Saturday, December 31, 2011



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 couple of years so much fun for me. Thank you to all those who have twittered 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 John Cozzoli of Zombo’s Closet of Horror, who invited me (and my blog) to join the League of Tanna Tea Drinkers in 2011. I also want to thank Chris Cummins from Movie Fanfare for requesting that my post about collecting super 8 films to be re-posted to his fine site, affiliated with Movies Unlimited. Last but not least, thanks to David Colton, organizer of the Rondo Awards for branding my humble little blog worthy of being nominated for "best blog" - I truly appreciate that!

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)!

Of course I also have to thank my wife for letting the TV be commandeered by all these movies (some of which were just downright painful for her to sit through), my friend Brent for being a terrific fact-checker and of course everyone’s favorite current-day character actor, carrying the torch for all who’ve gone before, the ubiquitous Daniel Roebuck, who graciously agreed to write the foreword for the book that will (hopefully) ultimately result from this blog!

Thank you also for bearing with my erratic schedule – due to other commitments I can’t always post on a regular basis. Please hang in there and keep checking back… you’re bound to see a new review every now and then.

Until the next review, here is 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!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Walter Catlett

PLOT: Mr. Bates (Walter Catlett) has a case of the hiccups that would make a jackhammer feel inadequate. His condition is so bad that doctors fear it could be fatal! To make matters worse, he isn’t quite fond of Jimmy (Richard Malaby), the man who wants to marry his daughter Helen (Dorothy Granger) – the very mention of the prospect gets him hiccupping all over again! The latest remedy: doctors prescribe that Walter be taken to a house in the country for “absolute quiet.” The house is of course a spooky old place described by the doctor as being as quiet as “a tomb.” But did someone remember to tell the noisy ghosts that?!

REVIEW: This one-reeler for Educational Pictures features Walter Catlett, who is best remembered as a comedic character actor who added spice and accent to several classic musical and comedy features of the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

The set-up is compact and to the point, with Walter’s daughter Helen and her boyfriend Jimmy in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, awaiting the prognosis for Walter’s case of “near fatal” hiccups. In the brief opening, we learn of Walter’s condition, the fact that it was brought on and is exacerbated by Jimmy’s frequent attempts to ask Walter for his daughter’s hand in marriage, and the doctor’s prescription of rest at a “quiet” country home.

When the doctor, Walter, Helen and the driver, Chester arrive the house is completely dark. When the light switch is flipped a spooky white owl squawks and flies off (perhaps a predecessor of Harry Potter’s Hedwig?). Chester lets slip that he’s afraid to go upstairs which leads the doctor to confess that the house is allegedly haunted. The doctor leaves but not before instructing Walter to remember to take his medicine and avoid getting angry. And not before cackling menacingly on his way out!

As Walter sleeps his snores alternate with hiccups. Chester sleeps in the same room; right next to a window and when the wind causes the window shade to snap up both men are startled. As Chester rises, he casts an ominous shadow in Catlett’s direction.

After a brief exchange between the two, the sheet on Walter’s bed flies straight up into the air! He runs into the hallway where he sees a candle headed his way! After a momentary scare he realizes it’s his daughter, awoken by the commotion. She asks if her dad if he heard a scream and just then maniacal laughter is heard! As Walter turns he notices the eyes of painted portrait on the wall are darting about. His daughter runs off in fear and when Walter turns again he notices someone holding a much larger candle – a scary man with a top hat who looks a bit like Mr. Hyde!

This leads to a series of blackout gags where we go back and forth between Walter, Chester and Helen being scared. Chester is still dealing with the disembodied sheet in the other bedroom and prays to his “mammy” for help! The Mr. Hyde creature continues to menace Walter and Helen to the point where Helen faints. A scary arm with long, sharp fingernails reaches through the wall and strokes Chester’s face. Walter steps on a bearskin rug and is verbally chided by the bear for doing so! This is followed by Chester accidentally stepping on a lion-skin rug who threatens to bite his leg off if he doesn’t step off! A stuffed toucan then queries, “can’t a guy get some sleep around here!”

These gags culminate in the first big twist: as a ghostly figure with a hideous face heads down the stairs toward Walter and Helen, it trips down the steps and the headpiece falls off, revealing Jimmy underneath! Of course he tells Walter that he only did it to cure his hiccups since “the only cure is a bad scare!” Realizing his hiccups are gone, Walter changes his tune and thanks Jimmy, then asks him how he ever got the animals to talk.

“Animals, what animals,” asks Jimmy. “He means us!” exclaims the bear as the trio try to run out the door. Unfortunately it’s locked, but the helpful lion offers, “The key is on the table!”

This is followed by a second twist, as the trio is accosted by the Mr. Hyde monster and a couple of ghosts on their way out. It’s the doctor and his helpers. “That last scare ought to make the cure permanent – I don’t think he’ll suffer from hiccoughs from now on!”

Maybe not. Now that Jimmy is in Walter’s good graces, he once again asks Walter if he can marry his daughter. This starts the hiccough fit all over again – but this time it spreads to Jimmy and Helen, too!

In a fast-paced ten minutes (this was a one-reeler), this short manages to pull out nearly all the trappings of a typical “old dark house” scare comedy: the old house itself with its ornate furnishings and foreboding dark shadows, the scared servant (in this case, the driver), sounds and voices out of nowhere, things (like window shades and sheets) that move on their own, the portrait with moving eyes, scary monster and ghost figures, etc. It’s all stock material – nothing really new or original here, including the “scares as a cure for hiccups” premise that appears in countless live-action and animated comedies – but it’s elevated a notch by the performers who all sell the laughs and scares with great gusto and enthusiasm.

Of course the center of the action is the short’s star Walter Catlett, who is perfect here as his typical excitable, put-upon character. An ex-vaudevillian, Catlett had a lengthy career in both shorts and features for a variety of studios. Among the studios for which Catlett made comedy shorts were Sennett, Educational and Columbia (for which he would make a two-reel horror-comedy called “You’re Next” featuring Dudley Dickerson). In features, Catlett had the good fortune to appear in such classics as “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Bringing Up Baby,” “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and “A Tale of Two Cities.” On the classic comedy front, he appeared alongside such luminaries as Hugh Herbert, Abbott & Costello and Danny Kaye, and even had a part in Olsen & Johnson’s classic horror-comedy, “Ghost Catchers.” However, with all his many credits Catlett is undoubtedly most famously known by children around the world as the voice of “Honest” John Worthington Foulfellow, the conman fox from Disney’s classic animated feature, “Pinocchio.” Not only was Catlett offered an opportunity to play a brash and flamboyant comic villain in the role, but he also got to sing an enduring tune, “Hi Diddle-Dee-Dee.”

Dorothy Granger

As for the rest of the cast, the beautiful Dorothy Granger (my all-time favorite classic comedy actress) displays her usual comic prowess in going toe-to-toe with comedic males (in a career spanning several decades she played opposite giants like Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields and The Three Stooges and enjoyed a recurring role as Leon Errol’s wife in his great shorts). The actor playing the doctor imbues the character with a very cavalier and cocky attitude that is both funny and alarming (would anyone really want a doctor who would go to such lengths to scare the wits out of them?). Chester, the driver is essayed by an African-American performer I don’t recognize. His role offers the usual conundrum: he’s relegated to a “scared servant” part but like fellow African-American comedic actors Mantan Moreland and Dudley Dickerson he is quite funny going through those motions.

On top of all the great acting, there is the surprising element of talking rugs and taxidermist dummies. The bearskin and lion skin rugs and stuffed toucan provide some of the biggest laugh-out-loud moments in the short. As classic horror-comedies go, “One Quiet Night” is worth watching for all of its fun elements, and being a one-reeler that plays at a swift clip it doesn’t give a viewer time to reflect upon how shopworn some of the gags and overall premise may be.

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: This short only has three credited players – Catlett, Granger and someone named Richard Malaby. Catlett and Granger of course are known performers but I have no idea who Richard Malaby played – he only has one other acting credit to his name and I couldn’t find a photo of him. Since there are three other major parts in the film (the boyfriend, the doctor and the driver) it’s anyone’s guess who Malaby played. I’m guessing he’s the boyfriend but he could be the doctor. Or perhaps he’s the driver. Who knows?

Therefore, for this particular entry we’ll do “Spotted in the Credits” instead. Almost (more on that in a moment). This film was directed by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. For the general public who has heard of Arbuckle, most know him from the infamous scandal that brought his star down. What they may not know is that after three trials he was acquitted of the charge of accidentally causing Virginia Rappe’s death. The star, who mentored Chaplin and worked with Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton was once just as famous and beloved as those three giants of the silent screen. Fatty was given some opportunities after his acquittal to appear in sound shorts (including a couple co-starring Shemp Howard) as well as to direct shorts starring the likes of Al St. John, Lloyd Hamilton and Lupino Lane, among others. Just two years after directing “One Quiet Night” and also starring in a half dozen shorts for Vitaphone, Warner Brothers offered him a shot at a feature. It was never to be, as Fatty suffered a fatal heart attack the very same day the offer was made.

So, I mentioned above that this is an ALMOST “Spotted in the Credits.” Why? Because in original release prints of “One Quiet Night” the short’s direction is credited to William Goodrich. Despite Arbuckle’s acquittal, the scandal was just too fresh in the public’s mind for him to draw attention to himself, hence the alias (which often was shortened to just "Will B. Good" - as suggested by Buster Keaton). In later years when Arbuckle's post-scandal directorial efforts were re-released theatrically and to TV stations by other distributors, Arbuckle’s real name was restored to the credits in place of the pseudonym.


For my money, the best dialogue comes from the bearskin rug, lion skin rug and stuffed toucan, but here are some of the memorable human exchanges as well:

JIMMY: Mr. Bates, can I marry your daughter?

CATLETT: No! HICCUP! A thousand HICCUP times no! Confound you HICCUP you’re the HICCUP fellow who HICCUP started this HICCUP hiccup mess!

CATLETT: It’s like a HICCUP tomb!

DOCTOR: Exactly what you need – absolute quiet!

DOCTOR: Driver, take Mr. Bates’ bags to his room.

CHESTER (THE DRIVER): Me go upstairs in this house? No sir, pos-i-tive-ly!

CATLETT: What did he mean?

DOCTOR: That’s a lot of nonsense, Mr. Bates. Some people think this house is haunted.

CATLETT: Haunted?!

DOCTOR: They think there’s ghosts.

CATLETT: Ghosts?!

DOCTOR: Of course to us, that’s silly!

CHESTER: Do you mind if I leave all the doors open?


CHESTER: In case I wants to leave quick!

CATLETT: What are you puttering around about? Why don’t you go to sleep?

CHESTER: I just can’t sleep tonight. I reckon I got the in-so-amonia!

CATLETT: “In-so-amonia!” Chester, you certainly do murder the English language!

CHESTER: I hope that’s all that’s murdered down here tonight!!!


All the aforementioned scare gags and the actors’ reactions to same are very well done. Like the dialogue, the best visual also belongs to sight of the bearskin rug, stuffed toucan and lion skin rug as their mouths all move in a visually funny manner.


Rob King, an Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto wrote an essay about the comedy shorts of Educational Pictures for the magazine “Film History: an International Journal.” You can read about it and order a copy when you click here and here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Santa vs. Satan

What has to be one of the most surreal and (unintentionally) scariest children’s films ever made is director René Cardona’s 1959 “Santa Claus.” Enterprising exploitation producer/distributor/showman K. Gordon Murray snapped this one up, dubbed it (poorly) into English and unleashed it upon an unsuspecting American public year after year after year.

I say “unsuspecting” because no one in America could have suspected the Santa legend was so different in Mexico. Or maybe it was just different for the writers and directors behind this cinematic oddity. I’ve read many articles about the film and I’m still not sure what the answer is. All I can say is that the differences are not subtle.

Some examples: In this version, Santa doesn’t live in the North Pole – he lives in a castle in the clouds! He doesn’t have real reindeer – they are mechanical! He doesn’t come down chimneys – he enters homes with a magic key. All this, plus he fights an emissary of the devil (no, the photo at the top of this post isn't photoshopped)!

It gets weirder… and scarier… from there. Santa watches over (or more accurately, spies) on the children of the world via a telescope whose unnervingly snaking appendage has a blinking eyeball for a lens! Santa’s right-hand man is Merlin (yes, the sorcerer from Camelot legends) and somehow Santa has gotten children from all over the world to perform for him in a lengthy and very politically incorrect sequence where he watches choirs from many lands sing to him. Oh, and speaking of children, Santa doesn’t have elves. He has children make the toys for him!

Santa & Merlin

As if Merlin’s involvement wasn’t non sequitur enough, the film also shoehorns a distorted Christian sensibility into its core, as Santa basically works on Jesus’ behalf. Which of course makes Satan mad to no end and inspires the dark one to send his hench-demon Pitch into battle against Santa in both direct and indirect ways (in the form of recruiting bad little kids to bedevil the good ones who have Santa’s favor).

So it’s not technically a horror film… but it is quite scary. And it’s not a comedy… but it’s so bizarre and absurd that it can’t help but make you laugh in spots (even if that laughter is uneasy at times). For me as a Christian believer, there is an extra layer of weirdness in its cockamamie misrepresentation of the faith that is both scary and funny simultaneously (not funny “ha-ha” but funny as in, “I can’t believe what I’m watching!")…

…but enough of me talking about this film. It really has to be seen to be believed. That plus others have already done in-depth and entertaining examinations of the film which you can read when you click on the links below:

B-Movie Review of Santa Claus

Monster Shack review of Santa Claus

…and best of all, an official blog has been launched containing various articles and reviews of the film – not to mention your chance to vote on such pressing questions as “Which country featured in Santa’s Heavenly Workshop suffered the most ethnic stereotypes?” and “What is the creepiest gadget in Santa’s ‘secret’ lab?” Just click below to visit this new blog appropriately named…

Santa Claus Conquers the Devil: 50 Years of K. Gordon Murray’s Santa Claus

As we wind down the year here’s wishing everyone the safest, happiest and most blessed of holidays. I hope to have at least one new classic horror-comedy review up before the New Year, and hopefully many more throughout 2012.

Now, here’s the trailer for “Santa Claus” – watch if you dare!

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Rudolph the Red-Noised Reindeer Bumble


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 1944 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!

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

Thursday, December 8, 2011


The Live Ghost Laurel Hardy

For those who came in late: Laurel & Hardy are my all-time favorite movie comedians. And right now is a great time to be a Laurel & Hardy fan in America. Especially if you live on the East Coast. But more on that in a moment...

It’s been a great year to be a Laurel & Hardy fan due primarily to an event that has been long-in-coming: a DVD set of the team’s classic sound shorts and features that is worthy of their legacy. As die-hard Laurel & Hardy fans know, the team spent most of their careers at the Hal Roach Studios, and this is where their masterworks were created. While other DVDs have been released in the past featuring Roach material, they have either been of an inferior quality (like the ill-conceived Hallmark and Artisan releases utilizing TV prints with added music and fade-outs for commercial breaks that never appeared in the original theatrical prints) or very good but limited in content (the “TCM Archives: Laurel & Hardy” from Warner Brothers). One exception was the official MGM/Sony DVD release of “Babes in Toyland/March of the Wooden Soldiers” in a crisp black and white print with the original titles.

Late October however brought “The Essential Laurel & Hardy” DVD collection from Vivendi Entertainment. This phenomenal set contains all the talkie Hal Roach Laurel & Hardy material not controlled by Warner Brothers or MGM, which is to say it’s the majority of Stan & Ollie’s Roach output, and by default, the crown jewel in terms of US-released Laurel & Hardy DVD collections. It also contains some of the team’s greatest horror-comedies, specifically the three-reeler (30 minute) short “The Laurel & Hardy Murder Case” (both the original US theatrical version and its longer “featurette” version from Spain called “Noche De Duendes” which inserts Laurel & Hardy’s bumpy train ride from “Berth Marks” into the story as Stan & Ollie’s mode of transportation to the reading of Uncle Ebeneezer Laurel’s will), “Oliver the 8th” and “The Live Ghost.” It also contains some of their “horror-onable mentions” like “Dirty Work” with its mad (but benign) scientist and “A Chump at Oxford” which contains a brief sequence where unlikely college students Stan & Ollie (watch for yourself to see how that happens) are scared silly by other students in skeleton outfits including the future Hammer horror star Peter Cushing. The set is getting enthusiastic reviews including this one from long-time fan Leonard Maltin. Here’s a trailer for the set – it’s available at a discount from several online retailers and highly recommended:

Now upfront I mentioned that it was also a good time to be a Laurel & Hardy fan on the East Coast. Why? Seven little words: Laurel and Hardy on the big screen! Yes, if you live in the Tri-State area you’ll have not one but two opportunities to experience the world’s most beloved comedy team as they were originally seen: in a crowd of laughing movie-goers enjoying the duo in a movie theater! Your first chance will be this Friday, December 9th at 8PM at the landmark Loews theater in Jersey City, New Jersey (easily accessible from the PATH station). This classic movie palace will be showing a 35mm print of “March of the Wooden Soldiers” on their huge 50 foot screen. The film, originally titled "Babes in Toyland" is a whimsical fantasy classic that contains quite a bit of spooky content and you can read my review when you click here. Admission is $7 or adults and $5 for children and seniors. Get more details by clicking here.

The following day, on Saturday, December 10th it’s another “Silent Clowns Film Series" screening, with the focus on “The Merry Gentlemen: Mr. Laurel & Mr. Hardy.” The Silent Clowns Film Series is renown for its screening of vintage silent comedies with live piano accompaniment from musician Ben Model. Each presentation is programmed by film historian Bruce Lawton, who along with Model and fellow film historian Steve Massa of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts engage the audience post-screening with an informative and entertaining Q&A.

On the program this Saturday are four classic shorts that loom large in the duo’s history: “Leave ‘em Laughing,” “Two Tars,” “Wrong Again” and “Big Business.” Each of these films features wild and crazy scenarios that are sure to leave the audience... well, sure to leave ‘em laughing! “Two Tars” and “Big Business” feature what would become a familiar Laurel & Hardy mofit: the war of “reciprocal destruction/tit for tat.” The latter features Stan & Ollie selling Christmas trees so there’s a holiday tie-in, too. And while there are no horror-comedies on tap for this screening, “Wrong Again” does feature an ornate mansion inhabited by an eccentric millionaire, a staple of horror-comedies. This special presentation is held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, Bruno Walter Auditorium. Showtime is 2:30 PM. Admission is free. Find out more details by clicking here. And enjoy a sample of “Leave ‘em Laughing” below:

Last but not least, we head back to New Jersey for what one man thinks is the quite literal “return” of Stan & Ollie – in the form of my pals, Josh and Danny Bacher. These performing brothers from New Jersey (who bill themselves as "The Bacher Boys") are huge fans of Laurel & Hardy and Danny is one of the foremost collectors of Laurel & Hardy memorabilia in the world (some items in his collection: Stan Laurel’s bowtie, Oliver Hardy’s pants from “Way Out West,” a pair of complete suits from the team’s 1940s films, a fez fro “Sons of the Desert,” the painting of the dean from “A Chump at Oxford” which ended up being used later in two different horror-comedy projects: the feature “Who Killed Doc Robin” and a 1955 episode of “My Little Margie” titled “Corpus Delecti”).

Well, real-life MD Dr. Walter Semkiw is quite convinced that my friends are the reincarnation of Laurel & Hardy (read more here and here). My friends, their love of Stan & Ollie notwithstanding, are quite convinced that they aren’t the reincarnation of the team. So what did they do? They teamed up with the doctor to produce the documentary below about the doctor’s claims. Well, maybe it’s a documentary from the doctor’s point of view. From the Bacher Brothers’ point of view, it’s a mockumentary. Depending upon your own belief systems and sense of humor, you may find the following hysterical (I'm sure you can guess which side of the cosmic joy buzzer I'm on). Or perhaps you’ll just get a sense that it’s déjà vu all over again!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Superheroes for Hospice

Greetings Scared Silly fans! Well, here it is - my final personal appearance of 2011 and it's a great opportunity to buy comics at deep discounts for the holidays while helping out a wonderful cause. Yes, I'm talking about the next “Superheroes for Hospice” charity comic convention which takes place this Saturday, December 3rd at the Saint Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center at 95 Old Short Hills Road in West Orange, New JErsey. I will be there from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m autographing copies of my ARCHIE’S WEIRD MYSTERIES and VINCENT PRICE books along with various comic book projects.


Also on hand will be my pal Thomas Hall who will be signing copies of his award-winning R-13 (aka ROBOT 13) as well as his horror-comedy project KING! (which I recently highlighted – click here to read all about it)...

Thomas Hall Daniel Bradford Elvis Presley

There will also be plenty of comics for sale from all decades to purchase as well as other great comics creators on hand to autograph comics, do sketches and sell original art. Among some of the great comics pros on hand will be famed Marvel and Papercutz artist Rick Parker, who is bringing "Tales from the Crypt" to a new generation; writer Erica Schultz, whose fine "M3" is quickly gaining a following and features the art of legendary horror comics artist Vincente Alcazar; and up-and-comer Nick Mockaviak, whose love for Universal Monsters is only surpassed by his love of drawing Universal Monsters! And that's just a small sampling of the talent appearing this Saturday.

Proceeds will support the patients and families of the Saint Barnabas Hospice and Palliative Care Center. Established in 1981, the Saint Barnabas Hospice and Palliative Care Center provides comprehensive care for patients with advanced illness, and their families, throughout ten counties in the State of New Jersey.

Midnight Marquee Actors Series Vincent Price

The Saint Barnabas Hospice and Palliative Care Center supports inpatient units at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, NJ, as well as Van Dyke Hospice at Community Medical Center in Toms River. It also provides home care and services for individuals in long-term care and assisted living facilities.

Now here’s a clip from the audio/video podcast, “Fever Keeps It Real” – the fine folks who run the show, Paul and Linda Wein dropped by the most recent “Superheroes for Hospice<” convention this past September and interviewed me about Archie’s Weird Mysteries and the charity starting at 3:46 – enjoy!

Thursday, November 24, 2011


NOTE: This is a re-post of an entry I originally posted on Thanksgiving, 2010.


Babes Toyland Wooden Soldiers

RATING: *** & ¾ out of ****

AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: I’m running a review of this film today because the film is a Thanksgiving tradition in the New York Tri-State area where I grew up and still live. WPIX Channel 11 has run this film almost every year on Thanksgiving for the past 40 or so years (a notable exception was two years ago, which led to the station receiving many protests – and lo and behold the film was back the very next year, and is on the air again this year, from 9AM to 11AM Thanksgiving morning).

AUTHOR’S NOTE #2: As of this writing I’m still debating whether to include this film among the main Laurel & Hardy horror-comedy entries or whether to place it in the “horror-onable mention” section. The film is not a horror-comedy per se – in fact, it is a children’s fantasy that makes ample use of classic fairy tale characters. Furthermore, a major motif in the film is Santa and his toymakers readying Christmas gifts for the children in the off-season. But its horrific moments and characters are quite palpable and place it in a unique category all its own. More on that in the review...

PLOT: The peace and tranquility of the citizens of Toyland (where all the famous nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters live along with Santa Claus and all his helpers) is threatened by its one bad apple: sinister Silas Barnaby (Henry Brandon), a creepy landlord who holds the mortgages on most of the homes in the land, including the shoe-shaped home belonging to the old woman (who lived in a shoe). He also rules the frightening “Bogeyland” and the monstrous “Bogeymen” that inhabit it, a place where criminals are banished as punishment for major crimes. Barnaby is sweet on the old woman’s daughter Little Bo Peep. When Mother Widow Peep (Florence Roberts) can’t meet the mortgage payment on the shoe, Barnaby offers to forget the whole matter if she’ll consent to offering Bo Peep’s hand in marriage to Barnaby. Neither Mother nor Bo Peep, who is in love with Tom Tom the Piper’s Son (Felix Knight) are willing to submit to Barnaby’s demand and so he threatens to evict everyone out of the shoe. Enter two of the shoe’s tenants, Stannie Dumm (Stan Laurel) and Ollie Dee (Oliver Hardy), who vow to get a loan from their boss the toymaker (William Burress) to prevent such a travesty. That doesn’t go over too well as the “boys” get in a heap of trouble with the toymaker after Santa does a spot check at the toy factory. St. Nick wants to see how things are coming along and learns that Stannie got his wooden soldiers order all mixed up – instead of 600 soldiers at one foot high, 100 soldiers each six feet high have been created! A series of triumphs and reversals follow for Stannie, Ollie, Bo Peep and Tom Tom and when it becomes apparent that Barnaby can no longer “trick” his way to achieving his evil desires, he enlists the aid of the ferocious half-men, half-monster Bogeymen to rout Toyland. Can our heroes find a way to defeat these abominable creatures, and what will become of Bo Peep, Tom Tom and the wooden soldiers?

REVIEW: Testament to the role this film has played in my life: I’ve seen it so many times I didn't even need to re-watch it to review it! Without question, this film, based on the Victor Herbert operetta is one of the most unique films ever made – as both a comedy film by major stars and as a holiday classic it stands pretty much alone. Only the all-star “Alice in Wonderland” which also stars Charlotte Henry in the title role (along with Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, Leon Errol, Jack Oakie, Sterling Holloway, Edward Everett Horton, Charles Ruggles and others) comes close but ultimately it's no cigar – while that earlier film shares “Babe’s” weird and spooky oddness it lacks the charm and humor of the Laurel & Hardy opus which despite several terror-filled sequences is filled with hope and optimism. And “Alice” certainly doesn’t evoke any warm-fuzzy holiday feelings... it is most decidedly not a holiday classic.

Where can I even begin? This is one of those films that has to be seen – mere words cannot convey the wonders this film undolds. I suppose I’ll get the intentional and unintentional scares out of the way first:

Silas Barnaby, as performed with relish and flourish by Henry Brandon (real name: Kleinbach) is a dastardly villain of the highest order. He has a huge “creepy” and “spooky” factor, not unlike many of the fiends Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price essayed over their illustrious careers. It is a performance for the ages. Brandon treads that line between funny and purely evil that not many actors since have accomplished (Heath Ledger’s interpretation of Batman’s nemesis “The Joker” is the most recent example I can think of but there have been few and far between). Most amazing of all, Brandon did it at the tender age of 22. That is an amazing accomplishment not just because he’s playing a character much older but also because of all he was able to bring to the character – if you didn’t know Brandon’s real age you’d swear that he had already witnessed decades of villainy to inspire his portrayal. Brandon played many other notable roles through the years (including a part in the Martin & Lewis horror-comedy “Scared Stiff”) and even acted up until the year before his death in 1990 but when all is said and done it is not a stretch to claim that history will put Barnaby at the top of his most memorable roles. Brandon returned to the character three years later and that turn was just as memorable as the original. In the short “Our Gang Follies of 1938” (filmed and released in 1937) Brandon is the Opera House impresario who signs famed Little Rascal Alfalfa to a crooked contract whose deception is worthy of those the devil dealt in “The Devil & Tom Walker,” “The Devil & Daniel Webster,” “Damn Yankees,” “Bedazzled” and so many other tales. The unbreakable contract requires Alfalfa to sing “The Barber of Seville” at his opera house… forever! The character is never called “Barnaby” by name in the short, but in the script he is identified as such.

Babes Toyland Wooden Soldiers

Barnaby has a manservant, naturally, and as the illogic in old movies usually goes, the villains always pick ineffective manservants like hunchbacks and mutes (sometimes they’re both at the same time). Here, the manservant is a diminutive dwarf played by John George. He is oddly creepy in his own right (which may be the context more than anything – the costumes in this film are creepy as is the lighting and Barnaby’s villainy and lair, and since George appears in those scenes, his character takes on those attributes as well… except when Barnaby laces into him, resulting in some audience sympathy toward the character). He is also somewhat reminiscent of Angelo Rossitto, another dwarf actor with a lengthy career who often appeared in the same manservant capacity, most notably alongside Bela Lugosi in various films including the East Side Kids horror-comedy, “Spooks Run Wild.” Rossitto also appears in "Babes," as one of the little pigs as well as one of the sandmen fairies during the lullaby scene (more on both below).

Barnaby’s minions, “The Bogeymen” are horrific monster-men designed to give children (and maybe a few adults) nightmares. Less frightening once you get past a certain age and spot the rubber faces and the pillow pads within their shaggy suits, they are also fairly unique considering the year the movie came out. The most natural comparisons would be movie werewolves and ape men but most of those types of films (such as “Werewolf of London” and “The Wolf Man” and “The Ape Man”) came out after “Babes.” Prior to “Babes,” the most notable example was “The Island of Lost Souls” a year earlier and perhaps some of Lon Chaney Sr.’s silent monster films. Like Barnaby, the Bogeymen (or at least A BogeyMAN) would return in an “Our Gang” short. Well, at least the costume and mask (without an actor inside) would, as Alfalfa, Buckwheat and Porky are scared witless by a Bogeyman that flings out of a hidden panel during an unplanned (and unrealized by the kids) journey through a spooky carnival funhouse in the last Hal Roach-produced “Our Gang” short , “Hide & Shriek” (1938). Not to be outdone, Barnaby is also evoked in an early scene that has "detektive" Alfalfa showing off his expertise at disguises - answering the door dressed as Barnaby complete with hat, cape and cane!

Barnaby and the Bogey Men are the obviously scary elements, but the whole production has an (appropriately) surreal and otherworldly sensibility that sometimes borders on the eerie, with even some of the favorite children’s characters rendered in slightly “off” costumes and masks that are downright spooky at times. These include the Three Little Pigs, played by dwarves (including the aforementioned cult film favorite Angelo Rossitto) and children (including Payne B. Johnson who is still with us as of this writing – I had the pleasure of meeting him at the 2006 Sons of the Desert convention in Atlanta, GA) in garish costumes. The masks make the faces of the pigs seem a little scary – they look old and wrinkled and not capable of showing much emotion (especially since you can’t really see their eyes), which heightens the bizarre feeling (a pig jumping up and down and clapping its hands in victory with an emotionless face is an odd thing indeed. There is also man in a cat suit (Pete Gordon, who played the Chinese cook in Laurel & Hardy’s horror-comedy classic “The Live Ghost”) with a fiddle, naturally, who comes off slightly scary – mostly unintentionally although there is one cheat scare when Ollie is explaining to Stan about the Bogeyman’s horrible claws… just as the “cat” puts its paw on Stan’s shoulder!

One scene that was edited out of many television prints through the years had Tom Tom, having been banished to Bogeyland after being falsely accused of pignapping (Barnaby framed him of of course) comforting Bo Peep, who had traveled into Bogeyland after her true love. Tom Tom sings Bo Peep to sleep with a lullaby while fairies (played by dwarves again… perhaps the producers of the still-a-few-years-away “Wizard of Oz” took notice of these diminutive thesps with big talents) dance overhead in spectral, see-through form. The ghostly figures make the scene more eerie than magical for me.

Mickey Mouse Babes Toyland Wooden Soldiers

Oddest of all however has to be... Mickey Mouse. You heard that right, Mickey Mouse. PLAYED BY A MONKEY! I always personally loved the monkey-in-a-mouse suit character, but I know others who were totally frightened by it. It is weird to say the least (I still wonder how the heck the monkey was able to breathe in that costume). The character is a mix of the plucky and resourceful Mickey from the 1930s black & white cartoons combined with the offbeat, bouncy movements of a typical monkey (the character gets a major moment of its own during the climactic battle with the Bogeymen, piloting a toy zeppelin and dropping explosives onto the monsters from overhead). The Hal Roach Studios (producers of the film) had a long-standing relationship with the Disney studio and their “stars” occasionally crossed over (Laurel & Hardy are prominent in the classic “Mickey’s Polo Team” and in the same year as “Babes” Mickey and Stan & Ollie co-starred again in the all-star MGM feature, “Hollywood Party”). This friendly co-existence between Disney and Roach also extended to Disney granting Roach the rights to use the smash hit song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” in “Babes” (the award-winning animated “Three Little Pigs” Disney short having debuted the year before).

I have always found this film absolutely delightful. As a child I don’t remember being scared by the spookier elements; it’s only as I grew older that I realized how frightening some elements in this film are. But I am still delighted by it, for two reasons. First, Laurel & Hardy are simply sublime as usual in this film. Their comedy is warm, funny and at times magically surreal and the screen characters audiences had become used to remain intact in the middle of this high fantasy. Perhaps since I had seen so many other features and shorts by the duo as a child I knew that they “always came back” for another adventure, so I was certain that they would help defeat the marauding monsters (despite fearful moments of real terror and concern – such as when the Bogeymen snatch Toyland’s children from their beds). I also grew up in a time where Hollywood saw the value in the darker side of the fairy tale. Overcoming fears and learning important lessons through scary allegories were hallmarks of children’s stories. Disney knew this well – during Hollywood’s golden age his “Snow White & the Seven Dwarves” and “Pinocchio” didn’t pull any punches in the “scares” department. This approach lasted at least through the early 1970s with Gene Wilder’s masterful portrayal of the alternately whimsical/frightening title character of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” Somewhere along the line, the “gatekeepers” decided that scares had to be skirted in children’s fantasies, leaving whole generations with much more homogenized stories lacking true heart and humanity.

“Babes in Toyland” has a slippery history. Hal Roach originally bought the rights to do a film version of the Herbert operetta "Babes" then realized it had very little plot, at least not one that would easily accommodate a feature film (it was fine for the stage where it worked perfectly as a lovely revue of childhood memories of the toy chest set to song). So Roach conceived a story with Stan and Ollie as “Simple Simon and the Pie Man.” The villain was a spider who turned into a man and put “hate” into the wooden soldiers so they could ravage the town and eliminate “love and happiness.” It sounds a lot like the Beatles’ classic animated feature “Yellow Submarine” which would be released 32 years later… but as envisioned by Roach, the studio would have been hard-pressed to convey the abstract elements of his idea and there hardly seems room for typical Stan and Ollie antics within. Thankfully Laurel, the creative architect of most of the team’s films (he wrote gags and stories and often directed many scenes – mostly uncredited) won out over Roach and collaborated with his own writers and gagmen to deliver the film we know and love today. As odd as it may sound, to me Laurel’s version anticipates Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (condensed from a combined ten plus hours to “Babe’s” compact 78 minutes) with the unlikely heroes (Stan & Ollie/Frodo & Samwise) routing the mephistophelean villain (Barnaby/Saruman) and his minions (The Bogeymen/The Orcs). But maybe that’s just me...

The other side of this film’s checkered past has to do with its release history. (it’s so confusing in fact that I’m not even fully certain if the following is entirely accurate). The film was sold off by Roach to an independent distributor named Robert Lippert. It was reissued to theaters several times over the years under various names such as “March of the Toys,” “March of the Wooden Soldiers” (its most commonly known moniker) and the non-sequitur non de plum, “Revenge is Sweet.” It made the rounds of schools where it was shown to students on 16mm projectors. Ultimately it wound up on TV, where it became a staple broadcast around the holidays (run on or near Thanksgiving or Christmas and sometimes both). When the growing popularity of VCR’s made videotapes as attractive to buy as they were to rent, several companies released the film under the mistaken notion that the film was in the public domain. The truth was that the Tribune Broadcasting Company (owners of WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York City) had an ownership stake. At some point they lost the rights and the Samuel Goldwyn Company snatched them up, colorizing the film for home video release and then a national syndication deal (which Tribune signed on for). This colorized version is broadcast on TV to this day. Meanwhile, the DVD age ushered in more home video releases by companies assuming the film was in the public domain (these included a newly colorized version from Legend Films that was an improvement over the original color job but still looks like kids using their Crayolas over old film frames to this reviewer). When MGM bought out Goldwyn’s assets, they ended up owning a film they had released and distributed in the first place. A couple years back they gave the world a wonderful Christmas present in the form of a DVD of the film in its pristine, original black & white form… complete with all scenes intact and the original “Babes in Toyland” title cards!

Cat Fiddle Babes Toyland Wooden Soldiers

The film as it stands is an amazing, unique achievement. The comedy of Stan & Ollie is in high gear and one can’t help but laugh and smile from ear to ear when they are onscreen. The horrific aspects are appropriate for a classic approach to fairy tales, the benevolent Toyland characters are warmly drawn and the rescue of Toyland by Stan, Ollie and the Wooden Soldiers is rousing indeed. While some of the songs sung by the romantic leads have a tendency to slow the film down in spots (the one thing that keeps me from giving it a full four star review), they don’t overpower it. The overall plot, while taking a few meandering detours still has a beginning, middle and end and adheres to the old adage from Chekhov wherein he states that if a gun is shown in the first act, it better go off in the third. The gun here is the wooden soldiers, and the resonance is the fact that the hero’s seeming mistake (Stan’s botching of the wooden soldiers order) is the very thing that ends up saving the day. Kind of like Frodo taking that ring...

BEST DIALOGUE AND GAGS (normally I separate these categories but in this film, as in most Laurel & Hardy sound films the verbal and visual gags are often intertwined)

Stan explains to Ollie that he borrowed money from their piggy bank to replace a “pee wee” – a little wooden peg that when hit with a stick returns like a boomerang. Unless you are Ollie, who pompously insists that anything Stan can do he can do… but he can’t! To add insult to injury, Ollie also learns he can’t do Stan’s finger tricks either.

Ollie and Stan have chased Barnaby down a well. “You better come up, dead or alive,” says Stan, alluding to the King’s edict that Barnaby is a wanted fugitive (when the King announces the award for bringing back Barnaby "Dead or Alive," Stan asks "Can't you make up your mind how you want him?"). “Now how can he come up dead when he’s alive,” protests Ollie. “Let’s drop a rock on him,” counters Stan. “Then he’ll come up dead when he’s alive!”

Stan and Ollie have a plan: Stan will show up at Barnaby’s door with a big box – a Christmas present! Inside is Ollie, who plans to sneak out once inside to find and destroy the shoe’s mortgage. Barnaby asks, “Christmas present… in the middle of July?” “We always like to do our Christmas shopping early,” retorts Stan. Their plan backfires when Stan says goodnight to Ollie and Ollie pops his head out of the crate, leading to them being put on trial.

When Ollie gets "dunked" in the lake as punishment for the attempted robbery of the mortgage, he hands Stan his watch for safe keeping. Distressed by the dunking Bo Peep consents to become Barnaby's wife... which means that the charges are withdrawn and Stan doesn't have to get dunked! Ollie doesn't like this and pushes Stan into the lake... and a soaked Stan emerges pulling Ollie's waterlogged watch out of his pocket!

When Bo Peep gives in to Barnaby’s marriage proposal, Ollie explains that Stan is so upset he’s not even going to the wedding. “Upset,” exclaims Stan. “I’m housebroken!” When Mother Peep determines to speak to Barnaby to try to change his mind, Stan says "Her talking to him is just a matter of pouring one ear into another and coming out the other side... can't be done!"

The boys realize that they can pass Stan off as Bo Peep as long as he keeps his face covered by the veil. Their ruse is a success, but Stan is surprised when he can’t leave with Ollie. Ollie explains that now that Stan’s married, he has to stay with Barnaby. “But I don’t love him,” Stan wails!

During Tom Tom’s trial for pignapping, Stan and Ollie sit on the sidelines. The evidence (a plate of sausage links) is placed near where they sit. Stan asks Ollie what it is and Ollie explains that the sausage used to be Elmer the pig (allegedly at least). Stan takes a bite and says it doesn’t take like pig – it tastes like pork to him! This inspires Ollie to take a bite and brings Tom Tom’s innocence to the forefront as Ollie exclaims, “why that’s neither pig nor pork… it’s beef!”

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: My favorite Our Gang/Little Rascals kid, Scotty Beckett has a small part. He made several movies apart from the Gang shorts, but his only other recurring part was as Winky in the “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” TV series. He worked until 1957 then tragically died eleven years later due to a drug overdose.

Ellen Corby 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 three major horror-comedy roles: playing one of the Gravesend clan in “The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters,” Mother Lurch in the classic “Addams Family” TV series, and Luther Hegg’s childhood schoolteacher in “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken.” In addition to her acting roles, apparently Corby was also a script supervisor at the Roach Studios on numerous Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase, Thelma Todd & Zasu Pitts/Patsy Kelly, etc., shorts and was also married at the time to Hal Roach cinematographer Francis Corby.

Ironically, Billy Bletcher started out in silent movies, but his career would be made via his deep baritone voice. He appeared in many vintage comedy shorts alongside Laurel & Hardy, the Little Rascals (including “Hide & Shriek”), W.C. Fields and others; classic animated shorts from Disney and Warner Brothers, did a couple voices in “The Wizard of Oz,” and appeared in Red Skelton’s horror-comedy “Whistling in the Dark.” His voice was often utilized to portray villains (he was the voice of The Big Bad Wolf) as well as ghosts and other spooky characters (he lent his talents to the classic Mickey/Donald/Goofy horror-cartoon, “Lonesome Ghosts”).

FURTHER READING: There are many great books on Laurel & Hardy out there but I will single out three that particularly highlight “Babes.” The coffee table book "Laurel & Hardy" by John McCabe and Richard W. Bann has some great production and promotional stills from “Babes.” Randy Skretvedt’s essential, impeccably researched “Laurel & Hardy: the Magic Behind the Movies” goes into deep detail about the behind-the-scenes trials and triumphs of this film, from Roach’s ill-conceived plot to young Henry Brandon getting into bar brawls when off-camera. Scott MacGillivray’s equally essential “Laurel & Hardy: from the Forties Forward” presents the story of the film’s second (and third and fourth and fifth, etc.) life as theatrical reissue, television staple and home video release. Last but not least, there are a lot of reviews of the film out on the internet but instead of those I’ll share these links - one is from Mark Evanier's site with his thoughts as well as those of Randy Skretvedt and Jim Hanley (primarily having to do with Roach's original story, the colorized versions and scenes that may have been deleted) which you can read when you click here; the other is a link to a Village Voice article that is more of a remembrance of the impact this film had on so many kids growing up with it on TV in the New York area – click here to read it.

Laurel & Hardy Compiled by Al Kilgore, Filmography by Richard W Bann

BUY THE FILM: There are lots of versions out there – some unauthorized, some colorized, some butcherized (as in edited). But I really can only endorse the official MGM DVD release in glorious black & white:

WATCH THE FILM: As of this writing, Hulu has posted the entire film on their site by special arrangement with MGM. You can enjoy the Hulu presentation right here on the Scared Silly site when you click here.

In the meantime, enjoy the original trailer for “Babes in Toyland” (note that it uses Henry Brandon’s real name and also exaggerates the running time, claiming the film contains 12 minutes more than it actually does)... and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011


Hugh Herbert

RATING: * & ¾ out of ****

PLOT: Playwright Hugh Herbert just can’t make headway on his latest script with all the noise going on outside his city office. He and his assistant Dudley Dickerson commence to a quiet country cabin but the quiet is soon undone by real live gorilla and some masqueraders in scary costumes. Will Hugh finish writing his play or will his attempts to write the play finish Hugh?!

REVIEW: A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a special presentation of silent films at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (click here to see my write-up about the event). These weren’t just any silent films – they were silent horror-comedies programmed by Bruce Lawton with wonderful piano accompaniment from Ben Model as part of their "Silent Clowns" film series.

But they were more than just silent horror-comedies, too. Mr. Lawton did a terrific job putting together a selection of shorts with a very specific theme: “Scary Shenanigans on the Second Reel.” Bruce’s concept: screen comedy shorts where the spooky stuff doesn’t happen until the second reel.

This idea of the second half of the film being the scary part worked beautifully in the shorts Bruce and Ben showed, including Harold Lloyd’s classic (and soon-to-be-reviewed-by-me) “Haunted Spooks” and two films I’ve previously reviewed, Buster Keaton’s “The Haunted House” and Our Gang’s “Shootin’ Injuns.” By no means is it a silent-film only concept, however. Some notable talkies that also went this route include such shorts as the Three Stooge’s “Idle Roomers” (reviewed here) and Laurel & Hardy’s “The Live Ghost” (reviewed here) as well as the final Hal Roach-produced Our Gang/Little Rascals short, “Hide & Shriek” (reviewed here). Even some features have followed this format – Bob Hope’s famed “The Ghost Breakers” has a rather lengthy prelude before the creepy stuff begins while the majority of spooky kookiness in Wheeler & Woolsey’s “The Nitwits” takes place in the third reel.

So here we have the great team of Hugh Herbert and Dudley Dickerson again. You may recall I waxed rhapsodic over their hysterical horror-comedy, “One Shivery Night.” I mostly love these two guys whether paired with each other, paired with others (like Hugh with Allen Jenkins in “Sh! The Octopus” and with Broderick Crawford in “The Black Cat”) or playing in solo or supporting roles (Herbert brilliant in Wheeler & Woolsey’s “Diplomaniacs” and Olsen & Johnson’s “Hellzapoppin;” Dickerson just as brilliant in Our Gang/Tthe Little Rascals’ “Spooky Hooky” and the Three Stooges’ “A Plumbing We Will Go” as well as several other Stooges shorts and Marx Brothers features).

Given the above, as well as the fact that, as reported by Ted Okuda and Ed Watz in their essential book, “The Columbia Comedy Shorts” this short was well-received by both movie exhibitors and audiences alike, I truly wanted to love “Tall, Dark and Gruesome.” But when compared to “One Shivery Night” and everything else I’ve mentioned, it just pales in comparison. It’s not terrible – it’s a typical two-reel comedy of its day – but it lacks the spark and wit we’ve come to expect from this twosome. Still, there are some late inning antics that help save the film from being a complete “miss.”

Alas, many of the best laughs in “Tall, Dark & Gruesome” come in the first reel, the setup before the scary stuff kicks in. The short starts with Hugh as a mystery writer quoting his own dialogue “You gangsters don’t scare me with those machine guns! You wouldn’t dare use them!,” he intones... and promptly leaps scared out of his chair as a jackhammer on the street below punctuates his prose! Ever observant, Hugh’s assistant Dudley offers that “Some of these days, boss you’re gonna’ scare yourself to death, writing all them mystery plays.” It is an effectively compact introduction to the two main characters, establishing both their roles and their relationship to each other.

Hugh gets hit with something (rotten fruit, perhaps – the resolution is none too clear) when he yells out the window to the construction workers, leading into a scene where he gets stuck halfway in and halfway out the window. This is where the hit-and-miss nature of this short comes into full view, as the “comedy” here is labored, strained and unfunny. It’s hard to pinpoint why – both masters like Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello as well as lower-tier film clowns from yesteryear have mined laughs out of such scenarios, but here it just plays flat. It’s possible that the sight of Herbert, clearly a middle-aged man dangling from a window just doesn’t inspire the same funny/fear response in audiences as when they watch whimsical man-boys like Stan Laurel, Lou Costello and Curly Howard find themselves in similar situations.

We go from an unfunny bit to a funny bit, as Dudley actually vacuums up the pages of Hugh’s play script. The laughter is brief, however: as Hugh tries to retrieve the pages from the machine, the vacuum backfires spraying him with black soot and dust. This leads to a string of tasteless racial jokes as Hugh now appears to be in “blackface.” First Hugh talks into the mirror thinking he’s talking to Dudley, then Dudley tries to shoo Hugh away thinking Hugh is some sort of solicitor.

Dudley suggests that Hugh put on earmuffs to muffle the noise of the riveters. Then Hugh’s producer calls to prod him about the delayed play script and another labored gag occurs as Hugh takes the call with the earmuffs on continuously exclaiming he can’t hear a thing. In the hands of Stan Laurel, such a gag would come off as whimsical and cute but with Herbert’s advanced age and forced delivery, the sequence falls flat.

It does, however, lead to the plot device that enables the second reel to become a horror-comedy. When Hugh laments to his producer that it’s too noisy for him to finish the play, the producer suggests Hugh commence to a quiet country cabin of a friend named “Captain Dalton” who is away. Of course it’s shades of “Seven Keys to Baldpate” and all that’s really needed to get Hugh and Dudley out of their cityscape and into a climate of fear.

Shortly after Hugh and Dudley’s arrival, a big case is delivered to the cabin for the vacationing Captain Dalton. When Dudley informs Hugh about the case, Herbert muses that “Twelve Bodies Make a Case” would be a great title for a mystery play, easily the most cleverly written line of dialogue in this short.

Dudley raps on the case (including the obligatory “shave and a haircut – two bits”) and whatever is inside of course raps back. In a fourth wall busting moment, Dudley looks straight at the audience and asks, “did you hear what I heard!”

The audience soon gets a glimpse of the case’s occupant: a gorilla! Dudley has opened the latch but is distracted by Hugh calling out to him and doesn’t notice that the beast keeps reaching to grab him as he sweeps! Hugh requests a shave from Dudley while in the other room the gorilla breaks through the bars and out of the case. The surly simian walks in on Dudley shaving Hugh, unbeknownst to both… until Dudley spots the gorilla and passes out!

The gorilla becomes fascinated with the snoring Hugh, lulled into a deep snooze from his shave. He starts to use the blade on Hugh’s whiskers. Hugh starts making mildly funny comments about the rough shave but as he opens his eyes to see the gorilla there, what should be hysterical ends up hysterically unfunny as Herbert mugs in a rather inert fashion spouting out such unfunny lines as “where’s my mother” (as opposed to the clichéd but much funnier “I want my mommy.”

Hugh beats feet and then Dudley comes back into the room to continue giving Hugh a shave – not realizing the gorilla has taken Dudley’s place in the chair and has shaving cream smeared on his face. He laments that he had the craziest dream about a gorilla… and then realizes the gorilla is there in the chair. Unfortunately, Dudley catches Hugh’s broad bug from a moment before as his scare reaction is just as unconvincing and forced as Hugh’s, until saved a bit by some funny arm-waving and sped-up action.

Dudley Dickerson

The short has one more plot complication up its sleeve (and desperately needs it because it would be completely D.O.A. if it just had to rely on Hugh and Dudley’s encounters with the gorilla): a trio of lost partygoers arrive to ask directions. The party they were heading to? A masquerade party of course, with one man a devil, another a skeleton and a woman dressed as a ghost. The woman is the ubiquitous-to-Columbia shorts heroine, Christine McIntyre, statuesque blonde beauty who tussled a time or ten with many funnymen, most notably The Three Stooges (you can read Dave Whitney's affectionate tribute to this underrated comedienne when you click here). When the already skittish Dudley answers the door, he races screaming from the costumed trio.

The partiers find their way in and start chumming up to the gorilla, who they think is someone else going to the masquerade party. In fact, the devil is quite impressed: “You’re part of the masquerade, too! Say, that’s some costume – you oughtta’ win first prize!,” the faux Faust exclaims. It doesn’t take long for the partiers to realize they’re dealing with a real gorilla (or at least a very menacing brute in a gorilla suit) and scatter in various directions to elude him.

Hugh takes refuge in a bedroom where the skeleton-wearing man has plopped down into a chair and draped a cloth over himself. Hugh decides to have a cigarette to calm his nerves, but when the skeleton hand not only offers it to him but lights it Hugh goes running – first to a closet door where the ghost woman is hiding, then back to the bedroom door where the devil man is.

The bedroom bits are funny and the costumes remind one of the Faust players Buster Keaton tangled with in “The Haunted House” but when compared to the great “One Shivery Night” the screams and reactions from Hugh and Dudley are so forced this time that they become overreactions. Yet, old pros that they are the duo still have their moments. Dudley in particular gets to shine in the next sequence. He’s hiding under the bed, and when Hugh dives under it to join him Dudley retreats in sped-up motion… right into the room containing the case the gorilla was shipped in, now inhabited by the devil man! After much rocking of the case and screaming from Dudley, he makes another hasty retreat, right into a closet where the skeleton man is. The skeleton man grabs Dudley’s shoulder, which sends him careening toward the nearest exit. A very funny bit ensues with Dudley trying to open the door but having the door knob stretch out on and on forever like one of comic book hero Plastic Man’s dangling limbs.

Many horror-comedies, including some of the truly great ones defy all (or at least most) logic, but there is the nagging question here of why the masqueraders, obviously scared by the gorilla would not only stick around inside the house but persist to take delight in scaring the heebie-jeebies out of Hugh and Dudley. It is something of a disconnect. And come to think of it, just why has a gorilla been delivered to the cabin of the vacationing Captain Dalton?!

Just as Dudley’s bits improve the film in spots, so too do Hugh’s, as he has a great bit where he decides to fight back and take on the gorilla. He’s in a room with various ancient swords on the wall. As he swings a blade around in preparation, Dudley enters and just as quickly exits, thinking his boss has gone mad and is about to slice him up. Dudley decides the swords will just not do; lucky for him there’s a cannon in the room! Hugh gleefully taunts the gorilla to come in (“C’mon in gorilla – I dare ya’!” and “Whatssamatter – you afraid?!”) and positions the cannon directly opposite the a door, not realizing the gorilla will enter through an alternate entrance! A very funny turning of the tables finds Hugh cowering behind a couch as the gorilla aims the cannon right at him! This is a big dumb hairy beast though (the gorilla, not Hugh!) and soon the animal’s curiosity gets the best of him as he stares down the barrel of the cannon. Cut to Hugh’s reaction as the cannon goes off; the next hysterical shot showing the gorilla blown sky high atop the chandelier!

These bits lead to a rather socko ending. Hugh has run out of the room but Dudley’s luck isn’t as good: he comes into the room and the gorilla (complete with chandelier) lands right on top of him! Cut to Hugh driving away at top speed, delivering the funniest line in the film, “C’mon car you can do better than a hundred!” This laugh is topped by the sight of Dudley outracing the car on foot! “This guy must be going 200 miles,” muses Hugh. That would be a fine place to end, but the script throws in one last scare take, as the skeleton man emerges from the back seat to tap Hugh on the shoulder. Hugh passes out, leaving the skeleton to grab the steering wheel as the end credits roll.

The final bits help bring the short to just about an average rating. They’re so good in fact that they serve to point up the weak bits. It’s a shame the short isn’t better than it is, but if you’re a big fan of horror-comedies, Hugh and/or Dudley and of course, gorillas then “Tall, Dark & Gruesome” may be just the short for you!

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: A couple roles in this short are filled by some extremely busy character actors of yesteryear. Charles C. Wilson plays the producer of Hugh’s play, one of a long string of authoritative characters that include many stern bosses and gruff lawmen. Along the way, he had the good fortune to appear in many classic and notable films, including “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town,” “Meet John Doe,” “This Gun for Hire,” “Scarlet Street” and more. On the comedy front, he was in Joe E. Brown’s “Elmer the Great,” Danny Kaye’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” the series entry “Blondie in College,” Laurel & Hardy’s “The Big Noise,” the Hope-Crosby “Road to Utopia,” and the classic Wheeler & Woolsey horror-comedy, “The Nitwits.” He was also in the 1943 “Batman” serial and even appeared in a film called “Tall, Dark and Handsome.” He previously appeared with Hugh Herbert in the Bette Davis starrer, “Fog Over Frisco.”

Deliveryman Charles Heine Conklin was a real veteran by the time this short was made. He had appeared in dozens of silent comedy shorts for famed Keystone Films producer Mack Sennett, was in Chaplin’s legendary “The Gold Rush” and “Modern Times” and continued to perform into the talkie era in a variety of notable genre films including many comedies… and a few co-starring Herbert. Among them, “Million Dollar Legs” with W.C. Fields, Leon Errol and Hugh Herbert; Wheeler & Woolsey’s “Diplomaniacs,” also with Herbert; Harold Lloyd’s “Professor Beware,” and a variety of Columbia shorts starring The Three Stooges, Andy Clyde He also appeared in such mystery entries as the Charlie Chan, Lone Wolf and Boston Blackie series. His career came full circle when he played a Keystone Kop in Olsen & Johnson’s “Crazy House” and a studio guard in “Abbott & Costello Meet the Keystone Kops.”


HUGH: “Tell them to stop that noise – they’re driving me crazy!”

DUDLEY: “I did boss, but the places they told me you could go, my pastor wouldn’t let me repeat!”

DUDLEY: It’s so quiet here you can hear the flies walking on the ceiling!
(then after some knocks on the door): What was that?

HUGH: A couple of flies I guess…

HUGH: A couple weeks up here will help cure your nerves.

DUDLEY: Ain’t nothin’ wrong with my nerves, boss – why I could walk through a cemetery at midnight without… what am I saying?!

HUGH: If this is gonna’ be “gorilla” warfare, I’m gonna’ be prepared for it!

BEST VISUAL GAGS: As the entire short is very hit-and-miss, the visual highlights are few and far-between. There is a lot of running and screaming that should be funny but mostly isn’t. We’re left with a couple bits from the first reel, namely Dudley vacuuming up Hugh’s script pages and a stiff drink of furniture polish that sends Hugh’s hat flying straight up. The second reel delivers the bang-up gag of Dudley tussling with the door handle and he gorilla on the chandelier; as previously mentioned, pretty much all the business leading up to and including the finale are a hoot.

FURTHER READING: Ted Okuda and Edward Watz wrote an indispensible book called “The Columbia Comedy Shorts” and Leonard Maltin wrote one called “The Great Movie Shorts” (also known as “Selected Short Subjects”). You can order them here:

Selected Short Subjects: From Spanky to the Three Stooges (Da Capo Paperback)

I also encourage you to visit The Columbia Shorts Department – Greg Hilbrich’s excellent site dedicated to the fun and frolics of this studio that gave the world The Three Stooges and so much more.

WATCH THE FILM: Enjoy this clip featuring of most of the spooky bits in this short:

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Paul Castiglia Chris Allan

Well, here we go again, folks! It’s another personal appearance by yours truly… and the second-to-last for 2011. Pop on over to the New Jersey Comic Con (admission is FREE!) on Sunday, November 13th from 10 to 4 at the Clifton Recreation Center, 1232 Main Street in Clifton, NJ. It’s the 20th anniversary of the con so it promises to be a great one.

One of the main attractions is the special guest-of-honor, a good friend of mine and an artist supreme, Fernando Ruiz. Fernando was the artist on the “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” comic series I wrote and we’ll be signing copies of the paperback collection of that kooky, spooky horror-comedy while supplies last.


I’ll also have copies of the Midnight Marquee Actor Series Vincent Price book to which I contributed. I have an even more limited supply of those, so if you’re in the area and want to get a copy be sure to drop by. It contains my essay on Price’s trio of horror-comedies with Peter Lorre including such classics as “The Raven” and “The Comedy of Terrors.”

Midnight Marquee Actors Series Vincent Price

There will also be plenty of comics for sale from all decades to purchase as well as other great comics creators on hand to autograph comics, do sketches and sell original art. I might even bring a random sampling of some of the other comics I’ve written through the years, including those starring the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Superman’s Pal Bibbo. I’d love to meet you so please stop on by.

Now here’s a recent appearance I made this summer on the TV show, “Comic Book Conversations” hosted by Scott Golodner and co-starring David Levin. Enjoy!

Monday, October 31, 2011


Archie Comics Laugh monster

Greetings Scared Silly fans! Welcome to Halloween 2011 – and the second anniversary of this blog. Thank you for sticking with me for two years. I know I haven’t always been as prolific as we both would like (especially this year). As you know, I had a bit more activity in comic book land this year what with promoting my “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” book and other projects. Things should level out soon and I’m truly hoping that I can make more headway on “Scared Silly” in 2012.

I had hoped to post a review of a feature or short today but my schedule just didn’t permit it. Instead, I want to take this opportunity to remind you of some of the highest rated films in my “Scared Silly” project. Click on the titles below to read my four-star reviews of these classics:





Of course, as time goes on there are bound to be more four-star entries (“Arsenic & Old Lace,” anyone?). Keep checking back as I post new reviews as I am able.

Anyway, any of the above are worthy of your viewing this Halloween. In addition, I wanted to share some scenes from some of the more oddball horror-comedies of all time – namely “Sh! The Octopus!” with Allen Jenkins and Hugh Herbert, “Ghost Catchers” with Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson and “Zombies on Broadway” with the ersatz Abbott & Costello, Wally Brown and Alan Carney – they also make great Halloween viewing. Enjoy!


Thursday, October 27, 2011


Paul Castiglia Chris Allan

Just in time for Halloween weekend, I’m out and about again promoting the “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” paperback collection. This time, I’m appearing at two locations in Bloomfield, NJ. The signings are designed as a “cross-promotion” wherein each business benefits by being plugged by the other.

Here’s where I’ll be:

Friday, October 28th, 2011
4:00 PM to 7:00 PM
28 Washington Street
Bloomfield, NJ 07003

Saturday, October 29th, 2011
2:00 PM to 4:00 PM
71 Washington Street
Bloomfield, NJ 07003


So here’s how it works: If you come to my comic shop appearance at The Comic Book Market, you’ll get a free piece of cake from Anthony’s Cheesecake and info on Anthony’s place. If you visit me at Anthony’s Cheesecake Café, you’ll get a free Archie digest and info on the comic shop.

EXTRA BONUS: Appearing with me at The Comic Book Market is artist Glenn Whitmore of Superman, Shazam! And Life with Archie fame. I’ve known Glenn since we were kids and he’s a terrific guy in addition to being a great artist.

ANOTHER EXTRA BONUS: At the Anthony’s Cheesecake appearance I’ll also have the Midnight Marquee Vincent Price book with me. This fabulous book of essays on the films of the crown prince of horror includes one written by yours truly, as I cover Price’s horror-comedy films with Peter Lorre (naturally).

Midnight Marquee Actors Series Vincent Price

Now here’s a clip from the audio/video podcast, “Fever Keeps It Real” – the fine folks who run the show, Paul and Linda Wein dropped by the recent “Superheroes for Hospice” convention and interviewed me about Archie’s Weird Mysteries starting at 3:46 – enjoy!