In 1987, there was a brief moment when it seemed that my single mother was going to get married to a man with a mustache and impossibly muscular arms. It was great. I suddenly found myself with a step-brother! I was seven years old, he was four. We got all dressed up to go to Salem for the festivities – he as Alf, me as a ninja assassin (Halloween being the only time it’s acceptable to wear all black outside of stage crew; plus, I was starting to get chubby and the black masked my figure).
Everything was magical. We bobbed for apples and we watched the mock-witch trials. There was a chill in the air and leaves on the ground. Then we went to the spook house…
A sound effects cassette blaring, fake cobwebs abounding, from the moment we stepped in line, I was anxious. Never one to step away from the spotlight, I took the lead of our group of strangers, quietly emoting better than any scream queen as I stepped into the black-lit hallway ahead towards certain doom.
Within three feet, there was a diorama set up: a prison cage with colored lights. How lovely. Atmosphere! Then, without warning, some terrible man in a mask jumped out through the bars, reaching for me. I threw my hands back, preventing anyone from passing. Saving the group, holding tight to the walls, I screamed with all the terror a seven year old gay boy could muster until we had to be escorted out the front door – sobbing hysterically and insisting we go home.
That was a good Halloween.
Twenty years later, that was Michigan.
I never that thought I could recapture the magic of Halloween as it existed in childhood. In Los Angeles, we have no foliage; the only costume options in any store are "Slutty Cafeteria Lady" or "Slutty Manatee." But in Michigan, every house proudly displays a jack-o’-lantern and has decorations to spare. There are corn mazes, pumpkin patches, petting zoos! These people care about Halloween. Michigan State is performing Evil Dead: The Musical. Even the Christians, who hate Halloween, have those Hell Houses every few blocks. Don’t even get me started on Wiard’s Orchard...
Growing up in Boston, I only thought such wondrous places existed in the movies. Wiard’s not only had a haunted barn, but they have a Haunted Mineshaft and a Haunted Asylum (where walls actually implode and you have to squeeze yourself through to get out)…they even have karaoke! They house a Haunted Hayride that's better than anything Hollywood could muster and (get this) when you're done with the hayride, they have donuts and fresh apple cider waiting for you…for FREE!! There was joy in every presentation. My faith in humanity is momentarily restored. There must be a God, because I found Halloween Heaven, kids, and it’s name is Michigan.
Everyone get your permission slips out because we're going on a Faggotyass Field Trip!
We're off to North Korea... no, just kidding (sort of), we're going to the Universal Citywalk! It's that magical time of year when fat people and skinny people, gays and straights, Dominicans and Mexicans all come together to wait in line for hours to have non-union actors invade their personal space. It's time for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights!!!
Make sure you bring a hooded sweatshirt. One year I forgot my mine and some actor with zombie makeup and a chainsaw sensed the flash of confused terror in my eyes and proceeded to chase me into a gift shoppe while my boyfriend at the time just looked on, laughing (he's dead now). Lesson learned.
We never know what to expect at the Universal Horror Nights and that's why we must always pack a flask of Jack Daniels in our Nike Dunks (just put it under your sock so it clears the metal detectors). Be particularly mindful of proximity... One year, bestie Sean accidentally nudged a local who was standing outside the men's room gnawing on a chicken leg. This gentleman proceeded to scream something or other about "respect" until Sean and I had to be rescued by a kindly gay employee of Universal who took us on an unexpected VIP tour.
This year, however, it turned out that there would be no such reprieve.
The Simpsons ride is joyful and the four tiers of stairwells down to the King Kong ride are a fantastic workout. There was no line to the "Vampyre: Castle of the Undead" maze because it is not based on a movie so we got a private tour. Housed in the year-round "House of Horrors" building, this was by far the best experience of the night. Mirrors, smoke, sparsely populated and completely atmospheric, this maze was a winner. We also got free parking by flashing Franklin's Universal employee badge from two years ago...that was nice.
Halloween Horror Nights is not enjoyable anymore. I love a spook house. I love atmosphere; cobwebs and colored lights make me weak in the knees. I love a narrative. None of these things can be found at Universal Studios because their primary concern is throwing actors at you, literally. Rather than a few well timed scares, the goal of the Horror Nights is to elicit a perpetual fight-or-flight response. Rooms smell like poop, people throw axes and chain-saws in your face. Like a jump scare in a movie, this only makes you anxious.
Universal Horror Nights has become indicative of today's horror movies - a lowest common denominator moment tailored for people too busy texting and feeding their kids to actually pay attention to a setup. It's not fun. It's over-crowded. There wasn't one pumpkin.
Everyone was shoving and yelling unnecessarily. A man on the terror tram threw up on my shoe. I saw no Norman Bates. There was only one short person dressed up as Chucky. I can say for certain, after four years in a row, this was my last visit to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. Adios!
This isn't over, dolls. This isn't over by a long-shot. Pack up your winter hat, because we're getting out of Los Angeles to prove that there is still joy to be found in Halloween! Stay tuned...
Pre-teens in peril have overshadowed Halloween, this month. I'm sorry, dolls. I know it's gay Christmas, but rather than banter about the disproportionately basic sorority girl to hot guy ratio in Hell Night, or writing an essay dissecting the nuances to be found in the production design of House of 1000 Corpses, I've been pondering my own growing up and coming out process.
My friend, Oprah, says we should write letters of encouragement to our twelve year old selves...and I make a point to never disobey Oprah or Rosie O’Donnell and that’s served me well.
Not a lot phased me growing up. Since before I was born and right up until his death, my father had the nasty habit of trying to kill me and my mom. That meant we moved around every few months in case he broke the restraining order. 1990 was the worst. I was going to St. Ann's Catholic School in Gloucester, MA. It was the fifth grade and it was hell. There were fist-fights, people spit on my things, I engaged in verbal altercations - all because I saw no shame in showing off my Keith Haring t-shirts and back issues of Fangoria.
Hand to God, the teachers were worse than the students. They hated my mother for not being married and they hated me for being a latent homosexual in training (the only training I was conscious of was the hours I spent perfecting my British dialects to Andrew Lloyd Webber LPs).
To make matters worse, I was fat. Not gay-fat, but actually fat. I was a Dcup, but I was never a victim. I remember the time a girl wearing a headgear asked if I "fornicate with men" and how I maturely responded, "only your father." Good times. My grades started slipping. I was miserable. I wanted to die.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, everything was about to change with a single advertisement on the television. 1990 apparently marked the 15th Anniversary The Rocky Horror Picture Show. My chubby little heart was set to burst from that thirty-second spot for a movie I'd never even seen. Mom was always a handful, but she was remarkably permissive when it came to what I wanted to watch. She took me with her to see Fatal Attraction because she didn't want to go alone. She let me watch Twin Peaks alone in my room every Thursday. Mary had no qualms with me fixating on a movie musical, even if Streisand wasn't in it.
In the month that passed before it was finally released on VHS, I was dreaming about that commercial. I was drawing pictures of big red lips and writing with bloody bubble fonts in my New Kids on the Block trapper keeper. The day it came out, Momma took me to Lechmere where it was patiently waiting for me in its sleek black slipcover, decorated only with those gender-bending glossy red lips.
I had found my out, at last!
What I saw when I popped this holy grail into my VCR defied description. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is about sexual awakening. It's about transformation. It's about cannibalism! It's a horror movie, it's science fiction, it's a musical. It may be the greatest "dark and stormy night" Halloween film ever made. It seems impossible to discuss this movie without gushing. Tim Curry is electric. There has been no performance that can rival his mad scientist, Dr Frank-N-Furter. He's sexual. He's scary. He's he's not pandering for lowest common denominator "guy in a dress" jokes. Gender binaries aren’t real. He's defiantly masculine and beautifully femme in makeup and panties at the same time. Patricia Quinn was a lifeforce with big, unapologetic hair and an even bigger mouth. The sheer audacity of Nell Cambell's nipples popping out during the floor show! And don’t get me started on Barry Bostwick - he was everything I wanted to be when I grew up - tall and thin with gorgeous frames.
I can't adequately express the power that comes from suddenly knowing you aren't alone in the universe. Thirty-five years before Semi-Precious Weapons was setting minions of little monsters free (regardless of political and social context), there was The Rocky Horror Picture Show. By no means a gay movie, it presented a world in which sexuality and gender were fluid. This movie was dangerous. I had friends who weren't allowed to come over my house anymore after they told their parents we watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show. That, boys and ghouls, is rock and roll!
A lot has happened in twenty years. We have cell phones and internet. Movies stream magically from the ether directly into our sixty-five inch plasma televisions and The Rocky Horror Picture Show is now considered mainstream. I still can't help but think that I owe a chunk of my self-reliance and serenity to that VHS tape from 1990.
Mom and I moved a couple months later and I flourished in a public arts school for the remaining years until college. I lost my baby fat and lived happily ever after.
Time heals everything, even as far as movies are concerned. What was once rejected as schlocky, b-movie camp is now accepted as a well-shot, gorgeously designed movie musical for the whole family. When a karaoke show like Gleecan devote an entire episode to something as sexually-charged and subversive as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the times they are a'changin. But take a closer look and you'll find that this movie is still as shocking and unapologetic as it ever was. It's still rock and roll. Accept no imitations. Pick up The Rocky Horror Picture Show (35th Anniversary Edition) [Blu-ray] and see for yourself.
Wasn't coming out day a RIOT?? All those multi-colored facebook pictures crack me up! It got me in a good mood. Therefore, hot off the heels of my positive movie going experience this weekend, I am proud to present you with another edition of That Gay!
A lot happens in the first ten minutes of My Soul to Take (2010); we're immediately informed that a serial killer has been marauding the hamlet of Riverton, Massachusetts (or is it Connecticut?). But don't worry about all that, because we're established safe and sound in a pregnant Mormon lady's house. It's one of those roomy, perfectly decorated craftsman homes that you only see in Wes Craven movies - impossible to finance in real life. Nothing could go possibly wrong in such a place.
(Now get ready for the part where I yelled out loud in the theatre)...
Meanwhile, in the basement of this meticulous abode, the Mormon lady's husband is putting some finishing touches on a rocking horse for his unborn son. Get ready for a surprise! The pregnant Mormon lady's husband is none other than Broadway legend Raúl Esparza! My dear, is there anything he can't do?
In all seriousness, being a multi-hyphenate is one of the tell tale signs of dissociative identity disorder (just ask Kristin Chenoweth)! Faster than he can say, Sybil, Raúl winds up going on a violent and bloody killing spree. Looks like he was that pesky Riverton Ripper all along. Oopsies!
Don't worry, dolls. I'm not actually spoiling anything because (as is the case with most of our That Gay! gays) Raúl doesn't make it more than fifteen minutes into My Soul to Take; but it's a memorable and tight fifteen minutes that makes him more than worthy of being this month's That Gay! Good job, Raúl, your grapefruit basket is in the mail.
If you still aren't convinced, here's a clip of Raúl wailing his weave off as Riff Raff in the Broadway revival of Rocky Horror Show back in the year 2000 (yes, that's Joan Jett as Columbia).
"What men will do to you in prison is nothing compared to what demons will do to you in hell."
In honor of “National Coming Out Day,” I’m coming out in favor of Wes Craven’s My Soul to Take. Get into it. This movie took an unjustifiable beating by critics and America proved once and for all that people have no interest in original stories or tone. You see, My Soul to Take has more ideas than it even knows what to do with. I guess that's a problem?
My Soul to Take is about becoming a man. It’s also about leaving behind the resentment of an imperfect childhood and apathetic parents and taking responsibility for yourself and your destiny.
It’s also about two high school boys reenacting their favorite scenes fromBig Business!
"That puppet was scary."
The process of becoming a man is a metamorphosis and often a painful one, at that. Growing up is shedding the cocoons of insecurity and self-consciousness in order to fully inhabit the person you are. Getting older is a daily lesson in learning to accept things that should never have to be tolerated (like Meg Whitman’s face), taking punches like an MMA fighter and still somehow finding the strength within to say, “Thank you that felt great.” If everything works out, eventually you can wind up being the absolute best version of yourself in spite of parents who never really loved you, a town who wished you would go away, and a best friend who would rather stab you in the groin than kiss you on the mouth. No wonder gay men are so mean!
This movie is exactly what I had hoped it would be - it’s a horror movie from 1987 made in today's meme (there are some of the best shots in Craven's entire career in My Soul to Take). If you can see past a couple of wooden line-readings and an exposition-heavy screenplay that often feels as though it was translated from another language, My Soul to Take is the condensed soup of Wes Craven’s entire career. All of his obsessions are on display: boiler rooms, big knives, voodoo magic, homicidal homosexuals in love, soul transplantation, gorgeous craftsman homes, and even California condors. This is especially welcome because, unlike other current horror movies, Craven has a knack for finding teenagers who actually look like teenagers, who act like real teenagers and who have soulful eyes.
If we've learned anything in our continued exploration of horror movie magic, it's that when a horror movie has a male protagonist, it is a gay movie. Knives penetrating boys is gay. Lingering shots of shirtless boys emoting with pouty lips in steamy showers is queer.
That said, about halfway through My Soul to Take, I began to question my thesis. Maybe straight boys can be sensitive and sweet? Maybe straight boys, post-millennium, are allowed to be emotional and secure enough to have sleepovers with their best bros (who just so may happen to sneak in through their bedroom windows at night so their single mothers won't see)... and then the third-act set in. My Soul to Take is assuredly and irrevocably one of the gayest horror movies ever made. Thank God!
People can say a lot of things, but no one can say this movie isn't interesting. It's logic may stray all the way around the river-bend with Pocahontas and her little raccoon friend and, sure, it appears that the studio hacked off about thirty minutes in the 3D conversion process and, yes, the central conceit upon which the entire film hangs is far-fetched at best - but this movie is FUN. Fun, Momma, fun! Does anyone remember when horror movies were joyful? Does anyone remember a horror movie that used actual tension and story in place of jump scares? Does anyone remember when a movies' kills were shocking and not nihilistic torture-porn. Shouldn't you actually care about the people being hacked into and not want them to die? Isn't that the point?
Perhaps My Soul to Take was too ambitious for it’s own good, but I refuse to consider that a flaw. Like my fraternity brothers say on pledge night, "Go big or go home!" I had the time of my life in the empty Graumann's Chinese Theatre. Man up and go see it. Put on your best over-sized 1995 cardigan, spray yourself down with some CKOne and bring your friends.
I don't know if you kids like those Harry Potter movies... If you do, then you probably can't stop popping klonopins like tictacs in anticipation of the penultimate installment - therefore, allow me to turn your attention to the lesser known prequel to the Harry Potter known as Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988).
Once upon a time, a baby girl was left on a doorstep someplace. Her parents were killed by an evil dark wizard so she became the queen of late-night horror (in syndication) and she shilled everything from Coors Light to pinball tables.
Much like Harry Potter, all Elvira ever wanted was to raise fifty-thousand dollars so she could perform her burlesque spectacular in Las Vegas. Along the way, she visits a politically conservative, small town in New England (led by the aptly named Chastity Pariah) to teach everybody (including Ira Heiden fromDream Warriors) about equality, stage makeup, and the fine art of potluck casserole baking. And, faster than you can shake off a magic wand, Elvira learns a little bit about herself along the way.
What with the suicide rate for gay kids rising and another election upon us, I'm a bit down in the dumps this holiday season. But rest assured, dolls, there is something to live for. At long last, the queen has risen from the undead. Be sure to check out Elvira's Movie Macabre every Saturday night at midnight (in syndication). It's a guaranteed standing ovulation!
Halloween is officially upon us. If you haven't already, put up your spider webs, hang your pumpkin lights and start doing 200 extra crunches per day. It's time.