Halloween 2013 | Spook Spotter

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Hallmark

The following does not constitute an endorsement of any product or retailer.   It is for information purposes only.

To get the hearse wheels spinning, we’ll share with you one of the coolest indoor decorations we’ve seen: The Hallmark Haunted House Shadowcaster.  Part tabletop display, part light show, this Hallmark creation is one-of-a-kind.  The display looks great during the day, but really comes to life at night.  Each window features a spooky silhouette that only appears when the display is activated.  An evil enchantress cooks up a crazy concoction in the doorway, while jack-o’-lanterns stand guard on the porch.  Cats, spiders, and skeleton-men haunt the windows, and a ghost hangs out in the rafters.  Each characters appears with the help of a flickering LED light strategically placed behind the facade.

However, the real treat is what’s behind the mansion:  a flock of frightening fanged-beasts!  Through the magic of modern technology, dozens of bats, of all shapes and sizes, are projected onto whatever is directly behind the house.  Illuminated in orange and purple, the light show shifts between two basic positions (plus a third transitioning scene) and lasts anywhere from half-a-minute in “try-me” mode to an hour when the button is held down for several seconds.

Although the house itself doesn’t seem too sturdy and the plastic it is molded in could be thicker, this is still a great little decoration that really captures the essence of Halloween and the magic of the season.  It can be purchased for $19.99 at participating Hallmark retailers.

TJ Maxx

This Halloween season is not unusual in the fact that the best products are not found in the traditional retail stores, but at the discounters.  The TJX group (T.J.MAXX, Home Goods, and Marshall’s) has some of the most interesting offerings.  In addition to the traditional devilish dinnerware and lethal linen, they are offering up both vintage-inspired designs and classic Gothic elegance.

The most unique pieces at HomeGoods and Marshall’s, though T.J.Maxx does end up with some of the overstock.  If you love to keep things dim and grim, you may be interested in some of the faux-stone busts and statues.  Or perhaps creepy candelabras are more your thing.  They have plenty to choose from, including this one that comes complete with LED candles.  Battery-operated, it retails at $24.99.  The light is that harsh, cold, traditional (almost blue) LED style, but it’s ghostly in its own undead way.

The next offerings come from Christopher Radko.  HomeGoods usually carries his vintage-reproduction line of ornaments named after the famous “Shiny Brite” Christmas ornament company.  This year, they serve up some Halloween-themed bulbs that would be perfect for any vintage display or Halloween tree.  In addition, they also have several wooden tabletop and wall pieces with artwork taken right off of early 20th century postcards, like this lovely little witch pictured above.

Tuesday Morning

The main rivals of the TJX group, Ross and Tuesday Morning, have fewer options for the season of the witch, but — every now and then — a spooktacular find materializes.

Such is the case with Tuesday Morning’s Original WoWindow Posters.  Usually only found at the big name Halloween stores, Tuesday Morning is offering up two discontinued designs.  The creepiest of which is the “Vince the Vampire” two-poster set.  When they put “Wow” in the name, they aren’t kidding.  One of the posters in this set could almost cover an entire door.  Now imagine two of them at that size!  These massive decorations really fill out and (fill up) any window, wall, or door.  The first poster features the vampire’s giant face.  The second is a continuation of his body, with his hand taking up the majority of the second display.

Vampire Window Scene Setter

What is most notable about this poster is that it is not made with the same cheap plastic you used to find in this type of decoration.  This is made of a thicker, heavier film, which makes it great for use year-after-year.  The best thing about it is also the biggest drawback: the size.  Unless you have giant windows, it will be hard to place this set.  Fortunately, you can put up the one poster with the vampire’s face and get a decent effect.  At $4.99, it’s hard to pass up.

99 Cents Or Less

99 cent Haunted House display

While the regular retail offerings have been rather lackluster this year with Target, Walmart, and Spirit all failing to deliver on any noteworthy level (not to mention their tardiness in actually putting anything up in their brick and mortar stores), the dollar spots have not disappointed.  Usually, Dollar Tree has some of the greatest “cheap” decorations.  While they do have a few really awesome things that we will be highlighting in two days, 99 Cents Only is this year’s ultimate creep spot.  From outdoors to indoors, they provide wall-to-wall creeps and plenty of hot-and-cold running chills.

Dollar Tree used to be the king of cardboard tabletop decorations.  Now, 99 Cents Only has taken that honor and added some ghoulish delights that are certain to bring death to the liveliest of tables.

The most notable table centerpiece is the one you see pictured above.  Bats, black cats, and ravens surround a classically-designed haunted house.  Unlike some of the Dollar Tree decorations and the previous 99 Cents Only decorations, this piece solves the problem of folding edges and unaligned pieces by having a multitude of supports.  There are basically three layers to this piece, all adding to the spookiness of it, but also supporting the thin cardboard structure — an ingenious evolution of the dollar centerpiece.  It retails at 49 cents, but prices may vary by location.

Dollar Halloween Yard Signs99 Cents only also has some cool outdoor decorations, from window posters to door-covers to these Halloween yard stakes.  They are fairly sturdy — especially for a buck — but they won’t last in the ground if you live in a blustery area.  They are large enough, however, to make good wall signs.  Made of a coated plastic that is more weather-resistant than some of the other outdoor signs around, these are pretty nifty.  They come in four designs: vampire, witch, devil, skeleton; and they retail at 99 cents each.

These Frankenstein decorations are now available at 99 Cents Only.  One is a jointed tabletop figure that is being sold at closeout.  The other is a plastic wall poster that retails for 99 cents.  We’d say more, but we think we’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Dollar Tree

Dollar Tree has a wide variety of window clings, plastic toys, and cardboard characters, as well as some interesting 3-D decorations made out of wire and tinsel.  They have felt cutouts, plastic skulls, and foam tombstones — basically all of the usual suspects.  So what are the standout items at the one-dollar-retailer this Halloween?

Surprisingly, napkins.  Napkins and paper plates.  For years, it seems, Dollar Tree has been pitching the same basic pumpkin party plates.  This year, that has all changed.  They not only have these great ’80s-inspired Haunted House napkins (pictured below), they also have a full set of paper tablewear (featuring a raven and a rat) that is far superior to any party goods in the big box stores.

Dollar Napkins

In addition, Dollar Tree is offering up massive window posters, much like the ones from Tuesday Morning, only less durable and… busier.  In the case of the Bates Mansion poster, however, busy is somewhat acceptable,  Wait…  Yes…  You heard correctly: BATES MANSION window poster.

Dollar Wall Banner

No, it’s not licensed, but the house pictured on the poster is clearly inspired by the one Norman and Mother call home, or maybe even Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris.  While the house is the centerpiece, it is surrounded by giant tarantulas, jack-o’-lanterns, candelabras, and lightning — virtually every spooky thing they could fit  So, no.  It’s not going to win any art awards, but it has a creepy haunted house on it!  How can you beat that for a buck?  More than anything, it’s reminiscent of a somewhat garish store display for soda, chips, or some other Halloween-themed party treat… and this is really why we love it.  Also, did we mention how massive this thing is?  It’s huge.  Turned on it’s side, it could easily fill a doorway.  If you do pick one up, good luck placing it!

Universal Monsters Week | Vintage Horror Movie Post-a-Clings

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The following does not constitute an endorsement of any product or retailer.   It is for information purposes only.

This week on The Big Scare, we will be highlighting where you can track down some cool Halloween merchandise featuring our favorite fiends of Filmland.

Halloween Express, a Halloween superstore similar to Spirit and Halloween City, is carrying some items that may be of interest to fans of the Classic Monsters.  Some retail stores have the Universal Monsters Grave Walkers from Rubies.  And while they probably won’t have the Creature from the Black Lagoon in your local store, you may be able to nab the Wolf Man or Dracula.  In addition to the Grave Walkers, some locations are also offering some poster-like “Spooky Scenes” produced by the Paper Magic Group.  These are basically poster reproductions using the images owned by X One X.  If you are lucky enough to find them, they may be on clearance for $4.99 each.  Designs offered include Dracula, pictured at the right, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Underrated Classics | Dracula’s Daughter

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It seems as if, in the world of Universal Studios Classic Horror, there is one sequel which gets all of the attention – The Bride of Frankenstein.  Granted, it deserves all of the admiration it receives – and more!  But, there are other follow-up films in the Universal canon that are wonderfully-made which also are owed a great deal of respect.  Perhaps the most under-appreciated is Dracula’s Daughter.

A direct sequel to Dracula, the movie begins just moments after the original ends.  Two bumbling policemen stumble upon the body of Renfield in the basement of Carfax Abbey, where they also meet a very much alive Professor Van Helsing (credited as “Von Helsing”).  Admitting to driving a stake through the heart of the evil Count, Van Helsing is arrested for murder and seeks the aid of a trusted friend, Jeffrey Garth.  Garth, a psychiatrist and former student of Van Helsing, must help the professor prove that Van Helsing did not murder anyone, that Dracula was indeed already dead for 500 years – a seemingly impossible task.  But, when the body goes missing and London is once again rife with bloodless corpses, proving Van Helsing’s innocence becomes a tad bit easier.

The film stars Gloria Holden in the title role.  Playing Countess Marya Zaleska, Holden definitely holds a candle to Bela Lugosi’s performance in the previous film, channeling his eerie presence in nearly every scene.  It’s hard to imagine any actress but Holden being able to utter, in such genuinely distant fashion, the famous line, “I never drink… wine.”  Like Lugosi, Holden commands the screen.  Everything about her is eerie, foreign, intriguing, seductive, and just plain creepy.  Her motivations are also the most complex of any early Horror character.  A reluctant vampire who loathes the control Dracula still exerts over her, even from the grave, Countess Zaleska seeks psychiatric “release” from the curse of the vampire, yet still embraces her father’s evil ways.

The film is very much in keeping with the style of the original, using the same sets for Dracula’s Castle, carrying over Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, referring frequently to characters and situations in the original, and even lifting lines (and a camera shot) from the 1931 classic.  Dracula’s Daughter really is a terrific sequel.  The intended parallels between this film and the original work wonderfully.  The only thing that drags the film down is its uneven pacing and its tendency to dwell too much on the comedic relationship between Dr. Garth and his secretary.

But, for every fault in the film, there are ten positive things which work to its advantage.  In addition to the great performances by Holden and Van Sloan, the film’s music is atmospheric, moody, and chilling.  The theme, used in the opening and during the climax, is one of the best, if not the best, in the Universal Horror repertoire, rivaling the main theme of The Wolf Man as the most sweepingly tragic, dark and elaborate piece of music in the early history of Horror.

While the sequel could have taken any number of directions, and it almost took a very weird one with James Whale helming the first efforts, this film is very enjoyable for what it is.  It could have starred Bela Lugosi.  It could have had Van Helsing be the main hero.  It didn’t.  And, as such, it should be judged on its own merits – and it has plenty.  Perhaps, one day, fans of the genre will come to realize this and bolster Dracula’s Daughter to its rightful place in the Universal library – not being nearly as good as The Bride of Frankenstein, but deserving a lot more credit than some of the later Dracula and Frankenstein sequels.  Overall, the film earns a solid  4 out of 5 stars.