Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Happy Karloff at comic stand with little girl

Before I get to the topic at hand, two things:

1.) Be sure to visit the Monster Kids site, where the lovely photo of Boris at the comic rack came from and...

2.) A reminder: if you're a fan and you haven't already voted for "Scared Silly" for BEST BLOG in the Rondo Awards, please do so by Saturday, April 3rd. It's easy to do - just click on the aqua-green banner above for details. Thanks!

Now, I wanted to share some fun horror-comedy cartooning with you. The idea of mixing humor and scares isn’t exclusive to live-action movies. We’ve previously taken a look at some animated films that fit the bill, and today I’m going to concentrate on non-animated cartooning – specifically providing links to examples of horror-comedy in magazine cartoons, newspaper comic strips and comic books.

Let’s start with John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren & Stimpy and one of the key directors behind the classic 1980s Saturday morning cartoon, “Mighty Mouse: the New Adventures.” Kricfalusi recently posted about the fine monster-oriented work of cartoonist Paul Coker, and you can see his post when you click here.

Next up, a blogger named Mykal who maintains the wonderful “Big Blog of Kids Comics” offers some classic Dick Briefer comic book art on the comedicized Frankenstein monster. Click here to check it out.

Where to begin when discussing comics writer-artist John Stanley? I’ll let you hit the search engine on him so you can enjoy the wealth of riches that is his legacy. In the meantime, I’ll send you over to Doug Gray’s Greatest Ape blog where you can read an entire Melvin Monster story by clicking here.

Legendary cartoonist Fred Hembeck has been drawing riotously funny lampoons of famous comic book characters for years as well as his own hysterical comic stories and characters. A few Halloween’s back he highlighted comics of a spooky nature, and you can click here to see what issues he selected.

Art Baltazar is a great cartoonist whose comics are full of vim, verve and werewolves. Well, wolf boys to be exact, as in Patrick the Wolf Boy, who you can learn about by clicking here. I don’t know for sure but I can’t help but wonder if not only his look but also Patrick’s name was inspired by Herman and Lily Munster’s werewolf son (or is he a vampire - hard to tell - but he has a werewolf doll at least) Eddie, played by Butch Patrick.

Eddie Munster Butch Patrick

Over in the funny pages… literally… you can check out Mark Buford’s newspaper comic strip “Scary Gary.” But being the internet age, you don’t necessarily have to buy a newspaper – the kind folks at Creator’s Syndicate have made the daily exploits of Gary and crew available online when you click here.

Mark Engblom offers Comic Coverage at the blog of the same name, and one of the blog’s great delights is the “Cover to Cover” feature. In the movies, the Frankenstein Monster only met Dracula, the Wolf Man and Abbott & Costello, but in comic books, he met everyone including Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis… and Mark offers the covers to prove it when you click here.

The Frankenstein Monster wasn’t the only creepy creature Bob Hope met. Scared Silly pal BookSteve has an interesting post about the great ‘60s comic Stanley & His Monster and the one instance where Bob Hope met the pair… wonder if his experiences with “The Cat & the Canary” and “The Ghost Breakers” helped him deal with the Beast with No Name. Click here to find out.

What the heck - let's talk about a few animated silly scares too, shall we?

Let's start with Scared Silly buddy Pierre Fournier who has taken several looks at classic animated cartoons on his essential Frankensteinia blog. His latest entry is on a vintage Warner 'toon that pits Porky Pig against the Frankenstein Monster. Conveniently for us, he includes the links to all his previous animated entries at the bottom of the post. Just click here to let the laughs begin.

Another Scared Silly pal is none other than Jay Stephens. The talented comic book writer-artist has also created some acclaimed animated TV series, including the splendid Secret Saturdays, about a family of cryptozoologists (those folks who study and search for creatures such as Yeti’s, dino’s, Chupacabra’s and the like) out to protect the human race from such creatures… and the creatures from the human race. You can learn more by clicking here.

This post would not be complete without mentioning the ultimate horror-comedy cartoonist, Charles “Chas” Addams. His cartoons for the New Yorker are legendary, and the cast of creeps that were put together as a family for the “Addams Family” sitcom of the ‘60s have endured through two animated series, two theatrical features, a second short-lived sitcom in the late ‘90s, a TV variety special and TV movie, a direct-to-video movie and now a Broadway musical (and I probably missed a few items along the way).

...But none of that would have existed without Chas’ sublime magazine cartoons. Mike Lynch recently remembered Addams’ birthday on his blog which you can read by clicking here, and best of all, you can learn all about the great Addams exhibit currently on display at the Museum of the City of New York when you click here.

We’ll finish with a clip from CBS Sunday morning from some years back, when another wonderful Addams exhibit was on display at the New York Public Library – enjoy!

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Farina Joe Cobb Mary Kornman

NOTE: Readers of this blog may have noticed that for some of the short subject entries, I’m recounting more of the plot details within the actual review as opposed to the plot synopsis. The reason is that it’s often simply easier to just give an overview and speak to the highlights of a feature film and still manage to convey its essence (as opposed to including every single detail) while in the one, two and three reelers the limited running times sometimes require a play-by-play of the whole film to get the gist across to the reader. “Shivering Spooks” is just such a case.


PLOT: The Our Gang (aka Little Rascals) kids – this time consisting of (Allen “Farina” Hoskins, Mary Kornman, Joe Cobb, Johnny Downs, Scooter Lowry, Jackie Condon, Bobby Young and Jay .R. Smith) just want to play. Unfortunately, this disrupts the local phony spiritualist racket’s “séance.” The phony spiritualists decide to give the kids the scare of their lives. Can the kids put their fears aside long enough to expose the creeps and bring them to justice?

REVIEW: So here we have the second-ever Our Gang horror-comedy during the series’ silent movie run (the first being the previous year’s “Shootin’ Injuns”). You’ll note that I’ve rated this short three out of four stars “with reservations.” I’ll get to why at the proper moment.

The film starts off with a startling gag. We read via the opening title card that “Farina and Scooter never had to hunt for trouble – Trouble chased them!” And sure enough, the pair is on the run from an adult who is chasing them. A truant officer perhaps? Perhaps not – this man is (amazingly) shooting a gun! The camera then pulls back more to reveal that the shooting man is aiming at another man who runs ahead of the kids. The man being shot at pulls out his own gun and turns around to chase the original shooter, and the kids turn around as well. This leads to a back-and-forth change in direction as each man flip-flops control of the situation. It’s funny to see the kids run back and forth but at the same time unsettling because there’s a gun involved (and as we’ll see later, this short doesn’t shy away from the unsettling).

Two kids do not a gang make, so we soon see the rest of the gang pop out of their “Secret Cave” (the sign on it features a backwards “s”) to see the one man duck into a marketplace and knock the proprietor out. The other man arrives and revives the proprietor, but the proprietor sends him off. The original man then hides in the back of the market. The kids run over and claim to have seen the man duck into the back room. The proprietor tries to bribe the kids to keep quiet with an apple.

These mysterious goings-on are soon explained. A title card reveals the one man as “Professor Fleece – fake spiritualistic medium – swindler – wanted by the police.” We see him go into the backroom to “The operating room – where spirits are faked to fool the “suckers” There are lots of people involved in the “operation” which consists of phony séances put on for women customers (aka scam victims) waiting to hear from their dead husbands. The head spiritualist proceeds to put on an eerie levitation show (even spookier than the one seen in “You’ll Find Out”) – we know it’s eerie because we see the women’s legs teeter-and-tottering! Unlike those widows, we also see members of the fraud’s gang operating levers and buttons in the back room.

Meanwhile, the kids are outside making a racket. The spiritualist goes to chase them away. “Aw, chase y’r own self – y’ big Turk!” Two elements jump out here. First is the ease with which politically incorrect insults and racial slurs are uttered (equating Turks with deceitful rogues) and second is the odd set-up of the racket’s proximity to the kids’ outdoor play area. Apparently the spiritualists’ base of operations is near an open air opening, yet somehow can remain pitch black. It doesn’t make much sense but the film keeps it going (one theory may be that the gang’s lair just has windows that they can hear the kids through although we never see such a window).

Cut to Mary with Scooter and Farina. She’s about to read from a book called “Ghost Stories.” We see a page from the book – “The ghastly ghost moaned and groaned as it glided between the marble tombstones. One long white arm, one white boney finger was extended…” etc. It is effectively scary. And then we get another dose of racial humor in this exchange:

FARINA: Why is ghosts allus white – ain’t they no colored ghosts?”

MARY: Colored people can’t be ghosts – how would you see them in the dark?

FARINIA: They could carry lanterns, couldn’t they?

I’ll get into this more at the conclusion of the review, but for now I’ll just note that many films from the 1920s through the ‘60s have been criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes that were commonly held during the times in which the movies were made, and in the case of this film the criticism is definitely accurate. The above exchange is probably the mildest in the film, taking place as it does between two children who you could argue are just speaking out of innocent naiveté.

So getting back to that open-air lair or hideout with a window – your guess is as good as mine – one of the kids hits a baseball and it hits a phony spiritualist in the head. When the beaned baddie takes chase, the kids scamper into their secret cave. The spiritualists aren’t the only ones with tricks up their sleeves – using a clever, Rube Goldberg-esque device the kids pull strings and the shrubbery closes up behind them, camouflaging the entrance to their hideout. Just when they think they are safe, the cave begins to cave in on the kids! Ever-resourceful (and having a stash of pickaxes in the cave – maybe that’s how they got in in the first place), the kids decide to dig through the wall to the other side.

Back at the séance, a woman asks “Will I be married before I turn 24?” A spiritualist answers “Two knocks will signify “Yes” – Three knocks will mean “No” – and this sets up a gag rather succinctly as of course, they all hear the kids banging away. When the banging increases it naturally causes a panic among the séance customers.

The kids manage to break through the wall but they are all afraid to go through it, so they try to convince Farina to go first. “If you get killed, we’ll know it ain’t safe,” they tell him. Farina wasn’t born yesterday, however. “You won’t know it as much as I will,” he protests.

Just then Joe Cobb Joe Cobb sneezes and his sneeze blows out the candle. Now they are in the cave in the pitch black dark. They start making noises and yelps and that really scares the séance crowd – when they hear the noises beneath them they flee.

Meanwhile, the kids end up in the charlatans’ lair. Annoyed that their antics scared their customers away, the crooks decide to give the kids a good scare… and then some!

Farina Joe Cobb

At first the scares are garden variety: For example, Farina runs at the sight of an Indian statue and then from a knight’s armor (whose arm falls off); while Joe keeps losing his pants and blaming it on Scooter, who he claims is so scared he keeps tugging at them (eventually he ties Scooter’s sleeves together).

Things soon escalate, both in terms of how scary the crooks get and the creative execution by the filmmakers of these bits. There are ingenious uses of subtitles within the film frames (as opposed to on title cards) when the criminals speak into a device that transmits their moans and groans through a loudspeaker. The words appear above the kids' heads, and the kids, not knowing where the "o-o-o-o"'s are coming from are mighty scared! Then when Farina hides under an end table the crooks in other room flip a switch that levitates the table up and down. It is a fantastic visual gag, punctuated by Farina’s exclamation, “How us angels do fly!”

It’s at this point that the film throws away all restraint regarding racial stereotypes. It all starts when one of the bad guys tells Farina that he’ll cut his ears off… and Farina turns white in fright.
This leads to the most disturbing element of the film, as the head charlatan dons what looks like a Klansman outfit that glows in the dark. On one level, the outfit is supposed to look like a scary ghost but unfortunately, it has the pointy-topped hood so common to Klan uniforms. This would be completely unsettling if not for the wild slapstick chase that ensues – both its silliness and the fact that Joe Cobb is also being chased by the pointy-hooded boogey man softens the blow a little, but just barely.

That’s not to say there aren’t positive elements to the scene – the mask the crook dons is scary (reminiscent of the face of the Man in the Moon in George Melies’ silent classic “A Trip to the Moon”), there is a great "flourescent" special effect that simulates the costume glowing, achieved by the use of a negative image wherein the "ghost" actually wears a black robe and the glowing effect comes from the shadows cast on the walls. Naturally frightened out of their wits by this phantasmogorial figure, Joe Cobb and Farina bump into each other a lot (for all intents and purposes it becomes the Joe Cobb and Farina show).

The scares continue at a frantic pace. The kids hide under a sheet on the bed as the bad guys keep pushing buttons and pulling levers to run their cheap funhouse style tricks. One such trick has a skeleton popping out of an armoire. There are also some goofy going’s on apart from the criminals, such as when the kids’ dog gets tangled up in a sheet and runs around wildly, the kids scampering away in fear.

While on the surface the gimmicks and gadgets the crooks employ are meant to be cheap, the visual results are quite effective, again due to some great effects of both the optical and mechanical variety. The atmosphere is so genuinely creepy at times that I believe people seeing this short in a theater for the first time were probably really scared, despite the fact that it’s a comedy.

The rousing finale anticipates Wheeler & Woolsey’s raucous finish to their own classic horror-comedy, 1935’s “The Nitwits,” as the kids get wise to what’s going on and drop vases from the balcony onto the heads of the criminals below. When the shopkeeper arrives with the police, the gang is rounded up and the kids are heroes.

Shivering Spooks is wildly inventive, the child performers are great, there are very effective special effects and a great mix of laughs and genuinely scary moments... but at the same time the fact that the charlatans wear pointed top white hoods like Klansman is really unsettling. There's a lot of racial humor in the old comedy films and usually the professionalism of the African-American performers helps these films rise above the tasteless gags, but when characters actually evoke the KKK it takes it to a whole other level that's tough to defend. So...

I give this film three stars for the kids, the atmosphere, the laughs and the scares, but zero stars for its racist content. The problem really is the pointy, triangular hoods – if the bad guys had just put sheets over their heads (as in some other Our Gang shorts), then the negative connotation disappears, but as it stands, the hoods are just a jarring image.

BEST DIALOGUE EXCHANGES: The best exchange is probably the aforementioned bit where Farina protests climbing through the wall.

Another good line is when one of the women at the séance asks, “Is my husband a good man? If so, since when?”

BEST GAGS: Without question, the bit with Farina and the levitating table is definitely the most riotous. Sight gags abound in this film, and the aforementioned antics of the kids being scared by the charlatans’ various tricks as well the sheet-wearing dog are all sure-fire laugh-getters.

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: One of the kids in the gang, Johnny Downs went on to have quite a bit of success elsewhere. Among his film roles, he was Little Boy Blue in Laurel & Hardy’s “Babes in Toyland” (aka “March of the Wooden Soldiers”), made a couple of funny shorts for Columbia as a young man, appeared in the horror film “The Mad Monster,” as well as in Martin & Lewis’ “The Caddy.” He also appeared on television as a kid show host, on a show that showed Popeye cartoons and Little Rascals(!) shorts.

Professor Fleece’s assistant was played by Ham Kinsey. Ham’s claim to fame? Doubling for Stan Laurel as his stunt stand-in in several Laurel & Hardy shorts and features.

Speaking of Laurel & Hardy, the detective in “Shivering Spooks” is none other than one of Stan & Ollie’s perennial menaces, Tiny Sandford. In addition to appearing in numerous Laurel & Hardy films (including the horror comedy, “The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case”), Sandford appeared several times with Charlie Chaplin (most notably in “The Gold Rush” and “Modern Times”) as well as in the Wheeler & Woolsey horror-comedy, “Mummy’s Boys.”

BUY THE FILM: This short has been released several times on various collections. The Lucky Corner, a site dedicated to Our Gang films has a listing of the various releases that include “Shivering Spooks” that you can check out by clicking here.

FURTHER READING: Without question, the only book anyone will ever need on the team is “Our Gang: the Life & Times of The Little Rascals” by Leonard Maltin. Buy the book here:

WATCH THE FILM: You can watch a portion of this public domain film here (this excerpt focuses on the scary climax):

shivering spooks - kewego
shivering spooks
Mots-clés : little rascals spooks

Friday, March 26, 2010



Greetings fans. I come bearing good news... that we're just days away from a new review. Expect to see my review of the silent horror-comedy "Shivering Spooks" with Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals) soon.

In the meantime, enjoy the antics of the Gang's studio-mates (both teams spent the majority of their careers at the Hal Roach Studios) Laurel & Hardy:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Hold That Ghost scene

(The subject heading of this post should be sung to the tune of "Whistle While You Work")...

Okay, while you wait for me to clear my schedule so I can post new reviews, I feel obligated to entertain you. So...

Here's a review of the trailer for Abbott & Costello's "Hold That Ghost" that was originally posted on the great "Trailers from Hell" website.

Providing commentary on the trailer is none other than the talented director of both straight-out horror films as well as horror-comedies, the ever-imaginative Joe Dante of "The Howling," "Gremlins" (and "Gremlins 2: the Next Batch") and "Matinee" fame. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Thomas Edison Frankenstein

I know, it's hard to believe, but yes, I've actually put up two posts on the same day. But with good reason - I literally just learned that today marks the 100th anniversary of the release of the first ever "Frankenstein" movie from Thomas Edison Studios!

That of course thrills us here at "Scared Silly," as the Frankenstein monster stars in the ultimate horror-comedy, "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein."

To mark this momentous occasion, I hereby invite you to re-read (or read for the first time as the case may be) my review of "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" by clicking here.

Bud Abbott Lou Costello Frankenstein Glenn Strange

You can also read Cinematical's article on the anniversary of the first "Frankenstein" film by clicking here.

Above all I invite you to check out Scared Silly friend Pierre Fournier's Frankensteinia blog. Pierre is posting numerous entries to celebrate this milestone and you can read his informative and entertaining posts by clicking here.

Last but not least, here's the trailer to "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" but this time I'm sharing the "Trailers from Hell" version with a commentary track from movie director John Landis (no stranger to horror-comedy himself with "An American Werewolf in London" and "Innocent Blood")... enjoy!


Fangburger Family

...aka "Stay Tuned"...

Sunday, March 14, 2010


A week ago today the 2009 Academy Awards took place. A long-running tradition of the ceremony is to include a montage of those prominent motion picture artists who passed away during the year.

This segment is always a bone of contention for Oscar viewers that also happen to be classic movie aficionados. Inevitably, noteworthy omissions are made. Many pop culture blogs then buzz about it in the days to come. It's become an annual discussion at Mark Evanier's excellent site in fact (although I suspect the brevity of his recent posts on the subject signal he's fairly talked-out on the subject).

Here at Scared Silly, we would like to make note of horror-comedy contributors that didn't make the cut.

Jane Randolph

First and foremost is the lovely Jane Randolph of "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein." While her career was short, the amiable actress made an indelible mark in films ranging from entries in the "Falcon" mystery series, literally being "In Fast Company" rubbing shoulders with the Bowery Boys, and appearing in two of the great Val Lewton-produced psychological horror-fantasies, "Cat People" and its sequel "Curse of the Cat People." She also served as an uncredited ice skating model that the animators based their drawings on for the Disney classic "Bambi." You can read more about this wonderful actress by clicking here.

Paul Naschy

Spanish actor-screenwriter-director Paul Naschy (Naschy being his Hollywood name - in his native Spain he was known by his birth name, Jacinto Molina) spent his career playing just about every famous film monster imaginable... from Dracula to hunchbacks to mummies, and of course, werewolves. His most famous character in fact was a werewolf named Waldemar Daninsky. A lot of Naschy's films had humor (some of it unintentional) and perhaps the most famous is "Assignment Terror," a monster mash-up with Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, a werewolf and a mummy. But Naschy also dabbled in horror-comedies, playing Fu Manchu in the 1990 comedy short "The Daughter of Fu Manchu" and a werewolf in "Good Night Mr. Monster," a musical horror-comedy aimed at children. Read more about Paul Naschy by clicking here.

Ray Dennis Steckler

Another director-screenwriter-actor who achieved cult status was Ray Dennis Steckler. From low-budget horrors to more exploitive fare, Steckler's unbridled enthusiasm powered his projects even when funds were virtually non-existent. His more popular titles include the psychotronic horror-rock romp "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living & Became Mixed-Up Zombies" and the amusingly goofy Batman & Robin spoof "Rat Pfink a Boo Boo." 1965's trio of short Bowery Boys spoofs were spliced together into a feature called "The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters" complete with high doses of horror-comedy as the "Kids" met a mummy, an alien and a vampire lady. Read about Ray Dennis Steckler when you click here.

Sammy Petrillo

Last but not least, how could we ever forget Jerry Lewis-impersonator Sammy Petrillo? The epic (at least to me) horror-comedy "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla" has cemented Petrillo's memory in my mind for featuring one of the most audacious performances I've ever seen. Sammy didn't do much movie-wise after this - a bit part as a photographer in the low-rent (and low-taste) "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" and a couple roles as comic relief in some salacious sex farces were it after his fateful encounter with Bela. But Sammy had a lot of neat showbiz stories (he also worked in TV and on stage) and apparently was a heck of a nice guy. I met him once so I know that's true - read about my encounter with Sammy by clicking here.

...and revisit Sammy's antics by watching this:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Moe Howard

What's scarier than the scariest horror movie? A schedule out of control!

Yep, I'm still dodging deadlines, so the next batch of reviews remains delayed. But "the show must go on" I always say, so I'm here to entertain you just the same, if ever briefly.

So what's funnier than the funniest horror-comedy? Not this pair of horror-westerns, that's for sure. They're just unintentionally funny:

Sunday, March 7, 2010



RATING: *** & 1/2 out of **** (for the "Black Cat" sequence, not the entire film)

NOTE: The following review has appeared previously as part of a larger essay on the films of Vincent Price and Peter Lorre which I wrote for the book MIDNIGHT MARQUEE ACTORS SERIES: VINCENT PRICE. The book is filled with entertaining and informative essays by several writers on Vincent Price’s career. It is highly recommended and you can order it by clicking here.

Please also note that while the following has been slightly revised for the purposes of this Scared Silly project, it doesn't follow the format of the previous Scared Silly reviews I have posted.

Over an impressively lengthy career, Vincent Price’s name became synonymous with horror cinema. But that was just one facet of his career. Many people have fond memories of the latter 25 years of Price’s output —where a tongue-in-cheek Price could be seen on TV shows such as “Batman,” “Get Smart”, “The Brady Bunch” and “The Muppet Show” while also cavorting on the big screen in over-the-top and somewhat campy roles such as the title character in “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”, its sequel, “Dr. Phibes Rises Again”, and scorned Shakespearean ham Ed¬ward Lionheart in the scrumptious “Theater of Blood.”

This was a period where Vincent’s horror image was constantly lampooned—often with the actor’s blessing and participation. In fact, the “king of horror rock,” Alice Cooper—who had lapsed into self-parody as well—used Price to great effect as a morbid-but-merry master of ceremonies to his “Welcome To My Nightmare” TV special in 1975 and accompanying soundtrack album. And speaking of kings, let us not forget Vincent’s “rap” in the “king of pop,” Michael Jackson’s song, “Thriller” (while performed by Price with earnest intent, how could it ever be taken seriously given its context in a song and video that are, regardless of what Mr. Jackson’s intentions may have been, inevitably light and fluffy, with any potentially terrifying moments buried under the weight of all the pomp and spectacle as well as by what many consider Michael’s odd persona). These are the types of performances which have endeared Vincent in the hearts of young and old alike as a friendly “uncle” type who has never really meant any harm and whose “threats” are not only idle, but in good fun as well.

What the general public may not be aware of, however, are Mr. Price’s previous comedy outings. Even before being teamed with Lorre, Price took aim at moviegoers’ funny bones with several notable performances. His very first film, in fact, was the romantic screwball comedy, “Service De Luxe,” wherein he has the lead role of an inventor who has vowed not to let a woman control his life, and spends the rest of the picture fending off several chanteuses while trying to get his inventions off the ground. Chief among his other pre-1960s comedic gems are “Champagne for Caesar” “Curtain Call at Cactus Creek” and “His Kind of Woman.” In “Champagne for Caesar”, Price is a scream as a the president of a soap company sponsoring a quiz show where a contestant’s winnings are creeping dangerously close to the value of the soap company itself! “Curtain Call at Cactus Creek” finds Vincent in a role he would find himself playing many times in the years to come: a ham actor! This time, it’s in the Old West as Vincent heads up a travel¬ing theatrical troupe performing the melodramatic saga, “Ruined By Drink” in all its deliriously drippy glory!

Price immediately followed this portrayal with yet another “ham” role in “His Kind of Woman”. While not a comedy in and of itself, this film contains moments of high comedy from Vincent. A noirish crime drama vehicle for Robert Mitchum—the film also flirts with romance (as Mitchum flirts with Price’s mistress, Jane Russell) and satire, as Vincent not only portrays an overzealous actor, but also gets to parody the type of swashbuckling roles he himself had played early on, as the actor attempts to become a “real” as opposed to “reel” hero! A film that is nearly un-categorical, much of its appeal lies in Price’s tour de force comedic performance, which is in sharp contrast to the film’s other elements. Another performance from this period that bears mentioning is Vincent’s comedic voice-over as The Invisible Man in the closing scene of the classic horror-comedy, “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.” Of particular note is that his one line of dialogue resonates much more today after his many successive horror offerings than it ever could have when originally released.

As for Peter Lorre, he had a spate of turns as a supporting actor, playing quirky characters who, often more odd than comedic, occasionally served as comic relief just the same. In fact, his career was a bit more scattershot than Price’s when it comes to chronology. Where Price would often get typecast in a string of similar roles after a successful picture, Lorre, with the exception of stints teamed with Sydney Greenstreet in crime thrillers (including, of course, such classics as “The Maltese Falcon” and “Casablanca” as well as the title detective in the Mr. Moto series, would jump genres more often. From his breakout role as the despicable child killer in Fritz Lang’s classic “M,” to Raskolnikov in the filmed adaptation of the literary masterpiece “Crime and Punishment,” to a variety of parts in war movies, dramas and period pieces, Lorre had the opportunity to exercise his versatility in the first couple decades of his career. He even directed a film, “The Lost One.”

Ironically enough, three of his 1940s efforts foreshadowed his later horror spoofs with Price, namely “You’ll Find Out,” “The Boogie Man Will Get You” and “Arsenic and Old Lace.” He co-starred with Boris Karloff in the first two and with Raymond Massey (who was playing a character said to resemble Karloff) in the third. In his final years, the comic aspects of his characters really came into fruition, first in adventures such as “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” “Around the World in 80 Days “(1956) and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” (1961), then in his films with Price, and finally in his last two films, “Muscle Beach Party” (1964) and Jerry Lewis’ “The Patsy” (1964), wherein he played a director of comedy films!

When American International Pictures and director Roger Corman launched their series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations with Price in “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1960), they hit paydirt. The film was an enormous critical hit and performed well at the box office, insuring that movie audiences hadn’t seen the last of these newfangled, usually far-from-faithful interpretations of stories from the mind of Baltimore’s brooding bard. Following “Pit and the Pendulum” (1961), Corman enlisted Price to appear in not one but three Poe stories. Dubbing the anthology “Tales of Terror,” it began and ended on suitably creepy notes for a horror film: Price is eerily effective both as a beleaguered widower haunted by his un-dead wife in the opening tale, “Morella,” and in the closer, “The Case of M. Valdemar,” as a terminally ill man who is put into a trance by a doctor who just can’t wait for him to die so he can get his surgical mitts around Price’s wife!

It is the middle segment, however, that makes this no ordinary sandwich. “The Black Cat” will always be remembered as the beginning of a wonderful teaming: Vincent Price and Peter Lorre — together! Sure, they were previously both in “The Story of Mankind” (1957), but in separate stories. Here now was a story they could share, and sink their teeth into with all the comic flair they could muster. It was a task they relished! And while it is the shortest of the projects they appeared in together, it is perhaps the richest in terms of their humorous performances.

The segment, actually inspired by Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado” as well as (or maybe more than) “The Black Cat,” opens on the sight of a drunken Lorre staggering down the street. Right off the bat, we know we’re in for comic delights as Lorre punctuates his inebriated state not only with body language, but facial tics and muttering asides as well. His quips are especially curt — delivered in a slur, but not incoherent, and quite clever and acerbic: “Why don’t you watch where I’m going?!” he intones, as he stumbles into someone. The ever-expressive Lorre eyes are also in service, ever opening, closing, bulging. There has been much conjecture over the years as to how much of this performance—as well as Lorre’s work in “The Raven,” “The Comedy of Terrors,” and his other films from this period featured Lorre actually acting or being genuinely inebriated!

Following Lorre as he floats along the street is the title character, a black cat. The trail leads back to his flat, where his ever-patient wife is waiting. Inside the apartment, Lorre’s lovable drunk shows a nastier side, as the unemployed slacker demands money from his wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson) so he can go back out and drink some more. She claims they have no money to spare, but he’s convinced she’s got it stashed away.

“What about your sewing money?” Lorre asks.

“We need it for food,” she replies.

“Food? That’s exactly what I need it for - I drink my food!”

Exchanges such as this illustrate Lorre’s ability to be extremely funny while simultaneously having more than a hint of pathos about him. To be sure, this was a time in Lorre’s personal life when things were not going well — including substance, alcohol and diet abuse, so both his physical health and mental demeanor were affected. Don’t get me wrong—Lorre’s dialogue, whether scripted or ad-libbed, is delivered hysterically. However, you just can’t help but feel that he’s a pathetic character. It is this element that made Lorre so perfect for the type of lovable yet troubled sods that populated Richard Matheson’s comedic screenplays. In a way, these characters are a more lighthearted mirror image of the ones Vincent Price played in Matheson’s “serious” Poe films (which were the embodiment of the noble, perhaps romantic yet ultimately tortured soul with a skeleton or two in his closet and a dark spot in his heart). These conflicting emotions are also at the heart of Poe himself, so the spirit of Poe is there, if not always the content.

Of course, sewing money in hand, Lorre proceeds to drink it all away, culminating in getting (bodily) thrown out of a local watering hole. A parade of passers-by are accosted by Lorre, He doesn’t even hide his intentions: “Could you spare a coin for a moral cripple?” is a typical inquiry. “Get away from me, you drunken fool!” is the typical response. Each rejection is punctuated by a juicy raspberry from the portly souse!

This scene also contains a classic gem of a line that is both riotous and poignant, as Lorre angrily exclaims, “If I had a pistol...,” then, quietly “...I’d probably sell it and buy more wine.”

Tales of Terror Black Cat sequence

Fate plays a major role in any Poe story, even one that is as loosely “based” upon the source material as this one is. In this case, fate comes in the form of a “Wine Merchant’s Convention” which Lorre stumbles across. A demonstration in “expert wine tasting” by Price is about to commence. Lorre is aghast at the notion that anyone could have a more intimate knowledge of the spirits of the grape than him, and challenges Vincent to a wine tasting duel!

Once again, the high comic genius of Lorre resonates: “Afraid to try me, coward?,” challenges Lorre. Then, almost as a delicious afterthought, his face contorts with an air of privileged femininity, and he slowly pronounces, “...poseur!,” with all the pompousness of a French art critic!

Vincent is taken aback and brilliantly conveys his character’s astonishment in a role that is classic Price. He once again lampoons the “aristocratic” sort he’d often played in dramas, with such an air of hoity-toity exaggeration, that it is clear that this material is being played as Particularly amusing are Price’s grandiose mouth “exercises” as he prepares to taste the wine. The actual tasting of the wine is just as flamboyant. Price and Lorre, in fact, use a comedic style that had more or less fallen out of favor with adult moviegoers of the time. The broad nature of their characters was always more prevalent in the theater and on radio, anyway, but if you examine them closely, you’ll find that they are precursors to the frantic sketch comedy characters that arose in such ground-breaking 1970s TV programs as “Saturday Night Live,” “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “Second City Television.”

To everyone’s surprise, Lorre actually manages to match Price vintage for vintage in identifying the wines — even as he’s way past the point of intoxication! His heights of delirium invoke memories of such classic Laurel and Hardy films as “Blotto” (1930), “Fra Diavolo” (“The Devil’s Brother”) (1933), “Them Thar Hills" (1934) and “The Bohemian Girl” (1936). The main difference, however, is that Stan and Ollie almost never intended to get plastered!

Three sheets to the wind, Lorre is in no shape to walk home, so Price graciously accompanies his opponent, who at this point is so far gone he’s referring to his new-found acquaintance as an old and dear friend! Once at Lorre’s place, there is an immediate attraction between Vincent and Lorre’s wife. This attraction is heightened as Vincent also gets on famously with the cat, admitting, “I have several of my own at home.”

In a matter of moments, Lorre inevitably passes out, and as Vinnie and wifey struggle to carry him to bed, a bond forms between them. A bond which (the audience left to fill in the blanks) goes beyond polite conversation. Joyce Jameson as Lorre’s wife proves to be a real pro in Vincent and Peter’s company, exuding innocence on the outside but burning need within — and played for laughs just the same. Lorre himself fills in the blanks on his wife’s affair when, returning early from another night of revelry, he spots Price leaving the premises. Waiting until after Vincent has gone, he walks in and confronts his wife, who admits the affair and announces her intentions to become Vincent’s wife. Lorre has something else in mind, however...

Once again, Price and Lorre share the screen and fill it with rich, comic delights as Vincent answers Peter’s “dinner invitation.” They immediately begin imbibing the bubbly, with Price particularly giddy over the offerings. Another scene filled with hysterical Lorre asides, such as when he proposes a toast to Vincent’s “long life,” then immediately follows it under his breath with, “right now I have a better chance than you have!” As funny as it sounds, he’s not kidding: After gulping enough “whammy juice” to down a pony, Price falls to the floor. It is a moment of pure slapstick, as Vincent’s eyes roll and his face collapses in on itself. The choice of the screenwriter and the actors to play this with such lunacy only enforces the fine line between drama and comedy. Dialogue and body language require precision, and only the most skillful writers with the best actors at their disposal can accurately distinguish between the two. This doesn’t always happen, of course, which explains why so many so-called dramas are often unintentionally funny.

As he proceeds to seal Price and Jameson behind the wall, brick by brick, Lorre’s deadpan barbs continue. He answers Price’s incredulous pleas with yet another classic line: “Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction!” Equally funny is the follow-up sequence where Lorre imagines Price and Jameson ripping his head off and tossing it like a football, as he screams, “Keep that cat away from my head!” Of course, this is a still a horror story, albeit a comedic horror story, so while the comedy is very black the tale still ends on a jarring note as the Black Cat exposes Lorre’s crime to the authorities.

As it turns out, the Black Cat sequence proved to be the most popular of the three “Tales of Terror." With that knowledge in hand, Corman and Matheson dove head-first into comedy for the next Poe film, “The Raven,” and created a four-star horror-comedy classic in the process.


Thursday, March 4, 2010


Lon Chaney Johnny Arthur Roland West

Back in this post, I discussed "terror templates" - those novels, plays and films that served to establish the tropes and trappings of the "old dark house" genre. I thought I had covered them all, but I stumbled across this one tonight and thought I would share.

Apparently actor-playwright Crane Wilbur, who penned an update of Mary Robert Rinehart's play "The Bat" to star in (and had a part in the Vincent Price film 35 years later) was inspired to write his own horror-comedy play called "The Monster." Within a year it was turned into a film with Lon Chaney and Johnny Arthur. Not too shabby.

As for me, and the reviews you expect to see here, I have been preparing several reviews but as previously noted, my current schedule is such that I haven't had time proper to fully prepare and edit them. Just know that some real goodies lie ahead including "Shivering Spooks," a silent effort from Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals); "Spooks," a 3-D scare comedy from the 3 Stooges; "The Ghost & Mr. Chicken," which I consider the last full-fledged "traditional" horror-comedy; and "Arsenic & Old Lace," Frank Capra's classic screwball horror-comedy featuring Cary Grant and Peter Lorre.

Until then, here's a clip from "The Monster" for your enjoyment: