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Monday, April 22, 2019

MONSTERPALOOZA 2019!!!

Yes, it's that time of year when my family journeys up to Pasadena to experience my personal favorite convention, Monsterpalooza!  Once again, the experience was fantastic.  For those who don't know, it's a horror convention that began as a showcase for makeup and mask-making companies.  It's morphed into a celebration of all things horror.  There are still makeup and effects companies showing off their wares, but now there are celebrities signing autographs, special film premieres and panels that span subjects from upcoming blockbusters (like Godzilla: King of Monsters) to previews of this year's Universal Halloween Horror Nights.  There are even makeup tutorials if you're so inclined.

This year, we got to see some old friends like Lisanne Harrington and James, Matt, Shawn and Larry from the Monster Party podcast.  This was also the first year that Karen went with Lil and I so we got to experience it through a first timer's eyes.  That's always fun.  Here are some of the cool things from this year's con.




This larger than life fly model chilling out and eating popcorn with it's "baby" was just awesome.  As weird as it sounds, I'd have loved to have this sitting next to the stereo in my home office.



This macabre Easter get together was another highlight.  Unlike the fly above, this one was tiny with the whole scene only measuring about a foot and a half on each side.




The deer head above is by one of the most unique artists I know of.  Brooke Weston is a "rogue taxidermist" who creates miniature worlds within taxidermy animals.  This particular piece is called Vermillion Temple and I encourage you to go to his website (linked here) to get a better look.  Lil and I were in Burbank one time and managed to run across a number of Weston's pieces at the Bearded Lady Oddities Shop.  They are amazing.  I honestly hope that one day I'll have one hanging on my office wall.




Of course the cosplay is insane.  The woman in black above was especially stunning and I had to get a picture with the Tar Man from Return of the Living Dead.  Speaking of makeup, there were fantastic examples and demonstrations all across the convention floor.  Check some of these out.





And no visit to Monsterpalooza would be complete without a trip through the museum.  This year, my favorite pieces were The Right Hand of Doom from Del Toro's Hellboy movie and the actual puppet prop used during the transformation scene in the classic snake/man hybrid movie Ssssss.




There are a lot of horror conventions out there but Monsterpalooza is something special.  By the next morning, I was already wishing I had another day to go back and take everything in again.

If you get a chance to visit SoCal in the spring, you should try to coordinate your visit to check this out.  It really is fantastic!


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Forgotten Horror Gems Vol. 11 - The Alligator People (1959)

There are plenty of cheaply made horror movies out there that I haven't seen. With the boom in the genre that happened in the 1940's and 50's, bottom of the barrel companies came out of the woodwork to cash in on the craze.

The Alligator People (1959) can easily be considered one of those. That said, there are a few actors out there who I strive to find anything they've done. Lon Chaney Jr. happens to be one of those. I knew that this film came late in his career and that he wasn't in the best shape both as a human being and an actor. At this stage in his career, Chaney reportedly was almost impossible to work with after lunch due to an epic alcohol issue.
Still, he's great in most of these types of films so it had to go on this list. I knew to expect a crappy plot, cheesy effects and questionable acting. I was not disappointed on most levels. That said, Chaney's worth watching and the plot is a lot of fun even if it is horrible.


Basically, this movie comes off as a southern gothic tragedy except with alligator people.
The story begins with a woman going under hypnosis to recover a lost memory. The story that unfolds includes her disappearing fiance, an old plantation in Louisiana, experiments with atomic isotopes and yes... Alligator/human hybrids that are hilarious!

Don't take my word for it though. Karen and Lil also loved this one. They decided to keep separate lists this time but hey, the results speak for themselves!
The Alligator People Rubric
Lil's
Are there alligators? +5
Are there people? +5
Are there actually alligator people? +100
Lil's total: 110

Karen's
Were there educational shorts? 1
Were there atomic references? 2
Was there a lady science assitant? 1
Were there fancy hats? 0
Was there a decent plot? 2
Was there nonrepetitive music? 1
Was there a tiny pony? 0
Was there a love interest? 2

Was there an expert in a weird science field? 1
Was there an expedition? 0
Karen's Total: 10
For those of you who haven't been following this arbitrary rating system, those are two HUGE scores!

Another great thing about this movie is the overall lesson it tries to teach. That lesson is simply to repress anything unpleasant. Seriously.
Great 1950's thinking!
Anyway, The Alligator People is a fun time if you're into this sort of thing. At the very least, you'll have a good time watching the actors (yes, the actual actors) running near, over and practically on top of live alligators. It's not as exciting as watching Roar!, but it's still pretty funny. You can stream The Alligator People in its entirety (and 100% free) on YouTube.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Exploring Japan Vol. 24 - Funny Stuff!

For what seems like it will be the final installment of this series for now, I want to take a minute to just point out some of the funny things that we've seen while visiting.  As Americans, if you don't speak the language then there are things that just won't translate the same way visually.  We've had a great time over the years wandering grocery or drug stores and just giggling over the product packaging.  Here are some of our favorites.




When you're buying a sticky mouse trap, do you really need to see the weeping mouse stuck to the pad?  Apparently, you do!




Want to get rid of those pesky nose hairs?  This nostril waxing kit will do the trick, but this guy's expression kills me every time.  He's so excited!



This was literally on the back of a Wendy's takeout bag.  We have no idea what it's about.



You know that problem you have where giant sheets of skin peel off your feet?  You don't?  Neither did I but apparently it's a thing and this will make your feel baby smooth!




One of my favorites was on the wall of the Shinkansen.  This ad featuring Steve Wozniak was on every train we rode during our trek down to Hiroshima.  After a while, it went from being funny to just creepy.

Product ads aside, there are also great signs around that are designed to steer you in the right direction.  Some explain everything with an image.



Beware the pigeons.  They're evil and they have good aim.

Other signs are meant for English speaking visitors and sometimes the fun is in how they're phrased. Other times, it's about the imagery behind the wording.




I love the idea that if you change your clothes in this bathroom stall, you will be transported to an old graveyard and preyed upon by bats.



Other times, it's just something lost in translation.  For instance, this sign advertising "A Thousand flavors that blow."  I believe it wraps around to the other side of this store and says "your mind", however when you walk up on it, you just see the first line.

My all time favorite though comes at the expense of someone who does speak English and decided to be an asshole.  At the fish market in Tokyo, we were wandering the stalls when we saw this sign.  We're used to seeing broken English and in fact, it doesn't even phase us.  We get what the meaning is and we move on.  

However this sign was the gift that kept on giving.  Some jerk had decided to try to correct the sign in an obvious comment on the broken English.  They (of course) made a mistake and got schooled by someone else, but it didn't stop there.  I could not stop laughing.  I've blown it up so you can take it all in. If you're having trouble seeing how this works, I'll break it down below.




1. The sign originally read "Please do not eat this place."

2. Some jerk wrote "at" and put an arrow in as an obvious slam on the quality of the sentence.

3. Someone else wrote "IN" to correct the first person.  Had they left it at that, it would have been fine, but they added "Grammer issues roll eyes" and "Don't be a shitty tourist".

4. But as you can obviously see, they misspelled "Grammar" so a third person took a green pen and corrected that.  

I'm not kidding.  I literally laughed at this for hours after seeing it.

Anyway, thanks for reading these posts.  It's been great fun writing them and reliving our trips.  For those wondering if we'll be going again soon, the answer is, "some of us will".  The girls head to Tokyo for a full month later this year.  I'll be staying back as I have some deadlines approaching that include delivering my next book as well as writing on a brand new project.

With any luck, I'll go back a year from now. Don't worry though.  I'm sure that they'll come back with brand new adventures to report on and I'll see if I can't pull together some fresh installments.

See you soon!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Debt to the Dead - Free!



Well, the ride is over.  A Debt to the Dead did not make it into the finals for Screencraft's Cinematic Short Story Awards.  That's okay though.  I am grateful and amazed that it got as far as it did.  

I'd like to say thanks to all of you out there who cheered it on as the contest progressed.  I truly appreciate the words of encouragement.  You folks are the best!

To say thanks, I'd like to offer all of you who have not read the story a chance to do so. Below is a link to download A Debt to the Dead.  I hope you enjoy it and if you do, please pass along the link to others who you think may like it.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A DEBT TO THE DEAD

There are more stories coming.  Finding time to write for fun has been hard lately as I've done a lot of traveling and my day job has taken a lot of my time, but trust me when I say that I'm plugging away.  I'm looking forward to dropping more content on you very soon.

Until then, I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did writing it.  

See you soon!



Monday, April 8, 2019

Exploring Japan Vol. 23 - Fun Foods!

So for almost half a year, we've explored a ton of different places to go and things to do in Japan.  One thing that we've failed to discuss is the food.  Now, everyone knows about sushi and ramen and gyoza.  I'm not going to spend any time talking about the normal stuff.  The fact is, if you go to Tokyo, those foods are everywhere and most places are very good.   

Definitely go to the fish market in Tokyo if you have the time.  You can hit up the stands outside the market proper and get some of the freshest sushi you'll ever find.  I had uni (sea urchin) that blew my mind and it wasn't just a little bit on some rice.  It was the whole urchin, prepared and given to me with a small spoon, all for about $8.00.  The flavor was nutty and salty and unbelievably fresh.  




Another fun thing are the Japanese bakeries.  They're a great place to grab a bite for breakfast or lunch.  You'll find them everywhere and they serve up plenty of fresh breads and muffins, some in fun shapes and with meat baked into them.




Still, that's not really what I meant to write this column about.  You see, Japan has some of the best snack food places under the sun.  You can find a ton of them in Harajuku and they're well worth exploring.  




Chips!




The most well renowned potato chip company in Japan is Calbee.  You can find their chips in most stores, however they also have stands in some malls.  The first one we visited was on Takeshita Street in Harajuku.  There you can order your chips fresh and ask for a variety of flavors.  They will slice the potatoes, drop them in the oil, dry them off and present them to you with the flavor of your choice drizzled over them.  With these, we were going for a salty sweet flavor so white chocolate, salt and mocha powder was the order of the day.  You could also get many other flavors including maple syrup and even ice cream on the side.  Their fries are also very, very popular.

Crepes!




Takeshita Street is known for its crepes.  There are at least four stands like this one on that small stretch of shops and all of them look amazing.  Go early because they do tend to run out of certain ingredients the later it gets, especially the fruits.

Cotton Candy!




This one is insane!  This shop makes cotton candy that is as much a piece of art as it is delicious.  Every single layer that you see is a different flavor of sugar.  Grape. Apple.  Blueberry.  It's all there and to be honest, we loved all of them.  The woman who built this gorgeous beast even stopped midway through the first one she started and threw it away.  It did not meet her standards so she started again.




Anyway, Harajuku is definitely a place you should go to just for the people watching, but while you're there you should indulge yourself.  You definitely won't find anything like this anywhere else!

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Forgotten Horror Gems Vol. 10 - Doctor X (1931)

This week we’re looking at another film that I’d seen stills from in countless film guides and monster magazines.  Doctor X stars Lionel Atwill (a man who was a monster in his own way in real life). I had no idea what to expect here and therefore neither did the girls.  However we were pleasantly surprised, at least for the first half.




Doctor X plays out like a whodunnit.  There is a serial murderer on the loose who kills during the full moon.  The police have deduced that the killer must be one of the doctors in a nearby institute because the killings seem to be in close proximity.  They approach Doctor Xavier (Doctor X) about it and threaten to open an investigation. Instead, he convinces them to let him conduct his own experiment to find the killer.  




A couple of cool things to note about this one.  If you see a color print like we did, then you’re looking at one of the earliest examples of Technicolor.  Color prints were distributed to big markets while black and white prints went to smaller cities due to the cost of reproduction.  In fact, the color version was thought to be lost after 1948, when Technicolor got rid of all their old reels of this early process.  Thirty years later, a print was found in the private collection of Jack L. Warner and the DVD we watched was a transfer from that print.




Also, this is what is called a Pre-Code film, meaning that you’ll see some “morally questionable” material.  In this case, cannibalism, murder and even a brothel. Finally, you also get Fay Wray (King Kong) playing Doctor X’s daughter and to be honest, she’s always fun to watch.





The bad thing about the film is just that it goes on a little too long with no killing.  It’s a lot of investigation and some light-hearted comedy here and there with only two glimpses of the killer before the climax.  To be perfectly honest, there was a point in the middle of the film where I forgot there was even a killer still on the loose!

Still it’s a fun movie and if you’re a fan of mad scientist laboratories, this one has the most amazing one I’ve ever seen.


So what did the girls’ think?


The Old Movie Rubric - Doctor X (1932)

1. It has a doctor: +1

2. It has a valid plot:  +1

3. It has acceptable acting:  +1

4. It has an educational short:  -2

5. Daytime for nighttime filming:  0

6. Sexist jokes:  0

7. Helpless female:  +1

8. Female science assistant:  0

9. Fancy hat (two additional points if a millenary is in the film):  +0.5

10. Dry erase pens that don’t run out of ink while scoring the film:  -1

11. Someone gets into the passenger side of the car and slides over to the driver’s side:  0

12. Ridiculous laboratory:  +3

13. Maniacal laugh: +1

14. Live animals used as props:  0

Total Score:  5.5


So yeah, a middling score.  When I asked why, they agreed with me that it's just a little too long.  



However, they both loved the first half and were very, very impressed by the size of the laboratory.  Seriously, watch it just for that. I know size isn’t supposed to matter but…


See you next week!



Monday, April 1, 2019

Exploring Japan Vol. 22 - Tokyo's Amazing Parks

Over the past 20 weeks, we've explored all kinds of fun stuff in Japan, but the truth is, that exploring Tokyo can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming.  Aside from the fact that you probably don't speak the language, it's a busy city.  There are trains, taxis, subways, people and all manner of lights and sounds around you.  Every now and then, you just feel like you need a break.

Well, you're not alone.  Most city-dwellers in Tokyo feel the same and thanks to a very strong cultural push to keep some reverence for nature, the city is filled with parks.  In the collective month of time that we've spent in Tokyo over the last two years, we've explored quite a few.  Some we just stumbled on.  Others, we sought out on recommendations.  In almost every case though, they do exactly what's intended.  They give you a chance to take a breath, relax and recharge.




When you should visit Tokyo's parks really depends on what you're looking for.  If you're just looking to relax or wander aimlessly, then go during the week (preferably mid-week).  Most people will be working and you'll have few visitors around you.  If you're looking to people watch, then go on a weekend.  You will find way more people doing strange things than you would ever dream.

At Yoyogi Park, right next to Meiji Shrine, you'll find a huge area with ponds, bike paths and large gatherings of clubs.  On the weekend, many people gather here and specific clubs dedicated to things like photography or juggling can be found hanging out and practicing together.  The picture below is actually the juggling club we stumbled on.




Yoyogi also gets its fair share of sunbathers around the main pond.  Karen and Lil were especially drawn to observing one guy in a thong.  I have a very candid picture of them staring that they had no idea I was taking.  It won't be posted here but trust me when I say it's the best photo I took on the entire trip.



At Yoyogi you can also rent bikes and there's even a small bike course for beginners and young children.  It's a great place to kill an hour or two between visiting the shrine and heading to Harajuku which is just a quick walk from the park entrance.



Let's say you're not up for a lot of people though.  Then head to Ueno Park.  It's actually the site of the oldest dedicated park in Tokyo.  




There are paths to walk, pedal boats to rent and the entrance to the Ueno Zoo butts up next to it.  On the weekend you will find food stalls here and we even found a couple while walking through on a weekday. 




The park is full of flowers and very close to an outdoor shopping mall that's pretty huge.  You can easily spend half a day in this area just wandering and sightseeing.  




However, if you want to go to our favorite park in all of Tokyo, you need to visit Shinjuku Gyoen.  This is actually a gigantic botanical garden.  You'll have to pay an admission to get in but it's generally around $2.00 pending the exchange rate.  It's totally worth it.  




Inside, you'll find gigantic old growth trees. There are large ponds and flower gardens throughout. Sections of the park are set up in traditional Japanese, English and French garden settings. 




Paved paths will take you around the majority of it, but there are also offshoot paths that will take you through more heavily wooded areas.  It's easy to forget that you're in a city while you're here, but every now and then you'll catch a glimpse of the skyline.




On one end of the park there is also a greenhouse open to the public.  Inside, you'll find plants from around the world along an easy to walk path that takes you along two levels of greenery.  






I swear that picture above looks like a Pokemon character.  

Anyway, you won't find any clubs or craziness in this park.  It's truly just for people who appreciate nature and want to enjoy the peacefulness of it.  There's even a tea house on site if you're looking for something else to do.

There are plenty of other parks I could mention.  For instance, the large one outside the imperial palace has life-sized Bonzai trees, cut into fantastical shapes.  Below you can see a man working on one.




Our favorites though tend to be those top three, with one exception from me.

One day, Lil and Karen had a reservation at a butler cafe near the Sunshine City Mall.  I decided to wait for them in a small park nearby.  I went to a Lawson's store and picked up a sandwich, some chips and a beer.  Then I headed over and found a bench in the far corner of the park.  From where I sat, I could see other people coming out to eat their lunches here.  It was cool just being one of the locals.  Then I started noticing the cats.  They were everywhere.  They were obviously part of the allure of the park because many people were feeding them or just petting them. 

This fascinated me, partially because I'm highly allergic to cats yet love them.  If I even pet one, my hand itches almost instantly, yet often I'll do it anyway and then run to a sink to wash up.  It also grabbed me though because it was so obvious that they were just part of the scenery.  I have no idea the name of the park, but we just call it the Cat Park.  When Lil and Karen met me after their lunch, I insisted they come look.  Lil walked up to this cat lounging on the ground and said hello.  He didn't mind a bit.





So if you're headed back there for a vacation, keep the parks in mind when you start to feel sick of being in a big city.  Just a 30 minute stop in the middle of a bunch of trees and flowers can be enough to reset your sense of adventure.