Thursday, October 29, 2015

Waiting for October or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Be a Halloweenie

There's only two days until Halloween.

This is both terribly exciting and absolutely gut-wrenching, like mixing candy bars and razor blades, pumpkin spice with anything. Two months spent in anticipation of a single day. Counting down entire weeks while absorbing every spooky movie possible and plenty of sugary sweets. Everything is spider webs, candy corn and trees ablaze with orange and red.

At least that's the idea.

I can't believe there's only a couple more days left, because it feels like I've barely begun to celebrate the season. Sure, yes, I've been watching essential seasonal cinema like Ghoulies II (1988) and Addams Family Values (1993), but it doesn't feel enough. There were big plans to post more content here, covering everything from vampire rabbits to shark-based board games. Maybe there would be an appearance by Dr. Phibes, too.

None of that happened, though. Becoming an adult, something I've avoided for years and years now, has absolutely been kicking my ass lately. Long work days that turned into naps when I got home. Too drained to attempt writing anything that celebrated my supposedly favorite holiday. Worrying about getting the bills paid when I should have been splurging on boxes of Count Chocula. No way for me to stay up late watching AMC's FearFest when I have to be up early the next morning to start the whole cycle over again.

Even the weather betrayed me; the first half of the month was unseasonably warm, nowhere near the hoodie-appropriate temperatures I craved. The leaves refusing to turn, to fall, until about a week ago. There were only a handful of days that were perfect, gloomy and cool, and they were spent inside at work. A retail hell that was already casting aside pumpkins and skeletons for Christmas decor and candy canes. It had become unbearable, nearly annihilating my love for this time of year, and especially this holiday.

Dire straits, indeed.

With only these final few days remaining, I've decided to do my best to salvage them. I'm not going to force things, though, instead indulging in the sort of stuff that should jump-start my blackened heart. Bringing me back from the verge of death like Frankenstein's Monster or Bud the C.H.U.D.

And we're gonna start with The Adventures of Pete & Pete.

Originally airing as a series of shorts on Nickelodeon starting in 1989, Pete & Pete would eventually evolve into a half-hour program that ran for three season (1993 to 1996). It followed the daily exploits of two brothers, Big Pete (Mike Maronna) and Little Pete (Danny Tamberelli), in the town of Wellsville, a seemingly normal suburb that was home to a variety of bizarre characters. The show was a unique blend of day-to-day living with absurd situations, and it appealed to its audience with its lo-fi sensibilities and the inclusion of several notable "indie" bands from the era, including The Magnetic Fields, Apples in Stereo and Drop Nineteens.

For me, living in the suburbs just south of Boston, Pete & Pete perfectly encapsulated what it was like to grow up in a small-town. Those gorgeous summer days spent outdoors, long bike-rides with your friends, Little League baseball games that ended with a trip to the local ice-cream stand for a treat. And, of course, Halloween. When you'd gather together with your siblings and friends, to trek from one neighborhood to the next, trying to score as many fun-size Three Musketeers as humanly possible.

In the season two episode, "Halloweenie", the Petes find themselves at odds when it comes to a spooktacular night of trick-or-treating. Big Pete believes he's too old to don a mask and go door-to-door with his kid brother in search of candy. He's terrified of being caught by his peers, where he'll be deemed a "Halloweenie" by classmates and left to a fate worse than death. Jaded with the holiday, he's even tempted to destroy a jack-o'-lantern. Driven to madness by this overwhelming urge, Big Pete smashes the pumpkin and breaks one of Halloween's cardinal rules. It appears he may be destined, doomed perhaps, to join The Pumpkin Eaters, a gang of mischievous youths hellbent on ending Halloween once and for all.

Meanwhile, Little Pete is obsessed with breaking The Record -- visiting the most houses in one night of trick-or-treating -- an act that will make him a legend. The task might prove impossible, however, when his best-friend, Nona (Michelle Trachtenberg), is forbidden to go out by her father [who's, uh, portrayed by Iggy Pop in one of his several appearances on the show]. Little Pete's only chance to attain immortality is to appeal to his older brother, convincing him to throw on a costume one last time in the name of All Hallow's Eve.

With the entire fate of Halloween now resting on their shoulders, the two brothers are forced to confront the horrors of "Endless" Mike Hellstrom (Rick Gomez) and The Pumpkin Eaters. And Big Pete, much like myself, must learn to embrace the youthful exuberance he'd nearly forgotten and love a holiday dedicated to ghosts, ghouls and mini Snickers bars.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Total Tremors Tuesday

October should be spent surrounded by creatures and spirits. I've done a pretty good job so far of doing just that, cramming at least one Halloween-appropriate flick into each day. The month started with giant naked ghouls hellbent on devouring mankind [Attack on Titan  (2015)], and has since featured alien drug-dealers, cannibals, and half-man/half-fly hybrids. All perfectly macabre viewing material, paired with plenty of treats and the occasional group of friends. With the first week of my favorite season nearly at its end, seemingly passing by far too quickly, I have to pause in order to appreciate something really special.

The return of the Graboids.

Today marks the release of Tremors 5: Bloodlines, the latest installment of the Tremors franchise, and the first sequel in over ten years. I'd only recently become aware of the film's existence thanks to a trailer someone had posted a couple months back. Still, the last few weeks were spent wild with anticipation, counting down the days like it was the second coming of Christ or a new Star Wars movie or something. I grew up a huge fan of the original Tremors (1990); it was one of those oddball horror flicks that my dad couldn't wait to share with me. And since my teens were spent haunting the local video store, there were plenty of days spent familiarizing myself with the first sequel, Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996). A couple more sequels and a short-lived television series later, and it was safe to declare myself in love with the entire franchise.

Returning alongside the Graboids is Michael Gross, reprising his role of gun-crazy "monster hunter" Burt Gummer. What started as a secondary role in the first two Tremors, Gross has since become the backbone of the entire franchise, appearing in all five films [he played Burt's ancestor, Hiram Gummer, in the 2004 prequel, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins], as well as every episode of the TV series. It's his performance as Burt that elevates even the weakest entry, and it saves Tremors 5 from being just another CG-heavy monster movie.

The plot this time around finds Burt and his latest sidekick, Travis Welker [Jamie Kennedy], traveling to South Africa to deal with a sudden "ass-blaster" infestation at a wild-life preserve. Despite their constant bickering, the two must work together when they instead discover a mutant strain of Graboids that prove more a challenge than even the veteran monster-hunter had been anticipating. There are a few random twists along the way, as well as a handful of homages and one hilarious call-back to the original Tremors that I absolutely loved.

The end result is a serviceable addition to the franchise mythos, but there's little there that's note-worthy outside of Michael Gross' performance. Jamie Kennedy adds almost nothing to the proceedings, and I'd much rather have seen some familiar faces from the series' twenty-five year history in his place. While it's unlikely that Kevin Bacon will ever return as Val, it probably wouldn't have been too difficult to wrangle either Christopher Gartin [Grady Hoover from Part II] or Shawn Christian [Jack Sawyer in Part III] into making appearances.

Hell, I would have settled for a cameo from Melvin.