The Phantom Gazette – News

The Phantom’s Saturday Matinee: Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown FINALLY makes DVD!

“Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” FINALLY Makes Its Digital Debut 38 Years after Its Theatrical Release, and It’s Still Not Only the Best Peanuts Movie, but One of the Greatest G-Rated Films of All Time!

1977 made its mark of the psyche of a whole generations of kids. “Star Wars” changed the cinematic landscape forever and, along with “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” forged the Movie Geek Generation.

It was a great year to be still be young enough to buy a children’s ticket at the theater. Ray Harryhausen released his third and final Arabian Knights adventure, “Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger,” and Peanuts TV and theatrical producer/director, Bill Melendez, released the big screen Peanuts summer camp adventure, “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown.” This was the same guy who gave us the TV classics “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and dozens of others.

The TV specials, sponsored by Dolly Madison snack cakes, were big deals to us back then. They would pop up during prime time to get us excited about each upcoming holiday and often mark the start of each new school season. Occasionally the Peanuts would hit the big screen for extended, event type adventures and “Race for Your Life Charlie Brown” was the biggest and best of them all.

It was actually the third big screen Peanuts adventure, following “A Boy Named Charlie Brown” (1969) and “Snoopy, Come Home” (1972) and followed by “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!!) (1980), which would be the last Peanuts big screen event picture until “The Peanuts Movie” hits theaters in November 2015.

Charles Schulz often wrote about Charlie Brown and his friend’s misadventures at summer camp in the newspaper strips and there was actually a TV special called “It was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown” (1969) that was kind of the prototype for what would be extended into the feature length summer camp adventure released in 1977.

“Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” was released on VHS in the early 80s and was actually the first title release on RCA’s SelectaVision VideoDisc. It was reissued on VHS in 1995 and then disappeared from home video availability for 20 years. FINALLY, on February 10, it was digitally restored and released on proper widescreen, anamorphic DVD. For some reason Paramount has chosen not to issue an accompanying Blu-ray Disc, and they should be ashamed of themselves for it, but I can’t really complain about the DVD transfer we got.

Finally properly framed and restored, the colors are brighter and more vibrant than I’ve ever seen the movie look before on TV broadcasts and VHS versions. This release is cause for Peanuts fans to celebrate, even though Paramount quietly tossed it to Walmart’s kid’s section shelves with little fanfare or advertising.

“Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown” follows the Peanuts gang on a bus ride to Camp Remote, followed by Snoopy and Woodstock on motorcycle, “Easy Rider” style. Almost any kid at that time, or even today, could relate to the summer camp experience. For most, it meant being away from your parents for the first time for an extended period of time. The movie recreates the “rough” conditions, the terrible food and the brutal competitive sporting events that pitted cabin against cabin in survival of the fittest contests.

Bullying was as much of an issue then as it is today and was the theme of many kid’s films from that generation including “My Bodyguard” (1980) and “The Karate Kid” (1984). Here, Charlie Brown and his friends must confront a cabin full of nasty punks and their spike collared cat who’ve been the “number one” cabin in every sporting event for the last couple of years and who will stop at nothing to be number one again this year. Fair play is off the table for these little bastards.

The centerpiece of the movie is an epic boat race that will take place over several days and nights alone in the wilderness without adult supervision. The kids have to build their own rafts and hope that they will be sea worthy enough to navigate multiple life and death challenges including construction blast zones scheduled to operate DURING the boat race, dangerous wild animals, severe weather and even a deadly waterfall towards the end of the course. Armed with only dry cereal to eat over several days and only their wits to battle Mother Nature and each other, this is clearly the most incompetent and irresponsible summer camp ever devised. It’s “Lord of the Flies” in cell animation.

In other words, Camp Remote is AWESOME!

In true Peanuts fashion, the characters deal with a lot of adult issues from a kid’s perspective. The girls’ cabin and its self-appointed leader, Peppermint Patty, decide to make all decisions by casting secret ballets, skewering our own Democratic system and its many faults.

As I watched the film for the first time in at least 20 years, I must admit fighting back tears on several occasions probably as much out of the nostalgia for my own lost innocence as due to the power of the film itself, but there are moments that truly speak to the child inside all of us.

At one point, Snoopy and Woodstock get lost and separated from each other. Left alone to face the cruelty of nature, they both suffer physically and emotionally without their best friend at their side. Their ultimate reunion could surely melt the heart of even the grumpiest adult.

I won’t spoil the ending regarding who ultimately wins the boat race for those of you who’ve never seen the movie, but I will say the finale is clever, unexpected and completely brilliant. I still get a “stand up and cheer” shot of adrenaline when Snoopy totally cold cocks that evil bastard cat — TWICE!

I remember the review of this movie in the local paper, a backhanded compliment from a cynical adult critic, who said the movie was the kind of product made for parents to drop off their kids at the cinema for an hour and a half of unencumbered shopping or peace on Saturday afternoon. He did relent in his three star review, however, that if parents absolutely had to sit through “Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown,” that they may actually end up enjoying the ride.

As the credits role, Charlie Brown rides off into the sunset on Snoopy’s hog to psychedelic colors and strange editing, as if they had all taken a hit of acid for the road. Like I said, Camp Remote is AWESOME!

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John Carpenter’s Lost Themes Album Review (2015)

Master of Horror, John Carpenter, presents “Lost Themes,” an original sonic odyssey into films made only in the imagination.

At 67 years old, legendary horror film director and ex-Kentuckian, John Carpenter, has released his first original solo album. Well, his first non-film score album anyway. Sacred Bones Records ( has released “Lost Themes” on CD and special edition vinyl and in old school “record” tradition, even the CD case lists the nine tracks as separated on Side A and Side B.

Fans of Carpenter’s mesmerizing, pulsating synthesizer scores from films like “Halloween,” “The Fog,” “Assault on Precinct 13,” “Escape from New York,” “They Live” and “Prince of Darkness” are in for a very special treat. “Lost Themes” recalls fleeting moments from some of those scores, occasional familiar effects and beats, but it’s also very much its own animal.

It’s something old, something new, something retro and somehow futuristic at the same time, sort of like Walt Disney’s vision of Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom.

Raised in Bowling Green, KY where his father was head of the music department at Western Kentucky University, Carpenter was a student of music long before he left Kentucky to attend USC film school in Los Angeles. When he made his first low budget, independent films, “Dark Star,” Assault on Precinct 13” and “Halloween,” his skills as a musician came in handy. The budgets were so low, he would compose the film scores himself on a synthesizer to save the expense of having to hire a composer and an orchestra.

His scores quickly became so iconic that even when he would hire someone else to score his movie, like he did when he hired one of the greatest film composers of all time, Ennio Morricone, to score “The Thing,” Morricone would ultimately turn in a soundtrack that sounded pretty much like a John Carpenter score!

Carpenter’s films are just meant to sound a certain way.

In the past, Carpenter has humbly compared his job as a film composer to a carpet layer who comes in after the home is built and lays down the carpet which makes the house look nice and brings it all together. While it might be true that Carpenter’s often repetitive synthetic rhythms are musically simplistic tools built to add mood and tone to his filmic images, I think most of his fans will agree that his scores amount to much more than just so much shag interior.

There’s something in Carpenters style that just exudes COOL.

For “Lost Themes,” Carpenter has kept the music in the family, working with his son, Cody, and his godson, Daniel Davies, to create a pulsating soundscape that is at times sinister and at other times exhilarating.

In the included liner notes Carpenter says, “Lost Themes was all about having fun. It can be both great and bad to score over images, which is what I’m used to. Here there were no pressures. No actors asking me what they’re supposed to do. No crew waiting. No cutting room to go to. No release pending. It’s just fun.”

“Lost Themes” opens with the majestically cool, “Vortex,” which in many ways recalls both the shadowy street violence of “Assault on Precinct 13” and the dystopian future nightmare depicted in “Escape from New York.”

The next track, “Obsidian,” also conjures images of dark sci-fi noir-scapes and the discovery of lost Lovecraftian cities, but segues into something that feels like New Age romanticism. As with most of the tracks included, if you don’t like the first couple of minutes, stick around because there will likely be several tempo and mood changes before the end.

In the next couple of tracks, “Fallen” and “Domain,” you begin to hear Carpenter’s Rock n Roll influences come to the surface. In the mid 1970’s, Carpenter formed his own rock band, The Coupe de Villes, and some of his scores, like “Escape from LA” and “Ghosts of Mars,” have incorporated guitar driven tracks laid down by rockers like Anthrax, Steve Vai and Buckethead.

Mystery” and “Abyss” might, at points, remind listeners of both Tubular Bells (“The Exorcist”) and Goblin’s score for “Susperia,” which I believe Carpenter himself approximated in his score for “The Fog.”

The next two tracks, “Wraith” and “Purgatory,” are probably my least favorite tracks on the album. It’s only at this point do things start to blur together, at least to my ears, but thankfully Carpenter has saved one of his best tracks, “Night,” for the album’s closer.

Night” is pure, classic Carpenter. Rhythmic, methodical and mysterious, it’s the perfect bookend for “Vortex.”

John Carpenter’sLost Tracks” is the perfect soundtrack for night driving. Pop this synth odyssey into your car CD player for cruising down rain slicked streets through neon cities of both the real and the imagined. Get your copy now at

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We Know What Scares You: The Results of the Phantom’s 2014 Haunted Attraction Survey!

We asked you about your fears, phobias, likes and dislikes regarding the latest trends in the Haunt Industry in 2014, and now we’re prepared to reveal the shocking results!

Last month the Pumpkin King asked Louisville Halloween readers to participate in a survey geared to help us improve your experience here on the website. That survey is still open at if you’d like to give us your opinions. We are committed to making Louisville Halloween the website YOU want to come to for all the local spooky news and reviews YOU want to know about and we really appreciate your feedback!

Next month, all the creepiest creative designers, prop makers and haunt industry Spook Masters will gather for TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show in St. Louis. TransWorld is the biggest Halloween and haunt related marketplace in the world. It’s the place where haunters from all over the country come to get ideas and purchase props, masks and costumes for the Halloween 2015 season.

Louisville and Kentuckiana haunters need to know what scares you in order to make plans for upping their game in 2015. Just before Halloween last year, we asked you to tell us what you were looking for in a haunted attraction and you had a lot to scream about!

We got responses from readers all over the region showing our current readership skewing slightly female with nearly 85% of all who responded between the ages of 18 and 44 years of age.  Here’s how you responded to our questions about the horror biz!


The answers here were pretty evenly spread across the board with nearly 25% HATING being touched, which means that nearly 75% of you are okay with being touched to some degree in a haunted house. The highest percentage of you responded that “LIGHT TOUCHING” was okay while only 16% chose the response that was worded, “Grab me, push me, pull me and hit me with your chainsaw!”

Speaking of chainsaws—


The chainsaw maniacs have spoken! Nearly 77% of you think chainsaws are still effective scare tactics with 17% even saying they would like to ask for their money back if they don’t encounter chainsaw wielding goons. However, there is also a 23% minority that now considers the classic chainsaw scene boring and hopes haunters will invent something new to get the same effect.


This one should be an eye-opener to haunters. A full 68% of you are sick and tired of the zombie apocalypse and think the living dead should just go back to their graves (at least as far as haunted houses go). Only 8% of those who responded said they would pay for an all zombie themed attraction.


This question got a very mixed response. Only 15% said they LOVED seeing movie slashers in haunts with an additional 21% saying they LIKED seeing them, but it wasn’t a deal breaker if there were none in the haunt. The 44% majority said that either haunts should aspire to Hollywood movie set authenticity or not bother. The final 18% of those who responded prefer a completely original theme.

These are interesting results to consider in light of the fact that the movie industry has recently begun cracking down on unlicensed use of intellectual properties and charging big haunters like Universal Studios Theme Park hundreds of thousands of dollars in licensing fees for the use of their famous scream icons.


We wondered whether or not the famous monsters of the black-and-white era still held a place in the pure hearts of modern horror fans, but we need not have worried. Nearly 74% of you said you still enjoy seeing the classic monsters in haunts as long as the make-up, costumes and sets are well done. There is a contingent of young whippersnappers, however, that just laugh in the face of Dracula; 21% of you say these creaky old creatures have no place in modern haunts.


You’re mostly in agreement on this one. The 56% majority feel that a great haunted attraction should have a balanced mix of both large animatronics and great actors. However, 26% of you admit that the large animatronic monsters don’t really scare you and it’s not a deal breaker if the haunt can’t afford these expensive effects. Those that really LOVE them and those that hardly even notice them make up less than 10% of those who responded each.


This may have been the biggest eye-opener of the survey. Over a whopping 75% of you said you would be willing to drive at least an hour to visit a haunt they heard was great, with 53% saying they would drive over an hour.


The highest response at 33% was 30 minutes or more, but nearly 28% admitted that it didn’t really matter how long the haunt was as long as it was scary and well produced. There were 23% that admitted they felt cheated if they were in and out in less than 10 minutes but overall responses seem to indicate that length of the attraction doesn’t seem to be as big a factor in your satisfaction as quality.


The much talked about and debated “extreme haunts” popping up in the bigger cities don’t seem to have as much appeal here in the Ville with a full 44% of you clearly stating you’re NOT INTERESTED. However, 37% of you said you might try it if you knew someone else who had already survived the experience and could tell you exactly what to expect, but even 15% of those responders would have to think long and hard about it first. That leaves almost 18% of you who are clearly sick and twisted freaks who’ve been waiting their whole lives for “Blue Skeleton” treatment.*

Editor’s Note: The “Blue Skeleton” refers to the ultimate extreme haunted house rumored about in the film, “The Houses October Built” (2014). You’ll have to discover the meaning behind the “Blue Skeleton” for yourselves!

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Joey Arena Talks about His New Job Preserving and Restoring the Haunted House at Funtown Mountain!

Alley Theater Founder/Chairman and former Baxter Avenue Morgue Creative Director, Joey Arena, is the new caretaker of one of America’s oldest standing walk through haunted houses.

No pressure.

The job: Restore the original Haunted House at Guntown Mountain to its former glory, preserving its history as an iconic roadside attraction in Cave City, while updating it slightly to fix broken props and pump up the “lesser polished stuff.” Get it ready for re-opening as a preview of Funtown Mountain this Halloween in 2015.

The goal: Please both longtime fans who have taken dozens of trips through the dark and twisting hallways over the years and newbies who have never experienced this classic haunted walk-thru.

The man: Joey Arena.

“History is very important to me,” says Arena. “I want to keep all the original props and try to replace the broken ones. Will (Russell) has a lot of the original Funni-Frite props, like The Thing (a pair of hands that pop out of a mysterious box), in storage. I’m going to try to find a replacement of the Gorilla gag at the end.”

Arena has a long and fabled local resume in both the theater and the haunt business. As co-founder of the Alley Theater when it opened in the back of the Highland Grounds Coffee Shop 21 years ago, Arena has staged countless productions including “Evil Dead: The Musical,” which will be returning for its third blood soaked engagement in 2015. The Alley has moved recently to its most prestigious location on West Main Street between the Kentucky Center for the Arts and the 21c Hotel.

Arena was also one of the earliest Creative Directors at the Baxter Avenue Morgue.

“The Morgue opened in 2001 and I and my former wife, Verity Vice, worked there during the first season,” relates Arena. “After the season ended, the owner asked everyone working there if we had any suggestions for improving the haunt for the next year. We turned in what was basically an 8 page treatise on the improvements we would make.”

He laughs. “It was a ‘put your money where your mouth is’ type of situation, because he ended up hiring us as Creative Directors in 2002 and we took over the Morgue for the next five years.”

Arena and Vice married two days after Halloween during their time running the Baxter Avenue Morgue, but after they divorced amicably five years later, they decided to part ways with the Morgue as well.

“The Morgue was about us,” admits Arena. “We wanted to make it the haunt we always wanted to see but never saw. It just didn’t seem right for either of us to continue without the other.”

This Halloween, Arena is returning to the haunt biz in a big way as both the head haunter at the Haunted Hotel (formerly named the Haunted House) at Funtown Mountain and as the new Creative Director of Zombie City at the Asylum Haunted Scream Park where he’ll be putting his theatrical background to use in cooking up some “major story developments” in Asylum’s unique, interactive haunted attraction.

“The Haunted Hotel at Funtown Mountain WILL be open this Halloween,” states Arena. “We’re planning a big concert to be held there on Halloween night, but the plans are still in flux and I’m not sure who the headlining act will be at this time.”

“For the most part, we plan on keeping the Haunted Hotel an actor free attraction, but we certainly plan to have actors and entertainment set up to entertain people waiting in line during the Halloween season,” says Arena. “I can actually see us possibly putting an actor or two in there as something special for Halloween, but mostly we plan on keeping the attraction as it is.”

The rickety old Haunted House at Guntown Mountain was built in 1972 and designed by a defunct company called Funni-Frite Industries who specialized in building dark rides and funhouses for the amusement park industry. There were originally seven Funni-Fright pop-up gags that brave guests would encounter while exploring the tight and winding passageways, including the legendary Charmin’ Charles, a skeleton playing piano visible through the cobwebbed window on the second floor.

“Charmin’ Charles will remain exactly where he is,” definitively states Arena.

Other gags originally installed in the Haunted Hotel include the “box of moaning skulls,” the Mummy, the “Hang ‘em High” gag with a machine gun shock scare added, the Baron, the Troll and the Gorilla.

If you’ve never experienced the thrills of the Haunted Hotel, there’s a point midway through the attraction where guests emerge from the darkness on the second story balcony for a breathtaking view of the Cave City landscape that doubles as a great photo opportunity for friends and family waiting down below. The balcony also serves another sinister purpose during the daylight hours. Once brave explorers’ eyes re-adjust to the daylight, they must return again into the dark and disorienting hallways with renewed blindness!

This Halloween promises something old and something new in Cave City, and Joey Arena is the man in charge of making it all spooky. Now all we need is a time machine to speed up the next eight months.

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Funtown Mountain to Release a Kraken of Fun in the Summer of 2016!

Local entrepreneur, Will Russell, plans to turn the defunct Guntown Mountain roadside attraction in Cave City, KY into a bizzaro Disneyland tribute to the creative spirit of Kentucky!

The love of roadside attractions, and one rickety old haunted house in particular, has turned WHY Louisville store owner and Lebowski Fest creator, Will Russell, into Kentucky’s latest theme park owner. Just this week, Russell finalized the deal to purchase Guntown Mountain, and the ink on the contract was still wet when I met with him in his subterranean funhouse on Baxter Avenue that serves as the office for his multiple business ventures.

Amid the collection of curios found lying about his office are giant abominable snow monster heads, vintage Halloween blow molds, laboratory skeletons, Gremlins, “Big Lebowski” memorabilia and the Chinese Wild Man monster costume from John Carpenter’sBig Trouble in Little China” which he bought recently in a Profiles in History auction.

Russell takes the whole “Keep Louisville Weird” agenda to another level.

“I love roadside attractions,” says Russell. “I think they are the core of American entrepreneurism.”

“It was actually the Haunted House, sitting on the top of the hill by Guntown Mountain, that captured my attention when I was driving by there and saw the FOR SALE signs,” he confesses. “At first I had no idea that the Haunted House was part of Guntown Mountain. I thought it might have been a separate attraction, but when I found out it was part of park, I had no choice. I had to buy it.”

Russell’s Land of Tomorrow Productions has purchased the park with plans to both preserve it and to add many new attractions to it.

“The Haunted House still works,” he says. “We went through it the other day, and I want to preserve it mostly the way it is because it’s the oldest standing attraction of its kind in the country.”

“The goal is to preserve as much of the spirit of Guntown Mountain as we can. In fact, I feel that the ghost of Guntown Mountain will remain in the park,” states Russell. “I love this place. I proposed to my wife on the chairlift.”

Russell has big dreams for Funtown Mountain, and to that end he has secured the creative services of the Weber Group in Sellersburg, IN, the same company who designed the twin spires logo for Churchill Downs, the giant baseball bat for the Louisville Slugger Museum, the troll for the Troll Pub Under the Bridge and many other iconic creations for theme parks and zoos across the country.

“They build dreams,” says Russell about the Weber Group.

Some of Russell’s dreams for Funtown Mountain must remain a secret at this time, but he graciously shared some of his plans for new attractions that he intends to make part of Phase One in 2016.

“The centerpiece of the park will be Lolleyland,” he reveals. Lolleyland refers to the work of local artist, Kathleen Lolley (, who has a longtime working relationship with Russell and whose work can be found in many of the best art galleries in Louisville.

The other major new attraction, which he had told no other media outlet about at the time of this article’s publishing, is the Kentucky Wondershow Theater, which will be built in the current location of the Opera House in the western town.

“The Wondershow Theater will be a place where we can show movies and have concerts,” says Russell. “We’d like to have concerts with local musicians like Will Oldham, Jim James and other talented Kentucky artists, and then we’ll be having hologram concerts.”

Excuse me? Hologram concerts?

“Yeah,” he promises. “We’ll be using new technology to record actual live performances of bands that can be played back in the Wondershow Theater in three dimensions, so it will look and sound like they’re really there.”

Russell promises to build a giant clown head that will be visible from the highway as well as “pirate rides” and elaborate adult/kid’s playgrounds. He also dreams of releasing a giant Kraken like the one created by special effects artist, Ray Harryhausen, in the 1981 fantasy film, “Clash of the Titans,” to tower above tourists who visit Funtown Mountain.

That’s just for Phase One. If everything goes well, Russell would like to add a roller coaster and, possibly, his dream of a Kentucky Mount Rushmore in Phase Two.

“I’d like to use Funtown Mountain as the location for Roadside Attraction Enthusiasts Conventions and Steampunk Conventions,” he confesses. “Don’t you think Steampunk kids would like hanging out at a place like this?”


“This is a collaborative effort and a whole bunch of extremely talented local artists, musicians and creative folks are involved,” says Russell. “Ultimately, it’s a celebration of Kentucky and everything Kentucky has to offer. Kentucky is a lot more than fried chicken, bourbon and horses.”

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