It’s a Horror to Know You: Paul Castiglia of Scared Silly: Classic Hollywood Horror-Comedies!
What is the first film that ever scared you?
It was a combination of movies and TV, really. I would run out of the room whenever Cesar Romero’s Joker from Batman or Fred Gwynn’s Herman from The Munsters appeared. If I caught a glimpse of a horror-show opening (whoever in New York was running an opening montage of Universal monsters as a lead-in to their horror movie broadcasts in the 1970s) I was really scared. I watched Abbott & Costello movies every Sunday, but would quickly find something else to do if Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein or one of the team’s other horror-comedies came on (quite ironic considering I’m now writing a whole book on the horror-comedy genre)! Dan Curtis also had me going with his TV-movie vampires, Janos Skorzeny from The Night Stalker and Jack Palance as the title count in Dracula. At theaters? The “Pleasure Island” sequence from Pinocchio was probably my first big-screen scare.
What is the last film that scared you?
The Tree of Life. Hopefully you’ll never have to watch it and be scared yourself!
3. Name three Horror movies that you believe are underrated.
Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952) has charms that elude many… just not me and the growing legion of Sammy Petrillo fan(atics)! It’s also an example of an unintentional spoof and if you look at it as a send-up of other horror-comedies and horror films (especially “mad doctor in the jungle films”) it works beautifully. Almost as beautiful as Charlita playing a college-educated Island girl who looks like she just came from a beauty pageant. Beautiful too is Lugosi, starting to look rather shopworn here but pulling off an intense pseudo-science speech about evolution that could make a monkey out of Darwin! Also beautiful is watching 17 year old Sammy Petrillo’s mind at work as he ponders what Jerry Lewis shtick to pilfer next. Petrillo’s naïve audacity adds a compelling component to the film for me. (Read my review HERE.)
Bride of the Monster (1955) Old Bela again, paired with loopy Ed Wood again. Maybe it’s just me but it seems like everyone else is watching a different movie. I can’t honestly see how this can get lumped in with Plan 9 From Outer Space or Bride of the Monster’s semi-sequel, Night of the Ghouls. It doesn’t share those Ed Wood titles’ ineptitudes. It is atmospheric, however cheap and while certainly unhinged story-wise (could Wood even write something that wasn’t “out there?”) it’s much more coherent than practically anything else Ed did. And like Brooklyn Gorilla it provides Bela with a showcase of a speech (“Home… I have no home. Hunted. Despised. Living like an animal! The jungle is my home!”) – we all know it well from Martin Landau’s portrayal of Bela in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood biopic. These speeches show that, age, sickness and substance dependency be durned, “that Dracula man” still had the chops.
(Read my essay on Lugosi as Dracula HERE.)
The ‘Burbs (1989) Joe Dante has always been amusingly inventive, and he’s kind of the Don Rickles of horror. Rickles skewers his targets with acidic insults and then says he’s only joking. Many of Dante’s movies… like Piranha, The Howling and Gremlins… skewer the audience with unnerving scares… until the next scene, where Joe reminds everyone he’s only joking! Joe has so many great credits but on the underrated side I have to single out The ‘Burbs – which I only saw for the first time recently – because it may be the only post-1967 project to successfully present an “old dark house” thriller in contemporary times without feeling like a throwback. (Read my essay, “The Old Dark Anachronism” HERE.)
4. Name three horror movies that you enjoy against your better judgment.
Vampire’s Kiss (1988) No plot to speak of, and what there is devolves into distasteful depths (it is difficult to watch Maria Conchita Alonzo’s character being demeaned so) but if you’re going to make a movie ambiguous over whether it’s central character is actually turning into a vampire or simply delusional that he’s becoming a bloodsucker, well, you can’t get more (pun intended) bat-sh#! crazy than Nicolas Cage. It really all comes down to him being too broke to buy the good vampire teeth and having to settle for the cheap plastic fangs. That and some insane desk hopping, yelling “too late, too late!” And a disheveled lope through city sidewalks exclaiming in fang-muffled tones, “I’m a vampire!” Oh, yeah: Nic Cage also eats a live cockroach. On camera. For real. No CGI pixels were harmed during the making of this movie…
Jurassic Park 3 (2001). I saw the first and was among the few who didn’t care for it. I had no interest in the second and never saw it. I’m not even sure why I saw the third one – either friends wanted to go or I had some time to kill. But this one had William H. Macy and Tea Leoni. And Sam Neill was back. Laura Dern put in a cameo but script-wise it was just by-the-numbers (especially the cameo). You don’t watch this for plot or great writing. You watch it to see dinosaurs roll airplanes around as if they are the cardboard tube in the center of the toilet paper roll. You watch it because you can never get enough of the cliché of the annoying or nasty guy ticking everyone off only to meet a grisly end at the claws of the monster (a la such ‘70s schlock-fests as Empire of the Ants and Food of the Gods). You watch it because somehow a franchise that began with a Spielberg-Crichton pedigree has suddenly become every Godzilla movie, every knock-off of a Godzilla movie, Dino DeLaurentis’ King Kong remake and Harryhausen’s The Valley of Gwangi all rolled into one!
Resident Evil 3: Extinction (2007) Had to kill time between appointments and this was the only film at the theater screening at a convenient time. I hadn’t seen the previous two entries and had written the series off as something that would never interest me. Wrong! This is not a great film by any stretch; in fact it’s seriously flawed. But after seeing beautiful-and-tough Milla Jovovich in all her zombie-obliterating glory, not to mention the killer homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds… the feathered fiends now zombie-fied – well, when the swift 95 minutes were up I found myself amazed over how entertained I was… I hadn’t wasted my bucks after all!
GUILTY PLEASURE HORROR-ONABLE MENTION: Godzilla (1998 version with Matthew Broderick). Here’s what I’ve always maintained: if we went back in time to before this film’s release, changed its title to Komodo! and removed every reference to Godzilla there’d be a whole bigger batch of us that could appreciate this big, clunky but ultimately fun romp (anyone for basketballs and gumballs?)…
MORE GUILTY PLEAURE HORROR-ONABLE MENTIONS: Giant, irradiated bugs, rodents and assorted critters were well past their expiration date by the 1970s but that didn’t stop the schlock-meisters from producing opuses like the afore-mentioned Empire of the Ants and Food of the Gods; not to mention Night of the Lepus, Frogs and Squirm! Although they did benefit from the overlay of mutton-chop sideburns, bellbottom jeans and Valley of the Dolls-style cheese that could only have come from the ‘70s.
SPECIAL BONUS COMBO MEAL: Here’s one that I consider simultaneously underrated AND a guilty pleasure: Dead Heat (1988). I revisited the film for the first time in years recently and all the things I remembered were intact: the barrage of bad one-liners (not only the expected ones from SNL alum Joe Piscopo but also some from leading man Treat Williams), the classic (temporarily) “dead man walking” motif that served so many classic horror flicks of the ’40s and ’50s, the mix of cops and mad scientists. But what I hadn’t recalled (or maybe it just didn’t resonate with me back then was just how bombastic a film it was. It had an ’80s “go-for-broke” attitude about it that was more akin to mavericks like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2, Dave O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator than to the standard studio fare. It’s horror/sci-fi elements were well-handled and just to see horror icons Vincent “the Crown Prince of Horror” Price and Darren “The Night Stalker” McGavin not only in the same film but actually in the same scene’s during the film’s climax instantly ratchets up the horror cred in my eyes. A fun surprise of a film!
5. Send us to five places on the Internet!
Trailers from Hell. Famous filmmakers from Joe Dante to Edgar Wright and everyone in-between give their commentaries on favorite films as the trailers play. Just go. Repeatedly.
Greenbriar Picture Shows. John McElwee offers insights into both his memories of seeing classic films as well as explorations of how films were marketed and promoted. He peppers each entry with photos you won’t see anywhere else. Essential reading.
Frankensteinia. Pierre Fournier’s blog’s mission is stated right up front: “Tracking Frankenstein and all things related in the arts, media and popular culture.” The very existence of this blog will be a revelation to some as Dr. Frankenstein and his monster are more pervasive and influential a force than many folks realize.
Zombo’s Closet of Horror. You won’t find a more amiable host than John Cozzoli, who guides his readers through entertaining views, reviews and interviews related to movies, TV, comics, literature, etc. within the horror realm.
Horror Digest. Andre Dumas is rewriting the book on movie criticism, particularly horror movie criticism. It’s like having a personal conversation with a friend who’s feeling the rush of facing her fears… and cracking you up in the process with all her witty, clever and relatable-to-real-life observations!