Wednesday, December 31, 2014



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 Ken Mandel of the West Orange Classic Film Festival who invited me to be the guest-speaker at a special screening of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein at their 2014 festival early this year. 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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I also want to give special thanks to Colette Joel and David Key, the owners, CEOs and Executive Producers at Handshake Away Productions, who, after seeing my work on this blog brought me on board a special documentary about the Bowery Boys as a fellow Executive Producer, Writer, Creative Consultant and Music Supervisor. The Bowery Boys' films are among my favorite classic comedies, and they did make several notable horror-comedy films, all of which will be reviewed in the Scared Silly book.

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Another round of special thanks goes to the fine folks at the Science Fiction Society of Northern New Jersey, who had me as one of their special guests at their annual holiday dinner. It was a terrific time and I got to talk a lot about horror-comedies and Scared Silly.

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This was a particularly busy year for me with personal appearances at both comic shops and and comic conventions. You can read about many of those appearances by clicking here. Special thanks goes out to Spiro Ballas of Superheroes For Hospice, Alex Simmons of Kids' Comic Con, Jeff Beck of East Side Mags, Chuck Kahl of Comic Book Market, Rene Rosa of Jim Hanley's Universe, John Belskis from Albany Comic Con, Dan Bear of Jersey Shore Comic Con and John Paul of NJ Comic Book Expo. Thanks to all the wonderful comics creators who I was able to appear alongside this year as well - too numerous to name. To them and to all all those who made those appearances happen, I say "thank you!"

Several projects kept me busy this year so of course I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fine folks at Archie Comics (particularly Duncan McLachlan) who inaugurated a new series of vintage reprint collections with a special Christmas book I compiled, Erica Schultz who edited a special "anti-bullying" story which will appear in schools sometime in 2015 courtesy of Northwest Press, the TwoMorrows Press team who have handed my colleague Rik Offenberger and I a choice assignment in putting together a history of the MLJ Heroes, for publication in 2015; and Dave Ryan of Red Anvil Press, who has let me run hog wild on the script for the all-star comedy opus, War of the Independents #4, also due out in 2015.

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)!

While my schedule didn't permit me to write any reviews this year, I still want to send a general thanks out to the following: 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!

More so than any previous year, I must say 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!

Friday, December 26, 2014


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Hope your holidays were grand, friends! Here's a few additional goodies to keep you in the festive spirit.

(NOTE: Many of the feature films, shorts and animated cartoons discussed on this site, being from an earlier time, may contain elements considered insensitive and politically incorrect to us today. Any such controversial themes do not represent the thoughts and opinions of Paul Castiglia and the films discussed and presented here are done so purely for their inherent entertainment and historical value, apart from any such themes).


Tuesday, December 23, 2014


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 1948 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!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014


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Well, fans this year sure went by fast! It was an extremely busy year for me with a variety of comics and movie-related projects… and several personal appearances.

This weekend marks the final two personal appearances of 2014 for me, and if you’re in the New Jersey area, I’d love to meet you! At each appearance I will have plenty of copies of my Archie’s Weird Mysteries and Vincent Price books available for sale and will autograph each. And of course, I’ll have free Scared Silly bookmarks! New for this year and perfect for the holiday season is Archie’s Favorite Christmas Comics, a book I researched, compiled and edited, and for which I also wrote some special introductions.

The fun starts on Saturday, December 13th when I'll be a special guest at the Science Fiction Society of Northern New Jersey's (SFSNNJ) Annual Holiday Dinner. I'll be one of two guest panelists (the other being author Robert Schneck) and we'll both be talking about past, present and upcoming projects as well as all sorts of fun stuff in a presentation that will be moderated by my friend, author Don Smith. The event begins at 6:30 at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Ramsey, NJ. Click here for more details.

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The next day, Sunday, December 14th I'll be appearing at the Clifton NJ Comic Book Expo, held at the Clifton Recreation Center from 10-4. The show, created by John Paul has been running for years, and it’s always a great time there. If you've never been to one of John Paul's Comic Book Expo's, the annual holiday show is a great place to start. You'll find many great gifts for the comics fan on your list... and perhaps some goodies for yourself, too! Find more details when you click here.

Hope to meet some of you soon!

Now here’s a video highlighting the Clifton Comic Book Expo… and in addition to John Paul, you’ll also see Don Smith, moderator of my SFSNNJ appearance. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 11, 2014


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Earlier this week Ken Weatherwax, the actor who, as a child portrayed Pugsley Addams, son of Gomez and Morticia and brother of sister Wednesday in the classic sitcom (or should I say, “goth-com”), The Addams Family, passed away at the age of 59 after suffering a heart attack.

The Addams Family TV series ran from 1964-66 – one of a handful of two-season shows to attain immortality through constant reruns (like that other monstrous family, The Munsters and F Troop, the cavalry comedy featuring Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker in pre-Ghost Busters days). Of course, it wouldn’t be immortal if it wasn’t also good.

(Side note: 1964 was a magical year… the “Monster Kid” craze was in full force – at least eight years young and showing no signs of slowing down… and with the simultaneous debuts of The Addams Family and The Munsters the “mainstream” acknowledged the craze as more than a passing fad).

It couldn’t help but be good, given its pedigree. The show was based on the long-running New Yorker cartoons by Charles Addams (pre-dating the show by some 30 years!) depicting an offbeat and more than slightly macabre family who had an allegedly (alleged by “normal” folks) skewed view of life that was in actuality totally unpretentious. Both the New Yorker cartoons and the sitcom that followed were steeped in black humor that was both stinging in its social commentary and probably more sophisticated than the majority of each’s contemporaries in magazine cartoons and television comedies.

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It is my assertion that The Addams Family, perhaps more than many classic sitcoms, works so beautifully because every single element of the show – every actor from featured player to guest-stars to bit players – and every element from costumes, makeup, set design and special effects – was handled at the highest level of excellence at all times. No one piece or detail was greater than another – all elements were treated as equally important (astounding when one considers the sheer comedic brilliance of John Astin – who could have stolen every episode with his eyes closed – and yet his performances always organically play into the whole) and so the show continues to get better and better with age, like a fine wine.

A vital part of the mix were the parts played in the stories by the Addams children, Pugsley (Weatherwax) and Wednesday (Lisa Loring). Inventive, shrewd and free-thinking, the Addams children were responsible for several hysterical set-pieces. Pugsley’s stock-in-trade was creating creepy contraptions that would be more at home either on the battlefield (explosives a specialty!) or a medieval torture chamber. He’d win first prize at every science fair if Professor Tim Burton were the judge. Ken Weatherwax portrayed the character in a droll, matter-of-fact manner, a layer of shellacked innocence camouflaging the twisted genius within.

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The Examiner’s James Neibaur was the first in the newsmedia to break the news of Weatherwax’s untimely passing, which had originally been relayed by Weatherwax’s niece via social media. In addition to being a journalist, Neibaur is a celebrated pop culture historian who has researched and authored several books on classic movies, television and music and the folks behind it all. Click here to see a selection of Neibaur’s available books (highly recommended by me!), and click here to read his obituary of Weatherwax.

Now enjoy this short clip of Weatherwax at work:

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014


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 (and is doing so again today) and I can not underestimate the impact this film had on me, truly an annual "event" I looked forward to year after year as a child.

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. Just click on the above titles to access links for each book.

You'll also want to check out the following 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.

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 which you can order from Amazon when you click here.

WATCH THE FILM: Here's 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) ENJOY!... and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Thursday, November 6, 2014



Hello fans! Well, my fall, 2014 NJ/NY tour rolls on!

This Saturday, November 8th 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 9th I'm making my second appearance at the Albany Comic Con. The Albany Con offers a plethora of comics creators, comic and toy dealers, auctions and more. It also offers an intimacy and immediacy not always found at the larger shows. It was a wonderful time last year and I'm looking forward to meeting new and old fans alike again this year. For more information visit the Albany Comic Con website.

As usual, at both events I'll have copies of the Archie's Weird Mysteries and Vincent Price books, and new for this year I'll also have the recently released Archie's Favorite Christmas Comics, which I researched and compiled, as well as contributed introductory text. It also reprints one of my all-time favorite Archie's Weird Mysteries stories I wrote, featuring those denizens of Weatherworld, Jack Frost and his sister, Wind Jill! I hope you stop by and see me!

And speaking of Archie and Christmas... it's not too early to rock the halls!

Friday, October 31, 2014


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Happy Halloween, Scared Silly fans! Hope you all have a howling good time today!

After you sock away your candy-ful bounty, why not come out and meet me on Saturday, November 1st at 2PM. It’s a day-after-Halloween treat as Montclair, New Jersey's East Side Mags hosts a personal appearance from yours truly. I’ll be signing copies of the Archie's Weird Mysteries collection, compiling some of the best stories from the series of comics I wrote.

East Side Mags is a newer comic shop on the scene, and a great one at that. Owner Jeff Beck not only is passionate about the comics hobby, but dedicated to nurturing a love of comics in younger readers, at a time when many comics fans are adults.


At this signing, I'll be autographing alongside my Archie's Weird Mysteries colleague, Fernando Ruiz, the brilliant artist of the series. I will also be autographing copies of the Midnight Marquee Actor Series: Vincent Price edition to which I contributed a chapter. And I'll have plenty of free Scared Silly bookmarks to hand out, too. Hope to see you there! :)

EAST SIDE MAGS is located at 7 South Fullerton Ave. Montclair, NJ 07042. (862) 333-4961

Now enjoy this review of the Archie’s Weird Mysteries comic series!

Monday, October 20, 2014


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Two chances, actually!

I'm doing two Halloween-themed personal appearances at East Coast comic shops over the coming days.

My first appearance will be at the famous Jim Hanley's Universe in New York City. It's all part of Halloween ComicFest 2014, a now-annual event (and companion-event to May's annual Free Comic Book Day) in which comic shops offer free spooky-themed comics to their customers and host comic book writers and authors for autograph signings.

I'll be signing alongside talented Diana Leto, she the artist and co-creator of an excellent series called The Halloween Legion that I can't recommend highly enough.

The event takes place on Saturday, October 25th from noon to 2PM. You can see more details by clicking here.

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The following Saturday, November 1st at 2PM, it's "Time to Get Spooky" as Montclair, New Jersey's East Side Mags is billing it (I also like to call it "HalloweenFest Part 2"). East Side Mags is a newer comic shop on the scene, and a great one at that. Owner Jeff Beck not only is passionate about the comics hobby, but dedicated to nurturing a love of comics in younger readers, at a time when many comics fans are adults.

At this signing, I'll be autographing alongside my Archie's Weird Mysteries colleague, Fernando Ruiz, the brilliant artist of the series. See more details on this event by clicking here.

At both appearances, I will be autographing copies of the Archie's Weird Mysteries paperback collection as well as the Midnight Marquee Actor Series: Vincent Price edition to which I contributed a chapter. And I'll have plenty of free Scared Silly bookmarks to hand out, too. Hope to see you there! :)

Monday, October 13, 2014


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Scared Silly fans... what a year this has been for me!!!

A thousand apologies. As I alluded to in previous posts, my schedule has been turned upside down by various projects... which have kept me from posting here with any regularity.

None the least of these projects is a documentary film about the Bowery Boys for which I'm serving as an Executive Producer, Writer, Casting Producer, Music Supervisor and Creative Consultant. I'll be posting in more detail about that soon...

Additionally, I have been working on several new comic book related projects, which I'll also post about soon.

Last but not least, I'm also in the middle of what's become an annual NY/NJ tour of personal appearances. I have a couple Halloween-related appearances coming up which I'll blog about here soon.

One of the things I'm considering doing during these heavily-compromised schedule periods is to post various Scared Silly-related content in lieu of new reviews. How would that strike you all? I'm thinking about keeping a steady stream of trailers, animated cartoons and even feature films coming your way... all in the public domain, of course (we have to keep things legit here after all). Please drop me an email (you'll find my address to the right) and let me know what you think.

In the meantime... well, here's some tumbling tumbleweeds:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


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That's right, Scared Silly fans... Larry Blamire needs our help!

And who is Larry Blamire, a small percentage of you out there may ask?

Why none other than a very good friend of our SCARED SILLY project.

Also a filmmaker.

Kidding aside, you may recall this post (if you don't, click "this post" to read it) where I waxed rhapsodic over Larry's film, DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. You see, Larry "gets it." He gets classic horror-comedy. DARK AND STORMY NIGHT hit the Scared Silly target right between the (crossed) eyes with its delightful spoof of "old dark house" movies.

But there was life before DARK for Larry, and it was as if he were being guided like a puppet on a string. Or perhaps a skeleton!

Yes, Larry is also the man who brought us such wacky, satirical offerings as THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA...


Larry's films are enough to make the writer of the ARCHIE'S WEIRD MYSTERIES comic books (namely me) exclaim, "Hey, why didn't I think of that?!"

Larry really, truly wants to make a trilogy. But you can't make a trilogy without breaking some eggs. Or something like that.

Oh, yeah - you need a budget. That's it.

Larry is turning to us, the fans to help fund the film. Think of how much fun you'll have watching the finished product!

If that's not enough, Larry's offering a whole smattering of incentives (read: cool swag... and even walk-on bits in the film!) to persuade you to back the latest shenanigans and skullduggery of that lost bag of bones.

You can read all about it on the official Kickstarter page for THE LOST SKELETON WALKS AMONG US (just click on it and see)!

In the meantime, here's Larry's 15-minute plea for help... won't you do what you can to keep the world safe for satire? You've got just 21 days to donate!

Friday, July 4, 2014


Bud Abbott Lou Costello

NOTE: This is an encore edition of a post I originally wrote in 2010:

Here’s a film that will be going into the “horror-onable mention” section of my book. It’s not a “horror-comedy” per se – it’s more of a fantasy-romance, but it does involve ghosts (albeit friendly ghosts) who take the opportunity to put a good scare in some folks as needed. For me, Abbott & Costello’s “The Time of Their Lives” is every bit as classic a movie as “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein;” even if it has more in common with “Topper.”

It’s also tied into the American Revolution, hence this post falling on America’s Independence Day. The film’s script is very well written. It tells the tale of Horatio Prim (Costello), a bumbling but masterful New England tinker in 1780 who longs to marry Nora, the housemaid of wealthy estate owner Tom Danbury. To that end, Horatio procures a letter of commendation from General George Washington in hopes of obtaining permission to marry Nora from Tom. Unfortunately, Horatio has a rival for Nora in butler Cuthbert (Abbott), who causes him trouble no end. But the real trouble comes from Danbury himself, who is secretly a traitor out to aid Benedict Arnold. Both Nora and Danbury’s fiancé, Melody (the luminous Marjorie Reynolds) learn of Danbury’s plot. Nora is captured and Danbury confiscates the commendation letter from her (she had been holding it for Horatio) and hides it in the mantelpiece clock, but Melody manages to escape on horseback in an effort to warn George Washington. She soon encounters Horatio, and the two are framed as traitors, executed and dumped into a well.

It’s here that the fantasy element kicks in. Horatio and Melody are now ghosts who haunt the grounds of the estate and will continue to do so until they can prove their innocence. They just need to somehow get the letter into the hands of the authorities who can rewrite the history books so the truth can be known. This becomes a more hopeful quest 166 years later when the estate is restored to its original condition, and that includes the original furniture. When the restoration is complete, the new owner invites some guests for the weekend to celebrate. Among the guests are psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenway, a descendent of Cuthbert (also played by Abbott). Horatio and Melody decide to have some fun “scaring” the guests. Horatio takes particular delight in spooking Greenway. A séance is held wherein the identity of the ghosts and their plight is revealed, resulting in the living doing what they can to help set Horatio and Melody free.

The film has grown in status over the years and has quite a following (and may have even inspired a line in the classic Gordon Lightfoot song, "If You Could Read My Mind"). In fact, while embraced by many Bud & Lou fans, it’s also been touted as “the Abbott & Costello movie for people who hate Abbott & Costello movies.” This is due to the exceptional dramatic acting of both Lou and Bud that full-bloodedly brings their well-written roles to life. They are both so good in this that it’s hard to say whether one outshines the other (although I might give the slight edge to Abbott whose rarely used talent for character acting is on full display here). It stands out from the majority of the team’s other films which primarily feature a variation on their con man/patsy burlesque characters. It’s one of the few films where the team stretched beyond their usual archetypes and managed to pull it off (for examples where this departure from the norm didn’t work in my opinion, catch “Little Giant” and “Dance With Me Henry.” Or don’t). It also includes a wonderful supporting cast, including horror-comedy stalwart Gale Sondergaard as the maid of the restored estate who definitely believes in ghosts. And it features beautiful sets, wonderful costume designs and marvelous special effects - a top-notch production all around.

If you haven't guessed by now, I consider "The Time of Their Lives" a wonderful film to watch on Independence Day... or any day, for that matter! Here’s the trailer for your enjoyment:

Thursday, June 19, 2014


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Yeah, I know - you're as shocked as Sach to see me here, and probably asking yourself, "Gee, where the heck have you been?"

I'll be explaining soon. Sach is actually part of the reason I've been scarce around these here parts as of late.

Hopefully I can rectify that soon.

Until then... a musical interlude from some of horrordom's most famous boogeymen, who never took themselves too, too seriously... and sometimes got downright silly! ENJOY!

Friday, March 21, 2014


Rondo Hatton

Well here we are again with some nice, albeit surprising news. At the beginning of this week, it turns out the latest round of Rondo Award nominations (for achievements in horror during 2013) were announced. I'd been so busy elsewhere (a long story) that I managed to miss the news - but it's come to my attention that yes, for at least the third time, this humble little blog about spooks and kooks, ghouls and fools, and creeps and clowns has been nominated for a Rondo award!

While I don't necessarily think this blog is worthy of such an honor this year (due to circumstances beyond my control my output was sparse at best), I am honored to be nominated - it is both a vote of confidence and encouragement to me. I want to thank whoever recommended “Scared Silly” for the nomination – I truly appreciate it!

The Rondo Awards are named after Rondo Hatton (you can learn more about Rondo when you click here) and are awards given to those who in some way are keeping the love for and appreciation of classic horror alive. You can learn more details about the awards and view this year's ballot by clicking here.

"Scared Silly" has been nominated in the "best blog" category, and it is my hope that if you like this blog, you will vote for it.

There are TONS of friends of Scared Silly who have been nominated in various categories, and in the coming days I hope to post more about them and encourage you to check out all their great projects, and to vote for them if you're so inclined.

Until then, here's a nice montage of Rondo Hatton movie scenes incongruously set to a jaunty tune - ENJOY:

Friday, January 3, 2014


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As I mentioned in my previous post, I begin the New Year with an exciting announcement: on Sunday, January 12th at 2PM I will be introducing and doing a post-screening talk/Q&A on the ultimate classic horror-comedy film, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN!

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It’s part of the annual West Orange Classic Film Festival, whose organizer Ken Mandel I must thank for arranging my appearance.

After my talk, I’ll have a little table set up where fans can purchase autographed copies of some of my books, such as the VINCENT PRICE book to which I contributed an essay and the ARCHIE’S WEIRD MYSTERIES paperback collection.

Available for the first time will be the brand-new, FREE Scared Silly bookmark! A little something to tied us all over until we actually have a completed Scared Silly book to read.

Tickets for this special event are NOW AVAILABLE for pre-order at the following link:

Fandango – A&C Meet Frankenstein W.O. Classic Film Fest – order tickets here

Just click on the showtime within the above link (2:00 p) to order.

Be advised that this theater sells reserved ticket seats only (like a Broadway show or concert). This means you get to pick your seats when you purchase your ticket. You can do that as a "walk-in" same day as the show or you can do it by pre-ordering. Pre-ordering of course gets you an earlier shot at better available seats but either way works (NOTE: The event organizer feels this show has a chance of seeing out so he recommends pre-ordering your tickets).

Of course, my screening isn’t the only one happening in the festival – there are several amazing films screening, all with a special guest-speaker. You can see the line-up here:

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...and you can watch the trailer for ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN here:

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Father Time

Welcome to 2014... in the real world! Here in our world of reminiscing of decades past, welcome to 1950!: