Monday, December 31, 2012



Hmmmm…. Father Time is kinda’ scary, isn’t he?

Speaking of time, I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for making the past few years so much fun for me. Thank you to all those who have 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 Brian Solomon of The Vault of Horror who invited both me and John Cozzoli of Zombo’s Closet of Horror to join him on-stage at The Bijou Theatre in Connecticut for a double-feature screening of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein last week. Brian was wonderful to meet and a big fan, and John of course also continues to be a strong supporter of this project.

LEFT TO RIGHT: John Cozzoli, Brian Solomon, Paul Castiglia

Another round of special thanks goes to master (and celebrity) chef and restaurateur Francesco Palmieri of the Orange Squirrel restaurant in New Jersey. Francesco hosted a special Halloween dinner comprised of entrees from Vincent Price's cookbook... and he invited me to participate and give a short presentation on Price including a fun trivia contest! Francesco and his family and staff were all wonderful people and I am grateful to have met them as well.

Paul Castiglia, Francesco Palmieri

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)!

Last but certainly not least 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!

Monday, December 24, 2012



Hello, Scared Silly fans! 2012 has been quite a year. While external circumstances prevented me from writing too many reviews the last half of the year, I did end up with two fun Scared Silly-related gigs which both came out of left field.

You’ll recall that I was guest-speaker at a Halloween dinner held by the great celebrity chef Francesco Palmieri who created entrees based on recipes in Vincent Price’s cookbook (and if you don’t recall, just click here to read about that).

Now comes another great opportunity that’s right up my alley: impeccable blog-meisters Brian Solomon of The Vault of Horror and John Cozzoli of Zombo’s Closet (you remember John – he’s featured me on his site several times – once here and once here and another time here) have invited me to join them on stage at the Bijou Theatre in Bridgeport, Connecticut for a double-feature screening of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein!

Abbott & Costelo Meet Frankenstein & Fiends

Of course you know I consider the Abbott & Costello romp to be the ultimate classic horror-comedy extravaganza (I doubt few would disagree) – if you want to revisit my review of the film you can do so by clicking here.


As for Young Frankenstein, I’m a big fan of at least the first two thirds of the film, those parts that really pay attention to and lampoon the mythology of the first few Universal Frankenstein films. It’s rather brilliant and funny and with pros like Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Chloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman, Teri Garr and Kenneth Mars lending their precision timing and flair for the absurd director Brooks had it made. My favorite bit is the spoof of the blind hermit sequence from Bride of Frankenstein – I think the legendary Gene Hackman as the hermit surprised many at the time with his comedic finesse.

Midnight Marquee Actors Series Vincent Price

The double-feature screening is part of a series that Brian Solomon is running at the Bijou Theatre called BEDLAM AT THE BIJOU. He’s even subtitled this one, “Scared Silly!” Brian, John and I will be hosting and doing Q&A and trivia and the like.

Additionally, I’ll be giving away one autographed copy each of my VINCENT PRICE and ARCHIE’S WEIRD MYSTERIES books, plus I’ll have extra copies of both available for sale there.

The fun takes place this Thursday, December 27th , 2012 starting at 7PM. The theater is located at 275 Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport, Connecticut and you can contact them at (203) 332-3228 or for more information. Click here to check the event calendar for upcoming double-doses of creature features.

Now here are the trailers for the two films we’ll be featuring Thursday – hope to see you there!

Thursday, December 13, 2012



Greetings Scared Silly fans. I know I’ve been scarce in these parts as of late and I apologize for that – my schedule has been a doozy the last half of this year. The good news is that I may have an opportunity soon to make up for lost time and get back to reviewing classic horror-comedy films on a more regular basis.

In the meantime, I wanted to let you know that I’m making another personal appearance for charity this weekend, at a very special event for a great cause: benefiting victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Called “Creating with Compassion,” the event brings together New Jersey-based comic industry pros, book authors, fine artists, singers and musicians and other performers. There will be opportunities to meet, greet and receive autographs from the creative talent on hand as well as to enjoy book readings, live music, art demonstrations, performances and more.

The open-house style event will be held at Jersey City’s Art House Productions, 1 McWilliams Place, Jersey City, N.J. on December 15, 2012 from 4 to 7 PM. Admission is free, but donations for the American Red Cross will be collected at the door. Each participant will donate a portion of the afternoon’s sales to a Hurricane Sandy relief organization of his or her choice. I will be there autographing copies of my ARCHIE’S WEIRD MYSTERIES and VINCENT PRICE books along with various comic book projects.


Also on hand will be some of my friends from the world of comics, all who have interesting things to offer. Mark “My Pal Mark” Mariano is the author-illustrator of the comic, Happy Loo as well as the illustrator of the children’s book, No Sweets For Santa. He also created the event’s logo (above) and is a member of the quirky rock trio, The O>Matics. In addition to autographing books, Mark will also be performing as his Mark O>Matic alter ego.

Also on hand will be Joe Endres, the writer-co-creator of Colossians and Megazeen and popular sketch card artist and art teacher, Nick Mockoviak – a man known for his fondness for Universal Monsters!

Midnight Marquee Actors Series Vincent Price

Now here’s a clip of New Jersey First Lady Mary Pat Christie urging people to donate to the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund. I will be donating proceeds from the sales of my books to this charity as well as to the Red Cross.

Saturday, November 10, 2012



It’s time once again for the “Superheroes for Hospice” charity comic convention, taking place this Saturday, November 10th at the Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center (BHHPCC).

This time we’ve added a special extra component to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. Attendees who bring non-perishable food items will receive a free comic book for each item (up to five food items per person with an expiration date not older than 2012).

The event takes place from 10AM to 6PM and benefits patients and families served by BHHPCC. I will be there autographing copies of my ARCHIE’S WEIRD MYSTERIES and VINCENT PRICE books along with various comic book projects.


Of course, I’m not the only attraction at this charity event. Several other comic industry pros will be on hand to autograph comics and do sketches and there will also be auctions for original murals and other items. As always there will also be plenty of comics for sale from all decades. More details on the event and the lectures can be found when you click on this link.

Midnight Marquee Actors Series Vincent Price

Established in 1981, Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center provides comprehensive physical, emotional and spiritual care and support services to patients with advanced illness throughout ten counties in New Jersey. The program, which serves infants, children, adults and the elderly, honors the unique choices and values of patients and their families while offering full access to the broad array of services provided by the Barnabas Health. For more information, please visit

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 September, 2011 “Superheroes for Hospice<” convention and interviewed me about Archie’s Weird Mysteries and the charity starting at 3:46 – enjoy!

Friday, November 2, 2012


NOTE: This is a re-post of an entry from earlier this week talking about an event with which I am involved. Originally scheduled for Halloween but postponed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the event is rescheduled to this Sunday, November 4th at 5PM.

Vincent Price cooking

So what's on your menu for Halloween? Broiled bat? Wolfbane stew? Seafood Lagoona?

This Wednesday Sunday at 5PM at the Orange Squirrel restaurant in Bloomfield, New Jersey patrons will be trick-or-treated to a special Halloween night menu consisting of entrees made from recipes out of Vincent (and his wife Mary) Price's cookbook!

Owner-chef Francesco Palmieri, a popular chef who has made appearances on such TV programs as The Today Show is also a big Vincent Price fan and decided to do something with a bit of a Translvanian twist this Halloween. He's encouraged fans to show up with their favorite Vincent Price memorabilia and remembrances and he's even enlisted little 'ol me to share my thoughts on the crown prince of horror. I'll be sharing some of the more interesting anecdotes about Price - not just the actor, but also the avid art collector, dog lover and gourmet chef (read more about Vincent's forays into cooking by clicking here).

(Photo): Vincent Price, Francesco Palmieri holding a copy of the cookbook "A Treasury of Great Recipes" by Vincent and Mary Price.

As you know, I'm a longtime Vincent fan (and if you don't know, just click here to read one of my posts about the iconic actor). I've also written a chapter in a book of essays on Vincent published by Midnight Marquee Press and I'll be giving away autographed copies of the book (as well as some copies of my Archie's Weird Mysteries book and perhaps some other surprises) to those lucky patrons who answer my trivia questions correctly.

Please click here for more information on the Halloween happening, and perhaps we'll see you there!

Now enjoy this clip of Vincent Price discussing fine cuisine with a panel of expert muppets... er, I mean chefs! Bone appetit!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


No photo for this blog post... I don't really want to "make light" of the situation (despite this post's title).

Fact is that Hurricane Sandy (dubbed "Frankenstorm" due to it colliding with another weather system that doubled its impact) has devastated a great deal of the East Coast.

For the second year straight, in my state Halloween has actually been canceled (well, at least postponed). Last year you may recall a freak snowstorm that weighed down all the tree branches and power lines and caused havoc. But that was nothing compared to this latest storm.

It seems silly to apologize but I had indeed been planning to complete and post my review of The Three Stooges in Orbit for today. It wasn't meant to be as obviously I've been occupied with other things the past few days, none the least of which is the fact that I have no power, phone or internet (I'm creating this blog post now due to the kindness of local merchants allowing me to use their wifi).

You may also recall in my last post (which you can read by clicking here) I was supposed to be giving a talk on Vincent Price tonight at another local merchant's place (the event is a Halloween dinner with entrees made from Vincent Price's recipes). That's been rescheduled to this Sunday, November 4th at 5PM.

Anyway, I just want to wish everyone out there all the best. My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the storm. I encourage everyone out there to help someone in any way you can. Even just helping one person can make a difference!

Monday, October 29, 2012


Vincent Price cooking

So what's on your menu for Halloween? Broiled bat? Wolfbane stew? Seafood Lagoona?

This Wednesday at the Orange Squirrel restaurant in Bloomfield, New Jersey patrons will be trick-or-treated to a special Halloween night menu consisting of entrees made from recipes out of Vincent (and his wife Mary) Price's cookbook!

Owner-chef Francesco Palmieri, a popular chef who has made appearances on such TV programs as The Today Show is also a big Vincent Price fan and decided to do something with a bit of a Translvanian twist this Halloween. He's encouraged fans to show up with their favorite Vincent Price memorabilia and remembrances and he's even enlisted little 'ol me to share my thoughts on the crown prince of horror. I'll be sharing some of the more interesting anecdotes about Price - not just the actor, but also the avid art collector, dog lover and gourmet chef (read more about Vincent's forays into cooking by clicking here).

(Photo): Vincent Price, Francesco Palmieri holding a copy of the cookbook "A Treasury of Great Recipes" by Vincent and Mary Price.

As you know, I'm a longtime Vincent fan (and if you don't know, just click here to read one of my posts about the iconic actor). I've also written a chapter in a book of essays on Vincent published by Midnight Marquee Press and I'll be giving away autographed copies of the book (as well as some copies of my Archie's Weird Mysteries book and perhaps some other surprises) to those lucky patrons who answer my trivia questions correctly.

Of course, unless you're one of those ooky-spooky creepy crawlers who've been living under a rock these past few days, you may know that the entire East Coast is getting pounded by a weather event that's been appropriately (for this time of year) nicknamed "Frankenstorm." That means the Halloween dinner could possibly be canceled. We'll see.

Please click here for more information on the Halloween happening, and perhaps we'll see you there!

Now enjoy this clip of Vincent Price discussing fine cuisine with a panel of expert muppets... er, I mean chefs! Bone appetit!

Thursday, October 11, 2012



Hey Scared Silly fans - this is your weekend if you live on the East or the West Coast! That's because you'll have two chances to indulge in some cartoony horror-comedy goodness.

Let's start with my pal Patrick Owsley, one of the premiere cartoonists and illustrator of many notable pieces of licensed merchandise. This Saturday, October 13th Patrick is taking part in a special event at the Van Eaton Gallery in Sherman Oaks, California. Patrick has a "Mad Monster Party" piece in the art show, alongside many other cool artists. Plus, Rankin/Bass Author & Historian Rick Goldschmidt will be on hand to autograph his "Mad Monster Party" book! It's a true "Mad Monster Party" and it will be swinging from 6PM to 10PM that night. If you're in the area, consider yourself invited!

New York Comic Con 2012

The same day, yours truly will be appearing at this year's New York Comic Con, held at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. I'll be autographing copies of both Volume 1 and Volume 2 of "The Best of Archie Comics." As I mentioned a post you can read by clicking here, Volume 1 includes one of the "Archie's Weird Mysteries" stories I wrote. It all happens at the Archie Comics booth, #1720 from 4PM to 5PM. Of course, there are a gazillion other cool comics and comic industry pros to check out at the event as well - a "must-go" for fans of comics, toys and genre films... and you'll find more than a few "monster" fans there, too!

Now, here's some video of me shot a couple weeks ago at another comics-related event, as the Kids Comic Con volunteers trekked to Manhattan for a street fair benefiting the Ronald McDonald House - ENJOY!

Saturday, September 29, 2012



...and so another month is ending.

...and so I never got another review up.

With apologies to my faithful fans, "real life" has just done a number on my time. I am seeing some light at the end of the tunnel though so I'm hopeful to have a review or two up for October (especially with it being the month of Halloween after all).

Of course, I'm not going to leave you totally unsated as September exits.

Instead, I'm going to let you enjoy the delights of Charley Bowers. I was introduced to Bowers by friend Paul Etcheverry whose blog "Psychotronic Paul" often covers similar ground to the cinematic, comic and pop culture delights we enjoy here at Scared Silly.

Others have written more eloquently and extensively on Bowers than I possibly could (to learn more, click here and here and here) but in brief, Bowers was both an animator/cartoon director of the silent era (a run that included the animated series based on Bud Fisher's popular Mutt & Jeff comic strip) as well as a live-action comedian-director from the silent and early sound era. His films were lost for many years but when some were finally discovered there was a resurgence of interest in Bowers.

Bowers stock-in-trade was his penchant for surreal animated effects... and not just in the cartoons he directed. His live-action shorts that survive are chock full of crazy visual effects that are mind-boggling, mind-numbing and everything in-between!

I'm not certain any of the Bowers live-action shorts would technically qualify as "horror-comedy" (as opposed to Mutt & Jeff cartoon, Slick Sleuths) but There It Is certainly comes close. Interestingly, Bowers uses a macabre villain called "The Phantom" in both Slick Sleuths and There It Is. Without further ado, I present to you a slice of cinema that is surely unlike anything you're likely to have seen before. Here it is: There It Is!

Thursday, September 20, 2012


Greetings Scared Silly fans! Just a quick note to let you know about my upcoming appearance at the next Superheroes for Hospice charity comic convention taking place this Saturday, September 17th at the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, New Jersey on Route 35. 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. Proceeds will support the patients and families of the Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center. Established in 1981, the Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center, located at 95 Old Short Hills Road in West Orange, 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 Barnabas Health 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 enjoy a spooky yet kooky clip from the “Archie’s Weird Mysteries” TV cartoon that takes place… where else?... in a mall!

Monday, September 17, 2012



Greetings Scared Silly fans!

Welcome to a brand-new new feature on this blog: CARTOONEY CREEPSTAKES. I received a note from a reader asking me to plug one of his favorite horror-comedy online comic strips and I got to thinking, “With my own background as a writer of horror-comedy comic books (namely “Archie’s Weird Mysteries,”) why not make discussion of non-movie horror-comedy a regular feature?”

So, CARTOONEY CREEPSTAKES will be just that. In-between classic horror-comedy movie reviews, I’ll post about how the genre is being tackled by cartoonists, whether doing comic strips, comic books or animated cartoons. Sometimes it may even be take some other form – for example, I have a friend who does silkscreen art that is cartoony and clearly inspired by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Addams and Tim Burton. CARTOONEY CREEPSTAKES will be the feature where such folks can be spotlighted.

In addition to new projects, I’ll occasionally dip back into history to feature some classic comic or cartoon from the past.

In truth, I’ve been doing all of the above all along (click here and here and here and here and here for other examples). The difference now is that I’m making this an official feature by giving it a name and by setting a goal of delivering such a post at least once a month. With my crazy schedule as of late it will also help to have such posts in-between my more in-depth movie reviews (and it offers you faithful readers some new content while you await those reviews).

Before I let the preamble ramble on too far, let’s get right into this first official installment. As mentioned above, a reader named Dan Bostaph asked that I please give special mention to Chris M. Cantrell’s web comic, The Deadlys. Here’s his email, reprinted with his permission:


“Recently, Chris' web comic "The Deadlys" got hacked. Everything was either deleted or virus-contaminated. He tried to reconstruct the site from his backups, only to discover that the virus used had contaminated his backups, too. Fortunately, a Data Recovery Specialist helped him get back all his strips.

Nevertheless, Chris was, upset, and just about ready to pack it in. A few of his fans, including myself, encouraged him not to give up. He agreed.

Now, Chris has redesigned the website, with extra security, more features, and he even intends to write & draw a second feature "Vampire Teenage Mystery Solvers", using a younger version of one of his characters.”


Per Dan, “The Deadlys" is “a little slice of Charles Addams's territory, if the Addams' had been written by Hank Ketchum.” It chronicles life in suburbia for Jack Deadly – a goale-masked Jason-esque fiend; his vampire wife, Elizabeth and children Morgan and Viktor.

“They deal with job stress, unwelcome relatives and everything else modern life can dump on a family of monsters,” Dan continued. “In short, fun.”

Dan went on to explain that much of Chris's readership is AWOL, and he needs a hand getting started again. His strip returns today, September 17th. I encourage you to check it out at the new website address,

One last thing: Dan states that he is “not connected to Chris, and don't get any money from the strip, I just get the enjoyment.” That’s enough of an endorsement for me! Enjoy!


Thursday, August 30, 2012


Spooky Haunted House

Scared Silly fans... August was just one of those months. A lot of stuff to deal with in the "real world" prevented me from getting a proper review written and posted. I'm hoping to make up for it in September but until then, here's another public domain two-reel short subject for your viewing pleasure.

"The Old Barn" is another short produced and directed by comedy film pioneer Mack Sennett. You may recall the early (1931) Sennet-helmed Andy Clyde talkie, "Ghost Parade" that I posted a few months back. That was an early short but this one is even earlier - going all the way back to 1929!

"The Old Barn" also features Andy Clyde, so you get another chance to see a younger Clyde playing his patented old man character (as opposed to the older Clyde of "Spook to Me," a 1945 short that I reviewed last month).

Also in the cast are Johnny Burke, Thelma Hood and a pair of ubiquitous supporting players, Daphne Pollard (of Laurel & Hardy fame) and Vernon Dent (constantly bothered, bewildered and beleaguered by the Three Stooges).

This one creaks a bit, and not just because it's about the titular old barn. The pacing is a bit off, as often happened in early talkies as directors and actors tried to find their footing in the new-fangled world of films with speech. Still, there are a few effective spooky moments and bits of comic business worth a casual glance for horror-comedy fans, so take a look:

NOTE: Due to embedding problems caused by the length of this short, I am unable to provide a direct file for your immediate viewing. However, just click here to watch "The Old Barn" on Camelot Broadcasting's Comedy Shorts Channel webpage.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012



Pioneering comedienne Phyllis Diller has left us. I'm not going to delve too deeply into her career here, but I encourage you to poke around the internet and read all you can about this creative and courageous performer.

Here at Scared Silly, we're all about horror-comedies. Diller flirted with this motif. In her stand-up act, she referred to a husband named "Fang." It was vague - not overtly "horror" in content but that coupled with her outrageous look - her spiked hair, often garish make-up and odd outfits - made her sort of a comically off-kilter mash-up of Cruella de Ville and Lily Munster.

This sometimes led to appearances on variety and kid shows in Halloween-themed skits (at least that's how I remember her - my memory could be faulty - but in the 1970s she seemed to be the funny "go to" ghoul gal the same way that Vincent Price was the funny go-to ghoul guy).

Even if my memory on the above is a bit fuzzy, one thing is clear: Diller was a major part of one of the greatest horror-comedy films of all time, Mad Monster Party. In tribute to Phyllis, I now present this encore review of Mad Monster Party:

Today we take a look at a movie that falls outside the parameters of SCARED SILLY’S criteria for inclusion in the upcoming book of the same name, as it was released the year after our cutoff date AND it is animated, not live-action.

Still, this film is such a huge part of the “monster kid” era and such a big influence on my love of horror-comedies in general that today I’ve decided to highlight…

Jack Davis

*** & ½ out of ****

I’m not going to write a full-fledged review here nor follow the ususal SCARED SILLY blog format, but rather I’ll give you a brief overview of this film and point you to some sources where you can learn more about this wonderful film.

To the uninitiated, think of “The Mad Monster Party” like this: the all-out mayhem of Universal monster rally films like “House of Frankenstein,” "House of Dracula" and “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” meets the engaging stop-motion animation (dubbed "Animagic") of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” meets the spooky trappings of the mixed-media animated “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Throw in wild Mad Magazine style humor and satirical jabs at then-current 1960s crazes like James Bond, Batman and the Beatles (I defy you not to hum along when the all-skeleton group Little Tibia & the Phibias sing "It's the Mummy") and you've got a horror-comedy classic!

The story: Dr. Frankenstein is ready to retire, and invites all the monsters to his castle to break this news (and possibly reveal his successor as ruler of all monsters), as well as his discovery of a new anti-matter potion.

The voice-over by Karloff as Dr. Frankenstein is the kindly old “Uncle Boris” persona that monster kids had come to know and love in the 1960s – at least through the majority of the movie (until circumstances force him to get his ire up that is).

Boris Karloff Mad Monster Party

Included on the guest-list are the most famous monsters from classic horror-movies: Dracula, the Frankenstein monster, the monster’s Bride (here a caricature of comedienne Phyllis Diller), the Werewolf, the Hunchback of Notre Dame (who seems to have inspired Disney's later version), the Invisible Man, a sea creature (like the Gill Man from the “Creature from the Black Lagoon”), the Mummy, an Igor-like character called Yetch (whose appearance and voice are patterned after Peter Lorre), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and an army of zombie soldiers (the “White Zombie” kind of zombies, not the brain-eating George Romero zombies).

Also invited: Frankenstein’s nebbishy, nervous, allergy-prone nephew Felix Flanken.

Not invited, but sure to cause trouble is “It,” a giant gorilla of Kong-sized proportions.

There is a lot of scheming, back-biting and double-crossing going on here as Dracula thinks he deserves to be the next ruler of the monsters, while the Bride thinks the Monster should be next in line.

Of course, the doctor is considering keeping things in the family with Flanken, so that puts Felix’s life in jeopardy.

An interesting added-attraction of this movie is the character Francesca. The knockout redhead must surely be an inspiration for the Jessica Rabbit character from 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Voiced by popular singer Gale Garnett, she even gets to sing a sultry number, a rousing anthem and the film’s love song.

She also plays a part in the ending, which is yet another one (like "The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini") inspired by the ending of "Some Like it Hot."

In the New York City area, WOR Channel 9 used to run this film a lot (you can read a great blog posting about the movie and its NY airings here). In fact, for years it used to run it in a beat-up old print and whenever I came across it, I was sure to tune in. In later years the film was restored and ran on AMC (when that station’s initials still meant they showed American Movie Classics, not Any Moving Crap as appears to be its current state).

The best thing about the film is that it comes from a time when many animated films and TV shows were designed to appeal to both children and adults at the same time, with smart humor that didn't "talk down" to kids. That shouldn’t come as a surprise since two Mad Magazine alum were involved – writer Harvey Kurtzman helped pen the script and artist Jack Davis did character designs as well as the art for the movie poster. (NOTE ADDED MAY 12: In the wake of the passing of legendary artist Frank Frazetta, it appears I erred in giving Davis credit for this poster - it has been cited by numerous sources as actually being the work of Frazetta).

The film really captured my imagination and I’m sure it will capture yours, too.

I’d venture to guess this film captured Tim Burton’s imagination, too.

You can buy the original “Mad Monster Party“ on DVD here:

The film even spawned a sequel – actually a prequel called “Mad Mad Monsters” which ran on ABC’s Saturday Superstar Movie. Unlike its predecessor, it utilized hand-drawn cel animation instead of the stop-motion “Animagic” style, but it did retain some of Jack Davis’ wonderful character designs. The plot was almost identical, except this time all the monsters were invited to the castle to attend the wedding of the Monster and his Bride.

The Retro Junk site has an excellent article detailing both the original movie and the prequel which you can read here.

The excellent site has a nice review that also gives some background on the film's fine soundtrack.

My father's godson Jerry Only from horror-punk legends The Misfits is also a big fan, and their website has a nice write-up on the film here.

You can also learn more by visiting both the film’s official site and its unofficial site.

And you can enjoy the trailer right here:

Thursday, August 16, 2012



Scared Silly fans... August has been another tough month but I'm hoping to have a review up for you soon. In the meantime, thought I'd whet your appetite with trailers of some of the films I'll eventually be reviewing... keep checking back here to see my reactions to the following classic (and in some cases perhaps not-so-classic) horror-comedies!

...and now here's a trailer sandwich with one important note: I'll only be reviewing the two pieces of bread ("How Dooo You Dooo?" and "The Ghost & the Guest"), not the filling ("French Leave") in the middle!

Monday, July 30, 2012


Monster Squad

...via computer animation!

While I commence to dive into my next review of a classic-era horror-comedy, please enjoy these coming attractions for computer animated horror-comedy films coming soon to a multiplex near you!

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Sons of the Desert 2012 convention logo

In honor of the 18th annual Sons of the Desert (the International Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society) convention happening this week, I’m reprinting some of my Laurel & Hardy reviews. You can learn more about the organization by clicking here. And you can read this review of a Laurel & Hardy classic below:

Stan Laurel Oliver Hardy Live Ghost

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

PLOT: A tough sea captain has to shanghai a crew because everyone is convinced his ship is haunted. Laurel & Hardy, enjoying a day off by fishing on the pier are approached by the captain who offers them a “dollar a head” for each crew member they snag. Of course, we’re talking about Stan & Ollie here – and as long as they’re on the job you can be sure that they will get themselves shanghaied as well! This is most inopportune as now they’re surrounded by several angry men who aren’t thrilled that they’re stuck on a “ghost ship.” One angry crew member says as much, but is immediately laid flat by the captain, who threatens that if anyone mentions the word “ghost” to him again, he’ll twist his head around so that “when you’re walking north, you’ll be facing south!” Furthermore, the captain vows that as long as Laurel & Hardy are on the ship, they are under his protection and not to be harmed. Complications arise when the captain asks Stan & Ollie to watch over the ship’s drunk. Before too long, the pair think they’ve accidentally killed the drunk… and when he resurfaces doused in white paint, they’re convinced they’ve seen a ghost!

REVIEW: Laurel & Hardy are my favorite comedy team of all time, and two of the reasons are the subtle nuances their characters contain as well as their carefully constructed, methodical build-ups to gags, often piled one on top of the other, leading to one explosive payoff after another. However, these attributes don't appeal to all modern-day audiences. Many find the team "slow" and prefer the more rapid-fire pace of Abbott & Costello or The Three Stooges.

"The Live Ghost" provides the best of all worlds. While it retains many of the lovely subtle character touches that make Stan & Ollie so special, its pace is a bit quicker, a foreshadow of things to come for the team when the studios they worked for in the 1940s insisted they quicken their pace a la then box office kings, Abbott & Costello. It is one of the fastest-moving of Laurel & Hardy’s two reel (approximately 20 minutes) shorts.

For Abbott & Costello fans, there is the madcap scene where Stan and Ollie scam the saloon patrons to help the “ghost ship” captain shanghai a crew. This con plays out similarly to a Bud & Lou routine, though of course with more facial expressions and arm and hand flourishes than snappy banter. The scam works like this: Stan bets the unsuspecting drinkers that they can’t hold an egg in their mouth without breaking it. This is a bet they can’t refuse – surely anyone can place an egg in their mouth without breaking it. The surprise comes when Stan clonks said challengers on the chin, causing the egg to break! The inevitable chase out the saloon door ensues, where Ollie is waiting to bash the victim on the head with a frying pan.

Later in the film, there are more foreshadows of Bud & Lou in a scene where Stan & Ollie are convinced they’ve accidentally shot the souse they’ve been charged with keeping on the boat and out of the bar. Little do they know he’s put some luggage under the covers while sneaking off to the saloon. The situation is exacerbated when, in his alcohol-induced stupor, the drunk falls into a tray of white wash. This leads to one of the most hysterical and perfectly timed scare takes ever committed to film… a masterful double take from Stan Laurel, who perfectly in character stares blankly at first and without emotion at the all-white drunk… then as if awoken out of a deep sleep, shoots his head back up in sheer and utter panic. Surely, the ghost of the man he and Ollie “killed” has come back to seek vengeance!

Stan isn’t the only one who registers fear on a grand scale. Hardy’s expressive face also conveys the terror the duo face. Hardy gives his usual overall masterful performance, essaying emotions including frustration, agitation, disbelief and fear with his putty face. There is also a lot of great Hardy body language in this short, from his fluttery mannerisms when trying to con the crew to his wobbly quakes and quivers as the ghostly going-ons unfold.

Stan Laurel Oliver Hardy Live Ghost

The film definitely has more than its share of black humor. It’s interesting to note how differently the black humor plays when delivered by naïve men-children like Laurel & Hardy as opposed to the more worldly-wise Abbott & Costello, who were to tread similar ground in 1949’s “Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff." It’s more palpable in the Laurel & Hardy situation while more farcical in the Abbott & Costello scenario. Since both teams are masters at what they do, they make the dark material work to their advantage, producing laughter out of fear.

“The Live Ghost”’s settings and the way they’re shot add to the macabre feel. Most horror-comedies take place in a haunted house, creepy castle or terrifying tomb. Like the Hugh Herbert/Allen Jenkins film “Sh! The Octopus” that would follow three years later, “The Live Ghost” manages to make seafaring environs – a dock, the saloon on the mainland and the “ghost ship” itself suitably spooky. Dark shadows and a foreboding mist in the air complete the cinematographer’s task.

Laurel, Hardy and the cinematography aren’t the only stars of “The Live Ghost,” however. The film is enhanced by the presence of some outstanding supporting actors, including several who could be deemed “regulars” in the Laurel & Hardy universe. Imposing Walter Long as the gruff sea captain could scare with a scowl and a single eyebrow raised. He appeared in several films with Stan & Ollie, most notably “Going Bye Bye” where he played a convict put away by Stan & Ollie’s testimony (“Aren’t you going to hang him?,” asks an incredulous Stan as the verdict is read). The fun begins when he escapes from the police! Average guy Charlie Hall could go from cheerful to cranky in a heartbeat. He appeared in dozens of classic Laurel & Hardy films, including the only Laurel & Hardy sequel, “Tit for Tat” and its predecessor, “Them Thar Hills.” Hall also worked with Chaplin, Wheeler & Woolsey, W.C. Fields, Abbott & Costello and many more comedians from Hollywood’s golden age. Arthur Houseman portrayed the perennial drunk – whenever a film needed a comical drunk for surefire laughs, the role went to either Houseman or another Laurel & Hardy co-star, Jack Norton. If you think Houseman’s funny in “The Live Ghost,” check out the feature “Our Relations,” where he gets stuck inside a phone booth with Stan & Ollie! Last on the scene in “Live Ghost” but still making an impression is Mae Busch. The versatile blonde actress, an ingénue in silent films became a major comic presence in 1930s two-reelers. Mae could play a shrewish wife, sexy and sassy independent woman and off-the-deep-end loon with equal aplomb.

A very well-constructed plot, “The Live Ghost” delivers on its premise in spades. And like most Laurel & Hardy classics, while the punchline is inevitable and devoid of surprise, the journey to the final gag is a sheer delight. The captain is serious about his threat to all that if anyone mentions the word “ghost,” he’ll twist his head around so that “when you’re walking north, you’ll be facing south!” Of course, it is Stan and Ollie who are convinced they’ve seen the walking dead… and at film’s end, they certainly do end up seeing him north as they’re facing south!


STAN (after he and Ollie load the sack they think contains the drunk with coal, and Ollie tells him the drunk will probably go to “the other place” instead of heaven):

Do you have to take your own coal when you go to the other place?

Laurel &amp; Hardy - Ghost overboard

Also, Stan declaring that he’s going to have “ghost trouble” all night.

BEST GAGS: The egg-in-mouth scam, Stan’s amazing double take, Ollie reprimanding Stan… or rather, he thinks the person lying next to him is Stan but it’s really “the ghost!”

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: Pete Gordon… who most Laurel & Hardy fans know even if they don’t know his name, as he played the “Cat” (covered in full furry costume) who played the fiddle and chased after Mickey Mouse (portrayed by a monkey!) in “Babes in Toyland” (aka “March of the Wooden Soldiers”). Here Gordon plays a Chinese cook.

WATCH THE FILM: It’s actually coming up to that time of the year when “The Live Ghost” can be seen on TV. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s shown in a horribly “colorized” print following another great but equally horribly colorized Laurel & Hardy film, the aforementioned “March of the Wooden Soldiers.” Anyway, various local TV stations across the nation annually run these two films for the Thanksgiving and sometimes Christmas holidays.

BUY THE FILM: I’m not going to take the time here to talk about how the bulk of the library of classic Laurel & Hardy films has been mishandled by its US rights holders, keeping the majority of their gems off the DVD market. I’ll just say that if you still have a working VHS player you can get “The Live Ghost” and a few other classic Laurel & Hardy horror-comedies together in one videotape collection called THE LAUREL & HARDY SPOOKTACULAR. And if you really want to have the best of Stan and Ollie on DVD, then you’ll need to get an ALL-REGION DVD PLAYER and order the 21-disc DVD Collection from England. You can buy both the VHS and the DVD collection here:

FURTHER READING: There are so many great Laurel & Hardy books out there that it’s a shame to pare down the list, but as far as “The Live Ghost” is concerned there are two that stand out. One is a handsome coffee table book simply called "Laurel & Hardy" by John McCabe and Richard W. Bann that I borrowed from my local library on nearly a continuous basis as a child. The book is loaded with both production and promotional stills from nearly all of Laurel & Hardy’s shorts and features, with a synopsis of each film and in some cases interesting background information. If more detailed background information is more your thing, then you’ll want to move directly to Randy Skretvedt’s essential, impeccably researched “Laurel & Hardy: the Magic Behind the Movies.” Both books have entries on “The Live Ghost,” as does this entry which was part of a fantastic overview of the majority of Laurel & Hardy’s horror-comedies from the Missing Link website.

There’s no trailer for this as it’s a short, but clips from this short are sprinkled throughout this fan-made collage of scenes from spooky Laurel & Hardy films. You can see shots from “The Live Ghost” at 0:19-0:21 (the soused man Houseman becomes a doused man!), 0:36-0:39 (Houseman stumbles about), 1:06-1:09 (the beginning of Stan’s amazing double-take – although the second half of the take isn’t shown here!), 1:33-1:40 (a ghostly guest in the bed!), and 2:07-2:10 (a fast Phantom!) Watch the montage here:

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Sons of the Desert 2012 convention logo

In honor of the 18th annual Sons of the Desert (the International Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society) convention happening this week, I’m reprinting some of my Laurel & Hardy reviews. You can learn more about the organization by clicking here. And you can read this review of a Laurel & Hardy classic below:

Babes Toyland Wooden Soldiers

RATING: *** & ¾ out of ****

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!