"Has anybody seen my tambourine?"

All my Halloween picks for the remainder of spooky season!

Happy middle-of-the-best-month-of-the-year! I thought I would do something a bit different this time and give you all of my favourite Halloween recommendations. I deliberated sending out a special October 31st newsletter, but I really think spooky season is more fun leading up to Halloween than it is on the day, so October 15th it is! Since the format is a bit different, these will just be some of my favourites rather than what I’ve been watching lately. Next time I’ll tell you all about my new obsession with the truly bizarre show Million Dollar Listing, but you’re off the hook for now. Let’s get into some spooky stuff!


MOVIES

Halloween Kills comes out this weekend, but it is frustratingly only watchable in theatres in Canada, so we will be waiting until we can purchase it on demand. Otherwise I would be telling you to watch that, as I have told you before! Instead, here are some old faves that I think are worth revisiting.

The Shining (1980)

You may think you have seen The Shining enough times in your life and you are probably wrong, especially if the number of times you have seen it is zero. A few years ago I watched that insane documentary about Shining-based conspiracy theories, Room 237, which I don’t think I liked very much. But the subjects of the documentary – people who studied the film very closely in order to claim that Kubrick faked the moon landing or whatever – did point out a lot of inconsistencies, which made me realize what a genius Kubrick is. There are so many little things that you don’t directly notice but which create a general unease in the setting, like how Jack’s typewriter is an entirely different model every time the camera cuts to it, or the fact that there is a poster for alpine skiing on the wall despite the entire conceit of the film being that the hotel isn’t open in the winter. The whole film is really a masterclass in giving people the creeps. I honestly think it’s my favourite horror movie and I don’t care how basic that makes me sound! Stanley Kubrick was a certified asshole, but he was also regrettably a very good filmmaker.

The Retreat (2021)

On a somewhat opposite note to The Shining, a really great horror movie you may have never heard of is the Canadian film The Retreat which came out earlier this year. Written by Alyson Richards and directed by Pat Mills, it’s everything you might want in a queer revenge slasher. It’s pretty upsetting at times, and the suspense is a lot, but the final confrontations are very satisfying. I don’t want to give too much away, but I really like Tommie-Amber Pirie and I was glad to see her in something this awesome. Support Canadian film!

Elvira’s 40th Anniversary, Very Scary, Very Special Special (2021)

This is kind of a weird “movie” to recommend because it’s not really a movie—it’s four movies! Elvira, Queen of the Night, Mistress of the Dark, aka Cassandra (that’s cass-ON-dra) Peterson has somehow been on TV for 40 years yet still looks the exact same. She’s also gay now. More about Elvira below in the book section, because she is doing a lot right now, but I do think this special really is special. The lineup of movies is great – Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, House on Haunted Hill, The City of the Dead and Messiah of Evil – and it’s made even better by the opportunity to spend intermissions with our favourite freak combination of Morticia Addams and Joan Rivers.


TELEVISION

At first I was like, what even are some good horror TV shows? What do I like? And then I realized that some of my favourite shows are, technically, horror. I have a bunch, but I’ll give you two recommendations because I am apparently very long-winded right now and I do not want to bore you!

The Munsters (1964-1966)

I think I probably spend too much time thinking about The Munsters, a nearly-60-year-old show that feels simultaneously ubiquitous and totally forgotten about. I think a lot of people write it off as the dollar store version of The Addams Family. I can see why they might make that mistake, but they actually premiered at nearly the exact same time, September 1964, with the Munsters on CBS and Addams Family on ABC.1 In my opinion they are a perfect complement to one another, so much so that when people ask me to pick a favourite I say The Munsters just to start a conversation but secretly cannot decide between them.2 The best way I’ve seen the differences between the two described is this: The Addams Family are an upper class wealthy family who enjoy freaking out normos; The Munsters, however, think they are the normos. Yes they are a working class, single-income family, but they’re also literally Frankenstein and Dracula and Dracula’s daughter and a wolf boy, and they scare people constantly and never really understand why. I want to tell you to watch it right now, but it’s not available to stream anywhere. It’s heartbreaking! Who is benefitting from holding onto these rights? (Oh, right, it’s Rob Zombie)

The only way to watch The Munsters in Canada is by purchasing it online, which I think is kind of unfair since most of the cast and crew are dead. There are, however, some good long clips on The Munsters official YouTube channel, which is a thing. This way you can at least get some of the joy of Fred Gwynne’s mugging, although I guess you’ll never be able to find out whether or not Herman’s reconstructive plastic surgery was a success. Next season on The Munsters: Herman and Lily’s divorce due to *checks notes* Herman is ugly.

Hannibal (2013-2015)

Have we met before? Yes? Yes but just online? It doesn’t matter. If you’ve known me for longer than a year you will probably have had to listen to me talk about how there are Hannibal stories out that that are actually good, actually, and not just Anthony Hopkins doing that weird tooth breathing thing while talking about fava beans (bless him tho he’s a good actor). Michael Mann’s Manhunter – an adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, which is a Hannibal book – is one of my favourite movies, as discussed in a previous newsletter. I still think Brian Cox is the best Hannibal. So sure, whatever, watch that too—but for real, if you want some SCARY television, watch Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal. I still get chills thinking about some of the things in this series. One time I fell down on the floor because a scene was so intense, and prior to falling I was already sitting down on the couch.3

The Hannibal TV show premiered on MY BIRTHDAY in 2013, and I was so excited to watch it. A big-time weird twee teen in the late 2000s, I loved Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me, two very good shows about dead people that were directed by Bryan Fuller. When I found out Fuller was doing a Hannibal show, I was skeptical, but then I learned that Scott Thompson from The Kids in the Hall was involved. That was enough for me. THEN I found out the project involved Laurence Fishburne! and Aaron Abrams! and the talented bilingual-Canadian actor Caroline Dhavernas!

I was so down for this to be my favourite new thing and it did not disappoint. The show is at times – excuse my language – fucking terrifying. It’s so – again, sorry – fucking gross and so – sorry – fucking beautiful. It is a faithful adaptation of the source material (the books) in the best kind of way, which is that it uses its deep respect for Thomas Harris’ story and characters in order to make something else altogether. The best adjective I can use for this show is textural, which describes every aspect of it: sound, visuals, story. It’s really something special. Oh, and it was also filmed in Toronto which adds a layer of fun for people familiar with some of the locations, like the AGO and Casa Loma (Bryan Fuller lives in Toronto solely because he likes shooting his stuff there).

Hannibal is no longer on Netflix, which is sad for me because I can no longer easily force people to watch it. But since everyone involved in it is still alive, I highly recommend acquiring it through some legal means that benefit the creators. It is worth it. Or maybe you can just borrow our blurays and the vinyl records we have of the soundtrack?


BOOKS

I don’t read very much horror fiction. I have my limits on spooky things! The experience of reading fiction is much more internal and personal and it tends to take longer than 90 minutes to get to the end, so I have a mental block with scary stories. I’d much rather read stories about rabbits kicking the shit out of each other. That doesn’t mean I’m skipping this section, though, because I have a couple of great non-fiction options for you.

Be Scared of Everything: Horror Essays by Peter Counter

Did you really think I was going to skip this book? A book that came out a year ago this week in the middle of a global pandemic? A book that is dedicated to ME?4 Be Scared of Everything: Horror Essays by Peter Counter (Invisible Publishing, 2020) is impossible for me to review because I live with (and am common law partnered with) the author. Oh well! I’ll just say I think it’s really wonderful and the reviews – official and colloquial – have agreed. For example, this past summer local artist Steve Higgins rushed across the room during a small party we were attending in order to shake Peter’s hand and gush about how much he loved the book. It was really nice to see.

I read most of these essays as they were written and then read the book again once it was all compiled into the lovely object you see above. I’ve been recommending a lot of scary stuff in this newsletter, but I don’t think this book will give you nightmares, and even if something scares you there’s always another essay to read. Some are funny and others are very touching. You should pick up a copy at your local bookshop if you haven’t already.

Yours Cruelly, Elvira by Cassandra Peterson

As promised above, some more Elvira content! The world has Elvira Fever right now and I’m not sure it wasn’t something she cooked up herself in a big cauldron. Cassandra Peterson is on a press tour for her new book, Yours Cruelly, Elvira, which coincides with the 40th anniversary of her character. It’s a good time to be a funny spooky TV movie host.

Because of all of this, I guess(?), I’ve been having recurring dreams about Elvira. In one of my dreams, she wanted to watch the Santa Clause parade from my house. I wasn’t sure how to tell her that the main road would be hard to see from my house because I was worried she would change her mind, and I wanted to hang out with her so badly. I took these dreams as a sign that I should read her new book, and then I realized I could get the audiobook that she narrates herself, which felt more appropriate. I didn’t expect much but after listening to the first four chapters in one sitting I have to say I’m impressed. It’s an autobiography, so you sort of know what to expect, BUT Cassandra Peterson has had a very interesting life! This definitely makes for a good storytelling foundation!

My first exposure to Elvira was at the Canada’s Wonderland Action Theatre in the year 2000, apparently. It was playing Elvira’s Superstition, a cinema “experience” kind of thing with moving chairs and surround sound and the kind of 3-D graphics you could get at the time. I had really just thought it would be a generic haunted house themed movie and was very confused about all the boob jokes. I was not even a preteen at this time. Anyway, despite the confusion, I never forgot about Elvira and when I later learned that she is friends with Pee-Wee Herman I was like, cool, I love you. I’m so glad it is the Halloween of Elvira.


And never forget…

…anything can happen on Halloween.


Thank you for reading this extra-long newsletter. You’re the best.

xo Emma

1

Has anyone ever written a book about the social/cultural conditions that caused these two weird shows about monster families to be created and aired by competing networks in 1964? I would read the hell out of that book.

2

I was a big The New Addams Family fan in the 90s. I have no shame about this.

3

Back when Hannibal was a current show, Peter wrote recaps of every single episode on Dork Shelf. They are excellent reading material and I thoroughly enjoyed his analyses of the show while I was watching it: https://thatshelf.com/tag/hannibal-lecter/ (fair warning: these articles are meant as recaps and so are full of spoilers)

4

…and also Peter’s brother, Nick. I’m happy to share.