More 16mm screenings from Clay, Halloween-themed this time. Clay showing seasonal shorts reminds me of Robyn Hitchcock’s halloween show where he joked that since he’s only playing songs about ghosts and death, nearly half his catalog is disqualified.

The Skeleton Dance (1929, Walt Disney) was the first in the Silly Symphonies series, with good music-visual sync, but too much repeated animation. No spoken/sung dialogue, wordless skeletons playing in a cemetery until the sun comes up.

Runaway Brain (1995, Chris Bailey) is an excellent, fast-paced Mickey Mouse short with a mad scientist voiced by Kelsey Grammer, beaten for an academy award by Wallace and Gromit. Seems like nobody around me had heard of this before.

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953, Ted Parmelee), animated with some abstract imagery, overlapping shots and sharply-drawn characters. Has a deservedly high reputation, but beaten for an oscar by Disney’s Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom.

Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party (1933, Dave Fleischer) – always great to see a Betty short. Her party is pretty tame – kids bobbing for apples and singing like the birdies sing (tweet, tweet tweet) – until a bully shows up and she attacks him with her secret cache of ghostly evils. Full of amazing animation and visual ideas, beautifully synched to the music. I gotta get me a whole pile of these cartoons someday. I asked Wikipedia when the apostrophe disappeared from “hallowe’en” but it didn’t know.

Naturally the show was also full of TV episodes and classic commercials – Count Chocula vs. Franken Berry, of course, also a kids vehicle that looks suspiciously like the Wacky Wheel Action Bike (“you can’t ride it! you can’t ride it!”) and an awesome PSA warning kids to stay away from blasting caps.

Of the TV shows, we’ve got a Popeye the Sailor episode where an evil robot-popeye robs banks, the adventures of Goodie the Gremlin, who helps people invent the steam engine, airplanes etc. instead of tormenting people like the other gremlins want, a Spider-man episode where Green Goblin gets his hands on a book of voodoo spells, and a hilarious, surreal episode of Ultraman (featuring benign fluffy chattering Pigmon monster in a recording studio, giant plumed lizard monster with heat-seeking feather missiles, and the usual bonkers dialogue). Then the lower-tier corny garbage shows: a cartoon Sinbad the sailor, some dimwit monster who shoots smoke out of his head, Beany and Cecil meet the invisible man (1962, produced by a post-Warners Bob Clampett) and a Hal Seeger-created short called Batfink, in which BF and his dim pal Karate fight a magician.

Finally it is SHOCKtober and I can watch Stuart Gordon movies again. This one is prep for Stuck, which should come out on video next week. It’s similar to Dagon in many ways: pretty good classic-lit-inspired story, foreign/period setting with cheap-but-good production values, spots of humor, sexual transgression… They’re fun movies to watch with some great characters, but our leads are bland, straightforward, naive dopes. It’s not like I’m rooting for Lance Henriksen, but I can’t bring myself to root for the baker and his wife either.

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Set during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue), Lance stars as an evil monk who claims to be extremely religious but tosses the church aside when it interferes with his plan, a man who tortures people for confessions and insists what he’s doing is right. If the movie was released today, it’d be attacked for all the heavy-handed GW Bush comparisons. Lance is surrounded by his cronies: Stephen Lee (the toy-loving dude in Dolls), crazed torturer Mark Margolis (a Darren Aronofsky regular) and by-the-books Jeffrey Combs, and together they torture and kill a woman whose character name sounds like Contessa Alfred Molina (played by the director’s wife Carolyn) and one who claims to be an actual witch (played by the creeeepy hotel woman from In the Mouth of Madness).

Jeffrey Combs:
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Thrust into this lunacy are a baker and his wife. The baker (also in Gordon’s Castle Freak) is a regular boring dude who can inexplicably take out three knights in full armor using only a spoon, and the wife (her only other role is in a rarely-seen Raul Julia movie) is honest and religious and doesn’t trust the Inquisition. She’s arrested and accused of witchery after she protests a public execution scene, but evil Lance falls for her and tries to get her by alternately threatening to torture her/her husband and offering to release her/her husband. He cuts her tongue out, she escapes by faking death (with help of the real witch – who swallows gunpowder so her body will explode and her bones impale the crowd during her burning at the stake, which I don’t think would really work), the couple escape and Lance dies (torture-free) in his own spike pit beneath the pendulum. Oh, and in the middle there’s a visit from a cardinal (Oliver Reed from The Brood, The Devils and Burnt Offerings!), but Lance locks him up inside a wall a la Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”

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Lance is fun to watch as the monstrous monk. Lots of loving care is paid to torture equipment. Movie’s action scenes are weak, but overall I liked the thing. Happy Shocktober, everyone!

Late into SHOCKtober (Oct. 18th), I have finally unpacked my office enough to uncover the disc holding season two of “Masters of Horror”. Katy’s little brother is joining me for the celebratory kickoff screening, so I choose episode eleven, Stuart Gordon’s entry. It’s been a Gordon-filled month and his stuff is always either effective (“Dagon”) or entertaining (“Dolls”) or more usually both (“From Beyond”). Disappointingly, what we’ve got here is a slow-moving period piece that failed to impress or entertain.

The movie is supposedly based on Poe’s “The Black Cat”, but it’s actually an “Edgar Allen Poe In Love”, where we watch Poe’s visions and dreams that inspire him to write “The Black Cat”. Poe fans on the IMDB comment board enthusiastically rave about all the references to Poe’s life and stories scattered throughout the movie. Sort of a condensed look at Poe, implying that Gordon and usual co-writer Dennis Paoli will not be exploring each Poe work in-depth (this is the second after “Pit and the Pendulum”) as they have been doing for HP Lovecraft (seven films and counting).

Never heard of most of these actors and the only thing that turns up on IMDB is that half of them have been in the “Highlander” series for some reason. MoH trademark eye-gouging is here, but no nudity and I suppose an enthusiastic Jeffrey Combs will have to be our token celebrity casting.

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