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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ouija Halloween!!!

First things first...


I hope that all of you have a wonderful Halloween night, and that you have lots of tricks and treats headed your way. I imagine that quite a few of you will be headed out for candy collecting this evening, and I hope that your pillowcases, reusable grocery bags, and plastic pumpkin buckets get filled to capacity this year.

But before I go on with today's special Halloween topic, I just want to remind you all to play it safe this Halloween. Halloween can be a day that is filled with lots of fun and haunting good times. But it can also be a day that can be dangerous if you don't take the proper precautions. Here is a mandatory list of things that you can do to make this Halloween a safe one.

  • If you're going trick-or-treating, wear bright colours so that drivers can see you. If your costume does not have any bright colours, wear reflective tape or carry a glo-stick so that you can be seen.
  • Always make sure that you are with at least one other person when you go trick-or-treating. There is safety in numbers!

  • When you get home, have your parents or guardians check over your stash of candy for unwrapped or peculiar looking candies. Although most homes are safe to accept treats from, you can never be too careful.
  • A good rule of thumb is to toss out any homemade treats that are given out, unless they happen to come from someone that you know and trust, like a neighbour or family member.
  • If you are 21 or over (19 in Canada), make sure you have a designated driver if you drink a little bit too much. Barring all that, make plans to stay overnight. A Halloween DUI is no fun.

But, most of all, HAVE FUN! Halloween is supposed to be a fun holiday, and it only comes around once a year, so make the best of it!

Now for today's special Halloween themed blog entry, I thought that I would choose something that has been the focal point of many Halloween parties. Most times, they are used in harmless fun...but there have been a few instances in which they have awakened the dead, and caused spiritual unrest. Sometimes they can even be cursed, or deadly, depending on the movie in which you see them in.

Hard to believe that a piece of wood could have so much power.

Yes, today's topic is all about the Ouija Board...a fitting end to the month of spookiness known as October.

By all accounts, the Ouija (pronouced Wee-Jee)...

...ahem...thank you, Luigi.

As I was saying, the Ouija Board upon first glance doesn't look all that frightening. It's a piece of wood with all the letters in the alphabet, the numerals 0-9, and a few words that include “Yes”, “No”, “Hello” (sometimes), and “Goodbye”. If anything, it might look like something that could be sold at Mr. Hooper's Store on Sesame Street.

The trick with the Ouija Board comes from the second piece of the game. Each Ouija Board comes with a small, triangular piece known as a planchette, and how it works is that the person who is calling the séance uses the planchette to communicate messages from the dead to the living, and everyone else involved in the séance is supposed to hold the planchette as well. For instance, if a spirit wants to indicate that they are present, the planchette will mysteriously move to the word “Hello”. Or, sometimes the spirit might wish to spell out a person's name, so the planchette will move to each letter in the person's name. It'd take a short time if your name was Lee, but forever if your name happened to be Elizabeth-Maria or something similar.

Would you believe that the Ouija Board has been sold in stores for well over one hundred years? The idea behind the Ouija Board was first pitched by businessmen Elijah Bond and Charles Kennard. They had the idea of patenting a planchette sold with a board with the alphabet written on it, because at the time, planchettes were considered to be a novelty toy.

Bond and Kennard filed the patent on May 28, 1890, and from there invented the very first Ouija Board. The issue date on the patent was February 10, 1891, receiving the U.S. Patent number of 446,054. William Fuld, an employee of Kennard, took over the talking board production, and by 1901, he started production of his own boards, using the name “Ouija”, a word that he claimed was an ancient Egyptian word meaning “good luck”. But the word “Ouija” is also a combination of both the French and German translations of the word “yes”.

At some point, despite the fact that the board was patented by Bond and Kennard, Fuld would end up getting notoreity for the board by rewriting history, claiming that he himself had invented it! Several companies tried to come up with their own versions of the board using the “Ouija” name, and Fuld launched lawsuits against all of them right up to his death in the late 1920s! Fuld's estate sold the rights to the Ouija board to Parker Brothers in 1966, which was then transferred to Hasbro when the company bought out Parker Brothers in 1991.

As far as whether I believe that Ouija Boards can be used to communicate with the spirit world, I cannot confirm or deny that they do or don't. I have never owned a Ouija Board, nor have I ever used one. I imagine that those of you who have might have used a Ouija Board must have some interesting stories to tell (and if you have a few minutes, please post them here if you like. I'm sure that some of us would love to read them!

But you know something? The Ouija Board wasn't originally meant to be a communication aid with departed spirits. It wasn't until American Spiritualist Pearl Curran popularized the board as a use as a divining tool during the first World War that the meaning changed.

And, not everyone is pleased over the fact that Ouija Boards exist. There has been criticism from people of various religions, particularly from evangelical Christians. In 2001, a demonstration was held in Alamogordo, New Mexico which saw Ouija Boards and Harry Potter books burned in a gigantic bonfire by several fundamentalist groups, claiming that they were “symbols of witchcraft”. Some people have even claimed that the Ouija Board is actually a tool of Satan!

Other people claim that the Ouija Board cannot contact spirits, and is simply just another way for people to part with their money.

But, I happen to like the mystery behind the Ouija Board. I really think that the Ouija Board is what you make of it, and if you want to believe that it works, then work it shall. Or something like that.

To conclude this Halloween piece, why not take a look at some of the movies that have used Ouija Boards as part of the plot?

The Uninvited (1944)
13 Ghosts (1960)
Tales From The Crypt (1972)
The Exorcist (1973)
Alison's Birthday (1979)
Amityville 3-D (1983)
Spookies (1985)
Awakenings (1990)
Radio Flyer (1991)
Grim (1995)
What Lies Beneath (2000)
Spirit Trap (2005)
Downtown Abbey (2011)
The Pact (2012)

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 30, 1938

Twas the day before Halloween, and all through the streets
Millions of kids are dreaming of treats.
Chocolates, candies, and Strawberry Nibs
Candy corn and Tootsie Rolls, I got first dibs.
Before we go out dressed as trolls and the Mad Hatter
We need the weekly dose of Tuesday Timeline chatter
It's October the thirtieth, ain't that sublime?
Because my friends, we're going back in time...

Okay, my poetry skills aren't exactly the most stellar. But I really wanted to make sure that I opened this latest blog entry on a spooky note, being that tomorrow is Halloween.

And for today's special entry, we're going to take a look back on an event that frightened so many people, they expected the absolute worst.

For now, let's see what else happened on October 30. I imagine that at the end of this list come next year, there will be an entry for this year depicting the “Frankenstorm” of 2012. Again, I imagine that quite a few of you in the Northeastern USA are likely without power right now, but if you are able to see this, know that my thoughts are definitely with you during this time, and I hope that every single one of you stays safe.

Okay, so here is what else has happened on the second last day of October.

758 – Guangzhou is sacked by Arab and Persian pirates

1485 – King Henry VII of England is crowned

1831 – Escaped slave Nat Turner is captured and arrested in Virginia after leading the bloodiest slave rebellion in American history

1864 – The community of Helena, Montana is founded following the discovery of gold in “Last Chance Gulch” by four prospectors

1894 – Domenico Melegatti obtains a patent for a procedure to be applied in producing pandoro industrially

1905 – Czar Nicholas II of Russia grants Russia's first constitution, creating a legislative assembly

1918 – The Ottoman Empire signs an armistice with the Allies, ending the first World War in the Middle East

1920 – The Communist Party of Australia is founded in Sydney, Australia

1922 – Benito Mussolini is sworn in as Prime Minister of Italy

1925 – John Logie Baird creates Britain's first television transmitter

1929 – The Stuttgart Cable Car is constructed in Stuttgart, Germany

1941 – One thousand-five hundred Jews are sent to Belzec extermination camp by the Nazis

1944 – Anne and Margot Frank are deported from Auschwitz to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

1945 – Jackie Robinson signs a contract for the Brooklyn Dodgers to break the baseball colour barrier

1947 – The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is founded

1960 – The first successful kidney transplant is performed by Michael Woodruff in Edinburgh, Scotland

1961 – It is decreed that the body of Joseph Stalin be removed from its place of honour inside Lenin's tomb and buried near the Kremlin

1970 – A monsoon strikes Vietnam, killing 293, leaving almost a quarter of a million people homeless and ceases combat during the Vietnam War for a brief time

1972 – Two trains collide in Chicago, killing 45 people

1974 – The “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali takes place in Zaire

1975 – 15-year-old Martha Moxley is murdered, Michael Skakel, the nephew of Ethel Kennedy is later charged with her murder

1983 – The first democratic elections are held in Argentina after seven years of military rule

1985 – Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off for mission STS-61-A

1987 – The video game console PC Engine is released in Japan (in North America it was released under the name TurboGrafx-16)

2000 – Comedian Steve Allen passes away at the age of 78 in Los Angeles, California

And here are the list of celebrities that were born on today's date. Celebrating birthdays today are Anna Wing, Vince Callahan, Jim Perry, Grace Slick, Henry Winkler, Robert L. Gibson, Timothy B. Schmit (Eagles), Rusty Goffe, Garry McDonald, Harry Hamlin, Charles Martin Smith, Juliet Stevenson, Kevin Pollak, Stefan Dennis, Michael Beach, Kristina Wagner, Gavin Rossdale, Nia Long, Ben Bailey, Jessica Hynes, Jason Adelman, Amanda Swafford, Matthew Morrison, Ivanka Trump, and Eva Marcille.

So, what spooky date will we look back on this week?

October 30, 1938. And yes, I made the logo spooky on purpose.

Because today's tale features a very scary story read aloud by a man who would soon become a Hollywood heavyweight. Although this story was a fictional account, many who only heard parts of the broadcast reportedly panicked, thinking that the world as they knew it would change forever.

Have any of you heard of an author by the name of H.G. Wells? He was born in Bromley, Kent, England in 1866 and died on August 13, 1946 at the age of 79. During his life, he wrote several books which were very well-received and are widely considered to be classics today. Some of these books included “The Time Machine”, “The Invisible Man”, “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, and “The Shape of Things to Come”.

And he also wrote the novel entitled “The War of the Worlds”, which was first printed in the year 1898.

The War of the Worlds” was a depiction of what happened when Martians invaded Earth, and is widely considered to be one of the earliest literary works that depicted a conflict between mankind and extraterrestrial beings. Although the initial genre of the book is classified as being “scientific romance”, people have studied the novel closely and have interpreted it in a variety of ways since. Some people saw it as a social commentary piece on evolutionary theory, while others saw it as a statement regarding British imperialism. Some simply see the piece as a collection of Victorian-era superstitions, fears, and prejudices.

At any rate, the novel has been adapted into several different formats. Comic books, a television series, and a 2005 movie starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning.

And it was also the subject of a particular radio broadcast that aired on Sunday, October 30, 1938.

In 1938, radio programming was still the number one form of entertainment for people living in North America. Whether they were listening to murder mysteries, the world news, or episodes of the brand new serial “The Guiding Light”, people would sit and listen to the radio for hours as they went about their household chores.

One of the most popular radio shows that aired in 1938 was “The Chase and Sanborn Hour”. It aired every Sunday night at eight o'clock and starred famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (father of Candice) and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy.

Unfortunately for the producers of rival radio program “Mercury Theatre on the Air”, which aired opposite “The Chase and Sanborn Hour”, their program was walloped in the ratings. And this frustrated the 22-year-old dramatist who headed each edition of the “Mercury Theatre on the Air”.

Perhaps you might know this fellow. His name was Orson Welles.

That's right. Orson Welles. Future star of “Citizen Kane”, “Treasure Island”, and the voice of Unicron in the 1986 Transformers movie.

In 1938, Orson Welles was more than determined to dethrone Edgar Bergen as the star of Sunday night radio, and brainstormed various ways to make his show stand out from the rest.

With Halloween night the day after the scheduled airing of his show, Welles debated on how he could make his show extra special for that day. He then had the idea to take H.G. Wells' “War of the Worlds” and adapt it into a theatrical play for radio audiences. It was a big gamble for Welles to take. It was a delicate practice to perform a play on the radio as in a lot of cases, they did not translate very well to the audience. After all, radio plays could only be heard and not seen, and in a lot of cases, the plays were subject to time constraints (at most, radio shows ran for an hour in length, including commercial breaks.

So, Orson Welles had a lot of work to do in order to make his October 30 deadline. He worked with one of the writers of the program, Howard Koch, rewrote the entire story of “The War of the Worlds”, with Welles doing quite a few revisions to the script in order to meet the show length. The setting was also changed from Victorian England to present day New England.

So, on October 30, 1938 at 8:00 pm, the “Mercury Theatre on the Air” kicked off its Halloween broadcast with the following announcement. “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. From there, Orson Welles went on the air and introduced the play with an introductory paragraph explaining that the world had been watched by intelligences greater than man's.

After the intro, the show segwayed into a weather report and music before being interrupted by a special news bulletin which announced that a Chicago-based professor had begun seeing explosions taking place on Mars. The music returned briefly before another news report came on featuring another interview with another professor. During the interview, the professor was handed a note explaining that a huge shock of almost earthquake intensity occurred near Princeton, New Jersey. It is believed by the professor that the vibration was caused by a meteorite hitting the earth's surface.

And at 8:50 that night, yet another news bulletin is broadcast...this time alerting that another meteorite had struck the planet near Grovers Mill, New Jersey. “Carl Phillips” soon begins reporting live from the scene where he discovers that the meteorite is really a thirty-yard wide metal cylinder, and upon further examination makes the following report.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed. . . . Wait a minute! Someone's crawling. Someone or . . . something. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks . . . are they eyes? It might be a face. It might be . . . good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, and another one, and another one. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it . . . ladies and gentlemen, it's indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it's so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate. A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What's that? There's a jet of flame springing from the mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they're turning into flame!
Now the whole field's caught fire. The woods . . . the barns . . . the gas tanks of automobiles . . it's spreading everywhere. It's coming this way. About twenty yards to my right...

The broadcast then goes silent for a few minutes before resuming with this frightening revelation, courtesy of an announcer.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been handed a message that came in from Grovers Mill by telephone. Just one moment please. At least forty people, including six state troopers, lie dead in a field east of the village of Grovers Mill, their bodies burned and distorted beyond all possible recognition.

A pretty morbid end to the whole night, wouldn't you think? And it gets worse. By the end of the broadcast, thousands of people are given the news that the Martians have invaded the earth, and that New York City was already being evacuated.

Now, as you all know by now, aliens did not invade the planet seventy-four years ago. But because many people relied on the radio to report on the outside world, people took the broadcast seriously (especially if they were tuning into the show already in progress), and were actually worried that the aliens were going to take over the world.

Reportedly, millions of people all over the United States reacted to the news in a variety of ways. Thousands of listeners called radio stations all over the country to get more information, and many people allegedly packed up suitcases prepared to flee their homes if necessary. Now, the claims of this actually happening have been questioned, and some don't actually believe that it really happened. But take a look at this headline from the New York Times dated Monday, October 31, 1938, and make your own call.

Whatever the case, the incident was reported as a hoax just hours later, and many people were very angry at Orson Welles. Many even speculated that Welles had plotted the whole radio broadcast as a publicity stunt. Whatever the case, that one radio broadcast was the beginning of a lucrative career for Orson Welles, which lasted until his death in October 1985.

And to think that it all began the day before Halloween in 1938.

Happy October 30th, everyone, and for those of you who are surviving Sandy, we're all pulling for you.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Exorcist

Before I continue with this week’s Monday Matinee, I just wanted to extend my concerns to those of you living in the Northeastern part of the United States.  As I type this out, Hurricane Sandy is likely making landfall.  I hope that those of you who are in Sandy’s direct path stay safe, and I hope that everything will be okay for all of you.  Stay indoors if you haven’t evacuated yet.

For now though, I wish to tell you a personal story in relation to this edition of the Monday Matinee...a story that dates back a dozen years.

The year 2000 was a memorable one for me.  The last of my nieces and nephews were born during that year, I was living in Ottawa, Ontario at the time, and I was nineteen years old.  It was also the year that I managed to discover something about myself.  It was the year that I left high school and ventured out into the world, and realized that people in the real world weren’t nearly as sheltered, spoiled, and condescending as some of my high school classmates.  They were kind, nice, real down-to-earth people.  I loved every minute of it.

And imagine my surprise when my social life improved so much that I ended up going out regularly with groups of friends.

One outing I’ll always remember took place right around Halloween that year.  I was asked by someone who lived on my residence floor if I wanted to go to a movie with three of his friends at the Rideau Centre movie theatre.  Since I had no other plans that day, I was more than thrilled to attend.  So after we arrived at the Rideau Centre, popped into Shoppers Drug Mart to stock up on Sour Patch Kids, Doritos, and Hershey’s Miniatures (which we then proceeded to smuggle into the handbags and purses of our female companions to avoid the overpriced concession stands at the theatre), we tried to make up our minds over what movie we should see.

The decision we eventually came to was to watch a movie that was a re-release of a classic film.  At the time, the film was 27 years old, but we didn’t care.  If memory serves me, one of the group had seen the film already, but I and the three others had not.  The reason for the film’s re-release was to incorporate bonus footage that had been left on the cutting room floor two and a half decades earlier, but as someone who had never seen the film in its entirety prior to 2000 it was all new to me.

The film was a classic horror film.  Some would even say it was one of the best horror films ever made.  It seems hard to believe that next year the film will be celebrating its fortieth anniversary! 

I bet that must make Linda Blair feel very old, huh?

You see, when this film was released, Linda Blair was just fourteen.  Now she’s a woman of fifty-three!  It is really scary how time flies.

Of course, Linda Blair didn’t exactly have the most glamourous role in the film.  Just have a look at one of her many scenes in this film.

Lovely, ain’t she?  Oh, don’t worry.  That “vomit” is really harmless pea soup.  And that’s just one of the many secrets that I will reveal as we take an in depth look at William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist”, a film adaptation based on Blatty’s book directed by William Friedkin.

For those of you who have not yet seen the movie or read the book, I won’t spoil the plot for you too much.  But just to give you an indication of what the basic storyline is, it’s all about a twelve-year-old girl named Regan MacNeil (Blair) who begins to exhibit dangerous and dramatic mood swings.  Her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), an actress who is shooting a film near Washington DC, is quite concerned, and she sends her daughter for a slew of medical tests which only serve to prove that nothing is physically wrong with her.  She is then sent to a psychiatrist, whom Regan assaults.  By the first half of the film, Chris is at her wits end, witnessing Regan’s bed violently shaking, hearing strange noises, and undergoing physical abuse by her daughter. 

It gets so extreme that Chris is soon lead to believe that Regan may be possessed by the devil, and an exorcism must be performed in order to save Regan’s soul.  As a result, psychiatrist/priest Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is asked by Chris to help perform the exorcism, and Karras brings an experienced exorcist, Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) to perform the ritual while Karras assists.  But the devil’s spirit within Regan is not prepared to give up without a fight...and before the night is out, tragedy will occur.

But of course, that is all that I will tell you.  Believe me when I say that this is one movie that you will not want to watch with the lights turned off.  I admit having to shield my eyes at some of the scary parts.  In fact, I even wrote a movie review of “The Exorcist” for my school newspaper twelve years ago.  I must warn you though, my writing style at nineteen was a lot more...shall we as pea soup than it is at thirty-one, so be gentle.  J

Now here’s where the fun part comes in.  I mentioned a few of the cast members of this movie as well as the characters that they played in the film.  But did you know that almost every character was designed for other actors to play, and that each actor had their own reason for turning down the film?

Let’s start with the title role of Regan, shall we?

One of the actresses who was up for consideration was Pamelyn Ferdin, who once voiced the character of Lucy Van Pelt and who starred in a series of supernatural thrillers, but producers nixed the idea feeling that she was too well-known.  Denise Nickerson (who played Violet Beauregard in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory) was also up for the role of Regan, but her parents made the decision that the subject matter was too controversial for her, and pulled her out.  Anissa Jones of Family Affair was also considered.

The role of Father Merrin which eventually went to Max von Sydow was meant for Marlon Brando to take on if the studio heads had their way.  However, William Friedkin vetoed the idea because he didn’t want the movie to become a “Brando film”.  Meanwhile, regarding the role of Karras, Jack Nicholson was briefly considered before Stacy Keach initially landed the role.  But when Friedkin spotted Jason Miller acting in a play, Keach’s contract was bought out and Miller was given the role instead.

The role of Chris McNeil was also difficult to cast.  Both Shirley MacLaine and Jane Fonda flat out refused to do the film.  Anne Bancroft showed some interest in the role, but as she was pregnant at the time she was asked, she couldn’t commit to the role.  And the only way Audrey Hepburn would do the role was if the movie could be filmed in Rome.  So, after those four women turned down the role, Ellen Burstyn was next in line to be cast.

Here’s some other trivia for you.

-          Mercedes McCambridge provided the voice of the possessed Regan.

-          Although it is a horror movie closely associated with Halloween, the film was actually released the day after Christmas, 1973!

-          The movie won two of the ten Academy Awards it was nominated for.

-          Ellen Burstyn permanently damaged her spine while filming this movie.  In the scene where she is thrown away from Regan, she ended up falling on her coccyx, which caused her to screech in pain.

-          Four air conditioners were used in the refrigerated bedroom scene.

-          William Peter Blatty actually used the winnings he won on the quiz show, “You Bet Your Life” to work on the novel that inspired the film!

-          A moviegoer actually tried suing Warner Brothers in 1974 after he sustained a broken jaw after fainting during the film screening!

-          If the film was adjusted for inflation, “The Exorcist” would be the highest grossing horror film of all time.

-          The film schedule was supposed to last three months.  In actuality, it took 224 days!

-          Although the late Dana Plato claimed to have auditioned for the role of Regan, Blatty did not recall seeing her at any of the auduitions.

-          The production process of “The Exorcist” was done at 666 Fifth Avenue in New York City.  Make of that what you will.

-          Linda Blair delivered her foul-mouthed dialogue in such a way that it caused Max von Sydow to temporarily forget his lines in shock!

-          The plot for “The Exorcist” was based on the alleged real exorcism of a 13-year-old boy named Robbie.

-          Although you wouldn’t know it from the make-up he wore in the film to look older, Max von Sydow was only 44 when he appeared in the film.

-          Director William Friedkin went to great lengths to get the emotional reactions he wanted in his film, even going so far as shooting loaded guns near the actors and unexpectedly slapping them across the face just before shooting pivotal scenes!

-          A woman named Linda Tuero was hired as an extra in the film.  She later became Mrs. William Peter Blatty!

-          Linda Blair had bodyguards protecting her six months after the film was released, due to death threats she received from religious zealots.

-          The entire exorcism scene lasted a grand total of nine minutes.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Psycho Killer

Have you ever grooved out to a song, loving it for its funky beat, its happy-go-lucky sound, and its ability to make you showcase everything you have on the dance floor only to find that if you listen closely to the lyrics, it’s really a song that has disturbing, horrifying, and even vulgar undertones to it?

This is the story of one of these songs. 

Of course, before I get to the main focus of the song, I thought that I would share with you some examples of what it is that I mean in my opening statement.

You know how a song might be fun to dance to, but once you listen to the lyrics, the song becomes less fun.  A popular dance song might lose its lustre when you discover that the lyrics involve somebody dying from a drug overdose.  A swinging country song might not seem so happy-go-lucky when you discover that the song is about a child getting abducted from his house.  A rap song that you think is off the hook might be off the playlists of radio stations everywhere when it is discovered that the lyrics promote bestiality.

(Not that any of these songs actually exist, mind you...they’re just extreme examples that I came up with as a supplement to this blog entry.)

Well, today’s blog is all about a song that was first performed in 1974, and officially released as a single three years later.  Although the song didn’t do very well on the Billboard Charts (it barely made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1977), it is widely considered to be the single that was deemed the breakout hit of the band that performed it.  Many people would argue that this particular single is the band’s signature hit (although I also believe songs such as “Once in a Lifetime”, “Burning Down The House” and “And She Was” rank high up there as well), and I imagine that hundreds of people rocked out to the beat of the song at proms, dance clubs, and parties.  Allmusic actually referred to the song as a “deceptively funky New Wave/No Wave song that had an insistent rhythm, and one of the most memorable, driving basslines in rock and roll”.

You know something, with a description like that, I think that we should take a listen to this song right now.

ARTIST:  Talking Heads
SONG:  Psycho Killer
ALBUM:  Talking Heads: 77
DATE RELEASED:  December 3, 1977

Now you might be surprised by the title of the song.  The song title of “Psycho Killer” doesn’t exactly sound like one that brings forth memories of happily dancing with your best friends on a club floor.  And if one were to actually sit down and read the lyrics (including the ones written in French), they may find that the song is all about what the title describes.

In fact, the song actually started off as a semi-narrative of a serial killer stalking people and killing them.  Talking Heads frontman David Byrne while he was writing the song stated that he imagined Alice Cooper doing a Randy Newman-type ballad, and that he always found villains like Hannibal Lecter and the Joker more fascinating than the heroes. 

As I mentioned before, the song was originally composed in the early 1970s, and was performed by Byrne, and two friends of his that he met at the Rhode Island School of Design, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth.  Only back in those days, they didn’t go by the name “Talking Heads”.  Instead they went by a different band name, “The Artistics”.

At the time, Frantz and Weymouth were dating (they got married in 1977 and have stayed married ever since), and Weymouth wasn’t a part of “The Artistics” (though she did act as a groupie of sorts who provided transportation for the band).  However, the Artistics project never quite got up off the ground, and by 1975, the band had fizzled out.  But this was fine for Byrne and Frantz, who along with Weymouth moved out to New York City to find their fame and fortune.  The three ended up living together in a communal loft and Frantz and Byrne set out to begin another band.

The problem was that despite New York City’s size, the pair were unable to find a decent bass player for their new band.  So Frantz came up with a solution.  Since Tina Weymouth was living with them at the time, why not teach Tina how to play bass in their band? 

And the way that Tina learned how to play base was quite interesting.  Ever hear of a musician by the name of Suzi Quatro?  You might have seen her acting in an episode of two of “Happy Days”, but she is also considered to be one of the first female bass players to become a huge solo recording star and she still performs today.  I suppose if one was starting out new as a bass player, Suzi Quatro would be a great person to develop skills from.

With the addition of Weymouth to the band, the band needed a new name, and the group settled on the name “Talking Heads”.  As Weymouth later admitted in an interview, the group ended up selecting the new name after flipping through the pages of TV Guide Magazine.  A friend had stumbled upon the term “talking heads” which was used by television studios to describe a head-and-shoulder shot of a person talking as “all-content, no-action”.  For Weymouth and the rest of the band, the name seemed to describe their group perfectly, and the rest is history.

And for the band’s first gig, you couldn’t do much better than the New York City music club CBGB.  Talking Heads performed their first concert there in 1975, and the rest is history.

Byrne, Frantz, Weymouth, and keyboard player Jerry Harrison continued on with the band throughout the rest of the 1970s and 1980s, releasing eight studio albums between 1977 and 1988, two live albums, and releasing at least twenty singles between 1977 and 1992.

But in early 1992, David Byrne had made the decision to pursue a solo career, and that same year, the Talking Heads opted to call it quits, although Frantz, Weymouth, and Harrison would reunite for one more album which was released in 1996.  

Frantz and Weymouth would also form their own side project away from the Talking Heads, the Tom Tom Club, who had a hit single in 1980 with “Genius of Love”.

But their first single will always be the one that got the Talking Heads noticed...even it it was just a little bit on the morbid side.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Beetlejuice - The Animated Series

Last year, I did a blog entry on the 1988 movie “Beetlejuice”. I make no secret in telling all of you that it remains one of my all-time favourite movies. I think I was eight years old when I first saw this movie, and I fell in love with it almost instantly. I suppose in some ways, that movie was also my introduction to the wonderful works of Tim Burton.

And the movie didn't scare me...much. Okay, the sandworms were a little bit creepy, but for the most part, I enjoyed the storyline of the dearly departed Maitlands trying to make sense of their deaths. Through it all, they ended up befriending a young goth girl named Lydia Deetz despite the fact that they unleashed the powerful, scary, and unpredictable Betelgeuse (otherwise known as Beetlejuice).

So when I heard that there was a cartoon series that was airing on ABC at the same that that I saw the movie for the first time, I knew that I had to find a way to see this cartoon just to see how it compared to the movie.

Only there wasn't really any comparison at all...mainly because the only things in common between the movie and the cartoon were characters and settings.

The “Beetlejuice” cartoon is unique in the sense that the cartoon at some point aired on two different networks at the same time. First, the show debuted on ABC during its Saturday Morning cartoon block between September 8, 1989 until October 26, 1991. Meanwhile, FOX decided to pick up the series in September 1991, and aired new episodes until May 7, 1992, meaning that there was a time in the fall of 1991 that the show aired on both ABC and FOX.

The cartoon was also developed by Tim Burton, and featured the voices of Stephen Ouimette as Beetlejuice, and Alyson Court as Lydia, and for the most part, the setting remained the same (aside from the name change from Winter River to Peaceful Pines for the name of the town Lydia and her family live in).

But there were far more differences than similarities between the film and the cartoon series. It was like we were watching a completely different show.

Not that I minded very much, as I loved the cartoon just as much as the movie.

So, let's take a look at the differences between the film and the movie, just to showcase what I mean.

Remember how in the movie, the Maitlands vanquished Beetlejuice back to the Neitherworld and they remained in the house living side by side with Lydia? Somehow, the Maitlands must have found a better mansion to haunt because neither Barbara or Adam make an appearance in the cartoon at all. I thought that it was a shame to not have them make at least a cameo appearance, but then again, the whole point of the cartoon was to focus on the life of Lydia...which then leads to difference number two.

In the film, Beetlejuice and Lydia were far from friends. But somehow in the cartoon version, they are BFF's. Well, okay, so one of the friends has been dead for hundreds of years, but still, when they get together, they often have a lot of fun and laughs (even though Beetlejuice sometimes gets a little too out of control).

And unlike the film, in which Lydia remains in the human world the entire time, Lydia can come and go between the real world and the Neitherworld whenever she pleases. All that Lydia had to do to summon Beetlejuice (or take a trip to the Neitherworld) was utter the following chant.

Though I know I should be wary,
Still I venture someplace scary,
Ghostly hauntings I turn loose,
Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, BEETLEJUICE!!!

Once inside the Neitherworld, Beetlejuice and Lydia ended up getting involved in a lot of adventures together, some of which were scarier than others. Here are just a few examples of some of the mishaps that they ended up getting involved in while in the Neitherworld.

  • Beetlejuice and Lydia take on a job babysitting Neitherworld babies, which almost got Beetlejuice sent to be fed to the sandworms!
  • Neitherworld's Prince Vince falls in love with Lydia, and asks Beetlejuice for assistance in getting her to fall in love with him back.
  • Beetlejuice finds a new career as an armpit musician, and the success goes to his head, leaving Lydia and his friends on the outside.
  • Beetlejuice takes Lydia and her friends camping in the Neitherworld
  • Beetlejuice takes Lydia to a Neitherworld Wild West town where she almost ends up marrying a bull!
  • Beetlejuice uses an abnormal brain when he helps Lydia build a car...the result is a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde car named “Doomie”.
  • Beetlejuice hosts a children's show named “Uncle B.J.'s Roadhouse”.
  • Lydia is forced to help Beetlejuice pass kindergarten in the Neitherworld.

Now what makes these storylines hilarious is the sight gags and visual puns. For instance, ice cream in the real world is a bunch of screaming eyes in the Neitherworld. And pumpkin pie becomes “Punk-in-Pie” in the Neitherworld. There's loads more examples than this, but I'll save the rest of those for later.


(Inside joke there in relation to the show. If you watch enough episodes of the series, you'll figure it out.)

Oh, and Beetlejuice often makes appearances in Lydia's world as well. Despite the fact that nobody in the real world is aware of his appearance aside from Lydia herself, Beetlejuice often uses his con man background to bilk the live savings out of everyone in Peaceful Pines. He masquerades as Betty Juice in order to win the student body president election at Lydia's school. He causes a lot of problems when he brings a “Party in a Can” to Lydia's Halloween party, and as Cousin B.J., he ended up getting Lydia's father to open up his wallet more times than ever before. Don't worry though, Lydia would often bring Beetlejuice back down to earth and come up with a solution to help fix everything.

I guess another reason why I enjoyed the cartoon so much was because of all of the new characters that were introduced in the story. The movie spent so much time focusing on the Maitlands that we never really got to see much of Beetlejuice or Lydia's personal lives or connections.

In the cartoon, we are introduced to both characters' circles of friends. In Lydia's case, her friends are made up of best friends Bertha and Prudence, as well as her nemesis, the spoiled, stuck-up Clare Brewster. Beetlejuice isn't really a fan of Lydia's other friends, but he does tend to leave Bertha and Prudence alone. His real ire is directed towards Clare, which causes Lydia to get the ultimate revenge on Clare through Beetlejuice in more ways than one.

Beetlejuice's friends, on the other hand, aren't really all that chummy with him. They tolerate him, but are absolutely charmed by Lydia whenever she pays a visit. These include Jacques, a skeleton who despite having no muscles or skin still works out in order to maintain his physique, Ginger, a tap-dancing spider, and the Monster Across The Street, a big, burly eyeless beast who frequently causes Beetlejuice trouble, along with his pet, Poopsie.

That's about all that I have to say about Beetlejuice the cartoon. I think to end this blog entry off...we'll watch an episode now.