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Official Traumatizer :: Vincent Price

December 27th, 2009 · 3 Comments

AUNT JOHN SEZ: Hi kids, your Unk and I have to shuffle off to Saskatchewan for a belated Boxing Day barbecue. Despite the short notice, we managed to rope in REDBOY for a third babysitting engagement. So everyone, please be on your best behavior for REDBOY, and be sure to check out all of the great yuletide tuneage he has been featuring on BLUES FOR THE REDBOY.

blues for the redboy

“I don’t play monsters. I play men besieged by fate and out for revenge”


Now, when I say I love VINCENT PRICE, I mean I love VINCENT PRICE in the strictly platonic/borderline obsessive way you love VINCENT PRICE; that is to say, I think of him as an artist whose contribution elevates otherwise tasteless fare with a modicum of respectability; not to mention a dry, malevolent, Prospero-like wit (MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH is both PRICE an CORMAN’s masterwork).

That is, for all intents and purposes, an accurate description, no? He did manage to class up the MUPPETS for Christ’s sake.

Someone had to; Lord knows it wasn’t gonna be JOHN DENVER.

Then there are PRICE’s cultural contributions, of which they are many. There is his vast private art collection and affordable signature line of paintings marketed through Sears; his endowment of priceless (pun firmly intended) works to the East L.A. College in an effort to establish California’s first and only teaching art collection.

Talk about contributions…have you ever even listened to the intro to ‘Black Widow’ off of ALICE COOPER’s ‘Welcome to my Nightmare’ album?

No? Seriously? Travesty! Were talking several years before Thriller, man…Thriller!

Most people don’t even know that PRICE is the first person to trip-face on LSD in a major studio film (Hint: The Walls! The Walls!). Even LUGOSI never managed that and he was a morphine addict.

But, you see, that’s the essence of VINCENT PRICE: He’s like the thespian equivalent of a throw pillow or a giant ceramic statue of a Great Dane…he classes up the joint, but that’s not to say PRICE can’t be campy.

My childhood introduction to PRICE was such; His Mephistophelean goatee jutting out of my T.V. screen in 3D; the multicolored glasses generously donated by my local 7-11 for their WPIX broadcast of THE MAD MAGICIAN (that saw blade came right out of the f%$kin’ screen, man!).

I say introduction for lack of a better word. I know I was aware of PRICE in the larger sense that I understood the peculiar service he served on the seventies variety circuit: a creepy ringer called in to sub (more often than not, when LON CHANEY JR. was too drunk,) as some melodramatic “ham-pire”, chewing the scenery like the alabaster curves of a virgin’s nubile young neck, but I’ll get to PRICE’s turn as Dracula in a moment…

Having come into this world, as I did, at the tail end of flairs and plaids, yet well before neon and shoulder-pads leveled the fashionable playing field, my most lingering memories of PRICE are perhaps his ‘70s / ‘80s input, understood by many to be the twilight of his acting career; PRICE’s regular appearances on HOLLYWOOD SQUARES being any indication.

Man, that show sure was the kiss of death for ones acting career; just ask PAUL LYNDE (wait, you can’t; he OD’d on amyl nitrate in the company of a male prostitute. Oh well…)

Anyway, PRICE had been making his rent for some time staring in a series of low budget features; the most memorable, at least to my impressionable young mind, being the made-for-T.V. ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT SCARY and the equally entertaining, if not overly melodramatic HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS.

I suppose one could further count PRICE’s roll as spokesperson for the Milton Bradley’s Shrunken Head Apple Sculpture kit’ -a feather in any aspiring actors cap, to be sure- but that would be showing my age, being about half way to a shrunken head myself.

ONCE UPON A MIDNIGHT SCARY premiered on basic CBS in the 1979, having been developed for T.V. in the midst of the ‘70s anthology film craze (TRILOGY OF TERROR, anyone?). SCARY features three tales adapted from American folklore and young-adult novels of it’s time, of which PRICE had been commissioned to slather his ghoulish charm on deliciously thick as the narrator and host of each segment.

The first tale, told from the fireside glow of PRICE’s Victorian library, is based the young adult novel ‘This Ghost Belongs to Me’ by Richard Peck (1975). ‘Ghost’ concerns a young boy and the disembodied tenant living in his barn; a specter who has a thing for extremely vague prophecy.

Having read the book, let me assure you that the production company spared every expense in this lame ghost’s production, though to be fair, it is rather hard to establish any useful narrative in less than ten minutes. However, the video editing machine employed must have been working overtime to crank this disappointing segment out cause I seen better screen-wipes on New Wave Theatre reruns.

Of the three tales, ‘Ghost’ should cross over, if not be passed over. Lucky for us, it is the exception to the rule.

The second tale is a brief (one might say ’Fat Free’) retelling of Washington Irving’s famous American Folk tale ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’ This is where the film hits its stride.

Being no stranger to the headless ghost angle, I had previously put the paces on a video copy of Disney’s telling from the ‘50s narrated/crooned by BING CROSBY, not to mention suffering through a seventies version staring JEFF GOLDBLOOM and DICK BUTKUS in the titular roles. But there was something inherent to PRICE’s version which freaked me the hell out where those other versions seemed tame…now what was it… Oh, I know! Perhaps it was the Horseman’s severed HUMAN head being thrown at the T.V., laughing maniacally as it strafes towards ole’ Icabod (RENE AURBERJONOIS).

Sure. It seems corny now, but whereas the innocuous pumpkin proved the defacto stand-in for a freshly lopped top where families were concerned, this rotten, meth-mouthed head w/ it’s tri-cornered hat, hollow eyes and tussled hair really got to me…though not as much as the dead witch screaming to life in PRICE’s third tale.

‘The House w/ a Clock in It’s Walls’ (1973) is adapted from the book of the same name by celebrate children’s author John Belairs. ‘Clock’ deals w/ young Lewis Barnevelt and his strange Uncle Jonathan (played by exploitation film veteran SEVERN DARDEN), a mysterious man who spends his nights listening to the ticking within the walls of his house in order to find a cursed clock (assembled by the home’s previous owner; a powerful warlock named Isaac Izzard) designed to strike and bring about doomsday. That generally wouldn’t be a problem (Doomsday, quite unlike Christmas, being a ways off), but when Lewis accidentally uses black magic to summon the dead wife of the clock’s inventor, Selena Izzard, Lewis and uncle Jonathan must race against time (again, pun firmly intended) to stop Mrs. Izzard from carrying out her husband’s evil plan.

Having been a huge fan of Belair’s Lewis Barnevelt series, particularly the first editions illustrated by Edward Gorey, I was sufficiently creeped out as a child seeing Mrs. Izzard use the ‘Hand of Glory’ (an alchemical charm derived from a hanged man’s hand and the rended fat of a black cat) to paralyze the Barnavelts while she decides the most horrible way to dispatch them. Equally unsettling is the scene in the graveyard where Lewis and his friend Tarby (whom Lewis is trying to impress) perform the resurrection spell as outlined in Uncle Jonathan’s Grimoire; the Ghost of Mrs. Izzard bursting out of her Mausoleum from behind them with a flash of thunder and lightening.

I won’t ruin the ending of this last story, sufficed to say that once PRICE has finished spinning his final yarn in this trifecta of tales, he very leisurely slips on his cape, bids the view adieu and takes to the skies as the literary icon Dracula, tying the whole affair together with a nod to Bram Stoker’s groundbreaking novel.

PRICE’s absence would not be for long, however, as he soon would return to haunt my Saturday afternoons with one of his most offbeat, and as fate would have it, last motion picture roles, short of voiceover work, before his death in ’92.

THE HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983) saw a lot of airplay in the early eighties, thanks in no small part to the USA cable network and their four-hour Commander USA’s Groovie Movies programming block on Saturday afternoons (I still have my membership card). Incidentally, Commander USA regularly aired another 1980’s PRICE vehicle, the subtly titled BLOODBATH AT THE HOUSE OF DEATH.

SHADOW’s was adapted from the 1913 book ‘Seven Keys to Baldpate’ (pronounced: Baldpator), later reworked into a popular stage play the same year. The plot deals with a wager between a writer (DESI ARNEZ JR.) and his agent, the latter who maintains that his charge could not write a novel of ‘Wuthering Heights’ proportions in under twenty-four hours. In order to accomplish this feat, the author procures the only known key to an abandoned country estate in England so he can write in solitude. Problem is, once settled in, the author is beset upon by several visitors, each more mysterious then the next and all with their own key to the estate; their purpose: to check up on their criminally insane little brother whom they very thoughtfully entombed alive in the house forty years prior.

Seems like a totally reasonable reaction, right?

SHADOWS is interesting on several fronts, as is evident by the casting. The film remains the first and only time VINCENT PRICE, CHRISTOPHER LEE, PETER CUSHING, and JOHN CARADINE have all shared the screen together and, in an even more unfortunate turn of events, marks the last time both CHRISTOPHER LEE and PETER CUSHING would appear on screen as a pair, as was customary during their tenure at Hammer Studios.

SHADOWS, though slow moving, is incredibly atmospheric, bringing to mind the films of TOD BROWNING (OLD DARK HOUSE) and sharing more than a passing resemblance to Agatha Christies ‘And Then There Were None.’ However, just because the film is atmospheric, does not mean it does not have its share of gore. There are hangings, battle ax eviscerations, poison and the odd eye-bulging strangulation once the pawns are all in place.

In a particularly gristly scene, a wash basin filled with sulfuric acid manages to disintegrate the face of a beautiful boarder as she freshens up, dissolving the skin down to the very visible bone. My favorite scene, however, is the discovery of murderous brother Roderick’s empty cell, inhumanly clawed about the moldings, littered with the rotten corpses of recent victims and moldy, maggot-ridden children’s toys.

These scenes are still just as strong today, the film as a whole being rather graphic for it’s time (it was rated PG!).

As with any competent suspense story, there is a twist, or rather, several; but unlike M. NIGHT SHAMALAN’s hackney eyed self-aggrandizing plot contrivances (BRUCE WILLIS is dead; water kills aliens; etc…), these twists are genuinely strange and ultimately works for a film which prides itself on it’s offbeat casting and plot.

PRICE would go on to other appearances, mostly T.V. before his final and much deserved star turn in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, but for my money (and perhaps I am biased), nothing touches his later work; even though the scripts might not have been top notch, PRICE, again, was able to bring a touch of charm and malevolence to his roles that very few actors could nor would for fear of invoking that most dreaded professional misfortune: typecasting. But typecasting can be deceptive, for whereas it can turn a perfectly good actor into a second stringer, when under the right circumstances, it can turn a perfectly great actor into an icon.

I believe this is something PRICE struggled with, but ultimately embraced before his death; and lucky for us that he did so, as yet another generation was afforded the opportunity to enjoy the company of an actor whom ROGER CORMAN billed as a “Titan of Terror” and who of himself once remarked:

“I sometimes feel that I’m impersonating the dark unconscious of the whole human race. I know this sounds sick, but I love it.”

We love it too, VINCENT. Thanks

The RedBoy.

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Tags: Traumatizers

The Midnight Hour

October 14th, 2008 · 11 Comments

AUNT JOHN SEZ: Hey kids, your Unkle Lancifer and I have to jet off to Delaware today for a last minute, bulk Halloween candy shopping spree. Despite the short notice, we managed to rustle up one the coolest music aficionados on the interwebs for a return babysitting engagement. So everyone, please be on your best behavior for REDBOY, and be sure to check out all of the great spooky, Halloween tunes he has been featuring on BLUES FOR THE REDBOY.

blues for the redboy

And if I hear of anyone acting up while we’re gone, I am coming back with nothing but a bag of Mary Janes! Without further ado, here is REDBOY and his take on the made-for-television masterpiece THE MIDNIGHT HOUR:

Seeing as how Halloween is quickly approaching with all the subtlety of a rocket-propelled grenade, the time has inevitably come for the smell of burning leaves to fill the air, and for elderly neighbors to start crafting popcorn-balls and baking Rhubarb pies to benefit UNICEF and …Oh, wait a minute. I’m sorry. That’s Norman Rockwell’s America

Let’s back this up a tick.

As an adult, the most frightening thing I and others of my kind will have to contend with this Halloween will be showing up at work sober, that is if we can even recall the season at all, the holidays blending together so much like a TIM BURTON pastiche. It’s disheartening, I know, but it wasn’t always like that.

If you can imagine, there was a time when kids weren’t too fat or too lazy to Trick or Treat; a time when overzealous parents weren’t x-raying Charleston Chews looking for dope needles, and eggs and toilet paper could be purchased without three forms of ID. As was customary, children made the neighborhood rounds without chaperons, filled as many pillowcases as time would allow (I personally used different masks and hit the good houses several times) before settling in at home for a scary movie; their poor little tummies on the verge of prolapsing under the weight of all that peanut butter and nougat.

The movie – oh well that was easy. You had the WORST WITCH or the equally safe THE HALLOWEEN THAT ALMOST WASN’T, in addition to the usual programming block of cartoons. And the kiddies were content with that, edging their nightmarish bets with GARFIELD and FAT ALBERT.  But as a seven-year-old too old for the existentialist crisis of IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN and too young for torture porn, I required something a bit stronger…like THE MIDNIGHT HOUR for instance.

A made-for-T.V. movie lensed in 1985, THE MIDNIGHT HOUR was a relatively bloodless endeavor staring a veritable who’s who of “Who the Hell Are They?” including LAVAR BURTON (READING RAINBOW), SHARI BELAFONTE-HARPER, DEDEE PFEIFFER (Michelle’s younger sister) and the venerable DICK VAN PATTEN. That’s not to say that the film didn’t have its charms, or indeed, its teeth, DICK VAN PATTEN notwithstanding.

The plot of THE MIDNIGHT HOUR settles on teenage loser Phil Grenville. Phil just so happens to be the ancestor of local witch hunter Nathaniel Grenville who, 200 years prior, very famously did away with resident witch Lucinda Cavander, effectively ending her curse on the unassuming New England town of Pitchford Cove.

Grenville and his friends, wishing to make an entrance at a “totally rad!” costume party, sneak into the local wax museum to “borrow” some authentic costumes and effects, including a trunk which belonged to Grandfather Nathaniel Grenville. Wisely deciding that grand larceny ain’t nothin’ without a little funerary desecration, the gang heads over to the local cemetery to inventory the trunk whereby they happen upon an old parchment containing the original spell cast by Lucinda two hundred years ago tonight (What are the odds, huh?).

And if you need one good reason why SHARI BELAFONTE-HARPER‘s character should NOT read that friggin’ spell out loud, in addition to the fact that it is Halloween night two-hundred years to the day, then consider momentarily that she also just so happens to be the ancestor of hanged witch Lucinda Cavender. Needless to say, all kinds of undead wackiness ensues.

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR is just the kind of light-hearted romp networks go weak in the knees for. Shot on the cheap and with little fuss, it was the perfect band-aid for a typically quiet network holiday. Though for all its comedy and near-misses, there is some genuinely creepy stuff going on, enough to freak out even seven-year-old me.

To say the dead rise from their grave to plague Pitchford Cove would be an understatement, as coffins literally explode (!?!?) from the ground in a shower of dirt, loosing vampires, werewolves, even (I shit you not) a seven-foot tall zombie serial killer who is more than a little pissed-off at his having been fried in the electric chair. As the evil begins to spread through Pitchford Cove, the townspeople themselves become all manner of undead.  The local zombified judge (already an abusive alcoholic dick even before he was dead) attempts to bash his son’s head in with a rock before deciding on the less violent alternative of strangling his punk-ass to death on top of a Cadillac Deville.

To make matters worse, two hundred year old witch / vampire Lucinda shows up to the Halloween party, attacking great granddaughter SHARI BELAFONTE-HARPER (rather incestuously) in the wine cellar, latching onto her neck like a lamprey in slo-motion as bottles of Merlot burst off the shelves to the tune of ‘How Soon is Now’ by The Smiths.

That’s another thing, THE MIDNIGHT HOUR has one of the best soundtracks of the eighties (second only to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD).With Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Wilson Picket, Credence Clearwater Revival and narration by Wolfman Jack, it certainly left an impression on most of the ‘tweens who saw it, undoubtedly contributing to the film’s cult status.

The movie spends a lot of time padding out the heavy stuff with some zombie comic relief, including a midget zombie and an undead heavy-petting session, giving way to a ridiculously out of place ’80s song and dance number so indicative of ‘Thriller’ that Michael Jackson might just have legal recourse to punch director JACK BENDER in the face.

Following all the moon walking and rotten crotch-grabbing, the terror gets right back on track as the darkened streets of Pitchford Cove begin to resemble Beirut – cars burning, littered with garbage – as the undead infect every last citizen down to the milkman (They even vampirized the goddamned dentist!).

It isn’t long before grandson Phil Grenville, along with a hot, and strangely non-putrefied dead cheerleader named Sandy, put two and two together and figure out the secret to stopping the curse. Only problem is they have to contend with an undead PETER DeLUISE of ’21 JUMP STREET fame…and if that doesn’t traumatize you, then you are already dead inside.

Will Phil Grenville succeed?

Will the town of Pitchford Cove get swallowed up by Lucinda’s curse?

Will ABC be able to recoup their production budget in ad revenue?

These are all questions that I could have cared less about as a kid. I was just happy that network T.V. was showing a horror movie before bedtime.

THE MIDNIGHT HOUR actually holds up pretty well upon repeat viewing, not that ABC has ever endeavored to show it again since its original broadcast. Nor can the average gen-x’er afford the steep $400 price tag the movie tends to fetch on DVD (!?!?). Sure the feathered hair and shoulder-pads are undeniably 80’s, but the darker moments – witchcraft, teenage death, etc – are still strong in the minds of viewers today, even if the requisite ghosts and goblins have not fared nearly as well.

Speaking of… while sitting at your house this Halloween, waiting for that smattering trick-or treaters to drop by dressed up as characters which you are so far removed from culturally that you don’t even recognize, just remember that there was a time not long ago when the holiday was not strip-mined by Hallmark and sponsored by Commerce Bank; a time when Halloween was a full scale riot for candy supremacy, and the dead roamed the land with earthly feet.

Unlike good ole’ Lucinda Cavender, the real curse of Halloween is disenfranchisement, but that ain’t nothin’ that a little network T.V. and about 15 rolls of Smarties won’t cure.

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Tags: Halloween · Telenasties

Mr. Boogedy

August 29th, 2008 · 7 Comments

AUNT JOHN SEZ: Kids, looks like your UNKLE LANCIFER and I have yet another parent/drill sergeant meeting at the esteemed Valley Forge Feline Military Boot Camp. Apparently, our ginger-furred stepson Gato Malo faces expulsion after disrupting the school’s semi-bi-annual competitive spaghetti eating contest. On such short notice, we manged to wrangle our step-nephew REDBOY of old-timey music blog Blues for the RedBoy into babysitting Kindertrauma Castle for the day. Please be on your best behavior while REDBOY discusses the Disney traumatizer MR. BOOGEDY. Take it away REDBOY!

Every child, it would seem, is destined for that one initial break from normalcy in which the security of their adolescent world is shaken to its very foundations by something which, while initially frightening, is, in hindsight, actually incredibly stupid.

Debate rages as to what purpose such developmental devices serve, whether or not it is to insulate the child mentally against the adversity of a difficult world or, as I believe, to teach the child that clowns, gnarly trees, ventriloquist dummies and people with spinal meningitis should be given a wide birth.

In spite of such consensus from the scientific community, that robot chick from SUPERMAN 3 still freaks me the hell out 20 years after the fact. I still find myself mildly disturbed at the thought of Augustus Gloop drowning in chocolate while a pack of lazy adults look on and I still find MR. BOOGEDY rather off-putting.

What? What do you mean Kindertrauma has no reference to MR. BOOGEDY?


At a time when Disney and their fascist regime of cartoon animals were less inclined to protect their intellectual property at knifepoint, somebody managed to drop the ball and let this little wart slip through to the development phase.

In the spirit of such forgotten properties as SONG OF THE SOUTH and THE BLACK CAULDRON, MR. BOOGEDY, while not overtly racist, would share SOUTH‘s same fate by virtue of its strangeness – an attribute not generally in keeping with the singing rodents and copyright lawyers which people the ‘Magic Kingdom’.

The general story of MR. BOOGEDY – first aired on network T.V. in 1986 – involves the Davis family (DAVID FAUSTINO, CHRISTY SWANSON, etc.) who move to the New England community of Lucifer Falls (Hmmm) only to find that their new home is haunted by several ghosts, including the title character: a devil-dealing, murdering, scar-faced magical ghost-pilgrim (?!?!?).

Having befriended the resident ghost of a little boy (a colonial era victim of Boogedy), the three Davis children, along with the help of JOHN ASTIN (awesome!), attempt to steal Boogedy’s magic cloak (on loan from the Devil, as seen in a weird psychedelic flashback), all the while trying to convince their irritatingly irresponsible parents that it is indeed ghosts leaving slimy footprints on the ceiling, and not just their imagination.

I know it must sound anything but frightening, and what with dancing mummies and the ole’ piano playing by itself gag, one could easily make that case, but to my still developing adolescent brain, the specter of the burnt faced, cackling quaker-oats-guy freaked me the hell out. Especially creepy were the scenes in which he didn’t even appear, rather his presence suggested by some prodigious off screen breathing, and P.O.V. shots as seen through outside windows and from behind basement shelving.

BOOGEDY proved popular enough to garner a sequel (BRIDE OF BOOGEDY), and it too managed some traumatic moments, including a possessed, levitating RICHARD MASUR floating down the hall screaming “Boogedy Boo!” in an over modulated voice. It wasn’t long after BRIDE OF BOOGEDY‘s premiere that Disney made a play to consolidate its wholesome image, canning its more controversial characters and slapping a singing side-kick onto every piece of computer generated crap they cranked out.

Suddenly dead children, Satan and possession were too good for the likes of Michael Eisner.

Upon second viewing, BOOGEDY, like most other traumatic children’s fare, does not hold up particularly well when it’s seams come to light, but the fact that it holds up at all given its rather short shift is an indication of just how strange it truly is. And just as Disney boasts it’s legendary vault in ‘Limited Time’ sales pushes, so too must there invariably be a broom closet in the bowels of the Magic Kingdom; a haunted place where MR. BOOGEDY, Uncle Remus and Disneyland’s accident reports are kept from prying eyes. Who knows, perhaps some day they will again come to light.

It’s a small world after-all.

A small, dark, terrible world.

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Tags: Repeat Offenders · Tykes in Trouble