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Culture Monster's 13 things to do on Halloween

October 29, 2009 |  5:00 am

Should the spirits move you to celebrate Halloween or Day of the Dead, arts offerings in the L.A. area abound, from the mildly scary to the incredibly creepy. Culture Monster has scared up a lucky 13.


Judging by its name alone, Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre is the perfect fit for Halloween night. And having experienced some of its shows, we can vouch that the North Hollywood company -- which operates out of a tiny storefront space on Lankershim Boulevard -- more than lives up to its scary-sounding moniker.

Consider yourself warned: The company, which has its roots in French dramatist Antonin Artaud's theater of cruelty, produces plays that are not for everyone. Disturbing imagery and seemingly possessed actors collide to form a unique dramatic experience that is more akin to macabre dance than traditional theater.

This Halloween season, the company is showing Adam Neubauer's "Not With Monsters," a new drama that it describes as a madcap race through time and classic movie monsters as a troubled horror writer receives a strange and disorienting visit.

And just in case you were wondering: Zombie Joe is a real person -- and you may get a chance to meet him if you attend the show.

-- David Ng

"Not with Monsters," ZJU, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends this weekend. $15. (818) 202-4120.

Continue reading for Nos. 2-13....


The Tiger Lillies, once again a UCLA Live Halloween treat, could have been Queen Victoria’s worst  nightmare. The British monarch has been dead 108 years, of course, but that only makes these three British alt-cabaret creators of “Shockhead Peter” all the more ghoulish. The Lillies are all the nasty bits of Victorian England come back to haunt us. They’re also terrific.

What might they do?  Well, Martyn Jacques, the languid lead singer in a porkpie hat who is also skilled at indolent accordion and limp ukulele, might cry fire in a crowded theater as lead-in to laughs about our incendiary hillsides. He might bite your head off.   

Tiger Lillies has won the appreciation of the Kronos Quartet, folk music fanatics and goths who couldn’t give a hoot about hootenannies or Hindemith. Then again, Halloween is the time to be what you are not -- but maybe should be. 

-- Mark Swed     

UCLA Live, Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Westwood. 8 p.m. Saturday.  $22-$40 ($15 UCLA students).   (310) 825-2101.

Hell House 3. HECKUVA TIME

Sometime around the late-Clinton era, the U.S. culture wars invaded Halloween. At one extreme were Christian fundamentalists, who decided to use the holiday to proselytize by turning the traditional Halloween haunted house into the spectacle of the co-called "hell house."

Hell houses typically include exhibitions of "sinners" paying the price for their presumed transgressions (abortion, homosexuality) by being afflicted with a plague of torments in the afterlife. It's a complex phenomenon, ably captured by filmmaker George Ratliff in his 2001 documentary "Hell House," which follows a family participating in an annual Hell House staged by Trinity Church (Assemblies of God) in the Dallas suburb of Cedar Hill. Told in a sensitive, straightforward manner, the movie avoids taking sides, leaving viewers with plenty to ponder.

The Actors' Gang is screening it on Halloween night as part of the Culver City troupe's "WTF?! Festival," with a Halloween costume party to follow. 

-- Reed Johnson

The Actors' Gang, "WTF?! Festival," Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City. 8 p.m. Saturday. $10.

MW_The_Sea_of_Silence_Film_Still_2_email 4. SPOOKY SCREENING

Claude Rains and Charles Bronson starred in a classic 1956 episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" involving a dead body, a disturbed ventriloquist and an unusually chatty dummy. Put Alfred together with a puppet and you could be certain no good would come of it.

If puppets creep you out, the Echo Park Film Center has just the ticket. Friday at 8 p.m., a program with the cheeky title "Uncanny My *ss" will present film and video clips featuring "ventriloquist dummies, marionettes, sock-puppets, Resusci-Annie, crash test dummies and anything else we can scare up." Artist Marnie Weber will screen her new short film “The Sea of Silence,” while David Liebe Hart and His Puppet Friends will serenade the crowd.

Assorted horror screen-classic clips will also be shown, but if that's not enough consider the program's organizer: It's the CCCP--no, not the old Soviet Union come back to macabre life, Hitchcock-style, but the Coalition for Cinema Conservation and Preservation.

-- Christopher Knight

The Echo Park Film Center, 1200 N. Alvarado St. at Sunset Boulevard., 8 p.m. Friday. (213) 484-8846.


Arachnophobia has an honored spot in fright-mongering lore and iconography, so although it’s not a Halloween or El Dia de los Muertos event per se, there’s a certain seasonal appropriateness to the Orange County Museum of Art hosting “Carlos Amorales: Discarded Spider,” billed as the first major exhibition the Mexican artist has had on the West Coast.

Images of spider webs form the connective tissue of the show, which runs through March 14 and consists of 19 computer-aided drawings, as well as videos, paintings and sculptures, all created by Amorales in 2008.

Quoth museum director Dennis Szakacs (in the exhibition press release): “His unique visual vocabulary is inspired by gothic novels, horror movies, and a fantastical aesthetic … in which the animal and human worlds collide.”

-- Mike Boehm

Orange County Museum of Art,
850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays. $10-$12. (949) 759-1122.


Candy is dandy, but brain food has its place, even in this season of trick-or-treat. Gregorio Luke, former director of the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach, and now an independent scholar-lecturer, aims to provide some illumination in an appropriate setting with “Day of the Dead – Myth and History.” The multimedia presentation on the Mexican Dia de los Muertos celebration of the spirits who walk among us happens Nov. 1 at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Luke says his talk will be preceded by musical performances and will feature “hundreds of images, classic film scenes, as well as art that has been created about death.”

-- Mike Boehm

Fairbanks Lawn at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, 6:30-9:30 p.m. Sunday. $10, free for children 9 and under. (323) 447-0999


The scariest ghost stories are the ones that never let you decide whether there’s something really spooky going on or whether it’s all in the characters’ heads. Reality’s slipperiness, after all, is a good deal more unnerving than an inexplicable howling in chains. 

Irish playwright Conor McPherson is a contemporary master of what can only be described as the theater of psychological occult. Indeed, he's quickly becoming as adept as Henry James at turning the screw of internal horror.

In “Shining City,” his “modern day ghost story about human contact” now at the Fountain Theatre, he brings together an ex-priest-turned-shrink and a guilt-racked widower who thinks he’s being visited by his late wife. Both men are seeking relief from an unbearable emptiness and both are grappling with whether there’s more to heaven and earth than a lonely rationalism.
The production, directed by Stephen Sachs, struck me as better acted than the play's 2006 Broadway premiere at the Biltmore Theatre. Credit the Fountain’s frighteningly good ensemble, comprised of Morlan Higgins, William Dennis Hurley, Kerrie Blaisdell and Benjamin Keepers, and an intimate space that won't allow you to escape the terror that's afoot in these harrowingly recognizable lives.

--Charles McNulty
“Shining City,” Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 19. (Dark Nov. 26.) $18 to $28. (323) 663-1525. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

Photo: Morlan Higgins, left, and William Dennis Hurley. Credit: Ed Krieger

Theater review: 'Shining City' at Fountain Theatre

Poe_mania 8. A PAIR OF POES

Two hundred years ago, America's gothic master, Edgar Allan Poe, was born in Boston. As part of this year’s bicentennial celebrations, in Los Angeles, actor Jeffrey Combs’ one-man show "Nevermore: An Evening of Edgar Allan Poe" has been extended through December at the Steve Allen Theater at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 666-4268.

If you’re unable to join Combs for an unforgettably poetic evening in the shadow of a raven’s wing, there are also online offerings from the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Its exhibit, "From Out That Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Edgar Allan Poe," continues until January. The center is also featuring online content here that includes parodies of the poem "The Raven" (you're invited to include your own), cryptographs and a preview video of the exhibit.

At this time of year, it never hurts to become a little better acquainted with a great writer who famously advised: "Should you ever be drowned or hung, be sure and make a note of your sensations."

-- Nick Owchar

Skelton 9. DEM BONES

Last fall, news came that the Bob Baker Marionette Theater near downtown L.A. was facing mortgage trouble and could soon be homeless. A year later, the popular children's theater is alive and kicking. Not only that, the 50-year-old institution was named a historic cultural landmark by the L.A. City Council in June.

This week, the theater will present "Bob Baker's Halloween Spooktacular" -- a vintage puppet show extravaganza starring dozens of bizarre one-of-a-kind marionettes. The production will tell the story of Baker's career in puppetry and will feature a performance by Baker himself.

-- David Ng

"Bob Baker's Halloween Spooktacular,"
the Bob Baker Marionette Theater, 1345 W. 1st St., Los Angeles. 10:30 a.m. Thursday and Friday, 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. $20. (213) 250-9995.

Costumehed390 10. PLAYING DRESS-UP

Do you have an awesome superhero costume that you'd like to show off at high-class party where it can be truly appreciated? Then consider the 5th Annual Muse Costume Ball at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

This Halloween, the museum's party is inspired by the exhibition "Heroes and Villains: The Battle for Good in India's Comics," which runs at LACMA through Feb. 7. While your outfit doesn't necessarily have to hail from Indian comic book culture, it certainly helps to get in the spirit with the art work.

Plus, the museum promises a contest for the best hero, best villain and the most creative costume. 

-- David Ng

Muse Costume Ball, LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 8:15 p.m. Saturday. $50 (non-members); $30 (members).

SelfHelp 11. MAKE A DIA OF IT

For the 36th year, Self Help Graphics & Art celebrates Day of the Dead a.k.a. Dia de los Muertos. The art center says it all began in 1972 when two artists met at the nearby Evergreen Cemetery to celebrate and honor the dead, as their ancestors in Mexico had centuries before.

Now it's a full-on event with artists making masks, costumes, posters and altars, kicking off at 4 p.m. with a procession at Cesar Chavez and Mednik avenues. The party is at a new location, the East L.A. Civic Center.

-- Sherry Stern

36th annual Dia de los Muertos celebration, Self Help Graphics & Art, East L.A. Civic Center, 4801 E. 3rd St. 5-11 p.m. Monday. Free.

Hunger copy 12. BLOODY GOOD

“The play contains graphic violence, gore and adult situations” is the warning attached to Hunger Artists Theatre Company’s production of Clive Barker’s “Frankenstein in Love.” Barker and his cronies first staged this darkly humorous cut-‘em-up in London in 1982, before the playwright’s name became synonymous with arterial outpourings in print and on screen. It imagines Dr. Frankenstein conducting ghastly experiments under the protection of a Latin American dictatorship; meanwhile, the prize product of his laboratory has gone renegade, leading a rebellion against the regime and making for a fraught father-son relationship. 

-- Mike Boehm

Hunger Artists, College Business Park, 699-A State College Blvd., Fullerton. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends Nov. 1. $18; $5 on Thursday. (714) 680-6803;

Jack 13. BOO!

The children’s storytelling company We Tell Stories has a program of frightful stories at the Culver City Julian Dixon Library on Halloween. The 45-minute performance is billed as featuring scary -- but not-to-scary -- story-based plays, aimed for 4- to 11-year-olds. The stories will celebrate Halloween and Dia de los Muertos.

-- Sherry Stern

"We Tell 'Scary' Stories," the Culver City Julian Dixon Library, 4975 Overland Ave.; (310) 559-1676. 2 p.m. Saturday. Free.

Images, from top, from Zombie Joe's Underground Theater, UCLA Live, the Actors' Gang,  Echo Park Film Center, Orange County Museum of Art, Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Fountain Theater, University of Texas, Bob Baker Marionette Theater, LACMA, Self Help Graphics & Art, Hunger Artists, We Tell Stories.