Tuesday, August 2, 2016
This past week, a legend in the world of cartooning left us. The impact and influence of Jack Davis’s work, and the legacy of what he left behind cannot be underestimated. For those of us who love horror-comedy, Jack was one of its premiere practitioners, and a vital component in the “monster kids” craze that ensured the popularity of classic movie monsters would endure eternally.
As long-time readers of this blog know, Jack was the artist who conceived the character designs for one of the great horror-comedies films of all time, the stop-motion animated monster rally classic, Mad Monster Party.
However, Jack did so much more than that. From magazine covers (including TIME and TV Guide!) to comic book stories to trading cards to print ads to animated TV commercials and more, Davis’s amazing illustrations dazzled with detail even at their looniest and cartooniest.
At EC Comics, his command at sequential storytelling in the horror, crime and war genres begat an army of comic book artists. Many became superstars in their own right. Many owe Jack their debt! Davis’s expert renderings of forms, detailed compositions and perspectives underscored just how dramatic well-drawn comic books could be.
As a member of the founding class of “the Usual Gang of Idiots” at Mad Magazine, he helped define what an all-out, no holds barred humor magazine could be. Here was unbridled lunacy on par with the Marx Brothers and Three Stooges, but writ in pen and ink and (sometimes) color. Again, some of the zaniest cartoonists appearing in Mad’s wake were no doubt inspired by Davis.
It’s rare to find talents who excel at being both illustrators and cartoonists, at both drama and comedy, but Davis was such a talent.
Davis’s connection to horror-comedy doesn’t begin and end with Mad Monster Party. Davis was extremely fond of the Universal Monsters, so any opportunity he got to draw these characters was cherished and tackled with gusto. From Mad Magazine stories and gag pages, to record album covers, to advertisements, to trading cards and more, Davis’s great reverence for the classic monsters shines through the parody.
Rather than go through a lengthy history of Mr. Davis, I invite you to read the two fine articles writer and pop culture historian Mark Evanier has written:
Jack Davis remembered by Mark Evanier Part 1
Jack Davis remembered by Mark Evanier Part 2
More importantly, I’m going to let his work speak for itself… so gaze upon this marvelous selection of creepily kooky, eerily cartoony work from the master, then check back in with me below for a special last word:
The Mad Monster Party character design model sheets come courtesy of leading Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt’s book, Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party. © 2011 Miser Bros Press/Rick Goldschmidt Archives. Rick also provided the Mad Monster Party movie poster at the top of this post. Last but not least, Rick offered some insight into Mr. Davis, based on his own cherished interactions with the artist:
"Jack always said he was scared by Boris Karloff in Frankenstein as a child. Ironically, he would go on to draw Frankenstein hundreds of times. Arthur Rankin loved Jack's Abraham Lincoln pen and ink work and that is what led to him hiring Jack many times over the years."
If you’d like to see more of Davis’s monster-related work, Gamma Illustrations' Monster Kid site has a wonderful overview of it that you can view when you click here.
Rest in peace, Jack… and thanks for all the laughter and entertainment!
Monday, July 4, 2016
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:
Monday, April 4, 2016
WOW! This is getting to be a habit. The latest round of Rondo Award nominations (for achievements in horror entertainment, merchandising, journalism and fandom during 2015) were announced. And yes, for at least the fifth time (!!!), this humble little blog about spooks and kooks, ghouls and fools, and creeps and clowns has been nominated for a Rondo award!!!
Like 2013 and 2014, I don't necessarily think this blog is worthy of such an honor for my 2015 output. Due to being inundated with comics projects and the Bowery Boys documentary I'm helping to produce, it was limited to "encore posts" and vintage clips of trailers, cartoons and features at best, as opposed to new articles and reviews.However, I am honored to once again 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 the brainchild of David Colton. They are named after Rondo Hatton (you can learn more about Rondo Hatton by watching the video clip below) 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 Rondo 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 before the voting is through I hope I can post more about them and encourage you to check out all their great projects, and to vote for them if you're so inclined.
Votes are due by midnight, Sunday, April 10th, 2016.
Until then, here's a nice piece on Rondo Hatton courtesy of Me-TV's resident horror movie host, Svengoolie - ENJOY:
Monday, February 29, 2016
YOU’RE invited to the merriest, most madcap, monsteriffic party of all!
After very successful screenings the past two years, I've been asked once again this year to be a guest-speaker at the West Orange Classic Film Festival.
On Sunday, March 6th at 2PM at the Essex Green AMC Dine-In Theater in West Orange, NJ I'll be introducing and doing Q&A for a special screening of the heralded Rankin-Bass animated feature, Mad Monster Party. As an added bonus, I’ll also be showing the Little Rascals short, Our Gang Follies of 1938.
Of course, both films have much to offer to fans of Scared Silly and classic horror-comedies.
If you’ve seen such classic TV Christmas specials as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, then you’re familiar with the whimsical stop-motion “animagic” process used in Mad Monster Party. And if you’ve ever read Mad Magazine, well, the script and character designs for Mad Monster Party come courtesy of Mad legends, writer Harvey Kurtzman and artist Jack Davis, respectively.
A love letter to the vintage horror movies of the 1930s and ‘40s, Mad Monster Party also spoofs a variety of film classics as well as the “3 B’s of the ‘60s” – Batman, the Beatles and Bond!
A huge inspiration on Tim Burton and his classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas, the influence of Mad Monster Party is still seen today in films including Monsters vs. Aliens, Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania.
I did a pseudo-review of Mad Monster Party a few years back, which you can read when you click here.
I’m also thrilled to be running Our Gang Follies of 1938, in which Henry Brandon reprises his classic role of villainous Silas Barnaby, who bedeviled Laurel & Hardy four years earlier in Babes in Toyland, aka March of the Wooden Soldiers.
IMPORTANT NOTE: For this theater, you actually choose your seat at time of purchase, similar to buying a concert ticket. It is recommended to pre-order online for the best seat possible, and to avoid being shut out of a seat (to underscore the importance of ordering early, one of my screenings was a total sell-out while the other a near sell-out).
You can pre-order tickets either at the theater box office or through Fandango. The link to do so at Fandango is https://tickets.fandango.com/transaction/ticketing/express/ticketboxoffice.aspx?row_count=114227832&mid=51202&tid=AAFMU
EXTRA NOTE - Fandango lists the screening as being “18 only” primarily because it is a “dine-in” theater where alcohol is served, but this does not mean that children are not allowed – it only means that they need to be accompanied by adults. By all means, this is a terrific film for all ages and I hope to see you there!
Mad Monster Party with bonus short featuring the Little Rascals
Guest Speaker: Paul Castiglia
West Orange Classic Film Festival
Sunday, March 6th at 2PM
Essex Green AMC Dine-In Movie Theater
495 Prospect Avenue, West Orange, NJ 07052
Friday, January 1, 2016
Thursday, December 31, 2015
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 recreating a classic movie matinee at their 2015 festival early this year. It's always great to have an opportunity to be a guest-speaker at screenings of classic films, and this year's program, with a Popeye cartoon, Flash Gordon serial chapter and the Laurel & Hardy classic, The Flying Deuces was a real crowd pleaser! (Teaser: watch this blog for a special announcement about my next guest-speaking gig which is happening very soon).
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.
As for the documentary itself, this was an amazing year for me as I participated in the filming of several interviews (many of which I wrote and some which I conducted) with such luminaries as Alec Baldwin, Jamie Farr, Pat Cooper, Bob Burns, Dennis Diken, Saxon Sitka (Emil's son!), Adam Ferrara, Daniel Roebuck and more! I was particularly thrilled to film special segments with friends including Alex Simmons (writer, and founder of Kids' Comic Con), Denny Daniel (founder and curator of The Museum of Interesting Things), Jack Kirby historians Rand Hoppe and Jon B. Cooke, and The Bowery Mission's Jason Storbakken and James Macklin.
This was a particularly busy year for me with personal appearances at both comic shops and and comic conventions. Special thanks goes out to Spiro Ballas of Superheroes For Hospice, Alex Simmons of Kids' Comic Con, Jeff Beck of East Side Mags, 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!"
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)!
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!
Saturday, December 26, 2015
Hope your holidays were grand, friends! Here's a few additional goodies to keep you in the festive spirit... and with the day after Christmas falling on a Saturday this year, consider this the perfect selection of "Saturday Morning Cartoons," too!
(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).