Sunday, October 31, 2010


AUTHOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the one year anniversary of “Scared Silly!” One year ago today I launched this site with the inaugural review of the four star horror-comedy classic, “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.” I want to thank all of the fans who have stuck with me through the past twelve months, through both prolific periods and those with delays. I truly appreciate your loyalty and patience as we explore this wonderful sub-genre of movies together! Let’s kick off the next twelve months with a review of yet another four-star horror comedy delight – Happy Haunting!

Don Knotts Ghost Mr. Chicken

RATING: **** out of ****

PLOT: As typesetter Luther “Scoop” Heggs (Don Knotts) heads toward the spooky old Simmons mansion in the middle of a thunderstorm, he drives past a stumbling drunk right before the souse is clonked on the head by an unseen person with a two-by-four. A neighborhood woman witnessing the scene cries “murder” which gets Luther’s attention so he stops to investigate. Luther rushes to the police station to report the incident. With his rival Ollie (Skip Homeier as the newspaper’s ace reporter) and boss George Bennett (Dick Sargent as the paper’s editor) on the scene, Luther is mortified when the drunk man suddenly appears alive and well. Back in the boarding house where Luther lives with his rival and some elderly folks, talk turns to a legend of the old house being haunted in the wake of some gruesome murders that once took place there. When Luther is given a chance to write a little throw-away mention about the upcoming 20th anniversary of the murders, Mr. Kelsey, the newspaper’s janitor who was a gardener at the house at the time of the murders encourages Luther to elaborate. Spinning the tale of what happened that fateful night, Luther delivers an atmospheric piece that is a little more than a throw-away and elicits great interest from the readers. The editor and Ollie think it would be a great publicity stunt to have one of the reporters spend the night in the house on the eve commemorating the murders. Naturally (with Kelsey’s subliminal suggestion) they turn to Luther to guarantee they’ll have a sensationalized piece fueled by his overactive imagination! They get a whopper of a tale with an unexpected side effect: Luther is declared the town hero for braving the mansion (especially by the old folks who make up the Psychic Occult Society)! But the paper is also cited in a lawsuit by the heir, nephew Nick Simmons claiming that the family name has been besmirched. Can Luther prove he saw what he said he saw or is he destined to go from zero to hero and back again?

REVIEW: Of the few films of the 1960s to carry on the horror-comedy tradition, none was more traditional than this Don Knotts opus. This is perhaps due to the fact that Knotts himself was such a throwback to classic comedians like Bob Hope and Joe E. Brown. Knotts was a master at portraying the cowardly character who feigned bravado to impress the ladies. “Mr. Chicken” was also peppered with supporting players that were (or would become) familiar to TV audiences of the Sixties – the same way the cache of character actors who populated classic B-movies of the 1940s and ‘50s became household faces, if not names. Last but not least it really got across the small town feel and/or sense of community that often permeated the classic “old dark house” motif.

Despite these old-fashioned touches, there were some modern conceits. Start with the music playing behind the opening credits – the jazzy score by Vic Mizzy is almost James Bond-esque in spots. The initial action takes place over the opening credits, a device employed in some movies prior to the 1960s that became more prevalent from the ‘60s forward. The “scare” scenes include a “bleeding portrait” – complete with gardening sheers piercing the neck of the woman in the painting! This gorier-than-usual image for a horror-comedy actually leaks blood-red! Come to think of it, the full technicolor process used is also more of a modern touch, as the majority of horror-comedies prior were filmed in black and white. Unlike the remake of “The Old Dark House” the color really works here – the set designers went out of their way to make it all look effectively spooky and creepy.

So here we have this film, with its low-budget, its TV sitcom lineage in full view (shot on the Universal studio lot and bearing more than a passing resemblance to many of the Universal TV shows then on the air) and working actors with nary (apart from Knotts) a marquee name in the bunch… and me bestowing a full four out of four star rating! How can that be? Is it really as good as “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” and “Arsenic & Old Lace?” I’ll say this: its direction and production values may not be up to the level of those two classics, but like Laurel & Hardy’s short “The Live Ghost” (which I also gave four stars) and the Vincent Price-Peter Lorre-Boris Karloff laugher “The Raven” any shortcomings are obliterated by the solid performances and genuinely effective and sometimes downright creepy atmosphere. In addition to Knotts bringing his A-game, “Mr. Chicken” also succeeds in spades due to its script. It is one of the best-scripted horror-comedies since 1948’s “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.” Most if not all of the pieces fit, and the comedy comes out of the characterizations – the reactions of each personality to the situations they find themselves in. While the script isn’t quite as polished as some of the other four star Scared Silly delights it is quite underrated and much better than any of its detractors would have you believe.

The key phrase here actually is “believe.” There’s an authenticity to this film amidst its eccentric characters. This is a story that one could actually imagine happening, at least for the most part. Ask your parents about small-time life and the various characters who wove in and out of it and you get an idea of a time when community was a bigger part of people’s lives – warts and all. After all, people weren’t as distracted by things like 500 channel TV services, cell phones and the Internet. They actually not only interacted directly with one another – they also spent time together, too! There were also more people back then prone to jump to (and stick to) fantastical explanations of things than the generally skeptical generation today – something else that can be attributed to the Internet which puts the art of “debunking” at everyone’s mouse-clicking fingertips. You may not believe what’s happening on the screen, but you believe that the characters on the screen believe what’s happening.

Don Knotts Joan Staley

A major reason for this film’s setting fitting like a comfortable old shoe is the uncredited involvement of Andy Griffith. Whether asked to help or just jumping in in support of Don, Andy’s fingerprints (as well as those of his TV show’s writers) are pretty evident. The town of Rachel, Kansas is only a few steps up the evolutionary ladder from Mayberry. Maybe a few less back roads and tumbleweeds but still the same old “small town loaded with eccentrics” sensibility. A running gag in the film is also attributed to Griffith: a voice in the crowd (whose owner is never revealed but seems to be at every major public event that takes place in the movie) prone to exclaiming “Attaboy, Luther!” The line brings a smile every time, especially when it comes unexpectedly such as when the bailiff retrieves a bible for the judge and explains that “Arnold had it.” This revelation is followed by “Attaboy, Arnold!”

One seemingly small but quite nice touch is the way the movie carries on the Abbott & Costello tradition of “funny” character names that relate in some way to the whole. Don Knotts is Luther Heggs. Heggs of course reminds one of “eggs,” which are laid by chickens… and Don is the chief chicken here… the title “Chicken” and the film’s #1 scaredy cat. Knotts is the king of nerves and hyper from the get-go, but in a wonderfully funny and endearing way. It also establishes that he is the nebbishy character that will inevitably be the butt of others’ jokes. Luther’s rival Ollie ruthlessly ribs him, calling him “Scoop” and referring to his press card as a price tag amongst other cruelties. In the court scene the prosecution uses Luther’s bookworm-ish tendencies to paint a negative portrait. When it seems Luther has been proved a fraud, even his backers – the old ladies from the Psychic Occult Society – turn on him, including one who beans him with her handbag! In perhaps the most poignant scene, Ollie displaces Luther at lunch with Alma, leaving Luther to sip his soup standing up. The viewing audience’s sympathies are with Luther the whole time, even when the characters on screen have abandoned him.

There are four main set-pieces in this film: Luther’s first misadventure within the “haunted house,” his triumphant speech at the public celebration of Luther having spent the night in the house, the courtroom scene where the Simmons heir tries (and succeeds) to discredit Luther, and Luthor’s return to the mansion to restore his good name.

In the haunted house scenes, the horror-comedy trappings are as numerous as those found in the best of the genre: a thunderstorm and whistling winds, a screeching cat, a revolving bookcase that reveals a hidden passageway, a Victrola that starts playing records on its own, cobwebs, things that go “bump” in the night, etc. There are not a lot of original touches here (this film even has the same kind of trap door that dumps people onto beds of coal seen in the aforementioned remake of “The Old Dark House”) but while these “scare” elements are overly familiar and even time-worn, they are all performed with gusto and great care here. A couple of the devices used are even intricately woven into the story: in addition to the painting that bleeds red this film features an organ that plays on its own (or does it)? These last two bits feature prominently into the plotline and one particular character’s connection to the proceedings.

A benefit of this film’s script are those scenes that surround the scare sequences. The scene in the park where Luther is celebrated as a hero probably goes the longest way toward cementing audience sympathy for the character. The town desperately wants to believe in him, even after the notes to his speech blow away and he bumbles his way through it. Luther ends up giving a great circular speech that goes absolutely nowhere despite his best efforts to be totally serious and in command. The scene also serves as a short-hand to further develop some of the characters already introduced as well as introduce new ones like Deputy Herkie.

The courtroom scene is reminiscent of the comedies the MGM studio made in the 1940s. In those films, such legendary talents as Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy were put through their paces and brought to lower-than-low spots that they had to rally from and overcome. The formula didn’t work as well as for those classic characters as it forced them into situations where they lost their natural resourcefulness. But the Luther Heggs character is established early on as not having a lot of resourcefulness or even nerve so when the outside forces conspire against him its understandable how quickly he falls from the townsfolks’ favor.

Don Knotts Dick Sargent

The scene is one of the best-written in the movie and gives some real veterans a chance to shine. The prosecution brings out Luther’s grade school teacher. She starts by saying lots of good things, but then the lawyer asks her to elaborate on how Luther was a “keyed up” kid. She notes his many eccentricities – like eating bread from the middle to avoid the crust, losing his shoes as he ran, and most of all making up stories – including finding a skeleton (Luther protests that it was a squirrel skeleton, not human), telling a girl he liked that his cavity filling was a short wave radio that could pick up messages from Admiral Bird (Luther says he only wanted the girl to like him) and writing an essay about his father claiming the he was really the Prince of Wales but there was a mix-up at the hospital. Then a CPA is called to the stand. He claims to have heard organ music accompanied by screams coming from the mansion on separate occasions at midnight. He is soon rebuffed when the lawyer mentions that the CPA is president of a UFO society (when asked where their last meeting was held, the CPA says “on Mars”). Last but not least Luther himself is called to the stand. The prosecution plays up Luther’s love of newspapers – Luther says that if you were to cut him, he’d bleed ink and that “when you work with words, words are your work.” This feeds right into the lawyer’s hands, who accuses Luther of exaggerating so he can go from typesetter to reporter. Luther excitedly protests, standing up and recounting everything he saw, with the members of the ladies occult group answering him as if he was a Pentecostal preacher, until their leader faints at the mention of the bleeding portrait!

As mentioned above, the town is loaded with many interesting characters bordering on the eccentric… and played by several notable character actors and comedic talents. Dick Sargent was known primarily as one of the two actors who portrayed Darrin Stevens, husband to witch Samantha on TV’s long-running sitcom “Bewitched.” He played many other roles in films and on TV, usually alternating between put-upon domestics like Darrin and more take-charge authority figures like the newspaper editor he plays here. His resume includes a couple of horror flicks that are unintentionally funny – “The Beast with a Million Eyes” and “The Clonus Horror.” Joan Staley as love interest Alma also had an extensive career including recurring roles on TV’s “Perry Mason” and “77 Sunset Strip,” guest spots on “The Munsters” and “Batman” and appearances in the Elvis films “Kissin’ Cousins” and “Roustabout” and the suspense classic “Cape Fear.” Luther’s rival Ollie was played by Skip Homeier who had already racked up several credits playing crumbs, starting out paying troubled teens and growing up (and into) gangster and desperado roles. Another journeyman actor, most of his roles were movie or TV one-shots (although he did have a recurring role on TV’s “The Interns”) and included parts in several episodes of such fantasy fare as “Walt Disney’s Wondcrful World of Color” (including one called “The Strange Monster of Strawberry Cove”), “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Star Trek,” “The Bionic Woman” and “The Incredible Hulk.” James Millhollin as the lawyer Milo Maxwell was a throwback to the likes of Franklin Pangborn and Everett Edward Horton playing hotel clerks, waiters, authority figures and the like with a flowery yet nervously fluttery presence. Pick a classic TV series and odds are he was on it – he was on “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” four times in fact as four different characters! – and among his notable genre show appearances were multiple shots on “The Twilight Zone” and a part on “Lost in Space.” James Begg plays Herkie the cop and is yet another veteran of countless movies and TV shows as both a character actor and a producer. He appeared on both “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched” as well as providing voices for several animated “Scooby Doo” projects. George Chandler is here as Judge Harley Nash. He had the title role in the TV series “Ichabod & Me,” was president of the Actor’s Guild from 1960 to 1963 and his career spanned the late 1920s through the late 1970s. His extensive credits include roles in W.C. Fields’ classic short “The Fatal Glass of Beer,” a pair of Mr. Moto movies and a couple of episodes of “The Abbott & Costello Show” as well as “Kolchak the Night Stalker” and many more. Phil Ober essaying the role of villainous Nick Simmons was a bit of typecasting. The former Broadway actor famous for his crooked authority figure roles also had an infamous personal life. He was prolific on the small screen with guest-shots on many series including “Boris Karloff’s Thriller” and “The Munsters.” The ubiquitous Charles Lane turns up here as lawyer Whitlow. Lane was the stern-faced authoritarian who always looked older than he was, until his actual age caught up with him (he managed to live to 100). Where do you even start with listing his innumerable credits? Suffice to say he appeared in everything from the Capra classic “It’s a Wonderful Lfe” to the less-than-classic “Charlie McCarthy, Detective” (removing a bullet from the title ventriloquist dummy’s body)! Before he became every TV producer’s favorite go-to guest star, he also appeared in the classic horror-comedies “The Cat & the Canary” with Bob Hope and “Arsenic & Old Lace” with Cary Grant as well as several appearances in films in the “Blondie” series, parts in fan-favorites including “Tarzan’s New York Adventure” and “Mighty Joe Young,” and roles in a couple of Abbott & Costello features (“Ride ‘em Cowboy” and “Pardon my Sarong” and the solo Costello film, “The 30 Foot Bride of Candy Rock”). Last but not least is Liam Redmond as Kelsey, the newspaper’s janitor. His role is pivotal and really the second most important part in the film after Knott’s Heggs. Redmond was more known for drama and appeared in many roles that played off his Irish heritage. Most notable was portraying one of the professors in the classic Jacques Tourneur horror film “Curse of the Demon” (aka “Night of the Demon”). He crossed several genres including westerns, costumers/period pieces, crime dramas and spy series including guest shots on “The Avengers” and “The Saint.”

Redmond does an exceptional job here as his character Kelsey literally and figuratively drives much of the action. It starts when Kelsey dictates to Luther the story behind the “murder house.” This inspires Mr. Bennett the editor tries to think of a way to capitalize on the anniversary of the Simmons murder to help sell more newspapers… and it’s Kelsey who “coughs” out the suggestion that someone stay in the mansion overnight – an idea Mr. Bennett takes credit for. When Mr. Bennett exclaims that it must be someone with a wild imagination – a coward – Kelsey shouts out to Luther who is in the next room, putting the idea of Luther into Bennett’s head. At the film’s climax it is apparent that that Kelsey’s involvement in the case and his interest in the resolution are of tantamount (and hand’s on) importance.

In the end, it is of course the masterful performance of Don Knotts that puts this one over in a big, big way. Knotts is unbelievably funny in this film. And actually he’s more than that, as he is in complete control delivering whatever each scene calls for. This ranges from multiple ways to show how scared he is (everything from chattering teeth and knocking knees to bugged-out eyes and flailing limbs in a desperate attempt at martial arts) to amazing restraint when he’s feigning bravery, to simply maintaining composure while trying to deliver a speech without his notes… even though we know he’s terrified inside! He also is adept at dramatics, bringing a genuine pathos to his character that ensures that audiences can’t help but root for him. It is a tour de force performance and a standout in a career that was loaded with high marks, and contributes in large part to making “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken” the classic horror-comedy it is.

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: As if the who’s who of character actors mentioned above wasn’t enough, there are additional performers in this film who shine large despite their miniscule parts.

Start with Ellen Corby as Luther’s former schoolteacher. She will forever be known as the grandmother on “The Waltons” but her roles are numerous. They include bit parts in two Laurel & Hardy classics (“Sons of the Desert” and “Babes in Toyland,” aka “March of the Wooden Soldiers”), playing a maid in Abbott & Costello’s “The Noose Hangs High” appearing in Jerry Lewis’ “Visit to a Small Planet” and two major horror-comedy roles: playing one of the Gravesend clan in “The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters” as well as Mother Lurch in the classic “Addams Family” TV series.

Eddie Quillan plays an elevator operator who can’t quite get the elevator to line up with each floor. It is a nice showcase for his comedic talents, which were on display for many years in movie musicals and shorts (including a Columbia short subject series as half of a comedy team with Wally Vernon). Quillan actually appeared in one of the very first horror-comedies, the 1926 silent Mack Sennett short “The Ghost of Folly” with bathing beauty Alice Day and future Columbia studio-mate Andy Clyde. He was also in the classic “The Grapes of Wrath” as well as Abbott & Costello’s “It Ain’t Hay” as a con-man. His career extended into the late 1980s with many TV roles, including playing several characters on the classic “Addams Family” TV series.

Burt Mustin plays Mr. Dellagando, one of the elderly residents of the boarding house. He is a familiar face to TV and movie viewers of the 1960s – whenever a story called for a man older (and less stern) than Charles Lane, Mustin got the part! Actually he more often than not played friendlier sorts than Lane. And like nearly everyone else in “Mr. Chicken,” his credits are innumerable. He appeared in an episode of “The Abbott & Costello Show,” played a farmer in the feature “Snow White & the 3 Stooges,” and made scores of other movie and TV show appearances but it is three TV characters that he will be remembered for most: Gus the fireman from “Leave it to Beaver,” Charles Augustus William Smith the septuagenarian bandit from “Dragnet” and Jethroe Collins – who sets Bobby Brady straight about his “hero,” Jesse James on “The Brady Bunch.”


LUTHER: Calm?!? Do murder and calm go together? Calm and murder?!?
MR. BENNETT: Do haunted houses scare you?

LUTHER (with false bravado): They’re mortar, stone and wood!

LUTHER: Mr. Boob – that’s me – B-double O-B – Boob!

LUTHER (explaining to Alma that he’s been studying karate for years): My whole body’s a weapon!

LUTHER (to Alma): Take your average guy and your above-average girl. Average is just darn lucky to be sitting on the porch with above-average!

LUTHER (as he leaves to spend the night in the haunted house): I’ll see you in the morning.

FELLOW BORDER: God willing!

OCCULT CLUB WOMAN #1: They say there are still bloodstains on the keyboard.

OCCULT CLUB WOMAN #2: That’s right – they’ve never been able to get them off!

OCCULT CLUB WOMAN #3: And they used Bon Ami!

BEST VISUAL GAGS: The above-mentioned haunted house scares all deliver laughs and Knotts in general is a comedic force of nature. Just Don Knotts running around, being scared out of his wits and pretending to know karate moves would be enough to recommend this film (but as a special bonus we’re given so much more)! One particular standout is when Luther is startled by a mannequin and knocks its head off,

FURTHER READING: This film has been written about extensively – you can find several reviews with just a quick online search. I’ll only highlight one of the reviews. “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken” was a highlight of many people’s childhoods, and no one does a better job of conveying that than reviewer Mark R. Hill on the Kiddie Matinee site. You can read Mark’s review as well as several facts and trivia details by clicking here.

There's also a book out on Don Knotts' theatrical films which I haven't read yet but I have to assume it speaks extensively about "Mr. Chicken" since its success along with that of "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" two years earlier were instrumental in solidifying Knotts' career as a simultaneous TV star (as Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show") and cinema star. Buy the book here:

BUY THE FILM: “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken” has been released on DVD by Universal in both stand-alone versions and as part of a Don Knotts collection.

WATCH THE FILM: As of this writing, “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken” is available as an instant view selection on Netflix… and you can watch the trailer right here:

Don Knotts Vic Mizzy

…and as a special bonus, here’s a tutorial on how to play the movie’s “haunted organ” melody!:

Friday, October 29, 2010


Archie Jughead Monster

Well, the Halloween weekend is finally upon us! A couple days ago I posted my recommendations for perfect Halloween viewing, but I realized I left some good choices out. So with this post I hope to rectify that.

I also thought it might be great to embed trailers or clips from some of the movies mentioned in Wednesday’s post for which I only provided hyperlinks. Just trying to make things easier for all of you!

Anyway, no Halloween is complete without Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price – I’ll watch just about any of their movies at any time – but here I’ll just point out a few you may want to check out:

BELA LUGOSI: Most folks are familiar with the tale of “poor Bela.” Hungarian matinee idol of stage and silent screen emigrates to America and lands iconic role of “Dracula.” Appears in a few bona-fide classics thereafter including “White Zombie,” “The Black Cat,” “Son of Frankenstein,” “Island of Lost Souls,” “The Wolf Man” and of course, “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein”… but appears in double (maybe triple) the amount of less-than-classic cheapies for “poverty row” outfits including Monogram, PRC and Ed Wood. Bela holds the record as the boogeyman that appeared in the most horror-comedies, so he’s “Scared Silly” royalty. Some of his films I really like are:

“The Devil Bat”: a PRC low-budget classic. So bad it’s good in spots… but actually pretty good in spots as well. Very entertaining, with some laughs as well (some intentional and some not). A scientist (Bela) specializing in perfumes sells out his share of the royalties in exchange for upfront payment and then gets ticked when everyone else in the company gets rich off their profits. He breeds giant bats (that look more like turkeys crossed with vultures) trained to kill when they smell a particular scent – which Bela somehow manages to dab on each of his victims! Arthur Q. Bryan – the original voice of Elmer Fudd has a role.

“The Corpse Vanishes”: this time Bela is set adrift in a Monogram cheapie. This one is totally loopy – Bela is a mad scientist that sleeps in matching coffins with his equally creepy wife (Elizabeth Russell). Oh, and the corpses that keep vanishing are the brides who keep kicking the bucket at their weddings. Bela is draining their fluids to keep his wife young. I think Ralph Kramden was considering doing the same for Alice (can you blame him)? Also features one of Hollywood’s most towering yet diminutive talents, dwarf actor Angelo Rossitto – a favorite Lugosi sidekick.

“Return of the Vampire”: this wartime programmer gets short shrift from a lot of folks but I consider it quite effective. Lugosi is Count Tesla, not Dracula – but only because the studio is Columbia, not Universal. Matt Willis plays a talking werewolf cursed by Tesla and under his control. The film offers some flips to the Dracula formula – a female Van Helsing-like character (Frieda Inescort) for one, and a (then) present-day setting of war-torn Europe, with bombs dropping amidst the gothic melodrama. Silent comedy film star Billy Bevan gets a comic relief turn as a gravedigger.

VINCENT PRICE. What can I say about Vincent? I already said quite a bit in this post as well as these reviews of his films with Peter Lorre. Vincent was one of a kind. His films remain as entertaining as ever whether Vinnie’s playing over the top, restrained or somewhere in-between. Here are a few fun Price flicks to check out:

“The Bat”: another film that is not highly regarded by most. I admit it is alternately creaky and too television-esque in spots and can see how it appeared “old hat” when it was originally released but there’s still something fun about it. It is derived from one of the great “terror templates” which I spoke about extensively here – the Mary Rheinhart Roberts play “The Bat,” with a little “Seven Keys to Baldpate” thrown in for good measure. Someone is masquerading as a bat and picking off folks staying at an old mansion… and the guests include Agnes “Endora” Moorehead and Darla “The Little Rascals” Hood! Sizzling tremelo electric guitar over the title credits, too!

“The Tingler”: William Castle’s classic. Dr. Vinnie sets out to prove that a lobster-like creature on everyone’s spine can strangle everyone to death whenever they’re scared… unless they scream which makes the creature break its hold. The seats in the theaters were rigged to vibrate at key moments. Other highlights: Vinnie drops acid to see how scared he can get (assumed to be one of the first movie “trips” ever), a mute woman is induced to horrifying hallucinations in which every faucet drips blood red (the only color in this otherwise black and white film), and the Tingler eats through the film and breaks loose into the audience at the silent movie screening (did it have to buy a ticket)?

“The Abominable Dr. Phibes”: Horribly disfigured from a car accident but believed to be dead, Vinnie as the title character seeks to avenge his wife’s death... she mortally injured in the same car crash. Nine doctors worked in vain but failed to save her life. Now Vinnie will visit the curses of the Pharoahs upon each for one ghoulish death after another. With a beautiful female assistant to boot (you think he’d be more interested in this living beauty at this point). Amazing color schemes, wry dark humor, art deco designs, fantastic music, profound acting from Price using primarily his eyes and a top supporting cast that includes Joseph Cotten and Terry-Thomas.

As promised, here are trailers and clips from some of the films I highlighted in the previous post:


Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Jerry Lewis Dracula Wolfman Frankenstein Monster

You know what’s an incredible movie? “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken” with Don Knotts. That’s what. It’s so incredible, has so many lovely details and nuances that it’s taking me a year and a day to write a review of it. Of course, the wealth of delights found in that film aren’t the only reasons for the delay.

As I’ve stated previously, “Scared Silly” is still a “hobby” project. I do not have a publisher yet. That means a.) I don’t have a deadline and b.) I’m not getting paid for my work-in-progress. Which means c.) projects that do have deadlines and/or for which I’m getting paid have to take preference. I’m not thrilled that I’ve been too bogged down to get another major review up in a timely fashion, but as always I thank the faithful for your patience.

And… I can’t promise this but maybe, just maybe I can get that “Mr. Chicken” review completed and up by Halloween. If I manage to complete it (key word “if”) it will be my trick-or-treat goodie for you.

In the meantime I thought I’d give you some recommendations for films you can rent (or buy if you choose) and watch this Halloween weekend. Most of these are available at Netflix or I’ve broken them down into categories:

MYSTERY SERIES ENTRIES: Classic Hollywood excelled at the “movie series” with recurring characters that had one adventure after another in multiple entries – detectives like Sherlock Holmes, heroes like Tarzan, comic figures like Blondie – you get the picture. Three of my favorites make a swell Halloween triple feature. “Nancy Drew & the Hidden Staircase,” the Charlie Chan programmer “Meeting at Midnight” (aka “Black Magic”) and the Sherlock Holmes classic “The Scarlet Claw” present the famous detectives in situations that are quite spooky and atmospheric… and most of all a lot of fun! These are not comedies but they do contain some laughs – the mystery series were known for being deft blends of action, intrigue (of course), adventure and comedy. These three have differing production values as well as acting and script quality (the low budget Chan entry suffering the biggest deficit in these areas) but son-of-a-gun if they don’t all deliver on the entertainment scale – the engaging leads in each see to it that all are compelling and enjoyable entries.

PSYCHOLOGICAL TERROR: A big misconception among many people is that old movies are “unsophisticated.” Balderdash! Films that challenge audiences and make them think have been around since the inception of cinema. In Hollywood’s Golden Age, this meant the occasional “thinking man’s horror film,” exemplified by the handful of films produced by Val Lewton at RKO. Three films in this genre that I really enjoy are Universal’s original “Black Cat” from 1934 with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi (not to be confused with the 1941 horror-comedy of the same name with Hugh Herbert and Bela Lugosi that I reviewed here), “The Seventh Victim” from 1943 – one of the Val Lewton produced films I mentioned above, and 1957’s “Night of the Demon,” a British-produced film known in the US as “Curse of the Demon,” directed by Jacques Tourneur. All three tales are haunting and disturbing with images and instances that will stay with you long after the end credits have rolled. Don’t look for comic relief here – these are dark films about dark Satan worshippers… but at least one (“Curse”) has somewhat of a happy ending. I mean, as happy an ending as a dark film about a dark Satanist and the dark demon he conjures can be…

COMEDY SERIES ENTRIES: Remember those mystery series I talked about above? There were some great comedy series, too. I’m not talking about Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello or Bob Hope or any number of famous comedians who made several consecutive films over the years. The comedy series specifically revisited specific fictional characters from film-to-film… and several of them had horror-comedy entries. The series based on the famous Blondie comic strip delivered one of the best of the horror-comedies, “Blondie Has Servant Trouble.” The Francis the Talking Mule series breathed its last with “Francis in the Haunted House.” The Bowery Boys were forever getting mixed up with haunted houses, mad scientists and gorillas – throw a stone and you’ll hit one of their classics. Let’s make it “Spook Busters.”

NEWER FILMS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY: One of the absolute best family horror-comedies is Sky Soleil’s “How My Dad Killed Dracula” starring Daniel Roebuck. And it’s a short to boot! I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially if you’re looking for something appropriate for the whole family. You can buy a Blu Ray or download the short when you click here. Larry Blamire has also been making spoofs that are throwbacks to the classic horror films of yesteryear. You can’t go wrong with entries like “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavera” and “A Dark & Stormy Night.”

CLASSIC HORROR-COMEDIES OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Abbott & Costlello… Laurel & Hardy… the Three Stooges… the Little Rascals… you know how much I love them all! But I’d love it if you got familiar with some of the talents that are no longer household names… and it just so happens several of their classic horror-comedies are available on DVD. Try Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins in “Sh! The Octopus” (a recent addition to the customized Warner Archives line). Or Hugh Herbert and Broderick Crawford in the previously mentioned (1941 comedy) “The Black Cat.” Wally Brown and Alan Carney are on a mission to retrieve some undead talent for their all-singing, all-shambling revue, “Zombies on Broadway.” And what happens when Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre team up to scare the Kay Kaiser band? “You’ll Find Out” when you rent the movie of the same name! Last but not least, that Dracula man meets Jerry Lewis’ biggest nightmare (aka Sammy Petrillo) when “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla!” So what are you waiting for? Stock up on these gems and get those DVD players churning this weekend!


Friday, October 8, 2010


Paul Castiglia Chris Allan

Sort of...

I'll be at the New York Comic Con Saturday at the Archie Comics booth signing copies of what I have left of the horror-comedy comic book series I wrote, "Archie's Weird Mysteries." I may also have some "Conservation Corps" issues on hand... featuring such monster bad guys as Robo-oily Bird and Styranofoamus Rex!

(And let me pause for a moment to give a shout-out to comic artist extraordinaire Chris Allan for his wonderful caricature of yours truly)!


Stop by if you can - Saturday evening at the Archie booth between 6 and 7PM at the Javits Center. See you there! Meanwhile, here's the opening of the "Archie's Weird Mysteries" animated cartoon that the comic book series I wrote was based on:

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Paul Castiglia

Well what do you know? This totally wasn't planned (how could it be with things done so far in advance?) but it turns out that not one but two interviews with me have been posted this past week.

The first was with John Cozzoli of the wonderful "Zombo's Closet of Horror" blog. John (aka Zombo) asked me how I feel about Halloween. As you'd expect, it's a rather nostalgic interview (you learn about my earliest Halloween costumes and what my perfect Halloween would be), and you can read it when you click here.

The second was with Shane Rivers of the great "Only Good Movies" site. Shane asked me about movies - my favorite films, actors and directors. I got to stretch a little farther than I usually do here on "Scared Silly" to talk about other genres. You can read it all by clicking here.

Shane made a point of highlighting my connection to Jerry Only of the Misfits, so why don't we tie this all together with a video of the Misfits' cover of "Monster Mash," complete with clips from one of our favorites here at Scared Silly, the Rankin-Bass Animagic classic, "Mad Monster Party." Enjoy!

Friday, October 1, 2010


Leo Gorcey Huntz Hall Bowery Boys

Happy October! Well, here we are again with a new month. Alas, September didn’t go as planned (I had hoped to have some more reviews up but once again other commitments had to take priority). But there’s always this month to give it another shot, eh?

Speaking of this month, it’s a good one to take a look in on Turner Classic Movies as they’ll be airing several classic horror-comedies in anticipation of Halloween. They’ll be showing a whole host of straight horror films as well (although there is a lot of comedy to be found – some of it even intentional – in some of the classic Bela Lugosi, Vincent Price, etc. offerings TCM has on tap, too – just click here to check out the full month’s schedule).

But back to the horror-comedies – there are two bona fide horror-comedy entries, three “horror-onable mentions” and one horror-comedy template on the schedule.

It all kicks off on October 5th at 12:45 AM with “I Married a Witch.” This film with its solid trio of Frederick March, Veronica Lake and Susan Hayward falls into the “horror-onable mention” category. There are no overt attempts at “haunting” or horror trappings but you have to give it its due for being the antecedent to TV’s “Bewitched” and comic book's’ “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”

October 20th delivers an undisputed classic of the horror-comedy genre, “Arsenic & Old Lace,” airing at 11:45 AM. I won’t say much about it in this post because I’m determined to get my review of the film up before the year is out. Besides, director John Landis (who has a few horror-comedies of his own on his resume) has some things to say about it at the bottom of this post so I’ll give him the floor this time.

October 22nd brings a double dose of films from the “Topper” friendly-ghost movie series – except “Topper Returns” which is the one film in the trilogy with liberal doses of haunted house trappings. Still the other two entries are great “horror-onable mentions” – how can you go wrong with Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in the lead of “Topper” and Constance returning for “Topper Takes a Trip.” You can catch the former at 11:45 AM and the latter at 1:30 PM. Both films are great screwball fun with a dollop of romantic comedy thrown into the mix.

On October 30th get set for two great flicks. First up are the Bowery Boys in one of their greatest horror-comedies ever, “The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters.” It’s like they took the Addams Family and the Munsters and mixed them into a stew with every wacky mad scientist that ever appeared in a Three Stooges short (even though "The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters" came out years before the Addams and Munsters shows). The overlay of the brilliant Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and the rest of the Bowery gang brings this one home in a big way.

Also on the 30th is the great terror-template, "The Old Dark House." You may have read my review of William Castle’s comedy remake. The original was more of a straight-up horror with a lot of black comedy elements. As a template for haunted house trappings in a not-entirely serious setting, “The Old Dark House” is a must-see.

So that’s what’s on tap, as far as I can see. If I’ve missed any others, please be sure to send me a comment or email to let me know.

Now, as promised here is “An American Werewolf in London” and “Innocent Blood” director John Landis’ commentary on the trailer for “Arsenic & Old Lace,” courtesy of Trailers From Hell: