Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Favorite Scary Stories

For someone who likes scary things, I am very far behind on my scary stories. I haven't read most of Stephen King's massive library, and most horror from the last forty years has gone completely under my radar. I keep telling myself that I can read horror stories outside of October, but it just doesn't happen. A lot of these picks are from stories I've read in just the last few years, but some are from my childhood.  These are in no particular order. These are just ten of the stories that I really enjoy or have scared me at one time or another.

1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

I'll just say that I was pleasantly surprised that this story was so much different from the Universal classic film. This monster, or "Adam," talks and even waxes philosophically with his beleaguered inventor. The monster was not accepted by Frankenstein, so he goes about completely ruining his life. This book is deep and has some of the most disturbing lines from any book.

2. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This book was quickly adapted into a pretty decent horror movie in 1963, and was later remade in 1999, shortened to The Haunting. Spoiler Alert: It's not so good. Stick to the first one, or this book. The book deals with a paranormal investigator who brings a bunch of psychics into the house to discover its secrets. The book relies more on subtle terror, and makes you wonder whether there is actually any paranormal activity going on, or if Eleanor, the main character, is just imagining it because she's a crazy person.

3, "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson

This ones a short story, and by far one of the most famous scary short stories of all time. The story involves a sleepy town in 1940's America that takes part in a ritual known as "the lottery." I won't spoil it for those who haven't read it, but rest assured that you will be uneasy by the end. Shirley Jackson's short story was included in a 1948 issue of the New Yorker and quickly became the most infamous story they have ever run.

4. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

There are several other titles for this book, but they aren't exactly politically correct. More of a murder mystery than a horror book, but it's got the perfect mood and setting. Ten seemingly random people are invited to a remote island off the coast of England and are all accused of past hidden crimes through a gramophone found inside a large mansion on the island. Mystery and murder ensue! A classic, to be sure.

5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book is the newest book on this list, and is probably my favorite. Yes, it's a young adult book, but it's near perfect in my book. Gaiman has a knack for spookier tales (Coraline, Sandman, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane), and this is his best. Partly modeled after The Jungle Books, the book follows Nobody Owens, a young boy who is taken up by ghosts in a graveyard after his family is murdered by the deadly order known as the Jack of All Trades. Spooky, touching, and heartbreaking all in one spectacular story. I can't recommend this book more. I listen to it every year for Halloween (it's narrated by Gaiman himself).

6. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving

A short story penned in 1820 as a part of The Sketch Book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is undoubtedly Irving's most famous story. In this early American classic, the lanky and stork-like school teacher, Ichabod Crane, becomes entangled in a battle for a rich, young woman's heart. Crane ultimately meets a mysterious end, though the reader is left to decide whether it was from the legendary "Headless Horseman, " or Crane's nemesis, Brom Bones. I do enjoy the book, but I do feel that the various film adaptations help bring the story to life.

7. "The Willows" by Algernon Blackwood

Considered by H.P. Lovecraft to be the finest supernatural tale in English literature, "The Willows" tells the story of two men traveling down the Dunabe river, all the time being stalked by a powerful and otherworldly force of nature. This short story is heavy on dread and unease. This is probably the most effective story in terms of freaking me out.

8. "The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury has many short stories that deal with horror and the unknown, but his best is "The Veldt". Bradbury was famously disgusted by modern technology, as evidenced by Fahrenheit 451, and this story is no different. A family lives in a futuristic home where the children have a virtual reality room that projects images telepathically from their mind and project it into the room. The parents become concerned that the room is raising the children and attempt to separate them from it, but find out that perhaps the room is full of more reality than they thought.

9. "A Good Man is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor

I had to read this in a literature class in college, and judging by the title, thought it was going to be a bore. Instead, it's a story about a family who winds up running into a serial killer and his band. It's a fascinating story, and proves once and for all that you should never take your grandmother with you on long trips. Less of a scary story, and more of a surprising, though-provoking evaluation of the human condition.

10. "The Green Ribbon" by Alvin Schwartz

This story has been around for many, many years, but my first encounter was from the children's book, In a Dark, Dark Room and other Scary Stories. There's a young girl that always wears a green ribbon around her neck. She meets a nice boy who asks her about the ribbon, but she refuses to tell him why she wears it. They eventually fall in love and get married, and again he asks, and again she refuses. They grow old together, and when she is on her deathbed, he asks her a final time and she finally tells him that he can remove the green ribbon. Then her head falls off. Yup. This scared the crap out of me when I was young, and is honestly still pretty unnerving.

Friday, October 10, 2014

My Top Ten Defunct Rides at Walt Disney World

My wife and I will be attending the happiest place on Earth in just a few days, so I thought it would be appropriate to name some of my favorite rides that have gone the way of the dodo. I've been going sporadically to Disney World all of my life, from when I was just a toddler, to when I was in college. Disney is ever-changing, so you get a new experience every time you go. The last time I went was in 2007, so there has been a lot of new things done to Disney World, but that also means that there have been a lot of shut-downs. You can see why some attractions have shut down over time, either from being severely dated, or the characters aren't popular anymore. I'm going to showcase a few of my favorites. Be sure to click on the titles to watch the rides!

10. World of Motion

World of Motion was once housed in the Transportation Pavilion in EPCOT. It was a humorous look at transportation through the ages. The ride wasn't anything too special, but I always liked the animatronics, especially the cowboy scenes. It's an example of a classic dark ride, like Pirates of the Caribbean. Tons of great visuals, and it just has that feel of 80's Disney World. General Motors sponsored the ride for many years, but it started to lose interest in the dated ride in the 90's. They wanted something a little more exciting, and something that really shouted product placement. Disney agreed, and in 1999, opened the popular Test Track, where you got into a GM car and experienced what it was like for it to be tested. It's a great ride, but I hear they have redone it, so maybe Test Track will be on this list pretty soon.

9. Studio Backlot Tour

Studio Backlot Tour just closed a few weeks ago, and it's really too bad. Sure, it was a shell of its former self, but it was our shell! The Backlot Tour was an original ride in the park when MGM Studios opened in 1989. It originally was almost three hours long and involved both a riding portion and a walking portion. While popular, it took up way too much time for guests, so they turned it into a half an hour ride. The ride changed throughout the years, and I saw a few of the different incarnations. For the most part, you'd start with the short walking tour portion, seeing the "set" of Pearl Harbor with gunshots and exploding barrels. It was pretty cool, but mostly because they grabbed some guy from the tour and made him go into the boat while water hit it. You'd then walk through a prop warehouse and see props from Disney's recent and past films. Then you would board a tram, which would lead you to the infamous Catastrophe Canyon. You watched as a tanker would catch on fire and then a deluge of water came and splashed against the tram. I loved that part more than anything. After that you would see larger props from movies, or TV shows. I remember seeing set pieces from The Golden Girls way back in the early 90's. I also distinctly remember the Bulldog Restaurant from The Rocketeer being near the end of the ride. It was a fun ride, but the last couple times I went, you could definitely tell it wasn't doing well. The Backlot Tour is reportedly going to be replaced by a Cars based land like in California Adventure. The Backlot Tour still exists in Disneyland Paris.

8. Body Wars

Body Wars was a ride that was similar to Star Tours and most of the rides at Universal Studios. You sat in seats, watched the screen, and the seats moved with the screen. Sounds like it would get old, right? It doesn't. It's still fun to go on these type of rides. Body Wars was the most jarring of them, as you navigated your way through the human body. Think of it like a ride dedicated to Inner Space, but with less Martin Short. Body Wars was a popular ride inside The Wonders of Life pavilion in EPCOT. Wonders of Life was a whole building dedicated to healthy living and getting to know your body. They even had exercise bikes with Disney shorts being shown. Alas, it was not the most popular pavilion in EPCOT, plus it lost its sponsor in Metlife in 2001. The Wonders of Life pavilion, along with every ride or show inside closed permanently in 2007. The space is now used for the Food and Wine Festival each fall. Another notable ride inside the pavilion was Cranium Command, a ride similar to the also defunct ride, The Timekeeper, which was located in Tommorowland. Both had the audience watching both animatronics plus a movie screen.

7. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience

As far as I know, I haven't seen Captain EO, though I imagine I'll try it out on this upcoming trip. That being said, it wasn't too distressed when it was replaced by Honey, I Shrunk the Audience. I loved all the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids movies when I was younger, and this ride was no exception. It was an interactive 4D experience that was a fitting part of the Imagination! Pavilion in EPCOT. The floor moved and things seemed to spring out at you. It was great fun, but it couldn't last. After Michael Jackson died, Disney decided that they would bring back Captain EO, renaming it Captain EO Tribute. Honey, I Shrunk the Audience was closed in every Disney theme park.

6. Back to Neverland

I had completely forgotten about this video until I did some research for this list. At MGM studios, inside the Art of Animation tour, the beginning featured a video starring Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams. Robin Williams is turned into an animated lost boy for an animated short called, "Return to Neverland." It's very comical and just another example of Robin Williams work at Disney World. The Art of Animation now has a video starring Mushu from Mulan. I enjoyed the old one better. I liked the old tour better, too. After they got rid of the actual art department from that building, you don't see anyone working on animation, which was most of the fun of the tour!

5. Star Tours

I will be the first to admit that I have not yet experienced the new version of Star Tours, but I have no problem being mildly upset that the old version is gone forever. Star Tours is in Disney's Hollywood Studios (aka MGM Studios for the purists), and has been a popular ride throughout the park's life. The new version, Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, has been in place since 2011. Unlike a few other remodels, guests tend to like the new Star Tours. Again, I haven't ridden it yet, and I may love it, but the original holds a special place in my heart. I had the Star Tours poster in my bedroom for I don't know how many years. The ride was, and still is a motion simulator, with the first incarnation focusing on Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi. The new version, on the other hand takes place between Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, and Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and features better special effects. I can kind of see why they updated the ride; it's like having a sequel to one of the films. Hoping this one is more Empire Strikes Back, than Attack of the Clones. The original Star Tours still exists, but only at Disneyland Paris.

4. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

Mr.Toad's Wild Ride, located in Fantasyland, was probably one of my favorite dark rides, just because of the all the zaniness. Like all the other themed dark rides, it was short, but sweet. One of the best things about the ride was that it was dedicated to a not very well known Disney film. Disney has done a fairly good job of keeping the lesser known movies out of the park, but this ride was an exception. Then, it went away, to be replaced with a sub-par Winnie the Pooh dark ride. The statue of Mr. Toad that used to adorn the entryway of his former ride is now in the pet cemetery. Fitting, isn't it? Mr. Toad's Wild Ride still operates in Disneyland.

3. Kitchen Kabaret

OK, so Kitchen Kabaret wasn't the best show at Disney. It was actually pretty corny, but I loved the songs as a kid. I can still sing "Veggie Veggie Fruit Fruit." "Meat Ditties," which was a vaudeville type act, was also a favorite. Kitchen Kabaret was located inside The Land in EPCOT. The purpose of the show, filled with animatronic food, was to share with kids the importance of eating healthy. Yeah, I didn't care, there was a slab of ham and an egg telling jokes. That was good enough for me! It was replaced in 1994 by Food Rocks!, which was basically the same thing, but in my opinion, not as good. Food Rocks! lasted ten years and was then replaced by the massively popular, Sourin'.

2. Journey into Imagination

Journey into Imagination is still technically around, but has gone through a few "facelifts." I'm talking about the original ride. Yes, I have experienced all three, so I can judge them all. Now, the new version isn't terrible, but doesn't have the same heart as the original. The second version, on the other hand, is the worst. I love Eric Idle, but you can't replace the original characters with Eric Idle and expect people to be happy about it. The first, and best version involved the Dreamfinder, an awesomely bearded man in colorful clothing, who was assisted by Figment. Figment is a small purple dragon that helps the Dreamfinder demonstrate what imagination is. The ride was just a ton of fun as a kid, though it could be scary at times. You know which part I'm talking about. Figment is probably my favorite Disney Park character, and I still even have a stuffed version of him at home. The ride brought back Figment, who had only a small cameo in the second version, and also the song "One Little Spark," which was written by the Sherman Brothers. The Dreamfinder is still missing in action.

1. Maelstrom

This ride was by far my favorite in EPCOT. I'm very serious. I know it's a dumb ride, and a lot of people are making fun of those who are upset about it closing, but it was a classic. The trolls, the oil rigs with the storm in the backdrop, the vikings; this ride had everything! It was super short, which was a bummer, but they made it look like you were going to tumble backwards off a waterfall! Awesome! Plus, you could see the riders from the outside. The gift shop was even more fascinating, with the giant troll hanging out in the middle. Alas, Maelstrom closed just a few days ago. If it had only stayed open another week or so, I could have ridden it one last time! Oh well, the memories are there, and they are good ones. Maelstrom will be replaced by a Frozen themed ride. There is a ton of outcry about this. While there are plenty of movie characters floating around the World Showcase, there aren't any rides that are specifically dedicated to one movie, though the newly refurbished ride in Mexico is basically a ride about Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. I give that a pass though, as those are educational movies more than anything. Frozen is not, however, and that kind of throws off the whole feel of the World Showcase. Norway isn't Norway anymore, it's Frozen land. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Frozen, but I have to side with my Disney World brethren on this one; Disney is making a mistake and I shutter to think what they will do to the rest of the Showcase.

So there you have it. There's my top ten list of rides that I miss. Here are a few that didn't make the list, but are honorable mentions: