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Arsenic and Old Lace 1944

Frankenstein, Dracula, Jason, Freddy, zombies — we all know them, we all love them, we’ve all been jolted by them, and we’ve all seen them dozens of times. But real terror comes from the unexpected, from being surprised.  So here are 10 eerie, chilling, horrifying, and sometimes even amusing pictures you probably haven’t watched for Halloween.  All are available on disc or streaming.

The Unknown (1927)

The Unknown 1927

Lon Chaney, “The Man of a Thousand Faces,” was famous for his macabre makeup and his painful body contortions to play deformed characters. Here he’s Alonzo the Armless, a killer on the lam as a circus performer who only pretends to be armless. His act: He uses his feet to throw knives at his assistant, a young Joan Crawford. Alonzo is in love with her, but since she can’t bear to be touched by a man, Alonzo has his arms amputated. Then she falls for the circus strongman.

The film features murder, a psycho with two thumbs on one hand, a criminal midget, and an excruciatingly terrifying climax where the strongman is about to be torn limb from limb by galloping horses. The unforgettable film was directed by Tod Browning (Dracula).

Freaks (1932)

Freaks Poster 1932

Johnny Eck, The Half Boy. Prince Randian, The Living Torso. Daisy and Violet Hilton, The Siamese Twins. Elizabeth Green, The Stork Woman. That’s some of the cast, and they are real; “Freaks” comes by its blunt title honestly.

Far from being cruel, the film is a sympathetic look at their circus lives. But when a “normal” woman tries to marry and murder a midget so she can get his money, the gang attack on her by the freaks is so awful that the film was banned in the U.S. and the U.K. for 30 years. Also directed by Tod Browning, the film — now considered a sui generis horror classic — destroyed his career with its initial failure.

Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)

Shadow Of A Doubt 1943

Murder hits home in this film that director Alfred Hitchcock said was his favorite. Hitchcock loved to expose the cracks beneath the placid surface of ordinary life; here, working with Our Town playwright Thornton Wilder, we see what happens when a suave, wealthy serial killer — “The Merry Widow Murderer” — hides out with small-town relatives who think he is just a charming and admirable sophisticate. But then his worshipful niece finds out the truth, her innocent world is overturned, and he tries to kill her. Joseph Cotten is one of the most alluring Hitchcock villains — as usual with Hitchcock, you see the humanity beneath the worst villainy — and Teresa Wright is wonderfully nuanced as the niece who regrets the visit she yearned for.

Arsenic And Old Lace (1944)

Arsenic and Old Lace 1944

This film version of a huge Broadway hit features three serial killers, half a dozen bodies (including one in a window seat), and a madman who buries the bodies in a cellar. Oh, and it’s a comedy.

Jean Adair and Josephine Hull reprise their famed stage roles as kindly old ladies who murder vagrants to put them out of their misery (elderberry wine with arsenic, strychnine, and “just a pinch” of cyanide is their preferred method); their brother, who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt, disposes of the dead as Yellow Fever victims. Cary Grant is the normal nephew who goes berserk when he discovers their doings; Raymond Massey, another nephew, is a fugitive homicidal maniac who arrives at his aunt’s house not knowing that they’re as bad he is.  The very dark, extravagantly funny farce was directed by Frank Capra.

The Night Of The Hunter (1955)

The Night Of the Hunter

When a film begins with the floating head of Lillian Gish telling a Bible story to kids against a starry night sky, you know things will get weird. Robert Mitchum is a serial killer posing as a blood and thunder preacher whom women can’t resist. (His LOVE/HATE knuckle tattoos inspired The Blues Brothers.)  He murders rural widow Shelley Winters and then pursues her young children across a Grimm-like countryside with unstoppable ferocity.  The only movie directed by Charles Laughton, with a script that James Agee worked on, this is a stylized gem, beautifully photographed and with the feel and logic of a nightmare.

Of course, it badly flopped.

Breakdown (1955)


Breakdown was the seventh episode of the first season of Alfred Hitchcock Presents — and was one of the handful of TV episodes that Hitchcock directed himself over the show’s long run. Joseph Cotten is a steely business mogul who unceremoniously fires a longtime employee and mocks the man when he cries. On the drive home, Cotten has a terrible car crash that leaves him completely paralyzed; unfortunately, the police and medical personnel think he’s dead.  He isn’t, as he tells us in a voiceover narration filled with slowly mounting hysteria while the emergency doctors get ready to consign him to the morgue. If the idea of being buried alive doesn’t scare you, then nothing does.

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion Of the Body Snatchers

Alien space pods grow into physical duplicates of the residents of a small California town and replace the original people. But the pod people are emotionally flat, without the wide and deep feelings that make humans human. A simple plot, really, but the themes are arguably complex: is it about soulless Communism? The white-bread conformity of American life in the 1950s? The insidious effects of McCarthyism? The arguments have been going on for nearly 60 years.

What’s indisputable is that the film grabs you and you never forget it. Kevin McCarthy, as the local doctor who discovers the truth, gives one of the definitive horror film performances: no camp, just utter conviction about what is happening and a palpable fear of losing one’s self.

The Invaders (1961)

The Invaders

The 15th episode of the second season of The Twilight Zone, The Invaders is one of the best examples of the legendary series’ distinctive blend of imagination, horror, and heart. Richard Matheson’s script, with minimal dialogue, is about a lone old woman in a primitive country cabin who is menaced by tiny lethal creatures from a spaceship. Agnes Moorehead’s mounting fear and amazing resourcefulness in a seemingly hopeless struggle will make you bite your nails until the provocative conclusion. There is subtext here about how humans behave in space and on Earth, but mainly this is hell of a he-knows-you’re-alone story with a great actress at the center.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Rosemary's Baby

Ground zero for the modern evil child/satanic incubus movies, the film was tautly directed by Roman Polanski.  A post-Peyton place, pre-Woody-Allen Mia Farrow is a young Manhattan wife who comes to believe that the old couple next door are witches, that her husband has fallen in with them, and that, through them, she has been raped and impregnated by Satan. The New York City setting — Farrow lives in the famous Dakota Apartments — the great location work, and the emotional claustrophobia when Farrow thinks she has no one to help her, give the film a precise and plausible terror you can’t shake off.

Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood

Tim Burton’s labor of love that nearly nobody saw is a grand tribute to Hollywood’s real-life cross-dressing bad-movie auteur Edward D. Wood, Jr., the man who enriched us with Glen or Glenda?, Bride of the Monster, and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ed (Johnny Depp) is the embodiment of the American Dream, a chipper optimist who believes that with the right breaks and a lot of determination, he can be the next Orson Welles — despite not having a scintilla of talent.  He gets his movies made by recruiting a coterie of showbiz Z-listers as actors, finagling small-time moneymen, and genuinely befriending a “star,” the has-been, drug-addicted Bela Lugosi.

This is a fond, fun look at a grungy 1950s Hollywood, shot in gorgeous horror-style black and white.  It features Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, wrestler George “The Animal” Steele, and, unforgettably, Martin Landau, who is the reincarnation of Lugosi.


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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

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As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template

In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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