One of my most beloved 80’s horror movies, possibly because it’s never been very popular, nor has it been spoiled by sequels (part 2 wasn’t so bad) or remakes (though Bill S. Preston, Esq. has his eyes on one). I watched it again and again on TV, and since it’s not rated R, I probably didn’t miss much. Thanks much to the Plaza and Splatter Cinema, I have now seen it in an actual cinema on actual film. It’s kind of a kids movie, and I still take issue with a giant earth-conquering demon from hell being defeated by a kid with a model rocket, but otherwise perfectly enjoyable.

I’d forgotten some details: a couple of valuable geodes pulled from the hole early on, friend Terry’s dead-mother issues and his collection of moths in a jar. Also didn’t realize how kids’ toys are woven into the movie. There’s the rocket of course – I’d misremembered the devil-thwarting “pure love and light” being a marketing slogan on the rocket’s box, but the shabby, dollar-bin-design box just has a rainbow on it. I guess it’s Dorff’s belief in the rocket as a symbol of love/light that wins out, like the kid in Stephen King’s It spraying monsters with his inhaler while shouting “this is acid!” More child’s play: the hole is initially opened far enough to let those awesome ankle-biting micro-demons out when the kids read words formed by the geode on a toy writing tablet, evil demon-Terry is stabbed with a barbie doll, and the secret of demon banishment is discovered by playing a record backwards. That one is especially fun in a subversive way – parents used to worry that kids would pick up secret satanic messages from metal albums, and this one teaches them how to fight evil, not how to summon it.

Director Tibor, as has been discussed here already, made the pretty cool I, Madman, then Gate II, and went slowly downhill towards the truly stinky Christian Slater movie Lies & Illusions. Writer Michael Nankin is directing respectable TV shows (and CSI) these days. Dorff’s big sister Christa Denton never made it out of the eighties, acting-wise (although one of her slumber-party friends later starred in Candyman 2), and tragically, neither did Louis Tripp, who played Terry, except for a rumored cameo in a late-90’s Edward Furlong comedy.

“It’s a great script – feel how much it weighs.”

Seeing how it’s Academy Awards season, I’ve been watching bizarrely oscar-related movies… first Susan Slept Here was narrated by an oscar statue, and now this one, the only movie to be nominated by accident. It seems a song called “Pig Foot Pete” appeared in an Abbott and Costello movie with the same singer (Martha Raye) and songwriters who worked on this movie, which probably accounts for the never-properly-explained discrepancy of “Pig Foot Pete” getting Hellzapoppin’ awarded an oscar nomination. It’s all beside the point, since nothing stood a chance against the song White Christmas from Holiday Inn.

The story involves mistaken identity, Martha Raye (Monsieur Verdoux) running after Mischa Auer (My Man Godfrey) because she believes he’s an eligible millionaire, while he tries to score Jane Frazee – but the movie (based on a fourth-wall-smashing hit broadway play) is really just an excuse for popular comics Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson to riff on everything around them, including the film itself. Goofy-looking Hugh Herbert (whose “hoo-hoo-hoo!” laugh supposedly inspired the creation of Daffy Duck) of Footlight Parade, Sh! The Octopus and The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend, also wanders about making jokes.

Chic and Ole – don’t ask me which is which:
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Movies like this (and there aren’t many movies like this) make the phrase “screwball comedy” seem inappropriately applied to such relatively calm, normal films as Bringing Up Baby. Surely the Marx Brothers movies were an influence. I’d like to think that Frank Tashlin, who was working in cartoons at the time this came out, was heavily influenced by its high-energy cartoony gags and unhinged self-reflexivity. Some of the jokes (many of the jokes!) are very bad, but you’ve gotta forgive them because overall the movie is too amusingly nuts to dislike.

Frankenstein’s Monster, about to helpfully toss Martha Raye:
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Kevin Lee: “The show-stopper is the much celebrated Lindy Hop sequence involving several Black domestic servants who without warning launch into the most jaw-dropping swing number captured on film.”

Here’s the precursor to that swing number, which is indeed jaw-dropping:
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Director Potter would work with all the biggest stars in his other films, and eventually make a sequel to this year’s biggest oscar-winner Mrs. Miniver.

Pretty girls are roasted on a spit in hell – the movie opens with this!
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The legal battle of Olsen vs. Johnson vs. Universal Pictures has led to the commercial unavailability of their work for so long that if it finally came out now, in sparkling restored deluxe DVD editions, nobody much would care since they are barely remembered. Good job there, guys.

Martha mooning after Mischa Auer:
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NY Times called it “an anarchic collection of unfunny gags,” but then, they also spelled “alittle” as one word.

Once and future stooge Shemp Howard is the film projectionist. I love how he, not the cameraman, can change the framing of the movie by panning to follow women in swimsuits.
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