Wednesday, March 14, 2012
HORROR-ONABLE MENTION GOES TO…
It’s been a while since I talked about my vision for the book version of “Scared Silly” (last discussed in this post).
For the uninitiated, I plan to divide the book up into chapters primarily based on either performers or “type” of film (for example, silent films and “series” films will get their own sections). Further, I may break the sections on performers up into “solo stars” and “comedy teams.” In any case, one thing I plan on doing with the performers is to not only do full reviews of their bona fide horror-comedy entries but also mention some of their “horror-onable mentions" (without providing full-fledged reviews of those films).
What’s an “horror-onable mention?” Well, it’s a film that either has only a peripheral horror/fantasy/sci-fi theme or one that contains a brief “scare scene” that is incongruous to the film as a whole. For example, there is a sequence in Laurel & Hardy’s “A Chump at Oxford” where the nasty college kids prank Stan and Ollie by scaring them half to death in ghostly skeleton outfits. The scene has the “scare” factor but it could just have easily been some other kind of scene without a scare element, another mean-spirited trick meant to embarrass Stan and Ollie. Not only is it incongruous to the film as a whole but it is brief as well. Therefore, “A Chump at Oxford” is an “horror-onable mention.” The same holds for the duo’s “Dirty Work.” Ostensibly one of the many Laurel & Hardy shorts to focus on how badly the team fared at manual labor (here as chimney sweeps), the short contains a sci-fi angle: the boys’ client is a kooky scientist trying to perfect his own “fountain of youth.” The final scene delivers the fantasy scenario but it is both too brief and devoid of any real scares to qualify as a full-fledged “horror-comedy.”
Speaking of daffy duos, Abbott & Costello have about as many if not more “horror-onable mentions” as they do actual horror-comedies. Consider such almost-but-not-quite horror-comedy entries as “Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man” (it contains the sci-fi elements of making a man invisible without any scary aspects), “The Time of Their Lives” (Lou Costello is a ghost, but a friendly one), “Abbott & Costello Go to Mars” (they don’t – they go to Venus and it’s filled with beautiful women, not scary monsters) and “Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” (for its very brief scene of Margaret Hamilton as a witch). “Keep ‘em Flying” is on the “horror-onable mention” list, too for its spooky amusement park funhouse scene – it is too brief and incongruous to the film to be considered a bona fide “horror-comedy” entry.
While responsible for one of the most unique “horror-comedy” entries of all (“Ghost Catchers”), Olsen & Johnson have a couple “horror-onable mentions” under their belt as well. “All Over Town” flirts with a very brief moment of mild scare humor as the team perform on an echo-ey stage in an old, creaky theater. Even more explicitly (and even more briefly), the frantic free-for-all “Hellzapoppin’” surprises audiences with a quick cameo from Universal’s most famed horror icon, the Frankenstein Monster! One wonders, did moviegoers cheer when the creature tossed Martha Raye through the air? Or did they cower in their seats and shiver with fear? Either way, “Hellzapoppin’” is not a horror-comedy, so this scene rates it an “horror-onable mention” at best.
…and on it goes. It seems the more horror-comedies a performer or team had (the Bowery Boys are another great example, with such horror-comedy classics as “Master Minds,” “Ghost Chasers” and “The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters”), the more “horror-onable mentions” they had as well (“Bowery to Bagdad,” “Mr. Hex” and “Up in Smoke” all fall into this category for Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and the boys). Really, we could do this all week but I think you get the idea.
I’ll close with another team – the Ritz Brothers – that has one bona fide horror-comedy (“The Gorilla”) and a couple of films that get “horror-onable mention.” The Sonja Henie/Adolphe Menjou vehicle “One in a Million” features the brothers doing a comedic song-and-dance number (on ice skates!) portraying the villainous Peter Lorre, Captain Bligh (a spoof of Charles Laughton’s performance in “Mutiny on the Bounty”) and once again, the Frankenstein Monster! Now, it seems the Frankenstein Monster was rubbing elbows with a lot of comedians before he met Bud and Lou (read my post about how he also met Danny Kaye, Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges by clicking here). But that’s not all...
...in “Sing, Baby Sing” the brothers do a skit spoofing Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that ends with an appearance by… you guessed it... the Frankenstein Monster! Unlike other spoof versions that satirized or plain old used Boris Karloff or Glenn Strange to portray the monster, this version of the monster bears a more striking resemblance (including vocal inflections and presence) to the one played by Peter Boyle forty-something years later in Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” – and it’s no surprise, as Brooks has often cited the Brothers Ritz as one of his major influences. Click here and decide for yourself!