Monday, January 16, 2017
If you live in the New York/New Jersey area, you’ll soon have not one but two chances to enjoy classic horror-comedy films on the big screen, including another screening introduced by yours, truly!
First up is “Scared Silent,” which is part of the annual “Cruel and Unusual Comedy” film festival at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This series has been going on for a number of years now and features hilarious and often astonishing silent comedy shorts (not to mention fascinating from a historical standpoint). As usual, the films feature sublime live keyboard accompaniment by Ben Model, and commentary/intros (sometimes even post-screening Q&A) from Ben and film historian Steve Massa, who are both major experts on the subject. The series is facilitated by MOMA's film curator, a noted film historian/critic in his own right, Dave Kehr. Each screening features a group of shorts programmed around a clever, connecting theme. On Thursday, January 19th at 4PM, and again on Wednesday, January 25th at 7PM, the “Scared Silent” program will be shown. Featured stars include Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals), Alice Howell, Edward Everett Horton, Gale Henry and the Ton of Fun (pictured below – they were a comedy trio long before the Three Stooges – if you can imagine a knockabout teaming of Fatty Arbuckle, Oliver Hardy and Curly Howard you’ll get the idea). Click on this link for more details.
Next up, on Sunday, February 5th at 2PM is my annual guest-speaking gig at the West Orange Classic Film Festival. This will be my fourth year in a row speaking at the festival. It all began for me in 2014 with a sold-out screening of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, and now it’s coming full circle with this year’s presentation of Abbott & Costello’s Hold That Ghost. As always, I’ll be introducing the film and doing a Q&A afterward. It’s one of Bud and Lou’s best, and simply one of the greatest horror-comedy films of all-time. Thanks go out once again to the festival’s organizer, Ken Mandel for inviting me to take part. Note that this is a “reserved seat” screening so it’s encouraged that you purchase your tickets ahead of time on Fandango. Just click here, then click on “2:00pm” to reserve your seat (NOTE: you might also have to enter the zip code, 07052). See you there!
Saturday, January 7, 2017
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Saturday, December 31, 2016
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 Mad Monster Party at their 2016 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 and features an extremely popular horror-comedy).
I also had another terrific year working on the Bowery Boys documentary, including the opportunity to interview one of my comedy idols, Fred Willard. The film is the brainchild of Executive Producer and owner of Handshake Away Productions, Colette Joel. Her lifelong love of the Dead End Kids, East Side Kids and Bowery Boys is manifesting itself in a wonderful production that I know all fans of classic movies and classic comedy will enjoy. And that includes you, Scared Silly readers! 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.
This was a particularly busy year for me with personal appearances at both comic shops and and comic conventions. Special thanks goes out to Alex Simmons of Kids' Comic Con, Jeff Beck of East Side Mags, and John Paul of NJ Comic Book Expo. And all the other show promoters who graciously allowed me to be part of their events, too. 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)!
As always, it wouldn't be New Year's Eve here without 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 26, 2016
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).
Friday, December 23, 2016
THIS IS AN "ENCORE" POST - I ORIGINALLY POSTED THIS ENTRY IN 2009 AND THOUGHT I'D RE-POST IT FOR ANYONE WHO MAY HAVE MISSED IT. NOTE: THIS YEAR I'VE ADDED TED ESHBAUGH'S SNOWMAN TO THE LIST OF CREEPS - MERRY CHRISTMAS!
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!
Last but certainly not least: Ted Eshbaugh’s 1933 cartoon classic, The Snowman may appear to be just another 1930s cartoon frolic with cute woodland creatures creating a snowman... but it isn't! Just keep watching and you'll know how it qualifies for Scared Silly (although truthfully it qualifies more for Scared Scared!)
So here’s wishing all Scared Silly fans the happiest and safest of holidays, and every blessing for the New Year!
Monday, December 19, 2016
RATING: * out of ****
NOTE: This is easily the trickiest review thus far for the Scared Silly project, as this is a silent movie with none of the title cards extant, and further, none of the many newspaper headlines (the short begins at a newspaper publisher’s office) are legible, either, appearing on screen for just brief moments so that the eyes cannot register what’s on them. These facts pretty much wipe out whatever context sets up the film, from just “who is who,” all the way to “how do these folks end up in a haunted house?”
PLOT...?: WWithout any titles, we’re left to wonder why Eddie Lyons and his wife ends up in the haunted house. We only know the couple that seems to own the house consists of a rather shifty husband, and constantly scared, clairvoyant wife. Then again, they may be merely a caretaker and a maid, and not married at all! All we know for sure is there’s someone in a sheet scaring everyone, and a skeleton being operated like a marionette, and lots of things going bump in the night. Can Eddie figure out who is behind it all?
REVIEW: This is going to be one of the shortest reviews in the Scared Silly project as there’s not a whole heck of a lot going on here, subtitles or not. For the most part it’s a farce with people spending more time running around and being scared just for the zeitgeist of it all, although there’s not really actual gags per se…. much like the Jimmie Adams silent horror-comedy, Goofy Ghosts.
Silent film historian Steve Massa was kind enough to set the record straight on Eddie Lyons, for whom readily available information is on the scant and sometimes inaccurate side. From Steve:
“Eddie Lyons hooked up with producer Al Christie at Nestor, where he was part of the ensemble with Victoria Forde, Lee Moran, Stella Adams, Harry Rattenberry, Gus Alexander, Billie Rhodes, etc. Christie teamed him with Lee Moran, and when Al left Nestor in 1916 to set up his own independent company Eddie and Lee went with him but were quickly lured back to Universal with a better deal. The last Lyons & Moran films came out in 1921 (shorts and features) and Peace and Quiet was his first solo comedy. I've found three different reasons given for Lyon's death in 1920s trade magazines - appendicitis, a nervous breakdown, and a brain tumor. Don't know which is true.”
Getting back to the short at hand, the scares are limited to the following:
-A man in a sheet
-A skeleton (literally) in a closet
-A cat... and It’s not even 100% black!
-Lights projecting a garishly smiling face on the wall
-A man covered in soot or flour – but I’ll be darned if I know just how that happened!
Out of the above, the skeleton bit comes off best. Eddie backs up into the closet, right into a skeleton whose right hand is perfectly positioned to land on his shoulder. As he pulls away, the skeleton hand stays attached to his shoulder as he runs through the house, until it finally falls off.
The best that can be said for it is that everyone is very expressive, body and facial language galore, and all move at a fast pace. It should also be noted that not only does Lyons star, but he was in the director’s chair for this short, too.
When all is said and done, if the film is fully restored someday, it can be reassessed and perhaps earn a better rating than the one star I assigned to it. It’s folly to try to give it an accurate rating based on its current condition.
SPOTTED IN THE CAST: Jack Duffy, like Lyons, was a vaudevillian and musical comedy star. His stock-in-trade was making himself up in old age make-up to play grandfatherly roles. It didn’t hurt that he had dentures he could remove! In addition to scores of silent comedy shorts (including Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality) and some 1930s westerns, some of his other notable appearances include Pop Goes the Easel and Restless Knights alongside the Three Stooges, and The Girl Rush with Vernon Dent.
Dorothea Wolbert’s impressive credits include a plethora of Lonesome Luke shorts starring Harold Lloyd, the feature, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum with Al Jolson and Frank Morgan; the Our Gang/Little Rascals horror-comedy, Shivering Spooks; and a pair of Laurel & Hardy classics: The Battle of the Century and Two Tars. A couple years before her death, she made a notable appearance on the TV show, I Love Lucy playing a character named... Dorothea Wolbert!