Sunday, October 31, 2010

The "October Horror Challenge" Post-Game Report

Happy Halloween to everyone out there! Today (October 31st) is not only Halloween, but also the last day of the month of October (obviously). That means that Monster Dad's challenge to himself to watch 31 horror programs in the month is now over. Now it's time to see the results and break it all down.

The final score of the challenge finds Monster Dad with 46 movies/shows watched--easily besting October's 31 days. The fifteen point differential was very satisfying to reach. However, Monster Dad admittedly did set the difficulty level pretty low for himself. He not only allowed himself to count science-fiction subject matter and comedies as "horror", but he also considered it okay to count episodes of television shows too--though they did at least have to be episodes of shows that were at least an hour long. That means thirty minute episodes of shows like "The Twilight Zone" couldn't be counted--regardless of how awesome they might have been. The question is, what happens to the score if some of this "questionable" material is disqualified by someone with a tougher definition of what can be allowed?

The first entry that would probably have to go would be the Halloween episode from second season of "The Love Boat". Yes, it was a Halloween episode, and it did have the immortal Vincent Price as a guest star (not to mention Gopher, Doc and Isaac dressing up as Dracula, a werewolf and Frankenstein, respectively, for the cruise's Halloween party), but it's still "The Love Boat". Okay horror snobs, we won't count that one!

Next up is all the episodes of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" that Monster Dad watched. Though there's a good amount of humor in many episodes, the subject matter is most certainly appropriate for the challenge. Unfortunately, it was a TV show and the episodes can't be considered movies--if the challenge had to consist of movies only. All told, Monster Dad watched (and counted) eight episodes of "Kolchak" during the month. There was also the "Graveyard Shift" episode of "Circle of Fear"/"Ghost Story". Add in the "Love Boat" episode and we're up to ten questionable entries. That would make for a final score of Monster Dad-36, October-31.

Now comes the most controversial aspect of the challenge--namely, when a movie is predominantly meant to be a comedy (intentional), just how much horror has to be mixed in for it to be counted? "Return of the Living Dead" has plenty of intentional horror-based humor, but I don't think it can be denied that it's a horror movie. On the other hand, "The 'burbs" is very much a comedy, one which has a number of horror elements at its core. Similarly, "Young Frankenstein" does feature the characters from Mary Shelley's horror classic, but it is a Mel Brooks comedy. And how about "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"? This one not only features Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein's monster, but it's a Universal movie too (the company that produced the original movies that featured those monsters) and stars Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's Monster. They all played those same monsters at some point in the original Universal monster movies as well. Similar issues could be raised with other comedy movies on the list: "Shaun of the Dead", "Ghostbusters", "The Lost Skeleton Returns Again" and "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla". Other than "Return of the Living Dead" I could understand a horror-purist lodging a complaint about the rest of these titles. this makes seven more titles ineligible. Subtract seventeen titles and were suddenly faced with Monster Dad finishing with only thirty entries--which would obviously not qualify as a successful challenge. Final score: October-31, Monster Dad-30.

Finally, where does one draw the line when it comes to science-fiction? The inclusion of movies like "Wizards", "Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet", "The Cosmic Man", "Project Moon Base" and "Time After Time" would all come into question. Many of these have horror elements, but are predominantly science-fiction in nature. Not only that, but "Manbeast! Myth or Monster?" was a documentary. That's another six movies potentially wiped off the board--leaving a total of only twenty-four qualified entries. Final score: October-31, Monster Dad-24.

Luckily, this was Monster Dad's challenge. It's Monster Dad's blog and it's Monster Dad's rules. Monster Dad wanted this challenge to be fun and entertaining as well as "challenging". He's not a huge fan of "real" horror or slasher movies and stuff like that. He could have watched every entry in the "Friday the 13th", "Halloween", A Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Saw" series, but that wouldn't have been as much fun for him as this particular mix of old favorites and new-to-him movies and shows proved to be. Also, he wouldn't have been able to share any of those movies with The Little Monster. Watching stuff like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", "Young Frankenstein" and, yes, the Halloween episode of "The Love Boat" with his Little Monster are what Monster Dad is all about. In the end Monster Dad was able to watch a number of DVDs from his own collection (old favorites as well as stuff he'd been waiting for the right time to watch), DVDs from Netflix, DVDs from various public libraries, and various presentations of movies at theaters (including entries in the Silver Screen Classics, Zombie Feast, RiffTrax Live and Spooktacular series put on at various venues in Worester and Millbury, Massachusetts and Keene, New Hampshire). No matter how you choose to count it, the challenge has made for a great month of viewing for Monster Dad, and the "official" final score will indeed end up being:


For all the details on each of the entries, as well as a day-by-day log of exactly what was watched and when, please refer to the original blog about the challenge, "An Absolutely Horrible Month".

Monday, October 18, 2010

Night of the Living Bread!

Here's a true horror story, of sorts, for Halloween.

I know I shouldn't complain about healthy foods. After all they are healthy and good for you and all. I'm not a young creature anymore and bad eating habits are starting to catch up to me. And, being a Dad (or Monster Dad, as it were), I also agree that it's important to instill healthy eating habits in my Little Monsters. But...

The Wife has been on a mission over the past few years to get us all eating healthier foods. As someone who wasn't exactly watching what he ate for the first thirty years of his life I can certainly see the wisdom of this. Unfortunately, all those years of less-than-healthy dieting has made me rather enjoy food that tastes good (read junk food). It's not the easiest thing to transition from McDonalds and Chinese takeout to whole wheat and soy-based food products. The Wife's main enemies seem to be high fructose corn syrup and anything processed or prepared (which is pretty much everything I enjoy eating).

Like I said, I'm all for eating better. However there's only so much vegetarian lasagna (heavy on the spinach) and tofu stir fry one guy can take. Every once in a while I need a junky break. Luckily The Wife understands this (at least to a certain extent anyway). Last week we had Lasagna with meat AND without spinach. What a treat! While we've never really done a heck of a lot of takeout (mostly due to financial constraints) we did used to eat a pretty good amount of prepared foods (frozen pizzas, meals-in-a-box...) back in the pre-kids day. I do miss this stuff (though I have to say that The Wife does make a very tasty homemade pizza dough). Besides tasting good, these prepared foods were some of the few things that I could actually "cook" myself (giving The Wife a little break from the cooking chores). Even with this potential benefit to her, prepared foods are still pretty much verboten in our household.

We used to eat white rice with many meals. It's interesting in way to see how we've slowly evolved from the evils of over-processed white rice to more organic and natural sides. The white rice was initially replaced with brown rice. It wasn't quite as good, but sometimes pretty close. The next step was couscous. I had a tough time with this one at first but it kinda-sorta grew on me a little bit. Nowadays we're frequently presented with a side called quinoa. I'm not exactly sure what this stuff is, but I do know that I'm not a big fan of it. Oh, for the simple pleasure of a mound of plain-old white rice with a touch of butter and salt!

One constant battlefield that we have between us is the basic food staple of bread. As a kid I loved the taste, texture and even color of Wonder white bread. While it doesn't necessarily have to be Wonder, I still do prefer white bread in general. While white and wheat breads are made with pretty much the same ingredients, apparently the processing process that the grains used in white bread go through makes it very unhealthy. A mystery to be sure, but that's what I hear anyway. I don't have a huge problem with wheat bread--at least as long as it's pretty much like white bread except for the color. When you start introducing terms like "whole grain", "multi-grain", "twelve grain", "whole-oat" and stuff like that, the bread becomes much less palatable. When I can actually see grains, seeds and nuts in my bread I feel it's gone a bit too far.

I can understand that all these grains and things are good for you, but does it have to look like someone spilled birdseed all over your bread? It becomes a dry, crumbly mess. If it's a good thing to have all these thingies in the bread, why can't they throw them into a blender, pulverize them and then add them to the bread dough? If five pounds of seeds and nuts mixed in the bread are a good thing, then why aren't five pounds of the same stuff blended into a fine powder also good for you? Do they think that if we don't actually see all this stuff embedded in and on the bread that we won't believe that they're in there? Or that we won't believe it's good for us?

Anyone remember the "Seinfeld" episode where George is eating a sandwich and exclaims "This bread has nuts in it!"? Well, that's how I feel at times. Here's a semi-related story. The Wife used to belong to a church that was somewhat earthy-crunchy. I used to go with her on occasion. As a kid my family belonged to a more "traditional" kind of church. while I was never a huge fan of going to church in general, when I did have to go it was always a treat to be there for communion. It was kind of neat to get a little square of white bread and that tiny glass of grape juice. It certainly didn't fill one up, but it was a treat just the same--beyond the obvious religious connotations obviously (hey, I was a kid after all). Anyway, the church The Wife went to had a couple different ways of doing communion. One of them was similar to how we used to do it in my childhood church. You'd stay in your seat and ushers (or whatever they are) would bring bread and wine (juice) to you. The only difference was that they'd use all kinds of different breads. You never knew what was coming. Sometimes it would be a store bought bread, sometimes a freshly baked bread made by one of the parishioners. Sometimes it would be a form of pita or some other less-common type of bread. I thought of the Seinfeld episode when I accepted my little piece of bread one time and saw that it had bits of nuts and grains embedded in it. I had to stifle the urge to blurt out "This Body of Christ has nuts in it!" (a la George Costanza).

The culmination of all this bread blather was when The Wife recently brought home something called "Ezekiel 4:9". Yes, that is the name of a bread. Apparently the religious connotation of the name comes from the fact that this "bread" contains many elements mentioned in a passage of the bible: Wheat, Barley, Beans, Lentils, Millet and Spelt. What the hell is SPELT?!? It advertises itself as being a "100% Whole Grain Bread". But this stuff goes way beyond the garden variety whole grain bread that we usually are subjected to. It's also "Flourless and Low Glycemic". Not only that, but it's "Sprouted" (whatever that means). The Wife keeps this stuff in the freezer. That seems a bit weird to me, but she explained that, since it has nothing at all unnatural in it, it really doesn't have any shelf life. The thing that disturbs me the most about this bread (as if all the above wasn't enough) is the fact that the wrapper touts what it calls "The Live Grain Difference!". I guess this is somehow related to the fact that it's "Sprouted", but the way they put it I feel like the bread is actually alive--a living organism of some type. It has to be kept in the freezer to keep it in hibernation so it doesn't become some kind of bakery created Frankenstein bread monster loaf or something!


Friday, October 8, 2010

Recurring Nightmares

I want my Little Monster to experience some of the movies I watched and loved as a kid. Many of these movies scared me, and I constantly have to evaluate how ready she is for some of these films. Many of them seem corny and cheesy when re-watching them as an adult, but I have to keep in mind that The Monster still has the mind and imagination of a four-year-old. She has seen some movies much earlier than I did. Of course part of the fun of watching monster/horror/scary movies is to be scared. On the other hand, there's a fine line between "fun" scary and "emotionally scarring" scary. For the most part I've avoided subjecting The Monster to stuff that would give her bad nightmares. The toughest part of this whole thing is having to not show her something that I really love because I don't think she's ready for it yet. It's difficult but imperative that I make sure I do this.

I was a kid myself a long time ago. Thanks to local television channels (most specifically the show Creature Double Feature on Boston's WLVI channel 56) and a sister who took me to some movies I was probably a bit too young to be watching, I saw a good number of monster/horror/scince-fiction movies as a kid. I wasn't especially prone to nightmares, but I certainly had my share. To this day I still vividly recall two recurring nightmares that I experienced a number of times each. The memory of waking up in terror after having these dreams is part of the reason I want to be so careful about exactly what I show The Monster--and when. I've had many dreams and nightmares over the years, but most of them tend to fade pretty quickly from my mind and memory after waking up. These two were different. I'm sure at least part of the reason was the simple fact that they were both repeated a number of times.


I would be sitting in the upstairs (second floor) living room of my childhood home. The fact that this was the room in which I watched Creature Double Feature most of the time might have something to do with the setting. From way off in the distance I'd suddenly hear a loud pounding noise similar to far-off thunder. Somehow I knew that this noise was the sound of Godzilla stomping around downtown. Of course the sound incrementally got louder as Godzilla walked through the center of town and started heading...straight for my house. I couldn't see the monster approaching, and for some reason I couldn't leave the room either. The living room had three large windows, and I felt like I needed to hide out-of-sight of those windows to be safe. The only place to go was a closet in one corner of the room. I say "closet" even though this particular closet only had one wall. The side facing the closest window was completely open and in plain view of said window. The footsteps grew louder as Godzilla walked up the hill that my street was on. I knew he was very near the house as I cowered in the corner of the closet, trying me best to be invisible. Suddenly Godzilla was right outside the house. He would peer right into that one window that I couldn't hide from. I'd see his gigantic eye looking in at me and...wake up breathless and in a cold sweat. To the best of my knowledge this dream never varied. I don't know exactly why I had it, or why it kept recurring, but it did.

Many years later I was reminded of just how tuned into the mind of child Steven Spielberg is when I watched "Jurassic Park" (1993) for the first time. The scene where the T-Rex gets loose and first terrorizes the people in the tour cars included a moment where it peers into the window of the car that has the two little kids in it. It was eerily similar to what I remembered my dream being like. Check out this video to see the scene in question. The part similar to what I experienced in my nightmare takes place at about 1:10 into it.


This dream featured a dinosaur instead of Godzilla (more shades of "Jurassic Park"), but was somewhat similar in its tone. I wasn't especially interested in dinosaurs as a kid. There was a basic interest of course--I mean they were dinosaurs and I was a kid after all. The old Sid and Marty Krofft show "Land of the Lost" was probably responsible for the dinosaur in this dream. The most interesting aspect of this nightmare is that, unlike the first one, this one did have a variation.

This nightmare took place at my childhood home as well. In this case I was outside though. Standing near a small tree by the side of the road I was suddenly aware that, from behind, a large dinosaur (T-Rex?) was charging out of the woods toward me (we lived at the end of a dead-end street that and there were woods almost all around our house). The dinosaur came from the opposite direction that Godzilla came from in the first nightmare--Godzilla walked up the street while the dinosaur came out of the woods.

Upon seeing the dinosaur and realizing it was coming for me, I naturally tried to run way. I went through the motions of running but (as is common in dreams) couldn't get anywhere. It was as if I was running in a vat of molasses. As I futilely tried to escape, the dinosaur closed in on me. I watched from above as the beast opened its huge jaws and leaned down toward me and...woke up breathless and in a cold sweat. End of nightmare.

You know how they say that if you die in your dreams you will die in real life? Well, as I said, this nightmare had a variation. One time I was experiencing the dinosaur nightmare as usual. As scary as it always was, I think there was also a kind of familiarity that I developed after having these dreams so many times. I don't want to say I was comfortable with them, but it did seem that I was somehow aware that I was dreaming while having them. This awareness became obvious when the dinosaur bent over to pick me up. I was kind of waiting to wake up and was surprised to have the dinosaur actually clamp onto my shirt and start picking me up. This had never happened before and I was suddenly aware not only of the fact that it hadn't happened before, but also of the fact that I was about to be eaten by this dinosaur. The simple fear of being eaten by a dinosaur was supplemented by the fact that I was convinced that if I died in the dream I'd die in real life. Whether it was the end of the dream, or the awareness of the fact that it was a dream woke me up I don't know. all I do know is that, for a long time afterward I was terrified that I'd have the dream again and it would end with me being eaten by the dinosaur. To this day I've never had the nightmare again. I hope it stays that way.