Fall preview: Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year

Halloween 2015
There was a distinct chill in the air on Sunday morning as I plugged in my ear buds to listen to Shock Waves podcast and set out on my long run. That noticeable drop in temperature, along with the appearance of the Halloween decor at Michael’s craft store can only mean one thing — we are entering the best time of year — Halloween. For me and mine, Halloween is a 2-month endeavor, eclipsing September and October.

And, if my constant pestering of our babysitter pool is any indication, the next couple months are going to be busy. Here are a few of the events I am most looking forward to — if you’re looking for something to do, check ’em out.

Hell’s Headbash, Sept. 2-4 – The fellows from Hell’s Headbangers have an amazing lineup for this 3rd annual metal fest, and while I can’t be there for all 3 days, I’ll be there on Saturday, and my partner in life and crime will be there on Saturday and Sunday. Check it out if you like it heavy.

Me and my daughter on the Maize Valley hay ride last year.
Maize Valley Fall Festival, Sept. 10-Oct. 30 – Riding out to Maize Valley’s pumpkin patch on the hay ride and picking out pumpkins is a family tradition for us. But what really makes Maize Valley special is everything else — Megasaurus, a gigantic robotic dinosaur that crunches cars and breathes fire; the pumpkin cannon; and the corn maze. Oh yeah, and the craft beer and wine we can sample while we chase after our kids.

Riot Fest in Chicago, Sept. 16-18 – My heart skipped a beat when I saw that a reunion of the original Misfits lineup was happening. Talk about something I thought would never happen — Jerry Only and Glenn Danzig sharing a stage for the first time in 30 years. And while I would go for this alone, the rest of the lineup is pretty great — notably, Rob Zombie playing White Zombie’s “Astro Creep 2000,” Ween, Sleater Kinney, Dee Snider and more.

Did I mention I run?
Akron Marathon, Sept. 24 – I’m running my first full marathon this year. It’s been a long few months training for the race, and I’ve missed my long-run-free weekends of eating Taco Bell, watching late-night horror movies and drinking beer. I’m ready to do this! The race is a great event that showcases the best of Akron while raising money for Akron Children’s Hospital.

Haunted Schoolhouse and Laboratory, Sept. 30 – Oct. 30 – I love haunted houses, and this one (voted one of the best in the U.S.) is on my list every year. In fact, the only year in recent memory that I missed was the year I was pregnant with my daughter — I didn’t want a jump scare to cause an early labor.

Meeting the guests at Cinema Wasteland is a highlight of the season. Here we are with the star of “Street Trash.”
Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo, Sept. 30-Oct. 2 – Hands-down the best grindhouse/horror/cult film convention around. This isn’t your mainstream, star-studded show with super long lines and high ticket prices; it’s a show for fans. This time around, the organizers have put together an Evil Dead reunion, as well as a host of other great guests and flicks. Check out my post from the Spring 2016 show to get an idea of what it’s all about.

I was Tank Girl for Theatre Bizarre last year.
Theatre Bizarre, Oct. 15 & 22 – We’ll be donning our Halloween finery and heading up to Detroit for this masquerade ball extraordinaire. Part circus, part costume party, part freak show, part concert festival, this event must be experienced to be believed.

Me and the kids before Trick ot Treat
Trick or Treat, Oct. 29 – We go all out at Halloween with a huge yard display, costumes for the whole family, a fog machine and spooky tunes. I love it and so do the kids.

Our spooky yard display
I would love to hear your plans for this fall season. Share your events and local Halloween haunts in the comments.

 

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The Black Tapes Podcast: Season 2 CliffsNotes

WARNING – This blog post is me at my geekiest, and contains lots of theories and spoilers about The Black Tapes podcast. If you want to read Season 1 CliffsNotes, check out my post here

Confession time: I have a little black notebook where I keep all my work and blog notes, as well as my nutso scribblings about The Black Tapes Podcast. And I doodle a lot. 

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Because my CliffsNotes from season 1 were helpful to others, I decided to publish the notes I took for season 2 as well. Because the episodes are so interconnected and the story is very intricate, the notes are a bit longer than Season 1.  So without further ado, here you go. Feel free to leave corrections/suggestions in the comments.

Episode 1 – Sleepless in Seattle

  • Season 1 recap — Coralee Strand is probably alive. Keith Dabic (obsessed with The Unsound, of the band Hastur Rising) and Amalia (Alex’s Russian journalist friend looking for Keith) are still missing.
  • Thomas Warren (aka “Sexy James Bond”)  is the CEO of an energy conglomerate, Deva Corp. (Is he “The Advocate” following Strand?)
  • Alex is suffering from insomnia.
  • Strand goes on leave — he wants Alex to stop prying into his personal story.
  • Rebecca Yi, a listener, seeks Alex’s help for her daughter, Katie. Rebecca reports strange occurrences – furniture moving on its own, Katie talking to herself, and sacred geometry scratched under Katie’s bed.
  • Elizabeth Sawyer, Katie’s nanny, refutes all of Rebecca’s claims and says she is crazy.
  • Alex discovers that Strand is obsessed with finding Coralee, and Strand asks for her help.

Episode 2 – Speak No Evil, Think No Evil

  • Strand shares something with Alex “off the record.”
  • Alex gets a tip that includes 2 videos related to a case of a hunter who was living in a cave with a strange book, and later committed suicide. One video shows the hunter scratching in the dirt, and the other shows a 2-legged creature with deer’s legs.
  • Alex takes the book to a rare book dealer, Gloria Cohen. Cohen claims it’s a book of spells devoted to bringing demons into our world. Cohen is creepy and seems intent on getting Alex to say the demon’s names.
  • Alex starts seeing Dr. Burnett, who encourages her to keep a sleep journal.
  • Amalia turns up in Seattle.

Episode 3 – Hush Little Baby

  • Alex’s lack of sleep is affecting her quality of life — she is seeing and hearing things during her waking hours.
  • Alex is contacted by Wendy Hochman, a listener. There are strange sounds coming from her infant son’s room and a pentagram drawn under his crib (same symbol as that found in: Simon Reese’s room, the cabin where Sebastian Torres was found, and Rebecca Yi’s daughter’s room).
  • Strand shows up in the studio acting erratically. He tells Alex that Thomas Warren sponsored an archaeological dig in Iraq for the goddess Tiamet. Strand’s father wrote an unpublished paper about this.
  • Although she had previously claimed not to know anything, Nic and Alex hear the Hochmans’ housekeeper chanting on the baby monitor tape.  The Hochmans are MIA, so Alex and Nic seek out the housekeeper (Maddie Franks), who they find dead, in a ransacked apartment covered in blood.

Episode 4 – Voices Carry

  • Brenda Miller, a grimoire specialist, takes a look at the book from Ep. 2. She claims it is a satanic hymnal to usher in demons (related to evil composers Scriabin/Percival Black?).
  • Alex discovers an extra 5 minute interval in one of her sleep notes, which upon further examination is her chanting “Azazeel.”
  • Strand is losing weight, not leaving his office, and asks to meet with Amalia. When he meets with her, he asks her about a blond woman at an auction. Alex eavesdrops and airs the discussion.
  • Nic finds an online countdown clock timed for 1 year after The Black Tapes aired The Unsound.
  • Alex discovers another anomaly in a sleep note — the sound of knocking (1 for yes, 2 for no, ala Simon Reese when he was selectively mute). The knocking indicates that Strand is in trouble.
  • Alex reaches out to Tanis Braun (the renowned psychic from season 1). Tanis tells her to ask Strand about the “Cheryl” tape and says Strand is at the center of the mystery.

Note: After this episode, Alex goes on hiatus to a secluded cabin to try to get some sleep.  

Episode 5 – Cheryl

  • Strand is living in Seattle in his father’s house.
  • Alex and Nic receive a recorded message for Strand with a digitized voice. Strand links the message to the Empress Hotel in Canada where he honeymooned with Coralee.
  • Keith Dabic sends 3 messages:
    • A sound file that may be the cure for The Unsound.
    • A sound file with “infrasound,” which can be harmful to the listener — causing nausea and/or visions.
    • A selfie taken at Glushka, the monastery in Russia  (Season 1, Ep. 10). Recall: Glushka is home to the Order of the Cenophus.
  • The blood on the wall at Maddie Franks’s (the dead Hochman nanny) was not her blood and there were symbols painted under the blood.
  • Strand lets Alex watch the Cheryl tape. It’s him (as a young boy) with a girl. The girl, Cheryl, claims to see figures outside the house, and then they both claim to see a figure in the room. It’s a Black Tape because Strand doubts what he saw that night.

Episode 6 – All In the Family

  • Cheryl is Strand’s sister. She tells Alex to ask about “the boy by the river.” Alex goes to see Strand, and asks to share the off-record info from Ep. 2 (which she secretly recorded, and Nic makes her delete).
  • Strand believes he is being stalked by a group after his father’s work.
  • Alex and Nic receive another tape with the computerized voice — it’s a warning for Strand. Alex sets off and intercepts him in Canada.
  • They find a strange painting in the room where he stayed with Coralee — a man with deer legs, dogs tearing an animal apart. Their cars are burglarized.
  • Simon calls Alex and warns her about Amalia. Simon also tells her that he killed his parents because, like Maddie Franks (the dead housekeeper), they were trying to bring him into the “cause.” (Is Simon actually a good guy?)
  • Alex asks Amalia about her whereabouts. Amalia reveals that she received The Unsound from Alex’s personal email.

Episode 7 – Personal Possessions

  • Nic finds a deep Web forum that claims The Advocate is recruiting, and Strand’s name is on a list. Someone claims to have a photo of The Advocate, but you must leave a note in a mailbox in Maine to get it.
  • The painting from The Empress hotel has a cipher on the back based on the book “9 Stories.”
  • Alex interviews Jessica Wheldon (the possessed 12-year-old girl from Season 1, Ep. 5). She is now 35, and she believes she was brainwashed, not possessed. Her parents committed suicide. She puts Alex in touch with “John.”
  • “John” was also possessed, and had an exorcism performed. The tape of his exorcism reveals it to be a fraud — it is not performed by priests, and the walls of the room contain sacred geometry and the upside down face.
  • Cheryl reveals that their father was absentee until he took a special interest in Strand. She stopped talking to Strand after Coralee disappeared.

Episode 8 – Riverview

  • The book cipher is a warning from Coralee: “Leave me. Find Advocate. Simon Reese.”
  • Nic and Alex go to Canada to meet Thomas Warren at a conference and are intercepted by Sammie, the woman who claimed to have a photo of the Advocate, who is also looking for Warren.
  • Alex and Nic get box of records from Riverview Mental Hospital marked “E. Hausdorff, ’71-’75”. Hausdorff was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, made reference to “Mr. Splitfoot” and may have had the ability to bi-locate (like Simon Reese).  An exorcism was performed on him (sacred geometry and drawings similar to those in the caves were in the room). Nic theorizes that the men performing the “exorcisms” on Hausdorff, “John” and Jessica Wheldon are all connected. Strand says that the numbers and symbols on the walls point to “pelori” AKA “watchers,” who are guardians of children offered for ritual sacrifice.
  • The boy by the river is Bobby Maines, whose body was found in Red Bank Creek in 1976.
  • Simon Reese goes missing from the mental hospital.

Episode 9 – Brothers of the Mount

  •  Bobby Maines was abducted by a gas station attendant and murdered, the attendant died by lethal injection. Wesley Coates found the body.
  • Strand reveals that Pelori are similar to legend of Rumpelstiltskin, except that they get their power from a symbol, the sign of the Cult of Tiamet (on Coralee’s ring, in the cave paintings, subject of his father’s work that Thomas Warren is interested in).
  •  Sammi (woman from Maine) goes MIA after making a warning call to Alex and Nic.
  • Deva Corp. has been funding paranormal research.
  • Edward Lewis (Simon Torres’ kidnapper) is found dead in his cell. At the same time, 8 other men (Brothers of the Mount) killed themselves. Ritualistic suicide pact? Symbol from Simon Reese’s room is present at both crime scenes — did Simon bi-locate and murder the monks?
  •  Simon reaches out to Alex and said that Brothers of the Mount were trying to raise a chorus of children’s voices. He asks Alex to look into Thomas Warren’s machine.
  • Amalia contacts Alex with a picture of what looks to be something awful related to Keith Dabic.
  • A user in Bulgaria named “Hastur” (Keith Dabic?) sends Nic and Alex a sound file.
  • Hausdorff was admitted to a mental hospital at age 12 for killing his parents (just like Simon Reese).

Episode 10: Welcome to the Machine

  • Nic is researching the machine used in “John’s” exorcism — connects it to a robotics lab that makes rare machines, and specializes in pachinko. Thomas Warren recently took possession of a batch of machines — except they weren’t really pachinko games, according to the delivery man, who witnessed an “exorcism” at drop-off.
  •  In researching stories related to ghost hunting equipment, Nic comes across the symbol on Coralee’s ring on a machine.
  • Alex looks at Strand’s father’s research and stumbles upon letters hidden behind a photo. the letters reference preparing Richard for the “mantle of the dragon” and a 14-digit number (possibly the location of the highest peak in Turkey, aka the Axis Mundi, a place to play Scriabin’s Mysterium symphony to usher in the demon apocalypse).
  • Referencing the Sagamore Hotel Black Tape from Season 1, Ep. 1, Alex’s intern believes Strand is hiding something. It turns out Percival Black stayed at The Sagamore the same year he joined the Order of the Cenophus and composed The Unsound. Black is working to finish the Mysterium.
  • Wesley Coates says that his childhood friend, Richard Strand, led him to the body of Bobby Maines.

Episode 11: About a Boy

  • Wesley Coates said Richard Strand had a dream about about the location of Bobby Maines’ body. Was/is Strand a psychic? Strand gets mad at Alex when she asks him this.
  • Nic and Alex get a second sound file from “Hastur” and a code that contains map coordinates to the Chattahoochee National Forest.
  • Amalia tells Alex that the photo mentioned in Ep. 9 is “not exactly” Keith Dabic — rather, it’s an unidentified man with Dabic’s face sewn on his own.
  • Tiamet is part of The Gnostic Gospels, which reference the 5 seals to usher in the apocalypse.
  • Thomas Warren requests a meeting, but when Alex and Strand arrive at Deva Corp. they are intercepted by Coralee in a van.

Episode 12: The Axis Mundi

  • Coralee takes Strand and Alex to a house, speaks with Strand briefly, and leaves. Strand and Alex drive home and talk all night (Editors note: this really had me feeling the feels!)
  • Coralee was a “watcher,” an agent for the Advocate assigned to look after Strand. The marriage was a set-up but she ended up falling in love with Strand and went on the run from her handlers. Thomas Warren was her liaison. The Advocate believes Strand holds a genetic key.
  • Strand tried to rekindle his psychic ability when Coralee left, and was unable to do so. He no longer believes it was psychic ability that led him to Bobby Maines. He doesn’t know if The Black Tapes are connected, but there are more than 100 of them.
  • Alex calls her Urraca Mesa cave guide (from Season 1, Ep. 12) and it turns out that the last 2 Anasazi totems guarding the gateway are now gone.
  • Strand, Nic and Alex finally meet Thomas Warren, who offers to finance the Strand Institute (which is broke) if Strand will join Deva Corp.
  • The 14 digit code is not a GPS coordinate to peak in Turkey — it’s the IP address of The Black Tapes studio.
  • Unbeknownst to them at the time, Alex and Nic have played all 5 movements of the Mysterium, in order, on the podcast. They are: The Unsound (Season 1, Ep. 3), the sound file from Russia (Season 1, Ep. 9), the Unsound “cure” (Season 2, Ep. 5), the first sound file from “Hastur” (Season 2, Ep. 5) and the second sound file from “Hastur” (Season 2, Ep. 11), Simon Reese warns of coming chaos and death, and a curse on all who have heard the 5 movements.

4 shows to binge watch (during your maternity leave)

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Note: You might recall that I’m a mama — hence, the name of this blog. This post is a re-blog that I wrote for my friends over at The Smart Domestic. The TV recommendations are for anyone, not just those in the family way. 

You’ve purged a baby. Congrats! Now it’s time to binge on some TV while you rest and recoup on maternity leave.

I’ve put together list that has a little something for everyone – the true crime junkie, the horror fan, the drama queen and the comedy connoisseur. If you don’t like labels, but love TV, I encourage you to try them all (you don’t have to be postpartum, either).

15690771260_ce94657fda_bThe True Crime Junkie

Watch “The People vs. O.J. Simpson.”

Maybe you think you know enough about O.J. Or maybe you saw the promo and got a little weirded out by John Travolta as Robert Shapiro. Whatever the reason, if you missed this show on FX last year, you need to check it out.

Showrunner Ryan Murphy presents the trial of the century – opening with the infamous low-speed chase in that white Bronco and re-enacting all the major milestones (from Marcia Clark’s makeover to the bloody glove to the verdict).

All of that is fascinating, but it’s the acting that really draws you in – especially Sarah Paulson as Prosecutor Marcia Clark and Courtney B. Vance as Johnnie Cochran. Paulson and Vance are riveting as the 2 key players in the trial, on opposing sides, equally driven, maligned and misunderstood.

Already watched it? Try “The Jinx,” the HBO documentary about millionaire-murderer Robert Durst.

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© Photography by Cathleen Tarawhiti 2007 – 2012

The Horror Fan

Watch “Penny Dreadful.”

This is near the top of my list of the most beautiful, stylized shows to have ever graced the small screen. Lead actress Eva Green is mesmerizing as Vanessa Ives, a woman haunted and scorned by Victorian society.

The show is a modern, gothic horror masterpiece (it’s like an updated version of Universal’s “House of Frankenstein” with all the classic monsters – Wolfman, Dr. Frankenstein, Dracula, among others). But it’s so much more than that – as the protagonist, Vanessa is a captivating woman who defies stereotypes.

Already watched it? Go back and re-watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I’ve watched the entire series no less than 6 times, and it never ceases to delight me.

dramaThe Drama Queen

Watch “The Americans.”

This is one of those shows that flies under the radar – not a lot of my friends watch it, and until recently, critics weren’t giving it its due. But take it from me, it’s fantastic.

The show is the story of 2 undercover KGB agents during the Cold War. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, a married team of spies with 2 kids, a house in the suburbs and a travel agency. And oh yeah, they kill people, steal secrets and subvert their neighboring FBI pal at every chance. It’s the stark contrast of their double lives, and their relationship, that drive this show. Bonus points to the soundtrack, which has some expertly placed popular tunes from the ‘80s.

Already watching it? Check out “Ray Donovan,” Showtime’s highly underrated drama about its eponymous Hollywood fixer, played by Liev Schreiber.

sunglasses-woman-girl-facelessThe Comedy Connoisseur

Watch “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

If you want to laugh a lot, watch this show. Written by Tina Fey, the jokes come so fast that you will find yourself rewinding to catch the next hilarious line before you are done guffawing at the last.

The show has a great cast – Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess, and Carol Kane just kill it. Kemper plays Kimmy, a lovable sweetheart who was recently freed from an underground bunker where she was held captive. Kimmy moves to New York, gets an apartment with the fabulous and flamboyant Titus Andromedon, and hijinks ensue.

There are also some memorable guest stars (Jon Hamm as the cult leader) and very topical and funny criticisms of society (a pill called Dyziplen for parenting problems). You’ll enjoy it.

Already watching? Check out “The League.” Full disclosure, I don’t know anything about sports – but I can appreciate good, off-color humor, and this show had plenty of that.

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Welcome to Akron, Monsterfestmania 

Me: “When the kids are older and we retire, I just picture us going to horror conventions all the time, all over the place.”
Hubby: “Yes! And we can drink lots of beer and watch movies and get beer guts!”

That was the conversation that concluded the night on Friday, after a very fun and fulfilling evening at Monsterfestmania Science-Fiction and Horror Show.  Akron is a small (albeit hip) city. So while we have had a comic convention for a while now, we haven’t hosted a horror con. So I was super excited last year when I received a postcard mailer for Monsterfestmania.

For the inaugural year, the event was held in Quaker Square. Side note: this is a space with a lot of Akron history. However, it’s a bit past its glory days. I understand that the show will be moving next year to the John S. Knight Center, which is a nicer, updated space that will undoubtedly be better for screening movies and holding panel discussions.

The CW network had a booth with a prize wheel. Not only did I win a free “Goosebumps” Blu-Ray, my friend Sarah spun the wheel and also won a movie too. Nice!
The vendors at the show were A+.  There were tons of old, spooky toy sellers, lots of clothing and media vendors, and a few comic artists as well. The folks from Cinema Wasteland (the best show around) were there as well, and they have great merchandise. 

Cinema Wasteland presses these great shirts, and they’re bargain priced at 2 for $25.

As for the guests and films, the show’s theme was horror hosts, so Fritz the Night Owl and Misty Brew were scheduled, among others. Unfortunately, Misty Brew canceled. So the movie slots were shifted around on Friday and while we had intended to watch her creature feature, we ended up watching part of “Psycho,” with an intro from Fritz. Friday also had a screening of “Dead Next Door” with an intro from Akron native J.R. Bookwalter. Bookwalter is a down-to-earth guy with a lot of great memories from the direct-to-VHS era of movie making, and “Dead” is a fun flick.

Other notable guests included Lisa Loring (Wednesday Addams) and Felix Silla (Cousin It) from “The Addams Family.” Renowned artist Basil Gogos, of “Famous Monsters” fame was also scheduled to appear, but canceled.

For it’s first year, Monsterfestmania was a great time. Admittedly, there are a few kinks to work out, but I was pleasantly surprised at the guest line-up, and you certainly can’t put the blame on the show’s organizer for 11th hour cancellations. The quality of the movie screenings could be improved (particularly with regard to the sound), but the move to the Knight Center could fix those issues in 2017.

Hands down, the best thing about horror conventions is the chance to share memories, movies, and panel discussions with fellow genre fans. You won’t meet nicer, more interesting people anywhere on the planet. And that’s why I picture my golden years as a grand tour of the world’s horror conventions — just to be around people who love things that go bump in the night as much as I do.

If you’re in the area next year, definitely check it out. If you see me, say “Hi!”

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Here lies the VCR, a relic of my childhood

By now, you’ve probably heard that the last VHS VCR will roll off the line at Japan’s Funai Electric plant this month.

vhsIt’s the end of an era. When I was little, my mom and I used to rent movies from the library. Rows and rows of black plastic cases, with untold treasures for creepy kids — “My Pet Monster,” “The Last Unicorn,” “The Huggabunch Movie,” “Goonies.” How I loved those flicks.

Back then, we used to rent movies at Video USA, “Home of the 25 Cent Rentals.” After my parents divorced, it became a special ritual to get Chinese food and rent 3 or 4 movies with my dad on his weekends. He introduced me to so many movies — “Escape From New York,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Commando,” Tombstone,” etc.

Later, when I met my husband, we bonded over our love of movies, especially scary ones. Here’s his VCR memory from our early days.

slaughterhousevhsI was 15 and Andrea was 13 when we met. That was about 1995. VHS played a huge role in our lives. I used to go over to my friend’s house and invite her over to watch movies, on VHS of course, since DVD had not yet arrived. We would flirt back and forth, hold hands and once we even kissed (gasp!) (that was Andrea’s first kiss, I’m proud to say).

I vividly remember one such evening, when I invited her over to watch a movie. She asked what movie and I enthusiastically replied, ‘Slaughterhouse!’ Of course, she accepted, how could she resist? We watched the ’80s slasher on glorious VHS in my friend’s room and held hands the entire movie.
‘Slaughterhouse’ on VHS brings the love.

sony-slv-d271p-4-head-hifi-dvd-vcr-combo-player-vhs-recorder-w-original-remote-14375a95528393c460835e44bb632254The year before I graduated from college, Dave and I made our first joint purchase — a DVD/VCR combo unit — knowing that we would be moving in together after school. That was probably about 2003, and DVD was making all our dreams come true — Anchor Bay was putting out titles like “Burial Ground” that we thought would never see release. But we both still had huge VHS collections, so the combo unit was perfect.

It’s now taking up space in our closet, but I keep it around because we still have a few VHS tapes. And VHS is having a bit of a resurgence among genre fans, so you never know, I may find it useful in the future.

It’s easy to dismiss these memories as nostalgia. But I think there is more to it — there was a ritual associated with VCRs and VHS tapes. Families would go to the rental store together, and pick out a tape for the evening entertainment. It was a “date” for couples to rent movies. It was special.

I wanted to share some of my VCR nostalgia, so I asked some Facebook friends for their memories. Here they are — feel free to comment and leave your own too.

  • Anne Merchant: “We got our first VCR in 1984 as a ‘family’ Christmas present. It was $500 and had a wood-grain finish. The first movie we recorded was ‘Woman in Red;’ however, I used to tape ‘Headbanger’s Ball’ in the hopes that they’d show a KISS video, or better yet, Gene and Paul would be guest hosts. R.I.P., old friend!”
  • Clare LaTourette: “My favorite videotape had ‘My Little Pony’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ both recorded on it. It was my older sisters and I would get to watch it only when she wasn’t home. My family also acted out a Batman/ Robin Hood sketch when I was 2 (I was an evil witch playing the drums) and it’s only recorded on a VHS tape. I’ll be sad when I have no way of watching it.”
  • Kim Brett: “I used to love taping ‘General Hospital’ and watch it when i got home from work, LOL.”
  • Laurie Schueler: “Our first VCR had a remote control that was connected with a cord to the unit! So not very convenient! But we thought it was pretty cool at the time.”
  • Annie Sofran: “When Toby started speech therapy, he couldn’t speak but we would tape his sessions. By the time we stopped taping them four years later, he was talking like a champ. I’ve kept these tapes for obvious reasons and those are the only reasons I hold onto my VCR.”
  • Jill Morgan: “Our family VCR recorded Days of Our Lives, Monday through Friday, every week. My dad would make sure my mom “set it” before he left for work in the morning. At dinner time, we set up our TV trays and watched our soap opera as a family, dad and brother included. How would we have survived the Bo and Hope era otherwise?”
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In defense of entertainment as art

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I was in a room full of very smart people for a recent leadership workshop on work/life balance. One of the exercises was to list 12 things you do every day, and then put a check mark next to those things that make you “your best self.”

#7 on my list was “watch TV.” I put a check mark next to it.

When it came time for the class to discuss and reflect, my check mark was met with a few judgy laughs — “You really think watching TV helps you to be your best self?” That kind of thing.

I defended my check mark — as a creative person, I tend to take my entertainment seriously. And yes, I do watch TV every day (and a few movies a week, too).

I get so tired of the old “TV rots your brain” mentality. I’m not impressed when people climb up on their moral high horse to look down at me and say “I don’t even own a television.”

We are living in a golden age of TV — any critic worth his salt will echo this sentiment. TV is no longer a reality show garbage dump or a laugh track graveyard — there’s real artistry at work there. Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll trust the opinion  of David Lynch (director of “Blue Velvet” and “Eraserhead”) who told a French newspaper,

“Television allows you to tell a story over time, something cinema doesn’t. For me, the two formats will always exist, it’s like painting in a square or rectangular.”

The lines between entertainment and art are blurred in shows like “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” Game of Thrones,” “Penny Dreadful,” “Stranger Things,” the list goes on and on.

The production values, writing, costuming, acting and cinematography on these shows is food for creative souls. It’s beautiful, challenging, thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating.

So yeah, I am working on my best self when I’m watching TV. Deal with it.

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The Black Tapes Podcast: Season 1 CliffsNotes

WARNING – This blog post is me at my geekiest, and contains lots of theories and spoilers about The Black Tapes podcast.

I love The Black Tapes podcast, but somewhere in between last season and this season, I got a little lost. There are a lot of characters, and the story isn’t told in a straight narrative fashion — it flips back and forth between new cases and the overarching arc related to Dr. Strand.

That’s a picture of me trying to figure out what the heck is going on in The Black Tapes.

So I have been obsessively listening to all the episodes again, and writing notes like a total nut job to keep track of things. I thought I would make my super-short summaries available here in case other listeners would find them helpful.

For other super fans, a disclaimer — these aren’t intended to be complete episode recaps, transcripts or a listing of characters. This was just a way for me to jot down a few relevant bullet points to keep track of what has happened to this point and possible connections between the tapes.

Hope you find it helpful, and if I got anything wrong, leave a comment and let me know (like I said, I’m a bit confused).

Episode 1 – A Tale of Two Tapes, Part I

  • Alex goes with a paranormal researcher named Dr. Dumont on an investigation — the former site of an abandoned mental hospital. Some odd occurrences happen.
  • Alex meets Dr. Strand, who debunks her experience with Dr. Dumont.
  • Alex discovers The Black Tapes, and watches the Torres tape.

Episode 2 – A Tale of Two Tapes, Part II

  • Alex and Dr. Strand re-open the Torres case.
  • Robert Torres believed he was stalked for years by a shadowy figure, and it seems that the figure began following his son, Sebastian.
  • Maria, the mother, is estranged from Robert and has sheltered Sebastian from all photos where the figure appears.
  • Sebastian calls the figure Tall Paul.

Episode 3 – The Unsound

  • Keith Dabic, a member of the band, Hastur Rising, reaches out to Dr. Strand about the unsound.
  • Legend has it that those who listen to the unsound die within a year after they hear it and that the sound is an invitation for demons into our world.
  • Another member of the band, Jeff Wendt, became obsessed with the sound, even working it into the music, and killed himself.
  • Alex finds out that Dr. Strand was married, and that his wife, Coralee, went missing.
  • Travis Collinwood, a former assistant of Dr. Strand’s, became obsessed with the unsound and died 4 months after leaving the Strand Institute.

Episode 4 – Turn That Frown Upside Down

  • Alex gets a mysterious, ominous message on her phone from an unknown caller.
  • Dr. Strand and Alex investigate another Black Tape, the case of Fiona DeNevers, a young woman who died of a heart attack.
  • Fiona’s family has been haunted by the ghost of Sarah Benning, who according to local legend, killed her high school bully, Catherine Williams, by cutting her face off and sewing it on her own, upside down. The town has a macabre festival called the Upside Down Face Festival.
  • Alex interviews Coralee’s parents, who suspect Dr. Strand in her disappearance.

Episode 5 – The Devil You Know

  • Dr. Strand and Alex re-open a Black Tape case of an exorcism filmed by Dr. Strand, of 12-year-old Jessica Wheldon, who was possessed by the archdemon, Grigori (possibly AKA Tall Paul?).
  • Alex consults with Father James Kelly and Dr. Brad Gilbert (a psychologist), who give differing views on exorcism. She also interviews Derek, who was possessed.
  • Alex meets Brayden Court, who had a one-night stand with Coralee, suspects Dr. Strand killed her, and claims to have nothing to do with the message on Alex’s phone.
  • Alex and Nic discover some found audio footage from 1997 of Coralee, talking about bees, monogamy and love. Coralee mentions someone named Warren before the audio cuts out.

Episode 6 – The Devil’s Door

  • Alex gets a call from 3 Rivers State Hospital in Idaho related to a patient, Simon Reese.
  • Simon is a selective mute who was ruled to be criminally insane after killing his parents at age 11. Evidence was flimsy, and didn’t definitely place him in his parents’ room.
  • Simon is in trouble at the hospital for allegedly strangling another patient, Trent Orville. However, video footage shows he never left his room.
  • Sacred geometry and the symbol of a pentagram in a double circle appear in the room. Simon is obsessed with both, and believes the symbols provide him a gateway to bi-locate (be in 2 places at once).
  • Simon wants to use the symbols to summon a demon. Possibly Grigori (aka Tall Paul)?
  • Sebastian Torres, the boy stalked by Tall Paul from Episode 2, goes missing.

Episode 7 – Cabin Fever

  • Alex and Dr. Strand are questioned about Sebastian Torres.
  • Police call Tannis Braun, a renowned psychic, for help in the case.
  • Tannis and Alex go for a walk, and Dr. Strand gets grumpy. (Sidebar: I am seriously shipping Strand and Alex, so I’m hoping that’s jealousy).
  • Sebastian is found in a cabin with sacred geometry (a la Simon Reese, Ep. 6), the pentagram symbol and the face of Grigori (the archdemon from Ep. 5’s exorcism) drawn on the walls.

Episode 8 – Board to Death

  • Alex and Dr. Strand investigate a Black Tape with research on 2 types of Ouija boards — the traditional game, and one called a Demon Board.
  • While the Ouija board  is used to make contact with spirits who have passed, the Demon Board is a way to communicate with demons.
  • The research with the Demon Board got pretty spooky — the subject claims to have seen a demon, with goat legs and long hair. Possibly Grigori/Tall Paul?
  • The symbols on the Demon Board are the same as those found in the cabin and Simon’s artwork.

Episode 9 – Name that Tune

  • As they are trying to find Warren (mentioned in the found footage Coralee tape from Ep. 5), Alex and Nic get a lead on Coralee — a PO Box she used under the alias Lisa Graves.
  • Keith Dabic (of the band Hastur Rising, Ep. 3) leaves a message for Alex — he’s become obsessed with The Unsound, and is off the grid in Russia.
  • Dabic mentions 2 people:
    • Percival Black, who lives in a Russian monastery and may be able to compose something that can neutralize The Unsound. Alex contacts Black and he’s never met Dabic.
    • Alex Scriabin, an early 1900s composer of music with mystical ties – Scriabin believed that through the repeating patterns of music, he could unlock the mysteries of the universe.

Episode 10 – Their Satanic Monastery’s Request

  • Alex’s friend Amalia, a journalist based in Moscow, starts looking for Percival Black.
  • Black took a vow of silence after he spoke with Alex. He’s a member of the reclusive and secretive Order of the Cenophus.
  • The Order of the Cenophus has a chapter in Glushka, where a séance took place in the ’80s. Renowned medium Clara Simone believed the monks wanted to find out the name of their resident demon (who appears as a tall, shadowy figure).
  • Strand reveals that he found out Coralee was having an affair when she disappeared.
  • Amalia receives a warning and goes missing.

Episode 11 – The Codex Gigas

  • Alex finds out that Strand and Coralee were in a heated argument, just before she walked off never to be seen again.
  • Alex contacts Percival Black’s old roommate — who last saw Black as he was going off to a pagan boulder field in Bath. There is a cave there with ancient paintings that feature animal and possibly human sacrifice. They also have upside-down face figures.
  • The Order of the Cenophus was founded as an offshoot of the Benedictine monks on a text called The Codex Gigas, a dark chapter of something called The Demon Bible, written by a disgruntled monk.
  • Alex gets a mysterious visit from “sexy James Bond.”

Episode 12 – Shadow Dancing

  • Alex asks Strand if the tapes are connected, and he refutes her theories.
  • Sebastian Torres’s kidnapper, Edward Lewis, is caught and will only talk to Strand. Lewis is a monk from the order, Brothers of the Mount. The Brothers have a connection to the Upside Down Face Festival – some of them escaped capture to the town around the time it was founded.
  • Alex investigates cave paintings at Urraca Mesa, eerily similar to those in Bath, and uncovers a tape filmed there that features the same demon/figure mentioned in the Demon Board Black Tape (Ep. 8).
  • Strand interviews Lewis, who claims that someone called “The Advocate” has watched Strand his whole life and Strand has all the pieces of the puzzle.
  • “Sexy James Bond” is identified as Thomas Warren.
  • Lisa Graves (aka Coralee Strand) checks her PO Box.

What does all this mean? Here’s my theory of what’s going on after Season 1: Strand’s Black Tapes are all connected. To what? I think the Order of the Cenophus has been engaged in activities to try to bring Tall Paul aka Grigori into our world. Everything — from the The Unsound to the Upside Down Face Festival to the kidnapping of Sebastian to the Demon Boards — is being orchestrated by the Order and is centered around that goal. Strand and his wife Coralee, are somehow connected to the Order.

I’ll be doing some notes for Season 2 as well, so check back if you’re interested.

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Cemetery girl: A walk through Glendale Cemetery

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I’ve always loved to walk through cemeteries. There’s something inherently tranquil about the grounds — not to mention, you are pretty much guaranteed privacy and quiet.

Akron’s historic Glendale Cemetery is such a lovely place. If you’re local or just visiting, it’s worth spending a couple hours walking among the headstones, by yourself or with a loved one. Check out my photos below, and go take some of your own.

 

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Now streaming: We Are Twisted F***ing Sister

The tsagony and the ecstasy of rock stardom is perfectly depicted in “We Are Twisted F***ing Sister.” From small clubs in New Jersey to sold-out shows in the UK, the documentary is the story of the rise of Twisted Sister from bar band to one of the predominant heavy metal bands of the ’80s.

The documentary relies on interviews with the band members, mostly founding member Jay Jay French and frontman Dee Snider, as well as the fans from the early days.

Behind the makeup and costumes, these guys are hard workers who love their fans. There’s no way you can watch this documentary and think anything else.

Dee is a true original — a beautiful, ugly, glam metal god. He’s also an intelligent guy, and a champion of free speech (if you haven’t already watched it, you have to see the video of him testifying against the PMRC back in the day).

Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, portrait, backstage at Reading Festival, 29th August 1982. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)
Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, portrait, backstage at Reading Festival, 29th August 1982. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

The documentary has some great anecdotes from the early days — including one particularly charming story from Suzette Snider, about how she became the band’s costume designer after going to a show only to discover she was wearing the same shirt as Dee.

“We Are Twisted F***ing Sister” nods to the die-hard fans who helped the band get famous — plus there’s a ton of live footage from the early days and the quality is surprisingly good, given its age.

My only criticism of the documentary is that it ends rather abruptly. Once the band “makes it” and finally gets a record deal, the story ends. As the bright pink words on the screen say, the rest is another story (see Behind the Music).

Who can resist a good rockumentary? Why even bother trying to resist? “We Are Twisted F***ing Sister” is available for your viewing pleasure on Netflix right now.

Enough with the mashups already

I am not amused by your mashupFull disclosure — this post is going to make me sound like a crotchety old lady. You know, like waving my cane, shouting, “You kids! Get off my lawn!”

I’m so over mashups. Honestly, I never really understood them to begin with. What’s the appeal of a shirt that has King Diamond’s make-up on Johnny Cash’s face? Yes, both singers are national treasures of their respective countries. But why morph the 2?

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And why put Bill Murray’s face on John Wayne’s body? I’m not amused.

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Predator and Bart Simpson? Nope.

tumblr_o82o1n6ZdB1thr7ppo1_500Don’t get me wrong, I love horror and music merch, and some of the companies responsible for these stupid mashups are really cool and make great stuff. Just stick to the basics. Stop trying to make everything ironic.

I like Bart Simpson, Predator, King Diamond, Johnny Cash, Bill Murray and John Wayne. But I don’t need to see all 6 of them in some bizarre human-centipede-esque mashup on a T-shirt.

My advice? Embrace your contradictions. Don’t have any “guilty” pleasures. Just today, I listened to Twisted Sister and John Denver. I never want to see them mashed up, because they are totally awesome on their own.