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Fright Sampler

Some more treats to dip into--pretend my head is but the hollow pumpkin in which goodies for await. Or some such. Dip freely!

Bus Stop was an American television show that aired for twenty-eight episodes, from October 1961 to March of the next year, and that was it. The last episode, "I Kiss Your Shadow," was a departure from every previous episode. It's about a man who is grieving his deceased wife, when the supernatural starts to get involved. It's as if they thought, you know what, we weren't renewed for a second season, screw it, let's do this totally out of character super scary one.

People tend not to know this nowadays, but during Hollywood's glory days of the late 1930s and into the early 1950s, movies were often recreated in radio productions after the fact with members of the original cast. For instance, you can hear, if you wish, Jimmy Stewart perform It's a Wonderful Life two more times. These programs were speedy, condensed versions, but that had different line readings, inflections, etc. This is a very effective radio treatment of 1944's The Uninvited, from 1949, with Ray Milland back in the fold. The film is a personal favorite of mine--I rate it as the best haunted house film ever.

Two from Disney, cartoons. Disney always had creepy and/or witty cartoons that are apt for this time of year. In 1937's Lonesome Ghosts, you can hear Donald Duck coin what became a catch phrase associated with the Ghostbusters franchise. Came out on Christmas Eve.

From the same year, there is The Old Mill, a tour-de-force of animation. Do animals feel fear regards the things that we find spooky? And Ma Nature--what a scary storyteller she can be with how she paints a scene.

From Republic in 1945, this is The Vampire's Ghost, a full-length movie which runs less than an hour. Republic made pictures fast and cheap. Often, they were Westerns. It's where Orson Welles had to go to make Macbeth, because no one else would let him do it. What's that the equivalent of? Well, let's say you were a genius author and you had to go to a tiny, tiny press because that's all that was available to you at the time. (And here we are all of these years later, and Netflix is throwing money after after money after money to promote/hype Welles's forthcoming The Other Side of the Wind, with the company already making an Academy Awards push.) Why is this film notable? Couple reasons. The ghost angle is a new one for vampire stories. Then there is the script by Leigh Brackett. Shortly after this, Howard Hawks would bring her in to write on The Big Sleep. Kind of a good film, no? She also worked on Rio Bravo, which is one of the best written films out there, period. And The Empire Strikes Back. A lot of her stuff on that last picture were scrubbed, but she had the love triangle idea, some of the Hoth material, and the wise, cantankerous Jedi master. That was the last film she worked on before her death in 1978.

This is Attack of the Crab Monsters. It's fun. Roger Corman made it.

Roger Corman made a famous version of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" in 1960. This is by Jean Epstein, from thirty-two years prior. He was Polish, like me, then lived in Switzerland for a while, before coming to France for medical school. He stayed in the country, became a crucial avant-gardist of the early cinema (Luis Bunuel was an assistant), and was also a novelist, film theorist, and literary critic. A well-rounded guy. This is his cinematic masterpiece. It makes you feel like Roderick Usher.

It took a long time to make Orson Welles' Othello. He had two Irish buddies: Michael Mac Liammoir and Hilton Edwards. They were partners. In life and art, I guess you might say. Mac Liammoir played Iago in Othello. Anyway, when Welles was a teenager, he went to Dublin, showed up at the theatre where Mac Liammoir and Edwards worked, and bragged that he was a famous American actor. They knew he was totally full of shit, but they admired his nerve, so they gave him some parts. Plus, he was pretty good. Anyway, it took so long to do Othello that Edwards--who was also in it--made this ghost story film, set in Ireland, with Welles having a plummy role. Not the central role, but his is what we call a frame story; the vestments of the story is hung on a Wellesian hanger, you might say. It's spooky and witty and well done.

I love the old Zorro program. In my novel The Freeze Tag Sessions, the narrator, who is a genius who does not wish to be one, is attempting to shed the identity of piano prodigy for one that might hang on him better. For a spell, he tries to be the neighborhood Zorro, busting in on games of flashlight tag upon his valiant steed--aka, his red and white Huffy--while dressed in mask and cape. This doesn't usually go so well. The Guy Williams series has an awesome theme song, which prompts the narrator of The Freeze Tag Sessions to mis-hear the line, "This bold renegade" for, "This gay razor blade." This Halloween episode came early in its run: episode four, to be exact. It's called "The Ghost of the Mission."


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