Retro-A-Go-Go! Vac-tastic Plastic Masks

Beautiful line of retro-style plastic monster masks from Retro-A-Go-Go! for those of you who remember those awful/awesome Halloween costumes from the 1960s and 1970s.

Wolf Man
Space Invader
Swamp Freak
Deep Space Astro Zombie
Radio Active Astro Zombie
Fish Face
Crypt Vampire
Crud Mummy
Blood of Dracula
Alien Master
Vampyra Girl
Green Slime Skull
Fun House Devil
Bloody Werewolf
Cold Death

A Mike Warnke Halloween

I had to laugh a bit when I was surfing the web and came across audioblog Scar Stuff hosting Mike Warnke’s 1979 spoken world album, A Christian Perspective on Halloween.

In the 1973, Warnke co-authored a book called The Satan Seller in which he claimed that he had been a “high priest” in a satanic cult. Warnke followed that up with a number of spoken-word albums, typically recordings made from numerous live appearances that he made touring the country talking about his Satanic past and his conversion to Christianity.

In a very odd coincidence, I saw Mike Warnke perform at a 5,000 seat theater sometime in the early 1980s. At the time I was 16 or 17 and was attending a local church (I was still an atheist, but this chick I was trying to have sex with wasn’t, so . . .) I went to the show as part of some youth group affiliated with the church.

What I remember was that Warnke was very theatrical. He wasn’t good enough to be a professional actor or anything (though technically, I guess, he was), but good enough to probably scare your pants off with scary stories around a campfire.

He went on at length about all of the satantic rites that he had supposedly participated in. As he got more and more into his onstage personae, he got more and more graphic with the horrors that he had supposedly participated in. I didn’t find him at all believable, but clearly quite a few in the audience did — Warnke was, by all accounts, making quite a living off of the selling of his Satanic anecdotes.

The event was actually free (required ticket, but still free), and at the end of the event he had people pass buckets for donations.

It was a very very odd act.

What was odder still was that it wasn’t until 1992 that Cornerstone essentially ended Warnke’s career with its long expose, Selling Satan: The Tragic History of Mike Warnke. Warnke was a liar, of course, and since he had gotten away with his lies for almost two decades, he apparently didn’t even feel the need to bother with even the most tenuous link to reality. So Cornerstone was able to show very obvious lies.

For example, Warnke had claimed that Charles Manson was part of his cult at one point, but at a time when Manson was incarcerated. Cornerstone also interviewed more than 100 friends, relatives and acquaintances of Warnke’s who disputed key points of his accounts of his life while he was supposedly wrapped up in Satanic cults.

The Cornerstone article was devastating, putting an end to Warnke Ministries which closed just a few months after publication of the article. According to Wikipedia,

Warnke largely disappeared from the public scene. He suffered a heart attack in 1997, and in 2000 was attempting a comeback, limited to small churches around the Kentucky area. In 2002, he published Friendly Fire: A Recovery Guide for Believers Battered by Religion (ISBN 0-7684-2124-1), an unapologetic account of what he perceived as his unfair treatment by fellow Christians in the wake of the Cornerstone exposé.

The Amazon.Com product page for Friendly Fire is revealing in how Warnke apparently describes himself today,

A comic by nature and an evangelist by calling, Mike Warnke reigned for 20 years in the 1970s and 80s as the #1 Christian comedian in America, appearing before sellout crowds all across the country.

Warnke, who did release a few Christian comedy albums in the 1970s, apparently forgot to tell the audiences who fell for his Satanic spiel that the joke was on them.

Hell House

Last year Kevin Kelly recommended the documentary Hell House on his Cool Tools blog. I rented it through NetFlix, and couldn’t stop watching it. I ran through it 10-12 times before my wife said it absolutely had to go back because she couldn’t take anymore.

The documentary is about the Trinity Assembly of God Church in Dallas, TX, and the “hell house” phenomenon it started back in 1990. (The church is Apostolic, btw, and there’s some awesome footage of people speaking tongues). It was apparently the first Christian church to do a haunted house where the horrors depicted are the wages of sin. Now, of course, these things are a relatively common.

The Church runs a private high school and the Hell House is a collaboration between the two, with the students trying out for parts in Hell House like students in other schools try out for parts in some bastardized version of a Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams play. Except most of the parts in Hell House are so far out there, that they’d never be allowed in a play at most schools.

The documentary works because the people involved are so fascinating. The documentary both shows them at their most vulnerable and human — such as a hapless father (and Hell House webmaster) who doesn’t seem to know how to deal with the pain of his ex-wife’s adultery to a 20-something church member who seems to be searching for something to fill the emptiness of his life and Hell House is simply the flavor of the week.

At the same time I identified with and felt sympathy for the people, they hold extreme fundamentalist views that are expressed very graphically and offensively in the documentary. The last part of the film is devoted to following visitors through on a walkthrough of Hell House which includes a scene depicting a man dying from AIDS while a demonic creature explains to the man that AIDS is the price he paid for straying from God’s chosen path into a life of homosexuality.

The film intersperses its live footage with clips that are clearly shot in a studio in which someone off camera appears to have asked the students in the film questions, and we are shown their answers as if they are simply impromptu (I *really* hate this device in documentaries). In one of these scenes, a teenage girl captures the entire thrust of the Hell House when she matter of factly states her view that the world outside is corrupt and lost.

On the one hand, the folks in the film come across almost as a parody of right wing fundamentalists — these people make Jerry Falwell look like a Unitarian minister. On the other hand, at least their faith isn’t some wishy-washy Unitarian style nonsense. These people actually believe in something. Unfortunately, what they actually believe in is far scarier than any horror film I’ve ever seen.