Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns ver 20.12

Beef Teryaki Stirfry w/ Udon Noodles

Whenever I find myself in a Noodles and Company, my go to dish is the Japanese Pan Noodles. It also seems like something that would not be too terribly hard to make a passable recreation at home. Here’s my first attempt:

Ingredients
1 pound beef stir fry meat, thinly sliced into strips (top round or flank steak)
1 package frozen stir fry vegetables
28 oz precooked Udon style noodles
Teryaki sauce/marinade
sesame seeds
sesame oil
green onions

I kind of just winged this recipe without really measuring any of the ingredients. I used precooked Udon noodles because that is all that my grocery stocks.

Preheat the sesame oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Stir fry the beef long enough brown it without overcooking it, about 10 minutes. Remove beef from the skillet and drain off the excess fat. If necessary add a little more sesame oil to the skillet and stir fry the vegetables until they are heated through. Stir the noodles into the skillet and add some teryaki sauce. Stirfry a few minutes and add the beef back in. Stir in some chopped green onions.

Top with some sesame seeds. Was really easy to make and quite tasty. Although next time, I am going to try using fresh vegetables.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

A couple of months ago, I attended the RiffTrax live screening of Manos:  The Hands of Fate.  The original Manos episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is consistently rated as one of the best episodes of the series, and for good reason.  Manos is a terrible, terrible movie and MST3K did a great job of actually watching it.  During the RiffTrax Live screening of Manos, MST3K veterans Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy had a whole new script of jokes.  It was a fantastically funny time.  At the end of the performance, they invited everyone back in October to see them take on Birdemic: Shock and Terror.  I’d never heard of Birdemic, but of course I was going to be there.

Prior to attending last night, I discovered that Birdemic was actually available to stream on Netflix.  Dare I see what kind of painful experience that someone would be in for by watching it without jokes?  Yes, I dared and…..

HOLY CRAP!  I couldn’t stop watching.  It was a trainwreck of the above proportion and has catapulted itself to the top spot on the list of worst movies that I have ever seen.  Troll 2 is almost Shakespearean by comparison.  It is the most inept attempt at filmmaking I’ve personally witnessed. The acting, story, pacing, editing, audio, directing, dialogue, and special effects are tragically and uniformly awful.  The entire thing must be seen to be believed.    Mere words can not attempt to do Birdemic the injustice that it deserves.  But I will try.  If you want to experience this mess unspoiled, then you best stop reading here.

Birdemic is the brainchild of Vietnamese born “writer/director” James Nguyen.  You could probably guess from watching Birdemic that filmmaking wasn’t Nguyen’s day job.  Nguyen was a software salesman in Silicon Valley who grew up watching the films of Alfred Hitchcock.  Part of his inspiration came from The Birds and part of it came from his interest in the dangers of global warming after seeing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.  Oh.  Nguyen also had to largely self-finance his picture with the princely sum of $10,000 from his day job.  You put all that in a blender and out comes Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Birdemic begins with young Silicon Valley software salesman, Rod (played by Alan Bagh, with all the charisma of an android that doesn’t understand how human emotion works), trying to hit on his former high school classmate turned fashion model Nathalie (Whitney Moore) after running into her at a diner.  They exchange very awkward pleasantries and business cards as Rod wonders if he can keep in touch.  Then Rod closes a big million dollar sale at his job and Nathalie learns that she just became the cover model for Victoria’s Secret after leaving a photo shoot at a one hour photo store in a mini-mall.  They go out for an awkward dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant to celebrate followed by some awkward dancing in front of a blurry green screen shot of a club.  The next day Rod plays some awkward basketball with his horn dog work buddy and talks about his date with Nathalie.  Then they talk about the potential for their software company to be sold off making them filthy rich.  It is all very, very believable.

Despite their complete lack of chemistry, Rod and Nathalie’s relationship progesses.  Rod’s company is then sold for a billion dollars!  Allowing Rod to cash in his stock options which he uses to found a startup solar energy company.  He is able to then get immediate funding for his company of 10 million dollars after he gives a one slide powepoint presentation to a group of venture capitalists.  Despite his android-like personality, Rod just falls ass over ankles into money and success.  The timeline isn’t very clear but it seems this all happened in the course of a few days.  Nathalie then takes Rod for an awkward meeting with her mother.  They go on another awkward date with the most awkward dance scene yet and then back to a motel for some awkward sex.

Right about here, you are probably wondering:  WHERE THE HELL ARE THE BIRDS?!  We are about 47 minutes into the movie without even a single solitary bird attack.  Well prepare to be amazed.  Because as Nathalie and Rod are still sleeping, the Birdemic is about to blow up.  The peaceful town of Half Moon Bay is suddenly descended upon by a horde of angry exploding eagles and vultures.  Yep.  They are able to perform kamikaze style attacks a la a Japanese WWII zero where they explode upon impact.  Oh.  I almost forgot to mention that the bird effects are simply animated GIF’s.   The birds start congregating outside of Rod and Nathalie’s room.  Rod and Nathalie are unable to escape because Rod somehow lost his car keys and forgot to charge his cell phone.  They have to run next door to neighbors Ramsey and Becky for help.  They devise a plan to get to Ramsey’s van which involves standing back to back while swinging coat hangers at the attacking birds as they advance.  Leading to this:

Fortunately once that make it inside the van, they have the firepower to fight back.  For some reason, Ramsey was already packing an M16 and a couple of semi automatic handguns.  The rest of the movie is pretty much them driving from place to place without any semblance of a plan looking for gas and fresh water while they wildly fire away at birds that are less realisticly rendered than the ducks on Duckhunt.  I kept expecting this jerkwad to pop out of the weeds.They pick up some orphaned children, inexplicably have an OUTDOOR picnic, talk to an old man claiming to be an ornithologist who ham handedly blames the whole thing on global warming, Becky gets killed by an eagle while taking a crap, and Ramsey gets killed when the birds explode into acid in his face.  Rod and Nathalie and the orphaned kids then meet the Tree Hugger who again ham handedly blames the whole mess on global warming and spruce bark beetles.  They drive until they run out of gas next to a beach.  They get attacked a little bit more until some doves show up and inexplicably chase the evil eagles and vultures back out to sea.  FIN

As ridiculously bad as the plot of Birdemic is, the technical aspects might be the worst part of the movie.  It appears that every scene was filmed in one take and that every single second of footage was actually used.  The actors would frequently flub a line or the sound would completely drop out but Nguyen still put those scenes in the final cut.  It appears that is the case because Nguyen realized he needed to pad the running time out to feature length.  I say this because there is probably a solid 20 minutes of the picture of people doing nothing more than driving, parking, and pulling out into traffic.  The movie begins with Rod slowly driving his Mustang for a solid five minutes only to accomplish the opening credit roll.  A short time later you get to see him leave his house, get into his car, back  out of his driveway, stop for gas, pump the gas, pull out of the gas station, drive to work, park at his work, get out of his car, and walk into his building.  In near real-time.  Nguyen doesn’t seem to trust his audience to fill in the blanks on how Rod was able to get from his house to his job.  The rest of the movie is similarly edited.  Scenes will either end too abruptly or uncomfortably drag on for ten seconds too long.

Watching Birdemic on it’s own is enough of an experience.  You wonder how such a thing actually got made in the first place.  Watching it while the RiffTrax crew took it apart was amazing.  Two straight hours of laughing left my face sore.  The next time you notice a RiffTrax Live event in your area, I can not recommend the experience highly enough.

Oh, one more thing.  There will actually be a Birdemic 2.  Made by all the same people that made the first one so special.  You’ve been warned.

Applewood Smoked Turkey

This procedure was my experimental test run for Thanksgiving.  I used a twelve pound fresh turkey.  If you use a frozen turkey, follow the recommended instructions for properly thawing the turkey before using it.  That is step #1 in avoiding Salmonella poisoning.  My turkey was also pre-brined.  If you buy a turkey that isn’t already prepared like this and you want to brine it, it isn’t too hard to find out how by conducting a simple Google search.

I use a Brinkman charcoal grill/smoker.  This recipe can also be made using a normal charcoal/gas grill.  The key is to just be able to cook the turkey over indirect heat at a temperature of as close to 325 F that you can get.  It’s up to you to figure out how best to achieve this with your particular setup. You will need a good grill thermometer (placed at the grate level where the turkey is sitting.  If you have a thermometer already built into the lid of the grill, ignore it) and a food thermometer.  The only way you can be sure if the turkey is properly cooked is by checking the meat temperature itself.  However long that takes will vary from turkey to turkey, from grill setup to grill setup, and a whole host of other factors.

Preparing the turkey

If your turkey has one of those plastic, popup thermometers yank it out.  Remove the plastic contraption binding the legs together. Remove the neck and the bag of other innards from the inside of the turkey cavity.  Save everything but the liver. They will go into the gravy.  Cut the wingtips off at the first joint and save them for the gravy.  Cut off the “pope’s nose”.  This is the large, fleshy protuberance at the bottom of the cavity that was binded up in that plastic contraption with the legs.  Trim off any excess fat that is around either opening of the cavity.

Preparing the wet rub for the turkey:

Simon and Garfunkel’s Spice Blend ingredients:

1 Tbsp. dried crushed parsley
2 Tbsp. dried crushed sage
1 Tbsp. dried crushed rosemary
1 Tbsp. dried crushed thyme
1 Tbsp. dried crushed oregano
1 Tbsp. dried crushed basil
1 Tbsp. dried crushed bay leaf
1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. sugar

Add all the ingredients to a blender and pulse for several minutes to achieve as fine of a powdered mix as possible.  Transfer powder to a jar or ziploc bag for storage.

Make a wet rub by combining a tablespoon or two of the spice mix with the same amount of olive oil.  If possible let the wet rub sit for a couple of hours to let the oil break down the cells of the herbs to solubilize more of the flavors. We want to liberally apply the wet rub, underneath the skin so it doesn’t have to fight to penetrate through it in order to contact the muscle.  I just did this for the breast meat and didn’t bother trying to figure out how to do it for the legs and the thighs.  Apply the remaining wet rub all over skin of the entire turkey.  This will help to get the skin nice and crispy.

Instead of stuffing the turkey, place a few aromatic ingredients in the cavity. Stuffing the turkey will just block the smoke from entering the cavity, drastically increase your cooking time, and make it difficult to get an accurate reading on the overall doneness of the meat when you check it with a thermometer.

Aromatics:

3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2-3 sprigs of fresh sage
1 onion, ends chopped off but the skin left on, quartered
The peel of one orange

Place these ingredients inside the cavity, making sure there is still plenty of space for heat and smoke to penetrate in.  Take four pieces of aluminum foil that are large enough to wrap around the tips of the drumsticks and the wings.  Coat the insides with olive oil.  Wrap the ends of the drumsticks and wings with the foil.  This will prevent them from getting overcooked.  The foil will be removed after about an hour so the skin can get as equally brown and crispy as the rest of the bird.

Preparing the gravy

We will place a drip pan below the turkey while it cooks to catch all of the drippings which will then be turned into a gravy.

Gravy ingredients

3 qts water
Turkey neck, gizzards, wingtips that you removed earlier
1 cup apple juice
2 carrots, cut into 2 inch lengths
2 celery stalks, cut into two inch lengths
2 onions, ends chopped off, skin left on, cut into quarters
1 Tbsp, dried sage leaves
1 Tbsp, dried thyme leaves
2 whole dried bay leaves

Place all of the ingredients in a pan that is safe to put in your smoker/grill.  I used a 9×13 disposable aluminum foil pan.  This pan will sit under the turkey to catch all of the drippings during the smoking process.

Light the charcoals/preheat gas grill to achieve as close a temperature to 325 F as possible on the cooking grate where the turkey will be sitting.  When the grate is hot, scrape off any residue that is already on it to prevent unwanted flavors from dripping into the gravy pan.  Place gravy pan below the grate that will hold the turkey.  Place a couple of handfuls of applewood chips in a pouch made of aluminum foil.  Make sure to either poke holes in it, or leave the ends open so the smoke can escape.  Place the pouch directly on the coals/heat source.

Place the turkey on the grate and close the smoker/grill lid.  Try not to disturb it for an hour, but you still want to monitor the grill temperature.  My turkey was 12 pounds and took about 2.5 hours to cook.  You are aiming for a meat thermometer reading of 160 F deep in the breast meat.  After an hour of smoking, remove the foil from the drumsticks and wings.  During the smoke, you will probably need to keep adding coals and wood chips as necessary to keep your cooking temp high enough and replenish the smoke supply.

When the meat temp is close to 160F, dump the aromatics in the turkey cavity into the gravy pan.  When the turkey is done, remove from the smoker and let it rest for at least 15 minutes prior to carving it.  Pour the contents of the gravy pan through a strainer into a large sauce pan and let it stand.  You can either use the thin gravy as is, or you can thicken it to make a more traditional style gravy.

Thick gravy

4 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
1 cup liquid from the gravy pan

Melt the butter on medium heat in a saucepan.  Whisk in the flour and keep stirring, keeping the mixture smooth.  Keep doing this for a couple of minutes.  Slowly pour in the liquid from the gravy pan, while continuing to stir.  Remove from the heat and stir a couple more minutes.

What a Crock(pot) Beef Stew

3 lbs. cubed beef stew meat
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4-5 carrots, chopped
12-15 yukon gold potatoes, chopped
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 cups boiling water
1 package (1 oz) dry onion soup mix
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 Tbsp. butter
1 large vidalia onion, thinly wedged.
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup warm water
2 Tbsp. flour
1 can sweet peas

Place cubed stew meat in a large ziploc bag or tupperware container.  Add 1/4 cup flour and 1/2 tsp salt and toss to evenly coat the meat.  Preheat olive oil in a skillet on medim high heat.  Cook meat in the skillet until it is just evenly browned on all sides.  Transfer meat to crock pot.  Add potatoes, carrots, parsley, pepper, and garlic powder.

Melt butter in the same skillet, on medium heat.  Saute sliced onions until carmelized.  Add to crock pot.  Add 1/4 cup red wine to the skillet to deglaze.  Scrape the skillet to loosen any bits of deliciousness still stuck there.  Pour over the meat and vegetables.

Add 2 cups boiling water to the dry soup mix.  Add Worcestershire sauce to soup mix and pour over the meat and vegetables.

Put the lid on the crock pot and crank it up to high for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, turn heat to low and cook for another 6 hours.

At the end of 6 hours, add can of peas.  Add 2 Tbsp. flour to 1/4 cup warm water and thoroughly mix.  Stir into the stew.  Let stew cook another 15 minutes with the lid off to allow the gravy to thicken.

Halloween is Grinch Night

Everyone is familiar with the Dr. Seuss classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The book, published in 1957, was turned into an animated special in 1966 by Chuck Jones and narrated by Boris Karloff.  It has been beloved ever since, being one of the few specials from the sixties to still get regular airings on television today.  It was even turned into a pretty disappointing live action movie starring Jim Carrey.  I think I’ll leave that for another day.  But how many of you were aware that the Grinch starred in another animated special in celebration of Halloween?

Halloween is Grinch Night, released in 1977, is a prequel to How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  You get to see what kind of mischief the Grinch got up to prior to having his heart size tripled against his will by those sappy Whos and their sing-songy Christmas do-goodery.  The story begins in Whoville on Grinch Night (i.e. The Whoville Halloween).  Unlike Christmas in Whoville, all kinds of crazy crap starts happening on Grinch Night.  Well, crazier than a bunch of Who children making noise on floofloovers, slooslunkas, and blumloopas. Much crazier. A young Who named Euchariah and his grandparents, Josiah and Mariah, are out in their front yard raking leaves as the sun is going down. (Who knew there were Amish Whos? Josiah even has an Amish beard)  A “sour sweet” wind begins to blow down from Mt. Crumpit.  Every Who knows that what means.  They all rush indoors and lock up tight.  The “sour sweet” wind wakes up the greegrumps.  The greegrumps start a growlin’.  This growlin’, of course, always disturbs the hackenkraks.  The hackenkraks start a-yowlin’.  This noisy ruckus carries all the way up to Mt. Crumpit and irritates the Grinch.  Naturally, the Grinch knows of only one way to solve this problem.  He must bust out his “Paraphenalia Wagon” and drive it down the mountain to terrorize Whoville.

As the Grinch is making his way down the mountain, Euchariah feels the overwhelming urge to use the outhouse.  The wind blows him away and up the mountain where he meets the Grinch.  Euchariah discovers what the Grinch’s nefarious plot is.  It turns out the Grinch’s Paraphenalia Wagon is sort of like Walter White’s RV from Breaking Bad, intended to induce mass LSD-like Whollucinations upon the Whos down in Whoville.  Euchariah stalls him long enough that the “sweet sour” wind stops a-blowin’, which stops the greegrumps from a-growlin’, which stops the hackenkraks from a-yowlin’, which, evidently by some official rule, means the Grinch must turn around and head back up the mountain.

In effect, Whoville is saved because in spite of all the crazy contraptions they are always inventing, they still haven’t figured out indoor plumbing.

Felix Baumgartner: The Faster than Light Man

Yesterday, Austrian daredevil and all-around crazy person, Felix Baumgartner, broke the record for the world’s highest free fall and fastest free fall speed achieved.  He rode a specially designed balloon up to just over 128,000 feet (24 miles) and jumped out.  He was in free-fall for 4 minutes and 19 seconds and hit a top speed of 834 mph.  MSNBC reported the story with this graphic:

Astute observers with a modicum of scientific education might notice a small error.  Yep.  MSNBC indicated that Baumgartner broke the speed of light.  Baumgartner actually broke the sound barrier (768 mph), becoming the first person to do so without vehicular assistance.  Chuck Yeager was the first person to break the sound barrier in a supersonic jet in 1947.  I’m sure this was just a simple mixup on MSNBC’s part and they actually intended for the graphic to read that he broke the speed of sound.  A hilarious mixup nonetheless, when you consider what the ramifications of someone actually breaking the speed of light within an Earth-like atmosphere would be.   Any macroscopic object travelling at relativistic speed in Earth-like conditions would be functionally equivalent to detonating an atomic bomb.

This is most awesomely illustrated here, where it is explained what would happen if someone tried to hit a baseball travelling at 0.9 c ( 90% of the speed of light, which is 604,000,000 mph).  Short answer:  It wouldn’t pretty.

Halloween Movie Countdown #1 – Young Frankenstein

#1 – Young Frankenstein 1974

MY NAME – IS FRANKENSTEIN!!!”

Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is the grandson of the mad scientist Dr. Victor Frankenstein and currently working as a brain surgeon and lecturer at a medical school.  He is so ashamed of his family’s past that he inists upon pronouncing his name as “Fronk-en-steen”.  He is informed that his great grandfather, Baron von Frankenstein, has passed away, leaving Frederick as the heir to his estate in Transylvania.  He travels to Transylvania to check out his new castle where he meets the Frankenstein family’s hunchbacked servant, Igor (Marty Feldman), and his new laboratory assistant, Inga (Teri Garr).  One night, Frederick and Inga hear some mysterious music coming from somewhere within the castle.  They discover a secret passage behind ‘ze bookcase that leads to his grandfather’s secret laboratory.  He begins reading his grandfather’s private journal entitled,  “How I Did It“.  Frederick incredulously declares that “IT CAN’T WORK!”  Frederick becomes intrigued and decides to take up his grandfather’s work in the reanimation of dead tissue, despite the suspicions of the townsfolk that have experience this five times already.  Frederick decides to correct his grandfather’s error by using the genius brain of recently deceased scientist/saint Hans Delbrück.  He sends Igor to retrieve Delbrück’s brain.  Igor becomes startled by lightning, dropping the Delbrück brain.  He grabs the next best thing, a brain in a jar labeled “ABNORMAL” and returns it to Frederick, who transplants it in the corpse.

The idea for Young Frankenstein came about in a conversation between Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks as the two were wrapping up filming on Blazing Saddles In 2010, The LA Times interviewed Brooks about the film’s adaptation into a Broadway musical.  He said regarding the film’s origins:

I was in the middle of shooting the last few weeks of Blazing Saddles somewhere in the Antelope Valley, and Gene Wilder and I were having a cup of coffee and he said, I have this idea that there could be another Frankenstein. I said not another — we’ve had the son of, the cousin of, the brother-in-law, we don’t need another Frankenstein. His idea was very simple: What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever. He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, “That’s funny.”

Mel Brooks took great care in his effort at recreating the look and feel that James Whale first put on film, which led to some problems in the beginning.  He wanted to shoot the film in black and white, considering it a “sin to shoot a Frankenstein movie in color”.  However, Columbia Pictures did not believe that a black and white movie could be successful in the 1970’s.  They also didn’t want to give Brooks the slightly larger budget he wanted to complete the movie.  These problems led him to take Young Frankenstein to 20th Century Fox, who were much more cooperative with Brooks’ vision.   Young Frankenstein was shot in the same castle as the original Frankenstein and even used many of the exact same laboratory props that Brooks was able to track down.  Both Brooks and Wilder are on record as saying that Young Frankenstein is their favorite of the films they have been involved with.  Young Frankenstein was inducted into National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2003.  It is also listed at #13 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Films in American cinema.

I saw Young Frankenstein before I ever saw any of the movies that inspired it.  It was hilarious then.  Seeing the Frankenstein movies that it references only makes the jokes even funnier.  Crazy how that works, eh?  Of all the movies I have the urge to watch come October, Young Frankenstein has the greatest rewatchability factor for me.  I’ll often just throw it on just to have it in the background, even if I’m not able to devote my full attention to it.  It never gets old and I seem to appreciate it more and more the more times I watch it.  That is why it earns the top spot on the my list of favorite Halloween movies.

Halloween Movie Countdown #2 – Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

#2 – Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948

Chick Young:  “I know there’s no such a person as Dracula.  You know there’s no such a person as Dracula.”

Wilbur Grey:  “But does Dracula know there’s no such a person?”

Wilbur (Lou Costello) and Chick (Bud Abbott) are freight handlers working at a railway station.  They get a call from Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.)  in London warning them not to deliver a certain crate to McDougal’s House of Horrors, because the crate contains the bodies of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange).  Naturally, Wilbut thinks it is crank call so he hangs up.  McDougal himself shows up to claim the crates.  In typical Lou Costello fashion, Wilbur clumsily bumbles around while retrieving the crate, potentially damaging it.  McDougal demands that they deliver the crates to his museum so that an insurance agent can inspect them for damage.  When they do, Wilbur sees that the crates actually do contain the bodies of Dracula and the monster.  Dracula arises from his crate and revives the monster, hypnotizing Wilbur in the process.  Of course all of this action happens while Chick is offscreen doing something else.  Dracula and the Monster escape before McDougal and the insurance agent arrive.  Upon finding the crates empty, McDougal demands that Wilbur and Chick be arrested for theft.  Dracula takes Frankie to a nearby castle where Dr. Sandra Mornay is making preparations for their nefarious scheme.  They want to replace the abnormal, uncontrollable brain currently in the Frankenstein monster with a more cooperative, stupid brain.  She has found just the perfect brain for this and has been posing as this poor schmuck’s girlfiend in order to acquire it.  That brain, of course, belongs to Wilbur.

The success of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was pretty remarkable, considering that the popularity of both Abbott and Costello and the classic Universal monster movies had largely already peaked.  The movie was so successful that Universal decided to keep pairing up Abbott and Costello with other well known characters from other movies, including:  The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mummy, Captain Kidd, and The Keystone Kops.  As excellent as Meet Frankenstein is, there are some Abbott and Costello buffs that don’t even consider it to be their best horror-comedy.  Hold That Ghost (1941) is also very, very funny.  It originally featured the moving candle gag that was effectively recycled in Meet Frankenstein.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was just narrowly edged out by what turns out to be my favorite Halloween movie ever.  I initially saw it in a college film class that I wasn’t even taking.  My girlfriend was.  Her class was showing it that Halloween evening, so I tagged along because I thought it sounded like fun.  It was.  Dracula throws a potted plant at the Wolf Man.  It can’t really get any better than that.  Pretty soon I was hooked on both Abbott and Costello and the classic Universal monster movies of the the 1930s and 1940s.  This was in the late 1990s and before the DVD format really began to take off, so it was really quite a bit more difficult to get exposed to older movies.  When the DVD box sets of the various Abbott and Costello movies and those of the classic Universal monster movies started gettting released, I began snatching them up and they still get pretty steady play to this day.

Halloween Movie Countdown #3 – Shaun of the Dead

#3 – Shaun of the Dead 2004

Big Al says ‘Dogs can’t look up.’ “

I have seen Shaun of the Dead referred to as the world’s first RomComZom (Romantic Comedy w/ Zombies).  The movie follows the unambitious and directionless life of Shaun (Simon Pegg) as he tries to sort out his love-life problems and mother/stepfather issues during the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse.  The movie begins with Shaun’s girlfriend, Liz, expressing her dissatisfaction at  their lack of a social life.  All they ever seem to do is hang out at Shaun’s favorite pub, The Winchester, with Shaun’s loser best friend, Ed (Nick Frost).  The next day, Shaun forgets to make reservations at a nice restaurant for their anniversary, causing Liz to dump him.  Shaun goes to the Winchester to drown his sorrows with Ed.  The next day, they are too hung over to realize that the town has become overrun with zombies until one attacks them in their backyard.  Shaun tells Ed they need to go get Liz and his mom then find somewhere safe to hole up until the whole thing blows over.

Shaun of the Dead is my favorite zombie movie, probably because I have a hard time taking “serious” zombie movies seriously.  While it technically not a movie, The Walking Dead would be the one exception to that.  Shaun of the Dead was my introduction to Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright.  While working together on the British television show Spaced (along with Nick Frost), Pegg and Wright discovered they shared a mutual appreciation of George Romero zombie movies.  They decided to try their hand at making of zombie movie of their own.  They used many of the cast and crew that worked on Spaced as well as many other well known British comedians and comic actors.  Even many of the zombie extras were fans of Spaced that responded to a casting call posted on a fan website.

Shaun of the Dead was released to nearly unanimous positive reviews, many of which stated in one way or another that the movie would be appreciated by both casual viewers and zombie genre fans alike.  The horror movie review website, Bloody Disgusting, listed Shaun of the Dead #2 on their list of best horror movies of the decade, saying “it isn’t just the best horror-comedy of the decade – it’s quite possibly the best horror-comedy ever made.”  George Romero was so impressed with the movie that he offered Pegg and Wright cameo roles in his next movie, Land of the Dead.  They turned down the more noticeable roles they were originally offered because they insisted on being zombies.