Dirty Dancing Ghost Makes For a Truly Scary Halloween

Boo, bitches!

The Grave Raver is our scariest Halloween decoration. After this column was published in October 2010, I received an email from the president of Gemmy Industries Corp. Even though I crapped on his products a bit, he said he “liked my style,” and offered to send me a free inflatable Christmas decoration. Damn my journalistic integrity — free stuff is cool! He hooked us up with a nice Peanuts inflatable; Charlie Brown and Snoopy decorating a tree. Unfortunately the boys perished in a blizzard the day after Christmas. Anyway, back to the Grave Raver…

My daughter had big ideas about the Halloween decorations she wanted this year.

We need a giant inflatable!” she suggested. “A giant pumpkin snow globe, or maybe Snoopy and Woodstock decorating their doghouse. Maybe a big witch, or Frankenstein. Maybe we should get two?”

She was vague on the specifics but knew she wanted something. And she had expensive tastes.

So when we saw the Grave Raver it seemed like a good compromise. It was a little tabletop ghost in a bowler hat and shoes that lit up and danced to a goofy tune. It was cute and within our budget.

My daughter loved it, kept our Grave Raver boogying until his batteries needed to be replaced. She showed the dancing ghost to everyone, including my twentysomething niece.

“I wonder who picks the music for these things?” my niece pondered. “This song has nothing to do with Halloween…and it isn’t really for kids either.”

“There’s a tag on the decoration that says it’s appropriate for ages three and up,” I said. “Uh…what song is this, anyway?”

It was a silly-but-catchy R&B tune with hip-hop drums. Being tragically unhip, I was unfamiliar with it.

“It’s a Timbaland song from a few years ago called ‘The Way I Are‘.”

The Way I Is, Is The Way I Be

My first thoughts were 1) Timbaland named himself after hiking boots but spelled his name wrong, and 2) the title of his self-affirming anthem was grammatically incorrect. Both mistakes are intentional (I guess) in the world of hip-hop. (In fairness, and as a Led Zeppelin/Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, intentional misspellings happen in the world of rock music, too.)

Then I Googled “The Way I Are” lyrics to see what our dancing ghost was singing about.

Baby if you strip, you could get a tip

‘Cause I like you just the way you are

I’m about to strip and I want it quick

Can you handle me the way I are?

I don’t need the cheese or the car keys

Boy I like you just the way you are

And let me see ya strip, you could get a tip

‘Cause I like you just the way you are

Yeah, strip club fun and bad grammar for the whole family! Maybe next year we’ll find a jack-o-lantern that sings about poppin’ a cap in the pole-lease and pistol-whippin’ his bee-yatches!

Yo fault, Big Poppa

There’s no one to blame but myself. I bought the dopey dancing ghost. But there were a lot of decisions made prior to my purchase that I have to question. For starters, why did the manufacturer, Gemmy Industries Corp. (“the world’s largest provider of all your favorite seasonal decor, animation entertainment and lighting products”) decide to make a “family friendly” Halloween decoration (“appropriate for ages three and up”) that plays a nonsensical, sexually charged hip-hop tune? Why not “The Monster Mash,” “Flying Purple People Eater,” or even Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”? Why did the local CVS have dozens of Grave Ravers on its Halloween shelf alongside plastic skulls and rubber bats?

Why would Timbaland allow his song to be used for such a product? In truth, it may not have been his decision alone. According to the label on our Grave Raver, it took no less than seven people to compose the profound musical opus that is “The Way I Are,” including Tim Mosley, which is Timbaland’s real name. (So why not call yourself ‘Tim Mosley’, which is a fine name, and much more pleasing to the ear than “Timbaland”?)

I Didn’t Know, Yo!

Because I’m a pop culture ignoramus, I didn’t know “The Way I Are” had already spread to other areas of entertainment. Timbaland licensed the song for use in a 2007 McDonald’s commercial (though the thought of Timbaland stripped naked seems a natural appetite suppressant) and for the NBA Live 2008 video game. The song also appeared in the movie Step Up 2, in the pilot for CW’s Gossip Girl, and former Spice Girl Mel B. danced to it on Dancing With The Stars. “They Way I Are” has been marketed and shopped around so much, it’s finally “trickled down” to a budget Halloween decoration the whole family can enjoy. On some level this “gangsta ghost” is the most frighten Halloween decoration we own.

Fortunately the audio quality on our ghostly dancer isn’t the greatest, so my six-year-old daughter hasn’t figured out the lyrics and asked me to explain. By next year she might…which is why I’m saving up for the Snoopy and Woodstock inflatable now.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

UPDATE September 2012: I saw the 2012 model of Gemmy’s Grave Raver in the CVS the other day. It’s a mummy dancing to “Thriller.” Another brilliant idea comes to fruition! I didn’t buy one, though. My daughter decided on this witchy puppy that sings the theme song to “The Addams Family” instead.

addams family pup
“They’re creepy and they’re kooky…”

The Two Sams by Glen Hirshberg

The Two Sams : Ghost Stories by Glen Hirshberg
$2.99 Ebook, Cemetery Dance Publications.

You won’t find any vampires, werewolves or other traditional monsters in Hirshberg’s horror fiction. You’ll barely even find horror in The Two Sams. What you will find are five stories laden with human sorrow and a palpable atmosphere of dread. These stories are not so much written as they are crafted. You can practically see Hirshberg’s professorial, academic fingerprints on every carefully sculpted line of text. The five stories collected in The Two Sams quietly wrap you in a cloak of uneasiness. “Struwwelpeter” examines the seeds of murder and the tension of father/son relationships. “Shipwreck Beach” follows two cousins; one of whom is suicidal, the other intent on saving him…oh, and along they way they may or may not release a wailing ghost from the hold of an old shipwreck. “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” is an engaging tale that should be required Halloween reading for all horror fiction fans. “Dancing Men” weaves the threads of The Holocaust, the plight of American Indians, and the unbreakable bonds of family into one bizarre tapestry. The best story in this collection is the title piece, about a man confronting the ghosts of his miscarried children. This tale sticks to you like glue, and leaves you feeling as haunted as its narrator. Hirshberg’s quiet tales of terror leave you feeling claustrophobic and chilled to the bone. Is anything more frightening than family?

Alone by Briane Keene

Alone by Brian Keene
$2.99 Ebook

Brian Keene’s novella Alone reads like a long lost Twilight Zone episode. You can almost hear Rod Serling’s narration; “Submitted for your approval, Mr. Dan Miller, who wakes up one day and finds that everyone he knows and loves–in fact, everyone on earth–has disappeared…” Keene gets this strange tale up and running quickly, and continues the weird Zone-vibe throughout (including a requisite “twist” ending). Yeah, the twist is more of a big, loping curveball that’s easy to see coming, and the minimal cast doesn’t leave much room for character development. But the joy of a Keene story is his sugary style and natural skill as a storyteller. Alone is a fast-paced, engaging tale, that jumps up and slaps you in the face before you can notice its shortcomings.

Torn to Pieces by Joseph M. Monks

Torn to Pieces by Joseph M. Monks
$2.99 Kindle Edition

We’ve all read gritty, NYC crime dramas and police procedurals before, but Joseph M. Monks’ Torn to Pieces, hits harder and cuts deeper than most. The chemistry between Detectives Jack Whelan and Burton Carver is similar to Joe R. Lansdale’s brilliant Hap Collins and Leonard Pine novels; I hope Monks has more Whelan/Carver tales to tell. Either way, Torn to Pieces is a hell of a start, with quick pacing and genuinely suspenseful scenes. No matter what your personal or political stance, chances are good you’ll never look at the abortion issue the same way again after reading this novel. Monks has published strong short fiction in the horror genre (“Stuff Outta My Head“), made a film (“The Bunker“), and created the iconic Cry For Dawn comic book. Torn to Pieces is his debut novel, and it’s an impressive effort, his most mainstream work to date, yet one that packs an emotional and visceral punch you won’t find in most crime fiction.