Saturday, December 31, 2016

NEW YEAR'S EVE IN A HAUNTED HOUSE - 2016 INTO 2017 EDITION!

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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 Ken Mandel of the West Orange Classic Film Festival who invited me to be the guest speaker at a special screening of Mad Monster Party at their 2016 festival early this year. 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 and features an extremely popular horror-comedy).

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I also had another terrific year working on the Bowery Boys documentary, including the opportunity to interview one of my comedy idols, Fred Willard. The film is the brainchild of Executive Producer and owner of Handshake Away Productions, Colette Joel. Her lifelong love of the Dead End Kids, East Side Kids and Bowery Boys is manifesting itself in a wonderful production that I know all fans of classic movies and classic comedy will enjoy. And that includes you, Scared Silly readers! The Bowery Boys' films are among my favorite classic comedies, and they did make several notable horror-comedy films, all of which will be reviewed in the Scared Silly book.

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This was a particularly busy year for me with personal appearances at both comic shops and and comic conventions. Special thanks goes out to Alex Simmons of Kids' Comic Con, Jeff Beck of East Side Mags, and John Paul of NJ Comic Book Expo. And all the other show promoters who graciously allowed me to be part of their events, too. Thanks to all the wonderful comics creators who I was able to appear alongside this year as well - too numerous to name. To them and to all all those who made those appearances happen, I say "thank you!"

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)!

As always, it wouldn't be New Year's Eve here without 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 26, 2016

SOME DAY-AFTER-CHRISTMAS GIFTS FROM ME TO YOU - 2016 EDITION!

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Hope your holidays were grand, friends! Here's a few additional goodies to keep you in the festive spirit!

(NOTE: Many of the feature films, shorts and animated cartoons discussed on this site, being from an earlier time, may contain elements considered insensitive and politically incorrect to us today. Any such controversial themes do not represent the thoughts and opinions of Paul Castiglia and the films discussed and presented here are done so purely for their inherent entertainment and historical value, apart from any such themes).

ENJOY!





















Friday, December 23, 2016

A HOLIDAY TRADITION: THE CREEPS OF CHRISTMAS - 2016 EDITION!

Rudolph the Red-Noised Reindeer Bumble

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. NOTE: THIS YEAR I'VE ADDED TED ESHBAUGH'S SNOWMAN TO THE LIST OF CREEPS - 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 1948 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!



Last but certainly not least: Ted Eshbaugh’s 1933 cartoon classic, The Snowman may appear to be just another 1930s cartoon frolic with cute woodland creatures creating a snowman... but it isn't! Just keep watching and you'll know how it qualifies for Scared Silly (although truthfully it qualifies more for Scared Scared!)



So here’s wishing all Scared Silly fans the happiest and safest of holidays, and every blessing for the New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2016

PEACE AND QUIET (1921)

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RATING: * out of ****

NOTE: This is easily the trickiest review thus far for the Scared Silly project, as this is a silent movie with none of the title cards extant, and further, none of the many newspaper headlines (the short begins at a newspaper publisher’s office) are legible, either, appearing on screen for just brief moments so that the eyes cannot register what’s on them. These facts pretty much wipe out whatever context sets up the film, from just “who is who,” all the way to “how do these folks end up in a haunted house?”

PLOT...?: WWithout any titles, we’re left to wonder why Eddie Lyons and his wife ends up in the haunted house. We only know the couple that seems to own the house consists of a rather shifty husband, and constantly scared, clairvoyant wife. Then again, they may be merely a caretaker and a maid, and not married at all! All we know for sure is there’s someone in a sheet scaring everyone, and a skeleton being operated like a marionette, and lots of things going bump in the night. Can Eddie figure out who is behind it all?

REVIEW: This is going to be one of the shortest reviews in the Scared Silly project as there’s not a whole heck of a lot going on here, subtitles or not. For the most part it’s a farce with people spending more time running around and being scared just for the zeitgeist of it all, although there’s not really actual gags per se…. much like the Jimmie Adams silent horror-comedy, Goofy Ghosts.

Silent film historian Steve Massa was kind enough to set the record straight on Eddie Lyons, for whom readily available information is on the scant and sometimes inaccurate side. From Steve:

“Eddie Lyons hooked up with producer Al Christie at Nestor, where he was part of the ensemble with Victoria Forde, Lee Moran, Stella Adams, Harry Rattenberry, Gus Alexander, Billie Rhodes, etc. Christie teamed him with Lee Moran, and when Al left Nestor in 1916 to set up his own independent company Eddie and Lee went with him but were quickly lured back to Universal with a better deal. The last Lyons & Moran films came out in 1921 (shorts and features) and Peace and Quiet was his first solo comedy. I've found three different reasons given for Lyon's death in 1920s trade magazines - appendicitis, a nervous breakdown, and a brain tumor. Don't know which is true.”

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Getting back to the short at hand, the scares are limited to the following:

-A man in a sheet
-A skeleton (literally) in a closet
-A cat... and It’s not even 100% black!
-Lights projecting a garishly smiling face on the wall
-A man covered in soot or flour – but I’ll be darned if I know just how that happened!

Out of the above, the skeleton bit comes off best. Eddie backs up into the closet, right into a skeleton whose right hand is perfectly positioned to land on his shoulder. As he pulls away, the skeleton hand stays attached to his shoulder as he runs through the house, until it finally falls off.

The best that can be said for it is that everyone is very expressive, body and facial language galore, and all move at a fast pace. It should also be noted that not only does Lyons star, but he was in the director’s chair for this short, too.

When all is said and done, if the film is fully restored someday, it can be reassessed and perhaps earn a better rating than the one star I assigned to it. It’s folly to try to give it an accurate rating based on its current condition.

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: Jack Duffy, like Lyons, was a vaudevillian and musical comedy star. His stock-in-trade was making himself up in old age make-up to play grandfatherly roles. It didn’t hurt that he had dentures he could remove! In addition to scores of silent comedy shorts (including Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality) and some 1930s westerns, some of his other notable appearances include Pop Goes the Easel and Restless Knights alongside the Three Stooges, and The Girl Rush with Vernon Dent.

Dorothea Wolbert’s impressive credits include a plethora of Lonesome Luke shorts starring Harold Lloyd, the feature, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum with Al Jolson and Frank Morgan; the Our Gang/Little Rascals horror-comedy, Shivering Spooks; and a pair of Laurel & Hardy classics: The Battle of the Century and Two Tars. A couple years before her death, she made a notable appearance on the TV show, I Love Lucy playing a character named... Dorothea Wolbert!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

ENJOY A CARTOON BEFORE THE MAIN FEATURE…

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Hey gang – while I put together my next review, please enjoy these animated antics courtesy of legendary cartoon director Tex Avery and equally legendary cartoon writer Michael Maltese (this marked his first animated short, in fact)! And let’s not forget the public domain, who makes it all possible (and legal!) to post! ENJOY!

Monday, December 5, 2016

'FRAIDY CAT (1951)

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RATING: *** & 1/4 out of ****

PLOT: Joe Besser and Jim Hawthorne are detectives who have slacked on the job and are given one more chance to capture the simian robber pillaging antique shops by night. With nothing but each other and a penchant for sight gags and wordplay, can the daffy detectives cage this ape, or will their hair-trigger fears get the best of them?

AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: Typically, I’ll break down my reviews into a plot synopsis, followed by an overview of the film often including background information on the talents involved, and finishing up by highlighting some of the best verbal and visual gags in the film. This review simply can’t be structured that way because this short is practically ALL verbal and visual gags. There’s very little plot to speak of – it’s all shtick and comic mayhem. Therefore, this review will not include the usual separate sections for Verbal and Visual Gags. This review will also be less of a review than a celebration of the various bits, because the comic timing and energy in this film is splendidly entertaining indeed!

AUTHOR’S NOTE #2: This is a remake of the Three Stooges’ short, Dizzy Detectives, and reuses some gorilla footage in that short. In turn, ‘Fraidy Cat was remade four years later as Hook a Crook (1955), with mostly stock footage from ‘Fraidy Cat and the gorilla bits from Dizzy Detectives, but very little new material, which is noted at the end of this review. Special thanks to Three Stooges historian, Brent Seguine who contributed additional information for this review. Brent has helped provide research on several Scared Silly reviews.

REVIEW: ‘Fraidy Cat is a solo Joe Besser short, but as in many Columbia shorts, it’s really a “comedy duo” short (see the Hugh Herbert-starring shorts in which he’s equally paired with Dudley Dickerson, despite not being equally billed). Columbia was almost always trying to come up with a new Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello... and mostly not succeeding.

Joe Besser tread the boards on vaudeville, honing his comic timing and bag of tricks. He used it to great effect as a supporting player in many films (including Abbott & Costello’s famed jungle spoof, Africa Screams which also featured another “third Stooge,” Shemp Howard), and most famously as “Stinky” on the Abbott & Costello TV show, and as the “third Stooge” in the final group of Three Stooges shorts. Those include a trio of horror-comedy-esque sci-fi themed shorts: Space Ship Sappy, Outer Space Jitters and Flying Saucer Daffy. He also thrived for many years beyond the “classic comedy” period with guest-spots on many TV shows (including a regular role on Joey Bishop’s sitcom) and doing voices for several animated cartoon series right through the early 1980s, stopping on a few years before his death.

Jim Hawthorne was a veritable everyman – not just an actor but also a radio announcer and performer, a disc jockey often cited as a pioneer of free-form radio, a creator of children’s shows, and originator of the first late-night TV talk show. The latter fact is fitting as Hawthorne comes off very much like a Steve Allen-type, particularly in appearance (he also seems a bit of a Stan Freberg-type in performance). ‘Fraidy Cat is not only Hawthorne’s first short, but his first film appearance of any kind.

Besser and Hawthorne have great chemistry, and their size disparity also makes them an appealing duo, reminiscent of tall and short duos such as Abbott & Costello. In many ways, too their interactions mirror Bud and Lou, with Besser impulsive, gullible and prone-to-be scared as Hawthorne plays the straight man. He does get to insert several of his own comedic moments through humorous takes and line readings, but most often is operating as Besser’s foil, setting up Joe’s punchlines.

The action starts right in with Joe and Hawthorne getting chewed out by their boss at the detective agency (as in some Stooges shorts, the door reads “Wide Awake Detective Agency”) for not doing a good job guarding various antique stores they’ve been assigned to protect. Apparently, they stepped out for beer one too many times, which is when all the robberies occurred. Joe protests that they really left their posts for sarsaparilla!

For no other apparent reason than perhaps plot expediency purposes, they mention to their boss the various reports of a “huge ape” having committed the crimes (or as Joe says, “an o-rang-o-tangle”).

The boss rattles off the names of the various stores knocked over and many include colors in their names, prompting Hawthorne to crack, “White, blue, gold, black – it’s a very colorful job, eh boss – they covered the rainbow!”

A great sight gag soon follows – Joe puts a walnut on the boss’s desk so that when the boss pounds his fist on the desk, the nutshell is cracked.

This opening bit sets the tone the for the entire short, as clever dialogue is interspersed with groan-inducing puns at equal intervals. Example:

JOE: “You know what I think? It’s an inside job.”
HAWTHORNE: “Why is it inside?”
JOE: “Because it’s not outside!”

The short also includes a lot of “déjà vu” bits, as in “haven’t I seen this before?” But Joe and Hawthorne pull them all off seamlessly with expert comic timing.

This includes the old “hello” bit where they both answer two ringing phones at the same time, their backs turned to each other, and then end up answering each other’s greetings, and turning to shake hands and introduce themselves to each other.

The phone antics continue when Joe answers a call saying “yes… yes, oh yes.” Hawthorne asks, “what was it, Joe?” Joe answers, “a friend of mine just gave me a recipe for an upside-down cake”… and Joe proceeds to recite it!

When Hawthorne gets a call with a tip on the ape’s whereabouts, he and Joe are off to the chase… but not before some entanglements with the telephone line that end up knocking their boss out!

When Joe and Hawthorne arrive at the antique shop, they’re not sure what key to use. Joe pulls a huge key chain out of his jacket with dozens and dozens of keys on it – a nice sight gag. There’s also a can opener gadget prompting Joe to ask Hawthorne,” “You haven’t got any beer on ya’, have ya’?”

As they fumble through the keys, the ape opens the door from the inside.

When they realize the door has been opened, Joe tries to leave. “What’s the matter, are ya’ afraid?” bellows Hawthorne. Besser says, “Um… (pause)… YEAH!” It’s these touches of thoughtful comic timing throughout that really help sell the barest of material here, and leave audiences smiling.

Besser also gets to do some signature shtick. When Hawthorne insists, “will you snap out of it?!,” Joe gives Hawthorne a gentle nudge and exclaims, “Not so loud!” (this bit of business would come into play in many of Besser’s Three Stooges and Abbott & Costello outings, often changed to “not so hard!” when Joe was being roughhoused a bit).

Often unfairly maligned for his work as a Stooge in shorts where, in my opinion the blame lies more in the fact those shorts were more ill-conceived and poorly written or directed (I feel Joe is often the best thing in some of those short), here in this solo short Joe’s talents are shown to great advantage. Joe gets a terrific moment alone guarding a room in the antique shop while sitting in a rocking chair and smoking a cigar. As Joe rocks in the chair, telling himself “I’m not afraid – why should I be afraid? Babies are afraid. I’m not a baby… but I’m afraid!” What follows is a classic comedy gag of the leg of the rocking chair just narrowly missing a cat’s tail several times until...

“SCREEEEEEECHHHH!!!!!”

This sends Joe flying out of the rocking chair, practically swallowing his cigar. He retrieves Hawthorne and tells him a woman screamed and clawed his leg.

“A woman? That’s bad? Is she pretty? Where is she?...” inquires Hawthorne.

This begins a series of more “aged-up” dialogue that likely went over the heads of any kids in the theater audience.

When Hawthorne chastises Joe that there’s no woman, Joe protests, “I could swear...”

“No, no Joe – no profanity – swearing’s a bad habit,” chides Hawthorne.

It gets even more outrageous from there. When Hawthorne asks Joe where his revolver is, Joe responds that he gave it to a baby to play with!!! Hawthorne is shocked.

“You gave the baby a revolver?” asks Hawthorne in disbelief.

“What, I should give her a knife so she can cut herself?!” replies Joe.

Meanwhile, the ape is rummaging through the other rooms, and plants a dummy in the room that Hawthorne and Joe are “guarding.”
Naturally, the duo mistake the dummy for the dead woman Joe insists grabbed his leg.

Hawthorne soon realizes their error and exclaims, “that’s not a woman – that’s a dummy – like you!” Joe retorts, “Oh I don’t look nothing like her!”

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Another hilarious solo scene for Joe has him tripping over a cat, whose screech sends Joe hiding under the covers of a futon. He kicks a light stand which just happens to have a scary fright mask hanging on it and it lands on his foot. Of course, as Joe peeks over the covers, his foot rises so that it looks like the scary face is rising up to get him! Of course, the punchline has Joe shooting at his own foot!

Ultimately, Joe and Hawthorne come face-to-face with the ape, who handily breaks one of their guns in half! Joe exclaims, “maybe he’s a real chiminy-zanzee!

“That’s no chimp, you chump,” counters Hawthorne. “That’s a gorilla!”

Joe and Hawthorne run from the gorilla, but Joe falls down and again does a hysterical bit: he crawls backwards while on is back, his arms flailing, in a move previously perfected by Curly Howard.

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More notable wordplay follows:

HAWTHORNE (huffing and puffing): “Well we’ve sure been running.”
JOE (also huffing and puffing): “When I catch my breath we’re gonna’ run some more!”

In a short that already had its share of black humor, it saves one of the blackest pieces for last: Joe accidentally falls into a replica of a guillotine and the “blade” comes crashing down. Not realizing it’s a rubber prop, he implores Hawthorne – who has fainted at the sight – to not just be lazy and lay there but help Joe “nail” his head back on! Then Joe realizes, “Hey, if I’m dead how come I’m talkin’?”

Hawthorne is beside himself. “Poor Joe – I can’t look.” Just then a dummy head the gorilla has punched across the room lands at Hawthorne’s feet and he passes out all over again, thinking it’s Joe’s head!

Ultimately, a couple of mugs arrive to retrieve their “trained circus gorilla” and do a bit of pillaging themselves. A slapstick melee ensues, and somehow our heroes triumph.

A particularly satisfying parting shot – literally – evokes a similar gag Stan Laurel employed in the film, Blockheads. Joe is getting pummeled right and left by one of the crooks when he merely steps back from the punches and asks, “this is getting monotonous, isn’t it?” Joe makes a fist and draws the crook’s attention to it, and while the crook gazes at Joe’s right hand, Joe clocks him in the chin with his left!

Overall, this short is... well... short on typical darkly spooky or ghostly gags. It falls squarely into the realm of the “scary gorilla” sub-genre of horror-comedies – but it’s likely audiences seeing this in a theater were literally rolling in the aisles. The energy and chemistry in the pairing of Besser and Hawthorne brings a lot of good will, making even some of the many recycled gags and ripe puns amusing. This short proves that, with the right performers at the forefront, the slightest of material can be pulled off to entertaining effect.

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: Let’s start with the gorillas. Two of the most famous gorilla suit men, Steve Calvert and Ray Corrigan are both in this short. Calvert is in the new footage, while Corrigan’s simian scenes are lifted from Dizzy Detectives. Footage of both, from both Dizzy Detctives and ‘Fraidy Cat, made its way into Hook a Crook.

Tom Kennedy plays the head of the detective agency, I. Katchum. A veteran of comedy shorts and features, he worked alongside Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, W.C. Fields, Abbott & Costello and many more.

Eddie Baker features in the Jimmie Adams horror-comedy, Goofy Ghosts, and also appeared alongside W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers and more.

Our old pal Joe Palma is also here. He, of course, in addition to being a frequent supporting player in Three Stooges shorts also has the distinction of being the “Fake Shemp” – doubling for Shemp in from-behind and obscured shots AFTER Shemp had passed away, which enabled Columbia Pictures to make four “new” (read: mostly stock footage) Stooges shorts with Shemp! A mainstay at Columbia, Palma worked alongside many of the players there, including an appearance in one of Andy Clyde’s horror-comedies, One Spooky Night. He also appears in the Joe E. Brown feature starrer, Beware Spooks.

THE REMAKE: Hook a Crook features much of the same footage as ‘Fraidy Cat, but adds a couple new touches. One is the addition of a scene with horror-comedy stalwart Dudley Dickerson, and another where the gorilla knocks out Joe and Hawthorne, but is finally taken down by a socialite’s kiss.

It’s been reported that the new gorilla footage in Hook a Crook features Dan Blocker of Bonanza fame, but film historian Brent Seguine has put this into question for understandable reasons: “Yes, he's listed on a production call sheet for new footage. But the gorilla suit is clearly the Corrigan/Calvert Naba outfit, which would not fit Blocker. New scenes, even with the actor in a crouched position, show someone shorter than Blocker.”

Thursday, December 1, 2016

ARCHIE: COMICS' 1st MONSTER KID?

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Recently I received a few requests pertaining to locating and identifying some key Archie Comics covers. That's because, in my past professional life, working on staff at Archie Comics as a writer, editor, PR guy and archivist in the 1990s, I spent a lot of time exploring the history of the long-lived publisher. Inevitably, when folks find this out I end up with all sorts of requests related to Archie.

In particular, I was tasked with researching, compiling and editing the Archie Americana Series, a series of paperback collections gathering the best and most exemplary stories, decade-by-decade in Archie’s publishing history.

I noticed something interesting as I pored through the company’s library. (Side-note: in their company library, Archie has nearly every comic book issue they ever published, compiled together by years in-between hard covers custom-made for the company). It seemed that between late 1961 and early 1962, there were several covers featuring caricatures of Universal Monsters!

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I didn’t immediately put the connection together, but it ultimately became apparent to me that this string of covers was a direct result of the “Monster Kid” craze that had swept the country.

This craze was kicked off by the 1957 syndication of Universal Horror movies in what was known as the "Shock Theater" package, which introduced a whole new audience (especially kids) to monster movie classics (read my friend Pierre Fournier's excellent multi-part article about it on his Frankensteinia blog when you click here). It was a craze that stuck, touching all spheres of pop culture including music (the Monster Mash), toys and merchandising, magazines (Famous Monsters of Filmland, Castle of Frankenstein. etc.), animated cartoons and sitcoms (Mad Monster Party, Milton the Monster, Addams Family, Munsters among them), and yes, comic books.

The thing about comics is that they are usually produced (script, art, printing) months in advance of their distribution. So a comic book cover dated July 1961 may have actually been produced as early as January of that year. Which would put the covers below even closer to the debut of Shock Theater (not that it mattered – again, the craze was enduring and Shock Theater lasted for years).

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This wouldn’t be the last time caricatures of Universal Monsters figured into Archie Comics – they’d make appearances for years to come (including in the series I wrote, Archie’s Weird Mysteries), but these covers most certainly represent a direct response to the renewed popularity of the Universal Monsters due to Shock Theater, and the enduring popularity of the “Monster Kid” craze.

Speaking of which, no fan of the Monster Craze will want to be without the book, Monster Mash by my friend Mark Voger. It’s a delightful coffee table book filled with photos covering the breadth of monster mania in the 1950s and ‘60s, available from TwoMorrows Press when you click here.

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