Friday, October 30, 2020


Greetings, Scared Silly fans! Hope you’re gearing up for Halloween. As I’ve been mentioning in previous posts about virtual screenings (like this one and this one), the events of this unprecedented year have led to many cancelations of live events. Thankfully, there are virtual options for horror-comedy fans to enjoy ghouls and fools.

This Halloween weekend, you’ll have two such opportunities. Both involve animation, including one with which I’m directly involved.

The fun kicks off this Saturday, Halloween day 2020 at 2:30 PST/5:40 EST. Thanks to my friends at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, CA there will be a short little presentation to get you in the mood for boos. Before I get to the details, I’d like to fill you in on what we originally had planned. It was actually supposed to be a much bigger event. Though I’ve spoken at various classic film screenings through the years, the first weekend of October was going to be a dream come true: I was actually going to speak at four different screenings of horror-comedy shorts and trailers spanning the entire weekend! The event, curated by me would have included appearances by Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, The Little Rascals, The Bowery Boys, Bob Hope, and The Three Stooges. It really would have been something, but alas, it just wasn’t meant to be….

…However, the alternative will be fun, too. As the Old Town Music Hall has been doing since the pandemic started, they will once again offer a brief, 20-ish minute presentation of the theater/concert venue and the fun, entertainment and culture it brings. The Old Town Music Hall is an historical institution, starting life as an original silent movie theater. A 5013C charity, they depend upon the support of gracious donors. If you believe in their mission of preserving the artforms of movies and music, I hope you will consider donating to them by clicking here

At the centerpiece is the theater’s crown jewel, the Mighty Wurlitzer organ. The amazing Edward Torres, the theater’s resident organist will regale everyone with a medley of frightfully delightful festive tunes for the season. The medley will be followed by a classic silent horror-comedy animated cartoon short, Koko Sees Spooks with Edward accompanying on the organ… and a short introduction from me.

Disclaimer time: I haven’t seen/heard the playback yet, but I feel it’s possible this isn’t the best introduction I’ve done. I’m a bit out of practice – the last time I spoke at a screening was 2017 so I’m a bit rusty. This was filmed in one take. I know I forgot to say some things I wanted to say, I know I missed my mark on the stage during filming, I was speaking to an empty theater, and I know I rushed through some of it. My hope is that the final result is better than I recall it being as it was happening, but if not, I hope you enjoy it just the same.

Now, down to some important thank yous: The restored version of Koko Sees Spooks, the Max and Dave Fleischer frolic has been graciously provided by animation historian and archivist, Tommy Jose’ Stathes. It’s available on his essential DVD/Blu-ray combo, Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts that you can order from Amazon by clicking here. It’s highly recommended by me, and your purchase goes to support the vital work Tommy is doing. Special thanks also goes to James Moll from the Old Town Music Hall for facilitating and filming the event, and of course to Edward Torres just for being such the amazing good will ambassador he is, in addition to his keyboard virtuosity.

Thanks to the duo I’ve dubbed, “J&J” – chanteuse Janet Klein and animation historian Jerry Beck, the Koko cartoon on Halloween is merely an appetizer. That’s because the day after Halloween Janet and Jerry are presenting what they’re calling, “The Halloween Hangover.” Janet and Jerry have been doing a number of virtual streams during this pandemic time. They feature the musical stylings of Janet Klein on ukulele and vocals, often adopting her best, coquettish Betty Boop voice; and of course, the vast, endless animation history knowledge stored in the mind of Jerry Beck. Half of the fun is reveling in how much their contrasting styles complement each other; they are clearly united in their love of classic animation and vintage music. In fact, think of Janet & Jerry as sort of a Sonny & Cher of the classic animation/vintage music scene… they definitely send off fun-filled vibes!

The cartoons Jerry & Janet have on tap are some real corkers. Featured will be:

- Let's Ring Doorbells (1935), Columbia cartoon with Scrappy and his brother Oopy

- Halloween (1931), RKO/Charles Mintz cartoon with Toby the Pup

- Betty Boop's Halloween Party (1931) Paramount/Fleischer Brothers Studio

- Midnight Frolics (1938) - a Color Rhapsody cartoon from Columbia, directed by Mickey Mouse's co-creator, Ub Iwerks

The Halloween Hangover happens on Sunday, November 1st at 5PM PST/8PM EST. Tickets are available from EventBrite when you click here.

Don’t miss out on all the hair-raising hijinks this weekend! Avail yourself of these classic horror-comedy cartoon streams!

And if you like what you see this weekend, consider getting yourself a copy of that Cartoon Roots: Halloween Haunts collection… you can watch a trailer for it below. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!! 

Saturday, October 17, 2020


This Halloween season, you'll have two great chances to enjoy several fantastic horror-comedy shorts from the silent era... and in both cases, they'll feature live accompaniment on the piano by composer and film historian, Ben Model!

First up is this year's fifth annual "Knoxferatu" presentation. Film historian Kelly Robinson is behind this Knoxville, Tennessee event focusing on silent horror films. Usually an in-person event where patrons can watch the films in theaters while listening to live keyboard accompaniment, the events of 2020 have necessitated a pivot to a virtual screen. 

The fun unspools this Tuesday, October 20th at 7:30 Eastern time. Kelly has curated an eclectic mix of spooky laughs ranging from pioneering efforts, to one of the screen's first international superstars, and an earlier effort from half of one of the legendary comedy duos of all-time!

The pioneering films are The Thieving Hand and Dream of a Rarebit Fiend. The former was directed for Vitagraph by J. Stuart Blackton, a pioneer in the field of animation. The latter was directed for Edison by Edwin S. Porter - the pioneering filmmaker behind The Great Train Robbery - and based on comic strips conceived by pioneering comic artist and animator, Winsor McKay. Have I mentioned the word "pioneer?" Those two films alone offer a great history lesson in some of the leading lights and studios of filmmaking's formative years. They also happen to be surrealist masterworks loaded with imaginative effects that still have impact, and tons of humor, too!

Max Linder was a French film clown and filmmaker who is considered one of, if not the very first, International film stars (a title he ultimately shared with American funnyman John Bunny). Au Secours!, also known as Help! and The Haunted House is an early example of the "old dark house" horror-comedy template, inspired by books like Earl Derr Biggers' Seven Keys to Baldpate and Mary Rhinehart Roberts' play, The Bat. You know, that business about surviving the night in a "haunted" (or is it?) house and collecting an inheritance as a reward.

Stan Laurel needs no introduction to readers here. Of course he ended up in arguably the most beloved comedy duo to ever grace the silver screen, Laurel & Hardy. He found his true voice, and joy there. But on his way to comedy nirvana, he wore several other hats including supporting player, behind-the-scenes director and gag man, and attempts at solo stardom that ranged from everyman Charley Chase-style efforts to a series of film parodies. Those parodies resulted in some corkers like Mud & Sand wherein Laurel portrayed, "Rudolph Vaselino;" and the epic that Knoxferatu brings us, Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde. And epic it is - man is it a well-mounted film loaded with extras and production values. And Stan in there pitching, bending Barrymore's profile toward his own madcap machinations!

Knoxferatu is being offered this year as a "donate what you can event." Just click here to reserve your ticket.

On Sunday, October 25th, Ben Model returns to the piano to regale everyone with more soundtracks created on the spot (yes, he composes as he goes along and his scores always perfectly match the action)! Ben Model and his colleague, film historian and author Steve Massa have been entertaining and edifying audiences just about every Sunday since the lockdown began with their Silent Comedy Watch Party. As you would expect, it's a funhouse full of silent comedy goodness, featuring not just some of the most beloved, well-known film clowns of all but also showcasing some lesser-known folks whose talents rival the superstars. 

Each episode of The Silent Comedy Watch Party streams "live" on its premiere Sunday at 12 Noon Eastern time, and shortly thereafter is archived on YouTube for later viewing, so you can watch whenever you'd like.

Ben and Steve's offerings for October 25th include an entry from the recently rediscovered "Musty Suffer" series starring Harry Watson, Jr. as Musty; a short from one of the earliest (pre-dating Laurel & Hardy) comedy duos, "Pokes & Jabs" (aka Bobby Burns & Walter Stull), and some guy named Buster Keaton. 

Musty Suffer, like the work of Charley Bowers, was heavily influenced by the "trick films" of artists like movie effects pioneer and stage magician, George Melies; and the aforementioned Blackton. And from what I've seen of Pokes & Jabs, the fast-paced slapstick hijinks of another early duo, Ham & Bud, as well as the rotund trio, the Ton of Fun, comes to mind. Though I've yet to see the Musty and Pokes & Jabs shorts Ben and Steve are showing, I'm certain they will be fun-filled efforts.

As for Buster Keaton, his astoundingly imaginative The Haunted House is the featured headliner. You can read my review of this classic short by clicking here. Just note one thing: I'm much more enamored of Keaton now than I was when I first wrote that review, so a tweak of what I wrote originally may be order. 

Click here to learn more about the Silent Comedy Watch Party, access links to past episodes, and get the link for the October 25th episode when it becomes available. And speaking of the Silent Comedy Watch Party... for all the East Side Kids fans reading this, Ernie "Sunshine Sammy" Morrison is actually being featured in this weekend's Silent Comedy Watch Party, in some early Our Gang silent shorts. Morrison played "Scruno" in all three of the East Side Kids' horror-comedy efforts, Boys of the City, Spooks Run Wild, and Ghosts on the Loose. When the team morphed into the Bowery Boys and continued mining laughs from the horror-comedy sub-genre, Morrison didn't transfer over, but he certainly is one of the most-loved of all the Our Gang and East Side Kids casts!

Be sure to mark your calendar so you can enjoy these spooky, kooky pre-Halloween treats!