October 31, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #31: The Hallmark Halloween Tapes



Hallmark put out four different Halloween cassettes between 1986 and '89 during the peak of the Halloween cassette trend. The tapes were part of their annual Halloween promotions. For example, if you spent five dollars, you could get a tape for $1.95 (Which really wasn't less than most Halloween cassettes at the time.) The first three releases share a great deal of content (see specifics below) while the '89 release was an all new recording. I have many questions about these tapes, and perhaps the answers rest deep in the Hallmark archives, but for now I'll happily rely on pure speculation.

Title: The Haunting Sounds of Halloween
Manufacturer: Hallmark
Year: 1986
Also popular from Hallmark that year: Black cat and witch Merry Miniatures

Total Runtime: around 60 Min
Repeats on both sides: Yes
Stories: No
Music: Cinematic music, some synth, and some pipe organ music
Narration: No 
Distinct Audio: "Aren't you a little big to be trick or treating?" and other lines of dialogue 
Review: Hallmark has always presented a grandma-friendly version of Halloween that complimented the discount store blood and disfigured monster masks. It often found its way onto teachers' desks and store clerk smocks, and I always welcomed the sight of it. Naturally, their Halloween cassettes follow the same whimsical aesthetic.

Rather than a harrowing soundscape, the Hallmark effects come at you methodically, and with a bit too much dead air in between each noise for my taste. The mood stays tongue-in-cheek as a handful of actors speak comical lines. Most are written to work with a trick or treat porch scenario like: "My, what an ugly costume." and, "Didn't the other kids tell you not to come here?" The effects in between are death-free; instead they focus on things like door hinges and cats.

The Haunting Sounds of Halloween is the rarest of the four Hallmark releases. It was seemingly replaced the same year it came out with The Sounds of Halloween (see below). The assortment of sound effects are almost identical and presented in the same order. The difference is that Haunting Sounds repeatedly plays John Williams' theme to the 1979 version of "Dracula." There's also a synth track that I can't identify (and neither can the Shazam app) which doesn't necessarily sound scary. It reminds me of the beginning of an '80s movie. My sense of wild speculation tells me that the tape was pulled and replaced due to a lack of legal clearance on the music. (The credits only list Paul Whitehead after Music Production.) Was it supposed to be placeholder music, or was this intentional thievery, or just a misunderstanding? The answer to all of those questions is "yes."

Legal or not, The Haunting Sounds of Halloween is well produced and creates an amusing, spooky atmosphere without traumatizing youngsters.
Rating: 4 of 5

 

Title: The Sounds of Halloween
Manufacturer: Hallmark
Year: 1986
Total Runtime: 37 Min 
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: No
Music: "Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor," and a bunch of Halloween friendly pop covers. 
Narration: No 
Distinct Audio: See previous review
Review: As mentioned above, the sound effects side of this recording is virtually the same as The Haunting Sounds of Halloween, but without the music (except for good ol' "Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor.") There are also added flourishes to existing sounds (like reverb) and a few added extras, like a monster roar after some dialogue, as well as some general shuffling around. Unfortunately, the edits take a significant bite out of the runtime.

In what may be an effort to make up for this loss, side two is now full of  Halloween party staples: "Ghostbusters," "Monster Mash," "Thriller," "Purple People Eater" and another dose of  Bach. This was probably convenient in the mixtape era, but the downside is that the cover songs are a hollow shell of the original recordings. But that can be entertaining in its own way. The Vincent Price stand-in is delightfully droll, and completely loses track of the rhythm. They made the wise decision not to use a Michael Jackson impersonator, and opted for a female vocalist instead.  Paul Whitehead is once again the music producer so it's nice to know he didn't lose his job after the first album.

Sounds of Halloween suffered a loss after the previous release, but there's some new fun to be had. It's kind of a yin yang situation.
Rating: 3 of 5

Here's the closet that I can find to streaming audio...




 

Title: Howl-o-ween Sounds
Manufacturer: Hallmark
Year: 1987
Also popular from Hallmark that year: Lapel Pins
 
Total Runtime: 45 Min
Repeats on both sides: Yes 
Stories: No 
Music: "Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor"
Narration: No 
Distinct Audio: See previous releases 
Review: Howl-o-ween Sounds is easily the worst of the bunch because it includes the neutered effects of The Haunting Sounds of Halloween repeated on both sides. So there's no music at all except of course "Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor " which is a basic human right at this point.

They released it a second time with a different cover, possibly to fill their Halloween tape void in 1988.

 

Howl-o-ween Sounds wouldn't be so bad if we didn't know what we were missing—but we do.

Rating: 2 of 5




Title: Spooky Sounds
Manufacturer: Hallmark
Year: 1989
Also popular from Hallmark that year: Woodland Merry Miniatures

Total Runtime: 60 Min 
Repeats on both sides: No 
Stories: No 
Music: Incidental music and a collection of spooky pop tracks 
Narration: No 
Distinct Audio: New wacky dialogue 
Review: Three years after their foray into Halloween audio Hallmark must have realized that they had gotten all the mileage they could from The Sounds of Halloween. In 1989 they put together an all new album that follows their well established format of non-threatening sounds paired with kooky dialogue. Some of it is featured in this entertaining video...



They also went back to the half effects/half music model and filled side two with a set of newly recorded cover tunes that include: "The Munsters," "Monster Mash," "The Addams Family," "Ghostbusters," "Twilight Zone," "Dark Shadows," and an original called "Haunting Melody."

With a fresh new tape under their belt they also released a fresh new promotion...




Spooky Sounds is a strong effort that proves that experience, and an ability to learn from one's mistakes can lead to new heights.
Rating: 4 of 5


HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYONE!

October 30, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #30: Alfred Hitchcock Ghost Stories


Title: Alfred Hitchcock Ghost Stories 
(AKA Alfred Hitchcock Presents Ghost Stories for Young People)
Manufacturer: Wonderland Golden Records 
Year: Cassette 1988, original recording 1962 
Total Runtime: 44 Min 
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: Six different ones
Music: "The Funeral March of a Marionette" written by Charles Gounod (The Theme to "Alfred Hitchcock Presents") also some incidental music
Narration: All narration by John Allen
Distinct Audio: N/A
Review: This less-than-official-looking version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents Ghost Stories for Young People seems to be a legitimate reissue of  the 1962 album which was also produced by Wonderland Golden Records. The decision to revisit the title in 1988 may have been due to the newfound popularity of cheap Halloween tapes, or it may have been an attempt to profit from the mid-80s version of the "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" TV series.

Alfred himself provides a 'wrap around' for the six stories. They are expertly narrated by John Allen, and enhanced with an effective soundtrack. The tales come from all different sources, and some may be familiar to those already interested in the genre. "The Haunted and the Haunters" seems to be a loose interpretation of Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1859 short story of the same name. It's tone is a bit more dire than the rest, which are rarely frightening. "Johnny Takes A Dare (The More The Merrier)" is very similar to "Wait 'Til Martin Comes Home" as it appears on Scary Spooky Stories (1973).

"The Helpful Hitchhiker" is the same urban legend that inspired Red Sovine's "Phantom 309," and the Large Marge scene in "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)." "The Open Window" by Saki was first published in 1914, and a different recording of it appears on Troll Records' Thrillers and Chillers (1973). "Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons" was first published as a Childrens book in 1950.

Though the source material isn't always the strongest, it's fun to light up a room with the spooky sounds of yesteryear. It's also three hundred times better if you listen to it with a kid.

Rating: 4 of 5


 

October 29, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #29: Chiller by the Cincinnati Pops

 

Title: Chiller by the Cincinnati Pops conducted by Erich Kunzel
Manufacturer: Telarc
Year: 1989
Total Runtime: 59 Min
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: No
Music: Mostly music with a few sound effects vignettes
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: The "dangerous" sound effects. See below
Review: Back in high school, discussions about audio fidelity came up often because most of my friends were finally making the leap to compact discs, one Christmas and birthday at a time. My friend's audiophile dad taught us about the SPARS code, a three letter sequence printed on the discs that told you "how digital" an album was. So "AAD," the least desirable in our eyes, meant that an album was recorded in Analog, mixed in Analog, and Digitized for CD. Of course the ultimate was pure "DDD" because nothing sounds better than digital, right? ...Right?

I raced home and examined my collection of about ten CDs. (Thank you Columbia House music club.) Not a single triple D in the bunch. What was the point of even buying CDs?! (Aside from sound quality, durability, instant access to individual tracks, and so on.) This feature suddenly rose to the top of my list of things to look for in a compact disc, ranking slightly above the recording artist and album. What a classic case of ruining something I vastly enjoyed just because the grass seemed greener elsewhere. It's more ridiculous when you consider that my "sound system" came from JCPenny and had three inch speakers.

At the time I didn't understand how rare DDD recordings were. The only one I'd ever heard was my friend's copy of Nothing Like the Sun by Sting. Occasionally I'd find one in the record store, but nothing I wanted to spend two weeks of allowance on. That changed one evening in the Soundtrack CD section of Sound Warehouse. (I'm ashamed to admit how self-satisfied I became when I finally had "the right" to shop in the CD department.) I grabbed a CD with a beautifully illustrated haunted house on the cover. I perked up when I saw things like "Night on Bald Mountain," "Twilight Zone," and "Poltergeist" on the track listing. Then my eyes zeroed in on the SPARS code (bottom left)...



Triple D PURE DIGITAL! The cherry on top was a mysterious "Digital Sound Effects" warning for certain tracks. In the parking lot I tore open the booklet and read that these three tracks should not be played at high volume at the risk of damaging you speakers because the sweet digital fidelity is so powerful! I couldn't get home quick enough.

The first time I played Chiller I cautiously kept the volume dial around the "one" mark. I could hear a burst of lightning. I re-listened a few more times inching up the volume with each play. It's true, the warning tracks are incredibly loud, though I don't think my portable boom box was in any danger. But on a large system that thunderclap could give everyone in the room a heart attack.

On the other hand, I wasn't used to music that could get so quiet. There's such a dynamic range that the soft parts are nearly inaudible on low volume. But this has a great affect on songs like "Funeral March of a Marionette" when the first burst of percussion can give you a true jump scare.

I realize all of this has nothing to do with the cassette. I got the tape in a lot of unopened Halloween audio, and I don't plan on breaking the seal because I still have that delicious digi-clean DDD compact disc.

I didn't recognize a lot of the music titles when I bought it, but upon listening they were instantly familiar thanks to TV shows and movies. I discovered that "Danse Macabre" is the basis for the Halloween song I learned in school. I love about three fourths of this album. Chillers only loses me when some of the selections veer out of spooky territory. (Now I'm eager to check out the sequel they made in 2002 that isn't afraid to wallow in less Classical pop culture.)

Chiller is more than just a well recorded album. It's a collection of seminal Horror music in the hands of experts. Also, the letters on the cover glow-in-the-dark!
Rating: DDD

I can't find a streaming link, but it's on Pandora and itunes.

(Here's a detailed track by track review that I enjoyed.)





October 28, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #28: Halloween Horrors



Title: Halloween Horrors
Manufacturer: A&M Records
Year: 1977
Total Runtime: 30 Min
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: Side one is a single story
Music: No
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: "My baby! Have you seen my baby?"
Review: It seems that A&M Records took note of a sales trend that started with the massively successful Disney's Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House (1968) and continued with albums like Sounds to Make You Shiver (1974) and Ghostly Sounds (1975). Their response was Halloween Horrors. This seems to be the only Halloween album released by a major record label (if you don't count Disney). It's also the only one I know of that uses the genuine Dolby "B" noise reduction system. Printing a blurry Dolby logo on the back of the sleeve doesn't count; sorry Night in a Graveyard and Haunted House.

It's also likely that Halloween Horrors had one of the all-time biggest Halloween album budgets (which isn't saying much). This would explain why their search for voice talent was not limited to people who happened to be sitting in the office that day. They employed actors Michael Bell, and Peter Cullen who are probably best known for their work on G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons of the '80s. The spectacular cover illustration comes from Gary Meyer who also did movie posters for "Jaws 3," The Deep,""The Exterminator 2,""Jason and the Argonauts," and more. His artwork is best experienced on the vinyl edition. Not only is the cassette insert tiny, it omits the wonderful back cover that is seen and discussed here on Branded in the 80s.

Side one features a fifteen minute "Story of Halloween Horror" that follows a young man visiting his newly inherited haunted estate. He recounts several legends surrounding the house during his drive over, and his visit confirms the tragic history.

I first heard this at a dinner party when I was in fifth grade. Shortly after meeting the two brothers of the household they dragged me into their bedroom and insisted that I ignore their room full of exciting new toys, and give my full attention to their mysterious cassette tape. As the story progressed I was afraid that I was hearing something that I shouldn't have been. I wondered if their parents even knew what they'd gotten their hands on. During the climactic ghostly encounter the distress in the young man's voice and the distorted cries of the apparition struck me at my core. My parents had no idea why I was acting strangely for the rest of the night.

Side two features "The Sounds of Halloween and other useful effects." These certainly proved useful for the countless record companies who strip-mined the record for some easy cash. For people like me who are tired of hearing all the thieves and imitators it's a treat to tap into the source material.

Halloween Horrors set the standard for Halloween records and it remains a true classic.

Rating: 5 of 5

October 27, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #27: Chillers by the Folktellers


Title: Chillers, by The Folktellers
Manufacturer: Mama-T Artists
Year: 1983
Total Runtime: 39 Min
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: Yes, seven of them
Music: No
Narration: N/A
Distinct Audio: N/A
Review: Connie Regan and Barbara Freeman are the storytelling duo known as the Folktellers. Chillers captures their 1983 Halloween night performance for a live audience. The receptive crowd is treated to seven eerie tales and poems that consist of both original and borrowed material.

This type of event reminds me of the sort of thing that would take place at our small town fine arts center. Something the English teacher would talk up for weeks, and even give you extra credit for attending. I can imagine my young self going to please my teachers, getting thrilled during the show, and leaving the auditorium to discover that the world is colder and more dangerous than I remembered.

The Chillers packaging feels educational. A gold sticker marks its status as an American Library Association notable record, and the cover illustration on heavy, textured paper somehow reminds me of art class. Maybe that's why it's surprising when the stories strike such a dark, and genuinely eerie tone.

Please indulge me here, but this album unlocks a floodgate of memories, and reminds me of the role that school played in making Halloween special. It started when I was a first grader going about my business when my teacher, so casual and unannounced, stuck a life-size Dracula on the wall. It didn't seem possible. It seemed like something she could get in trouble for.

As a kid you have so little control of your daily routine, and all of the sudden you find that your curriculum is sprinkled with spooky events that you didn't even have to ask for. Bats, ghosts, and pumpkins magically appear in the halls. The library display is full of books you didn't know they had: Alfred Hitchcock short stories, books on monster makeup, Halloween craft ideas and more. The school book orders suddenly rival the Christmas Wishbook.

In music class we were required to learn the Halloween song and Ghost of John. We were graded on our ability to be a creepy kids chorus! Our parents' tax dollars went towards teaching us to make proper skeletons and Jack-o-lanterns in art class. Everyone got marched to the library for a surprise screening of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," just thrown into a Wednesday afternoon!

October 31st wasn't even close to a normal school day. After blowing off the morning, the costumes went on and we were systematically paraded through other classrooms to be admired. Exotic students from older grades were brought to our hall for the mutual show-off session. Everything culminated with a personal desktop full of orange and black sweets. The plastic cupcake toppers were worthy decorations in their own right. Three decades later I still have some of them.

After a satisfying night of trick or treating we returned to school for... the Halloween carnival. The building was hard to recognize with all the streamers and balloons and costumed crowds. Classrooms were midway games, the cafeteria was a festive town square cloaked in the scent of popcorn. The sixth grade locker corridor that we passed through every day had become a walkthrough haunted house! Behind massive sheets of black vinyl were hidden student council members, bloodied up and waiting to scream at us. The fact that it all happened in the school setting made it incredibly surreal. Only Halloween had this much transformative power.

Sorry, where was I now? Ah, yes, the record.
A week ago we played through Chillers as we sat around my backyard fire pit under the October moon. It was ideal. The Folktellers, true to their name, use their charming accents and seasoned storytelling to tap into the fireside tradition. Their rural nightmares could have happened last year or last century. It's Halloween listening at it's best.

(By the way, the copy of Chillers that I bought on ebay was listed as "written on by previous owners." In fact, it's signed by both Connie and Barbara— the Folktellers themselves!)

Rating: 5 of 5

I can't find a source for easy streaming, but the album is out there if you know where to look.

Connie Regan still performs, and two of these tracks can be found on a CD called Chilling Ghost Stories: Haunting Tales for Adults & Teens, available on her web store...
http://storywindow.com/store/

October 26, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #26: Elvira Fright Sound Tape



Title: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, Fright Sound Tape
Manufacturer: Imagineering Inc.
Year: 1987
Total Runtime: 60 Min
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: No
Music: No
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: Creepy muffled funeral eulogy
Review: Elvira's Fright Sound Tape marks an historic team-up between two Halloween institutions in their prime. Imagineering founder, Larry Liff invented hinged vampire teeth, and produced Halloween products with some of the all-time greatest package design that feature the wonderful art of Gordon Viges (whose son once left a comment on this very blog!)

Of course Elvira needs no introduction. Thanks to her we have the only Halloween recording with a celebrity endorsement. She followed the product from inception to completion, hand-picking the individual sound effects, and providing constant input during the engineering process. Not really. But she did record a one minute introduction.

According to an article on Dinosaur Dracula, a store called McCrory's was selling the Elvira tape in 1988 for $2.99 while Topstone's Horror Sounds of the Night was a dollar less. This could be due to Elvira's licensing fee. Or maybe it's because Topstone could charge less since all of their content was stolen.

 


Fright Sound Tape comes from a line of Elvira products that also included costume accessories and makeup. Most of it looks like existing products that were rebranded with the awesome exception of Elvira's official snake earrings.




So does the tape live up to its iconic heritage? Side one has a good variety of effects that are inherently spooky; antagonists and victims as opposed to stock thunder and slamming doors. Wind is overused but it ties everything together. It's like sitting on your porch on the windiest night of the year, and all this crazy, monstrous stuff just keeps happening for a solid half hour.

The second half hour, side two, has a very different vibe. I wouldn't be surprised if it came from another source entirely.  It's dominated by a man with a distinctive laugh who occasionally says "Come here." and, "Come to the Haunted House." He gets tiresome, but there's something about his maniacal yet casual tone that draws me in. It's like he wants to kill me, but he's a little too sleepy.

Unlike side one, I recognized a lot of the effects: cats, monsters, and the "Lonesome Ghosts" scream (that I discussed in this review).  What ruins side two for me are the unrelenting bursts of reverberating noise. It sounds like bits of reel-to-reel recordings that are sped up and processed to death. It's definitely unique, but it makes me miss the constant wind from side one, and I rarely miss wind.

All in all, I think the tape is better than average, but it doesn't reflect the remarkable entities behind it. Although, as a horror hostess, Elvira can't be held accountable for the content. Her job is to present the world with the spooky fun stuff, and it's our job to have spooky fun with it.

Rating: Side one- 4 of 5, Side two- 2 of 5






October 25, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #25: Halloween Horror Tape



Title: Halloween Horror Tape
Manufacturer: Traveler Trading Co.
Year: 1987
Total Runtime: 60 Min
Repeats on both sides: ?
Stories: ?
Music: ?
Narration: ?
Distinct Audio: ?
Review: As you can see, I have this tape in its wonderful packaging. I refuse to open it, and I can't find the audio online. So if you have it, then please let me know how it is.
Rating: ?

October 24, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #24: A Spooky Night in Disney's Haunted Mansion



Title: A Spooky Night in Disney's Haunted Mansion
Manufacturer: Walt Disney Records
Year: 1998
Total Runtime: 25 Min
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: One long story
Music: "Grim Grinning Ghosts" can be heard during the story
Narration: Yes
Distinct Audio: N/A
Review:  A Spooky Night in Disney's Haunted Mansion is an adaptation of the Haunted Mansion ride as seen through the eyes of two original characters, Mike and Karen (played by Ron Howard and Robie Lester). Originally released in 1969 on LP as The Story and Song from The Haunted Mansion, Disney made the odd decision to reissue this remastered version exclusively on cassette in 1998, though the format was already passe. The CD didn't come out for another eleven years.

No matter which version, this album a dream come true for Haunted Mansion fans, especially those disappointed that Disney's Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House (1964) has no connection to the ride. Paul Frees' original narration from the dark ride has been split into two parts on the album: the Narrator performed by the legendary Thurl Ravenscroft, and the Ghost Host voiced by Pete Reneday. I miss Frees, but I can't pretend that Reneday's Ghost Host isn't more genuinely chilling than the original. He's got a cold, morose quality that caused me to switch off the album when I was a kid hearing it for the first time. (Only to return to the self-torture soon after.)

I listened to an abridged version of the story (on a Donald Duck record called Trick or Treat) for many years before I grew the courage to experience the attraction. My intimate knowledge of the record only enhanced my first ride. It was like visiting an exotic land after studying it for a lifetime.

I can't objectively talk about A Spooky Night in Disney's Haunted Mansion. To me it is a warm, swirling stew of childhood, history, and horror.


Rating: 5 of 5

October 23, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #23: Chamber of Horrors "NEW"



Title: Chamber of Horrors "NEW"
Manufacturer: Tony (U.S.A.) Inc.
Year: 1990
Total Runtime: 25 Min
Repeats on both sides: Not exactly, but a loop repeats multiple times on both sides
Stories: No
Music: Ongoing synth music
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: Attempted jump scare using a yell
Review: I've established that the 1988 release of Chamber of Horrors is insane. I like to imagine that sometime in 1989 one of the higher-ups at Tony Incorporated finally heard the tape and shouted, "THIS IS WHAT WE'VE BEEN SELLING?!!"

He immediately discovered that nobody else in the office had ever listened to it either. A recall was ruled out after a quick cost analysis. With no other options, the decision to produce a new tape was finalized.
Once an emergency assembly had gathered, the board demanded to meet with the the man responsible for the 1988 edition. The product development manager stood before his colleagues, shouting on the phone,
"What do you mean he's not here?! When will he be back?
...
Defeated, he announced to the room,
"They said he was fired last year because he failed his drug test."
______

The 1990 version of Chamber of Horrors is a commendable effort that effectively paves over the past sins of the company. The effects sound fresh, the production value is good, and there's decent aural variety. A lot of attention was given to the music. What I assume to be an original score, gives Chamber of Horrors (1990) a distinctive voice in the Halloween tape pantheon. Most importantly, its existence demonstrates a message that we need to hear today: rational thinking, truth and love can triumph over chaos, and the mistakes of the past.

Rating: 4 of 5

October 22, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE #22: Sounds of Halloween



Title: Sounds of Halloween
Manufacturer: Madacy Entertainment
Year: 1994
Total Runtime: 1 Hour
Repeats on both sides: Yes
Stories: No
Music: Opening theme (the same library music from the 1950s that appears on Night in a Graveyard) and some other ambient music throughout
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: Backward music and effects
Review: All this reviewing makes me think about music critics. The blight of their job is all the unoriginal material they have to sift through. But imagine if they had to review albums that are literally two or three existing records spliced together. Okay, you could argue that this happens all the time with so much sampling going on, and mashup artists like Avalanches, Danger Mouse, and Girl Talk. Then imagine reviewing five different albums with five different titles that are all exactly the same recording. Sounds of Halloween is a mix of two or three records slapped together, and it's been released under at least five different titles.

About half of the effects can be heard on Night in a Graveyard, and the rest sounds like Scary Sounds of Halloween.  Who knows if Sounds of Halloween stole the material straight off of those records, or if they stole from the same records that those stole from.

The audio has been repackaged numerous times according to the Scary Sounds of Halloween blog.
These are all the same album...



Speaking of unoriginal content, I've yet to talk about the "Lonesome Ghosts" scream sequence that shows up on about forty percent of all my Halloween albums. The ghostly yawn can be heard at the beginning of Disney's 1937 animated short, and it was featured on the track Screams and Groans from Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House preceded by some shrieks. Knowing Disney's reputation for legally protecting their content, it's surprising that the sound has been used so much. Further proof that nobody pays attention to what's actually on Halloween records.

Sounds of Halloween is still making Halloween memories thanks to a YouTube video (see below) that's received nearly a million views since 2011. It's unavoidable. It's like the standard government issue of Halloween records.

It obviously gets the job done year after year, but in my eyes Sounds of Halloween has no honor.

Rating: 2 of 5

October 21, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #21: Horror & Terror



Title: Horror & Terror: Frightening Sounds Part I
Manufacturer: K-Tel
Year: 1995
Total Runtime: About 50 Min 
Repeats on both sides: No 
Stories: No
Music: A few musical bits with names like "Warped Chords" and "Melted Melancholy"
Narration: No 
Distinct Audio: The opening track (see below) 
Review: Coincidentally, right before I sat down to review this tape I saw this bit of trivia: "Terror is usually described as the feeling of dread and anticipation that precedes the horrifying experience. By contrast, horror is the feeling of revulsion that usually occurs after something frightening is seen, heard, or otherwise experienced." via Wikipedia. Thing is, I would have probably made fun of the name for being redundant. I was also going to assume that there was no 'Part II," and it turns out that it does exist. I have grossly underestimated this tape.

The first effect, 'Demon Drill,' is interesting because the sound of the drill has been remixed and put to a beat. It actually sounds like a segment of a Nine Inch Nails track. Unfortunately, this unexpected burst of creativity is gone by track two. The rest of the album is a collection of unrelated sounds that makes it seem like a production FX library. Maybe half of the content qualifies as spooky. It's very generic with the exception of a few pieces of music, a couple soundscapes, and a brief assortment of farts.

My favorite thing about it is the simple, yet artful cover. I hope you enjoy looking at it because I can't find the audio online.

Rating: 2 of 5

October 20, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #20: Horrible Sounds of Halloween (Green text version)


Title: Horrible Sounds of Halloween (Green text version)
Manufacturer: Tony (U.S.A.) Inc.
Year: Unknown
Total Runtime: 45 Min

Repeats on both sides: Yes (Plus it repeats multiple times on each side.)
Stories: No
Music: No
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: See below
Review: The school bell's going to ring in ten minutes, and where's Sid? Here he comes! Oh, yes, he finally remembered to bring his Horrible Sounds of Halloween tape for the big trade. It's different from the one you already have, even though it has the same name. This one has green letters and Sid guarantees that it's not the same effects as the one you bought last Halloween; the one that has the guy who yells "Boo!" at the meowing cat.

You didn't entirely believe that the tape was real until he pulled it out of his backpack. (What a terrible way to transport a cassette. You're lucky the tape didn't get tangled in his notebooks!) But the tape is now yours—at a hefty price. You're already missing your copy of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" #171, but the promise of a new Halloween record in your modest personal library outweighs the sacrifice.

Your obsession with the new tape turns the day into a marathon. In third period you nearly get it confiscated for having it out during a lecture. Lunchtime is wasted as you wander the school parking lot trying to work up the courage to ask one of the high school students to play it in their car stereo. It doesn't happen.

During fifth hour you write out a list of sound effects that you'd put on the perfect Halloween tape. Yours would include a haunted video arcade and authentic sounds from "The Creature from the Black Lagoon." Your decision to reexamine the tape on the bus ride home turns out to be a mistake. You let down your guard for a moment and that lug Jarred snatches it in his filthy hands. You can thank the all-seeing eye of Bonnie the bus driver for intervening.

But now you're in the safety of your bedroom and nothing stands between you and your 'jam box.' You press play....
...
...
Oh, thank goodness, Sid was right! You can already tell that this isn't like the black lettered one.
...
Wait. This does sound a bit familiar.
...
That heartbeat, and that music. This is the heartbeat tape that you already have! It looks different but it's the same thing!  As your eyes begin to water you notice that it's not exactly the same— it's worse! They doubled up the audio and now the heartbeats are all out of sync, just a constant budda budda budda. They added some other junk to it too, but it's just awful.

You press the stop button.
...
You wonder if Sid will do a trade-back.

Rating: 1 of 5

October 19, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #19: Horror Sounds of the Night



Title: Horror Sounds of the Night
Manufacturer: Topstone Industries
Year: 1986
Total Runtime: 30 Min
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: No
Music: Has an opening theme, and various background music throughout
Includes a piece from Georges Bizet's “L’Arlesienne Suite"
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: An infamous masochistic segment (see below)
Review: Horror Sounds of the Night is notable for so many reasons. First, it came from Topstone, a beloved Halloween corporation best known for making rubber masks since the 1950s. Their advertising artwork alone has left a permanent mark on horror culture.



The cassette was ubiquitous. It was produced for many years, and sold through many outlets. Its 1986 release date put it slightly ahead of the Halloween tape glut in the late '80s. Horror Sounds, along with Thriller/Chiller and the other Thriller Chiller, usually gets a big reaction online, prompting commenters to type up a cavalcade of memories.

 

1993 Topstone catalog via Blood Curdling Blog of Monster Masks

Horror Sounds was the subject of a lawsuit. Surprisingly, it wasn't due to the content being stolen (which it was). It arose because Topstone terminated a contract with the guy who presented them with the idea, and then made their own tape independently. From the case file...

"Plaintiff had conceived the idea of an audio-cassette tape of sounds appropriate for Halloween. After producing and copyrighting his recording, titled "Haunted Horror," he entered into an agreement designating defendant Topstone Industries as the exclusive distributor. Topstone later terminated the contract and began marketing a similar Halloween cassette titled "Horror Sounds of the Night." After purchasing copies of the plaintiff's tape from Topstone, defendant D. Robbins & Co. sold those copies, as well as Topstone's "Horror Sounds" tape, to retail customers."

The tape's legendary status is elevated by a segment that features an infamous exchange between a sinister man and his female victim. The sexual undertones are hard to ignore. A shorter version of this is actually the album opener for a popular Children's Record called Sounds to Make You Shiver. (The moaning portion appears on side two as "Count Dracula and His Victim")

This brings us to the last reason why Horror Sounds in the Night is notorious: everything on it is stolen.Well, I can't confirm that it was all illegally used. The fact that the aforementioned scene appears without the layers of chain and footstep effects may indicate that they had access to a source tape. But this is common practice in the Halloween tape biz, and it's hard to believe they would take the time to get legal clearance from three different companies for three different sources, especially considering the other lawsuit.

So what were the sources? On the evening of November 8, 2013 a comment was posted on a site called Blood-Curdling Blog of Monster Masks by a user calling themselves barneyrubble. This comment stands as the most thorough and well-researched dissertation of the digital age regarding the source material behind Horror Sounds of the Night. I'm posting it here in its unaltered form, because changing even one word would be a disservice to the internet.

"At the price for which copies of this cassette are selling, it's good to know that one can get all the recordings on this tape just by buying three old Hallowe'en LP's:

- BBC Records & Tapes's Volume 13: Sound Effects DEATH & HORROR (1977) (The first track on the cassette is taken from this album, listed here as "Phantom of the Opera ('Organ' Sounds)")

- Power Records, "Ghostly Sounds" (presumed early '70s)
(The second track on the cassette is taken from this LP, identified here as "The Phantom of the Cathedral". Two versions of this LP exist, with near identical album covers: the first edition has pink record labels, is reputed to have narration and lists "The Phantom of the Cathedral" as the second track on Side 2, after "The Mad Harpist". The second edition, with yellow labels, moves "The Mad Harpist" to the end of Side 1, and begins Side 2 with "The Phantom of the Cathedral", exactly as it is included on the "Horror Sounds of the Night" cassette.)

- Pickwick International, "Sounds to Make You Shiver" (presumed mid-'70s)
(Believe it or not, the entire remainder of the "Horror Sounds of the Night" cassette is taken directly from Side 2 of this album, in the same running order. It seems like the compiler of "Horror Sounds of the Night" found two favored pieces on the first two albums, then either got bored or distracted and just let the third album play until the tape ran out. On the original album, they are listed in order as "Witch Laugh", "Count Dracula and His Victim" (occasionally noted for its somewhat X-rated overtones), "Screams & Groans" (actually two separate tracks of screams, apparently made by the same lady who appears in "Count Dracula and his Victim"), "Moans & Groans", "Cats", "Dogs", "Banging Shutter", "Phantom Piano", "Creaky Door", and part of "Breaking Windows".)

If you shop around, you can get all three of these albums for less than $50 (with the BBC LP most likely being the most expensive one). I now have all three. Happy hunting! :)"

Sentimentality Rating: 5 of 5
Morality Rating: 1 of 5



Better quality, but embedding is disabled, so I can't stick it here...
https://youtu.be/aVBQWR14RIQ


October 18, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #18: Scary Sounds of Halloween



Title: Scary Sounds of Halloween
Manufacturer: K-Tel
Year: 1991
Total Runtime: 30 Min
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: No
Music: Some dissonant music on side two
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: The grunting monster
Review: I'll make a pros and cons list for this one...

Pro: It's from K-Tel. Maybe I've been brainwashed from seeing at least one K-Tel record ad during every commercial break of my childhood, but I think K-Tel is a cool company. If they would have put out some AS SEEN ON TV Halloween records, I would have melted on the couch.

Con: Cat noises that sound ridiculously human. About as effective as just saying the word "meow."

Pro: Classic sound effects. It opens with the familiar wolf howl that we associate with all our favorite scary shows. Then the underused, yet universal "OooOOOooeeeEEEoooo!" ghost noise appears too. 

Con: The grunting monster won't shut up. This guy seems to be the star of the tape, but he quickly loses his appeal. He's pervasive,  high in the mix, and sounds way too much like Jabba the Hutt.

Pro: It includes a crying effect (at 17:54 in the video below) that was used in the video game "Left 4 Dead" to indicate the presence of a witch. This sound has conditioned players to go to on high alert and turn off their flashlights, lest they agitate the insanely powerful witch.

Con: It's very repetitive. That is, until the end of side two when it sounds like a completely different album.

Pro or Con: There's a Sci-Fi theremin type sound that brings to mind the noise that Greg Brady makes when he stages a phony UFO encounter.

The recording is a lot like the cover. There are some classic elements, there's one beast that dominates it, and overall it's a bit generic.

Rating: 3 of 5



October 17, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #17: Night in a Graveyard

 

Title: Night in a Graveyard
Manufacturer: Haunted House Music Co. (Golden Circle Inc.)
Year: 1985
Total Runtime: About 25 Min 
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: No
Music: A segment called "Midnight Music" that sounds like it's from "Night of the Living Dead."
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: Gremlin laughter
Review: Night in a Graveyard is one of the three Halloween albums released by the "Haunted House Music Co." in 1985. I like to think of it as a non-musical option to its companion, Haunted House, for those times when you feel that music will diminish the experience.

If you've ever read "The Family Circus" you may recall that Bil Keane would turn to his son Billy for cartoons. In that same spirit I invited my eleven-year-old son to help review this tape. As we listened, I jotted down some of his thoughts...

As side one began he was skeptical.
"They really overuse the wind. Pretty sure trees don't do... whatever that is, very much"

Then confusion set in.
"Is that crying, or maniacal laughter?"
"I've never heard a cat make that sound."

As his mind struggled to make sense of the soundscape, he formed a scene.
"Makes me think I'm hiking up a stone staircase, going up a mountain to a cave. Bats are flying out, and witches are inside."

He gave purpose to some random cries.
"Sounds like someone's lost, scared."
Other associations were made.
"Sounds like the ghost host from Disney."

Side two is full of random, individual sound clips that seemed to stoke his imagination.
"Sounds like if dogs were at a play, and they were really not liking it."
"Sound like if a giant were trying to sew, and kept poking his thumb with a needle."
"Sounds like Donald Duck on laughing gas."

Though he's never seen a horror show he understood what the "Midnight Music" is about.
"Sounds like the part in a horror movie where the murderer is in the house creeping around with a knife. Everyone's like, 'Where is he?'"

His final verdict?
"I liked it. it was kind of cool. It had a lot if different things in it... variety."
Rating: "3 or 4 out of 5"


Seeing how these tapes have been playing constantly in our house for weeks on end, I didn't expect him to get spooked. So I was surprised when he was too uneasy to take the recycling bin to the garage (one of his weekly chores) after our listening session. I offered him a flashlight and encouragement, but his solution was to invite our dog along on his dark journey.

Then a few minutes ago he asked me to investigate a face he saw in the ceiling vent. Tonight may be a long night.

October 16, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #16: Haunted House

 

Title: Haunted House 
Manufacturer: Haunted House Music Co. (Golden Circle Inc.) 
Year: 1985 
Total Runtime: 1 Hour 
Repeats on both sides: No 
Stories: No 
Music: Familiar spooky sounding instrumental on side one
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: Definitely the music 
Review: Haunted House is chintzy and samey, and I love it. What puts it high above the rest is the music. There is a constant ethereal droning that keeps the listener in a state of unease. Rather than the jarring storms and explosions commonly found on Halloween tapes, the eerie tones on Haunted House create a trance-like mood, carrying you helplessly through a nightmare.

The music feels so ridiculously familiar, but I can't confirm its source. The track is listed as "Music from the Fourth Dimension" and is available on side two independent from any sound effects. It may be Spencer Moore's Capital Hi-Q library music, similar to what is heard in both "Teenagers from Outer Space," and "Night of the Living Dead." Any more info would be appreciated.

EDIT: In a strange coincidence I just heard this music playing in an episode of the Western show "Trackdown"...



I was watching it because it coincidentally features a lying shyster named Trump that talks about building a wall, and suing people before trying to skip town with everyone's money. Snopes article here.

Haunted House is one of a series of three Halloween records that also includes Night in a Graveyard and The Ride of the Headless Horseman. Both were released in 1985 under the corporate pseudonym Haunted House Music Co. The real manufacturer, Golden Circle Inc., put out dozens of cassette compilations, many of them unofficial, and most of them bearing questionable (yet lovable) graphic design. The blurry print jobs did them no favors.

These are low-fidelity to the core, but this project seems wildly ambitious compared to the other Golden Circle releases. We're talking three original, long playing albums all released in the same year, all with original artwork. Maybe it's my imagination, but there's a sincerity surrounding these records that is uncommon. Is it possible that something more than money was motivating this undertaking? Whether that's true or not, Haunted House is a great example of Halloween magic on a budget from an unlikely source.
Rating: 5 of 5



Album art for the vinyl edition

October 15, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #15: Disney's Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House (1979 version)



Title: Disney's Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House
Manufacturer: Walt Disney Productions
Year: 1979
Total Runtime: 30 Min (roughly) 
Repeats on both sides: No
Stories: No
Music: A few bits of incidental music 
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: Everyone seems to have their own favorite part

Review: Disney's impact on the Halloween album industry is immeasurable. By the 1960s Disney had amassed three decades' worth of state-of-the-art sound effects from short subjects, feature films, educational programming, and theme park attractions. Disneyland Records had been adapting Disney fixtures into audio programs since 1956. It was inevitable that the two would meet. That happened in 1964 when Disney released the first edition LP of Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. (The second, updated release is the subject of this review.)


Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House, 1964

However, it seems that this was not the first Halloween sound effects record to exist. If the dates are correct, that honor would go to Hallowe'en Spooky Sounds from Sounds Records which was released two years earlier in 1962. (Note that I'm not counting spooky music albums. Those date further back.)


Hallowe'en Spooky Sounds, Sounds Records,1962 

There's another release by Sounds Records that also claims a 1962 copyright called Spooky Sound Effects. But that doesn't seem possible considering one of the tracks, "Storm, Wind, Cats, Dogs, Squeaking Door," is actually a recording called "The Haunted House" that was lifted from the 1964 Disney record and played at half speed. The '62 date may reference the inclusion of content from a third Sounds Records release called Music For Monsters.


Spooky Sound Effects, Sounds Records, year unknown (though the internet says 1961 and '62)

The 1979 version of Chilling Thrilling Sounds contains almost all new content. Side one is a series of vignettes called "Frightening Situations" and side two is full of "Eerie sound effects" that let you "create your own tales of terror." The biggest break from it's predecessor is the lack of narration. This gives each recording different functionality. Also different are fans' opinions as to which is superior.

Both albums set the standard for Halloween records and are recommended to anyone who wants to hear Hollywood quality production values, and professional audio artistry that wasn't hindered by any lack of resources. This isn't for everyone because the truth is, much of the appeal of Halloween records lies in their improvised nature. Chilling Thrilling Sounds will also disappoint anyone seeking a direct connection to the Haunted Mansion ride. Those listeners should look for the 1969 album called The Story and Song of the Haunted Mansion.

Well, this is what happens when I get all caught up in facts and historic details— I forgot to make a single joke.

Rating: 5 of 5
 



October 14, 2017

HALLOWEEN TAPE REVIEW #14: Thriller Chiller Sound Effects (Frankenstein label)

 
Title: Thriller Chiller Sound Effects (Frankenstein label) 
Not to be confused with Fun World's first release of Thriller/Chiller Sound Effects
The CD release is called 55 Minute Horror Sounds
Manufacturer: Fun World
Year: Unknown 
Total Runtime: 45 Minutes 
Repeats on both sides: Yes. Also repeats within each side
Stories: No   
Music: An all too short musical introduction and outro
Narration: No
Distinct Audio: The music. Also an extra loud rooster.
Also the phrase, "You've entered the wrong door...and you're not coming out alive"
Review: You know the song that says "This is Halloween, this is Halloween?" Well, that's how I feel about this tape. The opening theme blew me away the first time I heard it. It has a somber, Dark Ages quality, but it's been filtered through the charm of a Casio. To me, those minor notes capture a sense of mischief and mystery like nothing else. After the forty-nine second melody ended I immediately skimmed through the whole recording wanting more, but it only repeats again at the tail end.  

As far as I can tell, the tune has no name, and there's no known writer or performer. It's as though the essence of the season was mystically forged onto magnetic tape. A couple years after I bought the album I heard the same music coming from a battery-operated jack-o-lantern in a Wal-Mart (back when it still had a dash in the name). It was another Fun World product, leading me to wonder if it originated with the company. As far as I'm concerned, this is the "Jingle Bells" of Halloween. If only I can convince my family to play it at my funeral.
 

No sound effects could live up to that musical intro in my mind, but there's a lot that I appreciate on Thriller Chiller. It opens with crickets, the universal night song that is surprisingly absent on the majority of Halloween tapes. Once a woodland setting is established, a series of terrors are ushered in. While the common practice is to thrust the listener into mayhem, Thriller Chiller rolls out the scares as though you're following a path and encountering each fright one by one. There's a loose "stormy, monster-infested forest" theme (Although that doesn't explain the recurring sound of high heels on a smooth floor.)
 

But that name— why would Fun World give a superior new recording the same name as their previous sound effects album— an album that used stolen audio from Horrible Sounds of Halloween which was stolen from Halloween Horrors. It's possible that they got into legal trouble. It's also possible that they just wanted to be able to use the packaging interchangeably...


My other theory is that Halloween sound effect tapes rank so low on the collective care-o-meter that nobody involved was willing to invest an extra shred of time or creativity. These albums are intended to be as ephemeral as the sticker on a rotten banana, or the cardboard you wrap around a disposable coffee cup to keep from burning your hand. Furthermore, understanding this fact of life is a healthy way of thinking that will prevent one from spending precious money on obsolete relics of yesteryear, or wasting hours listening to people who are now long retired, pretend to be monsters, or typing thousands of words that amount to a guessing game about what happened thirty years ago, with no real evidence to stand on. But that's just a theory.

Rating: 5 of 5