Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Graduating to the Next Level

If you saw Grimlock Manor's latest vlog on YouTube, you know Jay (FrightGuy) announced some exciting developments for the upcoming haunt season.

I waited for Jay to make the official announcement before saying more, but him (he?), Dave from Pandemic Cemetery, and myself will be teaming up to "go pro" this year, taking over an established annual haunt conducted by the junior class of Secaucus (NJ) high school. In past years it has gone by the name "Haunted High School."

Okay, "going pro" might be a bit of an overstatement, but my understanding is that the high school already has a pretty successful operation, featuring thousands of patrons passing into the nether realm each year, but they want to get even more out of their efforts this time around. That's where Jay, Dave, and I come in. We'll be the creative team behind the haunt and apparently will be able to bend the students to our will and use them for slave labor. Awesome!

The high school uses the haunt to raise money for the class each year and they want to step it up a notch in 2012 to do even more by bringing in someone to run it for them.

Naturally I have to thank Jay for the opportunity to be a part of the effort since he was the lead contact and graciously extended the offer to me to assist. I had to think all of about 10 seconds before agreeing to do it.

As Jay mentions in his vlog, we'll be meeting up this weekend for the first planning session, getting an idea of the layout and seeing how we want to tackle this. Definitely lots to do and with only 337 days to go before Halloween (actually less since it's open the weekend before) there's so little time!

Expect to see lots of vlog and blog posts about what we're doing, the building phase, and of course the final walk-thru. For now, check out Jay's vlog where he gives more details.

Nutcracker, Sweet!

Now begins the detestable season, wherein for a month I have to indulge my wife's preference for that other holiday. Part of that is building Christmas decorations. In the past I built a sleigh for the front yard, and a few holiday PVC candles (okay, I used them at Halloween too!).

This year however, is something slightly more ambitious. I'll be make a 6-foot tall nutcracker soldier (two, actually). This will be a challenge no doubt. We've seen some pretty impressive life-size nutcrackers at stores retailing for several hundred dollars apiece. A motorized one whose one arm moved up and down went for over $600.

My goal is to do it for substantially less though I don't foresee putting movement into it at this point (heck I'll just be happy to get it built in time for Christmas!).

The idea is to build it out of a Sonotube (the tubes used to pour concrete footings) and PVC pipe. I picked up a 16" x 6' Sonotube and a 10-ft length of 4" PVC. The plan is to cut the Sonotube in half to make the two bodies for the soldiers and the PVC will be cut into four 30" sections to serve as the legs. Four toilet seat flanges will attach the PVC to the MDF wood discs that I'll be cutting and inserting into the bottom of the tube. The head will be made out of paper mache.

Again, this is just the game plan, the idea I've got in my head. How it all turns out remains to be seen. But the first order of business I guess is to start cutting my tubes and PVC down to size.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Skeletons in the Closet

This year Walgreen created quite a stir when it offered a pretty realistic looking bucky skeleton for just $30. It wasn't the highest quality, but it was pretty darn good and it made itself available to all sorts of corpsing techniques, including the "plastic corpsing" method StiltBeastStudios popularized.

Walgreen got their skeletons from a company called Pitini Enterprises, which a lot of haunters found had a pretty scarce website. Skeletal, if you will. If you contacted them about getting more skeletons, no doubt you should have found an email in your inbox today saying they're taking orders for them. You have to pay up front in January and they'll ship your order in June. In addition to a new higher cost for the skeletons -- $35 (hey, supply and demand at work!) -- you'll also pay shipping costs, which they'll determine at the time (though you can get a ballpark figure by going to the FedEx site).

For me, I'll just take my chances at Walgreen again, assuming they get them in, and save on the shipping costs. I can't imagine they wouldn't order them again, considering the response they had last time. I wonder if they'll be charging $40 though to make a profit on them?

I had a chance at one point to buy six "Wuckies" all at once, but then thought, "Do I really want to spend $180 on skeletons?" My haunt wasn't up to where I wanted it at the time and six skeletons wasn't going to bring it there either. I did end up buying four over time but I barely utilized them as it was with all the other projects I had going on.

Right now I'm corpsing two of them, one using StiltBeastStudios' method and the other a more traditional technique. I'll be ready for them when they hit the stores again and while I'll have to pay a few dollars more, there's no real benefit to buying them early and in bulk from Pitini.

What are your thoughts on buying them early directly from the company?

UPDATE: Pitini Enterprises sent out a second email to clarify the first. It says the skeletons it's offering are NOT the same ones sold at Walgreen, but rather the better quality ones (screws and such at the joints) sold at stores like Spirit Halloween and costing upwards of $70 or more.

This sounds like a much better deal now and one I'm likely to take advantage of, either individually or as part of a group buy as suggested by wicKED.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Safety" Is an Evil Word

"Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred three score and six."

Revelations, 13:18

Pliant Corp. may have been proud of its record of safety, but one worker says the company was willing to damn him to an eternity in hell for his unwillingness to how his support like everyone else.

The food and personal care products packaging company had experienced 666 days without an accident at their facilities. It was company policy for employees to wear stickers proclaiming the number of accident-free days they enjoyed. Billy Hyatt, who describes himself as a devout Catholic, started sweating bullets as the days mounted towards that which symbolizes "the mark of the beast."

Rather than cut off his pinky finger, or some other injury that would ruin the streak, Hyatt asked if he could be exempt from wearing the 666 sticker and was originally told it would be okay. He alleges that when the day arrived, another manager told him his beliefs were ridiculous and to wear the patch or take a 3-day suspension. Even though he agreed to the suspension, he was subsequently fired.

While 666 is widely associated with Satan and appears in the bible, there are several other (some say better) translations of the early work which actually ascribe the beast's mark as 616.

But Hyatt might have been on to something, for a believer at any rate, because Revelations also indicates that if someone accepts the mark of the beast, he will feel God's wrath.

"And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out undiluted into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receives the mark of his name." (Revelations, 14:9-11)

Better to live with a three-day suspension -- or not work for the company at all -- than risk an eternity of fire and brimstone.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Turning a Mouldy Leaf

Like most of the podcast's fans, I was surprised and saddened to learn of the demise of Hauntcast. After three years of monthly, highly entertaining shows g/host Chris Baker decided to close up shop and -- horrors! -- concentrate on getting his personal situation in order.

After hearing of the decision, I decided to delay listening to the last show so that I could enjoy the final helping without distraction. Normally I like to have the podcast playing in the background while I'm building props, working in my shop, or sitting around and doing nothing. That actually resulted in my not catching everything that was discussed, but made re-listening to a show just as enjoyable because I was always catching new tidbits.

I finally listened yesterday and I came away with a better understanding of why the decision was made, though I'm no more happy about it than I was when I first learned of it.

There were some interesting tidbits gleaned from the show, such as the revelation that when the podcast went to the $1-per-download model they expected to lose half their audience, but in fact lost 99% of it! Holy cow! That had to be a disheartening wake up call, that your audience didn't think enough of what you were doing to pay less than a cup of coffee for it.

While I thought maybe there was too much complaining about the lack of support, now I understand why it occurred. It wasn't so much complaining as lamenting that there wasn't broader interest. And while it's easy for us to sit back and say Chris Baker ought to be giving us this quality show for free, the man has to pay his bills too. Throwing stones from the sidelines and saying he should soldier on for our benefit (I thought this myself) is easy; having to put in 80 hours a month or so for no remuneration is a lot harder, particularly in the economy we're in.

So I wish Chris and the Scream Team good luck. While Johnny Thunder mostly has a different sensibility about movies than I do (c'mon, JT, chop socky movies? Really?!) I still found his reviews highly entertaining, even while disagreeing with him most of the time (or feeling like I needed to take a shower, like when after he got all mushy over his review of "Let the Right One In").

The Mistress of Mayhem, Shellhawk, brought a mature, feminine, and dare I say sexy perspective to the show (Shell, baby, you can talk to me anytime with that voice). Of course, Denny's prop segment was just awesome and a welcome addition to the show. He brought prop-making to life.

The new kid on the block, Grimlock, was just getting into his groove on offering a good vibe of what could be found on the web (and not just because I count him a friend). Another new segment that was quickly becoming one of my favorites was Ed Gannon's "Something Wicked" piece, which gave an inside look at the professional world of haunting.

And right up there was Chris Baker's own interviews with haunting gurus. Some of my favorite interviews include Bruce Stanton of Reign of Terror Haunted House (Ep. 18) and the two-part series with Gary Corb of Hallowed Haunting Grounds (Ep. 13 & 14).

Still, I think most people like myself most anxiously awaited Revenant's "Theater of the Mind" segment. That was just good stuff, relating some of the most tangential material to haunting and Halloween. Thoughtful -- cerebral, even -- but always entertaining.

I've since surveyed the landscape out there to see what might be able to take its place. While each of these podcasts has some good points about them, I don't see any being up to the quality, standards, and completeness that Hauntcast set for the home haunting community.

Rotting Flesh Radio: Essentially geared towards the professional haunt, there's a lot of dry recitation of facts and figures, and a repetitive nature to some of the commentary. It could use a good dose of editing, but it does have the benefit of coming out weekly.

Rue Morgue Radio: Music (lots of music), interviews with industry celebrities, and movie reviews seems to take some of the best parts of Hauntcast (though it probably pre-dates it). Also professionally produced, it offers some interesting listening.

Scare House: Another professional-oriented podcast, this one from the folks running the Pittsburgh-area haunted attraction of the same name. It's interesting and sounds professionally produced, though somewhat narrow in focus.

Haunted Radio (Channel 66.6 HM): Probably the closest thing to Hauntcast I've found, it's another weekly podcast dedicated to Halloween and haunt-related themes. Perhaps the one drawback I found was letting some segments go on for longer than need be. A little tighter editing would really improve this show, along with some more animated voice work. It can sound a bit monotone at times. Overall, perhaps the nearest thing home haunting diehards can tune in to.

Halloween Haunt: A short (about 5 minutes or so) podcast on Halloween related topics, poems, and stories.

Musique Macabre: All Halloween and Horror music, all the time.

Horrorphilia: An eclectic assortment of music, reviews, and discussions about horror related topics.

I'm sure there are others out there, but for me none has everything Hauntcast had, which was news, information, humor, professionalism, and yes, even smarts! Having listened to all of the above shows at least once I appreciate all the more what it was that Chris Baker put into Hauntcast. He, the Scream Team, and the show will be sorely missed.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Axis of Evil

I'm considering dropping $310 Canadian (around $305 U.S. at current exchange rates) with Boneyard Bargains for a fully operational 3-axis skull. It comes completely assembled with moving eyes and a Pico Talk servo controller already installed. There's no need to do any work or customization to it. Almost plug-and-play.

My initial inclination was to make my own. I've seen so many people on the forums using the Lindberg Pirate Skull and various servos to make their own, but I've yet to find a sufficiently (for me) detailed how-to on doing it. The closest I think has been Dr. Morbius's  tutorial on the Garage of Evil Network, but even then I'd probably like to see a few more steps included.

Then there's the modifications that need to be made -- filing parts here, shaving things there -- and making sure each part is just so. Of course, there's the servo controller that would have to be bought and hooked up to make it talk (I sling these terms like I actually know what I'm talking about).

I figure by the time I'm done I'm into parts at a cost of around $100 to $150. Then there's the time involved in doing the project. I'm guessing this isn't a weekend project.

Normally I'm all for being hands on and doing it myself, but in this instance I think the mark-up Boneyard is charging might be worth it. I'll lose some satisfaction in completing the task myself, but I'll gain a lot back and more by having a fully functional prop right out of the box.

What do you think? Is it worth dropping the coin for a plug-and-play solution or should I overcome my fear of working with electronics and reallysmallthings and tackle it myself? Let me know in the comments section.

And if you know of a highly detailed tutorial other than Dr. Morbius's admittedly very good one, let me know that too.

(Also, if anyone knows where you can pick up a similarly detailed skull for less you can share that too!)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

I just read SpookyBlue's blog where he called November 1 "The Haunter's New Year" and realized he's right! We start planning, working, and building beginning today so this is the start of our new build year.

While the whole planning part took a back seat for me today as I tore down my display, I am ready to begin anew. I've got some ideas of things I want next year's haunt to look like, the direction I'd like it to go, but storage is the order of business today.

Still, this is the first day of the new haunt year, so Happy New Year!
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