Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

(Wicked witch courtesy of sister Debbie.)

Here’s hoping that everyone out there in Yesteryear Land is having a cool, crazy fantabulous Halloween weekend!  Things have been sort of low-key here at the ranch, owing largely to the fact that neither Athens nor Clarke County established an official Trick-or-Treat time this year.  I observe Halloween on the 31st, as I’m sure most of you do as well—but you can’t tell me that there weren’t some religious types out there up in arms about this sort of thing falling on a Sunday.  Anyway, I’m handing out the candy tonight and if nobody comes to the door…well, that just means more Kit-Kats and Reese’s for yours truly.

I’ve really been digging the Turner Classic Movies Horror Marathon the past couple of days, though the only real nitpick is that they seriously need to rotate some of the movies on the schedule.  TDOY favorites like The Raven (1963) and The Masque of the Red Death (1964) were on the program when the lineup was first announced but were removed unceremoniously by airtime…much to my displeasure.  I’ve been watching (and recording) a few favorites (I’d venture to say I’ve got most of what TCM shows already) and have been mixing them up with goodies from the dusty TDOY archives:

The Corpse Vanishes (1942) – Bela Lugosi is Dr. George Lorenz, a mad scientist who perpetuates the youth of his aging spouse (TDOY fave Elizabeth Russell, in a thankless role) using the glands of young virgins.  How does he obtain these glands, I hear you asking while attempting to keep a straight face?  Well, he abducts women who are about to say “I do” at the matrimonial altar…hey, they’re all dressed in white—they must be pure as the driven snow.  Serial veteran Luana Walters (Drums of Fu Manchu, Captain Midnight) is Patricia Hunter, world’s worst reporter, who manages to shut down Lorenz’s little operation with the help of a doctor played by another chapter play stalwart, Tristam Coffin.  I had already seen this little mess from Monogram many moons ago so I revisited it out of curiosity; I think I preferred watching it the first time, when it was supplemented by wisecracks from some guy and his robot pals (yes, I caught it on MST3K).

Following Vanishes was another one of Bela’s B-picture embarrassments, the 1940 PRC quickie The Devil Bat (1941)—which I originally had planned to skip after reading Stacia’s assessment but she talked me into seeing it, saying it ultimately came down to my own judgment.  I got through the first twenty minutes, enjoying myself tremendously by laughing at the king-sized bats created by Bela’s Dr. Paul Carruthers who are trained to attack his former business partners because he’s spiked some shaving lotion with a special chemical and given the requisite as a gift to the aforementioned partners.  I didn’t get to finish this one, however, because Ivan, Sr. arrived on the scene, making one of his frequent cameos to Castle Yesteryear.

The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters (1954) – This horror comedy isn’t the funniest in the oeuvre of Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall but it was the most financially successful of the Bowery Boys series, and it benefits from a great cast of character actors including Lloyd Corrigan, Ellen Corby and Mister John Dehner.  Slip (Gorcey) and Sach (Hall) pay the creepy Gravesend family a visit, seeking to get their permission to use a vacant lot they own for the local Little League team, and mad scientists Corrigan and Dehner want to use our heroes’ brains (such as they are) to transplant into a mechanical robot and ape, respectively.  At this point in the series, the Bowery Boys films were helped immeasurably by the contributions of writer-director Edward Bernds, a former Columbia soundman who penned and helmed many of the funniest of the studio’s two-reel comedies, particularly those featuring the Three Stooges.  Bernds quit the studio out of loyalty to his producer, Hugh McCollum, who had been nudged out by Jules White—and along with writing partner Elwood Ullman simply borrowed the gags they had used for the Stooges and Columbia’s other 2-reel comics and applied them to the Bowery Boys, making some of the funniest entries in the series.  My favorite bit in Monsters has Dehner and Corrigan discussing their experiments, with Dehner remarking that the perfect brain for his gorilla would have to measure between plus-five and plus-seven on a “Brain Potential Meter.”

“That’s ridiculous…a creature with a brain that small wouldn’t have enough sense to come out of the rain,” is Corrigan’s reply.  Cut to Gorcey and Hall standing outside the mansion in a torrential downpour.

The Old Dark House (1963) – I’ve never seen this William Castle-directed remake of the infinitely better 1932 horror classic (helmed by James Whale) and after having seen it…hoo boy.  It’s supposed to be a comedy-horror film but is neither funny nor scary, and it wastes great character actors like Robert Morley, Peter Bull, Joyce Grenfell and Mervyn Johns, father of TDOY fave Glynis and one of the principals in the classic Dead of Night (1945), which TCM featured Thursday evening.  As for Tom Poston…well, he has the legacy of Steve Allen and Newhart to fall back on, but he just didn’t impress me in this film, the second of two he made with Castle (the first being the 1962 comedy-fantasy Zotz!).  After seeing this, my advice is to stick with the 1932 original…which is both funny and scary.

Strait-Jacket (1964) – Let’s be honest—whatever directing talent William Castle displayed during his early years of helming Columbia programmers like The Whistler series had pretty much dissipated by the time he made those gimmicky horror thrillers in the 1950s and 1960s; a few of them aren’t too bad (House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, I Saw What You Did) and this one—with Joan Crawford as a reformed axe-murderess—holds a special place in my heart despite its weaknesses and implausibilities (I mean, Joan Crawford as an axe murderess—is that not the coolest thing ever?).  Crawford’s Lucy Harbin has been released from the loony bin after a twenty-year stretch for killing her unfaithful hubby (an uncredited Lee Majors, long before he became bionic) and no sooner has she settled in with her daughter Carol (Diane Baker) when the killings begin again.  You could argue that the cast—Joanie, Baker, Leif Erickson, Rochelle Hudson, Howard St. John and future Oscar winner George Kennedy—are slumming in this, but I think it’s just plain goofy fun, with a good screenplay by Robert Bloch, a guy who knew a little bit about serial killers.

I skipped TCM’s repeat of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), waiting instead to watch What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) with Crawford and Bette Davis; it’s a film that I had previously seen but one of those rare movies that actually improves with a second viewing…or at least it did in my case.  You probably know the story on this one: Crawford is a former movie star who’s been crippled in an auto accident and has been under the care (and at the mercy) of sister Davis, a former child star living in the past and who’s become quite mad.  The first time I watched this I was a little put off by the bizarreness of the production…and in many ways it sort of ruined future Bette Davis movie viewings for me because I have a tendency to see the blueprint of “Baby Jane Hudson” in her past performances, seeing all too well the parody that Davis would become.  But last night I really marveled at what an amazing performance Bette gives in this one, creating a character both pathetic and endearing (and it’s a brave turn, allowing oneself to appear like that on camera)…and noticing that Crawford was pretty much her equal (well, at least in this film), resisting the temptation to wander off into Strait-Jacket territory.  And for some odd reason, I always forget that Dave Willock is in this movie (he plays Pa Hudson in the beginning of the film).  (The line “But you ARE, Blanche…you ARE in that chair” never fails to break me up, also.)

The Terror (1963) – Because he was reluctant to tear down the sets from The Raven—and because his plans to play tennis that weekend had been rained out—Roger Corman whipped up this little quickie that seems improvised and off-the-cuff despite a screenplay credit by Leo Gordon and Jack Hill.  Terror was also directed by about five different people, including Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman and star Jack Nicholson, who plays a lieutenant in Napoleon’s army entranced with a woman (Sandra Knight) who keeps disappearing and reappearing throughout the narrative…it turns out she’s the deceased wife of mad baron Boris Karloff.  Terror isn’t particularly good Corman, and in fact seems longer than it actually is (81 minutes)—but it’s best known as the film playing at the drive-in in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968)…and really, you’d be better off watching that movie than this one.  (I recorded Terror only because TCM was running it letterboxed, as they did A Bucket of Blood [1959], which followed.)

I had intended to revisit Rosemary’s Baby (1968) last night but decided to substitute Halloween (1978) at the last minute—I obtained the Halloween DVD (in addition to Frankenstein [1931]) via some bonus points I had with CharredHer.  I still remember the first time I saw John Carpenter’s classic horror flick back in 1981; I made it a point to see it at a showing at Marshall University before going to see the sequel (which was not directed by Carpenter).  I took my best pal the Duchess to see Halloween II and while walking back towards the dorms, I heard a coin drop on the pavement…and because I had been fingering my loose change in my pocket while walking I thought I might have dropped something of significant monetary value.  As I bent down to pick up the coin, four of my friends from the dorm (who had also seen the movie, though they didn’t sit with us) leaped out and scared the absolute piss of Duchess, who then took off running in a manner not unlike the Road Runner…I even saw the storefronts of buildings being torn off in her wake.  It was pretty funny because I was both yelling at her to come back and yelling at my friends for being such doofuses; by the time I caught up with her she was already in the receiving area at her dormitory and I received an ass-chewing of major proportions even though I had nothing to do with the prank.  (Honest.)

Unfortunately, Halloween hasn’t held up as well as I had hoped—there are still some pretty good scares in the film but I’ve seen it so many times I preoccupy myself by looking at the gaping logic loopholes.  Most of the time I just giggle at the in-jokes and enjoy the first-rate performances from Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis.  (I was going to write this up during the John Carpenter Blogathon but prior engagements kept me from fulfilling the obligation.)

So my plans are to turn on the porch lights and see if any trick-or-treaters arrive while at the same time running the traditional Halloween showing of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948); TCM’s also got The Haunting (1963) and Poltergeist (1983) on tap, and I may sit down for those…and then again, I could take another try at Baby.  In the meantime, I want to wish everyone who stops by to visit this humble scrap of the blogosphere the happiest of Halloweens…let’s turn the lights down and watch a movie!

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1 comment:

Stacia said...

Happy Halloween!

Yeah, what the heck with the TCM schedule change? I was really geared up to watch "The Raven" again -- my first viewing about 15 years ago confused me so much that it's become a running joke around here -- and I wanted a good copy of "Masque." Feh.

I'm glad you liked "Devil Bat," and hope you get a chance to see all of it. I should give it a 3rd try sometime, but on the other hand, there are so many movies to watch and so little time...