Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Midnight Syndicate's Christmas Album!

Many musical acts have tried their hand at making "dark" Christmas albums, with varying degrees of success. In most cases, this consists of taking Christmas standards and playing them at a slower tempo, in a lower key to create a "creepy" feeling. There is nothing wrong with this, per se, but it usually just feels like the artist in question is trying to put a Halloween-type spin on Christmas carols. It was, with this thought in mind, that I came into the newest Midnight Syndicate release, Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering, with some trepidation. Now, longtime readers will know that I've hailed the Syndicate's previous releases as masterpieces. Their Halloween "soundtracks" are truly wonderful, each telling a story of foreboding and fear that truly fits the Haunted season. It was my love of their previous albums that made me take the plunge and buy this album, but I was a bit concerned that it would be another collection of down-tempo Christmas songs that just gloomed up the Yule season. The first track, "Christmas Overture", seemed to confirm that this was the direction the album would go in, providing a medley of classic carols done in a distorted, eerie style. Fortunately, this was the LAST time the album would prove predictable, as it quickly shifted gears. The duo of Edward Douglas and Gavin Goska decided to get the expected out of the way in the beginning, and moved to crafting something truly magical for the remainder of the songs!

Midnight Syndicate have not forgotten that, prior to Halloween becoming the holiday it is today, the Yule season was originally one in which ghost stories were told by firelight. Most modern audiences know Dicken's classic A Christmas Carol, but many aren't aware that this story was one that was in a long tradition of Spectral tales told at Christmastime. Seeing as how so much of these herald from Victorian and Edwardian traditions, and Midnight Syndicate have drawn from those time periods for much of their inspiration, it should come as no surprise to see them exploring those themes here. What sets Christmas: A Ghostly Gathering apart from other "dark" Christmas offerings, is that Goska and Douglas don't try to add a Halloween flavor to Yuletide tunes at all, but instead plumb the rich history of the 19th century Christmas Ghost Story genre. This is a Christmas album, through and through, not a Halloween disc in a Santa suit. The tunes aren't intentionally darkened, but naturally have a nighttime hue that comes through sonically. There is a purely enchanting, joyous and (dare I say it) merry element that invokes a feeling of mystery, while still warming the soul. It's the musical equivalent of looking out the window onto a cold winter's night, while curled up next to a fireplace.

The tunes that comprise this album are a mixture of Seasonal standards and original compositions, but they all flow together organically. The original tracks are a delight, as they evoke images of impish mischief ("Night of the Krampus", "Little Helpers") or of the majesty and power of winter ("Winter Storm", "Into the Stillness"). The classic tunes are all recognizable, yet sport fresh arrangements that make them seem bold and new. You've heard "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies" a thousand times, but I promise you've never heard it quite in the way it's presented here. This album is consistent in its themes, yet encompasses the Yuletide's various facets in a truly beautiful way. The album closer, "Christmas at Midnight", is simply enchanting, and wouldn't sound out of place alongside such staples as "Silent Night" or "Auld Lang Syne".

For those who crave Christmas music that isn't the typical fare, but also are tired of the usual "dark" holiday interpretations, give this release a listen. Once again, Midnight Syndicate have proven that they are more than just a novelty act, but actually damned good musicians with an ear towards composition. This disc will be in rotation in my Holiday playlists as much as their regular releases are during October!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween 2015 Wrap-up

Alas, my favorite night of the year has passed, and now begins the long trek to Halloween 2016. A part of me always feels excited about the prospect of planning the next year's festivities, while another warns about getting too far ahead of myself. Being that a large component of Halloween is honoring the dead, while also thumbing your nose at death itself, it always occurs to me that nothing is guaranteed in life. The transitory nature of life itself is something that has to be taken into account, and there is no promise of tomorrow for any of us. Of course, isn't that largely the whole POINT of Halloween? Seizing the moment, and reveling in being alive are, to me, a large part of what makes the High Holiday so wonderful. Facing our fears, overcoming the fear of death itself...these are the things that make it all so wonderful.

Early on, I knew that this would be a very different Halloween for me. Having been out of work earlier in the year, and thus having to relocate, meant that some constraints were going to be put on the overall plans. Having my daughter away at college, and my son at an age where he is far more concerned about what plans his friends have for the Night, also contributed to this year being a major departure. Truth to tell, since so much of 2015 has been fraught with disappointment and frustration, I half-expected some sort of disaster to befall us. Rain was also in the forecast, with most of the morning and early afternoon being rather soggy. I had put up some of the yard decorations, but not all, because I just didn't have the time. The inside of the house was left undecorated, since there was little point with many of our possessions still in boxes. Facing all this, I just decided it would be best to roll with it & embrace the differences. I'm glad I did!

The early part of the day, I was drafted by my niece and her husband to put in an appearance at their comic shop. 8th Dimension Comics & Games is Houston's premier comic shop, and they were hosting "Halloween Comic Fest" in the store. They had all sorts of freebies and goodies for kids and adults alike, and they asked me to come in as my Count Baklava character to preside over the fun. The Count is a horror host type character that I came up with when I was asked several years ago to MC a Halloween carnival. He's always fun to perform as, and he usually gets a really good reaction from the audience. Kids, especially, seem to find him enjoyable, and I had a couple of them who seemed to really get a kick out of his antics.

Afterwards, I had to rush home to put the final touches on the yard haunt. Thankfully, the rain subsided by late afternoon, with only mild sprinkles cropping up now and then. One downside was that all attempts to find the various remotes needed to run the projection system were fruitless, so we had to forego this aspect for 2015. Fortunately, this was balanced out by our fog effect looking better than ever this year! I made the switch to Froggy's Fog last year, and it made a huge difference. Something about the placement of the fogger in the bushes at the new place really enhanced this effect further, so it wasn't so bad having the projector out of commission this time around. In many ways, this year seemed like a "trial run" with the new house, and if all goes well we'll easily top the expectations come next year with the elements we were forced to skip this time around.

While we didn't have a whole lot of guests over, two of my best friends stopped by, one bringing his wife & daughter along. His daughter is my honorary niece, with me getting an "Uncle" title for her before she was even born. Having come to my house for every Halloween since she was in the womb, she has long grown accustomed to my spooky costumes and decor, and thus has no fear whatsoever!

Your's truly with my niece!

As the evening progressed, and the traffic of Trick-or-treaters subsided, my other buddy and I headed out to a concert. I normally don't take in concerts on Halloween, but this being a different kind of year...well, it just seemed right! Adding in that one of my ABSOLUTE favorite bands on the planet, Calabrese, was set to appear...well, I couldn't resist. The headliner was Doyle, the solo project for the legendary Misfits guitarist, so it was like the show was tailor-made for me! As always, both bands put on an incredible show, and the Calabrese boys hung around to meet and greet the fans. Those of us who follow this band are rather zealous with our fandom, and tend to go to every show we can, so as a result many of us have gotten to know each other and become friends. Even better, the band themselves tend to remember us, so every show is like a party with friends!

"Butcher" Baker, Bobby Calabrese, Yours Truly, Davey Calabrese & Jimmy Calabrese

Partying with the World's Greatest Horror Rock Band!

The Reaper approves of his likeness being used on Calabrese merch!

Really, you couldn't ask for a better show on a Halloween night! For me, it was all about good friends and damned good music. Sometimes, things going a bit differently than the norm is a REALLY fantastic thing!

At the end of the night, when I had shed my costume, hanging with Davey Calabrese and Brandon Strate from Doyle

Friday, October 30, 2015

Almost Halloween...

Well folks, we're in the home stretch here. Naturally, I didn't blog half as much as I intended during the Samhain Season, but's been a pretty crappy year all the way surprise that the Haunting season has been incredibly hectic and exhausting as well. The move is, of course, a large part of the problem. We're still living out of boxes, and finding things has been quite a chore (as of this writing, I still haven't found the remotes to work the projection system, so I may not be using it this year). *sigh* Such is life, eh? The seemingly eternal mantra of "well, maybe next year" is being chanted once again in the House of Haunted Gill.

Still, I DID get some decorations up in the front yard, and I'll hopefully have those pics up in the near future. The yard haunt is stripped down, and I went for a decidedly "old school" vibe with it. The forecast is calling for ridiculous amounts of rain, so it may be that it really isn't seen by many this year...but what can you do? The good news about all this is my neighbors seem really down with it all! I was out one night setting up, and had many different folks come by and introduce themselves to me, and all were very complimentary. One individual I spotted coming from the house across and catty corner to us, on the cross street. My first thought was "uh oh", because their house was adorned with many different religious signs and what-not. I thought, for sure, that I was about to have a "holy roller" come over to preach about the "evils" of Halloween. Thankfully, this wasn't the case at all! Turns out, these folks were extremely excited by my display! The husband is a former opera singer, and is heavily involved in local theatrical productions, so he was completely on board! A short while later, his wife joined us, and she likewise gushed about how happy she was to have another theatrical person in the neighborhood!

The only thing close to a "negative" reaction came from an older lady...who expressed disappointment when I told her that I don't do a Christmas display that is quite as elaborate! I asked her if she wouldn't mind seeing a full-on Grinch display one day, which she seemed to get a kick out of, so it wasn't too terribly big of a let-down for her (and I really do want to make a display based on the classic Chuck Jones adaptation of the Grinch...that wasn't just me trying to placate her). So, it's the good with the bad, as always. We've certainly had our share of bad, but since life has given us lemons we're carving those suckers into little, yellow Jack O' Lanterns!

So, a most Happy Hallowe'en to one and all! I hope your Night is filled with lots of spooky goodness!

Friday, October 16, 2015


With the move to the new abode, Halloween decorating has been a rushed affair, to say the least. In fact, I've only done some of the yard haunt, and am forced to skip the interior altogether this year. It's sad, but necessary, considering that most of our belongings are in boxes. Heck, I wouldn't even know where most of those decorations are at this point!

Fortunately, my outdoor decorations are primarily stored together, with all of the smaller pieces fitting inside my life-sized coffin. This made it rather easy, as I rolled the yard pieces directly off the truck into the back yard until I could get to them. One piece I'm rather proud of is my "life-sized" (or is that "death-sized"?) Gruesome prop! For those unfamiliar, Gruesome is a character created by the amazing Eric Pigors of ToxicToons, who got his own amazing mask produced by Trick Or Treat Studios a few years back. I began work on the prop last year, and he was briefly featured in the yard haunt then, but he needed a lot more work. While I still need to do some tinkering with him after Halloween, I decided he looked good enough to take a spot near the graveyard this year.

Unfortunately, I only have a crappy iPhone 4s camera, so my pics aren't the greatest (plus, I need to do some playing around with the lighting for the haunt before the big night). Anyway, here's what he looks like as of this moment:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Win I Win the Lotto...

...I will be buying EVERYTHING I can from Fright Rags! Check out the latest offerings, going on sale October 21st! An entire collection of Trick r Treat inspired shirts!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Farewell to the House of Haunted Gill

Well, the time is almost upon us. This weekend will be the one where we relocate to a new home, bidding farewell to our previous haunt. I've honestly loved this house, and it is with a heavy heart that I must leave it. In the end, the house is only a physical object, and I know we'll have fun cooking up new ideas to add ghoulish touches to our new home.

Here are a few pics from Halloweens past (some of which have been published before):

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Krampus - Official Trailer

As anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows, I'm a big fan of the Krampus legend. When word hit that Mike Dougherty of Trick 'r Treat fame would next be making a film of my favorite Christmas monster, I was thrilled! Now, the trailer for the film has hit...and I find myself actually looking forward to the Yule season for a change!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Rest in Peace, Wes Craven

I was very sad to hear the news of Wes Craven's passing last night. A true master of the genre has been lost

Thank you for the nightmares, Mr. Craven. You will be truly missed

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

ScareHouse - The Ultimate Haunted House [HD]

Here's another haunt I must add to my Halloween bucket list! These folks have teamed with Legendary Pictures to really make a fantastic attraction. Love the fact that Sam from Trick 'r Treat is included!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ghost - Cirice (Official Music Video)

While I eventually plan to feature Swedish rock band Ghost in my long-delayed "Sounds of the Season" series, I figured I should at least spotlight their newest video. I love the tongue-in-cheek approach they take, and this video is possibly the finest example of it. The combination of Satanic imagery, 70's b-movie trappings, and...well...I won't say any more...just check out this great video!

New Halloween Tree!

I'm a huge fan of Ray Bradbury, most especially his incredible tale The Halloween Tree. It should come as no surprise that I'm extremely thrilled to hear news of a new edition of said tale...with new illustrations by the amazing Gris Grimly!

Here's a link to read all about it, over at one of my fave websites, The Cult of the Great Pumpkin:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Bad Years's been an interesting couple of years. By "interesting", I actually mean "fairly shitty", but I don't want to seem overly negative. But yeah, for the most part 2014 & 2015 sucked monkey balls. The most recent in the long, ongoing cavalcade of crap was me losing my job due to a huge corporate layoff. This led to five months of unemployment, with me only recently finding a decent job. It's been rough, with the loss in income leading to us putting our house on the market. Even having a new job, there is no way to escape the inexorable pull of the financial black hole. In order to escape this event horizon, we had to jettison some weight...which means our house.

Now, I know this is all coming across as me being a giant downer, griping about his ill fortune. I really don't mean to at all. We'll survive, and there are certainly folks who have it far worse than we do. We'll move into a smaller home, whereas many people will NEVER have a house at all. Compared to what many people go through everyday in this world of ours, the problems my family has faced are minor by far. In fact, I see many of these misfortunes to be blessings in disguise. It occurs to me that a new house, even if it's smaller, is a new opportunity to haunt! Just in time for the Halloween season, we should be moving in the very near future. Time to load up the hearse and find a new place to creep out! Here's hoping we don't have uptight neighbors with strong religious objections or something!

Still trying to convince the wife we need a place like this:

Anyway, I know I go months and months now without a blog entry, and I always say I'm going to try to get back in the swing of it. Well, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I DO plan on getting back to blogging soon! No, really! I mean it this time!! Why are you laughing???