clearly accurate, or at least witnessed by people other than Curtis, and also including a number of elements we can’t be so sure of. Is Curtis the only one alert to the signs of danger all around? Or is he suffering a breakdown of some kind?

Take Shelter is currently available via disc on Netflix, via Amazon or AmazonPrime in multiple formats, and on Starz—both on-demand and in the regular schedule.

Here’s a trailer (which is pretty darn good)…

So, happy no-longer-Halloween season. And remember, Thanksgiving and Christmas are still a good, long way off…as well as being great times to share disturbing films with family and friends.

Happy Halloween! The New Decorations

October has been a strange and busy month.  I trust I’ll recover soon.  Still, I got these done and added to the Halloween display.  With special thanks to a good friend over at chucklingdog for the initial design/inspiration.

bunnies in the woods

MY DOWN-TIME IS TOO GOAL-ORIENTED, PART I: HALLOWEEN

So, when I started this blog, the idea was that I would post a minimum of once per week, more if possible.  And I would keep the posts to roughly 500 words or less, so they’d all be punchy and fun, and not take up too much of anybody’s time.  Well, none of those goals have been achieved, but I’m okay with that.

Right now, the big obstacle to me posting anything, aside from my two jobs, the general stuff of life, and having started several posts that I couldn’t work out the way I wanted, is that I am deeply involved in my annual race to make a mess of the house and yard before Halloween.  Yes, I’m one of those people–well, one of those make-a-mess-with-a-Halloween-display people, not one of those, run-a-highly-involved-haunted-house people, although I’ve come close to that in the past.

Immediately prior to our current home, we lived in a house that was perfect for a tour around the yard, and I knew all the neighbors and most of the kids who came around.  But the first year after we moved, I tried to carry on that tradition by setting up part of our display around back in the fenced-in part of the yard.  Let’s just say that when I opened the gate to the backyard for the first two girls who came trick or treating, the fear was palpable—and not in a fun, trick-or-treat kind of way, but in an “I’m-sure-mom-told-us-not-to-follow-any-creeps-into-their-backyards-oh-god-I-hope-we-don’t-get-murdered” kind of way.  It didn’t help that my daughter had disappeared right before the girls rang the doorbell, truly making me look like some lone weirdo.  And I think I was wearing butterfly wings and antennae that year—leftovers from my wife’s costume the year before.  I didn’t, ahem, lead any more kids into the backyard that night, or ever again.

At any rate, I’ve been doing some version of Halloween mess-making since my high school years, a legacy from my older brothers, although my college and early-20s versions were a much different variety of mess.  Now, along with the help of my daughter, and the tolerance of my wife, I have been converting over to entirely homemade decorations.  And not just homemade, but old-school, paint-on-plywood, 2-D creations designed by my daughter and me.

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We’ve been angling away from the hyper-realistic latex-and-gore stuff that is everywhere these days, and toward more cartoonishly creepy decorations.  The other day I mentioned to my daughter that I was going to get rid of one of our old, store-bought decorations, “Stillborn Evil”—a weird baby-in-a-jar with horns, hair, and a tail, which we’ve had since 1996 or so.  When she asked why, I emoted, “Tracking down this kind of stuff used to MEAN something, man!  You had to know the cool stores, and the cool companies to order from!  Now any knob can walk into a Spirit Halloween Store, or go on eBay and find this kind of stuff without even trying!!”  I added that I really didn’t have anywhere to display it properly, and it didn’t fit in with the decorations we were making.

In typical fashion, my daughter nodded, continued applying primer to a sheet of plywood and said drily, “We could keep it in the kitchen.”  She also suggested leaving a latex severed head in a random person’s front yard rather than trying to unload it on Craigslist—not a bad idea, although she decided it would be better to leave it in one of her friends’ yards.  I may just give it to one of the teens who come by trick-or-treating.

As for the mental health component of this post…it’s important to have projects and traditions and things to look forward to, and to find some way to be engaged in the community.  Such elements of life can make you feel good, too, so long as you don’t get too frantic with trying to meet obligations that nobody is really putting on you but yourself.  I’d go into more detail, but I’ve got too much work to do.

So, anyway, the whole Halloween thing is just one more eternal project, never finished, always evolving, only with a built-in yearly deadline.  Every year I imagine I’m going to get out ahead of all the projects and have things done weeks in advance, as if I would ever stop tinkering with and trying to expand the display until the last minute.  And every year I mess around with trying to decide on designs until two weeks before Halloween, when I frantically try to plough through more work than I can possibly finish.  But the impending holiday forces decisions, and sets a stopping point.  Occasionally, the unfinished projects of one year yield a design that I can start with the following year…two weeks before Halloween when I finally make myself get down to it.

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