In the early 1990s I had researched background information for an article on the film Burn, Witch, Burn, which was to appear in FilmFax magazine. During my research I borrowed a 16mm print of the movie from film historian William K Everson. Everson and I got to talking about the specifics of the film and he suggested I get in touch with one of its screenwriters, George Baxt, who was, at the time, living in New York. His number was listed in the phone book. I called him and made an appointment to interview him. During two visits and a few follow-up phone calls we talked not only about Burn, Witch, Burn, but also touched upon the other genre films he was involved with. The article I eventually wrote regarding Burn, Witch, Burn ended up in Scarlet Street magazine instead of FilmFax.
My interview with this Edgar Award winning author turned into more of a general rap session where he shared his interesting insights and recollections for Circus of Horrors, Burn, Witch, Burn,Vampire Circus, The City of the Dead, and Shadow of the Cat. Within this article I’ve arranged Baxt’s insights and recollections according to each relevant movie discussed.
Gog and Magog go bad. Originally shot for 3D, it was mostly shown flat due to its release during the tail end of the 3D craze. I vaguely recall seeing this movie, but not sure if it was in a theater or on television. Not bad for a budget of $250,000. Robotic and computer construction very 1950s. Premise has NOVAC, the computer, being manipulated to control Gog and Magog, the two robots, as its henchmen. Mayhem ensues.
Well, the inflatable skeleton blown up isn't quite what it looks like in the illustration, is it? Bummer. Probably what William Castle's Emergo skeleton looked like. No wonder the audience threw stuff at it. I'd like to throw stuff at this one, too.
These floor mats at Dollar Tree stores are very thin, so I'd not expect much walking on them. But for Halloween, you could put them out as table mats, floor mats, or as backdrops for that table-top little foggy maker or zombie-head cheese dip bowl. Go ahead, be creative. And these decorative boxes (they come in three sizes), are great for displaying your candy treats for party guests.
Once again, Dollar Tree Stores have some unique Halloween decorations. This year I found these lenticular monster faces. Lenticular means they're holographic 3D, which is a really cool effect. Unfortunately you can't see the 3D depth in these flat pictures, but they are impressive. Note that the Frankenstein Monster has his neck bolts NOT on his neck, and his Bride has neck bolts, even though she DOESN'T. I won't even quibble about the exposed brain for Frankie. Still a treat to add to your Halloween collection.
I found these wonderful Dracula, Mummy, and Frankenstein Monster tea light holders at Rite Aid. Spook house designing and colorations make them irresistable (to me, at least). I almost missed them as they were tucked on to a top shelf. I'm betting these will sell out rather quickly. Also found were a few candy-holder animatronics and two natty LED top-hatted skeletons, though I think there's one more to the set, or should be (see no evil, speak no evil, and hear no evil).
I looked forward to watching the antics of the Three Stooges every weekday afternoon, after school, on WPIX Channel 11's Three Stooges Funhouse show hosted by Officer Joe Bolton. Of course Joseph Reeves Bolton wasn't really a police officer (though he did have me fooled back then), but a children's TV host. He provided ample warning during every show to not do what the Three Stooges did; they were trained professionals using rubber wrenches, precise timing, and fakery for all those eye-pokes and bitch slaps.
Maybe it was the obvious impossibility of never being hurt by all those hand saws, crowbars, and planks of wood assaulting their heads and limbs, or maybe I was just smarter than the average bear as a kid, but I knew they weren't really hurting each other no matter how hard they worked at making it look real. But boy was it (and still is) so damn funny watching them go at it.
Their unique brand of situation-deconstruction and catastrophic action, perpetrated in homes, businesses, and in the streets, created a platform for havoc anyone could understand. Their visual interplay of physical timing and incongruous behavior, honed by repeated performances on vaudeville stages, and a total disregard for any sophistication whatsoever, is, simply put, sublime. Elements of farce, slapstick, and poke-in-the-eye punnery were served up buffet style, with a touch of social comment and topicality, as a nonsensical bricolage cemented with mirthful torment. Their comedy, even today, creates a contradictory raison d'etre of outrageousness that still bewilders non-fans while leaving new and life-long fans of the Three Stooges' knuckeheadedness in stitches: the more they engage in their nonsense and bodily assaults, the more we laugh (most of us, anyway).
Not many critics will dare derive sub-textual meaning from such nonsense (and body blows), but what makes the Three Stooges timeless is an everyone-yet-no-one duality they project as they struggle with themselves, the situation they find themselves in, and the unfortunate people they involve in their endless reaching for the good-living markers we all strive to attain. They dupe others, are duped by others, and they never catch a break (actually once or twice they did), or a clue, no matter how hard they try; and the harder they try, the worse it gets.
Dave Hogan's Three Stooges FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Eye-Poking, Face-Slapping, Head-Thumping Geniuses hopefully isn't everything left to know about the Three Stooges, but it will soitenly keep you busy reading about every Columbia Pictures two-reeler (around 20 minutes each, they made 190 of them), the full-length movies (they appeared in 25 of them), and the notable victims the Three Stooges plied their unique style of comedy to.
Hogan wisely doesn't waste time trying to explain the Three Stooges or apologize for them. Instead he gets into the heart of it, first with a brief timeline of events leading to their formation as the team we recognize today, and then through a themed arrangement of all 190 Columbia Shorts into chapters such as The Stooges on the Job, The Stooges Go to War, and The Stooges Puncture High Society. There are thirteen themed chapters in all, with each short within its theme chronologically arranged and described.
He also explains the context of the times each short originally appeared in, providing information that is vitally important for understanding whatever subtexts an analysis, going beyond their simple zaniness, would reveal. He also points out the better usage of camera movement, editing, lighting, and locale in those shorts these elements are notable in. In general, the earlier shorts are better produced and better budgeted than the later ones, but some later ones do shine with brilliance.
Another basis for appraising each short is who directed it and wrote it, and Hogan supplies the information and the critical analysis, which almost always boiled down to how much money and time Columbia was willing to spend (much less as the years moved on) on any given short, and how creatively inventive the production team could be given the circumstances.
Which brings us to the Curly versus Shemp argument. After reading Hogan's book you will easily realize there is no argument to be made. Both Curly and Shemp were geniuses in their respective comedic personas, and both gave the Three Stooges a particularly effective zing to the trio's combined insanity by their presence. Rather, one should wonder, as Hogan points out, how Columbia strung Moe, Larry, and Curly along, year after year, never telling them how popular they really were. Never offering the Three Stooges a contract longer than one year, Columbia never gave the Three Stooges a raise, arguing the shorts were at death's door any minute because of changing times and audience preferences.
Throughout the book are sidebars highlighting the performers who appeared with the Three Stooges: there's Harold Brauer (Big Mike in Fright Night); Lynton Brent (the con man in A Ducking They Will Go); tall Dick Curtis (Badlands Blackie in Three Troubledoers); Phyllis Crane, who appeared in the Stooges shorts during the 1930s (wait, does that sound right?); and James C. Morton, who worked with the Little Rascals and Laurel and Hardy. He appears as the beleaguered court clerk in Disorder in the Court. Although you may recognize the faces, their sidebars provide the career information you probably don't know.
Here's an interesting tidbit to ponder: Hogan, in his timeline, notes that both Larry Fine and Moe Howard were pursuing studio contract negotiations in 1934; Larry (on behalf of Moe) was in negotiation with Universal Studios, and Moe (on behalf of Larry) was in negotiation with Columbia. Both Universal and Columbia signed on the dotted line, but since Columbia signed first, the Three Stooges wound up at Columbia. To any monsterkid worth his salt, and seeing how popular the Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein movie turned out, the question would be what might have been?
It took a long time for the shorts to die. Year after year, the Three Stooges did their best for Columbia and received no royalties as the sole rights for their shorts rested with Columbia. Columbia even had the foresight to claim sole rights across any and all media formats, then and in the future. By 1957, Columbia killed its shorts division and the Three Stooges were shown the front gate. After 24 years of money-making for Columbia,they were fired immediately, with no party, no thank you, and no royalties to bank on.
And yet the Three Stooges are more popular today and their Columbia shorts haven't been off the air since they were sold to television. So, it looks like Moe, Larry, Curly, Shemp, and the rest, got the last nyuck! nyuck! nyuck! after all. Good work, boys!
Note: My favorite short is Three Little Pirates. I dare anyone to say this naughtical bromance isn't the funniest, weirdest, and most outrageous episode in the Three Stooges canon. It's surreal, funny, and it's the last time Curly was at the height of his game, even though it was during his illness.
Seriously, have a glass or two of wine instead of seeing this movie. French directors (that would be Jean Rollin in this case) often have trouble handling the subtleties of horror and science fiction; namely that there are no subtleties.
Instead of a clean and clear message delivered through visual and visceral tension and terror, they'll pause the camera on a scene until it's threadbare, insist their characters prattle on and on with soul-searching ruminations, and then have them make interminable philosophical arguments about their predicament, stalling everyone in place while the pace unfolding around them screams for celerity and action. Of course, when you get to movies like In My Skin, the scale tips well past the clean and clear measure and goes sailing out the window, but that's another discussion entirely. Just recall Alien: Resurrection and you will get my drift.
Here are my review notes in lieu of a more polished review. This movie is simply not worth more of my time or effort beyond compelling you, with sufficient information, to make your own judgement on whether to watch it or not. But if you watch it your crazy.
Review Notes for The Grapes of Death:
(Misc. Notes: Interesting, the IMdB lists a 6.2 rating on this. Wonder what their reviewers are smoking. Wait, they even rate 6.3 for Alien: Resurrection. Must be good stuff. Don't forget to mention the poster art comes from drfreex.com).
Opening beat on worker being overcome from pesticide used on wine grapes. Told to suck it up and get back to work. He does. Foreshadowing trouble to come. Next opening beat on two young woman traveling on empty train to countryside. They are friends. They talk a lot. Comment on how freaky it is traveling with no one else aboard (aside from the conductor, I guess). No attendants, either (budget saver). They stop at one village. Silent guy boards train. What's wrong with him? He's leering. Right. He's infected. Silent, now violent, guy kills one girl, goes to sit in the car with the other.
Takes a long time for Elizabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) to notice he's the silent, leering, crazy type. He starts oozing--what the hell, is that grape juice? Cheesy effects here we come. Great. Finally she gets the message. She runs to find her friend. Finds her mauled to death in the loo (could get fancy here and say train de salle de bains). Elizabeth stops train and runs away.
And keeps running for a long while.
(Note: drawn out sequence here; too much time between beats. French directors do that a lot. Unless it's about chocolate, food, or sex, they can't handle down time well.) Good cinematography of countryside (or is it good countryside lends itself to photography?)
She enters cottage, sees man and woman by the dinner table, pleads with them to help her, must call the police, etc. She's hysterical, yelling, she needs to phone cops, he pores a glass of wine for her. Woman standing by him is immobile. What's up? Oh, right, the guy has some creepy looking plastic makeup on his--I mean rotting flesh--showing. He's infected, too.
Extreme, and unnecessary, close ups splice back and forth between her face and their's. She's told to calm down and stay, rest awhile. Sure. She heads upstairs to find a comfy bed. Conveniently open door leads to finding a body in a room. She pulls the sheet away, finds woman with throat cut open. Guy's daughter tells Elizabeth he's insane, killed mom. Right. Kind of caught that before she headed upstairs. Erratic beat here. Can we get on with it? Every scene is lingered over too much, ruining the pacing. Were we that obtuse in 1978?
Finally, he acts violently and kills his daughter with a pitchfork. He makes sure to rip open her blouse first to show her ample breasts. Country living I suspect. She was also infected. Interesting. So story point is men and women are infected differently. Also explains why he didn't kill his daughter before then. Only kills her now because she's helping Elizabeth escape?
But then he regrets killing his family. Elizabeth runs for it. To the car. He stops in front of the car and insists she finish him off. She does, after thinking it over. A lot. She rams the dinky car into him. (Note: dinky cars ramming into people is unintentionally funny.) She drives around. Comes across another crazy guy, stops long enough for him to thump his head through her side window again and again and again. Long take closeup of his rubber appliance--I mean weeping sores from his infection. She shoots him dead. (Crap, where'd she pick up the gun(?). It had to be in the farmhouse she drove away from. How'd I miss it? After crashing his head into her side window the dinky car won't start. Sure, that makes sense.
She's on foot again and walking around (no budget for gas?). And walking around a lot (before the next beat kicks in.) Wait, now she's running. Waiting for that damn beat!
A twig snaps, she pulls out her gun, a woman comes stumbling towards her, arms outstretched in front. The woman is blind. Seems okay and not infected. Lucie (Mirella Rancelot) has been going around and around since the morning. Elizabeth and Lucie now stroll toward the village, chatting, arm in arm. They take the long way around.
(Finally, the next beat kicks in. This movie screams "edit me!")
They come across a dead guy, then a lot of dead guys. Lots of time spent walking through the carnage of dead guys. Lucie keeps insisting on knowing what's happened. Elizabeth doesn't tell her. Not sure why. Lucie starts screaming "Luca," looking for him, but then they're walking again.
(Note: I don't think there was this much walking in the Lord of the Rings movies, combined.)
Both women hugging each other now as they walk. Finally, they find Lucie's house. Where's Lucas (Paul Bisciglia)? If Lucie pores a glass of wine for Elizabeth I'm going to--wait, Lucas shows up, not looking too good. More infected people show up. They're not looking so good, either. Whole village must be wine drinkers. Lucie stumbles off on her own, Elizabeth pulls out her gun and loads it. (Wait. Where'd she get more bullets? Crap! I thought I was paying attention.)
Lucie, now walking, with villagers descending on her. Pretty creepy scene. She keeps calling for Lucas. More close-ups of zombiefied faces. Lucie tells them to go away, thinking they're there to make fun of her. They don't (go away or make fun of her). She starts walking again, through them.
Let's see how long this takes before the next beat kicks in. Rollin's going for a record here, I know it.
Lucas finds her. He's all weird, starts drooling and laughing. And promptly strangles her with a rope as the villagers watch. Lucie's screams don't prompt much urgency from Elizabeth. She does manage to shoot one villager, though, then finds Lucie nailed, topless of course, to a farmhouse door.
Lucas brandishes axe. Really bad special effect of Lucie's fake head being chopped off her blatantly obvious dummy body ensues--in close-ups, and Lucas carries the head around by its long hair. (Note: Wait a mo, when did Romero do The Crazies? Right, 1973. Rollin must have seen it. This whole rabid village thing is a lot like The Crazies in spirit.)
Lucas chases Elizabeth, head in hand. Villagers stagger after them. She runs away. Again. Then she's pulled into a house by a blond bombshell. (Note: It's Brigitte Lahaie the porn actress!) They sit on a couch and chat away. Lahaie pores Elizabeth a drink, too. Can't beat that country hospitality.
And they chat some more.
We are told the house's owners are dead, but she had the key, so the house is hers now. Good foreshadowing as to who may have killed them. Really subtle. Hint, hint. Lahaie says the villagers try to get in every night but they can't (that scenario sounds familiar? --yes, Vincent' Price's The Last Man on Earth). Then she changes clothes so they can go out to find safety. Say what? If the villagers can't get in, they were safe inside weren't they?
And Lahaie's acting pretty weird; enough to connect the dots for us, but Elizabeth remains clueless. I sense more running in her future.
Lahaie tricks Elizabeth and the villagers come around. Wow, didn't see that coming. More close-ups of badly made up infected faces. Lots of prolonged hysterics. Lots of villagers-mingling-around shots to fill time between beats.
La grande femme blonde (as Brigitte "Lahaye" is noted in the credits) soon carries a large torch and holds onto two mean-looking dogs (so what's Rollin implying here?). More annoying closeups fill time until two guys can drive up in their truck with rifles and dynamite.
Yes! --I mean, of course Rollin has her disrobe to show the two guys she's not infected. How could Rollin not let Lahaye (nee Lahaie) showcase her assets to the fullest?
More running ensues as Elizabeth escapes while the two guys get an eyeful. And more close-ups of faces ogling through their infections wastes camera time. Elizabeth returns with the torch, but not the dogs, gets too close to Lahaye, and they start fighting. The two guys almost shoot her, but realize she's not infected and Lahaye is the crazy one. Lahaye grabs the torch and blows up the truck and herself.
Which leaves us with the two guys and Elizabeth walking. Again.
(Note: mention the really annoyingly inappropriate score to this movie while they walk. A monkey with a zither could do better.)
Daylight. They pause for a long chatty rest. Continue walking, do some climbing, then chat some more about needing a pint of beer, realize they just missed the New Wine Festival (could definitely use the Song of the New Wine from Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man to liven this turkey up), argue over military bases and nuke plants, and politics (I swear to god this is torture to listen to), and who should carry the lone rifle they have. Obviously Elizabeth should, since she can shoot well and produce bullets when needed. And she looked like such a dainty little thing, too. Go figure.
They finally arrive at a farmhouse. One guy makes a phone call while the other plunders the larder and pulls out the food. Ah, French movies. The two guys drink wine (guess they missed the memo about the tainted wine?) and argue a lot, then agree to disagree. She leaves to stagger around outside. She staggers into the barn. Staggers up the barn stairs. Conveniently finds her friend, Lucien (Serge Marquand), hanging out in the barn. Seems a bit abrupt to have him just appear.
He's infected. They talk about it. He created the pesticide that's killing everybody. They talk about that. He's feeling equally guilty and homicidal. She gets closer to her boyfriend and hugs him, infected warts and all. Ah, the French and true love.
The two guys stop arguing and realize Elizabeth had left. They go looking for her. One of them shoots Lucien dead. She then shoots the two guys dead. One last, long, closeup of blood dripping onto her face as the credits roll. My guess is she became infected, too. The end.
Like I said, just open a bottle and have at it. Forget this one, unless you like smelly cheese with your wine.