Tuesday, December 31, 2013



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

Speaking of time, I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for making the past few years so much fun for me. Thank you to all those who have tweeted about my blog, chosen to “follow” the blog, have left comments on posts and told others about the project. I am especially grateful to all the blogs and websites who have publicized this wacky endeavor over the past 12 months.

Special thanks goes to Brian Solomon of The Vault of Horror who invited me to join him on-stage at The Bijou Theatre in Connecticut for a double-feature screening of Mad Monster Party and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Brian has been one of the great supporters of the Scared Silly project, and it's always great to have an opportunity to be a guest-speaker at screenings of classic films (teaser: watch this blog for a special announcement about my next guest-speaking gig which is happening very soon).

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Another round of special thanks goes to master (and celebrity) chef and restaurateur Francesco Palmieri of the Orange Squirrel restaurant in New Jersey. For the second year in a row, Francesco hosted a special Halloween dinner comprised of entrees from Vincent Price's cookbook... and once again he invited me to participate and give a short presentation on Price including a fun trivia contest! Francesco and his family and staff are all wonderful people and I am grateful for the friendship and camaraderie we have formed.

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 30, 2013


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RATING: ** out of ****

PLOT: Pete Smith is called away to investigate mysterious going-ons at a haunted mansion. While there, every manner of menace and horror flies at him – literally – in this 3D short. Chief among the terrors: the Frankenstein monster!

REVIEW: Pete Smith’s specialty was specialty shorts – literally. Like Robert Benchley, his shorts were early examples of “mockumentaries” where anything went, the visuals accompanied by copious narration that ranged from mildly amusing to screamingly funny.

In the early 1940s, Smith’s home studio, MGM decided his shorts would be the perfect venue to introduce audiences to three dimensional films, a then still experimental process in its infancy. Smith made three such shorts, but only this one traded on the specialized thrills of horror-comedies.

As this short begins, the music behind the opening titles promises some spooky thrills. Then viewers are given a quick tutorial on the “audioscopiks” 3D process and how to use the glasses.

The scene opens on Smith at home in his study. As he narrates, “I seemed at peace, but my nerves were on edge. I was absorbed in scientific study.” Cut to a close-up of the book Smith is reading – a horror thriller called “The Living Corpse.”

Of course, it’s midnight. We know because Smith’s narration tells us. Midnight and all is still. Until of course, the phone rings just as Smith is in the middle of reading a harrowing chapter!

A female voice on the other end screams for help – there’s trouble at the country house, says Aunt Tillie.

Smith commences to the old spooky mansion to help. Initially, he is met with a typical horror-comedy trope: the front door opens on its own, and swings shut on its own, too.

But then, the short takes an unexpected turn. Smith looks up to the second floor (it’s one of those great old homes that has an atrium spanning the floors) where he sees a light. The light comes from a lantern… being carried by the Frankenstein monster!

Suddenly, Third Dimensional Murder takes on added importance as a milestone marker on the road to Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein! A road paved with several comedians’ encounters with the monster before Bud and Lou met him, including Olsen & Johnson, The Ritz Brothers (in two different films), Danny Kaye (a scene cut out of the original Secret Life Of Walter Mitty) and in newsreel footage, Karloff playing baseball in full monster make-up at a charity game featuring Buster Keaton and the Three Stooges! (Click here and here to read all about the above). Now we can add Pete Smith to the list of pioneers who crossed paths with the famed monster first.

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Having said that, that’s pretty much all the distinction there is here, as the monster is not only erroneously referred to as “Frankenstein” (the name of his creator but not the name of the monster) but given precious little to do. He disappears briefly only to return to hurl items at the camera to perpetuate the 3D effect.

Smith is then left to fill the time between with more tropes that exploit 3D. Grabbing claws, hidden panels that open and close, diabolical laughter out of nowhere, a witch who tries to shove a tarantula in Pete’s face, cobwebs, a dungeon full of chains and a skeleton in the closet (complete with chattering teeth).

After this detour, Smith encounters the Frankenstein monster again. He’s wearing a vest as in Son Of Frankenstein, and his basic appearance is patterned after the Universal makeup, but almost an unintentional parody of a pro makeup job in the light and without red and green blurriness (take another look at the publicity shot at the top of the page).

For added scares, the filmmakers add a rather inexplicable and incongruous “masked archer” and sword swinging knight, and in keeping with the unenlightened times, not one but two weapons-wielding savages (one who is identified as “Zombie, the mad man of Magnesia”).

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The climax has the Frankenstein monster drop objects off the roof in hopes of hitting Smith below. These objects include flaming logs. Because there’s a log fire on the roof on which rests a cauldron full of molten lead. I don’t get it, either but it sure does look cool to see the monster up on the roof with flames dancing everywhere! Of course, you know the monster wants to pour that lead down on Smith. After all, this isn’t the mostly benevolent creature from Bride Of Frankenstein. To prove it, the monster finishes Smith off by hurling the cauldron itself on top of Pete. That’s right, he kills Pete Smith. Kills him dead. Sort of...

Pete has the last laugh (well, he wants the audience to laugh at the end, but whether they will is up for debate): now a skeleton, Pete wishes everyone a good night as he hurls his skull at the screen!

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The short provides an early example of 3D (consider that the Three Stooges’ 3D horror-comedy short Spooks came at the crest of the ‘50s 3D craze in 1953 – a dozen years after the Smith opus). It does the job it’s supposed to do, using the horror motif as a convenient springboard for in-your-face effects. It’s none too scary, and none too funny, but it gets points for its Frankenstein monster pedigree, landing it at a rather shaky two star rating from me (it’s a real close call here, but I’m grading on a curve as opposed to the Frankenstein monster’s flat top).

BEST VISUAL GAGS: No real sight gags here because we never really see Pete react to too many of the horrors. It’s just a lot of shoving things into the camera lens.

BEST VERBAL GAGS: Not many in this short, one of Smith’s weaker efforts in that department. The level of “humorous” dialogue doesn’t rise much above “a close shave… and I do mean shave” after Smith just misses plowing his car into a danger sign. If anything, the short is hampered by Smith narrating action we can see. However, before it’s all done, Smith does rattle off this gem, upon running into the Frankenstein monster yet again:

“Omigosh, it’s him! All right, it’s he – why worry about grammar at a time like this?!”

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: No one, unless a cast list turns up. The only credited player is Smith, and historians have identified stunt man/bit player Edward Payson as the Frankenstein monster. Payson’s other roles were as anonymous (and as uncredited) as this one (sample parts included “Al, the warehouse thug” in a couple chapters of a Green Hornet serial and “Wrestler,” “Athlete” and “Townsman” in various westerns and melodramas).

FURTHER READING: Pierre Fournier wrote about this short a few years’ back on his indispensable Frankensteinia blog. You can read what he wrote by clicking here (and really, you should be reading Pierre’s blog regularly anyhow)...

Now, don’t forget to DUCK!!!

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013


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!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


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Hello, fans. Hope everyone out there is well with the holidays upon us.

Me? Well, I'm busier than ever. I thought I had done my last personal appearance of the year last week at my Bookends bookstore signing, but there were other plans in store for me of which I was unaware. Namely, a very special charity comic book sale happening this Sunday in Montclair, NJ. In this season of giving, what better way to end the year?

This is a fundraiser event organized by William Scheckel for former NJ comic book dealer Angie Beck whose health has been failing severely since her husband Ben died suddenly a year ago. A portion of the proceeds will go to Angie to help her get back on her feet. I'll be there signing and selling my books and comics. Please come on by!

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Why, even Uncle Boris likes comics! (photo courtesy of monsterkid.com)

There will be over 15,000 comics available from every decade, in every style and you're sure to find the perfect gift for the comics fan in your life (or even for yourself) - all the while donating to this worthy cause. For you horror-comedy fans out there, I'll be on hand with my ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYSTERIES and VINCENT PRICE books, along with (of course) my other various other projects.

So what're you waiting for? Don't sit on a stoop waiting for comics to come to you - get up, go out and get 'em and help a great cause, too!

Thursday, November 28, 2013


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!

Monday, November 25, 2013


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Hello fans, just a quick note to let you know your next chance to meet me will be this coming Saturday, November 30th, 2013 at Bookends book store in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The signing starts at 2PM.

The occasion is Small Business Saturday, which appropriately takes place the day after "Black Friday." Bookends is a very popular mom-and-pop book store that has played hosts to many luminaries through the years, with autograph signings from famous authors, musicians, artists, actors and more.

The event comes courtesy of my friend Robert J. Kelly, fellow writer and the editor/creator of HEY KIDS, COMICS. The book, written by a variety of comics pros and fans alike is about growing up discovering, reading and collecting comic books and I'll be joined at the signing by Robert as well one of our fellow essayists, Ed Catto who has a very interesting career going for himself as the owner and guiding hand of the iconic Captain Action toy line and comic book series, as well as with his company, the Bonfire Agency which excels in reaching out to the pop culture community.

Bookends is at 211 E Ridgewood Avenue in Ridgewood, New Jersey. The store's phone number is (201) 445-0726. You can find directions from their website by clicking here.

Now, enjoy Jerry Lewis dreaming about comic books from the Martin & Lewis flick, Artists and Models, - directed by former Looney Tunes animator Frank Tashlin:

Thursday, November 7, 2013



Hello fans! Well, my fall, 2013 NJ/NY tour rolls on!

This Saturday, November 9th it's time for another Superheroes For Hospice charity comic book sale, from 10 to 6. I’ve been involved with this event since its inception in 2009. A few times a year, the organization holds charity comic sales to raise money for the Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center by selling comics, books, toys and related items. Proceeds have helped assist individuals and families dealing with life-limiting illnesses. The event has attracted top industry talent who often appear to sign autographs and give entertaining lectures about the art form. I’ll be signing an array of my work per usual. The event takes place at 95 Old Short Hills Rd., West Orange, NJ 07052, across the street from Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

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The following day, Sunday, November 10th I'm making my first-ever appearance at the Albany Comic Con. Like the NJ Comic Book Shows and Jersey Shore Comic Cons, the Albany Con offers a plethora of comics creators, comic and toy dealers, auctions and more. Also like those other shows, it offers an intimacy and immediacy not always found at the larger shows. I’m looking forward to making it the last stop on my Fall tour. I hope you stop by and see me! For more information visit the Albany Comic Con website.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


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Hello folks! I'd like to thank everyone who turned out Wednesday for the 2nd Annual Vincent Price Cookbook Halloween Dinner at the Orange Squirrel Restaurant. It was another wonderful time! Now, my fall NJ/NY tour rolls on tommorrow (Sunday, November 3rd) where I’ll be appearing for the first time at the Jersey Shore Comic Book Show in Forked River, New Jersey.

The show will be held at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 15 East Lacey Road, Forked River, NJ from 10am to 4pm. I’ll have the full array of my work with me – everything from my Archie work to DC Comics to my Vincent Price book. There will be several dealers with tons of comic books for sale, as well as non-sport cards and comic collectibles and toys, plus door prizes, an auction and more. More details can be found at the Jersey Shore Comic Con website.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 31, 2013


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RATING: ** out of ****

PLOT: Betty’s high school glee club must find a new place to rehearse when her mother announces the imminent arrival of her aunt and uncle, coming to town for some peace and quiet. The glee club commences to a hunting cabin owned by the cousin of one of its members, but not before an elderly couple take refuge there first after breaking down. As the members rehearse their numbers in their spooky costumes, the elderly couple are “scared silly!”

REVIEW: This early sound short from Pathe’ is notable for being one of Al Shean’s rare screen appearances (in fact, it was a lost film until Gary Lacher found both film and sound disc and restored it). Shean was half of the famous comedy team, Gallagher and Shean and also one of the Marx Brothers’ uncles. Unfortunately, none of the humor in this short approaches the level of Gallagher and Shean, let alone the brothers Marx. In fact, in my opinion the level of humor in this short barely approaches humor itself, at least not in the first reel.

The short opens on a jovial glee club rehearsal as guys and gals sing-along at the piano. Dialogue indicates that they’re high school students, but in the time-honored tradition, most of the actors look like they’ve already graduated college!

A bit of melodrama sets up the “plot” – the aunt and uncle of Betty (Evalyn Knapp), the girl who hosts the glee club are coming to visit, making the house off-limits to further rehearsal sessions. One of the club members offers a solution: his cousin, the thriller novelist owns a hunting lodge and it’s currently available to use.

Time is spent in a very blatant way on underscoring what terrible people the aunt and uncle are, and most viewers will recognize that this is but foreshadowing of what’s to come.

Cut to Emil (Al Shean) and his wife Ida (Mary Clark) stuck in the mud as they attempt to drive through a pounding rain storm. A dated and very un-PC bit has Emil ordering his wife to push them out of the mud. She slips and falls under part of the car, and Emil exclaims, “You lay there in comfort while I do all the work.”

This misogynistic tone permeates throughout the first half of the short, as the pair end up stranded right where they are. “Where they are” just happens to be the same hunting lodge to which the glee club is headed.

You don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to connect the dots between all I’ve mentioned thus far.

“Scares” in this one are mostly on the mild side to start, as Emil and Ida retire to bed for the night. Example: an open window produces wind that blows papers and other objects around while making whistling noises. Then Emil finds a note under his pillow:

“It was in this very house that the modern Bluebeard operated his nefarious schemes. Some of his prisoners he kept chained until he was ready to put them to death. Many of his victims he beheaded and their heads fell to the floor with a clonk!”

You can guess what happens next, but I’ll tell you anyway: the glee club arrives and starts rehearsing. Because their costumes are on the bizarre side – they wear masks on the back of their heads and tuxedo costumes on their back – the overall effect produced is rather eerie as they dance and sway. Even more freaky, the band’s uniforms are designed to cover up the musicians’ heads so they look headless!

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Groucho Marx with his famous Uncle Al Shean

When Al goes to investigate the noise, he witnesses the freakish sites and hides under a table… where a random duck walking through starts pecking him in the behind! When he returns to tell his wife what he’s seen, they start to bicker. Some of the bickering is comprised of the duo using variations on the word “clonk” (which goes from being a sound effect from the Bluebeard story cited above to a catch-all for ghosts, skeletons and ghoulies) and most of the rest of it is in Yiddish. Which may make these scenes much more funny if you happen to understand Yiddish!

Soon, both husband and wife are investigating the strange going-ons. I think the best way I can describe the tone is with an oxymoron: “broadly genteel” (or “genteely broad”). It’s all very obvious stuff played very broadly yet at the same time there’s a decorum to it – you know just from the tone that this short won’t reach the imaginative heights of such “out there” horror-comedies as Sh! The Octopus, Olsen & Johnson’s Ghost Catchers and the over-the-top bizarre silent Our Gang entries, Shootin’ Injuns and Shivering Spooks).

The earlier outfits are topped by bizzare witch costumes – the glee club dons robes that cover their entire bodies except for balloons on the end of long paper necks. Drawn onto each balloon is a face and each is topped by a witch hat. And of course, the requisite skeleton costumes are trotted out for a lively dance evoking such 1930s animated shorts as those produced by Walt Disney, Max Fleischer, Ub Iwerks, Paul Terry and others (“…look, Ida: Skeleton Clonks!,” exclaims Emil).

One of the witch balloons floats off and Al chases it into a room. He hits it on the head with a thick club not realizing his wife is hiding in the bed sheet underneath! Here’s one of the genuine moments of humor in the film as Ida just can’t stop giggling while her face is frozen in a blank stare. Al’s efforts to calm her down are fruitless but funny.

As expected this one wraps up with a wild chase featuring Emil waving a rifle at everyone (now all congregated in the main room) and the discovery that yes, Ida and Emil are Betty’s Aunt and Uncle, who broke down on their way to Betty’s house. Ida and Emil are relieved to discover there were no real “clonks” – just the glee club in their costumes… but of course there’s one more scare to be had. A ghost is bobbing up and down in the air!

Of course, we know there’s no such thing in this short – it’s just our old friend the duck again, stuck under some sheets and trying to flap its way out, leading Emil to exclaim, “If that’s a klonk, I’ve eaten many of them!”

As mentioned throughout this review, this is an extremely mild horror-comedy short – short on real laughs. The music though, is totally jaunty, catchy and feel-good. In fact, it helps the short pick up its pace and leaves you with a smile on its face. It’s for that reason that Chills and Fever escapes a one-star review and gets a perfectly fine two-star average final grade from me.


The outlandish outfits, especially the balloon heads provide the best visuals overall and even some of the humor.

The duck pecking at Al from behind which Al mistakes for a ghost also elicits some chuckles.


Emil’s punchline about eating many “klonks.”

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: Reportedly, one of the glee club members is the ubiquitous character actor, Elisha Cook, Jr. Cook, Jr., here in his second film. He ended up having a legendary career appearing in one notable film after another, including several of interest to Scared Silly fans including Olsen & Johnson’s Hellzapoppin’, Laurel & Hardy’s A-Haunting We Will Go, the Vincent Price films House on Haunted Hill and The Haunted Palace, and horror classics including the theatrical Rosemary’s Baby and Blacula; and the TV-movie greats, The Night Stalker and Salem’s Lot, among many others.

BUY THE FILM: You can by Chills and Fever direct from the man who restored it, Gary Lacher. Email Gary at gplacher@aol.com for more details.

WATCH THE FILM: Here’s a short excerpt for your enjoyment:


Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Vincent Price cooking

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

This Wednesday, October 30th at the Orange Squirrel restaurant in Bloomfield, New Jersey patrons will once again 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 and a recent winner on the Food Network's cooking competition show, Cutthroat Kitchen is also a big Vincent Price fan. He decided to do something with a bit of a Translvanian twist last Halloween and it was such a success that here were are doing it all over again!

Francesco is encouraging fans to show up with their favorite Vincent Price memorabilia and remembrances and just like last year, he's 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 selling autographed copies of the book (as well as some copies of my Archie's Weird Mysteries book) at this event. Even better, I'll once again be pulling out my Vincent Price trivia questions - I'll reward Vincent Price DVDs 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!

Thursday, October 24, 2013


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Hello, fans! Well, the New York city Comic Con was a blast and my fall tour of NJ/NY is rolling on…

In fact, I’ve added a stop to the tour, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

First, a reminder that this Sunday, October 27th, I’ll be making a special “Halloween homecoming” to the town in which I grew up, Pompton Plains, New Jersey at the NJ Comic Book Show. It all at the Regency Hotel on Route 23. I’ll be there all day, signing from 10:00 to 4:00. More details at the NJ Comic Book Shows website. And you can read some great coverage of the event from First Comic News and NewJersey.com

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

One Wednesday, October 30th I’ll be returning to the Orange Squirrel restaurant for the 2nd Annual Vincent Price Halloween Dinner. You may recall that I gave a talk on Vincent at last year’s dinner (and if you don’t recall, just click here to refresh your memory). I’m thrilled to be coming back for more fun. Check out the pertinent details by clicking here.

At both of the above events, I’ll have copies of my Archie’s Weird Mysteries collection and Midnight Marquee Actor’s Series: Vincent Price available for sale. Stop on by if you can – I promise no tricks; only treats!

Now… let’s all jitterbug!

Thursday, October 10, 2013


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Hello fans... well, New York Comic Con is finally here and I'm hoping I can meet some of you. Here's a rundown on where I'll be and when.

Thursday, October 10th, 2:30-3:30 – I’ll be on the CREATIVELY ENERGIZING YOUR STUDENTS WITH COMIC BOOKS AND THE ARTS panel, held in Room 1A17.

Friday, October 11th, 2:00-3:00 – I’ll be doing an autograph signing at the ARCHIE COMICS booth. I'll most likely be signing either BEST OF ARCHIE COMICS BOOK 3 (which reprints my popular Scooby Doo spoof story from the ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYSTERIES series) or the ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYSTERIES paperback collection. Or perhaps something else... it all depends upon what the Archie Co. brings.

In those times surrounding my ARCHIE signing, I'll be helping out at the KIDS COMIC CON booth in the FAMILY ROOM which is in Conference Rooms 1B01-1B03. I won't officially be signing in the FAMILY ROOM on Friday but if you run in there with a book in hand for me to sign, I will (just try to bring a pen in case I forget mine).

Saturday, October 13th, all day – DON’T LOOK FOR ME – I’ll be elsewhere, recharging my batteries like Tony Stark. ;)

Sunday, October 14th, 12:30-1:30 – I’ll be signing at the KIDS COMIC CON table in the FAMILY ROOM area of the convention. For Sunday, I'll definitely have copies of the ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYSTERIES paperback collection, some SONIC THE HEDGEHOG collections, and the books WITH GREAT POWER and HEY KIDS, COMICS (click here for info on those last two books).

Again, the Family Room is Conference Rooms 1B01-1B03. And again, I'll be helping out in that room for pretty much the entire day Sunday, so if you miss my official signing you may still be able pop in randomly and grab me to autograph something.

Looking forward to a comically-cool-and-crazy weekend!

Now here's me talking about... what else?... comic books! ENJOY!

Thursday, October 3, 2013


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Hello again, fans! If you were here last week, you read about the various projects I’ve been busy with the greater part of this year (and if you weren’t here last week, well just click here to catch up).

As I mentioned, I’m about to embark on another New York/New Jersey tour to promote my various projects, and as promised, here are the details of where I’ll be and when.

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It all starts next weekend at New York Comic Con. I’ll be appearing in two different spots at the convention. On Friday, October 11th I’ll be at the Archie Comics booth from 2:00 to 3:00. I’ll be signing alongside the great artist Fernando Ruiz, my collaborator on ARCHIE’S WEIRD MYSTERIES. Then on Sunday, I’ll be signing at the Kids Comic Con (aka KCC - that's Captain KCC at the top of this post) table in the Family Room section of the New York Comic Con. I’ll have some of my Archie work with me as well as copies of WITH GREAT POWER and HEY KIDS, COMICS (again, I refer you to last week’s post for details on those projects). I'll be signing at the KCC booth that day from 12:30 to 1:30. Visit the New York Comic Con website for more details.

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On Sunday, October 27th, I’m making a special “homecoming” to the town in which I grew up, Pompton Plains, New Jersey. This comes courtesy of John Paul, who has been running the NJ Comic Book Shows for over two decades. These shows are always a trip down memory lane, with several dealers of vintage comics and toys and always a great guest-list. Very family-friendly event and always a wonderful time. This particular show takes place at the Regency Hotel on Route 23. I’ll be there all day, signing from 10:00 to 4:00. More details at the NJ Comic Book Shows website.

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On Sunday, November 3rd I’ll be appearing for the first time at the Jersey Shore Comic Book Show in Forked River, New Jersey. The show will be held at the Community Center in Forked River from 10am to 4pm. I’ll have the full array of my work with me – everything from my Archie work to DC Comics to my Vincent Price book. There will be several dealers with tons of comic books for sale, as well as non-sport cards and comic collectibles and toys, plus door prizes, an auction and more. More details can be found at the Jersey Shore Comic Con website.


Saturday, November 9th brings another Superheroes For Hospice charity comic book sale, from 10 to 6. I’ve been involved with this event since its inception in 2009. A few times a year, the organization holds charity comic sales to raise money for the Barnabas Health Hospice and Palliative Care Center by selling comics, books, toys and related items. Proceeds have helped assist individuals and families dealing with life-limiting illnesses. The event has attracted top industry talent who often appear to sign autographs and give entertaining lectures about the art form. I’ll be signing an array of my work per usual. The event takes place at 95 Old Short Hills Rd., West Orange, NJ 07052, across the street from Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

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Another first for me will be the Albany Comic Con. Taking place on Sunday, November 10th. Like the NJ Comic Book Shows and Jersey Shore Comic Cons, the Albany Con offers a plethora of comics creators, comic and toy dealers, auctions and more. Also like those other shows, it offers an intimacy and immediacy not always found at the larger shows. I’m looking forward to making it the last stop on my Fall tour. I hope you stop by and see me! For more information visit the Albany Comic Con website.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


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Hello, fans! As you’ve often heard me lament, my schedule can be off-the-hook sometimes, and it’s definitely been that way in 2013. It starts with a very demanding day job, and then there’s the side projects which keep me more-than-busy. With Scared Silly still strictly a hobby project (subliminal message to publishers: anyone want to pay me and advance to help move Scared Silly higher up the priority list?) it is the one thing I can only work on in dribs and drabs. As always, I thank you all for your patience.

In fact, I figure I can do more than thank you. I can detail the various projects I’ve been working on lately so you have an idea of what’s been keeping me busy. Hey, it’s the least I can do. Maybe you’ll even want to track down some copies of your own (just click on the titles of each book mentioned below to place your order).

Also, I’m about to embark on a Fall tour of New York and New Jersey again. So details about those personal appearances will follow in Part Two of this post, which I’ll post sometime next week.

Now, let’s begin with “just what Paul Castiglia has been doing in 2013”…

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The year kicked off with this project, With Great Power edited by Rick Phillips. The premise of the book is that the same exact copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 (the famed comic book issue that introduced Spider-Man to the world) gets passed on from owner to owner (think in terms of the same dollar bill trading hands and you’ll get the idea). Each owner has a different story, a different tale of what happens in their life when they possess the comic. These tales were written by all different authors, and I had the privilege to provide the final story which wraps it all up, appropriately titled, “Full Circle.” Proceeds of the book benefited missions work. Read reviews here.

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Archie & Friends Double Digest #27 followed in April. It reprinted a story I co-wrote with my wife Barbara Jarvie, originally appearing in the non-digest Archie & Friends #85. You can read a sneak peek of the first two pages at Brigid Alverson’s excellent “Good Comics for Kids” blog – just click here.

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A few months later, The Best of Archie Comics Book 3 was released. It reprints one of the most popular stories from my Archie’s Weird Mysteries comic series, wherein I lampooned the Scooby Doo gang from tail to snout. Additionally, the book contains new commentaries from me on a couple of classic Golden Age Archie tales. You can read a review of the tale by clicking here.

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Recently released, I am very proud to be a part of the new book Hey Kids, Comics edited by Robert J. Kelly. The book features essays from people who all share one thing in common: they all love to collect and read comic books! Several industry professionals contributed as well as some non-pros. The love of the medium shines through the book and is infectious – everyone did a terrific job. My tale covered growing up in the 1970s where it was nigh-impossible not to become a superhero kid. You can read a review of the book here.

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The just-released Nistar is an important and wonderful graphic novel on which I had the opportunity to help out behind-the-scenes. My specific contribution is not as important as the book itself, which was created to help inspire and empower children facing cancer. Written by Shira Frimer, a widow who lost her husband to a rare pediatric cancer, the tale is one that will stay with you long after you read it. The art is by famous Marvel and DC artist Josef Rubinstein. I urge you to order the book because your purchase goes to a good cause. You can listen to an interview I conducted with Shira for the Kids Comic Con podcast here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

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Coming in December is this wonderful book of Felix the Cat Paintings by Don Oriolo. I had the honor of being one of the historians invited to provide an introduction for the book. The book was designed by Yoe Books and is being released by IDW. There’s wondrous art to behold on each page… as Felix would say, “Righty-O!”

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My friend Erica Schultz asked me to contribute to an upcoming anthology she’s co-editing called #PosCom (short for “Positive Comics”). The special collection will feature a variety of “anti-bullying” comics tales from famed comics professionals in every spectrum – from mainstream comics to independents. I had an opportunity to re-team with one of my favorite artists, Chris Allan who drew several of the Little Archie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Sonic the Hedgehog comic scripts I wrote. I also snuck in a little horror-comedy aspect, as you’ll note from the above sneak-peek panel. Not to mention the fact that the great comedic character actor Eddie Deezen gave me permission to depict him as a high school principal in the tale. Proceeds from sales will go toward charities with anti-bullying initiatives.

That’s all I can tell you for now – there are another half dozen or so projects either green-lit or pending that I don’t have legal clearance to mention yet – but as soon as I do you’ll be sure to hear about them here.

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Additionally I have open invites from my friends Thomas Hall and Daniel Bradford to write back-up stories for their KING! character as well as from Rusty Gilligan, who’d love to have me pen a graphic novel featuring his time-traveling cats, Mac & Trouble! Hoping to get to those projects at some point.

Last but not least, I’ll have some news to deliver soon on the music front, and perhaps even an announcement about me writing a new series about a certain classic horror-comedy character. Stay “tooned,” and be sure to look for Part Two of this post next week, wherein I detail my Fall New York/New Jersey personal appearance tour!

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Monday, August 12, 2013



RATING: ** out of ****

PLOT: Mantan (Mantan Moreland) arrives at the Acme Pawn Shop for his new job as night watchman. Tagging along is Steve (F.E. Flourney Miller) a friend to whom Mantan owes money. As the duo enter the dark shop, strange things begin to happen – namely disembodied voices are heard, fur coats come to life, washboards levitate and the arms of the rocking chair clutch whoever’s sitting in it! Craziest of all, a variety of miniature musical acts in a small diorama come to life and play one zany number after another!

REVIEW: This one reel short, running a brief ten minutes contains maybe four minutes of actual horror-comedy content. Normally, this would not be enough for me to grant a full-blown review but would instead place it in the “horror-onable mention” category.

However this short also has some historical significance. Not only does it provide a filmed record of some of the most exciting and influential African-American musical performers, it is also the screen debut of legendary comedic actor Mantan Moreland. Furthermore, being a “horror-comedy” it is a rather fitting debut, as Mantan would spend a great portion of the rest of his career acting “scared silly.” Last but not least, it teams Moreland with F.E. (“Flourney”) Miller, and the pair would continue to team afterward in a trio of other horror-comedy films. Both Moreland and Miller are important figures in the history of African-American entertainment.

Before we get to the history lesson, however, let’s talk about this short. Most of what you need to know about the film is already mentioned in the plot description above. Miller and Moreland move through their paces with ease and sell the gags just fine, but even by 1933 haunted house and scare bits in comedies had become so venerable that they needed just a little more oomph to truly score. The problem here is two-fold: the “spooky” motifs were used merely as fun pauses between musical sequences (it follows a pretty stringent pattern : a musical number followed by a scare scene with the comedians, then back to another musical number); and Miller and Moreland are winking at the audience – there’s no through-line narrative and at one point the pair even act uncharacteristically NOT frightened and start making requests of the band!

Adding to the short’s ineffectiveness is the fact that, with the exception of a few “scary notes” of music underlining the opening titles, none of the musical numbers have a spooky bent. They are all great, energetic pieces of music but nothing about the tunes – nor the outfits of the performers delivering them – indicates “horror comedy.”  Had they opted for a Halloween theme with costumes and goofy music that echoed horror notes with say, skeletal arpeggios via xylophone (the way so many great black and white Disney, Flesicher, Iwerks and Van Beuren cartoons of the 1930s did) the proper effect would have been achieved.

Despite its shortcomings, there is a certain amount of delight to be had in watching Moreland debut on the screen and match wits with Miller; as is there toe-tapping fun aplenty in the knockout performances of the musicians.

F.E. Flourney Miller

It’s actually music that provides the behind-the-scenes “glue” for this production: Miller wasn’t just a comedic actor with vaudeville roots; he was also a playwright and songwriter. He made huge contributions to African-America theater and in fact became part of a creative cadre in the field: his frequent collaborators were bandleader/musician/songwriters Noble Sissle (like Miller, also a playwright) and the legendary Eubie Blake. After the Broadway smash, Eubie Miller was even posthumously Tony nominated for his contributions to theater!

The connection in That’s the Spirit is that the musical numbers are headlined by Miller’s collaborator Sissle and his band. In essence, the Sissle band acts as emcees, introducing singer/tap dancer Cora La Redd (a fixture at Harlem night clubs in the 1920s and ‘30s) and the Washboard Serenaders (one of the superstar groups to come out of the washboard jazz craze). The music in That’s the Spirit is lively, driving, fun and above all joyous. Or to combine all those adjectives into one, exuberant! 

Back to Mantan: this is his debut. He’s funny, but not hysterical yet. This no doubt can be attributed to the fact that he was coming from the stage burdened with a set of expectations that forced him into a broad archetype (nee stereotype) mold. Mantan simply hasn’t found his character yet in That’s the Spirit – his subtle nuances that audiences would come to embrace aren’t evident yet. It wouldn’t be too long before Mantan broke the mold though. Within a few short years he’d refine his character – wisecracking, sometimes scared yet often the smartest person in the room!

Inevitably, Mantan would become the standard against which all other African-American film comedians were measured (Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Willie Best, Stepin Fetchit and the sublime Dudley Dickerson being chief among them), particularly when it came to being “scared.” The differences and similarities really come down to the degrees of intelligence displayed by the characters.

Once Mantan hit his groove, his character was special indeed. Imbued with an almost supernatural ability to predict trouble before it hit, he was often the one warning people to beat feet (and beating feet regardless of whether those he advised listened or not). He paired this with very smart and witty asides as well as the well-placed wise-crack to the delight of both first-run movie audiences and the generations who discovered him in the years that followed his career.

What’s perhaps most amazing of all is that Mantan maintained this special character not just in comedy films but also when he appeared in a bona fide horror or mystery film. He turns up in horror-comedy classics including Mexican Spitfire Sees a Ghost and the all-black horror-comedies Mr. Washington Goes to Town, Lucky Ghost and Professor Creeps (all of which he co-headlines with Miller); the pseudo-horror-comedies A-Haunting We Will Go (with Laurel & Hardy) and Cracked Nuts (with Shemp Howard, Una Merkel and William Frawley) legitimate horror films such as King of the Zombies and its sequel Revenge of the Zombies, and the hard-to-categorize oddity, The Strange Case of Dr. Rx (co-starring with Shemp once again in a film that actually involves them in a straight car chase scene – one chasing the other!). 

Mantan Moreland

Most notably, of course Mantan had the recurring role of Birmingham Brown, Charlie Chan’s chauffeur in several entries of the Hawaiian detective’s movie series (including some with horror overtones including The Scarlet Clue, The Jade Mask and Black Magic aka Meeting at Midnight). This is the role for which Moreland is both best remembered and most beloved.  It is the crystallization of his comedy character, and while one could argue that Moreland often played the exact same character by other names in other films, the context presented by the Chan stories makes his role transcendent. In other films, Moreland was often a reactionary character – responding to the events surrounding him. In the Chan films he was often as much the catalyst behind the mayhem.  More importantly, he was key in moving those films along in an entertaining fashion… his lively antics keeping audience members interested in-between the by-the-books sleuthing and procedurals.

Mantan also has the distinction of appearing in the film that marks the divide between the “traditional” horror-comedy and what it would morph into in the modern age. Spider Baby (filmed in 1964 but released in ’68) is “black comedy” of a different sort than those Moreland starred in with Miller. Dark, edgy and disturbing, it pretty much wastes Mantan, both figuratively and literally – onscreen only briefly as courier, he is brutally dispatched early in the film, with no bits of comedy business to perform.

All tolled, That’s The Spirit is not one of the must-see entries for the die-hard horror-comedy fan. However, if you love Mantan Moreland or the kind of exquisitely fast, frenetic and fun Dixieland-inspired jump and jive music featured here, you’re likely to be entertained. In fact, based on that criteria, you can add half a star to my star rating.


MANTAN: I wonder what time it is?

STEVE: Say, you don’t believe in ghosts, do you?
MANTAN: I don’t doubt ‘em!


All the aforementioned gags work well here. While the fur coats coming to life and the washboard levitation is fun, the best inanimate object gag has to be the chair that Steve sits in. First his right hand rises independently while the sound of a creaking rocking chair plays, then his left hand rises. Then the arms of the rocking chair grab him around the waist!

The film also ends with a fun visual gag. Steve and Mantan finally decide they’ve had enough and run off – but when Mantan goes to run, he can’t move!  He slips out of his shoes which seem locked in place and bolts off.  His shoes then shuffle after him, the right and left each with its own voice declaring “waitaminnit, don’t leave us here!”


Steve has hand on Mantan’s shoulder while Mantan’s back is turned.

“Please tell me that’s you with your hand on my shoulder,” Mantan implores.

FURTHER READING: I make the following recommendation with a caveat, as some film historian friends have suggested to me that in addition to the facts, this book also contains an item or two of conjecture not necessarily supported by facts. Still, as the only book based exclusively on Moreland, you will find much of interest regarding the development of Mantan’s career and an excellent survey of his films. The book is Mantan the Funny Man by Michael H. Price which you can order directly from its publisher, Midnight Marquee Press when you click here.

Also worth a read is a blog post by Paghat the Ratgirl that focuses on the wonderful music in this short.  You can read it by clicking here.

Last but not least, the film is registered with the Library of Congress – you can see the details when you click here.