Creepy Classics Countdowns Past – #1 (2012)

Dear readers of EarnThis,

I just wanted to give a heads-up that I’ll be posting my latest “Creepy Classics Countdown” all through October over at Brian Terrill Movie Night. To get you “up to speed,” I’m posting the two previous Countdowns here in compilation form. The new Countdown kicks off in two days…check back tomorrow for the 2013 installment!

Below are all the posts from 2012:

INTRO:

Hey, Boils and Ghouls! Just a heads-up that I enjoyed doing the BTMN Christmas Countdown so much last December that I’m planning a similar event for Halloween! Tune in this October, when I’ll be sharing a different spooky song or poem every single day. To cap off the month, there will be another musical montage composed by yours truly, which I’ll be sharing on All Hallows’ Eve itself! Check back October 1st for the start of the Brian Terrill Movie Night Creepy Countdown…I know you’re just DYING to get started. Muhahahah!

#1: “The Skeleton Dance” [1929]

Welcome to Day 1 of the Brian Terrill Movie Nights Creepy Classics Countdown! Similar to the Christmas Countdown last December, every day this month I’ll be sharing a song or poem from a different Halloween-themed film or television special, ending with a musical montage of my own arranging which I’ll debut on Halloween.
Our first selection is “The Skeleton Dance.” Released in 1929, it marks one of the earliest instances of complex synchronization between sound and animation (1928’s “Steamboat Willie” being the first). This spooky short was also the first installment of Disney’s “Silly Symphony” series. These were cartoons which prominently incorporated music, and their success inspired rival studio Warner Brothers to create their own series of shorts with the suspiciously similar moniker, “Merry Melodies.” The Merry Melodies series eventually gained a new name: Looney Tunes (note that it’s “tunes” and not “toons,” indicating the enduring prominence of music). Were it not for these dancing skeletons, we may never have had Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

As for the clip itself, I have little else to say. It’s five minutes of concentrated creepy fun. I do want to point out my favorite moment: Watch for the skeleton who, after playing his neighbor like a xylophone, triumphantly smashes him at the climax of a particularly intense solo. It’s a remarkably Rock-and-Roll move for a film pre-dating the Great Depression.

See you tomorrow for Day 2!

#2: “Swing, You Sinners!” [1930]

Day 2, and we’re jumping ahead just one year from yesterday’s entry. Today’s musical monstrosity is “Swing, You Sinners!”, released in 1930. The short is an early installment in Fleischer Studios’ “Talkartoon” series. Like Disney’s Silly Symphonies, the Talkartoons combined animation with the relatively recent technological innovation of synchronized sound. The series introduced one of the Fleischers’ most popular characters, Betty Boop, in “Dizzy Dishes,” also released in 1930. (Fleischer Studios would introduce their most well-known character six years later when they licensed a certain comic strip Sailor Man, and Popeye made his 1936 screen debut.)

This short stars Bimbo, an anthropomorphized dog who was often depicted as Betty Boop’s “boyfriend” (before the Hays Code of 1934 put the kibosh on their “bestiality”). Here, Bimbo attempts to steal a chicken, and for his transgression suffers the wrath of all the forces of Hell. It’s…actually quite terrifying. The enormous, wild-eyed, scat-singing chicken is possibly the scariest thing you’ll see here all month. Also of note is the dancing frog near the end of the clip, which Cracked.com describes as “feeling itself up in a way that is impossible to think of as anything other than opium chills.”

Oh, that’s another thing…I got this from Cracked. Maybe that makes this selection too mainstream and calls my “cred” into question. Well, as far as it goes, a website dedicated to teaching readers bizarre and humorous things is alright by me, be it mainstream or not. So yeah. Go Cracked!

Check back in tomorrow, Day 3. That is, if the tribulations of Bimbo haven’t scared you away.

#3: “Pluto’s Judgement Day” [1935]

Today’s clip is the 1935 Mickey Mouse short “Pluto’s Judgement Day,” from 1935. Like yesterday’s selection, this is another example of the “popular cartoon character commits seemingly innocuous misdeed and is summarily condemned to the fires of Hell” subgenre. It was a surprisingly popular trope in early animation (in addition to these two examples, I’d also suggest the 1937 Warner Bros. cartoon “Pigs is Pigs” and the 1949 Tom & Jerry short “Heavenly Puss”).

Admittedly, this clip isn’t entirely “musical,” but I thought it deserved inclusion anyway. If you want to be super-observant of the as-yet unwritten Countdown Rules, feel free to watch only the trial scene, which is conducted entirely in rhyme and song. I thought I’d link to the whole video to give you some context.

Point of minor interest: For years I was baffled why “Uncle Tom” left behind nine identical ghosts. Literally as I was writing this I realized it’s probably because he’s a cat (nine lives and all that). This does nothing to explain why every other witness is represented as only a single ghost. Oh well.

See you tomorrow for Day 4!

#4: “Night on Bald Mountain” [1940]

Welcome to Day 4! Today’s selection is Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” from Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia. I don’t know about you, but I used to fast-forward my VHS copy of the film to the end just to watch this scene. Even now, it’s still my favorite of the acts.

Why?

Well, let me ask you: How many souls are sent plummeting into a fiery abyss in “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy?”

None. None souls.

That’s not a problem here. “Night on Bald Mountain” doesn’t mess around. After more than an hour-and-a-half of dancing flowers and tutu-clad hippos (Fantasia is the only film in the Disney animated canon to exceed two hours in length), we are suddenly confronted by 14 minutes of Satan himself leading the revelry of his infernal armies. Ghosts, demons, skeletons, harpies, winged skulls, bipedal pigs: It’s all-out, balls-to-the-wall Hellscape insanity.

And for any of you Disney aficionados who may challenge me, though the main demon in this clip is now referred to in related media as “Chernobog,” the conductor explicitly states that Bald Mountain is said to be the site of celebrations by “Satan and his followers.” This makes Fantasia one of only three Disney animated features to explicitly mention Hell (in Cinderella Maleficent calls upon “all the powers of Hell” before transforming into the dragon, and in The Hunchback of Notre Dame…well, in that movie Hell is pretty important).

But in one aspect, this scene stands alone in Disney’s oeuvre. I’m talking, of course, about the topless women. Take another look if you somehow managed to miss it. Watch the harpies. Those are some certifiably bare-breasted harpies. But the female nudity doesn’t stop there. Pay attention to the clouds of purple smoke just prior to the appearance of the harpies.

Do you see it!?
Sexy lady smoke. I’m glad I could share this with you.

One final tidbit: I’m willing to bet you haven’t seen all of Fantasia. And not because you may have fallen asleep halfway through. There are actually clips of the centaur scene in which one of the centaurs is waited on by what can only be described as a slave: a small black centaur exhibiting aspects of the “pickaninny” stereotype. These moments were wisely cropped out of re-releases of the film from the late 60s onward, but thanks to the wonders of the Internet you can see the scenes in their entirety once again. Hooray!

So there you have it. Hell. Boobs. Racism. A classic family film.

See you tomorrow for Day 5!

#5: “Pink Elephants on Parade” [1941]

Okay. There may be those among you who won’t think today’s video warrants inclusion in this ostensibly Halloween-themed countdown. I’ll take this opportunity to better define the criteria I used to pick the month’s selections.

The videos chosen had to prominently feature music or verse, and be taken from a widely-available film or television program. Beyond that, pieces were chosen based on whether they were the following (ranked in order of preference):

1. A song (or poem) from an overtly Halloween-themed movie.
2. A song (or poem) from an overtly horror-themed movie.
3. A Halloween or horror-themed song from a film not specifically within those genres.
4. Basically any song in which the protagonists are confronted with a spooky supernatural threat.

“Pink Elephants” is well within the fourth category. At any rate it’s certainly creepy, which I feel qualifies it for the Creepy Countdown. Anyway, I get to make the final say. Nyeh nyeh nyeh.

The song, as you’re probably well aware, comes from Disney’s 1941 film Dumbo, and depicts Dumbo and his mouse companion Timothy hallucinating as a result of drinking from a basin full of beer. It seems the basin was also laced with LSD, because things get uncharacteristically mind-melting (unless you all have been drinking a different kind of beer than me). Dumbo was produced on a relatively low budget for a Disney film (to recoup the losses on their previous feature, a highbrow art film called Fantasia), but they spared no expense on the crazy. So sit back and take in these shapeshifting “technicolor pachyderms.” And preferably not while “drunk.”

See you tomorrow, for Day 6!

#6: “Festival of the New Wine” [1943]

Day 6, and this entry is one of my favorites. It’s the musical number from the Festival of the New Wine in 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Referred to by most sources I’ve seen as “Fa-ro-li, Fa-ro-la,” the song is a catchy, upbeat tune about enjoying being alive (because it’s hard to enjoy anything when you’re dead). If you ever book me to perform at your wedding, chances are good I’ll sing this song.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was the first of the Universal monsters series to feature several of the classic monsters onscreen at once, and was followed by a string of other such “monster mashes” (House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, etc.).

Like all of the Wolf Man sequels, this film features Larry Talbot (played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) trying to find a way to die for good and thus escape his werewolfism. This makes the Wolf Man by far the most emo of the Universal monsters. Just a bit of context as to why he flips out at the end when the gypsy wishes him eternal life.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to promote James Rolfe and his site, www.cinemassacre.com . His “Monster Madness” series of reviews runs every October, and played a key part in inspiring this countdown. It also clued me in to this song. Check it out!

And remember:
Come along and sing a song,
Fa-ro-li, Fa-ro-la,
For life is short but death is long,
Fa-ro-li, Fa-ro-la.

See you tomorrow!

#7: “The Headless Horseman” [1949]

Strangely enough, my two favorite clips of the month come one right after the other (and both have had the actual clips taken down since I initially wrote about them back in 2012). I guess I’m just a sucker for the 40s. Today’s song is “The Headless Horseman,” and like “Festival of the New Wine” I find it especially catchy for some reason.

The song is taken from Disney’s adaptation of Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which was packaged with “Wind in the Willows” and released as The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad in 1949.

Brief history lesson: In the 40s, Disney released a string of “package films” consisting of several shorts compiled into feature-length programs. This was done primarily to cut costs (WWII closed many foreign film markets, and in order to still turn a profit Disney focused on the cheaper production of shorts). Ichabod and Mr. Toad was the last such package film (and I could rattle off the others now, but I won’t: Acing the Sporcle quiz of every Disney animated feature in order is one of my favorite party tricks, and I can’t have you stealing it). In 1950, Disney returned to producing feature-length animated films with Cinderella. And judging by how closely Katrina Van Tassel in Sleepy Hollow resembles Cinderella, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the animators probably carried over some design ideas.

If you haven’t seen this film, check it out. It’s among the best adaptations of the “Sleepy Hollow” story. As a bonus, Bing Crosby narrates and provides the singing voice of Brom Bones.

One final note: I first saw this film when I rented it as a six-year-old, and I found the scariest part by far to be the old man at the beginning who says “Some don’t even wear their SKIN,” eyes flashing horrifically before he’s abruptly cut away from. Ichabod’s face at the end is pretty terrifying too.

See you tomorrow for Day 8!

#8: “Trick or Treat” [1953]

We’re into the 50s! Today’s video is the 1952 Donald Duck short “Trick or Treat.” It features a kind witch who aids Huey, Dewey and Louie when Donald, in an uncharacteristically dickish move, denies his nephews candy on Halloween and explodes their treat-gathering accoutrements. The witch-abetted duck children lay siege to Donald’s home with an army of supernatural terrors, then, upon gaining entry, compel him with magic to savagely beat himself into unconsciousness. I imagine a concerned Duckburg social worker walked in shortly in the aftermath of this cartoon and summarily sent the boys to live with their wealthy Uncle Scrooge in hopes of breaking the cycle of abuse, inadvertently setting the stage for an awesome cartoon series in the process.

In another example of Warner Brothers imitating something which proved popular for Disney, WB animator Chuck Jones was so inspired by June Foray’s performance as Witch Hazel in “Trick or Treat” that he created a witch character of his own…and called her Witch Hazel…and cast June Foray in the role. She refused, pointing out that Jones had just copied Disney’s character…but that didn’t stop her from voicing WB’s Witch Hazel in two subsequent appearances after her 1954 debut. Don’t blame her, though: June Foray voiced just about every female cartoon character out there back in the day (and even some male roles). Perhaps most recognizable as Granny from Looney Tunes, she also voiced Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha Fatale, Nell Fenwick (Dudley Do-Right’s girlfriend) and even Cindy Lou Who.

Like “Pluto’s Judgement Day,” this short isn’t entirely musical, but the titular tune recurs throughout, so I thought I might as well link to the whole thing. If you really care, stick your fingers in your ears and yell during the non-singing parts. It really works!

Finally, I’ve realized that In the very first post ofthe is Countdown I misspelled Warner Bros.’ “Merrie Melodies” series as “Merry Melodies.” Twice. I am deeply sorry. I’ll show myself out.

Nah, I’ll be back tomorrow.

Probably.

#9: “The Wail of the Banshee” [1959]

Today’s video may seem to be a strange choice for inclusion in the Countdown. It’s a short poem entitled “The Wail of the Banshee,” read by Pat O’Brien to Walt Disney in a 1959 episode of the television anthology series Disneyland. The episode, “I Captured the King of the Leprechauns,” tells the “true story” leading up to the production of the Disney film Darby O’Gill and the Little People, with Walt traveling to Ireland in hopes of convincing the Leprechaun leader, King Brian of Knocknasheega, to star in the upcoming movie. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Darby O’Gill, and thus this tie-in, are, on the whole, much more suited to the St. Patrick’s Day season than to Halloween.

There is nevertheless method to my madness. The film deals with many aspects of Irish life and mythology, and even though these different elements are thrown together into a hodgepodge of cultural reappropriation in true Disney fashion, consideration of Darby O’Gill need not be limited to St. Patrick’s Day just because it’s the one day of the year many Americans devote any serious thought to the Irish. Indeed, we should think of them at this time of year as well.

Elements of Halloween as it is celebrated today reflect the rituals of the old Celtic festival Samhain. The carving of Jack-O-Lanterns is one such enduring tradition (though the Celts typically used vegetables such as turnips to create their leering lanterns, the pumpkin being a New World innovation). Irish immigrants brought these traditions with them when they began arriving in the U.S. en masse in the mid-1800s, and over the following decades they gained wider popularity and gradually took shape as the Hallowe’en we know today.

So you see, no Irish, no Halloween. Consider this my effort to include something both creepy and Irish in our Countdown to honor the progenitors of our spooky celebration.

Plus I just like to give props to Darby O’Gill and the Little People whenever I find an opportunity. Seriously, if you haven’t seen it, you should, if for no other reason than to see a young Sean Connery in his leading role debut. He even sings! It wasn’t until three years later that he became known to the world as James Bond with the 1962 release of Dr. No.

Additionally, Darby features a prominent character named King Brian. I’ve always liked that.

See you tomorrow, when we hit double digits!

#10: “Forest of No Return” [1961]

I’m not entirely sure even I can adequately justify including this one, mainly because it’s from a movie I also tried to defend as a Christmas film during the previous Countdown. Today’s song is “Forest of No Return” from the 1961 Disney adaptation of Babes in Toyland.

Okay, so maybe the movie itself doesn’t really fit the criteria of a Christmas- or Halloween-themed film. However, I’m including this song on the following basis:

1. It features children being menaced by singing trees, an unquestionably supernatural threat (see criterion 4 in the Countdown Rules outlined in the “Pink Elephants” post).
2. It terrified me as a five-year old.
3. It fits really well into the video I’ve put together to post on the last day.

So there.

Trying to scrounge around for a fun fact here…I’m pretty sure one of the tree’s singing voices is provided by either Thurl Ravenscroft or Candy Candido, but I haven’t been able to find the voices listed anywhere to confirm. What I can confirm is that the tree-suits don’t exactly represent the cutting edge of Disney imagineering. In fact, the tree with the waggling eyebrows (which swing down so low they droop under its eyes) actually breaks shortly after what you see here. In the next scene, the trees become nice and escort the children on a parade to Toyland (there’s a manly sentence). And marching along all the way, one of the tree’s eyebrows is dangling off its face by a thread.

Oh, also: I consulted an insanely detailed Disney parks forum in hopes of finding the voices for the trees. Though I couldn’t find any names for the voice actors, one post did mention that the trees were stored in a warehouse at Disneyland and marched in the 1961 Christmas Parade.

But it’s still applicable to Halloween! It’s apt! I swear!

Please believe me…

See you tomorrow for Day 11!

#11: “The Old Simmons Place” [1966]

Getting in just under the wire with this one. Sorry to keep you waiting, but I flew back from California today, so I didn’t have much of a choice. Anyway, today’s clip should be familiar to any ardent Brian Terrill Movie Night followers. It’s a scene from the 1966 film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken in which Luther Heggs (played by Don Knotts) attempts to spend a night in the allegedly haunted “Old Simmons Place” and experiences some paranormal activity firsthand. I considered linking to just the clip of the haunted organ playing of its own accord, but thought I might as well include the whole scene. After all, it’s predominantly musical throughout. Hardly any dialogue is spoken; the scene is little more than Luther exploring the house while the creepy/surf-rock soundtrack plays. Then things get real when the organ comes to life at the stroke of twelve. It all leads up to Luther fainting at the sight of…a scary thing. I won’t spoil it. Watch it for yourself, and know that when I saw that last bit when I was 6 or so I basically fainted too. It doesn’t have quite the same impact now, but…still…*shudder*.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was released on January 20th, 1966. That makes it quite possibly the best movie ever released on my birthday. Mid-January tends to be fairly slim pickings as far as major motion picture releases are concerned. I salute you, movie, for bringing a bit of spooky fun to a time of year often bereft of compelling cinema. Attaboy, Luther!

Check back soon for Day 12 (it’s practically here!)

#12: “Linus & Lucy” [1966]

Welcome to Day 12, where for the first time we have a second entry from the same year as a previous post, with the intro from 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Now, an argument could be made that “Linus & Lucy” is hardly “Halloween music,” as it is also prominently featured in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Well, the fact is the piece was composed by Jazz musician Vince Guaraldi for A Boy Named Charlie Brown, a television documentary produced in 1963. Though never aired, the program was used as a pitch to gain network funding for A Charlie Brown Christmas, which aired in 1965. Vince Guaraldi stuck with the franchise and scored 17 of the Peanuts TV specials (as well as the 1969 feature film also titled A Boy Named Charlie Brown). Many of these specials feature “Linus and Lucy,” to the point that it has become the “de facto theme song” of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang. My including it here is less an excuse to feature the tune than to show the accompanying scene.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is probably the most iconic and well-known Halloween special ever made. Though I sometimes try to stray from the mainstream with this page *slides glasses up bridge of nose*, I would be remiss not to include at least something from Great Pumpkin. So I went with the first scene and opening credits, for being both musical and memorable.

I was also tempted to pick this clip for today’s entry:

It features Snoopy dancing to Schroeder performing various WWI tunes, with Snoopy’s mood changing abruptly with the tone of each song. Why did I feature the intro, and relegate Snoopy’s dancing to a “bonus feature” of sorts? Mainly because the intro worked marginally better in my month-ending video montage. Big deal. Wanna fight aboudit?

Come back tomorrow for Day 13…we’re not out of the sixties yet!

#13: “Heffalumps and Woozles” [1968]

This clip is another which is not specifically Halloween-themed, but creepy nonetheless. In that regard, its selection is defensible under Section 4 (the “spooky supernatural threat” proviso) as outlined in the “Pink Elephants” post.

The song for today is “Heffalumps and Woozles” from the 1968 Disney short “Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.” The second Winnie the Pooh short to be released (after 1966’s “Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree”), it was also the only one of these shorts to win an Oscar, earning that year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Short.

In the scene, Pooh is plunged headlong into mind-melting horror as we are introduced to the beings which populate the nightmares of stuffed toys: oddly misspelled variations of elephants and weasels. Hm. I guess in the Hundred Acre Wood it’s fine to be a bear, tiger, kangaroo, rabbit, donkey, or owl, but if you’re a weasel or an elephant, better not try moving into the neighborhood. Silly old racist bear.

This scene owes a lot to “Pink Elephants on Parade.” Both are surreal dream sequences prominently featuring menacing, shapeshifting elephants, after all. It seems more than likely “Heffalumps and Woozles” was meant at least in part to pay homage to the scene in Dumbo, which was already 27 years old at that point.

One of my favorite parts of this scene/song is the wide assortment of instruments used. If your instrumentation includes accordions, kazoos, a nay, a jaw harp, and what sounds like either a contrabass clarinet or a bass saxophone, you know you’re doing something right. Add in a few well-placed instances of maniacal laughter, and it’s instant creepy cartoon gold.

Hope you all aren’t getting sick of Disney, because there’s still a good bit of it to come. It’s sort of the nature of the beast: Not every scary or Halloween-themed thing includes big musical numbers, so I’m finding them where I can. Maybe next year I’ll just list favorite horror movies to cover something beyond the realm of cartoons. But for now I’ll try to do good by you, and I’ve selected some clips which I hope are at least interesting and fun, even if a preponderance of them are animated.

See you tomorrow for Day 14!

#14: The Abominable Dr. Phibes [1971]

We’re into the 70s! Today’s video is the opening credits and dance scene from the 1971 Vincent Price film The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Price stars as Dr. Anton Phibes, a composer and tinkerer who swears revenge on the team of surgeons he blames for botching his wife’s operation and letting her die. He systematically murders the doctors one by one, basing each killing on one of the 10 plagues of Egypt from the book of Exodus. Why? Gotta base your killings on something, I guess. At least it gives us an excuse to see Vincent Price kill people using locusts, rats, ice-makers, and a mechanical frog mask.

Dr. Phibes actually seems to have influenced or originated several tropes of later serial killers in film. The good doctor’s habit of basing his killings on literary or religious sources (as exhibited both in this film and the sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, as well as in the similar Vincent Price vehicle Theater of Blood, in which the murders are inspired by the works of Shakespeare) is remarkably similar to John Doe’s M.O. in Se7en, who kills people with methods reflecting the 7 deadly sins. What’s more, one of Phibes’ “plagues” involves forcing a doctor to cut open his son to retrieve a key Phibes planted inside him. This is straight out of a Saw movie, 33 years before the release of Saw.

But in with the horror, there’s comedy as well. One of the murders even has Phibes skewering his victim on the horn of a giant brass unicorn. The quirky humor of the film is demonstrated especially well in these first few minutes, which feature Phibes performing manically on his neon pipe organ, before grabbing his comely assistant Vulnavia for a whirl around the dance floor to a tune played by his automaton band, the Clockwork Wizards. It makes me wish I had a robot band. Or a comely assistant. Or a pipe organ.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to my late Grandpa Jozwiak, who introduced me to this film and was one of the first people to encourage my passion for old, weird movies. You’re missed, Grandpa.

Come back tomorrow for day 15. We’re almost halfway to Halloween!

#15: “The Time Warp” [1975]

Posting rather late again, but perhaps that’s fitting, as today’s film is most often watched at midnight. The clip is the “Time Warp” song and dance number from 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Adapted from the British stage production The Rocky Horror Show, the film marks the cinematic debut of Tim Curry (who also starred in the stage show) and has had the longest-running theatrical release in film history (still going strong after 37 years, with some theaters continuing to host weekly midnight screenings).

The movie draws inspiration for its subject matter and aesthetic from the Hammer horror films of the 60s and 70s. Hammer was a British film studio which found success in resurrecting the monster franchises made famous by Universal decades earlier. These series breathed new life into established horror icons (with Christopher Lee as Dracula and Peter Cushing as Dr. Frankenstein) while adding a little something extra: Now, instead of merely implying sex and gore, Hammer could show it, all in glorious 70s technicolor. Similar to how Young Frankenstein spoofs the tropes of Universal’s 1930s Frankenstein series, Rocky Horror takes elements of Hammer’s Frankenstein films (a spooky castle, a mad doctor creating a monster) and adds a hearty dose of the bizarre and offbeat.

This scene takes place when the protagonist couple first stumbles into the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter and his throngs of atypical house guests. As perhaps the best-remembered song in one of the most iconic midnight movies, I would be remiss not to include it in the Countdown. So go on, follow the instructions offered by the helpful academic and his illustrated dance charts, and let’s do the Time Warp again.

Tune in tomorrow for Day 16!

#16: “Grinch is Gonna Get Ya!” [1977]

Greetings all! Welcome to Day 16! We are now officially halfway to Halloween.

Today’s clip comes from the mind of one Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. I’m willing to bet you’ve seen at least one TV special based on the works of Dr. Seuss. And by “at least one” I mean “exactly one.” 1966’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas has become a much beloved holiday classic, but there were a surprising number of other animated TV specials produced by Dr. Seuss which never gained the same renown. There’s a chance you may have seen the adaptations of The Cat in the Hat, The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who, The Sneetches, The Zax, or even The Butter Battle Book. But Seuss also produced some original specials, not based on earlier books, which are even less well-known today. Examples include The Hoober-Bloob Highway, in which an ambiguous alien/deity being explains the pros and cons of being a human to an unborn baby before sending it down to Earth to be born, and Pontoffel Pock, Where Are You?, in which a bumbling young man is given a magical piano that allows him to teleport to a multitude of different worlds, all of which he somehow manages to screw up.

Today’s clip comes from 1977’s Halloween is Grinch Night, which ranks somewhere between the well-known book adaptations and Pontoffel Pock on the Seuss-Special-Strangeness-Scale. It is a prequel to How the Grinch Stole Christmas and tells the story of Grinch Night, the one night a year when, for some reason, the weather conditions are just right to allow the Grinch to come down from his mountain home and terrorize the citizens of Whoville for the hell of it. One young Who named Euchariah conspires to stop the Grinch. Euchariah waylays the Grinch and distracts him, taking the full brunt of the Grinch’s scare-powers and thus buying time for his village below. Eventually, Euchariah is able to stall the Grinch long enough that Grinch Night comes to an end, the weather changes, and the Grinch must climb begrudgingly back up the mountain, leaving Whoville un-spooked. As he trudges away, he smiles, however, knowing that next year another Grinch Night will come, and then he’ll be ready.

But first…this happens. At the climax of the story, Euchariah corners the Grinch and dares him to “do his worst.” The Grinch smugly invites the defiant little Who to climb inside his “Paraphernalia Wagon.” Euchariah does so, and what follows is three minutes of abject insanity. He is menaced by a rapid succession of surreal monsters: Giant lobsters, frowning balloons, big…walking…omegas? He’s even chased by a spinning swastika with feet at the end of each arm. The moral of the story, kids: If someone invites you into something called a paraphernalia wagon, just say no.

A few last interesting tidbits for you voice-acting nerds out there. The narration and the voice of the Grinch are provided by Hans Conried (Boris Karloff died in 1969, just three years after originating the role). Long-time followers of Brian Terrill Movie Nights may remember Hans Conried as Dr. Terwilliker in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, Seuss’s one foray into the realm of live-action film-making. Finally, Thurl Ravenscroft (the uncredited singer of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch”) returns here, lending his signature bass vocals to some of the monsters in this scene.

See you tomorrow, as the second half of the Countdown begins!

#17: “Silver Shamrock” [1982]

Day 17, and we’re into the 80s now!

Today’s entry comes from the 1982 film Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Yes, it’s part of the same Halloween series that’s home to Michael Myers and his teen-slashing antics, but in this film Michael is nowhere to be seen. You see, after Halloween 2 “killed off” Michael Myers, producer and series creator John Carpenter was tired of the character. Since the film proved profitable enough to warrant a sequel, however, Carpenter agreed to produce a third Halloween film…provided it didn’t involve Michael Myers. It was decided that the franchise would continue as an anthology series, with each installment featuring a different tale of Halloween horror (after all, a lot of things could happen on Halloween). However, lacking the iconic white-masked killer, the film was received poorly by audiences of the day and the anthology idea was scrapped. Instead, Michael Myers was resurrected and a slew of cookie-cutter sequels were churned out in the decades to come. Hooray Hollywood!

So Halloween III is the red-headed stepchild of the bunch, but at least it’s unique. It tells the story of Irish businessman Conal Cochran, who founds the Silver Shamrock mask company. The company is surprisingly successful (somehow, despite only selling 3 very generic-looking masks), and soon Silver Shamrock masks are sported by children all over America. But it isn’t a desire for profit driving Cochran’s scheme. No, he’s hell-bent on returning Halloween to its pagan roots as the Celtic festival of Samhain. To accomplish this, he reasons, a child sacrifice is in order. He has therefore implanted tiny chips of Stonehenge in each Silver Shamrock mask. On Halloween night, he plans to air a broadcast signal which will activate the chips of Stonehenge magic stone inside the masks, causing every child wearing one to die by…melting their heads…into snakes and bugs.

Okay then.

To encourage the children to purchase their masks (and crowd mindlessly around their TV sets), the Silver Shamrock employs the most sinister strategem of all: A catchy jingle. Set to the tune of “London Bridge,” snippets of the commercial appear throughout the film, counting down as Halloween approaches. For example:

“Eight more days til Halloween,
Halloween, Halloween,
Eight more days til Halloween,
Sil-ver Shamrock.”

Truly, the work of a lyrical genius. I could have linked you to one of the instances when the commercial plays in the film, so as to more prominently feature the jingle itself and satisfy my “musical” criterion. However, I couldn’t resist featuring at least one clip where a child’s head melts.

Come back tomorrow for Day 18! And don’t forget to watch the magic pumpkin!

Watch!

#18: “Thriller” [1983]

Maybe you saw this one coming. Sure it’s mainstream, but when you think “horror-themed musical short” it’s bound to come to mind. To leave it out would have been a grave injustice. Today’s entry is “Michael Jackson’s Thriller,” the iconic music video from 1983.

In the summer of 1983, Jackson’s Thriller album had dropped from its #1 best-selling slot. Some might say six or seven months atop the bestseller chart was enough, but not MJ. Jackson decided to produce a third music video associated with the album, and at his manager’s suggestion selected the title track. Jackson contacted director John Landis, who had recently had success with his film An American Werewolf in London. Though it was unusual at the time for well-known Hollywood directors to work on music videos, Landis was intrigued by Jackson’s proposal.

The rest, as they say, is history. The film once again boosted the popularity of Jackson’s album, which still remains the best-selling record of all time. The video was frequently played on MTV, still in its infancy, and a documentary entitled Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller which included the video was for a time among the best-selling titles on VHS.

The prestige has continued in the decades following the video’s release. The film is often referred to as the “Greatest Music Video of all Time,” and it is the first music video ever selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or artistically significant” and worthy of preservation.

Some tidbits:

-Check out the movie theater windows as Jackson and Ola Ray leave. According to the marquee, the film they were watching is called Thriller and stars Vincent Price, who provides the “rap” lyrics in the song itself. There are posters in the theater windows for other films as well: Schlock, directed by John Landis, and House of Wax, starring Vincent Price.

-The very final zombie who grimaces at the camera at the end of the video is Vincent Price himself, buried under makeup.

A final question: Why does were-cat Michael choose to reveal his condition to his girlfriend DURING a full moon? He could have casually mentioned he was a were-cat a few days ahead of time, but no, he had to wait until the worst possible moment, when she was well within clawing distance. Not very tactful.

Come back tomorrow, when I’ll continue to save you from the terror on the screen.

#19: “(The One Thing I’m Not Is a) Scaredy-Cat” [1985]

I’m going to break the flow for a moment to muse on my page statistics. Nearly every post this month has been viewed by around 15-30 people. Yesterday’s “Thriller” post says it’s been viewed by 95 people. I’m not entirely sure how that’s even possible, considering our little club has only 52 members at the moment. But if my audience has somehow inexplicably tripled in size, far be it from me to complain! The more the merrier!

Today’s clip is “Scaredy-Cat” (for full title see above, typing on an iPad is hard work). The song comes from Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, a 1985 special which, at least when I would watch it, was often paired in an hour-long TV block with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I included the corresponding Garfield special in my Christmas Countdown, so I couldn’t in good conscience leave this one out.

The song comes immediately after Garfield consoles a frightened Odie, telling him that the ghosts and goblins prowling the streets are really just kids in disguise. But…are they?

Also, there’s something about the way Garfield and Odie scream and run in a circle that makes me laugh every single time. May it fill your heart with glee as it has mine.

Be back tomorrow for Day 20! Halloween is fast approaching!

#20: “Cantos Profanae” [1986]

Today’s clip comes from the 1986 film Troll, best known today for being the namesake of its pseudo-sequel, 1990’s Troll 2. If you’ve been following Brian Terrill Movie Nights long, you’ll probably know of my affinity for Troll 2. Enthralled by its sheer cinematic perfection, I was inspired to track down the film’s predecessor. My quest was a short one, as both movies are included on one convenient double feature DVD.

Troll tells the story of Harry Potter and his family. Harry is a middle-aged writer who moves to a new apartment with his wife, his young daughter, and his son, Harry Jr. Yes, this is a fantasy film in which two of the main characters are named Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling might have some ‘splainin to do. I just wish she’d found Troll 2 as influential. “Joshua Waits and the Chamber of Secrets” has a nice ring to it.

After arriving in the apartment, the daughter is soon possessed by a troll who lives in the basement. As the film progresses, the troll uses the girl to transform the tenants of the building (including Sonny Bono and Julia Louis-Dreyfus) into…magical forests. To save his sister, the young Harry Potter enlists the help of the landlady, played by June Lockhart (the mother from Lost in Space and Lassie), who conveniently happens to be a witch. The kindly witch offers to help instruct Harry in the use of magic (hm…) and they team up to stop the troll before everyone becomes magical forests.

It’s a very strange film, but not as hilariously bizarre as Troll 2. However, this scene is definitely a strong point. It takes place as the troll’s power is nearing its peak, with nearly every apartment but the Potters’ transformed into forested fairy realms replete with an army of trolls, goblins, and other assorted mythical hand puppets. The hordes of miniature monsters gather together in a spontaneous “song” in mock Latin. As they mutter and growl the “lyrics,” the landlady’s sentient mushroom (which she often hides under a lampshade to avoid suspicion) joins the chorus with an unearthly wail. When she’s finally had enough, June Lockhart issues a mighty blast on her hunting horn…which trolls hate, apparently.

But now to the crux of the matter. “But Brian,” I hear you say, “do I have to watch Troll to fully appreciate Troll 2?” The answer is no. The only direct relation between the films is their titles. None of the original Troll cast and crew were associated with Troll 2, and Troll 2 contains no actual trolls. But for those of you who want to be certain you don’t miss anything, after careful scrutiny I have composed a list of “recurring themes” between the first and second Troll“installments:

1. Awkward Dancing – Harry Potter, Sr. gets down with his bad self to the sounds of his old record collection; Holly Waits dons a t-shirt emblazoned with a horned Garfield and Jazzercises in front of a mirror.

2. Plants / Vegetarians as Antagonist – Torok the Troll tree-ifies Sonny Bono; the Nilbog residents render visitors “half-man, “half plant, the goblins’ favorite food.”

3. Characters Eating Unappetizing Green Goop – The troll-possessed daughter eats a hamburger with “The Works”…which apparently includes neon green slime; the goblins feed their unsuspecting victims green foods to plantize them.

4. Weird Movies – Both films feature brief clips of characters watching films which appear just as strange and low-quality as the ones they are currently starring in: A lizard sports a “dragon” costume; a gorilla touches a glowing stone egg and rockets into the air.

Now you know all you need to know about 1986’s Troll and its correlation to the enduring classic Troll 2. No need to thank me. It’s why I’m here.

Be back tomorrow for Day 21!

#21: “Grim Grinning Ghosts” [1990]

Only 10 more days til Halloween! I fought a fierce internal battle deciding whether to post this video earlier in the month or to wait until now. Today’s clip is “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” and though the song was written for the 1969 debut of the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland, this video/particular arrangement are from the Sing-Along Songs tape “Disneyland Fun,” released in 1990. So I opted to wait until now to share it.

The Haunted Mansion is one of the most iconic classic Disney attractions. Guided by a “Ghost Host” voiced by Paul Frees (the prolific voice actor behind roles such as Boris Badenov and Burgermeister Meisterburger), guests travel through a Victorian-era mansion populated by “999 happy haunts.” It also features vocals by Thurl Ravenscroft, who performs solo here. The mere presence of his bone-rattlingly deep voice makes up for the goofiness of plastic-headed Captain Hook. Tony the Tiger makes anything grrreat!

Fun fact: The Haunted Mansion is the only Disneyland attraction where attendants are instructed not to smile.

Another fun Haunted Mansion fact: People often scatter relatives’ ashes there. Employees have a vacuum with a special filter on hand to clean up at the end of the day should the need arise.

And with that charming image, I bid you goodnight. See you tomorrow for Day 22!

#22: “The Raven” [1990]

Racing to get this one in under the wire. Only 9 days left til Halloween, and I haven’t been late yet. I don’t want to start now.

Today’s clip is the final segment from the first “Treehouse of Horror” episode, which premiered October 25th, 1990, early in the second season of The Simpsons. The segment is an adaptation of “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, with relatively little being “adapted”: It’s essentially a direct reading of the poem, and a very good one at that. It features narration by James Earl Jones (who also cameos in the other two segments of the episode), and Homer plays the poem’s protagonist.

Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer, really knocks it out of the park here. I would love to see him recording his lines for this segment. In the early seasons of The Simpsons, Homer’s anger was as much a part of his character as his stupidity, and he takes his wrath to such extremes while yelling at the Raven that I’m surprised his voice doesn’t break. This is probably the only time you’ll ever hear Homer Simpson say “Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe,” and he screams it with such fervor that it’s one for the ages. Adding in James Earl Jones, Thurl Ravenscroft’s successor as Most Impressive Deep Voice-Haver, is icing on the cake.

Hopefully not linking to a YouTube clip today doesn’t throw anyone off too much. The Simpsons crew seems especially adamant about purging clips from YouTube; all I could find was the segment in German. But never fear! I will not be deterred! So here you go, a relatively high quality version (in English) courtesy of Vimeo. Thanks, Vimeo!

See you tomorrow for Day 23!

#23: Ernest Scared Stupid [1991]

Another almost-late post, but I thought I’d give the last post a bit of time to breathe before being buried under today’s. The selection this evening is the opening credit sequence from the 1991 film Ernest Scared Stupid.

I am an unabashed fan of Ernest P. Worrell. Portrayed by the late Jim Varney, the character of Ernest originated in a series of commercials produced in the mid-80s by the Nashville-based Carden & Cherry ad agency. These were mostly for local businesses and events, but Ernest (and the format of the commercials, in which he obliviously pesters his unseen neighbor, Vern) proved popular enough to bring him acclaim even outside the region. By the late 80s he had his own Saturday-morning TV show, and 1987 saw the release of his first feature film, Ernest Goes to Camp. John Cherry, who had produced the Ernest commercials from the beginning, would go on to direct nine films starring the grinning yokel (it was nearly 10, but Varney’s death in 2000 halted production of Ernest the Pirate). Though not exactly the critics’ darling, the films were cheap to make and turned a profit, and Ernest’s adventures took him from camp, to jail, to Africa and the Middle East, and saw him working alongside such eminent personages as Santa Claus and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Ernest Scared Stupid is the fourth film in the series. In it, Ernest inadvertently awakens an evil troll who attacks the children of the town, using their souls to raise an army of fellow trolls. It’s actually reasonably scary for a children’s film…making it probably the scariest film to feature troll antagonists, if Troll and Troll 2 are an accurate representation of the genre. With the help of an old witch played by Eartha Kitt, Ernest sets out to reverse the damage he has done and stop the troll hordes on Halloween night. (Protip: If attacked by trolls, seek the aid of a helpful witch. Precedent indicates it’s the most effective course of action.)

These opening credits are a high point of the film, despite bearing no relation to the main narrative. It’s simply several minutes of Ernest mugging for the camera, “reacting” to interspersed shots from various sic-fi and horror movies in the public domain.

Films I recognize:
Nosferatu
The Killer Shrews
The Screaming Skull
The Hideous Sun Demon
-The Brain from Planet Arous

There are still several films I don’t recognize, and this is a source of grievous shame. But I am mildly consoled by the prominence of Hideous Sun Demon clips: It’s the first B-Movie I ever saw (screened late at night on a local PBS station when I was 7), and I’ve been hooked ever since. That is, except for a one year hiatus after the same channel showed Night of the Living Dead and I was too scared to go back again.

Just 8 more days til Halloween! See you tomorrow for Day 24!

#24: “I Put a Spell On You” [1993]

I’m cutting it close yet again. Today’s entry is “I Put a Spell On You,” from the 1993 film Hocus Pocus. The film was directed by Kenny Ortega, better known for directing the High School Musical trilogy. This is a miscarriage of justice. It’s like if Orson Welles was better known for his Paul Masson wine commercials than for Citizen Kane.

Perhaps comparing the film to Citizen Kane is a bit of an exaggeration, but Hocus Pocus stands out from other Halloween fare aimed at children, particularly considering it’s made by Disney. It is quite possibly the only Disney movie to feature a book bound in human skin, a cat being run over by a car and crushed by a rock, and the on-screen death of a child, when a young girl has her soul sucked out by the trio of witch antagonists. The film probably also holds the record for causing children to ask their parents what a virgin is. Add to that the fact that the movie also manages to make Sarah Jessica Parker attractive. It’s a remarkable film indeed.

The movie tells the story of the Sanderson Sisters, three witches who were hanged in Salem, Massachusetts (after the aforementioned soul-sucking). 300 years later, they are summoned back to the mortal realm in the futuristic world of 1993 when Max, a teenage boy who also happens to be a virgin (a vital story point referred to many times. It’s even the last line of the film) inadvertently lights a cursed candle. Max, his sister, and his love interest, aided by a boy trapped in the body of an immortal cat, set out to undo the damage he caused and stop the witches on Halloween night. This is sounding familiar. Maybe Max and Ernest are related. Or maybe it was just easier to accidentally unleash supernatural horrors in the early 90s.

This song takes place when the kids trail the witches to a party at which most of the adults in town are engaging in Halloween revelry. Winifred, the lead witch played by Bette Midler, takes this chance to eliminate the possibility of the adults interfering with her soul-sucking scheme. Under the guise of a rousing dance number, the sisters curse the audience, compelling them to “dance until they die,” a la Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes.”

The film’s definitely worth a watch if you get the chance (you have a chance: the whole thing is on YouTube right now). One last fun fact: Before High School Musical 3 was slated for a theatrical release, the original plan was to have the third installment of the franchise be a Halloween-themed TV movie. Kenny Ortega could have gotten back to his Halloween roots and who knows, maybe it could have been good. But he didn’t. And even if he had, it wouldn’t have had the same magic as Hocus Pocus.

Only one more week til Halloween! Come back tomorrow!

#25: “Very, Very, Very Unbelievably Scary” [1995]

Nearly late again, but what can you do? I’m gearing up to head to Williamsburg for Homecoming tomorrow, a worthy cause if I do say so myself. But never fear, I’ve got the daily post for you before midnight. Today’s song is “Very, Very, Very Unbelievably Scary” from…er…You’re Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley’s Sleep-Over Party. Released in 1995, it’s the first installment in the “You’re Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley’s…” video series, and I swear I have a legitimate excuse for owning a copy. If you’ve traveled this old internet as much as I have, you may have witnessed the glory that is “Gimme Pizza Slow.” If not, see the link below, then return here. I’ll wait.

Good. Well, this is the same video from whence came the original “Gimme Pizza” song. I found a copy for 50 cents at a thrift store, and far be it from me to not purchase a piece of cheaply-priced media tangentially related to internet humor. I took the tape home, blew the half-inch of dust off the VCR, and gave it a watch. It’s a half-hour musical about preteen girls holding a slumber party, so after “Gimme Pizza” ran it’s glorious course, I gradually became concerned I might not be able to watch the entirety of the tape and remain a straight male.

Luckily, this scene came along and took me by surprise: while the other numbers all have to do with pretty standard sleepover fare, this song makes me wonder if the crew wrote it for “You’re Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley’s Halloween Party” but were worried they might not sell enough videos to get that far into the series, and just threw it in here. The girls begin discussing scary stories (standard issue for sleepovers, I suppose), but then instantaneously don terrifying makeup and break into this eerie chant. It gets even better when they use their instant-monster powers to scare their brother Trent (the forgotten Olsen of legend) and his friends.

That’s all I have to say about that. Enjoy the whipped cream pourin’ like waterfalls:

6 more days til Halloween! See some of you this weekend for Homecoming!

#26: “I Wanna Scare Myself” [1996]

Ladies and gentlemen, I am deeply sorry. I got so close to a perfect record, only to miss two timely updates in a row. I haven’t had access to a wi-fi network, and even though my BlackBerry has 3G, I couldn’t figure out how to copy and paste links. You’ll still get the full 31 posts by Halloween, and I only hope I can restore your shaken faith in me.

Selection #26 is “I Wanna Scare Myself” from the 1996 special Boo to You Too, Winnie the Pooh! If you were afraid I’d wrap up the month without satisfying your menacing-cartoon-elephant jones just one more time, have no fear. I’m here for you.

In the special, Halloween comes to the Hundred Acre Wood, and Piglet is terrified at the tales he hears of supernatural “spookables.” Pooh proposes holding a scare-free “Hallo-wasn’t,” but Tigger is not on board. In this clip, Tigger expresses his feelings and demands scary satisfaction from a hastily-constructed Piglet effigy. His vivid imagination summons hordes of bedsheet ghosts, bouncing pumpkins and, yes, those wily tricksters, the heffalumps and woozles.

Fun facts: Boo to You Too features the cast from the New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh series. Prolific voice actor Jim Cummings plays both Pooh and Tigger (Elsewhere, Cummings also voices Goofy’s rival, Pete, and a whole slew of other characters. I could write a whole post on Jim Cummings, but I won’t do it here). Also, Eeyore is voiced by Peter Cullen, better known as the voice of autobot leader Optimus Prime.

Day 27’s post soon to come!

#27: “It’s Terror Time Again” [1997]

After “Festival of the New Wine” and “The Headless Horseman,” this has got to be my next favorite clip in the Countdown. “It’s Terror Time” comes from the 1997 film Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, which may be the one film of all those featured this month which has influenced me the most. I got the tape in second grade, and I watched it a lot. I can still do almost the whole thing from memory. I remember October 1997, already 15 years past, going to Adventure World (a small theme park which was eventually transformed into Six Flags America) and hearing this song on the loudspeakers throughout the park.

I guess a lot of other 7 years olds loved the film too, because it sold well upon release and launched a long series of direct-to-video Scooby films which continues to this day. Zombie Island is definitely the best of the bunch, though I also have a soft spot for Scooby-Doo and the Alien Invaders, in which Shaggy falls head over heels for a fellow 60s-lover, only for it to be revealed in the end that she is actually an alien in disguise, and she only “loves” the 60s because she modeled her human behavior on broadcasts which took 40 years to reach her planet. That’s some hilarious hippie heartbreak right there.

What does Zombie Island have that tops Shaggy’s interstellar cockblock?

This song.

And that’s enough.

The next post will be today’s, the 28th, and actually posted on time. Rejoice!

#28: “Johanna (Reprise)” [2007]

Well, something of a Snafu today. Turns out the video I originally planned to link to (and have already used in my month-ending montage) has been taken down from YouTube. So I’ve had to improvise, and hope you’ll forgive me when the final product doesn’t fully represent every single one of the clips actually linked. [Edit: The Burton clip is up again, and can be found here.]

Today’s clip was to be the Reprise of “Johanna” from Tim Burton’s 2007 version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. It would’ve been the first clip from the 21st century, as well as the one example of graphic gore in the Countdown. It is sorely missed.

Instead, I’m linking to the same song from the original Broadway musical. The show premiered in 1979, so we’re breaking chronological order for the first time and jumping back aways today. This recording of the show was done for TV in 1982, starring George Hearn as Sweeney and role originator Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Lovett. It’s a good production, and well worth a watch, but I myself much prefer Burton’s version on the whole.

The film diverges from the stage musical in several ways:

-Many of the songs in the film are played/performed at a faster tempo. This adds a sense of tension and…I don’t really know. They just sound good at the quicker pace.

-The song “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” which opens the stage show, is cut from the film. This was done because the song reveals the ending of the story before flashing back to the beginning, and Burton opted to leave Todd’s ultimate fate unknown until the end of the film.

-The character of Toby is changed from a mentally slow young adult (in the stage play) to an abused child (in the film).

-A few of the minor songs from the stage show are left out of the film. This is the one change I see as a detriment.

Fun fact: The story of Sweeney Todd originated in an 1840s serial pulp novel, and had several different stage adaptations prior to the well-known 1979 Sondheim musical. Another iconic character to have origins in early pulp fiction? Don Diego de la Vega, the Mexican lord who moonlighted as the vigilante Zorro…eventually inspiring the creation of another wealthy caped crusader, Batman.

Only 3 more days til Halloween! Come back tomorrow for Day 29!

#29: “Friends on the Other Side” [2009]

Two days until Halloween, and we finally have the first clip from the 2000s. Today’s Countdown entry is “Friends on the Other Side,” from the 2009 film The Princess and the Frog.”

The song is sung by voodoo practitioner and “shadow man” Dr. Facilier, voiced by Keith David, who joins Thurl Ravenscroft and James Earl Jones as the third inductee into the BTMN Impressively Deep-Voiced Men Hall of Fame. David has acted in a number of live-action films in addition to his voice acting, but I remember him best from one of his previous collaborations with Disney, when he voiced Goliath, the star of the early-90s animated series Gargoyles.

The Princess and the Frog was a much-lauded return by Disney to “traditional” 2-D animation, and it has a lot of things going for it: A strong female lead who openly denounces the oft-repeated Disney mantra that merely wishing on a star will make one’s dreams come true, Jim Cummings voicing a Cajun firefly (who sounds a lot like Jacques, the Cajun ferryman Cummings also happens to voice in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island), and…Dr. Facilier. He’s one of the best Disney villains introduced in recent years, if only because of the magical hallucinogenic skull tattoos which glow when he gets really passionate about evil, singing, or evil singing. I saw a “Modern Marvels” episode about tattooing once, and there’s an ink available now which only shows up under blacklight. I think it would be awesome to tattoo a skull on your face using the ink. Then, invite your friends into your home (or dungeon), then, when you’ve reached the high point of your villain song or megalomaniacal rant, flip your surreptitious backlight switch. Bam! Instant trippy glow skull on your face. No one will dare cross you with a glowing skull face. Why not give it a try?

Come back tomorrow for Day 30! Halloween is almost here!

#30: “I Don’t Want to Die A Virgin” [2011]

Well, boils and ghouls, here we are. The big day is minutes away, and I’ve come to the last clip in our Countdown before tomorrow’s musical montage. Today’s entry is the first and only from the current decade (The tens? The teens? One major benefit of reaching 2020 will be once again having a definite name to refer to our decade by. One major con of reaching 2020 will be being 30). At any rate, the song is “I Don’t Want to Die a Virgin,” featured during the end credits of the 2011 film Chillerama, making it the second Countdown clip to come directly from a film screened at a previous Brian Terrill Movie Night (after the Mr. Chicken clip; Dr. Phibes was screened after being featured as an entry).

Chillerama, for those of you who have not yet seen it, is an anthology film which pays tribute to the tropes of various sci-fi and horror B-movies. In this regard, it’s similar to other anthology films like Creepshow, Creepshow 2, Twilight Zone: The Movie, and Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. But Chillerama takes things in a wildly different direction, diving into the abyss of outright depravity with gusto. Stories include “Wadzilla,” a spoof of the giant monster genre in which an irradiated sperm grows to massive proportions and attacks New York, “I was a Teenage Were-Bear,” a musical in the vein of Grease which features a cast of shapeshifting “Were-Bears” played entirely by gay porn stars, “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein,” in which Hitler attempts to build and animate a powerful golem to subjugate the Jews (believe it or not, this is easily the least vulgar of the stories, if not necessarily the least offensive). And between each short film, a frame story unfolds in which the patrons of a drive-in theater are menaced by sex zombies. Not regular zombies. Sex zombies. The difference? You can only kill sex zombies by shooting them in the genitals. And in addition to trying to eat you, they also want to…well, you get the idea. Those of you searching for creativity in the increasingly stagnant zombie genre, look no further than Chillerama.

One of the strongest points of the film is the owner of the drive-in theater featured in the frame story. In this story, he is holding a final screening at his drive-in before it closes for good (the other stories in the anthology are framed as “ultra-rare” films which the owner is showing only once). Although the films he shows at his theater might not be…er, critically acclaimed, he is nevertheless intensely proud of his work, and sees himself as a fighter striving to keep the true art of cinema alive. He talks to a portrait of Orson Welles hanging on his wall as though to an old friend and fellow cinematic visionary. And when the zombies finally overrun the theater at the end of the film, the owner goes out in a blaze of glory (and machine-gun fire), spouting famous movie quotes all the way. Though the vulgarity of Chillerama might not be my usual cup of tea, I recognize a kindred spirit in the theater owner. He’s trying to share with his audience the lesser known corners of mankind’s filmic ouevre, which is the whole essence of Brian Terrill Movie Nights. So even when it comes to screening “Deathication,” a psychedelic celebration of flying feces (cut mercifully short by a zombie attack), I nevertheless commend him for his efforts.

RETROSPECTIVE GRAND FINALE SPOOKTACULAR: “This is Halloween” [1993]

Welcome, foolish mortals, to Halloween!

We’ve finally made it. To those of you who have been following along all month, thank you for joining me in this journey through the songs and poems of Halloweens gone by. All together, we’ve made stops in ten different decades, spanning from the beginnings of synchronized sound all the way to last Hallow’s Eve.

And so our little history lesson has come to an end.

Which brings us to tonight.

This is Halloween.

Go out and grab all the sugary glory you can. Whether you be trick-or-treating, distributing candy, attending or hosting a party, or just sitting at home, eating a burger with “the works” and trying not to inadvertently release forces of supernatural evil, have a grand masquerade. Remember, there’ll be no music in the tomb, so live it up while you have the chance!

And at the end of the evening, as you snuff out the candle in your jack-o-lantern on the porch, take a moment to feel the chill in the air. This is the night when the barrier is thinnest between the realms of the living and the dead (and between the regular year and the selling-Christmas-stuff season). And as you stand thus, gazing out at the darkening street, I hope you’ll think back to the month we’ve shared. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I have.

Happy Halloween! This is Brian Terrill, Patron Saint of Movie Nights, signing off.

P.S. – I would’ve included this tune if the footage were more conducive to including in a montage. Instead, I’ll use it here, to finish out the Countdown. The end credits, if you will. It’s “The Gonk,” played during the closing credits of the 1978 film Dawn of the Dead…and more recently the closing credits of Cartoon Network’s Robot Chicken:

Brian T.

Brian T.

Brian is the host of the TV show Count Gauntly's Horrors from the Public Domain and the creator of Brian Terrill Movie Night. He joined Earn This in 2013.

3 thoughts on “Creepy Classics Countdowns Past – #1 (2012)

  1. I’m glad the Creepy Classic Countdowns are being archived over at Earn This. It’s a lot to process in one sitting, obviously, but I watched over half of these in the last day or so, and I’ve seen most of the others before. The animation is the stuff I enjoyed the most, although the Hocus Pocus clip inspired me to look up Kenny Ortega’s discography. If I watch Hocus Pocus, I will have seen everyone one of the movies he directed except Cheetah Girls 2…

    More on the “I Put a Spell On You”: I really really love the original by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. It’s worth reading about him and that track. He originally recorded it blackout drunk (passing out at the end of the session — you can hear him losing his breath) and released it as a sort of novelty… 45 years later Rolling Stone chose it as one of the 500 best rock songs ever.

    As he learned the song while drunk, he had to RE-learn it while sober so he could perform it in concerts after it became a hit. Though previously a more straightforward R&B performer, he reinvented his on-stage persona in the wake of the song’s success (which is attributed in part to controversy around the vocal part including grunts and sighs — something not found much in music before then — which was considered taboo/sexually suggestive). Hawkins pioneered horror themed-“shock rock” concerts that were filled with props and costumes and a haunted house-type atmosphere.

    I don’t know how up to speed you are on your Treehouse of Horrors, but I would definitely consider doing a retrospective (or at least a “Mix This”) on some of their better moments. A few favorites: cursed frogurt, “no beer and no TV make Homer something something”, “I voted for Kodos”/“twirling towards freedom”, and… okay I’m getting carried away again, aren’t I? OK, one more: Abe Simpson’s wedding advice.

    I really enjoyed the finale. The tune does a great job at capturing the mix of spooky/playful spirit of Halloween, and the clips sublimely edited to match the timing and lyrics. I can tell you put a lot of effort into it — it paid off.

    Looking forward to going through Creepy Classics Countdown #2.

    • One more thought: I’ve been a fan of “The Skeleton Dance” for a few years now, but I especially love it paired with the song “Hell” by the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The two match each other quite well. (If the song’s first solo — which matches one skeleton playing the other’s ribcage as a xylophone — was on a percussion instrument, not a wind instrument, it’d be borderline Dark Side of the MoonWizard of Oz uncanny.)

  2. What better way to respond to a bumper-crop of links than with a bumper-crop of links? I’ve seen all those Treehouses of Horror (I’m good on the older stuff, as you obviously also are). I saw an interesting article recently about the “Simpsons Interest Curve,” or something similar. According to the writer, the “Simpsons golden age” is a myth, and people tend to find it, get big into it for a few years, and then fizzle out, regardless of where in the series they came in. It’s a thought-provoking idea, but controversial.

    But yeah, the “Whirling towards freedom” speech is one of my all-time favorite Simpsons quotes. And giving time travel advice on the wedding night is essential.

    I had heard the original “I Put a Spell on You,” but hadn’t heard that story before. That’s pretty crazy. I’m going to go listen to it again. And in the vein of “old footage set to newer music,” here are Laurel and Hardy dancing to Oye Como Va: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jkZGg0qNdCc

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