Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas – 1

With the first Nightmare Weekend Before Christmas commencing (and you might want to read the details if you haven’t already), it’s time for a tribute to post-Thanksgiving television, for one very specific reason. Back in the 1970s, when cable television was a rarity for those living in valleys inaccessible to standard television broadcasts, the FCC could blank out programming on any independent cable channel in order to encourage viewing of news programming on the Big Three (which somehow always managed to black out Star Trek and The Outer Limits in syndication but guaranteed at least five showings of The Dick Van Dyke Show per day), and most of the watchable content came from TV stations hundreds or thousands of miles away, one of the stalwarts that made suburban living tolerable was the monster movie. We GenXers went completely MAD for monsters back then, both contemporary and classic, because of the promise of the Late Night Movie.

Some background. Since television transmitters of the time were fragile, tetchy beasts that had a tendency not to come back on after being turned off, station managers had an incentive to keep them on as long as possible, and the best way to do that was to run something, anything, into the wee hours when most people were asleep. Running old movies all night long offered more profit in advertising than simply running a station ID notice, and running horror movies from the 1930s through the 1950s was cheaper than trying to run contemporary movies. Since the studios and distributors of those horror and science fiction movies looked at their product as ephemeral material for kids, they could be rented for television at ridiculously low prices, which meant they were concentrated on Friday and Saturday nights, when most adults would be out and around and very unlikely to be watching late-night television. Since this coincided with the use of the television as the Great Babysitter, suddenly a whole generation of American kids, of all demographics, were exposed to good, bad, and surreal horror films while their parents were out doing whatever parents did. Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been as fun as getting caught up on cultural neuroses and anxieties turned into kids’ entertainment. It’s no surprise that the film The Nightmare Before Christmas became such a classic: the entire post-Boomer generation had been taught for decades before that the monsters were more interesting and honest than the “normal” people around them. (I regularly get tongue-clicking from “respectable” people about how inappropriate it is for me to tell kids I still get teary-eyed at the end of Alien, when the most interesting and well-developed character in the whole movie gets blown out the airlock. It’s no surprise: I got plenty of practice for mourning the monster after a childhood of bawling at the end of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and Valley of Gwangi. You should see the friends who grew up immunized to a life of MBAs and IRAs thanks to years and years of late-night Hammer vampire movies.)

And the El Dorado of all of this very selective counter programming? Godzilla. Kaiju films were the special treat, usually reserved for special events or weekly series, and the biggest event was what was then only referred to as “the day after Thanksgiving.” Parents took off and dealt with the Christmas shopping crowds: the unlucky kids dragged along are the reason why George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead became one of the greatest holiday movies of them all. Those of us lucky enough to stay home while the grownups shivved each other over ornaments and sweaters? We turned on the 19-inch babysitter and fed on hour after hour of badly-dubbed Japanese angst. Godzilla, Gamera, Gigan, Rodan, Mothra…it all tapped into a deep craving we didn’t know we had, so we obsessively collated it and made it our own. Then, when school started again the next week, we all had a common language, except for the kids who didn’t watch because “that’s for kids.” Those kids were the ones who grew up to successful careers as mid-level managers, who still can’t figure out why their own children don’t call and why their co-workers all feign bouts of explosive diarrhea as an excuse for avoiding the company Christmas party.

So this season, while everyone else is drowning each other in false holiday cheer, remember the strange and the wonderful. Most importantly, if Christmas music were judged solely by the emotions engendered by its playing, this collection would be very near the top of the list, for reasons the listeners can’t quite explain. Meanwhile, the Triffid Ranch will be open on both Friday and Saturday, noon until 6:00 and later hours by appointment, and you can imagine the playlist

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Have a Great Weekend

Out at the Blood Over Texas Horror For the Holidays show in Austin this weekend: welcome to the theme song for the road trip.

Five Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas -Introduction


A week from today, it begins. Even those who cut the cord years ago have email boxes full of notices about Black Friday specials. UPS trucks outnumber everything else on the road by three to one. If people aren’t driving like maniacs to get to the mall, they’re driving like maniacs to get home before the football game starts. For those who love and adore the holiday season, it’s absolute heaven. For the poor retail employees stuck in front of a display playing “Santa Baby” in blatant violation of the Geneva Convention, they’re considering a career change or at least a pencil up the nose to kill those chunks of brain that hurt so much. And then there’s the Texas Triffid Ranch’s Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas.

The Nightmare Weekends Before Christmas run on a particular premise. For those of us who don’t know every line in the film The Nightmare Before Christmas by heart, the film ended with Jack Skellington conceding that his version of Christmas wasn’t working, and Santa works overtime to replace the horrific toys left by Jack around the world. When that film premiered in 1993, nobody at Disney understood the draw of those horrific toys, nor ever even considered a scene with a little goth kid crying and desperately begging Santa to leave Jack’s toys and decorations right where they were. Considering some of my friends’ responses, it wouldn’t be hard to picture Santa dragging himself back to Christmastown, a still-burning sleigh to go with his two black eyes and broken nose, asking one of the shop elves to grab a pair of pliers to pull the innumerable sharp teeth broken off in his butt. And when those kids had kids themselves, the cookies and milk were contingent upon the understanding that not only were the vampire bat tree toppers and Dawn of the Dead action playsets welcome, but they’d best not be replaced.

The Nightmare Weekends concept continues this. It’s not anti-Christmas or even anti-holiday. Instead, it runs on the reasonable premise that it’s possible to overdose on holiday cheer, and that some people may need to catch their breath before once more into the breach, once more. It’s for the people who love peppermint but who can’t handle the taste of it by December 20. It’s for those stuck in a workplace where the boss insists upon turning on the intercom and pumping in the local Christmas radio station all day, or the ones that charge employees for the mandatory-attendance holiday party. It’s for those who appreciate the history of those live Norfolk Island pines in the grocery store predates that of the dinosaurs, the parasitic nature of mistletoe, or the use of cinnamon as a fungicide. It’s for those who didn’t complain when Christmas lights and decorations started crowding out the Halloween stuff mid-September, but who want a little bit of Halloween to hang around during the longest nights of the year.

So here’s the plan. The Triffid Ranch has extended hours every Saturday between now and Christmas, with extra time on November 24 as well. No overplayed Christmas carols played far too loudly to hear anybody talk. No overcrowded mall parking lots. For those who missed the previous gallery openings, it’s an opportunity to visit. For those attending in the past at the old Valley View Center location, it’s a chance to see the new space. And for those already familiar with the gallery, it’s a nice nondenominational respite from the outside. With carnivorous plants.

As for questions:

What are the dates and hours for the Nightmare Weekends?

All times for Nightmare Weekend openings are from noon to 6:00 p.m., but these may be adjusted on request. The dates include:

  • Friday, November 24, 2017 (Friday)
  • Saturday, November 25, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 2, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 9, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 16, 2017 (Saturday)
  • December 23, 2017 (Saturday)

Are you open at other times?

The Triffid Ranch is always open by appointment, but the Nightmare Weekends are for when everyone is free. During the week, the Day Job prevents being able to keep the gallery open all day, but consultation appointments are always available in the evenings and on Sundays. Also, the hours on the Nightmare Weekends aren’t absolute: if work schedule or other logistics prevent you from getting to the gallery by the normal hours, give us a call and we’ll accommodate you.

Do you have accommodations for children?

Parents attended by their children are always welcome, but any unattended parents will be given six shots of espresso and an American Express Card application. (Unfortunately, because of the sudden nature of the gallery’s move to its new location earlier this year, the Triffid Ranch entrance is not ADA-compliant. However, we’re looking at rectifying that in the future, as new locales in our neighborhood open up closer to the end of our lease.)

Are you working with other galleries and stores in the area?

That’s a very good question, because one of the disadvantages of having a separate gallery is not having the community that those who attended the late, lamented ARTwalk events at Valley View Center may remember. At the bare minimum, Tawanda! Jewelry will be set up in the front of the gallery, but that’s the advantage to being married to the proprietor. Other venues wanting to participate in the Nightmare Weekends are encouraged to get in touch, and additions will be shared before the actual date.

Will you have Venus flytraps?

Sadly, no. Like the vast majority of carnivorous plants from temperate climes, Venus flytraps have to undergo a dormancy over the winter, and all of the flytraps here are in a cold frame awaiting spring. They’ll bring themselves out of dormancy around the middle of March, but until then they HAVE to stay dormant, because forcing them out of dormancy early could kill them. This also applies to North American pitcher plants (Sarracenia) as well: not only do they require the same sort of cooling off period as flytraps, but that dormancy is necessary for the huge display of blooms around St. Patrick’s Day. The gallery has a lot of tropical plants on display, though, and those don’t require a dormancy, so those are the stars this time of the year.

Suppose I’m looking for something other than the enclosures already available. What are my options?

That depends upon what you’re seeking. Are you looking for a whole new unique enclosure? Are you wanting to convert an existing reptile enclosure or aquarium into a carnivorous plant display? Do you want specific elements, such as a rock sample with sentimental attachments or a specific lighting arrangement? Come in during a Nightmare Weekend for a consultation. Depending upon its elements and construction, as well as the date in which it’s commissioned, the final enclosure may not be ready by the end of the holidays, but there’s always the surprise of getting a gift during the post-holiday doldrums.

Can I come by to watch the plants eat something?

Well, that’s problematic. With the plants that aren’t dormant for the winter, most either capture prey too small to see without a microscope, or they have passive traps that don’t move. However, that said, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, getting a bug’s-eye view of the inside of an Asian pitcher plant is now both possible and easy, so expect a viewing schedule soon.

Will Shirt Prices still apply?

That’s just silly. Of COURSE they do. The gallery has a limited number of Triffid Ranch shirts for sale, but if you want to order one online, come out to the gallery while wearing it and take advantage of the lower prices.

And that’s about it. Keep an eye out for specific attractions on specific days, as well as notices about new enclosures constructed in between weekends. To quote one of Dallas’s greatest culture writers, you’ll boogie ‘til you puke.

Have a Great Weekend

Have a Great Weekend

It’s about that time of year, when well-meaning friends and customers ask if I’m planning to show plants at a long-running (much like herpes simplex II) pseudo-goth club known locally under various profanities. Now I have a soundtrack for my response.

State of the Gallery: November


Another month, another expansion. The official opening of the gallery on October 13 went without any serious hitches, and subsequent group appointments went even better, including one group that came out from Memphis just to view the new enclosures. The school lecture schedule started last month, and my experiences just confirm that no matter what teachers are paid, it’s never enough. (The art teacher at one lecture in Fort Worth was responsible for the Nepenthes hemsleyana portrait at the top of this post: this is going up in a place of honor on the gallery’s art wall.) Other than that, it’s the usual October rush: getting the gallery ready for the holiday season, doing everything that needs to be done outside before it’s too cold to do so, and prepping the Sarracenia and other temperate carnivores for their winter dormancy. Even Halloween was a surprise, with considerably more trick-or-treaters out, with regular threats of rain, than at any other time in the last decade. I won’t even start with the plans for next spring, because the last two years imparted that lesson over and over.

And what does that mean for November? Well, it means that the first two weekends of the month are going to be ridiculously busy, because it’s time to focus on the now-annual road trip to Austin. This year, the Blood Over Texas Horror for the Holidays show runs on November 19, so it’s a matter of loading the van on Saturday, driving down, recuperating for a few hours, setting up on Sunday morning, breaking down on Sunday evening, and driving back on Monday. The advantage of the new date isn’t just a lack of conflict with events at the University of Texas, but an opportunity to say hello to people starting an early holiday vacation that weekend. This is important because…

…the rest of November and December are going to be just as busy. As with last year, the Triffid Ranch will be open both for the Friday after Thanksgiving and for Small Business Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. CST: the difference between this year and last is, of course, having a much more central location. After that, the gallery will be open every Saturday from noon until 6 CST until Christmas (which works out to December 2, 9, 16, and 23), with earlier or later hours by appointment. As always, the Triffid Ranch is open by appointment during the week, but the holiday hours facilitate drop-by visits, especially from people desperately wanting to get away from the malls. For those seeking custom enclosures by Christmas, get your specifications in early, and we can even facilitate special deliveries and premieres at the gallery if you’re planning a special surprise.

After that? As a particularly influential television show noted nearly two decades ago, it’s a matter of going back to the end of the beginning. December 2002 was an especially rough time, and a 15th wedding anniversary party should celebrate how far you’ve come from those early days, right? Details will follow, because it’s been a very long strange trip over the intervening decade-and-a-half. Until then, see you in the future.

Have a Great Weekend