Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Hmmmm…. Father Time is kinda’ scary, isn’t he?
Speaking of time, I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for making the past few years so much fun for me. Thank you to all those who have tweeted about my blog, chosen to “follow” the blog, have left comments on posts and told others about the project. I am especially grateful to all the blogs and websites who have publicized this wacky endeavor over the past 12 months.
Special thanks goes to Brian Solomon of The Vault of Horror who invited me to join him on-stage at The Bijou Theatre in Connecticut for a double-feature screening of Mad Monster Party and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Brian has been one of the great supporters of the Scared Silly project, and it's always great to have an opportunity to be a guest-speaker at screenings of classic films (teaser: watch this blog for a special announcement about my next guest-speaking gig which is happening very soon).
Another round of special thanks goes to master (and celebrity) chef and restaurateur Francesco Palmieri of the Orange Squirrel restaurant in New Jersey. For the second year in a row, Francesco hosted a special Halloween dinner comprised of entrees from Vincent Price's cookbook... and once again he invited me to participate and give a short presentation on Price including a fun trivia contest! Francesco and his family and staff are all wonderful people and I am grateful for the friendship and camaraderie we have formed.
Paul Castiglia, Francesco Palmieri
Of course, there's no blog without you readers out there so thank you to ALL SCARED SILLY FANS! (And if I’ve left anyone out please know it wasn’t intentional)!
Last but certainly not least I also have to thank my wife for letting the TV be commandeered by all these movies (some of which were just downright painful for her to sit through), my friend Brent for being a terrific fact-checker and of course everyone’s favorite current-day character actor, carrying the torch for all who’ve gone before, the ubiquitous Daniel Roebuck, who graciously agreed to write the foreword for the book that will (hopefully) ultimately result from this blog!
Thank you also for bearing with my erratic schedule – due to other commitments I can’t always post on a regular basis. Please hang in there and keep checking back… you’re bound to see a new review every now and then.
Until the next review, here is Vagabond Opera performing “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House,” composed by avant garde jazz legend Raymond Scott, the man behind many of the melodies heard in Looney Tunes cartoons - enjoy your New Year's Eve!
Monday, December 30, 2013
RATING: ** out of ****
PLOT: Pete Smith is called away to investigate mysterious going-ons at a haunted mansion. While there, every manner of menace and horror flies at him – literally – in this 3D short. Chief among the terrors: the Frankenstein monster!
REVIEW: Pete Smith’s specialty was specialty shorts – literally. Like Robert Benchley, his shorts were early examples of “mockumentaries” where anything went, the visuals accompanied by copious narration that ranged from mildly amusing to screamingly funny.
In the early 1940s, Smith’s home studio, MGM decided his shorts would be the perfect venue to introduce audiences to three dimensional films, a then still experimental process in its infancy. Smith made three such shorts, but only this one traded on the specialized thrills of horror-comedies.
As this short begins, the music behind the opening titles promises some spooky thrills. Then viewers are given a quick tutorial on the “audioscopiks” 3D process and how to use the glasses.
The scene opens on Smith at home in his study. As he narrates, “I seemed at peace, but my nerves were on edge. I was absorbed in scientific study.” Cut to a close-up of the book Smith is reading – a horror thriller called “The Living Corpse.”
Of course, it’s midnight. We know because Smith’s narration tells us. Midnight and all is still. Until of course, the phone rings just as Smith is in the middle of reading a harrowing chapter!
A female voice on the other end screams for help – there’s trouble at the country house, says Aunt Tillie.
Smith commences to the old spooky mansion to help. Initially, he is met with a typical horror-comedy trope: the front door opens on its own, and swings shut on its own, too.
But then, the short takes an unexpected turn. Smith looks up to the second floor (it’s one of those great old homes that has an atrium spanning the floors) where he sees a light. The light comes from a lantern… being carried by the Frankenstein monster!
Suddenly, Third Dimensional Murder takes on added importance as a milestone marker on the road to Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein! A road paved with several comedians’ encounters with the monster before Bud and Lou met him, including Olsen & Johnson, The Ritz Brothers (in two different films), Danny Kaye (a scene cut out of the original Secret Life Of Walter Mitty) and in newsreel footage, Karloff playing baseball in full monster make-up at a charity game featuring Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges! (Click here and here to read all about the above). Now we can add Pete Smith to the list of pioneers who crossed paths with the famed monster first.
Having said that, that’s pretty much all the distinction there is here, as the monster is not only erroneously referred to as “Frankenstein” (the name of his creator but not the name of the monster) but given precious little to do. He disappears briefly only to return to hurl items at the camera to perpetuate the 3D effect.
Smith is then left to fill the time between with more tropes that exploit 3D. Grabbing claws, hidden panels that open and close, diabolical laughter out of nowhere, a witch who tries to shove a tarantula in Pete’s face, cobwebs, a dungeon full of chains and a skeleton in the closet (complete with chattering teeth).
After this detour, Smith encounters the Frankenstein monster again. He’s wearing a vest as in Son Of Frankenstein, and his basic appearance is patterned after the Universal makeup, but almost an unintentional parody of a pro makeup job in the light and without red and green blurriness (take another look at the publicity shot at the top of the page).
For added scares, the filmmakers add a rather inexplicable and incongruous “masked archer” and sword swinging knight, and in keeping with the unenlightened times, not one but two weapons-wielding savages (one who is identified as “Zombie, the mad man of Magnesia”).
The climax has the Frankenstein monster drop objects off the roof in hopes of hitting Smith below. These objects include flaming logs. Because there’s a log fire on the roof on which rests a cauldron full of molten lead. I don’t get it, either but it sure does look cool to see the monster up on the roof with flames dancing everywhere! Of course, you know the monster wants to pour that lead down on Smith. After all, this isn’t the mostly benevolent creature from Bride Of Frankenstein. To prove it, the monster finishes Smith off by hurling the cauldron itself on top of Pete. That’s right, he kills Pete Smith. Kills him dead. Sort of...
Pete has the last laugh (well, he wants the audience to laugh at the end, but whether they will is up for debate): now a skeleton, Pete wishes everyone a good night as he hurls his skull at the screen!
The short provides an early example of 3D (consider that the Three Stooges’ 3D horror-comedy short Spooks came at the crest of the ‘50s 3D craze in 1953 – a dozen years after the Smith opus). It does the job it’s supposed to do, using the horror motif as a convenient springboard for in-your-face effects. It’s none too scary, and none too funny, but it gets points for its Frankenstein monster pedigree, landing it at a rather shaky two star rating from me (it’s a real close call here, but I’m grading on a curve as opposed to the Frankenstein monster’s flat top).
BEST VISUAL GAGS: No real sight gags here because we never really see Pete react to too many of the horrors. It’s just a lot of shoving things into the camera lens.
BEST VERBAL GAGS: Not many in this short, one of Smith’s weaker efforts in that department. The level of “humorous” dialogue doesn’t rise much above “a close shave… and I do mean shave” after Smith just misses plowing his car into a danger sign. If anything, the short is hampered by Smith narrating action we can see. However, before it’s all done, Smith does rattle off this gem, upon running into the Frankenstein monster yet again:
“Omigosh, it’s him! All right, it’s he – why worry about grammar at a time like this?!”
SPOTTED IN THE CAST: No one, unless a cast list turns up. The only credited player is Smith, and historians have identified stunt man/bit player Edward Payson as the Frankenstein monster. Payson’s other roles were as anonymous (and as uncredited) as this one (sample parts included “Al, the warehouse thug” in a couple chapters of a Green Hornet serial and “Wrestler,” “Athlete” and “Townsman” in various westerns and melodramas).
FURTHER READING: Pierre Fournier wrote about this short a few years’ back on his indispensable Frankensteinia blog. You can read what he wrote by clicking here (and really, you should be reading Pierre’s blog regularly anyhow)...
Now, don’t forget to DUCK!!!
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
THIS IS AN "ENCORE" POST - I ORIGINALLY POSTED THIS ENTRY IN 2009 AND THOUGHT I'D RE-POST IT FOR ANYONE WHO MAY HAVE MISSED IT - MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Christmas is almost here, and I wanted to share some of the foremost holiday monsters with you. Only I didn’t want to do so on Christmas itself, as I take the holiday seriously from a spiritual standpoint.
Anyway, in the fictional legends that have sprung up over the years around the holiday, ghosts and monsters have played a major role. Just think of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” for starters. A pure ghost story… with one seriously scary Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come!
So in the world of holiday fantasies, a few monsters stand out, and we’ll take a look at them now (with one caveat that should be noted: I know the following are not technically "horror-comedies" but since all contain some humor and give folks warm, fuzzy feelings of nostalgia, I'm being a bit generous in this post).
We have to begin of course with the Bogeymen from Laurel & Hardy’s 1934 classic “Babes in Toyland” (aka “March of the Wooden Soldiers”). These creatures from Bogeyland live in the bowels of the earth, in a horrible, frightening place that is the polar opposite of bright, happy Toyland, where Santa and his workers make the toys for the world’s children. And while their leader, the evil Silas Barnaby would like nothing more than to use his monster army to take over Toyland, he’s no match for toymakers Stannie Dumm and Ollie Dee… and 100 wooden soldiers each 6 feet high! As Ollie describes the Bogeymen, “they’re terrible looking things – they’re half man and half animal… with great big ears, and great big mouths, and long claws that they catch you with!” You can catch a glimpse of the Bogeymen toward the end of this trailer:
Next up is The Bumble (pictured at top) from the classic 1964 TV special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” This was produced by Rankin-Bass, the studio behind the classic horror-comedy “Mad Monster Party.” Utilizing their signature stop-motion animated puppet style (which they dubbed “Ani-Magic”), the special built upon the elements from the original 1939 story by Robert L. May, the famous song written by May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks (which became a huge hit for Gene Autry) and the 1944 animated theatrical short from Max Fleischer. Rudolph was given much more backstory in the Rankin-Bass special, and a larger supporting cast, including the Abominable Snow Creature known as “The Bumble.” The fearsome creature menaces Rudolph and his friends but as anyone who has seen this classic knows (and who hasn’t seen it?) there’s a very good reason for the Bumble’s agitation… and a happy ending for all!
The most recent spooky holiday star is "The Nightmare Before Christmas"'s Jack Skellington and all his friends from Halloweentown. Jack is simply enchanted by the magic in neighboring Christmastown and wants to bring some home for himself. And that’s where the trouble starts! This clash of the holidays originated as a poem from the limitlessly creative imagination of animator-director-producer Tim Burton. Director Henry Selick brought Burton’s concepts and designs to life in dynamic fashion in a mixed-media production that is equal parts stop-motion puppetry (a la one of Burton’s favorite films, “Mad Monster Party”) combined with cut-out designs and other special animated effects. Check out the trailer here.
While Jack Skellington wanted to abscond Christmas to share with his friends (a tinsel-clad Robin Hood) there is one nasty holiday horror who hated Christmas and didn’t want anyone to enjoy it: Dr. Seuss’s immortal Grinch! The famous book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” by writer-cartoonist Seuss (real name Ted Geisel, who once contributed to some classic Warner Brothers theatrical cartoons including adaptations of his children's books as well as the classic Snafu shorts made for the war department) detailed how this foul fiend with a heart two sizes too small tried to hijack the holiday. Of course, the operative word is “try,” as we all know the Christmas spirit will triumph in the end! Interestingly enough, the Grinch shares more in common with Jack Skellington than merely pilfering Christmas - the Grinch got himself all tangled up in Halloween, too in the 1977 special "Halloween is Grinch Night." As for "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," most are familiar with the classic 1966 animated TV special directed by animation legend Chuck Jones... and I’ll leave it at that, as I prefer to think the live-action fiasco of a few years back never happened!
So here’s wishing all Scared Silly fans the happiest and safest of holidays, and every blessing for the New Year!
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Hello, fans. Hope everyone out there is well with the holidays upon us.
Me? Well, I'm busier than ever. I thought I had done my last personal appearance of the year last week at my Bookends bookstore signing, but there were other plans in store for me of which I was unaware. Namely, a very special charity comic book sale happening this Sunday in Montclair, NJ. In this season of giving, what better way to end the year?
This is a fundraiser event organized by William Scheckel for former NJ comic book dealer Angie Beck whose health has been failing severely since her husband Ben died suddenly a year ago. A portion of the proceeds will go to Angie to help her get back on her feet. I'll be there signing and selling my books and comics. Please come on by!
Why, even Uncle Boris likes comics! (photo courtesy of monsterkid.com)
There will be over 15,000 comics available from every decade, in every style and you're sure to find the perfect gift for the comics fan in your life (or even for yourself) - all the while donating to this worthy cause. For you horror-comedy fans out there, I'll be on hand with my ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYSTERIES and VINCENT PRICE books, along with (of course) my other various other projects.
So what're you waiting for? Don't sit on a stoop waiting for comics to come to you - get up, go out and get 'em and help a great cause, too!