Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween: Witches and zombies and scarecrows! Oh my!

Happy Halloween! Here's a picture of me in my 2010 scarecrow costume, sitting in the front yard along with one of our black cats, Mr. Bill. (Yes, we have multiple black cats.) It was a fun time last year. After Mr. Bill went back inside, I sat motionless in a pile of hay in the front yard, looking like nothing more than an October yard display. Then, when unsuspecting trick-or-treaters walked past in the fading daylight, I would slowly wave at them or say, "Trick or treat!" One gaggle of teenage girls got VERY freaked out.

Two pieces of spook-themed ephemera today...

First, a 32-page staplebound book titled "The Realness of Witchcraft in America," which was written by A. Monroe Aurand Jr. and published in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The short book, which is cheap and easy to track down if you're interested in a copy, is packed with interesting tidbits about the history of witches and witchcraft.

The book begins with a broad outline of the history of witchcraft worldwide, but it gets most interesting when it starts delving into the beliefs of the early Pennsylvania Germans. Some excerpts:
  • Aurand quotes Julius Friedrich Sachse's "The German Pietists of Provincial Pennsylvania":
    "Another custom then in vogue among the Germans in Pennsylvania was the wearing of an 'anhangsel,' a kind of astrological amulet or talisman ... In rare cases a thin stone or sheet of metal was used in place of parchment. These 'anhangsel' or 'zauber-zettel' as they were called, were prepared by the Mystics of the Community with certain occult ceremonies at such times as the culmination of a particular star or the conjunction of certain planets..."
  • Aurand writes: "'Letters of Protection' as we know them in America, or sometimes 'Himmelsbriefs' as they are known both here and in Germany, are quite common in America, or were not many years ago. ... We accepted an order for printing copies1 of the 'Letter of Protection' in 1918, which we learned were subsequently handed to members of the National Guard, and to draftees who went into the service from several central counties of Pennsylvania."
The short but fascinating book goes on to discuss the witch trials of Margaret Matson and Gertro "Yeshro" Hendrickson, the murder of Nelson Rehmeyer in 1928, the Albert Shinsky case and more.

Moving along, zombies are my favorite creatures from horror films and fiction, well ahead of such terrible entities as vampires, werewolves, mummies, slashers, aliens and New York Mets fans.

And when it comes to zombies, I'm a George Romero guy, through and through. While his films -- most notably "Night of the Living Dead" and "Dawn of the Dead" -- are my favorite zombie flicks, there are a few other walking-dead movies that rank highly on my list. They include "The Last Man on Earth," starring Vincent Price; "Messiah of Evil"2; "My Boyfriend's Back"; "The Return of the Living Dead"; and "Shaun of the Dead".

"World War Z" has a chance to be the next great zombie film, if they don't screw up Max Brooks' great book.

And then there's 1973's "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things."3 I first saw this in the late 1970s when I was in elementary school and living in Clayton, New Jersey -- before I had ever seen any other zombie films. TV stations showed it on afternoon matinees. It scared the crap out of me.

Here's a set of TV listings from a York Daily Record TV guide from Fall 1978. It shows "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things" as airing at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 4, 1978, on Channel 17.4 It's fun to look at the other stuff that was on TV that night:
  • "Carol Burnett and Friends"5 and "The Joker's Wild" were two of our family's favorite evening television shows.
  • It's interesting to see the guests on that night's episode of "The Tonight Show": comedian Kelly Monteith, ventriloquist SeƱor Wences; and Frank Abagnale, the real-life figure who served as the inspiration for "Catch Me If You Can."
  • ABC televised Game 1 of the 1978 National League Championship Series at 8 p.m. In that game, the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 9-5, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The Dodgers got two home runs from Steve Garvey and one apiece from Davey Lopes and Steve Yeager, and they went to win the series, three games to one. ABC's TV announcers for that game were Al Michaels, Don Drysdale and Johnny Bench.
But enough about Phillies losses, Carol Burnett and Frank Abagnale. If you're a connoisseur of zombie movies and have a stomach for bad 1970s fashion, overacting and tragically poor decision-making by a group of young adults stuck on an island teeming with zombies, I highly recommend "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things."

1. When Aurand writes "We accepted...", I assume he is referring to The Aurand Press of Lancaster.
2. "Messiah of Evil" features wonderful and creepy art direction by Jack Fisk, who went on to serve as Art Director for "Days of Heaven" and Production Designer for prestigious directors Terrence Malick, David Lynch and Paul Thomas Anderson. He was nominated for Oscar for his Art Direction on Anderson's "There Will Be Blood."
3. "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things" was directed by Bob Clark, who gets my vote for the most strangely diverse filmography of all-time. He also directed "A Christmas Story," "Porky's," "Turk 182!" and "Baby Geniuses".
4. That would be WPHL-TV, a channel we also had in southern New Jersey. During this time, another creepy thing you would have seen on WPHL-TV and the now-defunct WKBS-TV (Channel 48) was commercials for Brigantine Castle, like this one:

5. "Carol Burnett and Friends" was the syndicated, 30-minute version of highlights from the hour-long episodes of "The Carol Burnett Show," that originally aired from 1972-77.


  1. Not crazy about witchery, but I absolutely *love* the picture of you and Mr. Bill! What a great way to participate in the festivities! (Also, great use of "gaggle".)

  2. Thanks for the TV Guide page/clipping of "Children Shouldn't...". That was right around when I first saw it (only it was on ch 9 from LA)...I was 9 yrs old, it scared the crap out of me too. Rating: 10/10.