Wednesday, October 31, 2012 My First Seven Halloweens

(Technically, 1967 was my first, but I was too little to dress up.)  

Groovy Butterfly

First Hints of Geekdom

Predator and Prey

Doleful Mice

Poor Decisions

Les Sophisticates

Oliver Reed Werewolf.  The Geek Has Risen.

Bonus: My Baby Brother, 1969
He's been living up to that costume ever since

Have a safe and fun holiday!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 The Zombie Cover-Up Continues

First it was the CDC.  Now the Marines are in on the act.  From Yahoo! News:
Marines, police prep for mock zombie invasion 

By JULIE WATSON | Associated Press – Sat, Oct 27, 2012

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Move over vampires, goblins and haunted houses, this kind of Halloween terror aims to shake up even the toughest warriors: An untold number of so-called zombies are coming to a counterterrorism summit attended by hundreds of Marines, Navy special ops, soldiers, police, firefighters and others to prepare them for their worst nightmares.

"This is a very real exercise, this is not some type of big costume party," said Brad Barker, president of Halo Corp, a security firm hosting the Oct. 31 training demonstration during the summit at a 44-acre Paradise Point Resort island on a San Diego bay.  "Everything that will be simulated at this event has already happened, it just hasn't happened all at once on the same night.  But the training is very real, it just happens to be the bad guys we're having a little fun with."

Hundreds of military, law enforcement and medical personnel will observe the Hollywood-style production of a zombie attack as part of their emergency response training.

In the scenario, a VIP and his personal detail are trapped in a village, surrounded by zombies when a bomb explodes.  The VIP is wounded and his team must move through the town while dodging bullets and shooting back at the invading zombies.  At one point, some members of the team are bit by zombies and must be taken to a field medical facility for decontamination and treatment.

"No one knows what the zombies will do in our scenario, but quite frankly no one knows what a terrorist will do," Barker said.  "If a law enforcement officer sees a zombie and says, 'Freeze, get your hands in the air!'  What's the zombie going to do?  He's going to moan at you.  If someone on PCP or some other psychotic drug is told that, the truth is he's not going to react to you."

The keynote speaker beforehand will be a retired top spook — former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

"No doubt when a zombie apocalypse occurs, it's going to be a federal incident, so we're making it happen," Barker said.  Since word got out about the exercise, they've had calls from "every whack job in the world" about whether the U.S. government is really preparing for a zombie event.

Called "Zombie Apocalypse," the exercise follows the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's campaign launched last year that urged Americans to get ready for a zombie apocalypse, as part of a catchy, public health message about the importance of emergency preparedness.

The Homeland Security Department jumped on board last month, telling citizens if they're prepared for a zombie attack, they'll be ready for real-life disasters like a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake or terrorist attack.  A few suggestions were similar to a few of the 33 rules for dealing with zombies popularized in the 2009 movie "Zombieland," which included "always carry a change of underwear" and "when in doubt, know your way out."

San Diego-based Halo Corp. founded by former military special ops and intelligence personnel has been hosting the annual counterterrorism summit since 2006.

The five-day Halo counterterrorism summit is an approved training event by the Homeland Security Grant Program and the Urban Areas Security Initiative, which provide funds to pay for the coursework on everything from the battleground tactics to combat wounds to cybersecurity. The summit has a $1,000 registration fee and runs Oct. 29-Nov 2.

Conferences attended by government officials have come under heightened scrutiny following an inspector general's report on waste and abuse at a lavish 2010 Las Vegas conference that led to the resignation of General Services Administrator Martha Johnson.  The Las Vegas conference featured a clown, a mind-reader and a rap video by an employee who made fun of the spending.

Joe Newman, spokesman of the watchdog organization Project on Government Oversight, said he does not see the zombie exercise as frivolous.

"We obviously are concerned about any expenditure that might seem frivolous or a waste of money but if they tie things together, there is a lesson there," Newman said.  "Obviously we're not expecting a zombie apocalypse in the near future, but the effects of what might happen in a zombie apocalypse are probably similar to the type of things that happen in natural disasters and manmade disasters.  They're just having fun with it.  We don't have any problems with it as a teaching point."

Defense analyst Loren Thompson agreed.

"The defining characteristics of zombies are that they're unpredictable and resilient.  That may be a good way to prepare for what the Pentagon calls asymmetric warfare," Thompson said.

Organizers can also avoid the pitfalls of using a mock enemy who could be identified by nationality, race or culture — something that could potentially be seen as offensive.

"I can think of a couple of countries where the local leaders are somewhat zombie-like," he joked.  "But nobody is going to take this personally."
I dunno, man.  An independent security firm called "the Halo Corp" sounds exactly like the evil organization in a zombie movie.

Halloween Countdown: Cinematic TItanic vs the Wasp Woman!

Holy schnikes! Cinematic Titanic is on Hulu!

For those that don't know, Cinematic Titanic is the current riffing project of Mystery Science Theater 3000 luminaries Joel Hodgson, Frank Conniff, Trace Belieu, Mary Jo Pehl, and Josh Weinstein.  CT has only a handful of releases (especially compared to its half-brother, RiffTrax) but it's definitely a case of quality over quantity.

All of the team's earlier efforts are viewable.  I think the live offerings are the best, as the audience sparks some spontaneity that is missing from the taped sessions.  However, The Wasp Woman is one of my favorites and the episode I'm sharing here today.

And hey! After you're done with Cinematic Titanic, you can check out the Hulu channels for MST3K and RiffTrax.  We do live in an age of wonders!

Monday, October 29, 2012 Halloween Countdown: Drop Dead!

Arch Oboler was one of the great guiding lights of the Golden Age of Radio.  He wrote, directed and produced everything from contemporary comedies to anti-fascist morality plays.  However, he is best remembered for his work in the horror genre.  Oboler was the creator of one of my favorite OTR series, Quiet, Please, and the architect of one of the most fondly remembered shows of the era, Lights Out!

In 1962, Oboler resurrected some of his old scripts for a record album, Drop Dead!  Presented as an exploration of the various styles of horror, the selections include two of the author's most infamous stories.  "The Chicken Heart", a SF thriller about an ever-growing lump of flesh, was later immortalized in a Bill Cosby routine.  "The Dark" was memorably spoofed on a "Treehouse of Horror" episode of the The Simpsons; you'll recognize it right away when you hear it.

Drop Dead! features a roster of radio greats including Harold "Gildersleeve" Perry and the wonderful Bea Bendaret.  Two of the cast, Virgina Gregg and Mercedes McCambridge, are of special  interest to horror fans as they provided the voices of Norma Bates and Pazuzu, respectively.

I first encountered Drop Dead! in the mid-70's.  The CBS Radio Mystery Theater had sparked my interest in radio drama, and I spent hours pouring through the audio collections of local libraries looking for more.  Despite my love of comic books, I never warmed up to The Shadow or The Green Hornet.  But Lights Out! and Inner Sanctum gripped me from the start.  There's just something about listening to spooky stories in the dark, and I have to admit that several tracks really unsettled me at the time.

While I don't expect modern listeners to experience the same jolts I did when I first heard it, I do hope they'll get a kick out of Drop Dead!


2. I'M HUNGRY (Movie-type Horror)

3. TAKING PAPA HOME (Suspense-type Horror)

4. THE DARK (Radio-type Horror)

5. A DAY AT THE DENTIST'S (Comedy-type Horror)

6. THE POSSE (TV-type Horror)

7. CHICKEN HEART (Science Fiction-type Honor)

8. THE LAUGHING MAN (the Ultimate in Horror)

Most Wanted Monkey Finally Caged!

At long last, the nation can breather a sigh of relief.  From the CBC:
Mystery monkey caught in Florida after three years on the run

by Lauren O'Neil
Posted: October 26, 2012 10:40 PM

One of America’s most elusive primates is safely behind bars today, after what officials can only speculate was one heck of a years-long adventure.

The “Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay” is a wild rhesus macaque who has been driving animal control officers in Florida bananas for almost four years.

First spotted in January of 2009, the 25-pound male had been popping up in backyards, alleyways, outside of restaurants, and in church parking lots all over the Tampa Bay area

“He came to worship,” said a woman who’d witnessed the monkey on top of a Baptist church during evening service to the Tampa Bay Times. Another woman said she saw it swing off of a tree and into her swimming pool.

Sightings were plentiful, but officials struggled to get their hands on the ape each and every time.

Freelance animal trapper Vernon Yates, who was called in by state wildlife officials to help wrangle the critter, tells the New York Times that he was struck by how “streetwise” this particular monkey seemed to be.

Once, reports the New York Times, an F.W.C. lieutenant scaled a ladder and barked at it the monkey, thinking it was a raccoon. Mystery monkey urinated on him and disappeared.

His elusive nature and generalized cuteness made Mystery Monkey somewhat of a local celebrity in Florida. He once garnered National attention when his Facebook page was mentioned by Stephen Colbert in The Colbert Report.

But while many Floridians are amused by the creature, even coming to his defense saying he’s “a resident" of the neighbourhood, an incident that occurred earlier this month in which the monkey bit a St. Petersburg woman forced officials to step their game up.

The 60-year-old woman told police she had been sitting on her porch when the monkey jumped onto her back and began scratching and biting her skin.

"It was predictable that he was going to become emboldened,'' said Don Woodman, a Safety Harbor veterinarian who shot the monkey with a tranquilizer gun this week to Tampa Bay Online. "It was predictable that people were going to feed him. We did predict it. It was predictable that he was going to attack somebody."

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Baryl Martin confirmed to local reporters that the monkey was captured Wednesday when trappers spotted him sitting on a low-hanging branch.

The monkey was shot with a tranquilizer dart and quickly apprehended. He is under quarantine in a cage at a veterinarian’s sanctuary, but officials plan to reunite him with others of his kind when the time is right.

Many are celebrating the rogue primate’s capture, but others are crying fowl according to the men who captured it.

Wildlife trapper Vernon Yates and veterinarian Don Woodman told the Tampa Bay Times that they’ve been receiving calls from community members who are concerned for the monkey’s well being.

Woodman said that people have accused them of having a secret plan to kill the monkey.

"I don't know why everybody thinks we're going to euthanize this monkey," Woodman said. "It's just not true."

Sunday, October 28, 2012 Random Image: South Deering Halloween

Halloween on the South Side of Chicago
My mom and her family sometime in the mid-1950's.  She's the shy one on the right.  My grandmother is the (heavily-padded) mystery man on the left.

Halloween Countdown: Weekend of the Living Dead

Saturday was the family Halloween party at my aunt's house in northeastern Indiana.  I "host" a holiday-themed quiz at the Christmas party every year and my aunt asked me to run one for this get-together as well.  But as the party didn't get really started until late (because most of my relatives are on M.P.T.), by the time I wrapped up things up I had to haul butt to make it to Nightmare on Chicago Street all the way in Elgin.

It was an awesome street party with lots of vendors and food stalls and random zombie actors and people in all manner of costumes, most of which were not appropriate for the weather.  It was really, really cold.  A lot of folks were opting for coffee and other hot drinks instead of booze, but there were still tons of really inebriated people shambling about.

So while the lines for coffee were long, they weren't as long as the lines to get into the bars.  At one point, I saw a queue of shivering teens in club gear and realized they were waiting to get into Medusa's.  I once stood in line to get into the original Medusa's on Sheffield back in my punk/New Wave days, although I got fed up and talked my friends into going to a party instead.   The more things change...

I stepped through that line to get into a used book store that was still open.  It was a neat little shop that had the TARDIS-like quality of the best used books stores and was much bigger inside than it looked.  I didn't really find anything worthwhile, however, except for a Doctor Orient paperback I was missing.

Probably the high point of the night for me was finally meeting Svengoolie and getting his autograph.  Rich Koz is an old pro and had a nice word for everyone while still keeping the line moving.  After telling him how great it was to meet him after all these years, I didn't have much more to say due to being tired and cold and naturally shy.  But Koz made some small talk while signing my card, and I made a little joke off his comments that got him and the folks behind me to giggle.  I am unreasonably proud of that.

I didn't take many photos.  When you're part of a group, taking pictures of other folks in their costumes is part of the fun.  But a middle-aged dude on his own taking pictures of young people is kind of creepy.  I did take a bunch of shots of the finale of the Miss Zombie contest at the end of the night, but I didn't realize my phone camera was on super-zoom and all my pictures came out super-blurry. Nertz.

Svengoolie hosted the Miss Zombie finale, and at one point the fest organizers presented him with a new coffin.  I think it might have actually been a surprise to Sven.  It's a bit too modern and industrial for my tastes, but I'll keep an eye out for it on the show.  Again, I crapped out on the photos of it, but Sven should have pictures on his own site soon.

Despite the worst (so-called) Italian beef I've ever had the misfortune of paying for, I had a really good time at the Nightmare and I'm looking forward to next year's bash.  It should be even more fun with friends.

I had booked a hotel room when I had still anticipated going with friends.  It was a good move.  Even though I hadn't anything to drink, it was still better to crash there than try to drive all the way home.  And the next morning I was able to explore the town in daylight.  I looked up some book stores and other points of interest on-line and hit the road.

My first stop was not on the itinerary.  I spotted a man selling DVD's out of a trailer and realized I was passing an indoor flea market.  I have a nostalgic fondness for such places. My grandmother ran a resale shop out of her garage and often bought and sold stock at markets.  As my mom was the only one of her sisters that drove, we were the ones that usually accompanied my grandma on these trips.

The market was almost entirely Hispanic.  The clothing stalls displayed yoga pants and jeans on mannikins that were so apple-bottomed that I wanted to take one home for companionship.  There was a stall that sold hand-tooled saddles and vaquero gear; there was a crowd of older gents watching a Mexican rodeo on a big old CRT television.  And there were a couple of booths selling religious icons, perhaps including one that sold dolls that looked like Baby Jesus.

Tucked in the back was a thrift store.  Right at the front was a bearskin rug in a coffin.  The bear's nose had been eaten away, for extra creepiness.  I walked in and Hank Williams was playing, and there was a big, half-finished reproduction of Frazetta's Berserker behind the counter.  Turns out the place was an art gallery as well as a resale shop.  While I wasn't 100% in tune with the artists' styles,  I liked the concept behind a lot of the pieces.  I also dug the way the stock was displayed; there were some clever dioramas throughout the store.

After the flea market, I drove in circles trying to locate the address of a comic shop.  I passed by some big-ass Victorian mansions that make even the Painted Ladies of Oak Park look like pre-fab bungalows.  Once I finally located my destination, I pretty much cleaned out the store's discount bin and came home with a lot of Bronze Age goodies.  It was a keen way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

By the way, I am such a Halloween geek that I once again wore two different costumes this year.  Saturday I wore my "real" costume, the Invisible Man.

I took it off after only a little while because it was too hot to wear inside the house.  But man, I wish I had worn it on the cold streets of Elgin.

Saturday, October 27, 2012 Doc of the Dead

Doc of the Dead is a forthcoming documentary that promises to explore the zombie phenomenon currently infesting all aspects of our culture, including rather crap blogs run by middle-aged men who really should have started a family by now.  

The homepage states that the film will be "shot and edited in a cinematically edgy, high-octane style", but here's hoping it will be good anyway. The makers have already interviewed the likes of George Romero and Simon Pegg, bless him, and are targeting a 2014 release date.  The project is currently a kickstarter, because of course it is.

The sizzle reel looks good and I look forward to seeing the completed work two years hence.  Hopefully, it will still be relevant and we all won't have moved on to Triffids or pishtacos or something.

Halloween Countdown: Abbott & Costello Meet the Gill-Man

I'll have to keep today's post even briefer than usual, for tonight is the big family Halloween party and I am going to try and get to the Nightmare on Chicago Street celebration. Complicating matters is simple geography; the family party is out in Hoosierville and the block party is in Elgin. That's about a two hour drive, so I better get moving.

As far as I'm concerned, it's not Halloween until I watch Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.  It's one of my favorite films and it is exactly what Halloween is all about.  The film was so successful that is spawned a mini-genre in which the fellas met just about every Universal horror icon - the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll,  the Invisible Man, and Ma Kettle.  The one ghoul that missed out on all the fun is the Creature From the Black Lagoon, whose heyday came after A&C were on the verge of breaking up.  However, Bud & Lou did encounter ol' Gilly on a 1953 episode of the Colgate Comedy Hour.  And because the internet is magic, I can share that clip here today.

While it's not the team's best work, keep in mind that a) the show was performed live, and b) people weren't quite as tired of the old "moving candle" gag in the days before home video and constant reruns.  The clip is worth watching for Lou's ad-libs and Bud cracking up and the mind-blowing site of Lou Costello face to face with the Gill Man.

Friday, October 26, 2012 Z is for Zombies: Z is for Zombies of Sugar Hill

Z is for Zombies of Sugar Hill
USA, 1974

The Zombies: Voodoo zombies.

The Source: Voodoo, dumbass.

The Result: Foxy Brown with zombies.

Despite all his supernatural power, Baron Samedi still had a weakness for blondes.

When her man is killed by gangsters, fashion photographer Sugar Hill enlists the aid of Baron Samedi and his army of zombies in her quest for vengeance.

Zombies of Sugar Hill follows the same formula AIP used for its other blaxplotiation films with female leads.  The protagonist is an independent career woman who loses a loved one to criminal elements the law can't touch, so she uses guile and her sex appeal to lure those responsible to their doom.  The only difference here is that Sugar's preferred weapon is voodoo instead of shotguns or razor blades hidden in her hair.

This movie makes it look really easy to summon Baron Samedi.  Like, so easy that a Gilligan / Curly Howard tag team couldn't mess it up.  If Catholic saints were that easy to conjure, I might have gone through with my Confirmation.

Maybe my expectations have finally hit rock bottom, but the zombies are actually kind of neat when they first turn up.  In daylight shots, however, the tiny L'Eggs Sheer Energy shells they wear over their eyes look goofy.  Do you guys remember L'Eggs in the plastic containers?  Nah, you're probably too young.  Google it sometime.

It's notable that every time Sugar gets her zombified revenge on, her hairstyle changes from a straightened Vanessa-Williams-meets-Farrah 'do to a big, beautiful afro.  Either the movie is implying that voodoo is reconnecting Sugar to her true identity as a black woman, or it's really bad at continuity.

The film's portrayal of Baron Samedi is obviously inspired by Live and Let Die, but Don Pedro Colley is no Geoffrey Holder.  Which is a shame, because Marki Bey is no Pam Grier and this sort of film lives or dies (ha!) on the strength of its leads.  Neither Bey nor Coffey have enough presence to keep things lively between the kill scenes, which are rather perfunctory themselves.  Although the homicidal chicken leg is a hoot.

Oh no!  Not the chicken foot!

Still, if "Coffy with zombies and an animated rooster foot" sounds appealing, you owe it to yourself to check out Sugar Hill.  

2.5 Ghouls

Halloween Countdown: The House on Haunted Hill

Today's treat is a classic of public domain horror, William Castle's original House on Haunted Hill.

An eccentric millionaire - played by the incomparable Vincent Price - offers five strangers a ten thousand dollar prize if they can survive a night spent locked in a ghost-ridden mansion. But is the place really haunted, or is there a living menace at play?

Nah, there couldn't be.

Many keys have been stroked on the internet about Castle and his fantabulous "ballyhoo" style. House on Haunted Hill was presented in "Emergo", which was basically a plastic skeleton on a wire that would come swinging out at the audience during an opportune moment.   If you have a toy skeleton of your own, keep it handy to reenact "Emergo" at that scene. You'll know it when you see it. 

House has a special place in my family's lore. My mother and her sisters went to see it at the drive-in when she was little, and the film frightened her so badly that she had nightmares for weeks.  (One can only imagine how much more traumatized she would have been had she seen the film in "Emergo".) She always described it to her own children as one of the scariest films she had ever seen. When I finally got her to watch again recently - the first time she'd seen it in over fifty years - she was a bit chagrined at how quaint the thing was.

While I am sure that House on Haunted Hill won't be giving any of you night terrors, it's still a great way to spend a few hours this Halloween season.

Thursday, October 25, 2012 Z is for Zombie: L is for Last of the Living

L is for Last of the Living
New Zealand, 2009

The Zombies: Romero Ghouls mostly, with some souped-up Snyder Sprinters near the end.

The Source: A virus, apparently.

The Result: An utter waste of time.

When she learned the in-flight movie was Last of the Living, Jane took the easy way out.

Three slackers with odious personalities are coasting through the post-apocalypse until a chance encounter with a female scientist - the only living woman around - sends them on a quest to find a cure for the zombie virus.

Spoilers ahoy, but trust me, I'm doing you a favor.

As the movie begins, it's cozy catastrophe time. The protagonists live a life of ease, enjoying a never-ending supply of gas, water and electricity and changing up luxury dwellings when they're bored.  The streets are clean with no sign of junked automobiles or rotting carcasses.  The boys can grab whatever they want from the local supermarkets with no fear of shortage or spoilage.  And zombies?  They're something to be killed for fun.

Now, there's a chance that this is all a commentary on Millennial males.  You know - manchildren still living at home, isolated from the trials of adulthood and sponging off the 'rents until they are forced to grow up through the influence of a mature, capable woman.  Except that statement would be completely undermined by the fact that the guys get killed following said woman on her ultimately futile quest.  So unless the intended moral is, "stay in your parents' basement where it's safe", I think we can safely dismiss any higher meaning here.  Especially after the fart jokes kick in.

Fricking fart jokes.

Anyhoo, the three asses follow Dr. Ladygirl through what is supposed to be hilarious hijinks and thrilling escapades.  Then, in the last act, the movie suddenly decides it wants to be serious and poignant and scary.  So the zombies, who up until now were literally punchlines, suddenly have to become a threat.  And because the movie is completely incapable of establishing dread or suspense, it takes the path of least resistance and just has the zombies start running.  At super-speed.  Yes, the formerly shambling goofballs can now keep pace with a speeding automobile and track a fleeing human across miles of brush in a heartbeat.  Whee.

I won't mention many of the movie's other failings, such as establishing characters that will only appear in a single disconnected scene and make-up effects that were apparently supervised by a boardwalk face-painter with a bad NyQuil habit.

After Bozo's Circus went off the air, Cooky the Clown joined the ministry.

Look, I know the film was shot on a miniscule budget.  But good ideas cost the same as bad ones.  Last of the Living isn't as funny or clever or exciting as it thinks it is, which makes its smug tone rather tough to endure.

1.5 Ghouls

Halloween Countdown: The House in Cypress Canyon

Oh, dear.  I went drinking with some work buddies tonight and so will have to keep this brief. Tonight's treat is an episode of the classic radio program, Suspense.

Widely regarded as one of the finest radio dramas of the golden age of radio, Suspense was a thriller anthology that featured many of the era's greatest stars in tales well-calculated to keep you in...  well, you can probably guess.  Tonight's episode is considered to be among the series' best shows and one of the relative handful of episodes that featured overt supernatural elements. Turn out the lights, put on your headphones, and prepare to visit "The House in Cypress Canyon".

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 Military Robots are Coming to Get You

As part of its never-ending mission to spend taxpayer money on the things that will eventually kill us all, DARPA is helping to develop a robot that can surmount any obstacle in its quest to wrap its steely claws around your throat.

That's right, you can't even climb a flight of stairs to escape it the way you would a Dalek or a particularly lazy attack dog:

DARPA claims the robot is to be used for rescue missions in environments too hazardous for human beans.  But the "D" in "DARPA" stands for "the Defense Department", so the only thing this robot is going to rescue anyone from is breathing.

To make things worse, this isn't the only robot being developed under the program.  In fact, DARPA is sponsoring a competition to see which well-meaning but ultimately short-sighted group of techies can create the deathbot that will usher in the Age of the Machines.  Start stocking up on depleted uranium rounds now.

Halloween Countdown: Post-Apocalyptic Costume Ideas

Last Saturday was my friends' big annual Halloween bash.  This time around, the hosts decided upon a zombie theme and asked everyone to come dressed as either the walking dead or as survivors.    Now, zombies are so last year, and I hate having make-up on my face, so I decided to go as a survivor.

When you dress up as a zombie, you just don't want to go as "Generic Zombie #257".  You want to add a little flair, a little personality to the costume - Zombie Stewardess, Zombie Construction Worker, Zombie Sex Therapist, etc.  I think the same rules should apply when dressing as a survivor; just as you don't want your zombie costume to be *you* with some blood stains, you don't want your survivor get-up to be *you* with a little less blood stains. I really struggled for a hook to base my costume around, until I stumbled across the "wacky" doctor/nurse aisle at the Halloween store.  The sight of the doctors' coats sparked something in me gulliver.  I decided to go as a scientist, perhaps the very one that caused the undead outbreak in the first place. 

(Somebody really needs to base a horror flick on those stores.  They sprout like mushrooms after the first fall rain, occupy long-empty store fronts and abandoned strip malls, and disappear completely the day after Halloween.  The places are filled with the most horrific things imaginable, but people stroll right in all smiles with their children.  Essentially, they're the commercial version of the mysterious stranger that moves into the empty house down the street, the one that all the kids believe is haunted.)

My first step was ordering a lab coat, and not one of those cheap, ill-fitting ones sold at the costume place.  I went with a nice Dickies lab coat from Amazon; I threw a 3X coat in my shopping cart and watched the price for a few days, eventually purchasing it when it hit $18.  When I first tried it on, it was like being reunited with a part of me that had been missing my entire life.  It just felt so right to be wearing it, like my true destiny would have involved me wearing one every working day.  I had a hard time bringing myself to bloody it up, and I still might order another just to wear around the house.  Creepy or just sad - you be the judge.

After that, it was just a matter of accessorizing.  I had a safety mask and goggles lying around the apartment from when I had been doing some DIY.  I picked up some cheap green latex gloves and a gag syringe.  I even made up a fake ID badge to wear on a lanyard.  The name was chosen while I still had hopes of adding an Airsoft shotgun to my ensemble, the Darrow Chemical Company (logo resourced from Dow) is the source of 2-4-5 Trioxin in the Return of the Living Dead films, and the QS code takes you to a free Paper Zombies game.  All I was missing was a cool melee weapon, something to wield while going toe-to-toe with the undead.

Meanwhile, my brother and cousin decided they were really going to run with the whole "survivor" concept and dress as post-apocalyptic warriors ala Mad Max.  We got together for a couple of build sessions over the last two weeks, and when my cousin saw me using my Dremel he realized it would make a great addition to my costume.  My brother had some foam pads for a cup holder lying around, so I coated one of those with metallic silver paint and drew in "teeth" with a Sharpie.  The finished effect look pretty cool and made a scary noise when attached to the Dremel.  I had to be careful, of course, as even a foam blade still gives you a really nasty rope burn at 15,000 RPM - I think it actually sanded down my skin during a test - but it was still much safer than a plastic blade.

Before and after.  Thrilling, ain't it?

My brother, of course, went whole hog and bought a cop jacket from the Alley and a whole mess of athletic pads from Play It Again Sports.  He ended up as an almost dead ringer for the Road Warrior when he was finished, and his girlfriend also exhibited the "pro look" as a post-apocalyptic moll.

Mikey went with a low-tech approach.  He gathered some old license plates with the idea of making crude armor out of them.  We ended up attaching several to an old pair of military suspenders.  We drilled holes in the suspenders, knocked in some 6mm rivets to keep the material from tearing, and attached the license plates through their existing holes with 6mm x 10mm hex bolts.  We made sure to have the head of the bolt facing towards the wearer for comfort, so I wanted to use short bolts to prevent them from snagging on stuff.  I used slightly longer bolts (12mm) for the shoulder plates as the material there was a bit thicker.  We attached one across the chest with four bolts, but left the bottom of the plate across the stomach hang free to make sitting down easier.  Mikey bent a couple more plates around his wrist and fixed them with duct tape.  The whole thing came out pretty spiffy.

Above is Mikey's proof-of-concept photo.  The shoulder plates actually fit closer to the body when they were attached.  He ended up painting grinning jaws on the face mask, which was part of some old paintball equipment he had lying around.  That's a loose Airsoft shotgun shell duct-taped to one of the cords hanging from the suspenders, and the shotgun's "side-saddle" shell holder taped to his right-hand armband.

When Mikey's son saw his dad's costume, he wanted in.  Mikey spray-painted a smaller set of pads black and added a rabbit pelt I picked up at the craft store.  I also made a necklace out of some plastic fingers from the Halloween shop.  I think his mom added the chain, which was a nice touch.

All that left was weapons.  Mikey had an old, cheap Airsoft riot shotgun he was fond of, so I ducttaped a flashlight to the barrel, wrapped rubber bands around the grip, and improvised a sling out of athletic shoelace.  I picked up some decorative barbed wire from the Halloween shop - string coated in thick grey paint - and wrapped some around the end of an old baseball bat.  Mikey liked the idea, but went with a soft toy bat instead as he didn't want to be carrying anything that would actually hurt someone.  Which doesn't sound like the Mikey I know and love.


The one piece of kit I am really proud of was the one item no one ended up using.  I was trying to come up with ideas for improvised weapons, something that was unique and cool but still believably functional.  I came up with this:

Yes, that is a Magic 8 Ball.  And yes, it still works. 

There are instructions on taking apart a Magic 8 Ball on-line.  The video I watched included an off-handed comment about using a Dremel to cut open the ball along the seam.  Not so with my underpowered handheld jobby!.  The plastic on the 8 Ball is tougher than a drunken Finn.  I ended up having to put the ball in a vise and hacksaw it apart.  I needed to be careful to avoid cutting into the "magic" tube in the center of the ball, as I wanted it to still function when I was done (and I also didn't want inky liquid all over the place).

I was able to use the Dremel to cut a groove for the eye bolt (you can see its twin in the picture above).   I used a bolt and nut because I was worried that a simple eye screw would work its way out of the plastic.  I then used plastic epoxy to join the pieces back together. 

The handle is about ten inches of a toliet plunger handle.  Don't worry, I bought a new one for the project.  I duct-taped the cut end of the handle to prevent splintering and put in a large eye screw to affix the jack chain to.

Aside from the hour or so wasted with the Dremel, the whole thing was pretty easy.  Total cost was under twenty bucks, with the 8 Ball itself being the biggest expense.  If I had to do  it over again, I would make darn sure I used masking tape or a Sharpie to mark the ball before I cur into it; I wasn't able to realign the ball properly and had to rely on the epoxy to fill in all the uneven gaps between the two halves.  As a result, the ball isn't truly round any more.

The ball is actually pretty heavy and while I don't think it would hold up to more than one or two whacks before shattering I have no doubt those whacks would really ruin someone's day.

The party itself was a blast.  It was great to see some old friends, almost all of whom were dressed up as the undead.  The hostess really knocked herself out on the decorations and displays, and the host had hired a professional bartender for the occasion.  The party wasn't just for the grown-ups, though, and there was plenty of excited kids and teens exploring the haunted garage and picking the snack tables clean.

I hope your Halloween festivities are/were/will be as much fun!