Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hollywood Halloween Treats

Halloween is almost upon us, so Bijou Blogger Victoria Balloon performs the grave duty of digging up some Halloween DVDs for our viewers’ delight. In our grab bag of tricks and treats we have something for everyone, from little ghouls and goblins to Mummys and Daddies, too. So draw the curtains, turn out the lights, pop in any of these DVDs and relax... if you can!

First up is the cute and cuddly character named Casper, the Friendly Ghost, who is more about “Boo-Hoo” than “Boo!” Casper made his screen debut in a 1945 Paramount Noveltoon called The Friendly Ghost.

He appeared as the main spook in two more theatrical shorts before being spun off as the star of his own cartoon series. Far from being scary, Casper hated being a ghost and only wanted to make friends. This theme of unprovoked alienation dominated most of the cartoons in the series as again and again we witness Casper befriending a person or animal only to have them scream and run away when they realize he’s a ghost. In fact, Casper is so endearing that you’d want to hug him, if he only had a body.

The Best of Casper the Friendly Ghost – Volumes 1 & 2 each feature ten classic Casper cartoons along with two bonus cartoons produced between 1950 and 1959. The original Casper theme song is an added bonus on each DVD and the print quality is excellent.

If you’re looking for some monster fun but screaming at slapstick is more your style, then any of the “Abbott and Costello Meet...” movies are for you. All of the films are loosely built around classic horror legends and provide Bud and Lou with spooky backdrops for their classic sight gags and verbal exchanges.

The first of these films was Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). The two are a pair of delivery men charged with setting up the latest exhibits in a house of horrors — only the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange) and Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) turn out to be the real deal. Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) arrives from London to help Bud and Lou thwart Dracula’s evil plans, but Talbot would be a lot more help if he didn’t keep turning into the Wolfman!

Walter Lantz, creator of Woody Woodpecker, directed Dracula’s animated transformations. This was Lugosi’s second film in which he played the Count, but it’s a role he almost didn’t get — the studio didn’t realize Lugosi was still alive. Boris Karloff was offered the part of the Monster, but he refused; he thought a comedy was insulting to the character and the film would not do well at the box-office. It turned out that Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein became Universal-International's second highest grossing film of the year.

Abbott and Costello's last film for Universal was Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). The pair find themselves accused of murdering a prominent archeologist and in possession of a sacred medallion linked with a mummy’s curse. Everyone wants that medallion — a gang of thieves wants it to find the treasure, an Egyptian cult wants it to revive the Mummy, and the Mummy wants what’s rightfully his — but Bud and Lou just want to go back to the States! This film contains the fast and funny “Shovel or Pick?” dialogue as well as Lou’s career as a snake charmer.

Although both contain original theatrical trailers and photo galleries (and the Frankenstein DVD contains a "making of" documentary with some production notes), the focus of both DVDs is the feature. Both are very clean prints and would be quite a catch for any classic monster fan.

If you seek “a hair-raising, soul stirring, nerve tingling story” or even just something to make “thy blood to creep and thy hair to stand,” check out CafĂ© Roxy’s Monster Mania (2009). Two hours of classic horror/sci-fi movie trailers from Universal, Hammer Films, William Castle and others results in a concentrated mix of B movie monster madness that will send “fangs of fear to rip reason from your mind!”

The clips contain creepy creatures, science experiments gone wrong, and undead favorites. It is a wonderful tribute to horror films from the classic to the camp, and with or without the sound turned up, running this DVD in the background will give any Halloween gathering the perfect spooky ambiance. Contains The Mad Doctor, the only Mickey Mouse cartoon in the public domain!

Grotesqueries: Ghosts, Goblins and other Magical Moving Picture Illusions from the Dawn of Cinema through 1934 is one of the finest collections of fascinating Halloween-themed short subjects on the planet! The DVD is loaded with a tantalizing mix of rare and  hard-to-find animated and live-action shorts, sumptuously presented in three acts, and concludes with a bonus chapter of special added attractions.

Some of the highlights include a pair of Felix the Cat cartoons: Felix Woos Whoopee and Felix in Sure-Locked Holmes (color-tinted with new scores); The Wizard’s Apprentice (1930), a Germanesque picturization of Paul Dukas’ descriptive tone-poem; Une Nuit Sur le Mont Chauve (1933) inspired by Modest Mussorgsky’s tone-poem, A Night on Bald Mountain. Although a difficult film to transfer to video, the results are stunning; the image is greatly improved, and the film classic has never been seen to greater advantage.

Included also is Le Spectre Rouge (The Red Spectre), a 1907 fantasy by pioneer Ferdinand Zecca, featuring a rare glimpse of the famed French Music Hall artiste, Bretteau. (The rich colors are hand-stenciled onto the original film print); the original Tom & Jerry meet graveyard stiffs, coffin keepers, and a Siren of the Sarcophagus in double potions of musical madness in a pair of cartoon delights: Wot a Night and Magic Mummy; and Fall of the House of Usher (1928), an expressionistic, dadaesque retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s psychological thriller (color-tinted with a new score).

Grotesqueries is an entirely original programme complimented by an abundance of original graphics and new music accompanying the silent films. This spooky and surreal extravaganza was created and  realized by Rex Schneider, Chris Buchman and Steve Stanchfield - and is available directly from Blue Mouse Studio.

Once your littlest gremlins are tucked into bed, consider adding some zing to your sleepover with Monsters Crash the Pajama Party (1965). This devilish DVD celebrates the lost world of Spook Shows with 45 minutes of Spook Show trailers, 300 spooky print ads and tons of extras. Spook Shows were stage shows with real, live monsters (OK... guys in monster suits) that ran out into the audience when the lights blacked out. Young kids were genuinely terrified in those innocent days of the 1950s and 60s, while older teens knew what to do with their dates.

The 31 minute title featurette is the heart of the show. A mad doctor sets the mood for an invasion of nightie-clad damsels into his chamber of horrors. During the climax he tells his gorilla: “Big G, you go out there in the audience and get me another girl, and you other monsters go out to help him.” This cues real monsters onstage and into the theater. After much onscreen lightning and the audience blackout, the monsters return to the screen with a writhing victim. The film can be run twice more with commentaries by those who staged such Monsteramas years before today's’ haunted houses.

The Tom Stathes Halloween Cartoon Reel will raise the hair on your arms! The films are not restored and are presented “as found” — no music tracks on the silents, but many original prints were copied and there are a lot of true rarities. It includes Krazy Kat in The Awful Spook (1921, Bray); Felix the Ghost Breaker (1923, Sullivan/Messmer); Koko the Clown in Koko's Haunted House (1928, Fleischer) and many more, including the 1928 live-action Christie Comedy Goofy Ghosts. Most bizarre is Alice's Mysterious Mystery! (1926, Disney) in which dogs are kidnapped, jailed in a dungeon by a hooded captor and turned into sausages.

Finally, here’s a treat that’s full of delightful tricks: a high-quality, 50th Anniversary Edition of House on Haunted Hill, presented in widescreen by Johnny Legend, a video pioneer who released low-budget horror and exploitation films in the early days of Rhino Home Video. William Castle’s 1959 thriller still shocks and mystifies with ghoulish plot twists.

Vincent Price invites five random guests to stay overnight in a haunted house and get $10,000 if they survive. Not all of them make it. Are the ghosts real? How about that severed head? The bonus extras are true delights, starting with two trailers for House, one trumpeting the “Emergo” process (a skeleton flies over audience during the film’s climax), and trailers for Vincent Price and William Castle shockers: The Fly, Tingler, Macabre, 13 Ghosts, Mr. Sardonicus, Zotz, Straight-Jacket and more. Mr. Castle appears in many trailers to explain his latest gimmicks. Johnny himself discusses the “House” today and actress Carol Ohmart. The disc closes with Vincent Price on the Jack Benny and Red Skelton Shows and as persecuted missionary John Hayes on TV Reader’s Digest from 1955.

So many creepy classics we love, but alas, the dawn comes too soon! Many of these fiendishly fun DVDs and others are available for purchase at Movies Unlimited, or for rent on Netflix. And mark your calendars — Turner Classic Movies will be a chamber of horrors as they show a Boris Karloff marathon and back-to-back spine-tingling thrillers over Halloween weekend.
It promises to be a scream!

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