Happy Halloween!

Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, stay safe tonight and have a fun, fright-filled evening! The Geek himself is off to Lee, NH for his second trip to Haunted Overload. This time I'm bringing a whole posse! I hope your Halloween is as exciting as mine. Happy Halloween! Until next time, stay safe and stay scared!

(Yup. Carved him myself. I told you my Halloween was exciting!)
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Trick 'r Treat - Movie Review

I promised myself that I wasn't going to let this review serve as a digression into hyperbole theater, but honestly I don't think I'm going to be able to help myself. Trick 'r Treat is the best Halloween-themed movie I have seen since John Carpenter's seminal holiday classic. With this single project, the film's writer/director Michael Dougherty has catapulted himself into my pool of names to watch. This high praise may come as a bit of a shock to casual genre fans, taking into account that many of them have probably never even heard of this film, much less seen it.

Like other recent examples, Hatchet coming foremost to mind, Trick 'r Treat was never given the wide release its content deserves. Approximately one month prior to Trick 'r Treat's slated October 5, 2007 theater release, the film's distribution company, Warner Brothers, chose to bump it from this date without providing any explanation for the delay. A theatrical release was rumored for 2008 and again for 2009, but these whispers never came to fruition and the film was instead unceremoniously dumped straight to DVD. Although official reasons for the delay have never been announced, rumors point to the involvement of Bryan Singer's production company which was involved in getting Trick 'r Treat the greenlight at Warner Brothers. When Singer's reboot of the Superman franchise failed to generate big box office, it seems as though Warner chose to give the cold shoulder to other projects that Singer had been involved with, Trick 'r' Treat being one of those targeted.

It's really too bad if this story is in fact true, because Warner Brothers really missed the boat on this film. With the proper marketing I could easily see this film, like recent genre titles Zombieland and Paranormal Activity, as generating high levels of buzz within the mainstream community. For the last several Halloween seasons, I have felt as though movie companies have not been catering to the needs of the horror audience. The only real push by a movie company worth mentioning is that by Lionsgate with the Saw films, but honestly I feel as though that franchise ran out of steam about four years ago. With a name like Trick 'r Treat, a simple title that is so strongly evocative of the holiday, it seems like a seasonal release of this film would be a safe, money-making decision.

The film is an anthology piece, consisting of four overlapping and interwoven stories. The film plays with the chronology of the events in a style most commonly attributed as being reminiscent of Tarantino. As an aside, I feel this comparison does the film a disservice as the filmmaker has a very firm grasp of the genre, and the film's overall feel is that of a genuine and original horror film. Trick 'r Treat does not feeling like a kitschy rehash of better films (Sorry, Quentin. For what it's worth, I once really liked Reservoir Dogs). The film earns itself a solid R-rating, featuring many themes that could not be explored in a PG-13 film. For instance, many of the characters are grade school-aged children, whose untimely and violent ends ensure that this film could not have simply been edited to play to a younger audience.

The stories of the film center around one basic concept; observing and obeying the rules and traditions of the Halloween holiday. Given that the holiday has its roots in long forgotten customs and religious practices, there is a wealth of history that the movie uses to define its own internal mythology. Admittedly, many of the rules that the film throws out as tradition are ones that I have never heard of, but the way that they are presented as fact meant I never questioned their authenticity within the world of the film. This world is very similar to our own, except this is a world where ghouls and goblins do exist and all of the old legends are true. It's an interesting setting and I would like to see this universe revisited sometime down the line.

The first of the four stories features the principal of the local middle school relating stories of Halloween traditions and customs to one of his misbehaved students. The second follows the events of four promiscuous college-age hotties attending a party out in the middle of the forest. The third tale sees a small group of middle-school students venture into the local rock quarry, seemingly investigating tales of a horrible bus accident that occurred there many years ago. The final story revolves around an elderly recluse being terrorized by a mysterious costumed fiend. I don't want to get into the details of the various stories because a major factor contributing to my enjoyment came from discovering the various twists and turns as they unfolded. Every time a character from one story made a cameo in another, I felt rewarded for keeping my eyes open and connecting the dots between the chronology of the unfolding events.

One of my favorite elements of Trick 'r Treat is the character of Sam, a child-sized entity wearing a sack-like scarecrow/pumpkin costume, whom makes appearances throughout all of the stories. There is an innocent, child-like quality to Sam that makes some of his later scenes that much more unnerving. The visual design of this character is really unique, especially in a world where grosser, nastier and more realistic villains are so commonplace. The simple sack mask that he wears is both creepy and immediately identifiable, traits that would serve him well should the world of Trick 'r Treat ever be developed into a franchise.

Typically, I do not care for anthology style films because they tend to fall into very similar trappings. In most anthology films, the individual tales are strung together by a group of characters relating the stories to one another. This is a convenient contrivance that is used because the script writers do not have to spend anytime determining how the stories are related to one another. Almost always there is a "twist" at the end of the film, showing the story-telling characters as suddenly being in danger because these otherworldly, supposedly-fictional terrors are real. This is a prime example of lazy story-telling to which Trick 'r Treat, thankfully, does not fall victim. Each of the stories are well thought-out and they are interwoven into an expertly crafted tapestry of terror.

The Bottomline: Trick 'r Treat is required Halloween viewing, deserving to be listed amongst the ranks of other holiday classics, like John Carpenter's Halloween. I simply cannot conceive of a true horror fan that doesn't find sheer joy in this film. Rent or buy it today! Four Bruces.

Seen this film? Agree or disagree with the Geek? Let him know by leaving a comment below!

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Trail of Terror 2009 - Haunted Attraction Review

You see the signpost for North Colony Road and take the right-hand turn leading you off the well-beaten path that is State Route-5. The urban trappings around you quickly fall way as the road leads you down a decidedly less traversed path. You pass through the four-way stop and see the large grass field immediately on your right. It's quarter-to-six and the sun is still in the sky, but the field has already begun to fill up with cars and small groups of people. You park alongside the trees lining the field and exit the car. Despite your knowledge that the city is but a mile down the road, you feel as though you could be in the middle of nowhere. A paranoid sense of isolation slowly begins to invade your thoughts. The sun is setting fast and you start off down the old, uneven road, following the crowd as you make your way towards the entrance.

The Trail of Terror is a popular New England haunt that opens within the confines of the Polish National Alliance Park in Wallingford, Connecticut. It was once voted as the "Best Outdoor Attraction" by Fright Times magazine and was ranked by Haunt World magazine as the number 2 "Best Charity Attraction" in 2008. The venue is a highly complex, haunted maze-like walk comprised of numerous twists and turns. When you first arrive you have to pick which line to enter, depending on what kind of tickets you wish to purchase. For those of you whom choose to wait in the general admission line, the snaking, roped off corridors are dotted with mood setting props and some large and imposing animatronic figures. The lines pass by Big Dan's Trail Grub (a concession stand that is accessible without losing your place in line) and eventually wrap back toward the creepy old building that serves as the entrance way into the haunt proper. Distractions from your wait are provided for by appropriate heavy metal music and a highlight reel of horror movies playing on a nearby movie screen. Additionally, costumed actors will periodically make their presence known as frantic screams punctuate their path through the crowd. The in-line entertainment does not end there as, over the course of the night, several different skits will play out along the rooftops of the buidling standing at the Trail's entrance. Given that the wait in line is typically long, these efforts to keep the crowd entertained are greatly appreciated.

Once you finally progress into the trail proper, different scenes and set pieces meld and flow into one another, with a total of thirty different themed locales being represented in the 2009 season haunt. Not content to just present the usual rogues gallery, although demonic clowns and inbred hillbillies are present and accounted for, the Trail reaches out and includes more obscure horror fare as well. For example, one scene had been made up to look like old-time England and whose shadowy corners were populated by coughing, hacking, wheezing plague victims. Another scenario, this one returning from the year before, featured a strung up Santa Claus and a delightfully demented Mrs. Claus whom has apparently decided that she prefers the company of elfs. Dark parodies of Sesame Street and Alice in Wonderland help round out the cards with skits that one doesn't normally think of as being haunt material. I'm happy to say that in my experience they all came off as equally spooky and enjoyable, from the Cage Maze psychopaths to the girl with the human pin cushion skills just outside the entrance to the Freak Show.

The quality of the set pieces at the Trail of Terror is generally top notch. If you can find the time to stop and smell the roses, you'll see a lot of fine detail and craftsmanship has gone into your surroundings. The demonic clowns for instance are centered around a circus tent that, from the outside, is even complete with a lite-up, rotating top. The faux-rock walls used for Jason's Cave and the Mine Shack in this years haunt look very much like the real thing at first glance. High quality set pieces are especially important when you wander between so many differently themed spooky realms. The quality helps to immediately place you in the scene and help manifest the proper atmosphere for each sub-story being told.

If I had any complaints with the Trail of Terror this year it would be that some of the set pieces and costumes are recognizable as store bought items that one might find in any well stocked Halloween warehouse. I'd like to stress that this is a fairly petty and minor complaint when one considers the number of different scenes contained within the Trail of Terror and its approximate 45-minute walk-through time. For a haunt as big as this one, you simply need lots of props and actors to fill all of that space. Given that this is so, it is understandable that not every piece on display is a one of a kind item. That said, there are plenty of unique props, many large and elaborate sets, and some fantastic make-up jobs on display. Clearly many people with great passion and skill have worked long and hard to deliver this level of quality to the haunt's customers.

The level of interaction included in the Trail's skits is one of the largest and most welcome differences between the Trail of Terror and many of the other haunts I've been to. Interaction can come in the obvious form, with actors talking and reacting to you depending on how you respond. My girlfriend, for instance, was singled out by the deranged Mrs. Claus and berated when I gave away that she didn't celebrate Christmas. For this slight, my girlfriend was separated from the small group we were in and forced into the oven first. This brings me to the next form of interaction present at the trail, that of physical engagement. At times you will have to duck down under a miniature door to enter into Wonderland, crawl through ovens, and even slide down a ramp leading to the bottom of a certain spooky well. The ground along the trail is frequently uneven and given that many of the floors are man-made, this is clearly by design. They want you moving at a certain pace and they want to keep you off-balance, both mentally and physically.

Along these same lines, several scenes at the Trail of Terror generate their thrills by exploiting your basic senses. The Vortex Tunnel, a haunt-staple involving a walkway crossing the center of a rotating outer shell of a room, makes an appearance along the Trail. The sensations of movement and vertigo that this simple yet clever device is able to trick your mind into producing never ceases to amaze me. Another room utilizes strobe lights and walls covered in a polka dot pattern, creating an optical illusion that prevents you from being able to distinguish the dotted actors from the walls as long as they remain motionless. Other sections of the Trail with similar themes are perhaps less creative yet no less effective. One section requires you to continue onward through the haunt in near-complete darkness, using only your hands to feel your way forward.

I find that these scenes aimed at exploiting your senses are not only very effective at unsettling you, but also serve to incite fear within the primal-most sections of your mind. If you cannot trust your senses, your sight and balance, then how can you be actively preparing yourself in anticipation of the next scare. The Trail of Terror's commitment to this approach to fright is rather unique amongst the haunts I've attended. They're really trying to push you out of your comfort zone, a desire that led to the most entertaining and interesting part of my evening. I should probably warn you now that some spoilers regarding the scene at the end of the Trail lay ahead.


As my girlfriend and I approached the final scene, that of a basement morgue, with her clinging to my arm in what no doubt would be interpreted as a death grip, an actor managed to disarm her with a simple and friendly greeting. Perhaps forgetting herself, my girlfriend loosened her grip as the actor directed her, and seemingly our entire group, towards an open door directly in front of us. I noticed that there were a couple other actresses in the room and, oddly, only one other petrified-looking female patron. My girlfriend stepped into the room and the actor deftly slid his body into the door frame, blocking me from immediately following. "Not you!" he snarled at me, quickly fading into the room and closing the door behind him. As the door was swinging shut, I could see my girlfriend begin to turn around, her eyes widening as she realized I was no longer at her side. The door shut and we were separated.

Immediately, a previously unnoticed door to my left slid open. A blood splattered female orderly steps out, urging our group onward into the basement. I pause, my eyes still on the door behind which my girlfriend had disappeared. I wasn't sure what to do. Should I wait here or should I go on? The orderly clearly could see my hesitation. "Don't worry. You'll get her back," she whispers to me with  a cackle. Powerless to do anything else, I obey and proceed into the morgue.

And that's how I felt walking through the entire last scene; unsure, powerless, and perhaps even a little afraid. Not that any harm was going to befall my girlfriend, certainly not, but I didn't know how she would react in a haunt off by herself. What if she were to freeze up? Or double back looking for me? At this point I didn't actually know we were near the end of the haunt and didn't know when or where along the path we would be reunited, if at all! Part of my fear was real; I couldn't remember if she had been carrying her cellphone. How would we find each other in the crowd? This was not just another jump scare; I was definitely outside of my comfort zone in a way that I think was quite intentional. Congratulations, Trail of Terror, you managed to scare me.

I suppose to provide closure on the story I should inform you that although we were separated and I had those countless worries running through my head, my girlfriend and I were reunited rather quickly as the morgue was the final scene of the walk. Turns out, while I had to crawl through a mock morgue freezer, she had been selected to take an alternative path. She and this other patron I had briefly seen were coaxed into laying down on an actual stainless steel gurney and passed into what she describes as a real-life morgue unit. As she lay there entombed in utter darkness, loud banging reverberating through the steel, the gurney was slid on a track leading through the wall and she was eventually released on the other side. What amazes me most about this branching path is that if my girlfriend hadn't been randomly selected to traverse it, I'd have never even known it existed.


Before I wrap up, I feel I must make mention of my one negative experience with the Trail of Terror. Allow me to preface this by saying I've personally attended this haunt every year for the last four years and, with the sole exception of last year, have always been impressed with their annual offering. On this particular night last year, I found that certain scenes contained too many actors while other sections felt too scarcely populated, and not in a deliberate way. Due to the sheer size of the haunt and the volunteer nature of its staff, it seems as though coverage can fluctuate a fair deal over the course of October. I assume that the root of this problem may stem from specific issues that only affected the one particular night on which I attended last year. However, since the quality of the haunt potentially may differ from night to night, your experience may differ from mine. That warning said, I was extremely pleased by my experience this year and you can bet that I will be back again in 2010. For my money, the Trail of Terror remains the single best haunted attraction in Connecticut. Great job to all involved!

The Trail of Terror is an elaborate and fun haunted walk that people come from all around New England to see. Proceeds from ticket sales ($10 General Admission, $20 Speed Pass) are donated to charity, which in the past has benefited the Red Cross. However, due to the recent closure of their local Red Cross branch, a different charity will be receiving proceeds from the 2009 haunt. The Trail closes at 11PM on Friday and Saturdays nights and closes at 10PM on Sunday nights. The attraction is immensely popular so you should either buy Speed Pass tickets online on their website or prepare yourself for a two to three hour wait in the normal ticket line. Over the past four years I've found it doesn't really matter when you get there, either before or after the gates open, as you'll spend approximately the same amount of time in line regardless. If you aren't buying tickets ahead of time, I wouldn't recommend arriving any later than 7 o'clock. Tickets can and frequently do sell out, so it is recommended that you arrive early.

If you enjoyed this review, may I recommend checking out my review of Haunted Overload 2008, the number 4 haunt in the nation as determined by Haunt World Magazine! As always, please click on an ad and join my Facebook fanpage to show your support for the Geek!

All photos courtesy of http://www.TrailofTerror.com
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The Haunted World of El Superbeasto - Movie Review

Rob Zombie has spent considerable effort over the last decade trying to break into and legitimize himself in the horror filmmaking world. There can be no doubt that Zombie has shown himself to be very passionate about the genre and genuinely is trying to please the would-be fans of his films. Unfortunately for him, it seems that fans have largely been divided by Zombie's works instead of standing unified behind him. Part of this divide is no doubt due to the choice of his projects. House of 1,000 Corpses was an extremely rough, amateur outing and its follow-up, The Devil's Rejects, was action-heavy and pushing the boundaries of what I'd considered a genre piece. The Halloween remake was sure to be a polarizing experiences for horror fans regardless as to whose hands the project was placed, and the sequel certainly wasn't going to do anything to change anyone's minds on the matter.

Given this history, I appreciated seeing a project from Rob Zombie that seemed to step so far away from his previous releases. The animated film The Haunted World of El Superbeasto is a definite departure from his other forays into filmmaking. Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that although the story and directing nods go to Zombie, a lot of artist and animators were involved in crafting and influencing the final product. The project still wears Zombie's horror roots squarely upon its sleeves, featuring demons, nazi zombies, werewolves, and vampires at various points in the story. However, El Superbeasto is not a work of horror, nor is it really a horror comedy. This film is a sex comedy that is merely sporting the visual trappings of the horror genre as a way of defining its personality.

Although I felt much of the film was fairly incomprehensible, the plot itself is straightforward. Briefly, the evil Dr. Satan (a fun turn by Paul Giamatti) sends his lackey ape to kidnap the perpetually-naked, foul-mouthed stripper, Velvet Von Black (a ridiculously entertaining turn by Rosario Dawson).  As the legend goes, once Dr. Satan must convince her to marry him so that he will be infused with the unstoppable powers of Old Scratchfoot himself. Conveniently, our hero Superbeasto happens to be in the strip club where Velvet is performing and has set his mind on banging the hell out of her. His desire to tap that ass provides his motivation in chasing after Velvet once she is kidnapped and serves as the central fuel for the forward momentum of the story. Really. Superbeasto is helped out on his quest by the ridiculously over-sexed character of Suzi-X, his crimefighting step-sister, and her perpetually horny man-bot sidekick. Hilarity ensues.

At this point in the review I feel the need to come clean. I don't know whether or not I liked this movie. Don't get me wrong, its sick and vulgar, humorous at times, and is definitely entertaining. But the story is so free-flowing and the events so random that the entire film feels somewhat disjointed and without purpose. For instance, the character of Suzi-X is introduced as she raids a zombie-nazi castle to steal/destroy the decapitated head of Zombie Hitler. Funny perhaps, and with winking towards Zombie's faux-trailer for Werewolf Women of the SS from the interludes in Grindhouse, but really completely unrelated to the rest of the film. In fact, the whole sequence comes off feeling like padding and, when your movie is only 77 minutes long, this suggests some fundamental problems with the scripting.

That said, the movie is entertaining. The runtime is short enough that although the overtly sexual gags and constant nudity stop feeling imaginative or edgy fairly quickly, they don't ever become grating. The animation helps with this because the novelty of watching cartoon characters perform these violent and sexual acts somehow remains strong throughout. This novelty is only helped by the quality of the animation, which is actually quite high. This should be expected considering the talent that worked on bringing The Haunted World of El Superbeasto to life are mostly industry veterans, whose collective credits include Pixar films, Disney movies, The Simpsons, and most of Cartoon Network's current lineup. You can tell that these artists had a ball drawing and animating the various depraved scenes on display here.

The Haunted World of El Superbeasto contains numerous nods and references to Zombie's previous works, film and music both. For instance, the iconic character of Captain Spaulding, played by genre favorite Sid Haig in Zombie's directorial debut House of 1,000 Corpses, makes an appearance here in animated form. Other regulars like Bill Moseley, Danny Trejo and Sheri Moon Zombie lend their likenesses and voices to the various characters in the film. In another nod to Zombie's previous works, the titular Superbeasto, a mask-wearing, egotistical, luchador superhero, shares his name with a successful single from early in Zombie's solo music career. 

In the end, I'm conflicted about this film and must confess that the contradictions present in this review are a direct manifestation of those feelings. I think I liked The Haunted World of El Superbeasto, but I don't know if I'd favorably recommend it to anyone. At the same time, even if its shtick feels worn out by then end, the film is well made and does succeed at being genuinely entertaining. Given that, it seems as though a recommendation ought to follow in short order. Like I said, I'm conflicted. In the end, I don't suppose many people have ever seen a film quite like this one (except maybe those of you "lucky" enough to have caught Fritz the Cat). For the sheer novelty alone, I suppose this one is worth a watch. Part of me suspects that this is a film that I will look upon more favorably as more time passes from my initial viewing. Even as I write these words I'm beginning to feel the compulsion to watch it again. Perhaps a second viewing down the line will help clear up these mixed feelings.

The Bottomline: This film exists. I watched it. Maybe you should too? Be prepared for lots of cartoon violence and graphic nudity, although nothing dips into X-rated territory. Zombie fans should get a kick out of the numerous references to his other works. Two Bruces.

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