Oct 1, 2014

Halloween Web - Shawn Robare

This is Halloween (season)!

Welcome to the first (hopefully) daily post counting down the October days til Halloween.

Let me preface the post to give you an idea where things are going this month. I thought it would be cool to shoot a few questions to the master monsters behind the Countdown to Halloween so we could get to know the brains behind the operation.

As October crept closer and closer, I started thinking I may not be able to make a post every day due to real life stuff (stupid life!). I then came up with the genius (thank you!) idea of hitting up people around the web and have them write my posts for me by answering the same questions.

Not everyone has replied yet (you know who you are!), but the ones I have gotten back so far have been a real joy to read. They've managed in one way or another to hit on a lot of the things I love about Halloween, so I hope you'll stay tuned throughout the month to see who'll stop by next. There will be a mix of Halloween Web and other posts.

Today's guest is one of the Countdown founders, Shawn Robare.

For the people that may not know you, tell us a little about yourself. 

So if anyone does know me (very unlikely unless you're related or are at my day job - Hey Daniel!) it's probably from my tenure running Branded in the 80s, a website dedicated to 80s nostalgia.  I'm also a co-host on the monthly Cult Film Club podcast, a regular 4th chair on the Nerd Lunch Podcast, and co-founder of the Countdown to Halloween.  Basically I'm just a guy who remembers what it was like to be a kid and I do my best on a daily basis to share those memories.  As far as upcoming projects, I'll be participating in the month long Halloween festivities at Branded with a 31 day celebration of my favorite film The Monster Squad. Note: You really should hit Branded in the 80s, Shawn has whipped up some rad Monster Squad trading cards!

What is the super secret origin of the Countdown?

So about 9 years ago I started my site and when the Halloween season came around I couldn't help but become transfixed and used my new soapbox to start talking about the holiday.  There were a handful of other blogs that I was reading that also seemed to be covering the holiday, folks like Kirk at Secret Fun Blog, Matt at X-Entertainment (now Dinosaur Dracula), Todd at Neato Coolville, and John Rozum.  I had a lot of fun following along with their posts, commenting back and forth and just meeting some fellow creative folks.  The next year when the holiday came around I decided to go full force and do a full 31 days straight of blogging since some of the other folks were doing the same and I ended up doing some fan art for the sites I was following the closest.  For me that was a seed of what would become the list. Like-minded bloggers were finding each other, and by 2008 John Rozum had compiled a list.  For that third year there were almost 50 participating sites, and basically we all started copying John's list and re-posting it, that was the real start to the Countdown.

After the season in the winter of 2008 I started thinking about all the work that went into trying to compile and share the list, at which point it occurred to me that it would potentially make things a whole lot easier if we created a website that was a hub, a home for the list.  So I did some research and ended up buying CountdownToHalloween.com in prep for 2009.  I sent out my idea to John Rozum and Jon Knutson (who was also helping to compile the list) and we agreed that it would be a good idea.  So I built the site on blogger and went to work designing the look and the participant banners so people could just plop one of those on their site instead of a huge blogroll of Halloweeny sites.  Fast forward a few years and we're up to around 250-300 sites participating in the Countdown each year.  John Rozum does most of the heavy lifting being the contact person for the list as well as maintaining it.  I pretty much re-design the site each year and create the new participant badges.

What do you think it is about Halloween that keeps it in our hearts as we get older?

Of all the holidays Halloween is the one that all about creativity and fun and is free of dogma.  There's a history of good food, great music, and for one day out of the year you get to masquerade as anything you want to be.  I think this speaks to the artist and the kid in all of us and as the years go by and we all get a bit older I think it's essential to stay connected to that inner child.  Oh, and horror movies.  We get to watch lots of horrors movies and no one thinks we're weird for doing it, which is a blast.

Do you have a particularly fond/funny/scary Halloween memory?

When I was three years old my mom made me a pretty awesome Superman costume.  I was a huge fan of the Christopher Reeve movie and couldn't wait to go gallivanting around the neighborhood.  While I was out my mother dressed up as a witch in some rather convincing makeup and my dad made it a point not to tell me.  So when we got back to our house and I opened the door to go inside she popped out and literally scared the pee out of me.  Best and worst Superman night ever.

Any favorite costumes from Halloweens past?

My favorite costumes were probably when I dressed up as Wolverine as a teen and for my last year trick or treating (at 16 - don't judge me!) I had a lot of fun dressing up as Riff Raff from Rocky Horror (below, right) except I couldn't afford a wig, so I wore an old fireman's helmet my uncle gave me and I pretended (as Riff Raff) that I ate the fireman and stole the helmet.


What was Halloween like in your neighborhood as a kid?

I grew up in suburban central Florida and most of my memories of Halloween are of hot muggy nights were it was near impossible to keep the greasepaint from completely running down your cheeks.  In the 80s it seems like Halloween lasted longer throughout the night than it tends to these days.  I remember trick or treating well past 10:00 in my area and it was very common to hit up two or three whole subdivisions.  I also remember dressing up as Jason a lot.  Like at least 4 years in a row...

What do you do to celebrate now, out in the real world?

For me these days my celebration is two pronged.  One part starts around the beginning of September when stores start stocking their seasonal section.  The pop culture and branding lover in me goes nuts for a month going to every store with any bit of Halloween in the area and taking pictures of absolutely everything.  At the same time I spend a decent amount of time prepping for my month-long blog celebration, scanning, writing and designing.  When October hits it's all about sitting back and watching as many horror movies as possible as well as flipping through my dog-eared copy of the Vincent Price Cookbook picking out recipes to make on the weekends.  Sure, there's nothing creepy about the dishes per se, but I love the idea that Price compiled, tested and tweaked them.

Price cookbook
Yes, I am totes jelly!
Do you have any yearly Halloween rituals?

My yearly rituals include listening to the 1978 Halloween Horrors story and sound effects album at least twice.  I also have to screen The Monster Squad and Lost Boys at least once, and I try and catch a Vincent Price film that I've never seen before.

The worst thing to get while trick or treating was Toothbrushes!
My favorite thing to get was Smarties and Banana Laffy Taffy

Where can people find you online?

I'm @smurfwreck on Twitter and Instagram, and you can find Branded in the 80s on Facebook.

A big thanks to Shawn, not only for his time and co-creating the Countdown to Halloween, but for indirectly giving me the idea to get other people to answer these questions.

Be sure to check out all the folks participating in the Countdown to Halloween, they're waiting for you!

Sep 30, 2014

Monthly Movie Recap - September 2014

A day early because tomorrow starts the annual Countdown to Halloween!

This month's flicks start off on the lower end of the scale and get better as we go along. If you feel the need to own any of these gems, clicking on the link will take you to Amazon and help support the site.

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story (2014)
I"m not going to waste a lot of keystrokes on this. If you're a Bell fan, there's probably no talking you out of watching this, but you can't say you weren't warned.

Rating: 4/10

Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)
You know a horror series is getting long in the tooth when they go urban (or to space). After the last two, I wasn't expecting much, but this one's got some good gore thanks to Screaming Mad George. Where the previous ones fell apart at the end because of the effects, this one manages to at least get into the "so bad it's good" area.

Cool: Cornthulhu! Some interesting kills
Lame: The child villain isn't sinister looking enough; If Attack of the Killer Tomatoes has taught us anything, it's that murderous plants/veggies can't be taken seriously
Rating: 5/10

Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)
And we're back to a really bad movie. I honestly don't know how they keep turning these out...or why I keep insisting to myself that I have to watch the whole series.

Cool: Naomi Watts & Karen Black
Lame: Not even a passing mention of He Who Walks in this one.
Rating: 3/10

Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror (1998)
And here the series becomes a fairly rote with teens looking to party getting hacked up. Poorly developed characters, poorly written story, poor me for making myself watch another one!

Cool: Hey look, Eva Mendes
Lame: Who would have made a much better Final Girl that the forgettable one we're given.
Rating: 4/10, at least we're back to He Who Walks, so it's a little better than the last one

Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return
Supposedly a direct sequel to the original with Isaac somehow surviving. The plot is needlessly complicated, there's lots of confusing visions and prophecy talk and worst (for me) is that they don't seem to play by the cult rules of dying at 18.

Cool: I don't think I have anything nice to say about this one
Lame: How does Isaac even have a daughter? I don't think he was even old enough in the first movie to make a baby.
Rating: 3/10, I think this one may kill the series for me. I'm skipping the next one and going right to the reboot.

Duran Duran - Unstaged (2011)
Caught this for the "one night only" theatrical showing. The band, the musical guests, and music were all fantastic. David Lynch's directing, on the other hand, has made sure I will never willingly watch this again. It's in black and white/sepia, which is fine. But I don't think there is a single frame of the film that doesn't have at least one layer of non-concert imagery over it. The imposed visuals range from WTF to laugh out loud, such as a synchronized chorus line of mostly nude Barbie dolls to another scene with someone beating a spatula on a wiener filled grill. If you watch the video above, keep your eyes on the top left screen which is showing what I saw.

Rating: 9/10 (music), 2/10 (Lynch). Overall would have visually been much better in color and void of Lynch's fever dreams.

The Specials (2000)
Never knew this movie existed until the Cult Film Club podcast covered it. It's a comedy about the day to day of being in the 6th or 7th most popular supergroup and how the members interact with each other. Low on flash but high on character.

Cool: Plenty of people you'll recognize; there are plenty of memorably funny scenes
Lame: U.S. Bill can get a little annoying
Rating: 7/10, absolutely worth a watch if you're a comic fan

The King of Arcades (2014)
A documentary following one man's dream to run a classic arcade. If you love 80s video game culture, you need to see this. It also crosses over a little into the King of Kong world.

Cool: So. Many. Video games! The dedication of the people involved is amazing. Co-Produced by Adam Goldberg (TVs "The Goldbergs") Polybius!
Lame: Seeing what has happened to some of these machines since their heyday might break your gamer heart.
Rating: 8/10

Sex Kittens Go to College (1960, uncut version)
Yes, the title makes it sound like an exploitation sleaze fest, but it's not...mostly. It's more of a sex comedy (1960s sex comedy, mind you) with a beach movie level of humor. There are two versions of it though. The uncut version that I saw has about 10 minutes of strip tease/topless dancing, which feels totally out of place. Especially since the sequence is supposed to be happening in a robot's dream!

Cool: Mamie Van Doren; Vampira has a bit part; Conway Twitty(?!); The robot Elektro (even though he doesn't do much)
Lame: What plot there is is really silly. It involves a robot that can predict winning lottery numbers and race horses, gangsters that want to steal him and a sexy new professor who isn't what she seems
Rating: 5/10, not a great movie by any stretch, but a good enough piece of fluff

Month Total
 New: 9  Rewatch: 0

Year To-Date Final Total 
New: 79 (+1 incomplete)  Rewatch: 14

Sep 29, 2014

Happy Birthday to Me

Before things get to crazy with the Countdown to Halloween in a couple days, I wanted to do a quick birthday post to show off some stuff. It's kinda braggy but it's my blog! My family and a couple friends came around to celebrate with my this weekend. We walked around Salem and then went to dinner. Nothing too exciting but it was fun and I got to finally go into Fivehands Curiosity Shoppe. That will be getting its own post in October because...well, you'll just have to stay tuned.

Guardians Cake

Usually, I have a Halloween themed cake but my wife knows me well and changed it up this year. The Milano is a separate piece that comes off the purple block that's sitting on the cake. But how cool is that decorating job they did? This was just the start of the Guardians stuff!

Guardians of the Galaxy party

The two bags are from Subway, but the rest of the stuff was from Party City. They also have invitations and balloons. I noticed that Gamora only appears on the napkins. She's not even on the table cloth which has all the other heroes on it! #WheresGamora

Anyway, here's some of the other goodies I got.

Star Wars Itty Bitties

The new Star Wars Itty Bittys from Hallmark. Vader's a little hard to see, poor choice in background on my part! Usually, these are sold individually but the ones in the box set are only available as a set. It says the box makes a backdrop if you open it up, but I may never do that. Just like all the other Itty Bittys, these are insanely cute. I'm not a fan of the way they did Artoo's legs/arms, but the rest are awesome.

Star Wars sheet music

This is something a little different for my Star Wars collection: sheet music! It's just a two page folder but I think it's pretty neat. I don't have any sheet music and it's from the 70s.

Star Wars Rebels bags

A few more kids meal bags from Subway. These are promoting the upcoming animated series Rebels on Disney XD. These are a bit smaller than the Guardians bags due to one of the corners being cut diagonally. The graphics look really sharp and they each have an image of the back as well.

Key ring

A whole bunch of keys! I'm sure I'll break these out into their own post in the future. There's a few interesting looking ones that need to be seen in more detail. Side note: Am I the only person that would get excited at getting old keys as a gift?

Spooky Groot

It's Spooky Groot! Well, ok, it's not really Groot but I thought it was funny and this is how my parents gave it to me. It has a color changing light inside of it to make him spooky.

Costume Book, Vincent Price Set

What more could you want for October? Swedish Fish, the first volume of the Vincent Price Collection on BluRay, and Halloween: Costumes and Other Treats. I forsee a couple of afternoons of Price viewing and Swedish Fish eating in my future! I haven't had a chance to read much of the book, but if the following doesn't sell you on it, nothing will...

Costume book

It's just pages and pages of old school Halloween costumes and stuff. And it's not just 70s/80s stuff, it goes back earlier in the 20th century. I think this book will have you questioning your Halloween costume choices throughout your childhood. Well, if you're around my age anyway...

That about wraps it up. I did get a few more Guardians goodies early this morning so I didn't have time to take pics. Among the things were a Rocket Raccoon lanyard, a pair of gigantic movie theater cups with character toppers, and a Tervis tumbler.

Sep 26, 2014

September 2014 Loot Crate - Galactic

I always look forward to getting Loot Crate every month, but I don't think I've been as excited for an overall theme since my first Crate, Arcade way back in April of 2013. Especially intriguing was the tease that we'd be getting another Funko exclusive item.

Loot Crate - Minimag

As usual, we'll start off with the mini-mag. I love the cover, calling back to the end of Empire Strikes Back and featuring all the properties in the Crate this month.

Like the Crate itself, this month's mini-mag is Firefly heavy. There's a spread on some of the iconic things from the series like Mal's coat, Jayne's hat, and Wash's dinosaurs. The main article is about their new 15 minute short based on Firefly called The Verse.
You can see that right here.

Loot Crate - Box

Another stellar (pun...intended? I'm not sure.) interior box design with some fun details. It's no accident that it resembles the deck of the Sulaco from Aliens. You can even see a Weyland-Yutani crate on the right. And if you squint (or click on the pic for larger view) you can see R2-D2 in the back left. But who's that in the foreground, you ask?

Loot Crate - Alien & Mal

Why it's our Funko exclusive Science Fiction Mystery Mini: Captain Mal from Firefly! Yes, it's a "Mystery" Mini but the box has a Loot Crate logo and sports rifle-toting Mal front and center. The retail series also has Mal, but that one is pistol packin. So the only place you can get this figure is from Loot Crate. Funko has another winning series on its hands with these SciFi ones. Can't wait to get more!

The other Funko item we got was an Alien ReAction figure. Not everyone got the same figure but from the posts I've seen, a lot more people seem to have gotten the xenomorph than any other figure. My wife's Crate had Spacesuit Kane. This is my first ReAction and I know I'll open it eventually but I just can't right now. It looks so glorious on card and it's unpunched to boot. The xeno has a tiny lever so you can extend/retract his inner jaws and he also has a glow in the dark noggin!

Loot Crate - Firefly credits

Speaking of Firefly, we also got some beautiful prop replica credits. There's a few in each denomination, 100 and 500. I'm not a huge Firefly fan but I do love some prop replicas. I've seen other Looters framing them. They really are that nice to look at!

Loot Crate - Tribble

From another galaxy came this exclusive tribble. (And yet, I'm talking like Yoda.) The packaging says on it that this specific coloring and package were made just for Loot Crate. It also suggests keeping it away from Klingons! Always good advice. It's not too big (see last photo for scale) so you'll need more than a few if you want to bury yourself in them.

Loot Crate - Star Wars poster & magnet

Out of all the franchises teased for this month, I was most excited for Star Wars. But I was a little disappointed.The first item is a frozen Han Solo poster that's 9" x 27". I don't know if I have the space to display it properly but it's probably as close as I'll ever get to having a real carbonite block hanging on my wall. The other thing is a cool Asteroids/Empire Strikes Back mashup magnet. There's a better view coming up...

Loot Crate - Halo, Star Wars magnet

You can see the magnet better here with the Falcon flying through an Asteroids field being chased by a Star Destroyer, TIE Fighters, and a space slug! The slug is really what makes this so awesome. There's also a redeemable code for a free Halo comic from Dark Horse and Pop Rocks! I love when they toss in random candy.

Overall, I think they did a great job this month and yet the Star Wars fan in me is a little let down. I know they can't please everyone all the time, and I've seen the messages to prove it. I'd be happier if they gave us one Firefly thing and combined the Star Wars items to make one really cool Star Wars thing. Such is the Way of the Crate: if you can't find at least one thing you like, there's always next month.

If you want to get this kind of geeky stuff sent to your door every month, head over to Loot Crate and use code AEIOUWHY for 10% your entire order. Because just getting it for one month isn't a good gauge, as you can see from past posts.

Loot Crate - Mal vs Tribble
That's one big tribble!
Loot Crate provides this merchandise in exchange for review/promotion.

Loot Crate - Mal closeup

Sep 24, 2014

Hunting Halloween Hot Wheels

Do you live near a Kroger? 
I'm putting a call out to my fellow toy collectors around the blogosphere for help.

Kroger stores have five exclusive Halloween Hot Wheels again this year and of course, the closest store is 100+ miles away from me. 

Hot Wheels Collectors News has images of the exclusives. 
One of  them is a new Ecto-1 repaint!

If you find these at your Kroger, I would appreciate it beyond words if you could pick me up a set (and maybe an extra Ecto). I can't offer a lot beyond cost and shipping but you can be sure I'll put together a small Trick or Treat package for you.

Hot Wheels also has some new General Mills cereal releases in their Pop Culture line which may be of interest to Halloween fiends. These aren't store specific.

Hot Wheels seems to have all but given up on putting any effort into the annual Target Halloween packs. There was a time when I was excited to find these in stores every year but now...meh. They've reduced down to a four car pack and the cars range from "yeah it could be Halloween" to "yup, it's a car" in theme. Another plus for the Kroger exclusives is that those cars have a small Hot Wheels pumpkin logo on them to make them Halloween specific.

Here's this year's Target pack:

The two most Halloweenie cars (middle) are repacks from the Monster Mission 5 Pack. Which works out to one more car for about the same price. So if you want those, I'd suggest looking for that 5 pack because you'd also get the funky Piranha Terror car. The box art is appropriately spooky and fun, if only they could do cars to match.


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