Tag Archives: ghost story

154 – Are You Afraid of the Dark? A Conversation with D.J. MacHale

When it came to causing nightmares for the children of the 90s, few people besides the bogeyman himself are as responsible as D.J. MacHale. As the co-creator of Nickelodeon’s long-running Are You Afraid of the Dark? horror series for children, his work terrified a generation of flannel-clad youngsters. In addition to Are You Afraid of the Dark?, D.J. has also authored the ten-volume (!) Pendragon series of young adult science fiction and fantasy books as well as the Morpheus Road ghost story trilogy.

We’re joined in the discussion by Scott Markus from What’s Your Ghost Story? who worked with D.J. on his show Flight 29 Down in the mid–2000s. Scott’s also going to be moderating a panel where D.J. is appearing with some of his Are You Afraid of the Dark? cohorts at Midsummer Scream, which is a festival dedicated to Halloween and horror on July 29th and 30th at the Long Beach Convention Center.

D.J. MacHale Midsummer Scream
Click here to learn more about Midsummer Scream

While Are You Afraid of the Dark? was originally intended as a series of direct-to-video fairy tales that would help beleaguered parents put their kids to sleep, the concept evolved into the campfire ghost story that everyone remembers as D.J. and his co-creator Ned Kandel realized their fairy tale bedtime story series had more possibilities as an anthology television series focused around scary tales instead.

The show ran for seven seasons and produced ninety-one episodes and helped launch the careers of future stars like Ryan Gosling, Eliza Cuthbert, and Neve Campbell. With frequent nods to classic horror cinema, Are You Afraid of the Dark? became one of Nickelodeon’s most fondly remembered programs, but some of the nightmare fuel behind the show came from D.J.’s own paranormal experiences.

d.j. machale are you afraid of the dark
Even the ghosts of classic cinema, like F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, show up in the Tale Of The Midnight Madness

Growing up in an old haunted house in Greenwich, Connecticut, D.J. lived in a home full of weird sounds and feelings. He recalls his mother, someone who definitely wasn’t into the “oogedy-boogedy” side of the world, telling him later on that she had seen a woman in the window upstairs when there was no one in the house. Also, that she would figure out a way to turn off the lights upstairs without having to go through the hallway alone in the dark because she never quite felt comfortable up there.

He remembers two distinct experiences in the house. One, waking up in the middle of the night as a toddler, and seeing a shadow figure floating through the hallway beyond the door. This made such an impression on the young filmmaker that he even recreated it as the opening scene in Are You Afraid of the Dark’s first episode. Art imitating life (or death, as it were!)

Two, as a teenager, while home alone trying to learn “Foxy Lady” bu Jimi Hendrix on guitar, he could hear some kind of weird activity in that same hallway whenever he would put the needle down on the record. When he finally finished the song, he recalls clearly hearing someone in that same hallway sliding up against the wall and sighing. Thinking it was his brother-in-law playing tricks, he searched the house, but there wasn’t anyone there.

D.J. and his mother later theorized that it was the previous owner of the house, a Rose McKeever, who had died on the site, still roaming the upstairs hallway, and “tut-tut”ing young people for their loud music from beyond the grave.

D.J. MacHale Black Sabbath Are You Afraid of the Dark
Where do you think Ozzy and Tony Iommi got the name from?

Gee, ya think Ozzy Osbourne was influenced by this too?

Those experiences and a fateful screening of Boris Karloff’s Black Sabbath at a vintage theater would lead D.J. toward the worlds of fantasy, horror, and science-fiction throughout his career. From his work on Disney’s Tower of Terror film (which we discuss extensively in the podcast) to his latest book series, The Library, which lets the reader help in solving supernatural mysteries, D.J. MacHale is the man behind countless creepy feelings and sleepless nights.

You can find more of D.J. MacHale’s latest works by checking out his website.

The song for this week’s episode is our remix of the “Are You Afraid Of The Dark” theme song. We love how it sets the tone for the creepy stories that follow it, so make sure to listen to Sunspot’s (instrumental) remix of the theme at the end of the podcast!

145 – Twin Peaks: The Paranormal Influence Underneath TV’s Weirdest Show

In April of 1990, I was 13 years old. I remember very well watching the debut of the pilot of Twin Peaks on that Sunday night (along with 35 million other people) and I didn’t miss an episode after that. I loved the quirky characters, the murder mystery, and the weird dreams, but most of all, I enjoyed spending time in a place where magic was real, ancient demons stalked the Earth, logs could send psychic messages, and we could visit other dimensions in our dreams. My father and I were diehards who watched until the bitter end, upset about the cliffhangers that it left dangling at the second season’s conclusion.

twin-peaks

I went into Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me thinking that we’d get a resolution, excited to find out what happened the fate of Audrey from the bank explosion and Cooper in the Black Lodge. I didn’t really care what happened to James, because well, James’ weird love triangle shenanigans were boring by the end of the second season. The movie was all the weirdness of the TV show with little of the comedy and the sex and violence amped up. While I didn’t get the answers I craved, I loved going back into that world.

After the movie failed at the box office and David Lynch seemed to be bitter, I figured that was it. The bad guys won, Laura Palmer’s soul was trapped in the Red Room, and no one would ever know why David Bowie showed up as a ghost or what Jacques Renault meant when he called himself “The Great Went”. I figured it would just be a wonderful bit of nostalgia when I think about junior high. It was my favorite show at the time we were starting our rock band, when I was growing my hair long for the first time, and when I was hitting adolescence head on.

So, I was surprised as everyone else when the revival was announced. I couldn’t wait to go back. I thought that the closest thing we ever were going to get toa  reunion was when Big Ed and Nadine runiting as the bad guys in The People Under The Stairs.

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I’m the kind of fan who falls in love the mythology of a fictional universe. My favorite X-Files episodes weren’t the funny standalones, I wanted to know about the alien invasion conspiracy. I cared about the Dharma Initiative in LOST and cared about the answers they promised us. I want to know the history of the conflict between the Klingons and the Federation, I want to lose myself in the universe.

I knew that David Lynch was weird and I was down with that, but it took me until Lost Highway to appreciate his dream logic and to no longer care about coherence in the narrative (and trust me, if you’ve seen any of the Twin Peaks revival, you’ll quickly understand that coherence is the first thing out the window.) But in Twin Peaks, the story isn’t as important as the feeling you get when you hang out there. Sure, the quirky characters are fun and their obssession with coffee, apple pie, and smoking (really, that was probably the last major network series where half the characters unapologetically smoke cigarettes), but it was the world they lived in where you just wanted to spend more time.

The show was artistically fearless years before our current Golden Age of TV, it could be hilarious when it wanted to be, tedious and awkward when it wanted, the camera shots alone could evoke fear and dread, but also intense beauty and high strangeness. There’s a scene in Fire Walk With Me that is easily the top three most terrifying things I’ve ever seen in a visual work. Twin Peaks made me feel things like nothing else I’d ever seen on TV.  And that’s why I love going back.

While nominally a murder mystery and a soap opera parody and a meditation on how Small Town America is often hiding a seedy dark and corrupt underbelly, Twin Peaks is also a cornucopia of otherworldly influences. In this discussion, we try to hit as many as we can and how the real-life paranormal tales  impacted the story of TV’s weirdest show.

While we finish the episode with a little musical homage to Angelo Badlamenti’s incredible Twin Peaks soundtrack, we kicked off the show with discussing the untimely death of Chris Cornell who was certainly a huge influence on our generation. I had first heard Soundgarden’s “Loud Love” in 1990 around the same time I was watching Twin Peaks and of course became a huge fan with Badmotorfinger (in fact, I can’t say how often I’ve thought on a particularly rough hangover day that “I’m looking California and feeling Minnesota”.) We talk a bit about Cornell’s amazing voice, but also how eerie it was that Soundgarden covered Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time Of Dying” (which itself was Zep’s attempt at updating an old Gospel song) at their last show before the singer tragically took his own life.

134 – Game Over, Man: Remembering Bill Paxton

When  Bill Paxton passed away on February 26th, 2017 at the way too young age of 61, we just knew we had to talk about him. Sure, the TV news might talk about his HBO show, Big Love or when he headlined the storm chaser classic, Twister,  but he was a huge presence in so many fantastic science fiction and horror movies. His legacy of performances adding color and fun to huge blockbusters and adding gravitas and real character to B-movies meant that I’d never turn the channel when he was on the screen.

For this episode, Wendy Lynn and I are joined by our friend, author and screenwriter, Mark O’Connell, as well as the always effervescent Allison Jornlin from Milwaukee Ghosts.

For those of us growing up in the early 80s, we knew him before we probably even realized it. He directed and starred in the video for “Fish Heads” which was a classic from the experimental film days of Saturday Night Live (and if you have “Fish heads, fish heads, roly poly fish heads” stuck in your head right now, you’re welcome.)

He was a special kind of jerk in Weird Science, he gets offed by The Terminator at the Griffith Park Observatory in the beginning of that film, and he’s a highlight of arguably the greatest vampire film since Murnau’s Nosferatu, Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 Near Dark. His most famous role for many people, though, is undoubtedly Aliens‘ ill-fated hysterical Colonial Marine William Hudson with the motormouth and negative attitude.

All these things are what you’re going to find in other remembrances of the actor, from the movie geek sites to the entertainment magazines. For our episode, we wanted to talk with Mark O’Connell, who had a movie script that Bill was aiming to direct in the late 90s.

Mark’s script was called Doug and Dave, and it was based on the true story of two older British guys who claimed to be behind the United Kingdom’s Crop Circle phenomena. They said that it was all a hoax that they would do in the middle of the night after knocking back a few pints at the local. It was shortly after that they were denounced as hoaxers themselves and made up the story for the ten thousand pound fee they got from a magazine for telling the story. Paxton loved Mark’s script and wanted to direct it as his first feature film.

Unfortunately, the producer couldn’t get the funds together for the movie, so eventually Paxton went on to direct the thriller Frailty, a dark, moody, and often disturbing film about a Texas family that “murders” demons that look just like regular people.

A few years later, Mark gets a call out of the blue and Bill Paxton tried again to get the film off the ground. While the movie never happened, Mark tells a personal story of working with the actor and the energy, attitude, and the excitement of trying to move a film out of “Development Hell” to a movie theater near you.

Then Allison remembers her own Bill Paxton story of how she visited the Hotel Chequamegon in Ashland, Wisconsin because it was reportedly haunted. Ashland is a tiny tourist town in Northern Wisconsin and it’s where Sam Raimi (the man that gave us Evil Dead as well as two great Spider-Man films) took his cast and crew to make the film-noir A Simple Plan in the late 90s.

Well, it starred Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton and they stayed at the Hotel Chequamegon during the filming. According to the staff, both actors told the front desk that they had scene a mysterious woman in Victorian clothing roaming the halls and vanishing and had asked for their rooms to be moved.

So, not only do we get a personal tale of working with Bill Paxton, but we find out that he had his own paranormal experience (and in Wisconsin, no less!)

As an actor, he could elevate any scene he was in, he was a huge reason why Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. started getting good in the middle of its first season, and he’s the only other actor besides Lance Henriksen that’s been killed by a Terminator, Alien, and Predator! From the Jimmy Buffett-eqsue “Coconut Pete” in the hilarious slasher sendup Club Dread to the astronaut Fred Haise in Apollo 13 (the role that he made it sound to Mark that he wanted to be remembered for), he was a big part of what made so many of our favorite science fiction and horror movies fun.

bill paxton power loader aliens ghost story

For this week’s song, we took some inspiration from Aliens, because when you’re in a “Power Loader” you feel invincible!

1 2 3 shots in,
I’m through the roof,
invincible and I’m 200 proof.
Spoiling for someone to take me on,
My blood is fire,
I’m in the Octagon.

I’m in a Power Loader,
I’m indestructible now,
Like in a Power Loader,
You can’t push me around.

Every look’s a jab,
and every stare a punch,
an invitation to some fisticuffs
Just say the word, and let’s go to the mat,
Cry for mama and say Game Over Man

I’m in a Power Loader,
I’m indestructible now,
Like in a Power Loader,
You can’t push me around.

You can ride the white line
all the way to fight time
Cuz you know for a black eye,
is better than a flatline.

I’m gonna nuke you from orbit
I want you to hit me as hard you can
I’ve got the code for god mode
tonight I’m a champion.

I’m in a Power Loader,
I’m indestructible now,
Like in a Power Loader,
You can’t push me around.

I’m in a Power Loader,
I’m indestructible now,
Like in a Power Loader,
You can’t push me around.

125 – Princess Leia and The Paranormal: Carrie Fisher’s Ghost Story and Psychic Experiences

It’s another bittersweet episode as we remember actress and writer Carrie Fisher, who passed away on December 27th, 2016. A performer and a personality who found her artistic voice in her personal struggles with mental illness and addiction, she was as inspiring off the screen as she was on.

carrie fisher ghost story
Snarky to the very last!

When Disney bought Star Wars in 2012, it was a new lease on life for a story that a lot of its original fans became disillusioned with. George Lucas is a creator of boundless visual imagination, but the stories he was telling in the prequels seemed to no longer resonate with the fans that had grown up with the films. Star Wars changed the landscape of  popular cinema and reinvigorated space adventure. It influenced everything and its impact can hardly be overstated.

carrie fisher ghost story
Retro-blaster, cool sidebuns, and a deadly look…

When President Reagan envisioned a nuclear missile shield in the atmosphere over the United States, it was called the “Star Wars” program. He even called the Soviet Union an “evil Empire”. In the United Kingdom Census in 2001, 390,000 people listed “Jedi” as their religion. Star Wars had entered the consciousness of our world far beyond popular entertainment. And so much of it is mystical, what else are the Jedi besides space wizards with psychic powers who can come back from the dead as ghosts?

carrie fisher ghost story
The gold bikini that launched a thousand starships…

The Star Wars prequels however, while wildly financially successful and groundbreaking in special effects, seemed to leave many of the original fans cold. In their eyes, Lucas went from a visionary to a joke, a billionaire with a waddle who had lost touch with what made his original films such classics.

carrie fisher ghost story
Episode 1.5: The Phantom Neck

(Full disclosure: I liked the visually breathtaking prequels more than I liked The Force Awakens, which was too much fanservice and just a retread of the original. Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford’s performances were the only real bright spots, in my humble and extremely unpopular opinion.)

carrie fisher ghost story
My favorite moment from “The Force Awakens”

When Disney bought the franchise they gave the fans what they wanted, which was the further adventures of the Skywalker family. Luke, his sister Leia, her husband Han Solo, and their offspring. So much of the greatness of the original films is tied directly to the chemistry of the trio of leads, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and of course, Carrie Fisher.

carrie fisher ghost story
Some things get better with age.

And in the new series of films, people were hoping to see a lot more of Leia, who went from Princess to General. An icon of female empowerment who went from a damsel in distress to a breaker of chains and a leader of armies. She set the sci-fi standard for female characters.

When Carrie Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, passed away from a stroke the day after her daughter died, it was a sad and eerie story of a broken heart. But that wasn’t the  only uncanny thing that happened in her life. She not only was romantic with noted paranormal enthusiast, Dan Aykroyd, but she had her own ghost story when her friend died in her bed (while she was in it!), a psychic friend of her mother’s might have predicted her Star Wars fame, and none other than Corey Feldman himself said that she had some kind of psychic power that she saw his own struggles with addiction.

In this episode, Wendy, Allison from Milwaukee Ghosts, and I discuss her importance to the world of film, female heroes in science fiction, and her relationship to the paranormal.

For the song this week, we had to include the video from Halloween 2009, where we went as Luke, Leia, and Han from Return of the Jedi. Wendy even made a Jabba to go with her gold bikini and I had lost my shirt at that point in the night, so I was less Luke and more Rancor Keeper! We often quote some of our favorite songs in a track of ours called “My Own Worst Enemy” and for this live tribute we did some of our favorite Star Wars musical moments.  There were several other partygoers dressed as Jedi at the show so we even got to enjoy a little lightsaber action during the performance!

I think she smokes just to blow smoke rings,
I think I’m drinking just to forget her name.
She looks at me funny, like Jesus on the cross,
This is no Fortunate Fall, but it feels like “Paradise Lost”.

So, get thee to a nunnery, you b!t(h.
I drank myself to sleep a thousand times.
I broke my foot running after you,
but I can’t seem to get you off my mind.

I might even be my own worst enemy.
Standing in the corner of my shame.
I might even be my own worst enemy,
because I really thought you could keep me sane.

She looks at me funny and says, “I think of you like my therapist,”
I laughed, she didn’t.
I touched an angel; I thought I brushed a wing.
I thought it meant something, she didn’t.

So, get thee to a nunnery, you b!t(h.
I drank myself to sleep a thousand times.
I broke my foot running after you,
but I can’t seem to get you off my mind.

I might even be my own worst enemy.
Drinking so that I forget your name,
I might even be my own worst enemy,
because I really thought you could keep me sane.

89 – Cowboys and Call Girls: Live from the Haunted Old Baraboo Inn

old baraboo inn promo picture
Hey now, that’s a good looking group!

We took the show on the road this last Saturday night to the Old Baraboo Inn in Baraboo, Wisconsin to do a live podcast and ghost hunt.

old baraboo inn

Allison from  Milwaukee Ghosts joined Wendy and I to explore what is reputed to be one of Wisconsin’s most haunted buildings. She put on a presentation about Dairy State weirdness at the beginning of the night and it was fantastic because there were a bunch of stories that I never heard before and she gave us a preview of some of the cool stuff she’ll be doing at this year’s Milwaukee Paranormal Conference.

Allison Jornlin Old Baraboo Inn
Here’s Allison presentin’!

Once Allison finished her presentation, we took some time to interview owner B.C. Farr about the place and its history. Built in 1864, the saloon has had several owners over the decades as it shifted from a boarding house to speakeasy to brothel and then just a nice Wisconsin tavern.

B.C. had been a regular there since the 80s and was on a path to become a professional NASCAR race car driver. But the entrepreneurial spirit got the best of him and after a strange fire gutted the place, he got the opportunity to own it for himself. And it only took a short time before he started seeing his tools disappear randomly and shapes out of the corner of his eye. And that was just the beginning…

B.C. Farr from the Old Baraboo Inn – Photo courtesy of Baraboo News Republic

Since it was a live interview, it was even more fun because there were people at the bar who had seen things with B.C. over the years and he calls out a friend who had sat with him at the tavern one night and listened as the jukebox turned off and they could hear old honky tonk piano music wafting through the room for 30-45 seconds before the jukebox kicked back on. Another patron talked about the ghost of a cowboy they both saw one night. And according to this Wisconsin State Journal article, there’s plenty more ghosts there, including a few of the ladies of the night that used to work upstairs in the establishment. Whatever specials they’re offering, the ghosts are taking it, because it seems they’re just as popular with the dead as with the living!

old baraboo inn sign
Oh God, they knew that we were coming!

Once we finished interviewing B.C. we talked with Melanie Carroll, who was dressed up like a spirit named Cybil, who’s been seen wandering the tavern in a fancy white dress. Melanie has a team called Date With The Paranormal in the area and has been investigating the Old Baraboo Inn since she moved into the area.

Her team uses what’s called an SLS Camera, which stands for Structured Light Sensor. Its use in ghost hunting has been made popular by Zak Bagans and Ghost Adventures. The camera captures an interesting variety of electromagnetic fields and seems to be able to detect movement that we cannot with our naked eye. In addition to doing photos earlier in the evening as “Cybil”, Mel was gracious enough to take us on a mini-ghost hunt up in the apartment upstairs where the old brothel used to be! My internet cut out after a few minutes, but I was able to capture a little bit of it in our See You On The Other Side Facebook live stream…

Okay, now here’s something weird. For this episode we originally recorded a tribute to Prince, who died this week at his estate and recording complex in Minnesota. So, Wendy and I worked up an acoustic version of “Delirious” and we played it for the crowd right after the podcast.

We set the Zoom to record, just like it had been for the podcast interview recording, but when we went back the next day to check the recording – it was gone! Prince was famously known to be insanely protective about his songwriting copyrights. Was it the Purple One himself who turned the recording off?!

Who knows, but since we were having a great time at the Old Baraboo Inn, with a few glasses of wine, we decided to make this week’s song, “In Vino Veritas”, about the simple pleasures of having a couple of drinks!

In vino.
In vino.

The drunken man’s words
are the sober thoughts,
little bit of truth
serum in the sauce.

Another round, you’re on a roll,
tell me the secrets of your soul,
Confess your sins, and let go,
I love you more when you lose control.

So you can call me when you’re messed out of your mind,
Now that’s something I can get behind,
You finally say the words you’ve always wanted to,
when you bid sobriety adieu
There’s nothing to tell but the truth.

The words flow fast,
with a wedge of lime,
and moderation’s
just another waste of time.

Another round, you’re on a roll,
tell me the secrets of your soul,
Confess your sins, and let go,
I love you more when you lose control.

So you can call me when you’re messed out of your mind,
Now that’s something I can get behind,
You finally say the words you’ve always wanted to,
You’re so much more fun when you’re crunk,
because you don’t lie to me when you’re drunk.

You’re much more interesting on your third glass of wine,
your honest flavors always come out on the vine,
It’s your boss and his secretary or your friend that popped her cherry,
the truth is you ain’t no girl scout,
when the skeletons come out.
The skeletons come out.
The skeletons come out.

Another round, you’re on a roll,
tell me the secrets of your soul,
Confess your sins, and let go,
I love you more when you lose control.

So you can call me when you’re messed out of your mind,
Now that’s something I can get behind,
You finally say the words you’ve always wanted to,
when you bid sobriety adieu.
And you can call me when you’re messed out of your mind,
Now that’s something I can get behind,
You finally say the words you’ve always wanted to,
You’re so much more fun when you’re sauced,
In vino veritas.

In vino.
In vino.