Archive for October, 2013

Due to time constraints this year, I scaled down my Halloween party food plans to basic quick and easy offerings – classic recipes with a twist in the presentation to fit the season.  Here are a few simple ideas to turn cheese, meat or fruit trays and dips into themed fare.

meatheadMeathead: This was the second year for the meathead platter.  I cheated and used a skull I had, wrapped it in foil and then smeared cream cheese on it to hold the ham and pimento stuffed olive eyes in place.  But, you could also form your skull out of any cheese ball recipe you prefer.  This year I bought Italian ham instead of the regular cooked ham used in the past.  The extra marbling in the meat really set off the sculpture.

eyesEyeballs:  These are the best looking eyeballs I’ve found to date that actually taste decent.  I saw marinated mozzerella balls used for eyes last year on Divine Dinner Party but really liked the addition of Prusciutto di Parma I found later from Nadia G’s Bitchin’ Kitchen.  The outer layer of meat really seemed to set them off.  Next year I may spend a bit more time and use black olives for the pupils. But, there is no easier eatable pupil/iris combo than a stuffed olive – I used them for years when the kids were young to turn spaghetti and meatballs into worms and eyeballs.  I also add them to deviled eggs for cows eyes.  I didn’t actually make Nadia G’s blood sauce, nor did I make the marinade from Divine Dinner Party.  I merely bought marinated mozzarella balls and added the olive and meat wrap.  Done!

cheeseCheese Graves: The cheese tray was created by simply using some Halloween tombstone cookie cutters on various types of cheeses.  This picture unfortunately does not show off the brie coffins behind the first row of tombstones.

Dips &  Chips: Finally, what party is complete without a variety of chips and dips?  For these you can use your favorite recipes and serve them in Halloween dishware or you can add black or orange food coloring.  Scissors or cookie cutters can be used to cut tortilla shells into bone shapes for dipping.  These can be fried or baked and can be made with either flour or corn tortillas.


Homemade or store bought guacamole (or any chunky dip) can be displayed with a mini pumpkin to look like vomit.  Or any cheese ball could be rolled in black sesame seeds.  The one below is a putrid log made from cream cheese and blue cheese.


Other tips would include serving dip in a witch’s cauldron made from a hollowed out round rye bread loaf or adding a bit of tonic water to dip to make it glow under black light.  Labels can also help add to the theme.  You could call your deviled eggs trolls eyes or add black food coloring to your chicken wing sauce and call it bat wings.   So there’s no need to find brand new recipes if you just give some thought to a slight twist on your old standbys.


I wanted to add a few new things for my Halloween party this year, but find myself out of time and money.  While watching I Walked With A Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943) I was struck with a solution.  It’s really a wonderfully spooky film from back when zombies were living humans whose will was controlled by Voodoo rather than being reanimated corpses a la Romero.  I saw an interview once where George Romero expressed dismay in having effected that change, saying it was never his intention for that to happen as he loved zombie films.  He never called his living dead zombies, the fans dubbed them so.  I agree it’s a shame.

Anyway, the sequence in the film where the afflicted woman is lead by her nurse to a Voodoo ceremony is fascinating.  It contains the iconic scene with the animal hanging from a tree.  But, just as effective are several other settings they pass, including a gourd hanging from a tree, simple wood structures surround by cane stalks and a skull encircled by rocks.  How easy to duplicate!

Not surprisingly, my next thought was of the stick people hanging in the trees in The Blair Witch Project.  Not a favorite movie of mine, but still those have become such iconic horror symbols and the movie plays an important role in film history; So, I’m fine with paying it homage in my displays.  It also contained the bundle of sticks with the missing friends teeth wrapped inside.

What could be easier (and cheaper) to create!  I don’t think it matters if people recognize the nods in my displays, as they are in the films because the creators felt they would be creepy.  Turns out, this theory works.  My 17 year old, who has not seen I Walked With A Zombie, came home yesterday saying she loved the new “skull rock thing” in the flower bed.  So, there you go.

Now if I really get industrious, I’ll build a wicker man!

Derivative works also have endless possibilities.  While searching for images for this post I ran across these Blair Witch inspired scarecrows on The Haunting Grounds.

Just goes to show how keeping it simple can sometimes be very effective.

DSC03005One inexpensive, quick way I’ve discovered to add some interesting details to my Halloween decor is using printables from bloggers and other sites.  This year I have printed a variety of items including: signs, silhouettes, photographs, business cards, paper dolls and labels.  Some I just use for ideas to create my own, some are available for purchase and some are given as free gifts by the designers.  I never understood the draw of Pinterest until I discovered all the Halloween project ideas on it.  Visit my Pinterest boards for a variety of ideas –

LABELS: The first printables that caught my eye were potion labels.  I had previously been collecting oddities to put in jars and have longer term plans for a full witches kitchen and laboratory scene.  My early plans centered around various items that looked cool or glowed in the dark.  Tonic water for example can be used as the “preserving solution” for brains and other body parts and the liquid will glow under a black light.  Tide detergent also glows under black light.  So I started collecting little  dollar store items from the party favors sections like mini skulls, brains, worms, spiders etc.  Then, I found many cool printables, so now I find the label I like best and then look for an items that fits it.  I’ve also collected a variety of jar decorating ideas to enhance these knick knacks.  Pictured is one bloggers jar created for Dracula’s ashes.  It is embellished with a variety of trinkets and treatments.

PHOTOGRAPHS: There are a variety of photographs available online in the public domain or under Creative Commons licensing that make them free for personal use.  I plan to print them and create cool frames to mix them in with family portraits.  I already have a collection of store bought holographic portraits on my walls and I would like to cut off the plastic frames and put them in nicer frames to display along with the others I’ve printed as well as create zombified versions of my family photos (more on that in another post).  I’m partial to Victorian special effects photography like the headless photos that can be found online. You can also find photographs of families posed with deceased family members.  The movie The Others features a book of this type of photographs which were popular in those days and are still common in some cultures.

PAPER DOLLS: While looking for photos, I ran across several artists who created paper dolls which can be printed for free or purchased. I particularly love the Vincent Price articulated paper doll by Mellisa Kojima which can be found here as a free printable- or go to for a free download of a traditional paperdoll of a boy with various Halloween costumes by Blair Sayer.

SIGNS: You can find a wide variety of signs to print or create on poster board or purchase metal or paper versions.  Zombies are in vogue these days thanks to The Walking Dead and the “Zombie Crossing” signs are some of my favorites – Get high resolution printable size here –   There is also a cool artwork and instructions for a free beware of Frankenstein’s monster sign here –

 Silhouettes & Business Cards: I love horror movies, so this year I am adding some nods to some classics with a tray of business cards as well as some iconic silhouettes for the outside walls of my house and garage.  The business cards include personal cards for Norman Bates (Psycho), Captain Quinn (Jaws) and Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) as well as some general businesses like Elite Hunting (Hostel) and Ghostbusters.  For outdoors I’ve found several shadows to be cut out of landscaping material to hang on outside walls such as Nosferatu and the preacher from Night of the Hunter.  

There are a variety of other printables you can add to your collection including templates for invitations, placeholders, food identification cards or games like the puzzle box from Hellraiser.  Let me know in the comments any other ideas you may have for using printables to add detail to Halloween displays.

There are few villains in horror that pack the punch of little 8 year old Rhoda Penmark in The Bad Seed.  Rhoda instantly solidified my love for what remains one of my favorite subgenres – children that kill. And, she has never been dethroned as the quintessential model for all those that have followed. Played by Patty McCormack, who was more recently seen as Pat Nixon in Frost/Nixon, Rhoda is a disturbing mix of perfect etiquette, grooming and intelligence with a vicious determination to get whatever pleases her with no regard for even the most basic human compassion.

Rhoda, herself is at times perplexed by what makes her different from those around her.  A victim of genetics, hopelessly detached from the human condition, she struggles to understand what keeps her mother perpetually on the verge of hysterics.  The audience learns with her mother just how deep her affliction goes when she discovers her latest victim’s medal in her trinket box and announces she will return it to the fallen child’s parents to comfort them.  Rhoda insists it would be useless, saying “Claude is dead. He wouldn’t know if he had the medal pinned on him or not.”.  Her mother tries to explain the devastation they have both just witnessed by the boy’s distraught mother and Rhoda responds by suggesting “If Claude’s parents want a little boy so much, why don’t they just get a new one at the orphanage?”

The memorable characters in The Bad Seed are actualized brilliantly by the original Broadway cast.  The use of theater folk adds to the over the top feel of the entire production.  Fans of melodramas like The Two Mrs. Carrolls, Night of the Hunter will enjoy the humor and wonder what is intentional and what is a product of an overly dramatic style of acting.

A distraught Hortense Daigle attempts to bond with Rhoda.

Case in point, Hortense Daigle, little Claude’s distraught mother played by Eileen Heckart.  She was an acclaimed theater actress who also starred in movies like Burnt Offerings and many television shows including as Mary Tyler Moore’s hardnosed reporter aunt which captured Lou Grant’s heart.  The scene mentioned above is one of the most memorable.  Hortense visits the Penmarks, three sheets to the wind in order to find some new memory of her lost son to hold on to.  What ensues is a drunken rant acknowledging her lower station in life and what her son meant to her.  Heckart earned a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress as a result of the riveting performance.

Evelyn Varden is likewise a jewel in this film, playing basically the same self indulgent, incessant talker she does in Night of the Hunter.  As Monica Breedlove, the Penmark’s landlady who adores little Rhoda, she breezes in and out chattering away and offering her armchair psychoanalysis, blind to the impending doom that surrounds her.  Her commentary and discussions with Reginald Tasker a writer friend, provide the context of the movie – the debate between nature and nurture.  While perhaps a bit over discussed for the modern viewer, the debate still rages on today and at the time these were brand new questions.  1950’s audiences were shocked by the idea that a child could ever become a criminal, much less a cold blooded murderer, especially if they grew up in a good home.

Leroy taunts an unaffected Rhoda.

Much of what we learn about Rhoda comes from her interactions with Leroy (Henry Jones), the handyman.  Leroy is one character which no doubt will be taken up a few notches if Eli Roth (Hostel) ever does his planned remake of the movie.  Several scenes hint at a much darker character than is shown on screen.  He fantasizes about Monica Breedlove’s death as well as his sexual attraction for Mrs. Penmark and he finds pleasure in taunting and scaring children.  Rhoda, who doesn’t scare easily, becomes his primary target and the two share several scenes where he repeatedly tries to rattle her.

In one, he directly accuses her of purposely harming her school mate, who was found drown at the school picnic and he tells her that the police have “stick bloodhounds” who can sniff out blood, and no matter how much someone has tried to wash it away the police have a powder that will make it glow blue.  When the confident murderess retorts that they don’t execute children, he assures her they have a little blue electric chair for little boys and a little pink one for little girls.  Our first view of Rhoda’s coldness comes whilst Leroy is taunting her for not being more effected by her classmate’s death.  As she skates off Rhoda proclaims, “Why should I feel sorry, it was Claude Daigle that got drowned, not me.”

Christine Penmark talks with Monica Breedlove

Finally, there’s the star of the show, Christine Penmark, played by Nancy Kelly.  At the movie’s opening Christine has already begun to question her idyllic life, wondering about her own origins and the “disturbing maturity” of her daughter.  While presented as the perfect daughter, wife and mother, Christine annoyingly whines her way through the movie, gesturing overdramatically with her hands.  Early on she appears to be reaching out to console, particularly Mrs. Daigle or to beg for help from her landlady and husband.  Midway through the picture she spends most of her time hugging herself as if to protect her womb.  By the end, her hands are spasming all over the place, pounding on furniture and clawing at her stomach as if to claw out the source of evil.  But, luckily for Christine, her oblivious husband will stand by her without question, no matter how extreme her actions become.

Unfortunately, The Bad Seed suffered at the hands of the Hays code which stipulated crime could not pay, particularly murder.  The ending of the book and the play before it remains intact, but a new Hollywood version is tagged on so that nature can protect itself and true love prevail.  The result is a completely implausible disappointment.

The murderess Besse Danker who is mentioned repeatedly by Reginald Tasker is said to  have been inspired by real life murderesses Belle Gunness and Jane Toppan.  Both women killed dozens, the former for money and the latter in part, for sexual gratification.  Both also inspired other characters.  The Bad Seed likewise inspired future pop culture references, such as a spoof of Hortense Daigle’s breakdown by Kenny’s mother in South Park after one of his many deaths.  The movie is also quoted in 1993’s Without Conscience,  a book by a psychologist arguing for genetic links to behavior.  According to Wikipedia, “Robert D. Hare argues that March’s novel is a ‘remarkably true to life’ portrayal of the development of psychopathy in childhood, illustrating both Rhoda’s callous use of others to serve her own ends as well as Christine’s growing helplessness and desperation as she realizes the extent of her daughter’s behavior.”

The Bad Seed was actually remade for TV in 1985 with Blair Brown as Christine Penmark, Lynn Redgrave as Monica, David Carradine as Leroy and Carrie Wells in the title role – though that time as Rachel.  The result was disappointing.

Reports in 2004 proclaimed an upcoming remake by Cabin Fever director Eli Roth.  Unfortunately Hostel became a megahit before this came to pass and he shelved it to do a sequel to Hostel.  At the time Variety quoted Roth concerning the upcoming project, “Roth promises a new take with a modern horror sensibility. ‘The original was a great psychological thriller, and we are going to bastardize and exploit it, ramping up the body counts and killings,” said Roth. “This is going to be scary, bloody fun, and we’re going to create the next horror icon, a la Freddy, Jason and Chucky. She’s this cunning, adorable kid who loves to kill, but also loves ‘N Sync.’  Also involved was Luke Janklow as producer.  He was the grandson of the 1956 director Mervin Le Roy and great grandson of Warner Brothers studio co-founder Harry Warner.

Remakes are a shaky thing, more often than not totally missing the mark and disappointing.  But, there are exceptions and Roth’s take on this classic is one that would interest me.  A good remake can have the effect of not only bringing an old story to modern audiences, but introducing them to the original as well.

Rhoda in the 21st Century.