Wednesday, June 30, 2010

RIP MAX E. "COCO" CAT - 1992-2010

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This may seem like an odd post. What does a cat have to do with "horror-comedies?" Believe it or not, there is a connection.

Max was my wife Barbara's cat - she raised him from a kitten. I met Max in February, 2001 shortly after meeting Barb. I was not raised with cats, wasn't around cats much and didn't have much knowledge about them. Initially I thought it odd how much Barb interacted with and doted on this cat.

Then Barb and I got married in 2004 and Max moved in. Barb was worried that Max wouldn't take too well to having his "Mommy" share her affections with me (let alone the two other cats who came in the deal - Diva and the late Griffin).

But a wonderful thing happend... Max adopted me! We became the best of pals. He loved having a daddy he could take naps with and hang out with.

Max was a myth-buster. The #1 myth he dispelled for me was the idea I had that all cats were completely selfish and nasty. Max was not this way. He was very, very sweet and demonstrative about the love he gave - you didn't have to meet his needs to get his love. He would often just show his love out of nowhere (something I can't say for the other two cats).

Max had two cuter-than-cute pieces of schtick he performed. One was what Barb calls "cute boy" - where he would be laying down and just tilt his head while making the cutest face and covering his face with his paws. The other was a roll over... yes, this cat when in a state of sheer bliss (usually over being let outside to walk around the backyard or sometimes just because he was happy to be with us) would actually drop and roll to show his pleasure.

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The other myth Max busted was the silly superstition that black cats are somehow "evil" or "scary." Max was anything but! He was sweet for starters, but he was also more prone to be the "scared" than the "scarer!" He was primarily afraid of small children and babies. Once we babysat the baby of a friend, and Max actually hid himself in the farthest room he could, using a shoebox for a litter box rather than the nearby litter box in the hall, for fear of seeing that baby!

I mentioned at the top of this post that Max did have a connection to horror-comedies, beyond the obvious lark that he was a black cat. We used to joke that the Hugh Herbert movie, "The Black Cat" (you can read my review when you click here) was named after Max. We built up this scenario that it was initially one of Max's favorite films, but ultimately wore thin with him as I would often put it on (it was a Netflix "instant view" selection after all) only to fall asleep within moments of the film's credits! I was just so familiar with the film that I found it something fun to nap to. In the way we so often did, my wife and I had a "voice" for Max E. that we would use (like ersatz ventriloquists) to have "him" express his feelings. We'd often have him saying, "you fell asleep to that movie again, daddy? I'm sick of it!" :)

Max was nearly 18. The past few days of humidity were tough on him. We did all we could - we kept the a/c going, always had a dish of ice cubes and cold water nearby, used cold compresses, etc. But the humidity wasn't the actual problem - it just served to bring to light a grave internal condition that Max's feline instincts did a great job of masking. He had a tough evening, and was suffering. We just had to let him go. This came just a few minutes after midnight on Barb's birthday of all days. But we have our cherished memories and will never forget this special little life that brightened our world for so many years. While I was only truly involved with Max for the past 6 of his nearly 18 years, I can honestly say that I was mightily blessed to have him in my life, and to call him my "son." Goodbye Max - we love you & miss you forever!

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

RIP JOE MESSERLI

This is a quick mention, but I mean no disrespect. Due to schedule commitments I didn't have the opportunity to write a up a proper obituary for this fine comic book artist.

However, my friend Brent Seguine, Three Stooges historian posted a really nice remembrance which you can read by clicking here.

You may ask why a blog about classic horror-comedy films from Hollywood's Golden Age features so many posts about comic books and their creators. The answer is simple: I think the funny fright films we know and love have a lot in common with the freewheeling humor and thrills of comic books.

I'm also willing to guess that Mr. Messerli drew more than one horror spoof in his lifetime... and that the majority of those probably appeared in the Three Stooges comic book issues he drew for Western Publishing (distributed under the Dell and Gold Key imprints).

Of course, Brent, fount of Stooge knowledge that he is will surely set this knucklehead straight if I'm mistaken... just as long as he doesn't give me a Moe Poke!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL HORROR-COMEDY BROADCAST!

Glenn Strange Huntz Hall

First a note to all the faithful Scared Silly fans out there - I haven't forgotten about you. I'm just in a busy season - between unexpected home and car repairs, a heavier-than-usual workload and several family events my time has been fragmented at best. Just note that I am determined to get some new reviews up soon...

In the meantime, I want to give you a head's up to a great classic horror-comedy you won't want to miss. This Saturday (June 26th) Turner Classic Movies is running The Bowery Boys and Glenn Strange in "Master Minds!" It's running at 10:30 AM eastern time - you'll want to check your local listings for times in your area as well as for where TCM resides on your cable/satellite dish/FIOS, etc. TV service.

So what's so great about this film? Well, it takes the time-tested "mad scientist switches brains" concept to new heights as dippy Huntz "Sach Jones" Hall's brain is transferred into monstrous Glenn "Atlas" Strange's cranium... and vice-ee verse-ee! What ensues are two wonderful performances as Hall acts all growly and monster-like while Strange has a field day mimicking Hall's goofy body language and facial expressions (with Hall's voice dubbed in).

In addition to Strange, Hall and some other classic Bowery Boys (including Leo "Slip Mahoney" Gorcey, Gabriel Dell and Billy Benedict) you get the inimitable Bernard Gorcey as soda shop owner Louie Dumbrowsky plus such stalwarts as Jane Adams (from "House of Dracula" plus Rondo Hatton's "The Brute Man," Jack Webb's Dragnet-esque "He Walked By Night," the "Batman & Robin" movie serial and "Adventures of Superman" TV show), Alan Napier (Alfred from the Batman TV show, plus roles in the original "Cat People," Roger Corman's "Premature Burial," Danny Kaye's "The Court Jester," Tarzan movies and more) and Skelton Knaggs (also from "House of Dracula" as well as a trio of films Karloff made for Columbia Pictures, the Sherlock Holmes film "Terror by Night," Bob Hope's "Paleface" and various Dick Tracy movies and TV episodes).

Here's the trailer... do what you can to tune in!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

HAPPY 120th BIRTHDAY STAN LAUREL!

Stan Laurel Oliver Hardy ghost

In my opinion, Stan Laurel was the single greatest comedy artist who ever lived. His mind was always at work devising comic delights.



If I can finally clear my schedule a bit and get back to writing and posting reviews, I just may devote one whole week to Laurel & Hardy's horror-comedies sometime - we'll see.


Laurel and Hardy - Bump in the Night - Allstars - More amazing video clips are a click away

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BETTY BOOP MEETS DRACULA!

Betty Boop

Now here’s a real curio – a live action appearance by famous 1930s cartoon star Betty Boop! And she’s meeting Bela Lugosi as “Dracula,” no less. He’s not officially called such, but everyone knows it is (especially as this short was made within a year of the legendary vampire flick's release)… so that means Bela actually played the Count three times instead of the usually reported two (those two being the original “Dracula” of course as well as “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” - although you could argue that his Count Tesla from “Return of the Vampire” is also Dracula… and we’ll leave it at that because if I start to talk about “Mark of the Vampire” and “Mother Riley Meets the Vampire” I’ll have to include spoiler warnings).

Hollywood on Parade” was a short-subject series produced by Paramount Pictures in the early 1930s. It was one of several “behind the scenes” newsreels produced during Hollywood’s heyday. These short subject series ranged from being literal “behind-the-scenes” looks at movies (or cartoons) being made to interviews with stars to exclusive skits and performances. The great “Movie Fanfare” site from online classic film store Movies Unlimited recently ran a wonderful piece on these “behind-the-scenes” reels that also originally appeared on the "Matinee at the Bijou" site. They were kind of the “Entertainment Tonight” and “Extra” of their day with all the same Hollywood fluff, but none of the scandal.

Except… there is a touch of scandal behind the scenes of the short excerpt we’re looking at today. That’s because live-action Betty is portrayed by singer-actress Bonnie Poe in this film, one of several actresses who voiced the star in the animated Boop cartoons. The most famous of Betty’s voices is probably Mae Questal, but the controversy comes via Helen Kane, the “original boop-a-doop girl,” a popular singer who capitalized on her novel coquettish voice to become an on-stage hit in the late 1920s through early 1930s.

In 1930 animator Grim Natwick, working for the Fleischer Brothers cartoon studio featured a female flapper dog character in a cartoon called “Dizzy Dishes” and modeled the character after Kane. For all intents and purposes, this character was Betty Boop but with a dog’s button nose and ears. The ears and nose were soon modified to reflect human features and Betty was born proper. As Betty’s notoriety grew, Kane filed a suit claiming infringement but the judge in turn noted that Kane’s own singing style drew a strong resemblance to that of “Baby Esther,” an African-American singer who was known to boop-oop-e-doop too. You can read more about the trial by clicking here… and you can read a nice little piece (and play a nice little video) about the various Betty voices when you click here. And over here on the Betty Boop message board you can even access a handy list of which voice artists performed Betty in each of the original cartoon shorts.

The Betty Boop cartoons are wonderful on many levels. The Fleischer Brothers Studio was in New York City so all the Betty cartoons (as well as the original black & white Popeye cartoons the Studio produced) reflect the fast-pace of the city and take place in cityscapes where the lampposts, mailboxes, firehoses, etc. all bounce around with a life of their own. They also reflected some of the more avante garde tastes in art and music that were happening in the big city, often with a surreal feel. Jazz played a big role and its practitioners (such as Louis Armstrong, Don Redman and Cab Calloway) often made it into the cartoons cavorting with the characters. The idea of mixing laughs with spookiness ran rampant in Betty cartoons, not just in obvious entries like “Betty’s Hallowe’en Party” but also in such unexpected entries as “Snow White” and the sublime “Bimbo’s Initiation.”

So here’s the clip from this short. The setup (as is usually the case with these Hollywood hype shorts) is simple: wax figures at the “Hollywood Hall of Fame” come to life as the piano player plays, and sing and act out the song he’s playing. You’ll note that some usually reliable sources on the internet are confused about who’s Booping here and invariably (and erroneously) sometimes cite Kane and Questal as the actress here, but here at Scared Silly we’re sticking with the notion that it’s Poe (and how cool is it that an actress named Poe gets to meet Dracula?)…

Friday, June 4, 2010

TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS! (PART 2)

Bats #4 cover

NOTE: Here's Part 2 of that blast from the past by your's truly - the conclusion to an article that was originally published in Overstreet's "Gold & Silver Age Quarterly #6," the Oct-Dec 1994 issue (To read Part 1 just click here). I hereby re-present it warts and all, grammatical and factual errors intact. Hopefully these lapses won't prevent you from enjoying this trip down monsterly lane!

Igor takes center stage again in "Mad Lab" in BATS #4, wherein he travels to a village only to find all the men there are depressed because there's only one girl left in town-- "ever since Dracula's bride hunting expedition passed through"! To make matters worse, the girl is in love with the village idiot! Igor has the solution-- he'll clone the girl, so every guy will have a shot at love! Now there's hundreds of girls for the guys to choose from—only trouble is, being clones, they all fall for the village idiot! The other two "feature" stories break from the monster theme. "Julius the Robot" is concerned that he and his fellow "old" robots are being replaced by new, improved models. Luckily for Julius, his outgoing personality lands him a job as a commercial pitchman (an area which writer Gladir continually mined for ideas) and makes him a millionaire. He uses his newfound wealth to purchase a used oil well, transforming it into an "old robot's home"! "The Chariot Chump" offers up a mild parody of "Ben Hur", and there is the usual assortment of shorts including "Dr. Bloodshot's A-1 Assistant", complete with a corny punchline a la "Peabody & Sherman!"

Bats #5 cover

BATS #5 continues the trend of variety in addition to the horror/comedy. For example, "Tin Pan Folly" revolves around rock-n-roll singing birds; and "Hip Man Wrinkle" features a beatnik who sleeps his way into the future-- only to find he's a "square" in tomorrow's world! Due to an ancient curse, Oswald's girlfriend is known as "The Cat Girl"-- constantly chasing after birds and singing with other cats in the alley. The gem this issue is "Monsterama," wherein a movie monster attempts to change his image in his latest picture, "The Adorable Creep,"-- so he can win out and "get the girl" for a change! Bad move-- the film gets a "thumbs down" from critics and fans! All hope is not lost, however, the flop becomes a hit after all... er... in Transylvania, that is!

Bats #6 cover

By BATS #6, it became apparent that a move was being made from horror/comedy to more standard humor and satire-- although the subject matter still remained offbeat. "Rocky the Stone Man" is just what his name implies-- a man made of stone. When the bathing beauty he's sweet on falls for the lifeguard, 'ol Stoney gets an idea from Mt. Rushmore-- he'll be sculpted into a "he-man"! When he shows off his new physique to his would-be girlfriend, she admits she now prefers skinny "Frank Sinatra" types! "The Mole Man", who's always digging, strikes oil and eventually winds up in China! "Seymour the Centaur" excels at sports, but has no "horse sense" when it comes to women! Likewise, "Phil the Fly" is a human fly looking for love in all the wrong places -- maybe he should check the personals in the "fly paper" (Sorry-- reading this stuff, the awful puns just rub off on you)! While these stories were cute and amusing, they lacked the appeal of the horror parodies, and may be one of the reasons the title soon folded...

Bats #7

Which leads us to BATS #7-- and a near total change of direction. In fact, the two main stories, serious horror tales "Three Eyed Mad Doctor" and "The Spell" foreshadowed Archie's "Sorcery" title by a decade. Both stories featured a more "adventure"-oriented art style, particularly "The Spell" The other two feature stories are illustrated in the traditional BATS comedy style, but are basically "straight" stories. "The Remarkable Power of Mr. Hurd" is that he has extremely sensitive hearing, making him the fastest bank teller in the world. Unfortunately, his hearing becomes so acute that it drives him crazy! Demoted to night watchman, he discovers he can discern among the lock tumblers in the combination vault and plots an elaborate heist! Since crime does not pay (at least not in code-approved Silver Age titles), this tale has a twist ending worthy of "The Twilight Zone"! In the other comical-looking yet serious story, two men finds themselves stranded in a seemingly abandoned "Ghost Town". As they investigate, all the standard haunted house and ghost town cliches are trotted out. In the end, it's revealed that aliens are using the town as a supply and communications base as they plot their invasion. While the tales in BATS #7 are enjoyable on their own merits, they are not what fans came to expect of BATS. Perhaps if BATS had kept its focus on horror/comedy, the title might still be going today.

Bats annual cover

Alas, issue #7 was the last of BATS, until Archie issued a double-sized BATS #1 special in 1966, consisting entirely of reprints from the first few original issues. Stories from the original BATS were also reprinted in MADHOUSE, various Archie digests and most recently in Sabrina's Halloween Spoooktacular #1 special from 1993.

Sabrina's Halloween Spoooktacula

What will the future hold for these kind of stories? Surely the continued success of MAD and CRACKED MAGAZINE dictates there is an audience for this kind of wacky stuff. Maybe one day Archie will also take the black & white magazine route with this material—or perhaps will revive it in yet another new comic book format. In the meantime, you may want to give yourself the perfect Halloween treat-- buy up some copies of these classics (reading-quality copies should be fairly inexpensive)-- you'll "HOWL" with laughter!!!

NOTE: I'd like to thank Buddy Saunders of Lone Star Comics, one of the best comic book chains in the US for lending me a scan of the BATS 1966 double-sized special. In fact, Buddy is one of the leading sources for back issues of comics like BATS - be sure to check out his online store by clicking here

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS! (PART 1)

Bats coming soon ad

NOTE: Here's a blast from the past by your's truly - the following article was originally published in Overstreet's "Gold & Silver Age Quarterly #6," the Oct-Dec 1994 issue. I hereby re-present it warts and all, grammatical and factual errors intact. Hopefully these lapses won't prevent you from enjoying this trip down monsterly lane!

When fans speak of the Silver Age of comics, they often pontificate on the importance of DC and Marvel and how they resurrected super-hero comics. The Silver Age, however, was a lot more than that. To be sure, other publishers joined the ranks of the mighty two, resurrecting and/or revamping their own classic heroes as well as creating new ones. However, the Silver Age was also the last great age where variety still reigned. Although various non-super-hero genres held on through the '70s (some just barely) until being either obliterated or just now revived in the late '80s and '90s, the sixties were the last great bastion of offbeat titles. One of the most prolific and (by many) underrated publishers of the Silver Age was Archie Comic Publications. In fact, some of the earliest of the '60s super-hero comics were published by Archie, namely Adventures of the Fly and The Double Life of Private Strong — both of which feature art and stories by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. In addition to super-heroes, Archie's Silver Age output included romance, Martians, mischievous toddlers, a super-hero version of classic pulp hero The Shadow, non-super-hero action/adventure titles and even an adaptation of the Soupy Sales TV show(!)-- in addition to the perennial teenage humor of Archie and his pals.

In 1962, Archie ventured forth to offer something different to its readers: an offbeat humor title spun off from the earlier Archie's Madhouse (which debuted Sept., 1959); which itself was inspired by the classic MAD Magazine. Archie's Madhouse was a hodgepodge of MAD-like material, most of it concentrating on teenagers, the generation gap and... monsters. Why monsters? Who knows — maybe it was just that monsters were a big draw at movie matinees. One thing's for sure, the debut of Sabrina the Teenage Witch in issue #22 proved extremely popular. Apparently, these two factors must have weighed heavy when the publishers decided to spin off TALES CALCULATED TO DRIVE YOU BATS! This new title concentrated primarily on goofy monster material, leaving MADHOUSE to do the spoofs of other genres. Here are some of the highlights of the BATS series:

Bats #1 cover

The first issue of BATS gets right into the swing of things with a witty cover by legendary cartoonist Orlando Busino. It depicts a real estate salesman standing in front of a decrepit house next to a graveyard, as a ghoul gal points to a hovering bat and exclaims, "My husband says we'll take it"! Busino is joined on the interiors of this and most subsequent issues by writer George Gladir, as stated on the table of contents page. This page also introduces "host" Igor and his pet bat Frederick. The lead-off tale, "Hugo the Werewolf," an enjoyable vignette wherein a werewolf who wishes to visit the beach has his unsightly hair removed by electrolysis. Only problem is, just like a fuzzy dog who gets soaking wet, he's really only skin and bone under all that hair-- the bathing beauties call him a runt and the bullies beat him up! His only resort: have his fairy "ghoul-mother" turn him back into a werewolf! "Tut Tut the Mummy" features archaeologists who lure a less-than-scary mummy to their museum using a female mummy as bait. The issue also includes such horrifically hysterical single page gags as "Travel to Transylvania" and "Ogre" deodorant.

Bats #2 cover

BATS #2 features "Count Congo," the tale of a giant ape in captivity whose cage took up "all of Rhode Island and half of Connecticut"! Don't feel sorry for this monkey, though-- he enjoys the soft life! After all, he gets to eat tons of bananas! Unfortunately, animal rights activists say he shouldn't be chained, and lobby to have him deported to a more "natural" habitat. Luckily, a storm sets him free and he returns to his life of imprisoned tranquility! Perhaps the greatest story in the entire series also appeared in this issue, "Monster Crisis". This classic has American monsters going on strike because Transylvanian monsters are stealing their jobs! As always, there are also plenty of one-to-three page goofy monster "shorts" such as the very MAD-like "Monster News" (featuring ghastly headlines) and "Monster Hit Parade"-- which features monster interpretations of sheet music covers: a witch on a broom for "Come Fly With Me," a wound-up mummy dancing to "Wrap Up Your Troubles In Dreams" and King Kong obliging a young lady in "I've Got a Crush On You."

Bats #3 cover

Igor graduates from mere host to star status in BATS #3, as "The Life of Igor" unfolds the story of how he "decided to seek (his) career in the monster field." His first job as a mad doctor's apprentice ends on a hilarious note when he accidentally drops the "genius type" brains and replaces them with "Madison Ave. type" brains, resulting in a commercial-spouting "Krankenstein" monster! Next, he gets a job transporting 'ol Dracula and his coffin to "South Transylvania for the winter". Unfortunately, Igor ignores the fact that "South Transylvania was not observing daylight saving time," and wakes Drack up before sundown, with typical vampire-destroying results! "Open House For Monsters" finds Igor acting as a Dr. Joyce Brothers style advice man. For example, when a vampire patient complains that he can't stomach his girlfriend's steak dinners, Igor claims it's because the vamp's subconscious is reminded of stakes-- the kind that kill vampires, that is! Other highlights include a "Horror Western" short and a Transylvanian "Chop" House menu!

...TO BE CONTINUED: BE SURE TO RETURN ON FRIDAY FOR PART 2 OF THIS ARTICLE!