Saturday, October 28, 2023

"Broom-Stick Bunny" (1956)

Among the best loved Warner Bros. animated cartoons is "Broom-Stick Bunny," directed by Chuck Jones. It marks the second time that Bugs Bunny faced off against Witch Hazel, the first being "Bewitched Bunny" (1954). It is also one of the few Warner Bros. cartoons set at Halloween, and even involves the custom of trick or treating. For many fans of Warner Bros. animated theatrical shorts, it remains a favourite, particularly among those cartoons featuring Witch Hazel.

"Broom-Stick Bunny" opens with Witch Hazel (June Foray) making a potion. She goes to her magical mirror and asks the mirror who is the ugliest of them all. The mirror (Mel Blanc) informs her that she is the ugliest of them all. This is a point of pride for Witch Hazel, as she worries that she will grow prettier as she gets older. This being Halloween, Bugs Bunny (Mel Blanc) is going trick or treating dressed in a witch costume, complete with a ugly green mask. Bugs goes to Witch Hazel's house and when she answers the door she remarks that "she"is the "...ugliest little thing." This causes concern to Witch Hazel, who rushes to her mirror and asks again who is the ugliest of them all. The mirror informs her that she was the ugliest of them all, but adds that Bugs is far uglier. Witch Hazel then invites Bugs inside for tea, which she spikes with "pretty pills" so that she might regain her status as the ugliest one of them all. Bugs switches the teacups and then removes his mask to drink the tea. Unfortunately for Bugs, Witch Hazel realizes that the last ingredient she needs for her potion is a rabbit's clavicle. She then proceeds to chase Bugs before finally capturing him and tying him up. She is about to kill him with a meat cleaver when Bug's sad look reminds her of her late, lamented pet tarantula, Paul. She breaks down crying. Taking pity on Witch Hazel, Bugs gets free and then brings her one of the cups of tea to cheer her up. Unfortunately for Witch Hazel, it happens to be the tea spiked with pretty pills. Witch Hazel's worst fears then come true, as she is transformed into a beautiful, shapely redhead.

Although she is the most famous character by that name, Warner Bros.' Witch Hazel was not the first animated character named "Witch Hazel." A character named Witch Hazel also appeared in the 1952 Walt Disney animated short "Trick or Treat." In fact, Disney's Witch Hazel was also voiced by June Foray. She was a very different character from Warner Bros.' Witch Hazel, even helping Huey, Dewey, and Louie get treats from their uncle Donald Duck. And while June Foray provided Warner Bros.' Witch Hazel with an American accent, she gave the Disney version a British accent. As to why Warner Bros. did not get into legal trouble with Disney over the name, the phrase"witch hazel" was already being used in commercial products well before "Trick or Treat" (1952), not to mention a character also called Witch Hazel was a recurring character the pages of Little Lulu before Disney's animated short.. Disney then had no real claim on the name.

As mentioned above Warner Bros.' Witch Hazel originated in "Bewitched Bunny" (1954). It was directed by Chuck Jones, with a story by Michael Maltese. Long time Warner Bros. voice actor Bea Benaderet voiced Witch Hazel in that cartoon. As to June Foray, she had previously worked for Warner Bros., voicing Granny in the Sylvester and Tweety short "Red Riding Hoodwinked" (1955) and the Bugs Bunny short "This is the Life?" (1955).  She would go onto voice Granny for nearly sixty years.

Both "Red Riding Hoodwinked" and "This is the Life?" were directed by Friz Freleng, so when June Foray's agent contacted her about working on another Warner Bros. short, she had no idea who Chuck Jones was. "Broom-Stick Bunny" was then the first time that Chuck Jones and June Foray ever worked together. While Mel Blanc was in the studio with June Foray when she recorded her part, she actually recorded her voice first as sometimes they would speed Mel Blanc's voice up. For most of the cartoon June Foray used her Witch Hazel voice, but when the tea spiked with pretty pills made Witch Hazel beautiful, she switched to her natural voice. In her commentary on "Broom-Stick Bunny," June Foray stated her belief that Chuck Jones patterned the look of the now beautiful Witch Hazel on her, as the character wore her hair the same way and dressed as June Foray did at the time. Given June Foray was always attractive, it seems quite possible that Chuck Jones did use her as inspiration for the now beautiful Witch Hazel. Like Granny, June Foray voiced Witch Hazel for nearly sixty years.

"Broom-Stick Bunny" was written by Tedd Pierce, who had already written several Warner Bros. animated shorts, as well as Fleischer Studios' feature film Gulliver's Travels (1939). Tedd Pierce not only served as a writer on animated cartoons, but also as a voice actor. He provided voices for various Fleischer shorts, as well as their feature films Gulliver's Travels and Mr. Bug Goes to Town (1941), and several Warner Bros. cartoons as well.

As mentioned above, "Broom-Stick Bunny" marked the first time June Foray and Chuck Jones worked together. They would work together many more times. Beyond the Warner Bros. animated shorts, they also worked on the Tom and Jerry shorts that Chuck Jones made for MGM. She would work on several animated specials directed by Chuck Jones, including the voice of Cindy Lou Who in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas!, as well as  voices for such specials as The Pogo Special Birthday Special, Horton Hears a Who!, The Cricket in Times Square, and The White Seal. They also worked together on the TV series Off to See the Wizard and the feature film The Phantom Tollbooth (1970).

"Broom-Stick Bunny" was included in the 1977 television special Bugs Bunny's Howl-oween Special. It was released on VHS in 1984 collection The Looney Tunes Video Show and several more times on various Bugs Bunny collections. It was released on DVD in 2004 as part of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 2. It has been since included on several DVD collections, as well as on the Blu-Ray collection Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 1. Currently it does not appear to be available on streaming (one would think it would be on Max).

"Broom-Stick Bunny" was in many ways a historic animated cartoon. It marked the first time June Foray voiced Witch Hazel, and the first time she and Chuck Jones ever worked together. It marked the second appearance of Witch Hazel, thus further establishing her as one of the cast of Warner Bros. cartoon characters. It also remains a favourite of fans of Warner Bros. cartoons, particularly at Halloween.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Halloween Pranks

Pranks or "tricks," if you prefer, have been a part of Halloween for centuries. The custom of pulling pranks on the holiday originated in Scotland, so that Scottish immigrants brought both the celebration of Halloween and the custom of Halloween pranks to the United States. And while Halloween pranks are less common than they once were in the 20th Century, they have never gone away completely.

According to the book Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain by Ronald Hutton and other sources, playing pranks at Halloween dates from at least the 18th Century in the Scottish Highlands and Ireland. An early example of the association of pranks with Halloween can be see in the poem "Halloween" by Scottish poet John Mayne, who wrote in the poem, "what fearful pranks ensue!"

When Scottish individuals migrated to the British Colonies and later the United States in the 18th and 19th Centuries, they brought the celebration of Halloween with them, including the custom of pulling pranks. Pulling pranks on Halloween is attested as early as 1862. An article in the November 1 1862 issue of The Inquirer of Lancaster, Pennsylvania mentions boys showering "corn, gravel, and other such harmless missiles" against people's windows. While the pranks described in The Inquirer were harmless, often times Halloween pranks could possibly be dangerous. According to the article "Halloween Was Once So Dangerous That Some Cities Considered Banning It" on History.Com, on October 31 1979 an engineer for the Louisville Short Line had to pull the brake on his train as it went through Newport, Kentucky due to what appeared to be a body lying on the tracks. It turned out to simply be a stuffed dummy placed there by 200 boys who were hiding along the tracks.

While that particular prank could have proven dangerous to the passengers on the Louisville Short Line, other times pulling pranks could be dangerous to the pranksters themselves. The November 1 1893 issue of The Public Ledger of Maysville, Kentucky mentions an incident in which nightwatchman John Brewer at Ohio State University shot and seriously wounded one of a group of students who were in engaged in pulling pranks. A squad of police had to be sent to the scene.

Fortunately, most Halloween pranks did not end in damage to property or people. According to the article "When Halloween Was All Tricks and No Treats" from October 27 2017 on Smithsonian Magazine's website, in 1894 two hundred boys in Washington, DC attacked people on streetcars with bangs of flour. Of course, the use of flour in Halloween pranks will be familiar to anyone who has read the novel Meet Me in St. Louis by Sally Benson or seen the 1944 movie based on the book. In Meet Me in Halloween, children throw flour on individuals, those individuals then being said to have been "killed." Along with throwing flour on people, soaping windows was also a popular Halloween prank in the 20th Century. The November 1 1910 issue of the St. Joseph News-Press reported that not much vandalism occurred that Halloween, but two police officers patrolling Eighth and Fifth Streets noticed that every shop window for three blocks had been soaped.

Among the many other pranks popular in the early 20th Century were ringing doorbells and then running away, removing street signs and placing them in other places, and turning over trash cans. Some Halloween pranks could involve some rather large, unexpected objects. My father grew up in the late Twenties and early Thirties and told me of some of the Halloween pranks pulled at the time. One time the boys took the local schoolmaster's wagon and managed to get it atop the schoolhouse. A popular prank in my father's crowd was also moving outhouses.

The now popular custom of trick or treating appears to have grown out of the custom of pulling pranks. The first known use of the phrase "trick or treat" in print occurred in the November 4 1927 issue of the Herald (published in Lethbridge, Alberta) in an article on how youngsters in Blackie,Alberta were at back and front doors demanding, "trick or treat." One can only guess that at some point some rather intelligent children in Canada realized they could use the threat of pranks or "tricks" as a means of getting candy or other treats. The custom apparently spread from Alberta to the United States by 1934, when it is mentioned in at least three different newspapers: the Oregon Journal, the Helena Independent, and the Chicago Tribune. Trick or treating would spread westward in the United States until it had reached the east coast in the late Thirties.

While some newspapers of the Thirties had a tendency to approach trick or treating negatively, sometimes even describing it as a form of extortion, other newspapers treated the custom in a positive fashion. The reason was simply that with the arrival of the custom of trick or treating, the sort of vandalism seen on  previous Halloween nights declined. The November 1 1938 issue of The Reno Evening Gazette noted in an article on trick or treating that the Halloween of that year was "... one of the quietest Halloweens on record."

Trick or treating would not be the only reason for the decline in Halloween pranks. As the 20th Century progressed, particularly following World War II, Halloween parties held indoors became popular, giving youngsters something other to do than ring doorbells or soap windows. Both trick or treating and indoor Halloween parties may have seemed much more appealing to some youths than simply pulling pranks.

Of course, pulling pranks on Halloween has never completely gone away. As a kid I remember the day after Halloween seeing soap covered store windows and even the occasional house and trees covered in toilet paper. Pranks are still being pulled to this day. Indeed, since the Nineties many pranks have been played online. Halloween pranks may not be a as popular as they once were, but they will continue to be a part of Halloween for years to come.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and even a few older Millennials may remember an animated adaptation of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" that would sometimes air around Halloween on the Walt Disney anthology series (variously titled Disneyland, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, The Wonderful World of Disney, and so on). Although many may remember it best for airing on its own on the Walt Disney anthology series, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" had originated as part of the package film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949).

The origins of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad go back to 1940, when Walt Disney Productions began work on a planned feature film adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's novel The Wind in the Willows, initially titled The Magnificent Mr. Toad. Production on Disney's animated version of The Wind in the Willows would be halted and started back up numerous times. It was as early as 1943 that Walt Disney considered making The Wind in the Willows one half of a package film, with The Legend of Happy Valley (which evolved into the segment "Mickey and the Beanstalk in the 1947 package film Fun and Fancy Free) or Road Dahl's original story The Gremlins. The Wind and the Willows would be shelved again in 1947.

Like The Wind and the Willows, it was originally planned for "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" to be a feature film. Production on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow began early in 1947. By November 1947, it was decided to combine "The Wind and the Willows" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" into a package film to be called Two Fabulous Characters. It was finally titled The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad and released on October 5 1949.

As to the source material, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is a shot story written by Washington Irving and published in 1820 as part of his work The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. It is set in 1790 around the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town, and a glen known as Sleepy Hollow. Sleepy Hollow is well known for its many legends of ghosts. Among these legends is that of the Headless Horseman, also known as the Galloping Hessian. The Horseman was a Hessian trooper whose head had been taken off by a cannonball during "some nameless battle" of the American Revolution. Ichabod Crane was a very superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut who settled in Tarry Town. He became rivals with local tough Abraham "Brom Bones" Van Brunt for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. It was at the Van Tassel's harvest party that Brom and other locals filled Ichabod's head full of various ghost stories, including the one about the Headless Horseman. It was on the way home that Ichabod encounters the Headless Horseman, although it is heavily implied this is Brom rather than an actual ghost. Regardless, the following morning no trace is found of Ichabod Crane.

Despite the title, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" actually follows "The Wind in the Willows" segment. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was narrated by Bing Crosby. It featured the voice of Pinto Colivg as Ichabod Crane and assorted townspeople. Pinto Colvig is familiar to Disney fans as the voices of Goofy and Pluto. Clarence Nash, famous as the voice of Donald Duck, provided the voice of Ichabod's horse. The laughter of the Headless Horseman was provided by Billy Bletcher, who had voiced Mickey Mouse's archenemy Pete and the Big Bad Wolf in the classic Disney short "Three Little Pigs."  Beyond his work with Disney, he had appeared in Our Gang and Three Stooges shorts.

Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is largely faithful to Washington Irving's original short story, although some changes were made. Perhaps the biggest change was in tone. Although it features some of Washington Irving's well-known humour, the original story is one of the earliest examples of American horror. Except for its climax, Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is altogether more light-hearted and whimsical. Among the other changes to the source material is the Van Tassels' party. In the original short story it is a "harvest party." In Disney's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" it is a Halloween party. This is a bit of an anachronism, as Halloween really would not take hold in the United States until the 19th Century, brought over by Scottish immigrants. It would not have been celebrated in a Dutch settlement in New York in the 18th Century. Another change is in the nature of the Headless Horseman who pursues Ichabod Crane. In the short story it is hinted that the Horseman was actually Brom in disguise. In Disney's version, we are led to believe that the Headless Horseman is an actual ghost. Disney's version also omits the Headless Horseman's origin as a Hessian mercenary killed during the Revolutionary War.

Like the "Wind and the Willows" segment before it, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" features songs ("Ichabod Crane," "Katrina," and "The Headless Horseman."). The songs were written by Don Raye & Gene de Paul. The two songwriters wrote the hits "Daddy-O, I'm Gonna Teach You Some Blues" and "I'll Remember April." The songs were performed by Bing Crosby & Jud Conlon's Rhythmaires.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was released on October 5 1949. The film received positive reviews from critics, although many of them displayed a preference for the "Wind in the Willows" segment to the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" segment. It has since remained highly regarded. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad also did very well at the box office. It made $1,625,000 worldwide.

While The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad was highly regarded by critics and did well at the box office, the two segments that comprised it would be separated in the Fifties. "The Wind in the Willows" aired on its own for the first time on February 2 1955 on Disneyland. The following season "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" first aired on Dsineyland, on October 26 1955. It was preceded by a fourteen minute animated biography of Washington Irving that would accompany it when it was repeated. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" would air several more times around Halloween on the Walt Disney anthology series under its various titles. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" was released theatrically as a stand-alone featurette on November 26 1958. It was released again in September 1963.

The two segments having been separated, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad would not be seen for many years. It was finally released on VHS in the UK in 1991 and in the US in 1992. It was released on DVD in 2002. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad has been available on Disney+ ever since it launched in 2019. As to "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," it would be released on VHS in 1982 and again in 1990 and 1994.

While I must admit that I prefer the "Wind and the Willows" segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, I have fond memories of watching the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" segment on The Wonderful World of Disney around Halloween as a kid. While it does depart from the original short story in some ways, it does have a charm all its own. And there is no Disney villain nearly as frightening as the Headless Horseman.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

The 45th Anniversary of Halloween (1978)

It was 45 years ago, on October 25 1978, that John Carpenter's classic horror movie Halloween (1978) was released. Although regarded as a classic now, many critics at the time were dismissive of the film, with only a very few praising it. Audiences apparently did not agree with the critics, as the movie did well at the box office despite very little in the way of promotion. In the end it would prove to be one of the most influential horror movies of all time, sparking a host of imitators and a cycle of slasher movies that lasted into the Eighties.

Of course, Halloween was not the first slasher movie. Both the Val Lewton film The Leopard Man (1943) and the Sherlock Holmes movie The Scarlet Claw (1944) can be considered forerunners of the genre. Peeping Tom  (1960) and Psycho (1960) would have a huge impact on the genre, and there are those who would classify both movies as outright slasher movies. Psycho would be followed by several imitators, including a entire series of psychological horror movies from Hammer (including 1961's Taste of Fear and 1963's Maniac) and William Castle's Strait-Jacket (1964). Also emerging in the Sixties were such giallo films as Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964), which would also prove to be an influence on slasher movies. The Seventies would see the release of such outright slasher movies as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Black Christmas (1974). Black Christmas in particular can be considered a forerunner of Halloween (1978) in that it includes a holiday theme, young women being victimized, and even its own Final Girl (the last woman left alive in a slasher movie who confronts the killer in the end).

For those unfamiliar with Halloween (1978), the movie centres on the return of Michael Myers to his home town of Haddonfield, Illinois. When he was only six years old Myers had stabbed his teenage sister to death. Escaping from custody on October 30 1978, he makes his way back to his home town, where he begins a killing spree. There is a lot more to the movie than that, but I really don't want to give it away for the few people who have never seen it.

The origins of Halloween (1978) go back to its producer Irwin Yablans, who, after attending the Milan Film Festival, conceived the idea of a movie in which babysitters are terrorized by a killer. It was also Irwin Yablans who came up with the idea of the movie being set at Halloween. Irwin Yablans had seen Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), directed by John Carpenter, at the Milan Film Festival, and he thought Mr. Carpenter would be a good fit for his movie in which a psychopath is stalking babysitters. John Carpenter agreed to direct the movie only so long as he had complete creative control. Ultimately, he not only directed Halloween (1978), but he also scored the film and co-wrote the screenplay with his girlfriend of the time Debra Hill. For all of this he was paid $10,000.

As to the screenplay, Debra Hill had been a babysitter when she was a teenager, and she wrote most of the female character's dialogue. John Carpenter handled much of the dialogue of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), Michael Myer's psychiatrist. Debra Hill had grown up in Haddonfield, New Jersey, so that name was used for the fictional town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Many of the street names in the movie were drawn from John Carpenter's home town of Bowling Green, Kentucky. For the backstory of Michael Myers, John Carpenter used the haunted house legends common to small towns. Much of the character of Michael Myers also came from a trip John Carpenter had made in college while in psychology classes to a mental institution, including a ward where the most disturbed patients were kept. Some of the names of the characters in Halloween (1978) were inspired by the cinema. Sheriff Leigh Brackett's name was taken from Leigh Brackett, the screenwriter of such classics as The Big Sleep (1946) and Rio Bravo (1959), and a science fiction author often known as "the Queen of Space Opera." Both Dr. Loomis and Tommy Doyle's names came from Hitchcock movies, Dr. Loomis's name from the character of Sam Loomis (John Gavin) in Psycho and Tommy Doyle's name from Lt. Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey) in Rear Window (1954).

Although Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance are now so firmly identified with their roles that it is hard picturing anyone else playing Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis, the movie could have had a very different cast. Legendary horror actor Peter Cushing was approached about playing Dr. Loomis, but his agent turned the role down to the small salary. Peter Cushing's frequent co-star Christopher Lee was then approached for the role of Dr. Loomis, but he turned it down for fear that he would continue to be typecast in horror movie roles. It was producer Irwin Yablans who suggested Donald Pleasance for the role of Dr. Loomis. For the role of Laurie Strode, John Carpenter had wanted Anne Lockhart, the daughter of actress June Lockhart of Lassie and Lost in Space fame. It turned out that Anne Lockhart was unavailable due to prior commitments. John Carpenter also considered another unnamed actress who appeared in Jaws 2 (1978). That would likely be Ann Dusenberry, who is the same age as Anne Lockhart.  Ultimately, Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of Janet Leigh (who played Marion in Psycho) and Tony Curtis, was cast as Laurie. At that point in her career, Jamie Lee Curtis had appeared in guest appearances on television and had a regular role on the short-lived sitcom Operation Petticoat. Halloween (1978) marked her movie debut.

The role of Anne Brackett, the daughter of Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) and Laurie's friend, was filled by Nancy Kyes, who had appeared in John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13.  P. J. Soles was cast as Lynda Van Der Klok, another one of Laurie's friends. P.J. Soles had already appeared in a classic horror movie, Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976), as well as various television appearances (including the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble). She would later star in the cult film Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979).

The budget for Halloween (1978) was extremely small for the era, only around $300,000. It also had a tight shooting schedule. It was filmed in 20 days. Halloween (1978) also had to be shot around Donald Pleasance's busy schedule. That the movie was shot in the spring of 1978 complicated matters. Pumpkins were hard to come by, and artificial fall leaves had to be used in multiple scenes. Because the budget was so low, many of the actors wore their own clothes. The entire wardrobe for Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie was purchased at J.C. Penney for about $100. Props in the movie had to be bought inexpensively or often made by hand. Even Michael Myers's famous mask cost very little. Two masks were bought. One was an Emmet Kelly mask from Don Post. It was decided that it was not frightening enough. The mask ultimately used in the movie was one of Captain James T. Kirk from Star Trek, bought on Hollywood Boulevard for $1.98. Production designer Tommy Lee Wallace widened the eye holes on the mask and painted it a bluish white.

As a low-budget, independent feature, Halloween (1978) was shot on location around Los Angeles County. Locations were chosen for their resemblance to small, Midwestern towns and as few palm trees as possible (although a few do creep into some frames). Much of the film was shot in a small Los Angeles County town I won't mention due to personal reasons (my long-time readers know which town I am talking about and why I won't mention it), including Lynda's house (on Montrose Avenue), Michael Myer's home (on Mission Street), the hardware store (The Frame Shop on Mission Street), Laurie's house (on Oxley Street), and various other places around town. Other scenes were shot in other locations around Los Angeles County. The Smith's Grove Sanitarium was actually La Vina Respiratory Hospital in Altadena, California. The Wallace's home and the Doyle's home were both on Orange Grove Avenue in Hollywood. The cemetery in Halloween (1978) is Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery. The elementary school in Haddonfield was actually Garfield Elementary in Alhambra. Yet other scenes were shot in City of Industry, Rosemead, Burbank, and Pasadena.

Halloween (1978) premiered on October 24 1978 at the AMC Empire Theatre in Kansas City, Missouri. It was released the following day, on October 25 1978. As mentioned above, while Halloween (1978) is now regarded as a classic, many critics at the time were dismissive of the film. Pauline Kael in The New Yorker was particularly hard on the film, stating in her review, "...the style is reminiscent of the Halloween episode in Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis. But Carpenter isn’t very gifted with actors, and he doesn’t seem to have any feeling at all for motivation or for plot logic. Halloween has a pitiful, amateurish script (by Carpenter and his producer, Debra Hill)." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post also gave the movie a negative review, writing, "Since there is precious little character or plot development to pass the time between stalking sequences, one tends to wish the killer would get on with it." Lou Cedrone in The Baltimore Evening Sun referred to Halloween (1978) as being "tediously familiar."

Halloween (1978) did receive its share of positive reviews. Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune called it, "a beautifully made thriller." His fellow Chicago critic, Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times, also gave it a positive review, stating, "Halloween is a visceral experience--we aren't seeing the movie, we're having it happen to us. It's frightening. Maybe you don't like movies that are really scary: Then don't see this one." Tom Allen in The Village Voice also praised Halloween (1978), opening his review with "It’s useless to take a lofty view on an instant schlock horror classic, but there are reasons why John Carpenter’s Halloween, alone in the last decade, stands with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and, before that, with Psycho, in which Hitchcock subverted the subgenre to different ends." Since the initial release of the film, time has proven those critics who gave Halloween (1978) positive reviews right. It is considered a classic and currently boasts a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

As mentioned in the opening of this post, while some critics were dismissive of Halloween (1978), audiences embraced the film. As an independent, low-budget film it had little in the way of a promotional budget, so that it primarily relied on word of mouth to draw audiences into theatres. Despite this, it ultimately made $70 million worldwide. This made it the most profitable independent film for its time. It was because of the success of Halloween (1978) that NBC paid about $3 million for the television rights to the film. John Carpenter and NBC's Broadcast Standards fought about various cuts to the film, and as Halloween (1978) was only 91 minutes, an additional twelve minutes were filmed by Mr .Carpenter for the network broadcast. Halloween  (1978) made its television debut on NBC on October 30 1981.

Of course, the success of Halloween (1978) meant that there would be sequels. The first of these, Halloween II (1981), was released on October 30 1981 and takes place almost immediately following the events of Halloween (1978). Halloween II would not repeat the success of the first movie, although it did respectably well at the box office. With the third sequel, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). John Carpenter and Debra Hill returned as producers, but only on the condition that the movie would not be a direct sequel to Halloween (1978). John Carpenter and Debra Hill reconceived the Halloween series as a series of stand-alone movies in which each film centred around the holiday of Halloween. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is then the only Halloween movie in which Michael Myers does not appear. Unfortunately, Halloween III: Season of the Witch not only received negative reviews, but did not perform as well as expected at the box office. It has since become a cult film.

Given the box office disappointment of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the next film would be a direct sequel to Halloween (1978), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988). It would be followed by Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) and Halloween 5: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995). The next movie, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), ignored all of the movies following Halloween II and was Jamie Lee Curtis's first Halloween movie since Halloween 4. It was followed by a sequel, Halloween Resurrection (2002).

It was in 2007 that a "reimagining" of Halloween (1978), Halloween (2007), directed by Rob Zombie, was released. It was followed by a sequel, Halloween II (2009). The two films directed by Rob Zombie would be followed by Halloween (2018). Despite its title, Halloween (2018) was not a remake of Halloween (1978), but instead a direct sequel to the film, ignoring all the previous sequels (including 1981's Halloween II). It has been followed by the sequels Halloween Kills (2021) and Halloween Ends (2022). All three films star Jamie Lee Curtis as an older Laurie Strode.

Halloween (1978) would prove to be one of the most influential horror movies of all time. It spawned a cycle of slasher movies that lasted from the late Seventies into the Eighties. It was followed by a slough of slasher movies, such as Friday the 13th (1980), Prom Night (1980), Graduation Day (1981), and My Bloody Valentine (1981), often centred around a holiday or special event. Most of these slasher films would be more graphic and featured more gore than Halloween (1978), which featured almost no graphic violence. Unfortunately, with but a few exceptions, the slasher films following Halloween (1978) were often poorly made and followed a strict formula. Halloween (1978) would even have an influence on horror movies outside the slasher genre. Although often counted as a slasher movie, given Freddy Krueger is essentially a ghost who can manipulates dreams, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is better counted as a supernatural horror movie that was heavily influenced by Halloween (1978). The same can be said of Candyman (1992). Ultimately, there are probably very few horror movies in the last forty years, whether they are slasher movies or not, that have not been influenced by Halloween (1978) in some way, shape, or form.

Another way in which Halloween (1978) would prove influential is the fact that it was the most successful independent film of its time. This opened the doors for other independent films, whether they were horror movies or not. The movie Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989) would prove that not only could independent movies be financially successful, but they could receive a good deal of acclaim as well. Low-budget, independent movies would find more opportunities for wide releases, through such venues as Focus Features, Fox Spotlight, Miramax, Savoy Pictures, and Sony Pictures Classics.

Halloween (1978) was also pivotal in the career of John Carpenter. While he had gained notice with his second film, Assault on Precinct 13, it was Halloween (1978) that would put John Carpenter on the map. He would go onto direct such films as Escape from New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Christine (1983), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), and They Live (1988). He is now counted as one of the greatest horror directors of all time. It also launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis. She would go onto appear in such movies as Trading Places (1983), A Fish Called Wanda (1988), True Lies (1994), and  Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022), among other films.

Dismissed by some critics upon its original release,  Halloween (1978) is now regarded as a classic and often makes lists of the greatest horror movies of all time. It launched the cycle of slasher movies that lasted into the Eighties, and its influence is still being felt to this day. Few films, let alone horror movies, have had the impact that Halloween (1978) had.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The Andy Griffith Show: "The Haunted House"

Among the favourite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show is the fourth season episode "The Haunted House." The episode is often counted as the only Halloween episode of The Andy Griffith Show, although the episode is not set around the holiday nor is Halloween ever mentioned. Even so, the episode first aired on October 7 1963, making it quite possible that "The Haunted House" was meant to capitalize on Halloween.

In "The Haunted House" Sheriff Andy Taylor's (Andy Griffith) son Opie (Ronnie Howard) and his friend Arnold (Ronnie Dapo) are playing with a baseball when it goes through the window of the deserted Rimshaw House on the edge of Mayberry. The boys are reticent to retrieve their ball as the old Rimshaw House is reputed to be haunted. When Opie tells Andy about the incident, Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts) argues that Andy should have made the boys retrieve the ball, even though he is hesitant when Andy makes the suggestion that Barney gets the ball for the boys. It is then that Andy, Barney, and gas station attendant Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) go to the Rimshaw House to get the ball. As it turns out Barney and Gomer are even more superstitious than Opie and Arnold, a situation made all the worse by strange sounds, a painting with eyes that seems to watch one's every move, and other strange goings on. Of course, while Barney and Gomer think the old Rimshaw House could be haunted, Andy suspects there is a rational explanation for everything.

It should come as no surprise that The Andy Griffith Show would feature a "haunted house" episode, as haunted houses have a long history on stage, in film,  and television going back to the play The Cat and the Canary. Prior to The Andy Griffith Show, Leave It to Beaver, Dennis the Menace, My Three Sons, and The Donna Reed Show had all done "haunted house" episodes. The Dick Van Dyke Show did one the same season as The Andy Griffith Show, "The Ghost of a A. Chantz," which aired only a few days before "The Haunted House," on September 30 1963.

"The Haunted House" was written by Harvey Bullock, who had written for such shows as Top Cat, The Real McCoys, and Make Room for Daddy. He had been writing for The Andy Griffith Show since the second season, and had already written several episodes of the show before "The Haunted House," including "Mr. McBeevee," "Andy's English Valet," and "The Big House." "The Haunted House" marked the first episode ever directed by Earl Belllamy, who would go onto direct several more episodes of the show. He had directed many episodes of The Lone Ranger, Tales of Wells Fargo, and Bachelor Father, among other shows.

Of course, among the stars of "The Haunted House' was the old Rimshaw House itself, which was located on the Desilu backlot where The Andy Griffith Show was filmed. It was in 1957 that Desilu had bought RKO's production facilities, which included RKO Forty Acres, the Hollywood studio's rather extensive backlot. Among the many films shot, at least in part, at RKO Forty Acres was Gone with the Wind (1939). The Rimshaw House in "The Haunted House" was Aunt Pittypat's House in Gone with the Wind and appeared in several other RKO movies. Although portrayed as being on the edge of Mayberry in "The Haunted House," "the Rimshaw House" was actually located not far from Andy Taylor's house on the lot. On The Andy Griffith Show it also served as the home of Mayor Stoner (Parley Bear), Clara Edwards (Hope Summers), and Mayberry's pastor called both Reverend Tucker and Reverend Martin ( (William Keene).

Aside from being considered by many to be the only Halloween episode of The Andy Griffith Show, "The Haunted House" is also notable for inspiring a movie. It was at the end of the fifth season that Don Knotts left the show to pursue a movie career. He signed a contract with Universal Pictures to make five films. It should not be surprising that Don Knotts's first movie under his contract to Universal was largely patterned after Mayberry. Indeed, it seems obvious that The Ghost and Mr. Chicken could have been inspired by "The Haunted House." In The Ghost and Mr. Chicken Don Knotts played a typesetter, Luther Heggs, for the Rachel Courier Express in the small town of Rachel City, Kansas. After making a report of a murder near the old Simmons Mansion, reputed to be haunted, that turns out to be nothing more the town crunk being knocked out by his wife, he is mocked by people around town. Ultimately, Luther finds himself assigned by his editor to spend the night at the Simmons Mansion, which Luther initially thinks to be haunted. Of course, as in "The Haunted House," there is a rational explanation for everything. The small town of Rachel City is a small town much like Mayberry, filled with eccentric characters. What is more, some of those characters are played by veterans of The Andy Griffith Show, including Hal Smith, Hope Summers, and Burt Muslin.  Furthermore, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken was written by two veteran writers of The Andy Griffith Show, Jim Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum. The pair wrote some of the best known episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, including "The Bank Job," "Man in a Hurry," and "Citizen's Arrest." Everett Greenbaum's voice can even be heard in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken every time someone shouts, "Attaboy, Luther!." The movie was directed by Alan Rafkin, who had directed several episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.

"The Haunted House" remains one of the favourite episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Much of this is due to the fact that the entire cast is in top form, from Andy Griffith to Don Knotts to Jim Nabors to Hal Smith. The script by Harvey Bullock is also excellent, and like any good horror comedy contains some genuine scares. Whether it was meant to be a Halloween episode is perhaps besides the point. It is perfect viewing for the holiday.