Happy Halloween!— WeWriWa: Halloween surprises

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This year’s Halloween-themed excerpts come from the eighth book in my Saga of the Sewards series (formerly known as Max’s House). It needs a great deal of editing, rewriting, and revision, along with a new title, so I’m doing preliminary edits and fleshing it out as I go this month.

It’s now near the end of Halloween night, and Mr. Seward’s stepdaughters and younger children have finally come home from trick-or-treating. He’s very displeased, to say the least, when he learns about what happened without his knowledge or permission.

“It’s eleven-thirty!” Mr. Seward raged. “Where have you been all night? It never took that long to trick-or-treat before!”

“We were at the older kids’ party at school a lot of that time,” Harold said.

“Gene ran off, and we searched everywhere!” Cora Ann yelled. “When his mother dropped him off at the party, neither of them apologized for scaring us so much.”

“Mommy gave me really good candy and cocoa,” Gene said. “I got bored of trick-or-treating, and it was cold, so I decided to visit her.”

“That was illegal!” Mr. Seward shouted, shaking his fist in the air. “Clara knows damn well I have full custody and that she’s not allowed to see you again unless it’s by accident in public!”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to complete the scene.

Gene peeled the paper off of a candybar and began eating it. “I don’t care if you tan my hide for visiting Mommy. We had a lot of fun, and I’ll visit her again whenever I feel like it. She missed her favorite child.”

“Clara said many times she had no interest in motherhood, and made no attempt to even pretend to care in all those years before our divorce. Even her spoiling of you was constantly interrupted by her many trips abroad with her much-younger lovers. I refuse to believe she’s had a radical change of heart after so much time.”

“I’m sleepy, Daddy,” Amy whimpered.

“Who are you?” Mr. Seward asked. “Did you follow my kids home?” He took a double-take.  “Four strange kids followed you home!”

“What?” Adeladie asked. “Who? There are only ten of us, not fourteen.”

“My God!” he went on. “Where are the other four quints? Did somebody steal them?  Who’s the only quint here?”

“All the quints are here. Take off their costumes if you don’t believe me.”

Mr. Seward yanked the sheet off the ghost to reveal Andrew. Peggy was underneath the seal costume, Paula was under the peanut, and Amy was under the marshmallow.

“Quints, that was terrible, dressing in different costumes! You are not individuals! I’ll have some serious words with Elaine when she comes home, since she was the one who bought you these costumes instead of all five clown outfits.” His jaw clenched as he pointed at the staircase. “Go on up to bed, all of you. Thanks to Gene’s stunt, it’s well past all your bedtimes.”

A chamber of horrors in a Spanish castle

Released 12 August 1961, The Pit and the Pendulum was the second of seven American International Pictures horror films loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe works. This one, of course, is based on Poe’s 1842 story of the same name, which had been adapted a number of times prior, with varying degrees of accuracy.

Here, the pendulum only appears in the final reel and third act, though the film’s first two acts were intended to feel like they could’ve come from a real Poe story. Given that the story is all of two pages long, every film based on or inspired by it necessarily had to employ many creative liberties to fill in the many blanks and create a feature-length story.

In 1546, Englishman Francis Barnard (John Kerr) pays a visit to the Medina castle in Spain after hearing of the tragic, sudden death of his sister Elizabeth (Barbara Steele). At first, doorman Maximillian (Patrick Westwood) refuses to let him inside, but Francis is finally allowed entrance when Catherine Medina (Luana Anders) sees him and recognizes him. (I suppose an authentic Spanish name like Catalina sounded too foreign for 1961 audiences.)

When Francis asks to see Elizabeth’s widower Nicholas, Catherine says her brother is resting, and hasn’t been well since Elizabeth passed. Francis then asks to see the grave, and Catherine says she was entombed, in the family custom. On the way to the tomb, Catherine lets the bomb drop that Elizabeth died three months ago. Francis is stunned he wasn’t notified earlier.

Nicholas (Vincent Price) turns up In the cellar, coming out of a room with a bizarre noise. He claims Elizabeth died after a long sickness of the blood, but is evasive about the details. This doesn’t satisfy Francis, who vows to stay till he learns the whole truth.

During dinner, family physician Dr. Charles Leon (Antony Carbone) admits she truly died of a fright- and shock-induced heart attack brought on by the castle’s creepy atmosphere. Francis demands to see proof, and Nicholas obliges by showing him a torture chamber in the cellar. It was built by his Inquisitor father Sebastian, whose painting hangs in the guest room.

Nicholas recounts their happy life together, which was derailed when Elizabeth became obsessed by the torture chamber and fell into a bad mental state. He was making plans to leave the castle and begin a new life elsewhere when a horrific scream came from the cellar. When Nicholas ran to the scene, Elizabeth fainted into his arms and whispered “Sebastian” with her dying breath.

Francis still refuses to believe Nicholas is on the level, but Catherine tries to convince him by telling the story of how Nicholas trespassed into the torture chamber as a boy. He wasn’t supposed to be there ever, but his curiosity trumped his fear of discipline. Nicholas hid when his parents and paternal uncle Bartolome came in.

At first it seemed his father (also Price) was giving a macabre, unnaturally cheerful tour of these torture instruments, but then the true reason for the visit came out. Sebastian turned on Bartolome and began beating him, calling him an adulterer. After torturing his brother to death, he accused his wife of adultery and tortured her to death too.

Ever since that day, Nicholas has been haunted by what lurks in the cellar.

That night, mysterious harpsichord music plays, and Nicholas is convinced it was Elizabeth. He knows her playing, even without seeing who did it. A ring belonging to Elizabeth also turns up on top of the instrument.

After Nicholas returns to bed, Dr. Leon reveals the secret that Nicholas believes Elizabeth was entombed alive. Contrary to the official story, his mother wasn’t tortured to death, but entombed alive after her torture. Ever since, Nicholas has been terrified by the idea of premature burial, so much so it drives him to convulsions of horror. Nicholas also believes Elizabeth walks the corridors and calls his name.

Dr. Leon believes someone found this out and is using the information to drive Nicholas insane, possibly a servant. This theory is given credence when Elizabeth’s room is found ransacked in the morning, while maid Maria (Lynette Bernay) was cleaning. Maria claims Elizabeth spoke to her.

Francis has another theory, that this is all an elaborate ruse by Nicholas. Worried he might unconsciously be doing all these things due to his fear Elizabeth may have been entombed alive, Nicholas demands an exhumation.

But the macabre discovery waiting inside the tomb doesn’t solve this haunting mystery. Instead, it unleashes a parade of even more horrors.

Humanity snatched by giant seed pods

Invasion of the Body Snatchers, released 5 February 1956, was based on Jack Finney’s 1954 sci-fi novel The Body Snatchers (originally serialized in Collier’s magazine). To avoid confusion with the 1945 film The Body Snatcher, the title was changed first to They Come from Another World, then run through four different alternatives. The final title was chosen in late 1955. However, it’s still known as Invasion of the Defilers of Tombs in France, due to a mistranslation.

The film opens in a psych ward, where a hysterical Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) demands the other doctors believe his wild tale and take his dire warnings about oncoming danger seriously. At last, Dr. Hill (Whit Bissell) has compassion and agrees to listen to his fantastic story. We then enter flashback mode.

Miles has been summoned home to Santa Mira, California (Mill City in the book) by his nurse Sally Withers (Jean Willes). En route to their clinic, Miles suddenly brakes to avoid hitting a little boy, Jimmy Grimaldi (Bobby Clark, now going on 77 years old). Despite what it looks like, Jimmy isn’t trying to avoid school or bullies. Instead, he’s terrified because his mother supposedly isn’t his mother.

The second such case Miles encounters is that of Wilma Lentz (Virginia Christine), who’s insistent her uncle Ira, who raised her, isn’t Uncle Ira anymore. She says everything else about him is exactly alike, right down to his memories, but the emotions aren’t there. He seems dead inside.

In the middle of dealing with these strange cases, Miles rekindles his relationship with his old high school sweetheart Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), Wilma’s cousin. Both of their first marriages ended in divorce, but they’re now both older and wiser, and eager to begin fresh.

Though Miles’s colleague Dr. Dan Kaufmann (Larry Gates), a psychiatrist, assures him these people are just suffering from a mass psychosis and can’t possibly be telling the truth, everything Miles thinks he knows about medicine, psychology, and reality is shattered when he visits his friends Jack and Teddy Belicec (King Donovan and Carolyn Jones) that evening.

Out of nowhere, a body appeared on the Belicecs’ pool table, wrapped in a sheet and with blank facial features, like a coin that hasn’t been struck yet before leaving the mint. He leaves no fingerprints either. Things go from bizarre to hair-raising creepy when they realize he has the same height, weight, and general features as Jack. Then a bleeding cut appears on his hand, exactly matching the cut Jack just got.

Miles takes Becky home, but is so disturbed by the feeling that she’s in grave danger, he presently returns. Becky’s father is emerging from the cellar, which strikes Miles as odd. When Miles goes into the cellar, he finds Becky’s incompletely formed double. In terror, he rushes upstairs and carries the sleeping Becky into his car.

Dr. Kaufmann is called to investigate the two doubles, but they’ve both vanished by the time he arrives on each scene. He believes the one at the Belicecs’ house was real, and that Miles was so jittery about it, he hallucinated seeing Becky’s double. Police Chief Grivett presently reports a body matching the description of Jack’s double was seen on a funeral pyre.

The next day, Miles finds Jimmy happily reconciled with his mother and asking to go home soon (after staying overnight with his grandma). Wilma likewise cancels her psychiatric appointment and reports she no longer thinks Uncle Ira is a phony.

In the evening, Miles discovers giant seed pods on his property, which presently open to reveal more bodies, surrounded by foam. These bodies look like Miles and his friends. In terror, he phones the FBI and is informed all the lines are dead. Every operator reports this, in every city he tries.

Miles takes a pitchfork to these pod people and sets them on fire, then tells the Belicecs to flee and get help. He and Becky will take another route and try to reach someone, anyone, who can stop this menace in its tracks.

After stopping by a gas station, Miles discovers two pods in his car. He immediately destroys them, but it’s like fighting a mighty enemy army with pebbles and shoestrings. One by one, everyone Miles knows is turning into a pod person, and more are constantly being brought in.

Miles and Becky go on the run, trying their best to evade capture and sleep. If they fall asleep for even one minute, they’ll be replaced by an emotionless pod person. But if they manage to make it to another town, there just might be hope to save humanity.

An invisible boxer seeks exoneration and revenge

A&C Meet the Invisible Man was the third film in their popular A&C Meet… series, which eventually came to seven such mashups. It was originally intended as a straight horror film in the Invisible Man series, but the huge success of A&C Meet Frankenstein (1948) convinced Universal to rewrite the script as a comedy-horror film.

It was filmed from 3 October–6 November 1950, and released 19 March 1951. The special effects were the work of Stanley Horsley (son of English film pioneer David Horsley), who also did the special effects for The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, and Invisible Agent.

A&C actually first met the Invisible Man (voiced by Vincent Price) in the fun twist at the end of A&C Meet Frankenstein, but the one they meet and help in this film is entirely different.

Bud Alexander and Lou Francis are graduating from detective school, and very excited to start their new career. Soon after they go into business, a man (Arthur Franz) enters their detective agency, draws all the blinds, and asks if they’re interested in a case. Before he can give details, the radio reports an escaped murderer named Tommy Nelson, who exactly matches his description.

Lou is typically the first to realise their client is one and the same, while Bud takes a bit more convincing. However, as soon as Bud figures it out, he’s chomping at the bit to get the promised $5,000 reward.

Meanwhile, Tommy phones his fiancée Helen Gray (Nancy Guild) and arranges to visit her and her uncle, Dr. Philip Gray (Gavin Muir). Once he arrives in the lab, Tommy begs for the invisibility potion he’s working with. Dr. Gray steadfastly refuses, pointing out the long-known side effect of eventual madness. He tells Tommy about the sad case of the potion’s inventor, Jack Griffin, and points to his photo on the wall (Claude Rains, who played the original Invisible Man).

The cops pull up outside, and Dr. Gray and Helen stall them for time as Tommy hides. Against the dire warnings, Tommy injects himself.

Soon afterwards, Lou comes upon the scene, forced to be in a room alone with Tommy while Bud talks with the cops and demands the reward. Lou’s terror at being so close to a believed murderer increases when he shakes hands with Tommy and sees Tommy’s hand disappearing. Bit by bit, his entire body disappears, and all that’s left is a pile of clothes.

No one believes Lou’s story, and he’s sent to a shrink, Dr. James Turner (Paul Maxey). The therapy session fails miserably, as Lou instead hypnotizes not only Dr. Turner, but also several cops and anyone else who ventures into the room. Bud is outraged at Lou’s incompetence, particularly since it cost them a big reward.

Bud cheers up a bit when Helen comes to see them and begs them to prove Tommy’s innocence. She gives them $500 and a suitcase to deliver to Tommy in Riverside Park at night. Before she leaves, she asks them to tell Tommy her uncle’s working on the re-agent.

Of course, Lou is the one forced to go to the park alone at night while Bud waits by the car, dreaming of collecting the reward after all. Tommy emerges with his head wrapped in bandages, wearing the clothes from the suitcase. When the cops arrive, Tommy has once again disappeared.

Bud finally believes Lou’s story about invisibility when Tommy makes himself known and expresses outrage at Bud’s attempted double-crossing. While they’re driving away, Tommy explains what happened and why he’s innocent.

Their next stop is the gym, where Tommy elucidates a few more details. He then begins working a punching bag at incredible speed, making it look like Lou is doing it. The trainers are so impressed, they take Lou on as a boxer.

Many hilarious hijinks ensue, all while Tommy remains fixed on his goal—proving his innocence and getting revenge on the promoter who murdered his trainer. But the longer he’s invisible, the stronger the serum’s effects become, and the greater the chance of something going wrong during the big showdown in the ring.

An island mansion full of secrets and zombies

Released 14 May 1941, King of the Zombies was intended as a vehicle for Béla Lugosi (a role for which he would’ve been perfect). Unfortunately, he was unavailable at the time, and Monogram tried to negotiate for Peter Lorre (who also would’ve been great). Finally, Henry Victor was signed shortly before filming commenced. Because of Mr. Victor’s heavy German accent, he was unable to be a leading man, and instead established himself as a character actor.

James McCarthy (Mac) (Dick Purcell), his buddy Bill Summers (John Archer), and his very funny valet Jefferson Jackson (Jeff) (Mantan Moreland) are flying from Cuba to Puerto Rico when their plane blows off-course and crashes in a storm. The trio end up on a strange island, right in the middle of a cemetery.

With nowhere else to go, they enter the first house which presents itself and meet the acquaintance of owner Dr. Miklos Sangre (Henry Victor). Though they heard a faint radio signal while still in the air, Dr. Sangre denies any radio stations on the island. He instead claims they must’ve heard something from one of the many ships passing through, and says the next ship won’t arrive for about two more weeks.

Despite Jeff’s fears and suspicions, particularly regarding creepy butler Momba (Leigh Whipper), Bill and Mac accept the offer to stay as longterm guests. Jeff meanwhile is banished to the servants’ quarters in the cellar, which connects to the kitchen. He’s delighted to make the acquaintance of pretty maid Samantha (Marguerite Whitten), but newly frightened by the ancient cook Tahama (Madame Sul-Te-Wan).

Other residents of the mansion are Dr. Sangre’s wife Alyce (Patricia Stacey) and niece Barbara Winslow (Joan Woodbury). Jeff, who’s already wise to the existence of the household’s zombies and refuses to believe Dr. Sangre’s rebuttals of their true nature, is even more alarmed by Mrs. Sangre. As Dr. Sangre explains, “She lives, yet walks in the land of those beyond.”

Everyone then gets settled for the night, but Jeff still can’t relax. When a few zombies try to attack him, he flees upstairs and tells his friends what happened. The commotion gets Dr. Sangre’s attention, and he once more insists there are no zombies and that Jeff is just imagining things. However, he does finally permit Jeff to stay in the same room as Mac and Bill.

Jeff freaks out again when he sees Mrs. Sangre coming through a wall. Mac and Bill are finally convinced he’s on the level when Jeff finds an earring she dropped on the bed, and they go to investigate. During the course of the investigation, Mac finds Barbara in the library, researching how to break her aunt’s hypnotic state.

This time, no one believes Dr. Sangre when he finds them and tries to set their minds at ease. They’re determined to get off this island as soon as possible.

These plans, however, are thrown into jeopardy when the zombies come calling again. Will they be able to escape without joining the ranks of the undead?

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