Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tales from the Crypt at the Allegheny Observatory

by Bratzilla

While we didn’t intentionally set out for a night of terror at the Allegheny Observatory, we were driven there by the allure of the North Side (which incidentally has a pretty heinous history that we’ll save for another overcast day) and the fact that any building constructed in the early 1900s has to be inherently creepy. And, honestly, we liked the idea of a free tour, and have an unhealthy obsession with aliens and outer space.

But, boy, were we thrilled when we overheard a guy from the National Weather Service telling some other guys from who knows where that there were dead people in the basement. We immediately turned to each other with a “holy shit” look, and it was all we could do to stand still while we waited to hear about whether or not said dearly departed would be on the tour.

Completed in 1912, purposely built further up the hill from the original 1859 location (later sold to the Protestant Orphan Asylum) on account of air pollution, the Observatory is a work of art. With a grand exterior that pays homage to famous brains from Copernicus to Newton, the view alone is worth the trip. Inside, the old portraits of long-gone astronomers, stained glass window with hidden Masonic symbols, and wooden domes with peeling paint are also ghost approved as far as we are concerned.

After watching our tour guides handle some really big telescopes, open domes and move floors, we got to look at a nebula, a star that died 20,000 years ago, from 1,400 light years away. It pretty much looked like a faint smoke ring, but it was deceased, so we liked it a lot. But the highlight, of course, was the crypt. The final resting place for the ashes of former directors James Edward Keeler and John Brashear is reachable by descending a narrow, spiraling staircase reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie. The crypt itself is a rounded room with tiled walls – an odd little place that feels more like a tiny locker room bathroom than a tomb – but it was macabre nonetheless. We couldn’t imagine loving any job so much that we’d actually want to be buried at work, but to each his or her own. Astronomers are a strange lot and we’re not even going to try to figure them out.

As to be expected, the Allegheny Observatory guides were true space nerds, and this added an extra layer of awesome to the experience. We loved their dry senses of humor and highly recommend adding this tour to your list of things to do before you walk among the undead. Tours are free with advance reservations on Thursday (May – August) and Friday (April – October) nights. The Observatory also offers refreshments and public presentations on topics like “Galaxy Destruction in the Violent Universe.” We are told these are wildly popular so you need to make arrangements far in advance to attend. That said, there must be way more geeks in Pittsburgh than we thought.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Raising Hell at The Oaks Theater

by Bratzilla

As horror fans, most of us are well trained to embrace, and find no shortage of thrills in, “the unknown.” After making plans to see Clive Barker’s Hellraiser – one of Brizblack’s favorite movies of all time – at The Oaks Theater in Oakmont, we were appeased enough just to experience it on the big screen. But when the unexpected happened, and our most beloved cenobite turned up in the flesh, our souls were nearly torn apart with excitement.

With a well-earned place in horror history as the iconic Pinhead, Doug Bradley lurks somewhere in the brains of most people – even if they have no idea what his real name is. Tall, pale and bald like his character, when the man who’s caused countless people to literally or figuratively crap their pants since the 80s strolled up to the front of the theater, the entire crowd was captivated. And, as he began to speak, graciously spending an hour answering questions, there was no mistaking the dark shades of Pinhead discernable in “real life” Bradley, who was similarly smart and in control.

So why the hell did our dear sadist friend materialize in the theater? Well, naturally our initial assumption was that one of The Oaks proprietors somehow got a hold of “the box,” but the less fantastic answer is that he is moving to Pittsburgh. Yes, you heard right, Pinhead is going to be a yinzer! And, if that wasn't news enough, Bradley also announced that he’d be appearing in a local film called Scream Park gratis and might consider getting involved in other projects, too.

At the end of the day, more awesome than this experience is the place that made it possible. As Bradley said himself, we are so fortunate to have a cinema like The Oaks. A 430-seat single screener since 1938, the theater, with its Twin Peaks-esque red curtains, is spacious and stunning. And, more importantly, they regularly show great films. Most notably, we saw Hobo with a Shotgun here (if you haven’t seen this yet you are in for a blood-drenched treat) and a National Theatre Live production of Danny Boyle’s stage rendition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein that was incredible as well.

Looking ahead at dread to come, upcoming Moonlit Matinees include Let the Right One In, Silence of the Lambs, Amityville Horror, the Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, and Halloween 4, and we also recommend that you keep your eyes and ears open for other impromptu events that may creep up. So, now that you are in the know about The Oaks, you need only ask yourself one question: What is your pleasure?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gathering with Ghouls and Madmen at Horror Realm

By Bratzilla

What do zombies, chainsaw wielding maniacs and giant rubber monsters have in common? Well, okay, maybe quite a lot. But rarely do you conveniently find them all in one place like you do at conventions like Horror Realm. Fellow creeps, all we can say is that last weekend’s convention was epic. In a rancid nut shell, here’s what you missed.

Right off the bat, within 15 minutes of check-in to be exact, our beagle Jasper turned into a zombie. Yes, you read that right. No, we didn’t actually bring him to the convention but rather a photo from which Jonny Axx, an extremely talented artist, good spiritedly drew our dog’s portrait despite the fact that he personally doesn’t believe animals can contract the virus that creates zombies. (And he should know, too, because along with David Fairhead, he is a co-creator of the World Zombie Wrestling Association.)

As far as we were concerned, the night could have ended right there but we decided to stick around for a while and check out the local talent at the Horror Cabaret hosted by Dawn of the Dead star Mr. Ken Foree. The blood curdling line-up included selections from Evenings in Quarantine: The Zombie Opera (a fantastic production that will rot the damn flesh right off your bones) and a mentalist who skillfully manipulated select audience members' brains. But it was Pittsburgh legend Weird Paul who really got our hearts pumping again as he belted out “Human Eye,” a lovely ballad that’ll forever be in our skulls.  

The next day was all about panels. We were blown away by the devilish wit of Joe Bob Briggs, drive-in movie critic and MonsterVision host, as he told tales from his B-movie past. Later, Bill Moseley, “Chop Top” in Tobe Hooper’s 1986 follow-up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and “Otis B. Driftwood” in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, nearly cracked our ribs too as he talked about early career days when he couldn’t even find work as a corpse. For someone who's so terrifying on screen, he is probably one of the nicest actors you’ll ever meet.

Severed hands down, the ultimate experience, however, had to be the Bastards of Horror Short Film Fest. There is, perhaps, nothing we love to death quite as much as indie horror films. And when it comes to this genre, no one knows it better than Tim Gross and Charlie Fleming. From Nightmare at Bunnyman Bridge by a state trooper named Robert Elkins and a music video about a lonely beach bum who finds and then uses a corpse as a surf board to The Giant Rubber Monster Movie (watch this trailer!), these shorts were all great in their own ways and left us blood thirsty for more.

Really, we could go on for all eternity about the experiences we had – including randomly seeing special effects master Tom Savini shopping with his family in the dealer room – and all the genuine, talented people we met, but we all have our own rocks to crawl back under, so let us leave you with this: If you love horror and you live near Pittsburgh, come out and support this event next year. You have officially been warned.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Hanging at the Hollywood Theater

By Bratzilla

Okay, so maybe no one really hung themselves here. Well, at least not that we know of. We chose the recently resurrected Hollywood Theater in Dormont as our inaugural topic simply because it’s probably one of our most frequented haunts, and it’s pretty awesome.

Constructed in 1924 as billiard hall/bowling alley, the historic Hollywood Theater building didn’t officially became a single screen movie house until the ‘40s when it was purchased by Warner Bros. Later fated to die what seems like a thousand deaths with a series of owners and closures over the years, the Hollywood has more recently risen from the ashes once again to become a horror junky’s nightmare come true. So far, we’ve seen a dozen movies here – the highlights being Army of Darkness (one of the few films we’ve attended this year that actually elicited applause afterwards) and Caustic Zombies, directed by local horror maverick Johnny Daggers.

This summer, as part of a ramp up effort for the long anticipated 2011 Horror Realm Convention (the evil brain child of Hollywood board member Sandy Stuhlfire) the theater hosted 12 Weeks of Horror, showing classics like White Zombie and Carnival of Souls. At a screening of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, they even incorporated some live action, rolling out a lab table, complete with severed head, pickled eyeballs and bubbling brains. And, yes, we even preceded a twelve year old in putting our noggins on the tray like “Jan the Pan” (see left).

If you haven’t been here yet, you really need to go. While we’re not always talking 35mm prints, who are we to be film snobs? The experience of seeing a movie on a screen larger than our TVs is still great. Add some super cheap candy and popcorn (refreshments here are really affordable) that makes you feel hung over the next day and it gets even better.

Every time we go to the Hollywood, which we should also mention is also a nonprofit, there are never as many seats filled as there should be. If you have any spare change, please give this fine establishment your pennies and you’ll get a lot in return … particularly in the forms of zombies, vampires and other ghouls. After all, da ‘Burgh would be a significantly lamer place without it.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Yinz Goin' Scare Me N'at?

By Bratzilla and Brizblack

Steelers, yinzers and pierogies aside, Pittsburgh is a pretty sinister place to live. Way before Batman was ever filmed here our hometown served as the perfect stand-in for Gotham City with its persistent cloudy skies and smoky building exteriors. And, while George Romero sealed the deal by shooting Night of the Living Dead here, making the city Zombie Capital of the World, the gritty, industrial environs of Pittsburgh always had a haunted kind of feel almost by default. 

But just as doom, gloom and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) drive some people away from Pittsburgh, others are drawn back into her melancholy boundaries for these very same reasons, and we’re no exception. After being gone for more than a decade, we moved back to the Steel City in the late summer of 2010 with only a nightmare and a macabre vow to unearth every local horror that we could. 

Since then, we’ve exhumed quite a lot – so much, in fact, that we’ve started to develop an almost uncanny ability to show up pretty much everywhere with a spooky bent. So, taking the advice of a friend who suggested we start a blog, here we are, sharing with anyone who dares (or cares) to look our discoveries of dark distractions and the many terrors that exist in our own backyards.