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Archive for October 28th, 2018

Star (Amanda Stenberg) in shattering “The Hate You Give”

by Sam Juliano
Another Halloween is upon us and with it legions of trick or treaters descending on our chilly suburban streets in wearing that outlandish garb we wait all year to see.  It is a time that makes the most ildellible memories and it is over far too fast.  Unless you are in the path of Mischief Night revelers you should accumulate happy memories and even if you do attract a few eggs or flour socks, it is all in good fun.  At least I think so.  The unspeakable act in Pittsburg leaves up all shocked to our cores, which on the political scenes it is all about a climate of hate.  There will be one more Monday Morning Diary before the November 6th elections, so I’ll address expectation on that next week.  It also seems our friend Stephen Mullen will be pleased as punch as the Boston Red Sox are nearing another World Series title.  Congrats to the Bosox!
Jamie Uhler is nearing completion of another fantastic Horror Fest and this week we have two extraordinary capsules on a bonafide Universal classic, an eclectic gem and an Australian masterpiece.

The family and I were busy on the children’s book front this past week, meeting Brian Selznick, Tomie DePaola and new author Caron Levis.    Lucille, the three boys and I met up with famed author-illustrator and Caldecott Medal winner Brian Selznick early this evening at Books of Wonder where a Harry Potter event was staged. Selznick was to be joined with artist and Caldecott Honor winner Mary Grandpre, who drew the original Harry Potter covers, but she was ill and had to cancel. The three boys including Danny holding “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” are pictured with Selznick.   We were thrilled to meet and chat with towering children’s literature icon Tomie dePaola this evening at Manhattan’s Books of Wonder. DePaola, whose Caldecott Honor winning “Strega Nona” is one of the most beloved picture books of all-time, spoke to a class and signed books (including his newest work “Quiet”) for those in attendance. Danny, Jeremy and I are pictured with dePaola.

A weekend rainstorm didn’t derail author Caron Levis as she continued her October bookstore appearances, today presented her bonafide Caldecott contender “Stop That Yawn” one of the year’s most magnificent picture books, with the sublime and delightful art by LeUyen Pham. Levis is shown suppressing a yawn with Lucille this morning at The Book Mark in Brooklyn.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (C. Barton… 1948) horror comedy  (Jamie Uhler)
It was probably the release of the first two Evil Dead movies that gave most Horror fans the urge to so openly consider comedy intentional in the Horror genre, what with their stated intention to use the aesthetic of the Three Stooges to mine laughs. Previously the attempts were always in spoof—Carry On Screaming! (1966) being perhaps the most famous, and best example—rarely inducing actual scares when laughs were being had as it poked fun at the low hanging fruit of the sometimes gloriously camp Hammer films. It was the most unlikely of guys, Don Knotts, who had perhaps the spookiest funny film, made coincidentally in the same year, 1966, when he hit with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, a film I like a lot. But Evil Deadbirthed, or helped birth, the Splatterstick idea, where outlandish over-the-top gore, was as funny as any joke or comedic performance (because let’s be honest, Ash isn’t that funny in those films). Since then, most Horror Comedies have essentially followed this central conceit; sight gags on dismemberments or oozing, volcanic blood spurts. From Shaun of the Dead to Cemetery Man to the best in my opinion, Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead Alive), they all, in their own way up the ante while also tying closely to those early Sam Raimi works. But, this all amounts to the history of laughing at murder and mayhem to being within the last 35 years or so, when in fact, one of the earliest examples, if not the earliest, is still easily the high water mark to these eyes (and funny bone) in the field.
Here we get comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello playing their established personas; Bud is the straight man Chick—though he gets dozens of sly, quick bursts of clever lines to work with, while Lou is Wilber, a lovably childish scaredy-cat who is dating Dr. Sandra Mornay (the beautifully exotic Lenore Aubert), who apparently loves him for his ‘brains’. It’s all a set up of course, when packages arrive for McDougal’s House of Horrors wax museum containing the coffin of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi wonderfully reprising the role), the hibernating Frankenstein’s monster and our working stiffs have to deliver them (they’re railway clerks), they inadvertently help spring both to life setting in motion the central plot of Dracula and Dr. Mornay wanting to insert Wilber’s brain into Frankenstein’s monster so that he can forever be Dracula’s loyal manservant. The swiftness of the plot, how it perfectly articulates every character and action in a plausible way while clipping along with literally no fat on the edges speaks to the now mostly lost craft of story-telling in the classic Hollywood style. By the time Lon Chaney Jr. appears as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man—his performance is perhaps the best, most touching work in his whole career, and his inclusion drives so much of the action so it’s central—we’re clipping along beautifully (his flying ’tackle’ of a bat at the end in full Wolf Man garb is downright hilarious). Of course, the laughs keep coming, feverishly now, each scene nearly a mini-setup comedy short, often with a spooky edge to never undermine the genre and Monsters it so clearly loves. Jason Voorhees, long a clear manifestation built around much of Frankenstein Monster’s mythology, gets an ending here that the Friday the 13th series would borrow liberally from for several of its middle films, specifically Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). There a fire around the dock in the lake created from poured gasoline temps and burns the monster, similar to the manic closing on display here. Really, everyone gets a funny offing—while I earlier spoke of the greatness of the ‘bat tackle’, perhaps my favorite is Dr. Sandra Mornay’s. She’s unceremoniously picked up by Frankenstein’s monster, lifted overhead and chucked through a glass skylight. It’s the death of a tertiary, nothing character usually, but here one for one of the top billed performers. But it’s funny, and we’re thrilled that that’s is all that matters to this gem.
I’ve long loved the film, it’s usually the first choice out of my mouth when people ask me where they should start a young child in the Horror genre. Haven’t not seen it in my 30’s, hell even late 20’s I realize it was probably around 15 years since the last viewing, and I respect and understand cinema more, so I’m more than happy saying this is easily one of the 50 greatest Horror films ever made. I was totally bowled over last night, forever wishing that I had cinephile parents that put this one on for me as I munched Captain Crunch on a lazy saturday morning in 1989. Oh well, my parents were great nonetheless. I got to it eventually.

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