Halloween

Favourite reads for the Halloween season

October, kids. It’s OUR season. The season where we can wear our pumpkin dresses without glares, be incredibly morbid and just be called “festive”, and pretend to be one of those “seasonal readers”.

So maybe it’s just me. But I’m getting into the spirit of things here.

I have to admit, I don’t read much horror or thriller novels in October. Shock, horror, but summer is typically when I gorge myself on trashy books where characters meet their grime demises. I don’t only watch horror movies in the autumn, so why save reading certain books just for October?

That being said, there are certain books which feel a bit more seasonal than the average book. These are stories that are a little bit more old school, whether they’re classics of the genre or just take on the style.

But just warning you now: there will be no Stephen King on my list. I know he’s meant to be one of those ‘staple’ authors, but it’s my not-so-deep and dark secret that I really don’t like him. Or at least I have yet to read one of his books that I enjoy. But I’m going to keep trying (if you have any recommendations, please share).

So grab your pumpkin spice arsenic teas, everyone! These are my recommended reads for Halloween:

1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Is there any haunted house book that’s better? That’s a rhetorical question and the answer is no.

Shirley Jackson is the queen of twisted, psychological tales. The Haunting of Hill House shows Jackson in perfect form. If you’ve seen the classic 1963 version of The Haunting, you’ll know the gist of this one. Four people go to stay in a supposedly haunted house where strange and horrible things begin to happen. Is it real? Or is it all in their heads?

This is one of the few books has actually managed to terrify me. Don’t read it when you’re home alone (or do, and scare the crap out of yourself).

2. How to Survive a Horror Movie by Seth Grahame-Smith

I have a real love-hate relationship with ol’ Seth. On one hand, he’s written this hilarious in-joke of a book, but on the other, we have him to blame for that Dark Shadows script.

How to Survive a Horror Movie is exactly what it says on the label: a step-by-step guide for navigating your way through a horror movie. Each page packs in as many Easter eggs as possible, making it a hunt for references. I read and re-read the shit out of this book as a teenager. Perhaps it’s time for adult me to give it another try.

3. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina vol. 1 “The Crucible”

Archie Comics have been killing their revamped series. I think the jewel in their crown is this dark and horrifying version of Sabrina.

All of the original ingredients are here: Harvey, Salem, the aunts. Only Sabrina meets a nemesis with vintage Archie character Madam Satan. Don’t expect too many jokes with this one. Think more along the lines of blood-rituals, possessed trees and face eating.

It was announced last month that the Riverdale creators are working on turning this into a television show. You have all of my attention and all my love.

If you can’t wait, the Jughead one-shot The Hunger from last spring has been turned into a new full-length series. Issue #1 will hit comic book shops on October 25th.

4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Just give me a chance with this one.

Jane Austen often has a reputation she doesn’t deserve. The woman was fierce and clever, and wrote one heck of scathing book when she wanted to. Northanger Abbey is a parody of the gothic novel that was incredibly popular at the time. Her heroine Catherine Morland is silly and naive girl who has lived most of her sheltered life in the country. She goes to Bath and is whisked off on a journey full of ‘haunted’ homes and ‘murders’.

Northanger Abbey is, yes, a romance novel, but at heart it’s really about a girl becoming a woman. Catherine as the lead heroine is an absolute gem. She spends so much time dreaming that she’s in a Gothic romance novel that she forgets she actually doesn’t live in one herself.

This is certainly the most unusual choice on this list, but if you’re not into reading this, try watching the 2007 adaption starring Felicity Jones and JJ Field. It’s that perfect balance of Gothic imagery, sweetness and sick muslin jokes.

5. Spell on Wheels vol. 1

This limited-run series published by Dark Horse is absolutely brilliant. It’s full of feminism, witches, and mystery. And hilarious mythical monster romances.

Three witches go on a road trip throughout New England to look for their magical items that have been stolen from them. They try to track down their items while thwarting evil along the way.

The style really couldn’t be better for this time of the year. It’s a seriously good-looking comic. But also: witches.

6. Dark Entries by Robert Aickman

Aickman, for me, is incredibly dated in ways that male authors often are. He lacks all ability to write fleshed-out female characters. That being said, the short stories in this collection are pretty great. More than anything,  they’re appropriate for Halloween. “The School Friend” and “The Waiting Room” are stand outs amongst the six stories included.

Most people prefer Lovecraft (there isn’t much in the way of similarities here), and I won’t argue that. But Aickman macabre stories are definitely worth checking out if you have yet to be exposed. He’s well worth experiencing.

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Wicked Wednesday: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a film with a pretty abysmal reputation. What’s a Halloween film without Michael Myres, eh? Well, it turns out, it’s all okay, folks. This is a movie that can stand on its own two legs.

As someone who is not personally attached the masked man, it doesn’t bother me that the great oaf doesn’t make an appearance. Though, in my mind, it’s a film that should be approached as a separate entity. It certainly can’t even touch the glory of John Carpenter’s original (but then again, not much can).

Eight days before Halloween, a man trying to run away and hide from a car. He manages to escape from the men pursuing him and ends up in a gas station, where he seeks help. While waiting inside, a Silver Shamrock commercial begins to play. The man begins to shout “they’re coming” and collapses to the floor.

That night, Doctor Dan Challis visits his ex-wife and his two children. He gives them the gift of two plastic masks, but they tell him that their mom already bought them Silver Shamrock masks, which they show off to him. Before he can feel too bad, he gets a call that brings him back to the hospital.

The patient awaiting his care is Harry Grimbridge, the man who fainted in the gas station. Dan examines the patient when Harry grabs him and says, “They’re going to kill us.” After the little episode, Dan has Harry moved to a private room.

Later in the night, a man goes into the hospital and presses his thumbs into Harry’s eyes. The nurse catches the murderer before he can leave the room. But the murderer manages to escape. Dan chases after him, but the man gets into the car and blows himself up before anyone can get near to him.

The next day, Harry’s daughter Ellie arrives to identify the body. She later follows Dan into a bar to question him about her father’s last moments. He finally tells her the truth about the vague “going to kill us” statements. He also tells her that Harry was holding onto a Silver Shamrock pumpkin mask.

Ellie drags Dan into the investigation of her father’s death. Together they go to Harry’s shop, where she tells Dan that her father had gone to a town called Santa Mira to pick up an order of Silver Shamrock masks.

Together, the pair head off to the Californian town. When they arrive, they find that the locals are super strange (they like to stare) and they’re all gushing with praise of Conal Cochran – the founder of Silver Shamrock.

While checking into their hotel, Dan sneaks away and looks at the log book, quickly discovering that it is the same hotel where Harry had stayed. As they finish their check-in, another shop owner and a family arrive, all having with business with Cochran.

The shop owner, Marge, finds a silver button that has fallen off the back of one of the Silver Shamrock masks. While examining it at night, a beam of light from the button strikes her, and her face begins to peel open.

Dan and Ellie (who apparently are having sex now because romance) hear something outside their room. Outside, a group of men in white coats are gathered around. Marge’s body, covered in a sheet and on a gurney, is removed from her room and put into a van. Ellie begins to become distressed, but a man, introduced as Cochran, says that Marge will be receiving good care.

The following morning, Dan, Ellie and the other family in the hotel all go to the Silver Shamrock factory where the popular masks are produced. Cochran hints that there is a “final process” that happens behind closed doors, but no one is allowed to see it due to the volatile chemicals involved.

When the group leaves their tour, Ellie spots her father’s car. She eventually leaves it alone, but not before catching the attention of the supremely-stoic black-suited men hanging about. It’s no surprise that the girl goes missing that night.

After realising that Ellie is gone and that he cannot connect any calls, Dan goes back to the factory. He’s obviously never seen the never-been-made classic Don’t Go in the Factory… Alone! This is clearly a bad idea, and he gets caught by Cochran and his robot lackeys.

Dan’s taken to the “final process” room where a stone from ancient sacrificial site Stonehenge sits. Men are slowly chipping away at the rock. Cochran explains that they use the stone in their masks.

Dan’s attention is then drawn to a video of the family from earlier. They’re all dragged into a testing room where the Silver Shamrock commercial begins to play on the television. The little boy tugs on a pumpkin mask, but struggles to take it off once it begins to hurt him. The boy collapses and his head turns to bugs, worms and snakes. His parents are then killed by the creepy crawlies emerging from their son.

Children all over America are waiting to wear their Silver Shamrock masks. As it’s Halloween, they’ll be everywhere. The twisted company plan a giveaway at 9 that night. Cochran’s plan is for all the children to gather around to watch the commercial, and then die. In his mind, it is merely celebrating Halloween in the old, pagan fashion: with lots of scarifies! Oh and to bring back the age of the witches.

He’s an ambitious fellow.

Dan is then tied up and left in a room wearing a mask. He’s placed in front of a television where the countdown to his death begins. But when he’s left alone, the doctor manages to smash the TV in. He uses a shard of the broken glass to cut himself free. When he manages to escape through a air duct, he calls his ex-wife to warn her about the masks. She refuses to believe him, and thinks he’s drunk.

So the man moves on to saving Ellie, who has been tied up inside the factory. The two manage to dump a box of the Silver Shamrock’s computer chip/Stonehenge bits around the computers, which end up killing the workers when the commercial is triggered. Even Cochran himself is killed by the power of the stone.

Ellie and Dan seemingly escape together, but Ellie attacks him while they’re driving away. The two crash into a tree when Dan discovers that Ellie has been replaced by a robot. He manages to fight her off and go to the gas station from the beginning of the film. He calls the television channels and manages to convince channels one and two to take the commercial off. But he watches in horror as channel three goes away with airing the commercial – seemingly to kill all the children.

It’s a wonderfully chilling ending. Sure the robots don’t make any sense (why wasn’t a coven written into this?), but Halloween III is a deliciously wicked movie. I mean, the evil plot revolves around sacrificing children to a television commercial!

I can’t really see why this film is slatted so much. It’s certainly a flawed film. The soundtrack is abysmal, and the plot is a bit convoluted, but the imagery is great, it’s pretty sick, and it stars Tom Atkins! I recently watched the excellent Profondo Rosso, and if there’s one thing I can swear by, it’s that a creepy children’s song will always make me uncomfortable in a horror movie.

Halloween III should be regarded as a separate entity from its predecessors. Judge it on its own merits. Hate it or love it for the right reasons.

 

How to nurse a Halloween hangover


What? What’s that? Halloween is over?

No it isn’t. Of course it’s not. I mean technically Halloween occurs on the 31st of every October, but I’m not willing to admit to myself it’s over.

I love Halloween season for many reasons. I love that people get dressed in costume. I love that children get to trick-or-treat and share in that excitement. I really love that this is the one time of the year where people allow themselves to get a bit spooky; shops are done up in (fake) spiderwebs, normally weak-kneed people watch horror films, and shops sell bat socks.

BAT. SOCKS.

And it’s really a damn shame when it’s all over.

But this year, I’m not letting it die. Instead, I’m going to fill my life with the bits that allows me to relive Halloween every day. Since the UK doesn’t have Thanksgiving, there isn’t a buffer time between Halloween and Christmas (though not many people in the States believe in Thanksgiving anymore either, apparently). I’ll gladly cling on to the fact that Autumn is still here and Christmas is very, very far away.

How to help get through the post-Halloween season:

  1. Read something really good

I read a lot for my job. I read a lot in my real life. Unfortunately, I suffered a rather prolonged reading slump after readingimg_2119 an excellent string of novels in September. Though there were many plans to read some novels that fed into the Halloween spirit, it simply didn’t happen.

But that doesn’t mean that ghost stories aren’t great year-round. And I even think that November may be a better time. While October is beautiful and crisp, it’s really the month of November where things get cold, and things, well, die. The trees stop being gorgeous, vibrant warm colours, but become brown and soggy because there’s no such thing as crisp leaves in England.

This year, Penguin Classics have released a new series of books called Penguin Orange Classics. These books look like the original Penguin Classics with the iconic orange covers, but they’re a bit more detailed with drawings inspired by the book. I’m digging into We Have Always Lived in the Castle by America author Shirely Jackson. I read The Haunting of Hill House back in January. So good.

Also, I just finished the sixth and final volume of Locke & Key by Joe Hill illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez. So good. If you haven’t read this graphic novel series yet, stop everything and do it now.

2. Buy everything horror-themed and do it now.

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One of the best things at MCM Comic Con last weekend was this excellent stand that sold some horror movie related gifts. They were one of the very few stands that did, and they certainly did it in style.

Alleycat Graphics do a load of excellent horror movie themed items from posters to pins to a Ghoulies sticker for your toilet. Everything you need to fill the small parts of your life with everything horror.

I picked up a couple cards from their stand at Comic Con. One is a They Live! birthday card and the other is a Basket Case birthday card for a loving brother.

Do I have a brother? No. Does it matter? No it doesn’t.

Another company I have discovered over the course of the last month is Creepy Co, a collectibles-based brand out of Chicago. I did have to pay a bit for international shipping, but look at these two babies. How could anyone resist? The pins are really high quality. And while the pumpkin has been retired for the season, my Final Girl pin remains on my jacket opposite to my Jason Voorhees hockey mask pin. Subtle, but it makes the point.

img_01173. Reminisce the fuck out of the past Halloween

After the hectic weekend of Comic Con, I was not willing to go anywhere if I didn’t have to. Plus I had a week-long of horrendous headaches that made me useless to writing, reading or watching anything. So my husband and I had an incredibly low-key holidaimg_2112y.

But if there’s anything that helps you get over the Halloween-blues, it’s remembering the Halloween you had. We had to miss the Prince Charles Cinema’s viewing of Halloween, but we did watch Insidious for the first time. I’m a big fan of James Wan’s Conjuring films, this was one of my less-favourite of his films I’ve seen. Though it did cause my husband to have nightmares that night. So that’s pretty great.

Oh and we made bat-themed cupcakes and blew up ghost and pumpkin balloons. There may not have been any trick-or-treaters, but we did live it up on Halloween. And though the day itself might be over with, I can at least eat the cupcakes.

 

What to watch for Halloween with children (if they like things a little bit spooky)

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An American in America age 6 with some ghoul.

My parents were probably the worst at keeping me in check when I was young. They certainly didn’t care about what sort of mind-ruining things I’d see on television. Like when I was barely seven and I watched the opening of Scream 2 while on a trip up north. I still feel a bit terrified in movie theatre bathrooms. And until about a year ago I couldn’t sleep in any position that left my back exposed in case the Ghostface killer came into my bedroom and decided to stab me in the back.

When I was even younger I was subjected to Leprechaun 3 and watched a man get sawed in half by a wicked-looking mythical creature. I still can’t sleep on my back. And don’t even get me started on Mars Attacks! I was constantly terrorised by my two older sisters and my father with their masks and plastic creatures. But in a way, I’m a bit thankful for all those nightmares. For one, I was always queen of Halloween.

I suppose that’s where my little affection for everything spooky came from. Though I really don’t recommend showing your children I Know What You Did Last Summer (whether they be 6 or, well, ever because that movie is crap). But there is thankfully plenty of age-appropriate things for children to watch for Halloween. Or, you know, for those with a weaker constitution who want a scare but only like the volume at 4.

Horror really isn’t for everyone. But I do think it’s good to scare children and give them some gentle nightmares. If even just a little. So I’ve compiled my favourite picks for some gentle Halloween scares:

1. Halloween is Grinch Night (1977)

I still get the creeps watching this. Perhaps it’s that peculiar Seuss rhyme, or the surrealist animation, but really it’s that song. I revisited Halloween is Grinch Night last year, and the words to that haunting song came back to me instantly, “Euchariah! Euchariah! Grinch is gonna get ‘cha! Grinch is gonna get ‘cha!” It’s perfectly spooky. There isn’t much to the plot: Euchariah goes to face the Grinch on Grinch Night, the night where the Grinch likes to terrorise the Whos in Whoville. It’s simple, but certainly effective.

2. Coraline (2009)

Besides being one of the most beautifully animated films of the last decade, Coraline is a tale of warning and love. Young Coraline and her family move to a new town where she isn’t allowed to do anything while her parents are busy trying to get their work done. She wishes for a better place to live where her parents pay her more attention and the local neighbours a little more tolerable. But when she thinks she gets what she asks for, things certainly aren’t what they seem.

Coraline packs plenty of magic into the story while still making it terrifying. I think this is a better alternative to watching The Nightmare Before Christmas (both of which were directed by Henry Selick).

3. It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

I’m so biased with this one, but I absolutely adore this TV special to the point where I watch it nearly every other month or so. It’s a classic. Charlie Brown gets rocks for trick or treats. Linus spends all night in the pumpkin patch. Vince Guaraldi’s score here is on par with the classic Christmas special. Perhaps I’ll stop writing and watch it now…

4. Scooby-Doo! and the Witch’s Ghost (1999)

It’s like the Blair Witch Project but for kids! Okay, not really, but the late 90’s were some excellent times for witch stories. Scooby-Doo! and the Witch’s Ghost is one of the more mature and thus more tolerable of the Scooby Doo movies. It’s not as scary as the previous year’s Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, but I personally prefer the style of this one. And it’s a great place to start kids off on a classic cartoon character.

Scooby Doo and the Mystery Gang travel to New England after being invited by a popular horror writers. The town has a local ghost, who is rumoured to be a witch from the 16oo’s. The movie is just filled with great imagery that is perfect for October.

“Baaaaad dreams, sisters.”

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5. The Groovie Ghoolies (1970-1971)

This is hardly scary, but it has monsters AND Sabrina. This spin-off of Sabrina (also known as Sabrina and the Groovie Goolies) is rather looked-over as far as Archie franchises. But a few episodes of this show are worth a little laugh. Many of the episodes are available to watch for free on YouTube.  The show follows a group of stylised Universal monster characters that live in a house together and sing pop songs. That’s about it. But it’s pretty cute and gentle.

But there’s plenty of monster-themed goodness from the 60’s and 70’s that are family friendly, including The Munsters which is possibly one of the more better-aged shows from the era.

6. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985)

This show is terrifying based on Binky the Clown’s appearance alone. But Garfield is so lovely (and so is Lorenzo Music’s voice). Garfield and Odie go trick-or-treating together on Halloween night. They hop into a boat, which leads them to an old house. An old man is sitting in a chair by the fire, who tells the two pets to stay while he tells them a story about a group of pirates who vow to return for their treasure on Halloween night, 100 years after they buried it.

Garfield’s Halloween Adventure is a bit darker than Garfield usually is, but that’s all you can hope for in a Halloween special. The old man builds up the story just great, and it balances well with the typical silliness of Garfield and friends.

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Hey, it’s the first of October!

Soooooul Dracula! 

In Wisconsin, Halloween season traditionally began August 1st when the seasonal Halloween store in town opened. My dear best friend and I were always on top of that. Halloween for us was always an event we loved to plan for weeks. But since I now live in the world’s #1 country for sucking at celebrating holidays that aren’t Christmas, I have to wait until it’s “appropriate” to put up Halloween decorations and go into Central wearing a dress covered in bats and cobwebs.

Oh, the growing pains of becoming an adult.

October is the one month of the year where we don’t have to explain why we watch horror films every other night. Where we can get a bit spooky and people will actually join in. This is our season. THIS IS OUR TIME!

So happy first of October! Enjoy the, er, questionable lovely choreography of the Spanish dance troupe Ballet Zoom. I’ve got lots of great stuff planned for this month. Let Halloween season begin!

American of London Halloween (the most wonderful day of the year)

IMG_0019Isn’t this the best day of the year? Halloween has always been my favourite day of the year, especially when I was super young. I loved dressing up and always loved picking out what my costume would be (for a solid number of years, it was always Jasmine). There’s something so special about this day of the year: one part nostalgia, two parts scaring the crap out of yourself. It’s a day that works for kids and adults unlike any other holiday. It can work as being as light-hearted or as menacing as you’d like.

Now being an American immigrant in Britain, I have to constantly pull my husband and friends to get into the spirit of things. It’s really not that big of thing here. That’s pretty strange considering the origins of the holiday. This is my third Halloween in the UK, and I can already tell there is a growing following for everything Halloween.

That being said, I forced my poor husband to go all-out this Halloween. This, of course, included splurging on all the horror-related DVDs anyone could want. Eventually I had to stop myself before grabbing everything, so the selection is about as typical (or “classic) as you’d expect. With all the horror movies being on sale for the holiday, it took a shit load of restraint not to buy everything, including those I had never heard of. Hands down the worst thing about today was finding Suspiria for £18. Way to rain on my parade.

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Another new annual tradition is the Halloween ComicFest. Like Free Comic Book Day, publishers release a selection of free comics for readers to take home. I always find this pretty interesting because there can be all sorts of interesting and quirky stories coming out of the woodwork. There were quite a few available this year, but I have to take pride in being fairly-well restrained.

I love old horror comics and those inspired by them like the Archie Horror comics “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” It was great to see Sabrina make an appearance as well as the usual Archie comic. There were loads of really cute little books as well like the Vampire tale “The Garlicks.”

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So even though I’m often the odd one out on today, I will always continue to be the crazy lady obsessed with Halloween. Maybe one day I’ll even invest in a nice Halloween tacky jumper? Today my husband and I went to see John Carpenter’s Halloween at the Prince Charles Cinema and it was really fun to watch a great horror film on the day. Plus the night showing has been sold out for days. Maybe there are fellow Halloween-obsessed peoples running amok somewhere.

Horror Block October 2015 unboxed

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This is the Halloween block for Horror Block, but it sort of ended up “meh”. Though I suppose I really shouldn’t be holding high standards for a subscription box, should I? Spoiler alert: the first thing I noticed about this box is that there is no Rue Morgue issue included this month. This is something I’m trying not to feel too sad about. But there is an item included that is probably the next-best thing.

1. Summoner’s mouse pad

I think the only mouse pads my husband and I have in our flat is whatever we get for free from somewhere or (more likely) a hardback volume of the Serenity comic. As far as mouse pads go, this ouija board one is pretty cool. Nothing like zooming your mouse over the “board”, raising spirits while searching for YouTube videos.

2. Child’s Play Chucky plush doll – exclusive

There were few movies when I was a child that I could not abide by. One of the stop three has to be Child’s Play. Even today I feel an immense feeling of discomfort just thinking about that movie. So I genuinely don’t know what to do with this doll. It might just be the Halloween season, but I don’t feel comfortable leaving it in my room and I definitely  don’t want it in my house. I would try throwing it away, but do I really want to face the horror of it just being back in my room when I return? Also, I guess if you’re going to be a total bitch and a stickler this is a Bride of Chucky doll. But I really don’t care about details here because fuck these movies and this doll.

3. Friday the 13th Camp Crystal Lake t-shirt – exclusive 

Nerd Block really knocked it out with the shirts included in their boxes this month. First it was the Peltzer’s Pets Gremlins shirt, now it’s this fantastic Friday the 13th Jason shirt. This is a bit different than the usual fare, mostly because it’s brown instead of black. What are we to do with ourselves? But seriously, this is another great graphic from ShirtPunch. I’m a particular fan of the bold graphic.

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4. Dario Argento’s Dracula (Dracula 3D) DVD

Ah yes. No one’s favourite Argento movie! Oh and no one’s favourite Dracula movie or even anyone’s favourite vampire movie with Rutger Hauer. Don’t get me wrong, I love all three of those things very much, but there just was something that really, really didn’t work in this 2012 film. Perhaps I’ll re-watch and review this a different day, but only if you make me. Either way, this is definitely not going to make my Halloween to-watch list.

5. “They’re Coming to Get You” Print

This is pretty cute, though I never know what to do with the prints I receive in these subscription boxes. Who hangs up art work in their houses that are this tiny? Anyway, for a print that I just described as “cute,” this picture is filled with some of horror’s most iconic undead characters like Madeleine from White Zombie and Karen from Night of the Living Dead, oh and I guess Michael Jackson from his “Thriller” music video because why the hell not? The art was done by Paul Hanley as a part of Guzu Gallery’s “Something Spooky” show.

6. Rue Morgue Magazine’s “Cryptic Collectibles: A Concise Compendium of Creepy Keepsakes”

As I mentioned before, there is no copy of Rue Morgue in this month’s block, which is kind of disappointing. But this book of movie memorabilia is pretty fun. This isn’t the first time subscribers have received a book from the Canadian magazine. This is by far the best and most interesting one included this far. Cryptic Collectibles delves into the world of collectible toys, monster cereals and even Halloween costumes.