Thanksgiving Reflections

It’s been a topsy-turvy year, one that really gets me reflecting on the important things in life.  All things considered, I have a lot to be thankful for.  Like most of you out there, I spent Thanksgiving with a good bottle of wine, a steaming turkey, and biting down on broken dishes and light bulbs… okay, maybe not that last part, which was just a shameless segue into this week’s movie: Oculus.

Oh, I know, the obvious choice for Thanksgiving would be Eli Roth’s 2007 Grindhouse short entitled Thanksgiving, which appeared before Death Proof, but I’ll keep it a family show.  That said, if you are curious, go ahead and look it up. Be warned, it is adult content; hilarious, but very adult.

THE MOVIEOculus (2014)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYJrxezWLUk

I have a soft spot for psychological/supernatural thrillers and, if you haven’t seen Oculus, I recommend you give it a try.

Why see a movie about an evil mirror?  Good question.  At face value, you may be thinking o O (the plot of Oculus is dumb, how could a mirror have an agenda?).  To that I say that the mirror has the same agenda as the shark in Jaws.

WHAAAAA?????

Hold on… this would hardly be the first mirror-based story you’ve read or seen.  Be it the Greek myth of Narcissus enchanted by his reflection, Snow White’s Evil Queen whispering “Mirror, Mirror on the wall…,” Bloody Mary, or the Candyman staring back at you, mirrors have captivated mankind for thousands of years.

Oculus puts a grand, Lovecraftian spin on a classic culprit: the mirror (AKA your own reflection).

The premise:

We start with 12 and 10 year old (respectively) Kaylie (Annalise Basso: True Blood, Captain Fantastic) and her brother, Tim (Garret Ryan: Insidious 2 and 3), being hunted by their father, Allen (Rory Cochrane: Argo, Black Mass).

Flash forward 11 years.

Tim (now Brenton Thwaites: Maleficent, Gods of Egypt (but we’ll forgive him for it)) is being released from a mental institution where he has spent the last 11 years due to paranoid delusions and the killing of his father.  He has now come to terms with what happened, convincing himself it couldn’t have possibly been real.  Kaylie (now Karen Gillen: winner of Empire Awards Best Female Newcomer for Oculus, Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy), on the other hand has devoted her life to proving her father wasn’t just some psycho who tortured and killed her mother, Marie (Katee Sackhoff: winner of the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Supporting Actress for Oculus, Battlestar Galactica, Riddick), and tried to kill her and Tim.

Kaylie essentially tracks down and steals the mirror from an auction house, and has it installed in her now vacant childhood home.  Why the hell would she try to recreate the worst moment in her and Tim’s lives?  Pay back.  She has traced the mirror back to its 100 year old roots in Germany and the gruesome events that befell each family or business that owned the mirror since then, all strikingly similar to what happened to her own family. With the help of her recently mentally-well brother, Kaylie sets out to document and ultimately destroy the mirror that destroyed their lives.  The problem is, even though she has prepared for every form of retaliation, there is a difference between reading about it and suffering through the mind-bending, horrifying assault brought on by a supernatural force she cannot understand.

I have a soft spot for psychological/supernatural thrillers, and this is a good one.  A really good one.

Director Mike Flanagan (Hush, Gerald’s Game) originally wanted Oculus to be told through a series of short stories, in fact, the full-length movie is based off of a 2005 short entitled Oculus: Chapter 3.  Personally, I think his decision to twist all of the segmented pieces (and timelines) together was genius.  H.P. Lovecraft may not be everyone’s cup of absinthe, but this is a movie about a mirror that drains energy, psychically attacks victims, and devours souls.  Weird is the way to go.

Back to the Jaws reference.  In a 2014 interview with Den of Geek, Flanagan said, “I got into Lovecraft in a big way and that idea of kind of this other world just beyond the veil of ours that defies understanding and doesn’t need a back story and an explanation, you know — like this is an alien force that if you even were to try to comprehend it completely it would drive you mad. I thought that was scarier than anything.”

Oculus was also produced by Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity, Insidious, Sinister, The Purge, The Visit, and Incarnate).

I was watching Cabin in the Woods last night, and thought about the old trope of ignoring signs and inviting evil in.  There is a moment where Allen and Marie are arguing over whether to keep the grandiose mirror, with Allen insisting he would have been happy with Ikea and Marie saying the mirror classed up the house.  After reading Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, I’m not sure if Ikea would have been much better.

See this movie.  It will blow your mind.

THE WINE:  Boar Doe (Love the name)

Red Blend (2013) (Washington)

http://www.totalwine.com/wine/red-wine/red-blend/tagaris-boar-doe-red/p/122072750?s=1402&igrules=true&text=Tagaris+Boar+Doe+Red

About $13.00 a bottle.

For our Ghost Night Thanksgiving, we went traditional… as traditional as my wife goes, anyhow.  The perfectly cooked turkey was brined in a bourbon/maple concoction for a day or so, and complimented by a bourbon-infused gravy for the homemade stuffing and garlic mashed potatoes.

As a rule, there is no “right” wine pairing for Thanksgiving due to the typical variety of foods put out.  The point is to choose a good wine that will be somewhat universal.  Your best bet is to go with a fruity Pinot Noir for those of you looking forward to Christmas.  I, on the other hand, chose a red blend to match the strong flavors of bourbon, maple, garlic, etc.

A combination of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, this blend was a smooth hit at the table.  It wasn’t overly heavy, but stood up as a sipping wine that complimented the other flavors in the mix.  The profile was of jammy, dark berries up front and cedar and tobacco on the back of the mouth.  Smooth and lasting, the finish was amazing and I was sorry to finish off the bottle.

The Nightmare Post

Our 9-year old niece was in town recently so we spent a lot of time touring Washington.  From the Space Needle to the Gum Wall to the waterfalls of Mount Rainier, we covered a pretty big footprint in a small amount of time.  As fun as the touring was, my absolute favorite moment was when she looked up at me and asked, “Uncle Brad, can we watch A Nightmare on Elm Street tonight?”  I seriously about fell over.  I asked her how she knew about a 32-year old horror movie, and she said she had a bunch of friends back home who had seen it and it was the topic of a lot of conversations.

It warms my heart to think that my all-time favorite horror movie is not only still relevant, but is somewhat popular.

Considering I was 9 when I first saw the movie on VHS in 1986 (a couple of years after it came out, but it’s not like I could run down to the video store to pick up a copy at the time), I immediately texted my sister for approval.  I got the green light and my niece was set to watch her first horror flick.

THE MOVIEA Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

The trailerhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8TKelktHgA

As you may have noticed, I’m a little attached to the original Nightmare.  Okay, that might be putting it mildly… suffice to say I had a life-size poster of Freddy on my bedroom door when I was a kid (no joke, I lived at 911 Elm Street).  And yes, I was THAT kid, or, as my mom said to my wife when we were dating, “We didn’t know if he was going to grow up to be a serial killer or what.”  Big laughs all around (thanks, mom).

Anyway, I cannot stress enough how good this movie is.  If you haven’t seen it you should be ashamed of yourself and the rock you grew up under… now go see it.  If it’s been a while, this is as good a time as any to dust it off.  And if you are a storyteller, take notes.

The premise:  Every town has secrets – just as every town has an Elm Street – and wow does the fictional town of Springwood, Ohio (there seem to be an awful lot of palm trees in Ohio) have a doozey.  When a group of teens start having similar nightmares of the Extra Crispy Colonel… I mean, a horribly burned man in a red and green sweater, wielding knives on his fingers named Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), things go from delusional to homicidal.  Even after Nancy’s (Heather Langenkamp) friends, Tina (Amanda Wyss) and Rod (Nick Corri), and her boyfriend, Glen (Johnny Depp), are butchered by Freddy and she physically pulls things out of her dreams, the town goes deep into denial mode.

What is this secret that is so terrible that the adults of Springwood ignore the obvious?  How long can Nancy go without sleep?  Will Freddy take them all?

Watch the movie!

A Nightmare on Elm Street is the brain-child of the iconic Wes Craven (The Hills Have Eyes (both 1977 and 2006), Swamp Thing, Serpent and the Rainbow, Dracula 2000, Scream), filmed at the dawn of New Line Cinema’s rise in the horror world for a paltry $1.8 million.  Low-budget horror flicks were all the rage back then because the genre didn’t get the respect it deserved, but it did spawn Jason Voorhees, Leather Face, Michael Myers, Chuckie, so on so forth, and a host of tropes and new techniques born of necessity.  But Freddy was something special.  The villain didn’t just kill for killing’s sake; he was bent on instilling as much fear in his prey as possible.  It was cerebral, alluring.  Craven, like Freddy, plays with the audience’s perception of reality like a cat with a beetle.  He also masterfully uses the old slasher trope of morality: the more virtuous the character, the better chance of survival, which is cliché now, but that was 32 years ago (see my Amityville post).

Of course the sequels grew increasingly bad until we landed in a steaming pile of Freddy’s Dead.

Oh, and if you are wondering if the niece liked it, she was glued to the TV and had a few, “Oh…. my… gosh…” moments.  Was she scared?  Oh yeah, but she handled it like a champ.  She did have a hard time with Child’s Play the next night, though.  Must be a doll thing.

THE WINE:  Charles & Charles Rose

Rose Blend (2015) (Washington).

http://www.totalwine.com/wine/rose-blush-wine/syrah-shiraz/charles-charles-rose/p/121123750?s=1402&igrules=true#

About $9.00 a bottle.

The latest Ghost Night meal was a lightened up version of mini meatloaf pepper rings.  For those of you not familiar (I wasn’t), you slice bell peppers into rings and fill them with a meatloaf.  Cindy made hers with ground chicken, onions, bell peppers, Worcestershire sauce, aged parmesan cheese, a spicy tomato puree, and plenty of seasonings.  They were sweet, savory, and had a spicy kick on the back end.  But what to drink?

This was a tricky one because it could go many different ways.  A red could overpower the flavors of the meal* and most whites would be lost in the background.  In this case, go rose.  The one we chose is mostly Syrah, which is a bolder flavor palate that complimented the sweet peppers that brought out the watermelon in the wine, and the sharp cheese and acidic tomato accents brought out notes of unripen strawberry.

A wonderful choice if you are looking for a wine to compliment a lighter dish with some spice.

* Completely random cooking note: when making pasta and use a wine to flavor it, don’t add a red… unless you like purple food.

Lights Out

This has been a great year for movies.  From Captain America to Star Trek to The BFG, I have spent a lot of time and money at the theaters.  And it’s only getting better.  I’m especially excited about the horror movies coming out, which is nice when my son is in town.  We have a custom of going to see whatever horror movie is in theaters (if there is one).  It just so happened that Lights Out came out very recently so we jumped at the opportunity.

I remember seeing the trailer earlier this year.  My wife said, “hell no,” and I brought up that it looked a lot like a video short from a few years ago where a ghost/monster appeared when the lights were shut off and disappeared when the lights were turned on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adap4rzlM2I

My wife reiterated, “hell no!”  I was pretty excited.

THE MOVIELights Out (2016)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LiKKFZyhRU

I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend this movie.  Lights Out didn’t waste any time jumping into old-school scare tactics (without relying on gore) and did not let go until the end credits were rolling.  I even said, “Oh, damn,” a couple of times out loud.

I watched the trailer again to make sure there are no spoilers below.

The premise:  We start the movie with Esther (Lotta Losten, who starred in the original video short) flipping on and off the lights in an already disturbing mannequin warehouse, revealing the twisted silhouette of a ghost/monster in the dark.  Esther immediately lets her boss, Paul (Billy Burke), know that there is something in the building.  Of course Paul is busy dealing with his mentally ill wife, Sophie (Maria Bello), so he dismisses Esther.  This doesn’t end well for Paul.

Flash forward a month or two after Paul’s death.  Sophie is off her meds again and her special friend Dianna, the ghost/monster, is haunting Sophie’s house, terrorizing her young son, Martin (Gabriel Bateman).  Martin, if you can imagine, is not sleeping well and Child Protective Services gets called in.  The only member of the family they can get hold of is Martin’s adult half-sister, Rebecca (Teresa Palmer).  The two soon find out that Dianna is not bound to Sophie’s house… any dark place will do.

It’s a fight for their lives as they uncover family secrets that must come out of the shadows.

This movie really did have just about anything today’s horror movie-goer could ask for.  We had a modern family dynamic, a theme of family values and unity, and a strong and independent protagonist.  From a story-teller view, I loved the relationship between Rebecca and her boyfriend, Bret (Alexander DiPersia), which was brilliant and more realistically complex than expected.  Best of all, we had an original, creepy, well thought-out villain that taps into a primal fear shared amongst most of the people on Earth.  Who hasn’t been scared of the dark at some point in their life?

I came across some reviews saying that Lights Out is a blatant dig on the mentally ill.  To that I suggest the various critics watch any scary movie since 1920.  The mentally disturbed killer has been a hallmark of the horror genre since people started telling scary stories around campfires.  I wonder if critics dismissed Phantom of the Opera or House of Wax or Psycho as just making fun of the mentally ill.

In 2013, director David Sandberg made that really creepy video short (link above) entitled Lights Out.  With a little perseverance, Sandberg was able to join forces with producer James Wan (The Conjuring) and writer Eric Heisserer (I guess I’ll forgive him for writing the 2010 version of A Nightmare on Elm Street) to turn his 2:41 minute video into a feature film.  A successful feature film by my standards.

See this movie… with the lights off.

THE WINE:  Chateau La Paws Red Wine Blend

Red Blend (no year on bottle) (California)

http://www.chateaulapaws.com/the-wines/

About $13.00 a bottle. For our Ghost Night meal, rolled out the grill and BBQed some burgers.  Since I’m a foodie that isn’t about to have a bottle of wine with a regular burger (okay, I probably would), we had burgers mixed with cheddar and bacon and some mixed with black pepper and bleu cheese, topped with pepper jack.  For a side, we had garlic and black pepper tots.  Byron made some weird “fancy sauce” that was comprised of BBQ sauce, mayo, and God-knows-what-else… which resulted in a light brown goo that tasted like BBQ sauce.  He swears by it, but we respectfully declined.

The classic combination with red meat is always going to be a red wine.  Since these were burgers with blue cheese, black pepper spice and potatoes, a medium bodied red was the way to go rather than a heavier Cabernet or Zinfandel.  This wine had a pronounced scent of dark cherry from the moment it was opened.  To go with the cherry, it also had red berry flavors like raspberry up front and lingering notes of vanilla on the back end.  Perfect for the evening.

As many of you know, I am an animal lover.  I was happy to buy this bottle because the winery (as the name suggests) supports No Kill Shelters around the country.  Visit www.chateaulapaws.com to learn more.

The Amityville Post

I had plenty of time to think during a recent bout of the flu.  With the way my mind works, I started wondering if this is how George Lutz felt and even left the house for a bit to see if my symptoms were proximity-based to an ancient Indian and/or Satanic curse (depending on the version of Amityville you see/read).  No such luck, just good old-fashioned muggle flu.

With The Conjuring 2 opening with the Warrens investigating the Amityville house and a new Amityville Horror movie coming out later this year, I feel it’s a good time to take a look at the murders and subsequent hauntings that have shocked, horrified, and enticed us for over 40 years.  Let’s take a look at the reality of it and do a comparison of the 1979 and 2005 versions.

THE BUILD-UP:  (I did a ton of research which I largely scrapped because it became a 10-page report)

On 13 November 1974, Ronald “Ronnie” DeFeo shot and killed his parents and 4 siblings in their sleep.  On 21 November 1975, Ronnie DeFeo, known heroine and LSD user diagnosed with antisocial depressive disorder, was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences.

WAIT!  Didn’t the house make him kill?  What about the ghost of Ketcham in the basement whispering sweet nothings at 3:15 am and the hidden “red room” that’s the source of all evil?   Well, apparently, Ronnie did a lot of drugs in the basement so he could have heard things, and the “red room” was really just a closet.  Fun fact: the Ketcham family was prominent in Amityville going back to the 18th century (there’s even a Ketcham Ave.), but no connections to witchcraft.  As far as ghosts making Ronnie kill, according to various interviews, the whole “devil made me do it” story was unfortunately concocted by Ronnie’s attorneys seeking an insanity defense.

Yeah, I was bummed about that, too.

On 19 December 1975, the Lutz family moved into the DeFeo house.  28 days later, the Lutz family moved out stating supernatural events made the house uninhabitable.  Their family priest, Father Ralph Pecoraro, said in a 1979 interview that he was chased from the house by an unseen presence that said “GET OUT!”  There was no mention of flies in the Father’s interview.

On 13 September 1977, Jay Anson published The Amityville Horror: A True Story.  The book became an instant hit and bestseller… and criticized for claiming to be complete fact.  https://www.amazon.com/Amityville-Horror-Jay-Anson/dp/1416507698

THE MOVIE(S):

Both movies, 1979 and 2005 versions, have the same premise:  the Lutz family (newlyweds with three kids) come across a once in a lifetime opportunity with the Amityville house.  Of course a family of six was slaughtered there the year before, but houses don’t kill people, right?  The family priest gets chased from the house by a swarm of flies and an ominous voice saying “GET OUT!”  Almost immediately, George Lutz becomes ill and starts hearing/seeing things.  He becomes a hot-tempered insomniac and takes it out on the family.  The daughter, Missy, gets a new imaginary friend named Jody (supposedly one of the DeFeo girls).  The babysitter gets locked in the closet and loses her marbles.  The ghosts get more active and the family is compelled to leave when the poo hits the fan. Okay, so the differences.

The Amityville Horror (1979)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Yr6VbT8QcU

This version runs pretty much parallel with the Anson book, sometimes to a fault like how a porcelain dog moves around the house biting George when he isn’t looking.  Not exactly horrifying stuff if you are the pet guardian of a small dog like I am.  The biggest drawback is that its content was decades ahead of what special effects could provide.  I did like how somebody actually drew eyes on the already creepy eyes-like windows to really sell the idea.

The movie is slow moving and, if you are looking for ghost activity, you will be disappointed until the last 5 minutes or so.  It’s nice for nostalgia or for the sake of comparison, but that’s about it.  On the other hand, if you are a deeply religious person looking for a watered-down Omen, this might be your movie.

This version focuses on crisis of faith.  The priest, Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) plays a significant role as he struggles to find the strength to save the Lutz family and suffers the beat-down of the year from the “demonic entity” at every turn.  Seriously, by the end of the film it’s almost funny.  Also, faith, apparently, isn’t going to save you or your plumbing from evil.  Following the faith theme, George Lutz (James Brolin) is given a lecture by his co-worker about how he changed his religion for Kathy (Margot Kidder), who was a Catholic.  The snooty babysitter gets locked in a closet and walks out of the house scared.  Kathy finds out that the house is on a cursed Indian burial ground (where they banished the souls of their insane) and the property was owned by the Satan-worshiping Ketcham at one point.  George’s personality changes (as does his hair, which is the ultimate barometer of sanity), but he never turns psychotic.  The walls bleed and the house shakes as the Lutz family escapes together with George leading the way, cross in hand.

George saves the dog and all ends well.

Interestingly, I was watching Dead Files (episode 6-12: The Whispering) where a woman in Concrete, Washington was plagued by whispers and apparitions.  Oh, her health was failing and she was becoming an insomniac, too.  The real kicker was when Amy Allen revealed that the area had a sort force field around it, an ancient Indian curse, which did not allow the dead to escape.  According to her, this is where they banished their insane tribe members.  Was this a common practice amongst Native Americans since we find the same thing on both coasts?  #deadfiles

The Amityville Horror (2005)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xHJOG03eDE

I highly recommend this movie.

To say Director Andrew Douglas took some creative liberty with Anson’s book would be an understatement.  BUT, the result being he amped up the family dynamic, sprinkled in an exaggerated version of the horrific events (without the little dog), and added of all the paranormal visuals you would ever want.

And if you ever question Ryan Reynolds’ range as an actor, watch this movie.  He starts out as the witty and charming Ryan that we all have come to know, but becomes an abusive monster chasing his family with a shotgun by the end.  Yes, Ryan Reynolds can act and he can scare us.  As an added bonus for anyone seeking a little P&A (“pecs and abs” as my wife says), Ryan was in better shape than in Deadpool and wasn’t shy about showing it off.

This version focuses more on how the ghosts in the house are affecting the Lutz family.  From the moment the shady real estate agent steps into the house, you see shadows moving and know this house is legit, but the Lutz’s take it anyhow.  The priest, Father Calloway (Philip Baker Hall) plays a less significant role as he gets chased off by the “GET OUT” entity and later confesses to avoiding the Lutz family because their house scares him.  The Father, like the 2005 Lutz family’s plumbing, isn’t turned into evil’s bitch.  The skanky babysitter is locked in a closet by Jody, who scares her into near catatonia (one of my favorite scenes).  Kathy Lutz (Melissa George) finds out that the house is on property once owned by the Satan-worshiping Ketcham, who tortured Natives and cursed the land with his blood, and that their daughter has been carrying around a teddy bear that was buried with Jody DeFeo.  George’s personality changes dramatically (more than just his hair), and he turns VERY psychotic.  The walls don’t bleed and the house doesn’t shake as the Lutz family escapes together after ax-wielding George is knocked unconscious.

The dog gets mistaken for a demon by hallucinating George… let’s just say he’s not in the final shot.

THE WINE:  Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier

Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2014 (California)

http://www.totalwine.com/wine/white-wine/chenin-blanc/pine-ridge-chenin-blanc-viognier/p/306750

About $12.00 a bottle.

Though I certainly would entertain the argument, you can’t live off of red meat alone.  Sometimes you just need something lighter and spicy.  For our Ghost Night meal, Cindy made some delicious, spicy shrimp quesadas with plenty of fresh cilantro, jalapeno, onion and tomato.  Personally, I love to add a little sour cream and Siracha.  When pairing a wine with lighter, spicy seafood dishes, you want something that will cut through the acidity and bring a slightly sweeter element.  A good viognier is great for this, bringing a lot of fruity aromatics like peach and melon, and the spicy cheese will draw out a honey flavor that is just dynamite as it mellows the acid from the peppers.

This is a great bottle of wine on a hot day or enjoying a summer evening on the patio.

Conjuring a Great Blend

Cindy: So, what do you want to do for Father’s Day?

Me (sporting my serious face): I want to see The Conjuring 2 and eat some BBQ.

Last week I made a pledge to see The Conjuring 2, and I’ve made good on that pledge.  Many of you know that I have a deep, almost unnatural, love of all things “scary” (if I didn’t, I would have chosen the wrong blog subject).  There is just something about a good scary movie that gets my imagination going and has me sitting on the edge of my seat, not from fear, but to see what’s around that darkened corner where an ominous floorboard squeak is coming from.  The first Conjuring movie did just that and I was hooked on director James Wan’s style.  So, if you can imagine, I’ve been looking forward to this movie ever since I saw the trailer months ago.

THE MOVIE:  The Conjuring 2 (2016)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyA9AtUOqRM

(Serious face again) GO SEE THIS MOVIE.  There is a reason it was the #1 movie in America.

The premise:  It’s 1976, and, like the first movie, we find Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) engaged in another case, only this time they are investigating a house in Amityville.  You know the one.  It’s here that we see a premonition of Ed’s death and a demon dressed as a Catholic Nun (cameo by Marilyn Manson… okay, not really, but now try NOT seeing him) who follows Lorraine home.  We also get a glimpse into Ed’s artistic side.  Flash forward one year and 3,500 miles East to dreary old London, where the Hodgson family is being plagued by an extremely intrusive and violent spirit that is way too powerful to simply be a run-of-the-mill ghost.  The Catholic Church, not wanting to get directly involved in this high-profile paranormal media circus, call in the Warrens to look into what is really going on.  What Ed and Lorraine find when they get there is that the demon from Amityville has gone international.

James Wan’s team of writers is solid.  We have back the same crew that wrote the first Conjuring movie (Carey and Chad Hayes) and added David Leslie Johnson (who also wrote for The Walking Dead, Red Riding Hood, and the upcoming 2018 Aquaman movie (suddenly interesting, huh?)).  From a storyteller’s point of view, The Conjuring 2 delivers on just about every level.  We have a well-thought out plot that ties it to the first movie, it has a creepy atmosphere and the distinct style that makes it instantly recognizable as a James Wan movie (like the Insidious movies and Dead Silence).  There are plenty of twists and turns, and it really explores the general public’s common disbelief in the paranormal.  The movie was creepy, stylish, had just enough jump-scares, and was even sentimental at times.

THE WINE:  Chop House Red Wine Blend

Red Blend 2011 (California)

https://www.vivino.com/wineries/chop-house-134641/wines/california-red-blend-9999

About $8.50 a bottle (your average 6 pack of craft beer will run about $9.50).

Like I said, I wanted BBQ.  Unfortunately, I got spoiled by living in central Texas for the last few years and you never really hear about Pacific Northwest BBQ.  After an attempt to find a BBQ joint that was open on a Sunday within driving distance, we settled on Famous Dave’s (a chain place, but decent).  As per the norm, I loaded up on ribs and heaped on the burnt ends.

When pairing a wine with savory meats and spicy/sweet BBQ sauces, you need something that will compliment and stand on its own.  I was drawn to the Chop House Red Blend from the first sentence of the description as it boasted rich flavors of boysenberry, leather and cedar, all of which would complement the smoky char on the ribs.  It absolutely lived up to the hype.  The accompanying flavors of raspberry jam, chocolate and black pepper did will to bring out the flavors of the spicy BBQ sauce.  It was smooth enough that I would have had another bottle if one was available.

This is a great bottle of wine if you are in the mood for BBQ (steak, ribs, whatever).

A Boy and His Zin

It was a nice, relaxing weekend.  And with any relaxing weekend, there is a laundry list of things I did not get around to doing, namely I didn’t do a James Wan marathon in prep to seeing The Conjuring 2.  I did, however, see about a third of the first movie.  So I make a pledge to do that next weekend.  The wine choice was a combination of craving and inspiration.  I went to Walmart to grab some garlic bread, etc, and found the protest du jour to be the proposed banning of co-ed bathrooms.  Honestly, I don’t remember the Bible saying anything about which bathroom to use, but the guy telling me to sign his petition was convinced it was in there.  I didn’t sign the petition, by the way, citing the sin of Pride (# 7 on the deadly sins list) for thinking that his beliefs gave him permission to force said beliefs on others through legislation and taking the Lord’s name in vain (# 3 on the 10 commandments list) for trying to tell me it’s in the Bible.  I walked out of Walmart with a bottle of The Seven Deadly Zins… which is delicious.

THE MOVIE:  The Boy (2016)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1U21VBSbSs

Since I hardly got off of the couch this weekend, I surfed the new releases on Amazon and found The Boy.

The premise:  An elderly British couple (the Heelshires) intends to go on their first holiday in many years, but have to hire a nanny to watch their son, Brahms.  Enter the young American (from Montana) nanny named Greta, who is running away from an abusive relationship.  I’m going to assume the elderly shut-ins didn’t find Greta on Craig’s List, but it’s never explained how she got a job with no experience watching over a mysterious child in a foreign country.  To Greta’s surprise, Brahms is a porcelain doll (honestly, you would think that would have been in the Craig’s List add), is shown a grave, and told the real Brahms died in a fire 20 years ago.  After a day of adjustment, the Heelshires take off on holiday for the next couple of months (the mother says “I’m sorry” before walking out), leaving Greta with the doll, a creepy mansion to care for, and a list of rules to follow as if the doll were alive.  Shockingly, Greta does NOT abide by the rules and that’s when things start going downhill.  Stupid American.

I won’t spoil the ending, but Cindy did say, “Oh God, that’s even creepier than the doll.” The Boy has some things I like as a storyteller.  Like The Haunting, we have misdirection – always a good thing.  It’s a little predictable if you look for the signs like I do, but it won’t kill the movie.  The director, William Brent Bell – the guy who brought us 2012’s The Devil Inside, knows how to build tension out of what seems obvious, giving us just enough to question what we are seeing.  The movie sets up a dreary atmosphere that will have you leaning in as you look for ghosts.  The plot, despite the obvious holes, has not really been seen in about the last 20 years, so it will surprise most viewers. This movie is worth a rental, or a buy if creepy dolls are your thing.  If you like movies like Halloween (the Carpenter version, and yes, I said it), this one is for you.

THE WINE:  The Seven Deadly Zins

Zinfandel 2013 (California)

http://www.totalwine.com/wine/brand/7-deadly

About $11 a bottle.

Like I said, I had been craving a spicy Zin for weeks, and Cindy’s pasta dish – rigatoni pasta, tomatoes, garlic, onions, mozzarella, red pepper flakes, and olive oil – and garlic bread gave me a great excuse.  I’m telling you right now that there are few things more I like than a spicy dish with plenty of garlic and a good Zin.  A Zin will actually mellow into a sweeter taste and mouth feel, making the pipe tobacco flavor pop, when paired with garlic.  The Seven Deadly Zins is a wonderful example of a full body Zin with its notes of raspberry jam, molasses, cinnamon, pipe tobacco, oak, and its soft tannins (making it dry but not harsh) that will not break the bank by any means.

This is a great bottle of wine if you are in the mood for something spicy.

Haunted with Chardonnay

This was an interesting weekend.  My wife left me to my own devices while on a trip to Chicago to see the Dixie Chicks with her BF from college.  In the spirit of the 1990s, and after a conversation with an old friend (thanks, Conn), I decided to go slightly classic with this week’s movie.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t drinking wine this Ghost Night since I started off the day at a brewery and the first rule of drinking is to NOT mix your drinks unless you are a glutton for punishment; however, I will plug in the wine I had a few days ago.

THE MOVIE:  The Haunting (1999)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wiv2zofXsV0

Full disclosure, I had to look up this movie before a recognized the name.  There have just been so many movies of similar name in the last 17 years that it didn’t stick out.  That being said, I did have an overwhelming “ohhhhhhh yeeeeaaaahhhhh” moment when I looked it up on Netflix.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record in my advocating for undervalued movies, I think this one is worth a couple hours of your time.  Okay, so the movie did not do well when it opened in 1999.  In fact, it was nominated for 8 Razzie Awards for everything from worst actress (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to worst screenplay, director, and picture.  That’s rough.  Sure it had some awkward uses of CGI by today’s standards and some questionable plot points, but it also had some stiff competition in 1999.  That year we had: The Blair Witch Project, Johnny Depp’s Sleepy Hollow, The Sixth Sense, Stigmata, End of Days, Lake Placid, the list goes on.  It’s easy to get buried in that lineup, especially when critics say it’s just a remake of a 1963 classic of the same name.

The premise is that you have Dr. Markway (Liam Neesen) who is researching fear responses by introducing research subjects who are “impressionable” to a creepy mansion.  It’s all very Ahab in search of his whale as he ignores professional ethics.  Little does he know, the mansion is actually haunted and capable of killing.  Enter the unlikely research subject named Nell (Lilli Taylor) who seems to have an unnatural connection with the spirits of the house, both malevolent and benign.  As things spiral downward, Dr. Markway (pronounced “Marrow” for some reason) and the others believe Nell is having a psychotic break until they experience the full wrath of the mansion themselves.

The Haunting has a lot of things that I really like as a storyteller.  First and foremost, this movie is loosely based on a novel by the same name by the brilliant Shirley Jackson; a book that has been said to be possibly the greatest ghost story of the 20th century according to Stephen King (tall words when I am a HUGE fan of The Shining).  We have classic misdirection of modern minds believing the supernatural is just in the head (a technique I LOVE using in my own work) and heavy nods to Edgar Allen Poe (both The Raven and Masque of the Red Death – find them, I dare you!).

When I say “loosely adapted” from the 1959 novel, it is just that, but in a good way.  In the novel, a group of paranormal investigators are led by Dr. Montague (essentially Neeson’s character) who sets up camp in Hill House with his psychic helpers, interfering wife and her companion.  All of the characters from the novel are present, but few in the same roles in an attempt to modernize the film and depart it from the 1963 version (successfully so, I think).  As a side point, one of the more scandalous parts of the novel and 1963 movie is Zeta-Jones’ character “Theo,” who is a lesbian.  Imagine this character in the 1950s and 1960s (hell, even the 1990s), not as a predator or stereotype, but as an independent and feminine person.  Jackson was ahead of her time in many ways with her novel, and I think Zeta-Jones did an amazing job.

This is a good movie that is worth another look.  If you like movies like House on Haunted Hill, this one is for you.

THE WINE: Radius Chardonnay 2013 (Washington State)

http://www.totalwine.com/wine/white-wine/chardonnay/radius-chardonnay/p/119006750

About $10 a bottle.

Again, I was a beer drinker on Saturday, so I reached back to the last bottle I had.  Cindy made a panzanella – olive oils and a variety of vegetables (tomatoes, onions, peppers, zucchini, etc), croutons and cheese (goat and blue).  It’s an Italian dish that is creamy and filling.  Considering the creamy nature and mild acidity from the tomatoes and onions, a Chardonnay was the way to go.  You want a crisp, sweeter wine to cut through and compliment in this case.

The Radius Chardonnay was sweeter than I expected when compared to other Chardonnays.  I would have mistaken it for a Riesling, but it worked for this meal.  It wasn’t overly sweet, but pushed it, with notes of pear, apple, and butterscotch on the backend.  It was definitely a buttery and mildly oaky Chardonnay, which I can get on board with.

This is a great bottle of wine if you aren’t accustomed to the dryer versions or have a date that doesn’t really like wine.  It’s sweeter, not pretentious, and not expensive.

Pizza and Yuletide Wishes Come True

Sorry this is hitting the proverbial stands a little late, but it was a whirlwind of a weekend. Hopefully you all took advantage of this Memorial Day weekend and got out and about. I was fortunate enough to have my 17-year-old son drive up from Oregon for a few days to celebrate. With him and my wife in tow, we saw a couple of movies, hiked over 5 miles in the Quinault National Forest, and ran/walked over 6 miles in the DuPont, WA, Wear Blue to Remember event on Monday.

There wasn’t much down time, but we did squeeze in a movie… after we saw a couple of movies.

THE MOVIE: Krampus (2015)

I probably should hold off on this review for another 5 or 6 months, but Krampus recently came out on video and my son hadn’t seen it.

Krampus got a pretty brutal lashing from the trolls when it came out in theaters. I honestly don’t know what people expected; perhaps a movie on par with The Exorcist or A Nightmare on Elm Street, whatever your favorite scary movie, which it clearly wasn’t advertised as being (cough-the Gallows-cough-gag). I knew exactly what I was getting into from the trailer and the fact that it was written in part by Michael Dougherty (the genius who brought us Trick r Treat). If I had to compare it to another movie, I would say it’s like a Christmas-themed Cabin in the Woods.

If you haven’t seen this movie, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy to break up the A Christmas Story marathon, it’s a story of a highly dysfunctional family in the suburbs who have to spend Christmas together because that’s what families do. If you think that premise is unrealistic, I challenge you to enjoy one of my family get-togethers (sorry, mom). Enter the one kid in the family who is a true believer in Christmas. When his cousins bully and publicly shame him for believing, he tears up his letter to Santa and wishes for them all to be taken away. Little does he know that his wish is granted, unleashing Krampus and his minions upon the family as a massive snow storm isolates them.

This is a great movie with rock-solid storytelling, a few jump-scares, a creepy atmosphere, and loads of laughs. If you like movies like What We Do in the Shadows, Trick r Treat, Gremlins, or Cabin in the Woods (creepy funny movies), this one is for you.

THE WINE:

Casalino Chianti Classico 2009 (Italy)

About $14 a bottle.

After an afternoon of movie-going, we weren’t really in the mood to make anything so pizza it was. Not just any pizza, but MOD Pizza in Lacey, WA (http://modpizza.com/locations/lacey-summerwalk/) where made up out personal brick oven pizza. I know what you are thinking and the wine snobs out there would probably sooner drink Mad Dog 20/20 than drink a good wine with pizza. To that I say, “It was yummy,” and give my best impression of Judd Nelson walking away with his fist in the air at the end of Breakfast Club.

The wine was a perfect match for a tomato-based pizza with jalapeno chicken, garlic and basil. Had I added extra garlic I’d be talking about a Zinfandel. A good Chianti is fruit forward and somewhat dry (man do I miss Tuscany!). This medium-bodied dry red had lush, tart cherry flavors and subtle spice on the backend (not overpowering) with plenty of character to go around.

If you want to impress a date without breaking the bank, you could do worse than adding this wine to spruce up an ordinary meal.

Chianti: It’s not just for pairing with liver and fava beans.

The Ghost, the Witch, and the Pinot

Welcome to the first in a weekly series of reviews of horror related movies, television, and… wine.  Why wine?  What does wine have to do with it?  The answer is: why not?  Wine makes everything better.

(Enter a Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “GET ON WITH IT!!”)

OKAY!  But, quickly, how I came about this endeavor was over a cup of coffee.  My mug was almost looking into my soul and told me to do a blog called “Ghost Night Review.”  For years my lovely wife has allowed me to indulge my lifelong love of the macabre by designating Saturdays as “Ghost Night.” It was a tradition that started in Germany where we had no cable so I ordered some seasons of the SyFy Channel’s Ghost Hunters. From there I started recording and religiously watching the Travel Channel’s Dead Files when we got back to the States, watching it every Saturday night. After binge watching for so long, you have to branch out, so I threw the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures into the mix and eventually added a movie as well. And there is almost always a bottle of wine.

So there.

THE GHOST:

http://www.travelchannel.com/shows/the-dead-files

For warm up I went to my “go to” show these days: the Travel Channel’s Dead Files.  If you haven’t seen this show, the premise is you have a physical medium named Amy Allan and retired NYPD homicide detective named Steve DiSchiavi who team up to investigate hauntings.  There’s the catch: they work independently of each other, never communicating until the reveal at the end.  Steve interviews witnesses and researches the history while Amy does a “walk through” of the property, all the while getting impressions and communicating with the dead.  My favorite part is when she sits down with a sketch artist to get a rendition of what she saw, and sometimes Steve will have photos from past owners, etc, that match almost identically to those sketches.  And then Amy discusses how to deal with the dead she came across.  Awesome show.

We watched “Guardians of the Dead” from Season 5 (episode 1), where Steve and Amy travel to a 300-year-old sugar cane plantation turned museum in Montego Bay, Jamaica.  This was unique for them because they have never left the US for an investigation.  For those of us who are regulars of the ghost show circuit, you will recognize Rose Hall from Ghost Hunters International (episode 2.13) and Ghost Adventures (episode 5.9).  The history of the place is great and the legend of Annie Palmer (a legend that the entire island believes in) is even better.  Of course Steve discovers that the legend of Annie Palmer is almost complete fable, but what do you do.  There was a part that got me thinking about all of the fear and belief the legend of Annie Palmer has generated over the decades, and what that psychic energy would create.  In an interview, a witness said that when their Annie (an actor) is engaging with tourists, a faceless apparition is scene nearby mimicking the actor’s every move.  Perhaps an entity is being created by the people, bringing what they believe to be Annie Palmer to life.

Wonderful episode.

THE WITCH:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQXmlf3Sefg

I had been looking forward to The Witch for months, having missed it in theaters.  The Witch follows a Puritan family that has been exiled from community because the father is a little too zealous, and they build a home for themselves in a clearing in the wilderness.  Unbeknownst to them that a witch lives in the woods.  The trailers were spectacular, but, sadly, they showed all of the good parts.  The Witch was very well done from an artistic point of view, so if you are into the period and want a true to form Puritanical scary story, this might be the one for you.

Personally, I started losing interest about a third of the way in.

As a side note: I don’t recommend eating salsa or, in my case, a tomato bruschetta around minute 10 – immediately after the baby is stolen by the witch (the peek-a-boo scene from the trailer).

THE PINOT:

To go with our aforementioned bruschetta, we had a tomato/mozzarella/basil salad and garlic rubbed French bread, which calls for a medium red wine.  I am always looking for a reason to drink a dry, spicy red, but you really should match your wine to the meal, so we chase a Pinot Noir.  The 2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (Sonoma County) by River Road Vineyards was a great compliment to the acidity of the tomatoes and creamy mozzarella.  I usually like my wines bolder, but the fruit-forward flavors of grape and cherry were refreshing, leading to a smooth finish of anise and molasses on the back end.  It certainly wasn’t my all-time favorite Pinot, but it was right for the meal.

Happy Halloween

CHILDREN OF THE CANDY CORN
by
BRAD P. CHRISTY

“Talk about your Twilight Zone,” said Jim to his wife, Erin, as they drove home to the two story farm house they’d just bought on the edge of town.

“I know. I can’t believe they’re already advertising Christmas stuff,” said Erin, thumbing through Halloween recipes.

“What? No, I mean, doesn’t it seem like these people take Halloween a little too seriously?”

Erin looked down both sides of the street. Yards littered with Styrofoam headstones and fake cobwebs stretched as far as the eye can see. “So they dig the holidays,” she said, going back to a recipe on making cupcakes that look like Frankenstein’s Monster. “And need I remind you that you’re the one who insisted on getting that “small town” feel.”

“Ok, well, have you seen any children?”

“It’s only 2:30. School probably doesn’t let out for another hour.”

Jim shrugged. “You’re right. Moving out here was supposed to be relaxing.”

She didn’t look up from the magazine, “Unless Ma and Pa Kettle are out to get us.”

“Brat.”

“I’m just saying,” said Erin, not looking up, but grinning.

“Maybe we should get a pumpkin,” said Erin, getting out of the car. A cold gust of wind cut through her sweatshirt. The tall stalks of corn in the field across the road rustled and swayed.

“There’re dumber ideas you could have,” called out the old man who lived in the neighboring house South of theirs. Limping their way, his overalls were covered in pumpkin guts and he had a 10-inch carving knife in one hand, a half-sculpted pumpkin in the other. There was a wad of tobacco between his gums and unshaven cheek.

The only time they’d seen him before was when he was installing bars on his windows shortly after they moved in.

“Excuse me,” said Erin.

“Howdy neighbor,” said Jim out loud.

“Are you a cowboy now,” whispered Erin.

Jim gave her a quick look then turned back to their neighbor. “Hi. Name’s Jim Reese.”

Their neighbor looked him up and down and spit tobacco on the driveway. They could smell whiskey on him before he even said a word.

“Yeah. I know your name.” He slid the knife into his front pocket, and extended his sticky hand for shaking. “Matt Brown. Call me Brownie, everyone does.”

Jim looked at Brownie’s hand, “I don’t mean to be rude, but there’s stuff on your hand.”

Brownie wiped his hand on his overalls. “Not scared of a little pumpkin, are ya? Cause if that scares ya, you’re in for a rough night.”

“What do you mean by that,” asked Erin.

Brownie spit again and nodded toward the field. “I’m not supposed to be telling you this, but they’ll be coming from old Malachi Field over there.”

The wind blew through the rows, shaking the heavy, green leaves.

“Who will be,” asked Jim.

Brownie laughed. “Children.”

Jim and Erin laughed with him, and then Brownie stopped laughing.

“Must have been about 30 years now since that fire,” said Brownie. “Oh, that’s right, you two just moved here.” He spit off to the side. “That field,” he nodded to it again, “used to be the site of the Malachi Grade School named after Mayor Malachi, who donated most of the money to build it. But, old Malachi was greedy, had the school burned down to collect the insurance on it.”

“That’s terrible,” said Erin.

“No,” said Brownie. “What’s terrible is that Mayor Malachi didn’t know it, or maybe he did, that the school had a Halloween costume dance that night. There weren’t a whole lot of survivors.

“After word got out about the mayor being involved, the town went bankrupt from lawsuits. Mayor Malachi disappeared before he could be indicted. Most folks moved away, especially when they consolidated the grade schools in Gatlin down the road.”

“Why didn’t they just rebuild the school,” asked Jim.

Brownie spit. “Would you send your kids to a school that burned down and took a generation of kids with it? Nope, the town just tore up what was left and sold off the land to a seed corn development company.”

“There must be some pretty brave kids around here to cut through the field just for candy after a story like that,” said Erin.

“Children don’t cut through there, no live ones anyhow,” said Brownie. “My guess is they’re just trying to get the Halloween they never got in 1983.”

Jim nervously laughed. “That was an awesome story, man, but we have to get inside.”

“Son,” said Brownie, “Ain’t no story. I’ve been watching the exact same kids in the exact same costumes walk these streets every Halloween for 30 years. If you want some neighborly advice, you’ll get yourself a jack o’ lantern for protection. You don’t want to wind up like Burt and Vicky.”

“Who’s Burt and Vicky,” asked Erin as a late 1970s, white Lincoln Continental slowly drove by. The elderly couple inside smiled and waved.

Brownie cleared his throat, his eyes set on the car. “Pay heed to my advice,” was all he said as he hurried back to his house, dropping the jack o’ lantern on his porch and slamming the door behind him.

Jim found himself looking out the window at the field throughout the afternoon, thinking about Brownie’s story.

“Say what you want, but we have got to have the weirdest neighbors on Earth,” said Erin, navigating around unpacked moving boxes to get to the apple slices and caramel.

Jim shook his head in agreement, “You will get no argument from me on that.”

“And the Wi-Fi out here sucks,” she said, banging her fingertips on the keyboard of her laptop. “I’ve been trying to Google anything about a school burning down for two hours. Have I mentioned that the Wi-Fi out here sucks?”

“Maybe lost souls are blocking it,” said Jim, dodging a pillow.

The doorbell rang, making them both jump.

Jim opened the door to find the elderly couple from the Lincoln Continental standing on their porch. The old woman smiled from under her bonnet. The old man, wearing a powder blue leisure suit said, “Good evening, neighbor.”

Jim looked over his shoulder, but Erin was nowhere to be seen.

“Do you have any children,” asked the old woman.

“Excuse me,” asked Jim.

The old man smiled widely, his too-white dentures glistening, “It’s Halloween. Got any kids?”

“Uh, no, we don’t,” Jim said, looking around for his wife.

“Oh, now that’s a shame,” said the old woman. “It seems the only time we get any children out here is at Halloween. So the whole town goes a little overboard,” she said. “But, it keeps the kids coming back.”

Jim raised an eyebrow, “Sorry, I’m…”

“James Reese,” interjected the old man, shaking his hand. “It’s a small town, and you’re the talk of it, my boy. We haven’t had any young folks move here for as long as I can remember. Names Hank Fowler and this is my wife, Patty.”

“I really do hate this town,” said Erin as she came out of the kitchen, still looking for a Wi-Fi hot spot.

Patty pursed her lips at Erin.

“Honey, this is Hank and Patty Fowler,” said Jim.

“We’re your neighbors on the North side,” said Hank. “We’ve been meaning to formally introduce ourselves, but Patty insisted on making her famous blueberry cobbler for you first.” Patty beamed with pride and lifted a decorative towel from the cobbler. “She won a blue ribbon for it in the county fair a few years back.”

Patty handed Erin the cobbler and a couple sacks of candy to hand out. The smell of blueberries and brown sugar filled the entry way.

“Thanks, and it’s nice meeting you both,” said Jim. “We met Brownie earlier.”

Both of the Fowlers dropped their smiles for a second. “He’s an interesting one, isn’t he,” said Hank.

“You can say that again,” said Erin, hovering over the cobbler.

“Yeah,” said Jim. “He told us a story about the Malachi Grade School that used to be where that field is now.”

Hank laughed, Patty did not. “Did he now? And I suppose he gave you some cockamamie story of ghost children and curses.”

Jim and Erin looked at each other.

“The truth is there was a school that burned down so the mayor could get the insurance money, and the town did go bankrupt,” said Hank.

“So there are no children that come out of the field every Halloween,” asked Erin.

“Oh, there are,” said Hank. “The town of Isaacson is either four miles away by road or a little less than a mile by foot if you cut through that field. Like Patty said, we make it worth their while.”

“Then we may have to get some more candy,” said Jim.

“Who are Buck and Vicky,” asked Erin. “Brownie mentioned them.”

The Fowlers stopped smiling. “Brownie says a lot of things,” said Hank. “They lived here before you. Nice people. Brownie likes to say they were scared off or whatnot by ghosts and ghouls.” He cleared his throat again. “But, we’ll leave the two of you to your last minute decorating.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure we’ll decorate this year. It’s getting late and we’re still unpacking,” said Erin.

Patty grabbed Erin’s hand and looked her in the eyes, “At least get a pumpkin.”

“Come along dear,” said Hank, taking Patty by the shoulders. “It was nice meeting the two of you.”

As the Fowlers walked back to their home and the sun began to set, Erin reiterated that they had the weirdest neighbors ever. The full moon rose over the corn, and cast shadows through the autumn trees. A fog rolled out from the Malachi Field to the road.

“Man that’s creepy,” said Jim, looking out the window. “You’d think it’d be too cold for fog.”

“Probably ghost children,” said Erin, nose buried in a recipe for gingerbread men that look like mummies.

“Brat,” said Jim. “I just feel bad that we don’t even have a jack o’ lantern.”

“Go borrow Brownie’s,” said Erin. “He apparently hates kids anyway.”

“I’m not going to steal someone’s pumpkin on Halloween,” said Jim.

“Sissy,” said Erin, looking out the window. “His light’s not on and that half-assed jack o’ lantern is still where he dropped it this afternoon. He might not even be home.”

Jim sighed and headed out the door, a candle and matches in his pocket. He could see his breath in the chilly air. The fog was inching over road. Brownie’s house didn’t appear to have any lights on.

A rustling came from the field. The rows thrashed back and forth. Something was coming through.

Jim whistled softly as he nonchalantly strolled over to Brownie’s porch and snatched the hacked-up pumpkin. As he entered his own yard, there was a familiar smell coming from the fog. It was the smell of smoke. Jim stopped and looked over the field as hard as he could, but didn’t see the glow of any fire.

Black silhouettes of children emerged from Malachi Field. The moon illuminated their tattered costumes and the plastic candy buckets. They shambled to the road, eyes hidden by the shadows inside their masks. The smell of smoke intensified.

Jim’s heart rate quickened and he hurried to his house.

Fog rolled across the road and up to Brownie’s porch, followed by children marching to the old man’s door. They gathered on his porch and began pounding on the door. Jim could hear Brownie yell that he had a gun from inside his house.

Chants of “trick or treat” echoed from the costumed mob. The fog circled Brownie’s house as did children.

More kids staggered from the field, following the smoke headed toward Jim. He tripped over his porch stairs; the pumpkin fell from his hands and rolled away.

Giggling children walked slowly across his lawn, hands and candy buckets extended.

Jim scrambled to the pumpkin and flipped the matchbox out of his pocket. Matchsticks scattered across the porch.

A group of slow moving children approached from the fog. Their faces didn’t appear to move, but a distant “trick or treat” echoed from them.

His back against the wall, Jim broke several matches with his shaking hands. Finally, a couple struck and flared. Children stepped onto the porch, the smell of smoke burned Jim’s eyes. He burned his fingers lighting the candle, and jammed it into the pumpkin, which he held in front of him like a shield. The fog began to recede from the porch.

The door opened beside him.

“No, Erin, run,” Jim shouted.

“Trick or treat,” said the group of kids in unison.

“Seriously,” said Erin, looking down at him. One by one, she dropped candy into the buckets.

Having gotten their candy, the kids ran and jumped off the porch, but one of them stopped and flipped up his plastic mask. The boy didn’t look like a ghost or zombie or anything Jim expected.

“Thanks, mister,” said the boy who ran to join his friends on the road.

Erin laughed at Jim, who was still huddled against the wall with his pumpkin shield, and closed the door behind her as she went back in the house.

Embarrassed, Jim got to his feet and set the jack o’ lantern on the steps. He shook his head and looked back at the trick-or-treaters. They stood in the road, staring at him. And just when he was about to say how creepy they were, they all disappeared in a cloud of smoke before his eyes.

Happy Halloween