‘Creature Features’ walks among us!
By Christian Chensvold
I’d never understood how people get so excited over Halloween, as if there’s something missing in their lives throughout the year that can only come out during these waning days of late autumn. But then what happened to me one dark and stormy Oct. 31 of yore changed me forever.
I was driving along Highway 1 in a state of agitation. My aunt had died, and I and my three sisters had gone to apportion her estate in the seaside village of Timber Cove. But our family’s dysfunctional dynamics, the result of generations of eccentricity and occasional madness, soon caused my sinister siblings to fight furiously over Aunt Babsie’s occult library, which consisted of ancient grimoires bound in vellum that seemed to give off a sickly glow suggestive of unspeakable horrors. My eldest sister wished to keep the books for herself in order to master their infernal secrets, while the avaricious middle sister sought to pocket the proceeds. And the youngest wished to donate them to a museum, especially the collection’s most valuable volume, that masterpiece of witchcraft reeking of incense and lactic acid known as The Nipples of Isis, one of two copies known to exist.
As their bickering reached its crescendo, my sisters opened the books and began shouting spells at one another without the slightest concern for what malefic spirits they might be summoning to haunt us for eternity. No bitter pharmaceutical could soften my anxiety at this scene of evil depravity, and so I stormed from the house and embarked on the lonely drive home. But as I curved along the crashing coast, a fog bank crept in and wrapped me in its sullen shroud. In my excited state it proved most disorienting, and I soon came to the realization that I was no longer on the highway and had veered onto a desolate road, unlit save for the glow of a jaundiced moon in the night sky. Furious at my inattention, I hurriedly turned the car around, only to sink into a soggy bog alongside the road. With no cellular signal in this god-forsaken backwood, I was forced to seek assistance from an edifice of sinister magnificence, where a sickly orange glow shone from its drooping window, and which a decrepit sign indicated as Poulter Mansion.
I rapped on the door and was greeted by a gentleman, apparently the butler, who seemed to confuse surliness with dignity. I explained my predicament, and with reluctance the man, who identified himself as Livingston, allowed me to enter the dilapidated estate provided I wore a mask. I reached into my jacket pocket for the cloth face covering required in this age of pestilence, but Livingston reminded me that it was All Hallow’s Eve, and instead made me wear a mask cast in the mold of Frankenstein’s monster, whose distinctive rubber smell awakened buried childhood memories as if by necromancy.
I followed him through the musty house, which was guilty of the most heinous crimes of Victorian aesthetics. My ears picked up the faint sound of music, though I use the term loosely, for it sounded as if the melancholy last waltz of Von Weber were being played on a chalkboard by an ensemble comprised of feral cats. Livingston summoned a misshapen lackey named Handrew—for “handy Andrew,” a jejune pun if ever there was one—and asked him to “unstable the horses” and dislodge my car. Unsettled by the ghastly aura of the abode, I thanked them obsequiously, causing Livingston to remark I seemed like a man whose problems were far greater than a muck-stuck motorcar. With a nervous laugh I confessed that I felt as though I were one of those people who are badly stitched together and who could unravel at any moment.
“Let me guess,” Livingston said with a fiendish grin, “you often feel torn between your heart and your head?”
“Almost as if they belonged to different people?”
“I have an idea,” he said, then disappeared down a candlelit corridor.
As the moments dragged by, I found myself unable to contain my curiosity and succumbed to the impish impulse to investigate the source of the musical murder. I tiptoed down a hallway until I reached a set of double-doors from which came the dissonant noise. I pried them apart and peeked inside, where, in addition to the harmonic horror, I could also hear the sound of shuffling footsteps and ruffling taffeta—a veritable vortex of dancing couples—and yet I could see no one. The cold voice of Livingston startled me from behind.
“That’s an after-party for those gone to the afterlife,” he said, “and I’m afraid you would liven up the place. Now please follow me, for the lord of the manor would like to see you.”
We climbed a staircase and proceeded across a threadbare rug that failed to muffle the creaks and groans of our footsteps and made it sound as if we trod upon the dead. We arrived at a door Livingston opened to reveal the most horrid sight of the whole wretched evening: the grotesque form of a middle-aged man getting glammed up by two rocker groupies as if he were some has-been frontman of a ’90s heavy-metal band.
It was the most ridiculous Halloween costume I’d ever seen.
“So you’re the miserable bloke who encroached upon my estate?” he said in a British accent, really playing the part. “And for God’s sake take that bloody mask off.”
I de-Frankensteined, causing my host to remark that my sweat-drenched face was positively lunar. I confessed the evening had overtaxed my delicate nerves.
“Well sit down, lad,” he said jovially. “I merely jest. Have some wine.”
I plopped into a wing chair of distressed leather, causing a cat to screech vindictively at my intrusion. My host handed me a silver goblet filled with a musty vintage thick with sediment, adding that he considered the cellar’s vintage bottles “unclean” and only drank “fresh wine.” After several gulps I said I felt better, though confessed I found the house’s bone-chilling temperature rather uncomfortable. My host snapped at his attendants, Colleen and Colby, who quickly draped me in a cape of coarse wool lined in scarlet satin.
The man surveyed me approvingly. “You know, with that seasick expression you could really look the part.” He motioned to the ladies, and before I knew what was happening, my face had been powdered, my lips painted crimson and my hair slicked back into a widow’s peak.
“Drink up,” my host said heartily. “Wine warms the blood, and blood is the life.” He was really getting into this whole Gothic rock-star thing; clearly one of those people who loves Halloween a little too much.
“Life sucks,” I said with growing impatience, wondering if my car had been extricated from the mud pit.
“Bollocks! You just need to find what gets your heart racing, mate.” He consulted an old grandfather clock, which indicated it was two minutes to midnight. “I know what does it for me: rock and roll!” It was time to play his guests the last waltz, he said, filling my goblet. “Relax,” he said. “You’ll be on your way in no time. Just watch for Tangella. She’s known to deploy blow darts on Hallow’s Eve.” And with an extension of his serpentine tongue and a devil’s-horn salute, the made-up rock star and his groupies disappeared. I wrapped the cape around me like a blanket, settled more deeply into the chair and closed my eyes. But my nap was soon disturbed by what felt like a hornet’s sting, and then the room went black.
I awoke to a feeling of indescribable terror, for my greatest fears since entering the horrible house had been realized: I was a prisoner. Flitting about the room was a wraith-like creature with hair like a mop, a veritable rag-doll come to life—or rather partly to life—so gruesome was her appearance. The cape I’d cozied into had been removed; in its place was white gauze that covered my entire body like a mummy, rendering me immobile and unable to speak. Around me spanned a circle of dripping candles and a smoldering censer of myrrh, the balm of immortality. As I writhed and grunted in futility, my silent captor opened the clasp of an antiquarian book and mumbled incomprehensibly. It was then that my brain was wracked with such fright I thought it might explode and run out my nostrils; ffor the book’s title, which I could just decipher in the half-light, was none other than The Nipples of Isis!
When the mop-top muppet finished her demonic incantation, she opened the closet, causing my fevered mind to imagine scenes of medieval torture—of never-ending agony and legendary suffering. She proceeded to wheel out an old film projector, clearly intending to document her handiwork, the little sicko. But then she pulled down from the wall a screen strewn with claw marks, and with a rickety whirr the projector began to spin. What then appeared on the screen was so shocking that I screamed beneath my bandaged mouth.
Creature Features! This was the most joyful ray of light in my unhappy childhood, and there it was: the spooky animations, the logo in toxic green and bloody purple, just as it was when launching on KTVU in 1971. And wait, there was the butler, that surly Livingston! And this ghastly ghostly girl, called Tangella, was the ward of the lord of the house, who was no pear-shaped oaf dressed for Halloween, but an actual retired British rock star! His name was Vincent Van Dahl, former frontman of Prince Of Darkness, who left Bel Air for Bodega Bay, acquiring Poulter Mansion along with a vault of classic horror movies from the 1930s to ’80s. Risen from the dead in this digital age, Creature Features streams on YouTube, Roku, Vimeo and Apple TV, and airs on KOFY TV20 at 10pm on Saturdays. Now I did not squirm in my bonds from seeking escape, but rather from writhing in joy, as if transported to the paradise of childhood and blessed with immortality.
The next thing I remember is waking up to the sensation of a steering wheel pressed against my forehead. I clasped my stiff neck, unsure whether it was from the awkward position into which I’d fallen asleep or the dreamlike memory of being shot with a dart. I climbed out of the car and saw that it stood in the middle of Bay Hill Road, pointed west towards the foamy waters of Bodega Bay, upon which broke the first rays of dawn. Mud covered my car’s wheels, but when I looked up the hill there was nothing but tawny grass and barren trees.
Back in the car, I noticed an orange box wrapped with black ribbon. I opened it to find a Frankenstein mask, Dracula cape and mummy wrapping. An envelope, sealed with wax and bearing the sigil “CF,” revealed a note elegantly penned in crimson cursive, that read simply, “Now you understand the black magic of Halloween.”