Thursday, October 27, 2016

Growl and Glow in the Dark: Universal Monster Toys

The Phantom of the Opera
[click on any image to enlarge]
It's time for a short, rather incomplete profile of yet another Universal Monsters set, and one where I definitely wish that I had the other figures in the set. These figures are from a set put out in 1990 by a company called Uncle Milton. The two pictured here – the Phantom of the Opera and the Hunchback of Notre Dame _ are the only two that I was able to snag, or even find, in my neck of the woods (that being Anchorage, Alaska at the time, where I was born). 

I do not remember which store it was that I bought them, though Kay-Bee or Woolworth's are as likely suspects as any. I just remember that any time that I looked for the other figures, I could only ever find these two characters, as if the other bigger monsters were short-packed in the cases (which is a possibility, or the others just sold better). It's a scenario that I used to run into a lot in Anchorage back in the day, where even when a toy line was new to a store, they would only have a couple of the characters, and never the full set. You could make requests (which I would in many cases), but of course, the people working the toy counter don't give a rat's ass if the weird, nerdy guy who should really just grow up already that hangs out in the action figure section ever gets what he wants.

The Hunchback of
Notre Dame
There are six figures in the set overall, the other four being the Frankenstein Monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon (quite angry about never finding that one, mostly because he is my favorite Universal Monster, and partly because the mold is really cool), the Mummy, and the Wolf Man. Once more, we have a Universal Monsters set missing one of its primary figures, that of Count Dracula, which was largely due to the estate of Bela Lugosi pushing Universal Studios hard for royalties in order to use the likeness of their namesake. This situation has reversed itself in recent years for the most part, but it does mean that there are numerous Universal toy sets and other series (trading cards, books, etc.) out there where Dracula seems to have been forgotten altogether because of this insane back-and-forth battle.

From the slim information that I have been able to gather, the molds used for these figures are the exact ones used by the Marx Toy Company in the 1960s when they released their Universal Monster sets, which were exceedingly popular in the day. Growing up in the '70s, I knew kids who either owned or had inherited these figures, and was also roundly jealous whenever I saw them or (once in a while) got a chance to play with them. (I was the same way around Mego figures; never had any of my own, but went crazy when I had the opportunity.)

Because the Marx versions were in more varied colors and not meant to glow in the dark, you could make out the details a lot better on those than on these, including the names on the plates near their bases. 

While the lightness in color does make it hard to really make out many details, close-up views do reveal the fine sculpting and care used in creating these figures. 

I didn't really have time to get these puppies charged up and ready for a glow shot, nor did I have a photo of the entire set (since I don't own all of them), but a glance at eBay found a pretty groovy image of the whole crowd gathered for a glow in the dark group portrait.

Full group GITD shot ["juicyfinds4u" on eBay]
Seeing that shot just makes me even more covetous of one day having a full set, not just of the Uncle Milton remolds, but of getting a couple of different color variations or so of the original Marx releases. A fella can dream, can't he?

[Except for the glow in the dark pic from eBay (noted), all of the images of toys in this article are from my personal collection. Feel free to copy and use as you wish, but if you repost on your website, please credit The Cinema 4 Pylon.]

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mr. Mixtape-ptlk, Track #10: You Can Get Him – Frankenstein by The Castle Kings (1961)

There's nothing like an old school, rock 'n' roller about monsters battling it out to get everyone movin' on the dance floor. Well, except for me, of course, because hitting the dance floor is just not my style. But I don't mind spinning the platters for you at Halloween.

You Can Get Him – Frankenstein, a single released in 1961 by the Castle Kings on Atlantic Records, is a great party tune with a chorus made for singing along. The people behind the record certainly had a knack for such tunes. Two of the song's published co-writers were Phil Spector and Ahmet Ertegun. Neither one should need any introduction to anyone by this point, but just in case you've had your head locked in a box, Ertegun co-founded Atlantic Records and was responsible for discovering and launching scores of artists over a 60-year career. Spector, besides being a murderer and a nutcase, is quite simply one of the most innovative and important songwriters and record producers in history.

More importantly to our purposes here, the third songwriter, Ed Adlum, went into the movie business after his band, the Castle Kings (for whom he played guitar), broke up after releasing only two singles with Atlantic. In 1972, he co-wrote, produced, and directed Invasion of the Blood Farmers, which is just about as appetizing a film as its title makes it sound. But that film is equalled by his next film, Shriek of the Mutilated, in 1974. While Adlum only produced and co-wrote Shriek, I like that terrible film just a little bit better than Blood Farmers because of one factor: the all-important monster quotient. Shriek of the Mutilated has a Yeti. A man in a really horrid looking Yeti costume, but a Yeti nonetheless.

You Can Get Him – Frankenstein definitely fulfills the monster quotient as well. But before we dig into that, let's listen to the song and check out the lyrics below...

You Can Get Him – Frankenstein by The Castle Kings
(Ahmet Ertegun, Ed Adlum, & Phil Spector)
Atlantic Records 2107

"Well, you can get him, Frankenstein
You can get him, Frankenstein
You can save that girl of mine
You can get him, Frankenstein
Ohhhh, you can get him, Frankenstein

Well, here comes my baby walkin' down the street
She looks so pretty and she looks so neat
A Wolf Man comes from behind a tree
A Wolf Man howling, "Ahhh-weee!"
I ran to the phone and I put in a dime
I called my good friend Frankenstein

Well, you can get him, Frankenstein
You can get him, Frankenstein
You can save that girl of mine
You can get him, Frankenstein
Ohhhh, you can get him, Frankenstein

Well, my baby called me up in the middle of the night
Dracula was messin' in the pale moonlight
Vampires, bats and rats and all
She said, "Help, help", that's why I called
She said, "You'd better call Transylvania 999
And dig my good friend Frankenstein"

Well, you can get him, Frankenstein
You can get him, Frankenstein
You can save that girl of mine
You can get him, Frankenstein
Ohhhh, you can get him, Frankenstein

[Sax solo]

Well, I called my baby on the telephone
Her mama said she was not at home
I called Transylvania 999
I got no answer from Frankenstein
I switched on the TV to Channel 9
There was Frankie and Susie doin' the pony time

Well, you done got her, Frankenstein
You done got that girl of mine
You done got her, Frankenstein
You done got that girl of mine
Frankenstein (Frankenstein)
Frankenstein (Frankenstein)
Bring me back that girl of mine

Hey, Frankenstein, bring me back that girl of mine"

I have always found it interesting that in a lot of the Universal Monster mashups, there was often an attempt to allow the viewers to connect to at least one of the monsters in an emotional way. Early on, the easy connection was the Frankenstein Monster, most likely to the humanity imbued in the characterization via the talent of Boris Karloff. Once other actors, such as Bela Lugosi and Glenn Strange, took over the role of the Monster, the torch of identity was passed to Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man, who at least turned into a guy you could have a conversation with part of the time. In Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, his Wolf Man is practically the hero of the film in combatting the combined evil of the others in the film.

In this song, the Frankenstein Monster (referred to as simply Frankenstein) is, at the outset of the lyrics, the hero of the day according to the singer (Frank Tinelli of the Castle Kings). Situations crop up involving both the Wolf Man and Dracula in which the singer's girlfriend is threatened, and both times he gets on the phone to call up Frankenstein to rescue her. (I like the visual image of Frankenstein's Monster sitting around waiting for phone calls to rescue her.) But maybe he calls him to the rescue one too many times, which is the lesson to be learned from the song. On the third verse, he calls his "baby," but she isn't home, and a follow-up to the monster finds him unavailable as well. In a humorous twist ending that ties into a popular teenage trend of the day, it turns out the girl and the monster are both dancing together on a local show on television. So, by the end of the song, Frankenstein has gotten her, and not him, after all.

Frankenstein may be able to get him and/or her all he wants, but what I can't get is enough information about the Castle Kings, outside of the scant details to be found online. Apart from the "B" side to this song – a rockin' raveup version of Loch Lomond – the group only released one other single, The Caissons Go Rolling Along/Jeanette, the following year (1962), before disappearing from the recording world. Adlum worked as an editor for Cashbox magazine before getting into film briefly. The other Castle Kings were Frank Tinelli, Jimmy Walker, and a fourth member that I have identified in an autographed photo that I found on the Discogs site as Billy, but with no last name.

I tried calling Transylvania-999 but didn't get anything. If only I had Frankenstein's latest phone number to help rescue me from this dilemma...


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

You'll Die Laughing Once Again! (Topps Creature Feature Trading Cards Pt. II)

Last year during the Countdown to Halloween, I posted a remembrance of an old series called Topps Creature Feature Trading Cards, but that most people just call You'll Die Laughing, because those words are pasted across the backs of each card in the set directly above the joke section. If you did not see it, click here to play catch up, as this is Part II of the piece.

This is a posting of the next thirteen cards in my You'll Die Laughing collection. I do not have a full set, which has always bothered me considering how much I love the cards, but the opportunity to grab a full set has just never presented itself to me. I know that I can find them online, but just haven't done it. In the meantime, I am still fully appreciative of that which I have.

Because the series was released in 1973, some of the jokes reflect the mores and politics of that time. As an example, card #26 features the mummy Kharis carrying a woman (whose face, as I mentioned in Pt. I, is one of those that has likely had the face of a Topps employee superimposed (rather badly) onto it; cards #23 above and #29 below are other examples). The joke reads "You're not going to that Women's Lib meeting and that's final!" 

As 1973 was a big year in the Women's Lib movement with the passing of Roe v. Wade and Billie Jean King defeating Bobby Riggs in a highly publicized "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match, the card certainly reflects the battle going on in the public eye at that time. But it plays the same today considering how much the news has been filled in recent months with rape trials with ridiculous outcomes, the ongoing fight over abortion rights, squabbling over public breastfeeding, attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, women still not getting equal pay for equal work, and a presidential nominee talking brazenly and proudly about molesting women, but also seems in constant forward motion in his ongoing reign of terror by demeaning any women that cross his path.

Some of the cards (like the ones above) featured wisecracks that became stock jokes in our household, at least while my brothers and I were kids and were still being directly influenced by regular readings of these cards. I have always been fond of the one featuring the Creature from the Black Lagoon as an opera-singing gondolier, or the one where Frankenstein's Monster gets upset with the Wolf Man over saying his mother has a mustache. (Mother jokes are always funny... always...)

The card with Lon Chaney's Phantom of the Opera dressed as the Red Death above, where he proclaims "My girdle is killing me!" was probably one of the earliest drag jokes that I enjoyed as a kid. Yes, I know men can wear girdles as well, but the selection of the shot with the Phantom having a "clutch the pearls" moment has always read more feminine to me, thereby making the Phantom's action into a drag-style joke. Another fave is the image of Kharis (above, with Lon Chaney, Jr. under this particular makeup) where he asks "Who fooled around with my butane lighter?," looking for all the world like he had just lit himself on fire.

I was never as much of a fan as a kid of the cards that were marked with "American International Pictures, Inc." on the back instead of "Universal Pictures Co., Inc." Some of the one-liners on the fronts were just as good (or bad) as the Universal ones, but I didn't take to the AIP cards the same way as I did the Universal ones because the AIP ones featured monsters or characters that I didn't know (for the record, I had barely seen any of the Universal films at that age, but every kid knows Frankenstein and the Wolf Man anyway). Frankly, even now I have a hard time identifying some of the AIP copyrighted films, even though I have probably seen all of them several times.

AIP Example #1
AIP Example #2
AIP Example #3

That's all for the second batch of You'll Die Laughing cards. I will post another group for your enjoyment in the near future. In the meantime, drive all of your family and friends crazy with the stupid jokes on the backs of the cards. They'll thank you for it! No, honestly... they will...


[As before, all of the images of cards in this article were scanned from my personal collection. Feel free to copy and use as you wish, but if you repost on your website, please credit The Cinema 4 Pylon. Otherwise, please share in the silliness.]

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Monkees in Monstrous Peril #2: "The Monstrous Monkee Mash" (1968)

The Monkees "The Monstrous Monkee Mash" (January 22, 1968)
Dir.: James Frawley

Mike: "I gotta hand you one thing, Pete."
Peter: "What's that?"
Mike: "You've got a great respect for fear."
Peter: "You're right. It scares me to death."
Mike: "What?"
Peter: "Fear does."
Mike: [turns and sighs deeply]

The Monkees faced off against monsters a few times during their two-season run on the air, but never so many different creatures at one time than in The Monstrous Monkee Mash, the 50th episode of the series. I suppose you could say this was their version of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, with a plot involving a Dracula-type of vampire not only trying to turn brainless Peter into the new Frankenstein's Monster (much like Lou's lack of wits made him a perfect candidate for Bela Lugosi and Lenore Aubert's evil machinations in the older film), but also Davy into a new Dracula and Mickey into a Wolf Man. But will Mike (the smart one) settle for just being a smelly mummy?

The Monstrous Monkee Mash was directed by TV veteran James Frawley, who not only helmed 32 of the 58 episodes of The Monkees series overall, but also won a Primetime Emmy for directing the very first episode of the show (Royal Flush). Coming so late in the series run, the episode seems less concerned with selling the Monkees' music (there is only one song featured in the usual music video breaks), which in this case is just fine as it allows for more extremely ridiculous hijinks involving the quartet of monsters driving our heroes crazy.

Like many Monkees stories, The Monstrous Monkee Mash wastes no time in diving right into the action. We see an exterior shot of a castle on a cliff overlooking a stormy sea at night, and then inside we meet a very flustered Davy Jones, who has gotten more out of his date that evening than even he expected. He walks into the room alongside a voluptuous, black-clad woman named Lorelei (Arlene Martel, who played Spock's would-be bride T'Pring in Amok Time), and Davy says, "Gee, Lorelei, when you said you lived by the water, I didn't think you meant a swamp!" He laughs nervously, and when he tries to hang his umbrella on a suit of armor nearby and it takes a swing at him with an axe, he gets even more nervous. Next to the armor is what looks like a painting, but is quite clearly just an open frame hanging in mid-air, and standing inside it of it is a man with a bluish face wearing a Count Dracula-style cape (Ron Masak). When Davy asks about the painting, Lorelei tells him it is her uncle, and he asks, "Oh, really? How long was he dead when he posed for that painting." The man in the painting turns to Davy and gives him a raspberry salute with his tongue.

He clicks a switch on a novelty lamp that has a bat sitting on its top, and we hear the bat say, "I vant to drink your blood!" Lorelei wants to give Davy a present, but he is reluctant. She throws her arms around his neck and puts a necklace over his head and then kisses him. Hypnotized, he can only remark "What a kiss! I've never felt this way before!" She replies haughtily, "You fool! It was not my kiss! It was the magic necklace!" The figure from the painting steps forward, looks their prize over, and says that even though Davy is a little short (they always have to get the short jokes in on Davy, but, yeah, he was pretty small at 5'3"), he will make the perfect specimen to become... DRACULA REBORN! He laughs wickedly as the opening music sequence with the familiar Monkees theme and video style hijinks plays.

At the Monkees' pad (i.e., apartment or home, for you youngsters), Mickey awakens with a start as a figure seems to be creeping through the darkness. It is only Peter, and Mickey begs him not to scare him like that. Mike wanders in angrily and tells them to quit scaring each other and to turn on the light. Of course, when he does, all three of them scare each other. They start to worry that Davy hasn't come home from his date yet, but Mike says that Davy gave him a telephone number they can call. (The non-committal way that Mike dials the phone is hilarious.) The voice on the other end of the phone is Count Batula (Masak) laughing maniacally and nothing more. Without hesitation, Mike says, "I think Davy's in trouble. We'd better go help him." The other two agree and then go hide their heads under blankets. Mike turns to the camera and says, "And once again, courageous American youth leaps into the fore... or five."

Back at the castle, Batula puts Davy through vampire training, making him drink tomato juice first to get used to the color, and giving him a special cape so he can fly (he crashes into a nearby wall). The Monkees arrive and are not happy in the least about being invited into the spooky castle. Davy has been chained in the dungeon where he finds he is roommates with a Wolf Man. They bond quickly. The Monkees are shown reacting in wild ways to all of the scary stuff in the living room (the suit of armor, the bat lamp), and there is a really neat insert where Mickey is asked to do another take on his scream from an offscreen voice which is most likely Frawley the director. This is the sort of thing, alongside the rapid-fire cutting, that kept this series, as silly as it seems in retrospect, extremely refreshing and far removed from the stale confines of much TV of its era.

As I alluded to earlier, Batula soon figures out that Peter does have a brain in his head and will therefore be ideal to serve as his new Frankenstein Monster. When the lamp does its "I vant to drink your blood" line, Peter tells it "That's not a nice thing to say," so the lamp says "I vant to sip your blood" instead, and Peter replies, "Much better." When the boys, as a group, finally figure out that they are at the mercy of vampires, Peter says, "What a time to be caught without a turtleneck."

Davy convinces the Wolf Man he is getting a rotten deal from his hosts, and acts as his agent to get the Wolf Man a "better percentage of the profits, cookouts on the weekends, and... he wants to play his own music." (Surely inside references on a couple of those items.) Lorelei confronts Peter all alone, and he tries to leave. When she asks why, he says, "It's just that I finished reading all these books." "My goodness," she replies with mock surprise, "All 600 wall-yumes?" Lorelei pulls the same kissing/necklace stunt on Peter (with basically the same lines) as she did on Davy, making him her slave. The Wolf Man tries to carry Peter off for his own, but Batula uses his magical power on the Wolf Man: a string of Frankfurters.

Mike and Mickey explore the castle and run into a mummy, whom they chide for being smelly and filthy, making the monster stomp off in shame. They realize Peter is gone by stating, "He's gone!" which is a standard catchphrase used in a great many Monkee episodes. They find a secret door and Mike disappears, and Mickey finds himself face to face with the Wolf Man. "You'd oughta get a haircut," Mickey tells him, "or they won't let you in Disneyland!" Mickey runs from the werewolf but is found by Lorelei. For the third time, we get the kissing/necklace bit, and when Mickey replies with the same response, Lorelei tells him to shut up in disgust. Mike finds himself on his own and opens a sarcophagus, revealing the mummy once more. He runs away and happens upon Batula and Lorelei making their plans. Mike tries to make notes, but Batula gets confused, so Mike has to ask him for an eraser. Batula gives him one, but they don't even notice him.

In the dungeon, Davy and Mickey are chained to the wall, and they both decide to have one of their fantasy sequences to find out what it might be like to be an actual monster. The two of them suddenly show up as Dracula and the Wolf Man. Then Batula steps in and they order him out of their fantasy sequence, but Batula tells them to try to take off their monster makeup. It won't come off, and we see the camera and director's chair as they tell the crew to cut the fantasy. But Batula tells them it is no fantasy but reality, and they are under his power. My favorite line of the episode happens as Batula and his fiends push Peter and the monster into the moratorium to perform the operation. With great joy (and speed of tongue), Batula announces, "Hurry! Here we are in my beautiful moratorium in my beautiful castle in the dungeon with a beautiful fake backdrop... ready to start!" (I love how this episode keeps breaking the fourth wall over and over again. It is something the Monkees did in most episodes to a degree, but this one has some really great turns at it.)

Mike has been hiding in the sarcophagus with the mummy, and has convinced the creature to hand over its wrapping so that Mike can disguise himself. When he comes out of the sarcophagus, we see the mummy inside wearing long red underwear. Batula is ready to start the operation, but he mistakes a bone chisel for a scalpel. When he asks what a bone chisel is used for, Mike says, "It's used to split!" and then he takes off with whom he believes to be Peter on the gurney. Mike frees Davy and Mickey, still in their monster makeup, from the dungeon, but Batula uses his mind control to have them attack Mike. Mike tries to wake up Peter on the gurney, but it turns out to be the actual Frankenstein Monster, and Peter turns out to be back with Batula, who turns on the energizer switch to activate the monster.

With just a couple of minutes left in the episode, we finally get a musical sequence, built around the song Goin' Down. The fast-paced tune, punctuated with horns and featuring scat-style singing from Mickey, accompanies a series of gags involving the two wolfmen competing over a fire hydrant, Mike giving Batula an exploding cigar, Davy's height (or lack of it) coming in handy when being attacked by a taller, stiff-armed Frankenstein Monster, Mike messing around with the monster's electrodes, Batula and Davy doing a riff on the vaudeville mirror routine (directly referencing the Groucho version from Duck Soup), and a dance-off between Lorelei, the suit of armor, and the Frankenstein Monster.

The Monkees, of course, escape during all of this madness. At the end, they are seen standing in the living room of the castle, and to show once more the connection of this episode to Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, there is a closing confrontation with the Invisible Man as there is in the film. Or is there? A book floats in midair in front of them, but Mike pulls out a pair of scissors and cuts a wire to show that it is nothing more than special effects. "Tinsel and fabric!" says Mickey in a mock W.C. Fields voice and we get the closing credits with the Monkees theme again.

It's as giddy a frolic as the first episode in the series, and you get the idea these guys could have continued on for more seasons if the whole Monkees franchise wasn't coming apart at the seams behind the curtain. The boys were already fighting for more control of their image and music, and the series would not go past the second season. Later in the year, a surreal (in the truest sense of the word) feature film called Head would be released, directed by show creator Bob Rafelson and co-written by Jack Nicholson (!) in which the Monkees would distort and mock their squeaky clean TV personas. The film would be a flop at the box office (but naturally became a cult classic) and their heyday at the top of the music charts was all but over. Peter would leave the group by the time their seventh album, Instant Replay, was released early in 1969, and two albums later, their ninth album, Changes, only featured Davy and Mickey, with Mike Nesmith moving on to a successful solo career.

I am a huge fan of the Monkees music, but because of my early exposure to the TV series, I think of them equally as a comedy team as I do as a musical group. Their wacky skits and antics were entirely formative to my way of seeing the world, and perhaps, in a detrimental fashion, affected how I dealt with the "normals" I have encountered throughout my life. I have never been able to take even the most gut-wrenching situation entirely seriously, and as much as I like to point to the Marx Brothers as the progenitors of this attitude in my being, I have to give equal credit – as others in my life would be sure to render equal blame – to the "don't give two shits" positioning of the Monkees on their TV show.

Of course, we are now in 2016, with a new Monkees album, Good Times! (featuring all three living members), has made it to the Top 20 on the Billboard album chart (Rolling Stone even gave it 3½ stars). They are also on tour, though Nesmith only makes sporadic appearances (as he has for years). But the Monkees, far beyond what anyone thought they would, are still with us. The show is still in syndication here and there, especially with the big revival in cable channels that specialize in "rerun" television. They are even still on DVD and available online. But while they got big boosts from series revivals on MTV in the '80s and '90s, I think The Monkees TV series has somewhat fallen between the cracks since then. And to really proclaim love for the Monkees, you have to love The Monkees TV series. It's part of the whole package. Check it out if you have never seen it. It's a delight.



And in case you haven't seen it...

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Bay It, Don't Spray It, Wolfie!!!

Sure, you might recognize these two good fellows, but you may not believe the form in which they arrive. Yes, it is quite clearly the Wolf Man and his on again/off again pal, the Frankenstein's Monster, and they are most definitely in some degree of officially licensed Universal Monsters design here in these pretty nifty toys that I obtained in 1991.

But what are they? Well, take a look at the corner of Frankie's mouth (my favorite part of the sculpt is that sneer he has) and what looks like an odd gap in Wolfie's teeth. These guys are nothing more than water squirters (or really, they will squirt whatever weird thing you want them to squirt, you sickos...) released by a company called Happiness Express, Inc. ("H.E.I." on the bottom of the toys). Also on the bottom is a matching 1991 copyright date for Universal ("U.C.S.").

Honestly, these were fun for a few days, but you could only squirt so many people with them  – back and forth – or pull pranks on the unknowing, before the game got old. I suppose others might have used them for other liquids (and therefore, other types of games) beyond water, but just like with plastic squirt guns, you start to wonder if you should really be drinking out of painted rubber in any amount.

It is remarkably hard to find much in the way of information about these toys. I found someone selling the Wolf Man on eBay, but they had no extra information. I did find someone online in a monster forum who mentioned these were manufactured exclusively for Woolworth's

Since Anchorage, Alaska still had a Woolworth's downtown (barely hanging on, like everywhere) in 1991, it is very likely that I purchased mine there. Woolworth's closed its doors everywhere in the world (there was still one in Fairbanks, Alaska at that point too) in 1997, but I remember finding a lot of unique baseball card sets branded with the company's name at the Anchorage store, and I used to find many cool toys, costume ideas, and music bargains in those too crowded shelves and pathways. (My fondest memory of the place was a little diner area at the front where I used to always buy a grilled cheese sandwich, fries, and a Dr. Pepper, but it was cleared out a few years prior to the store's ultimate closure. The place is now a gift shop, I believe.)

Found on eBay this morning.
Don't know about other
I did find someone selling an official Dracula squirter head from the same 1991 Happiness Express series on eBay (it was going for just under twenty bucks), but as to other characters in the series, I do not know. I really hope that there is a Creature from the Black Lagoon head out there somewhere, since he was heavily promoted along with these guys by Universal in that period (as he should). A Bride of Frankenstein would be really great to see too.


[The pics of the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster are of my own toys. Feel free to repost as you wish, but please credit this blog.]

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mr. Mixtape-ptlk, Track #9: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by The Who (1968)

I know there is a musical out there already based on Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I am not a big fan of the show Jekyll & Hyde. I think it's OK, though I will freely admit that I have never seen a stage production of the show (nor have I watched more than a couple minutes of the video starring David Hasselhoff; I have only heard the Original Broadway Cast Recording that was released to the public). For me, the show feels a bit too much like it is playing catch up with The Phantom of the Opera and Sweeney Todd, trying too hard to grab a slice of the Tony pie, as it were. (Instead, while it was nominated for four Tonys, it did not win any.)

And hearing Jekyll & Hyde for the first time, I was only reminded of one thing: what if, instead of creating their groundbreaking work Tommy, the Who had created a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde rock opera?

On what evidence or suggestion did I pose such a question, you may ask? In 1968, the Who released a song titled Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, written by their bassist extraordinaire John Entwistle, who often tackled darker, more perverse subject matter than regular songwriter Pete Townshend. A year and a half previous, Entwistle had written and sang the marvelous Boris the Spider, released on the album A Quick One, which went on to become a crowd favorite in concert and has held great radio longevity despite never being released as a single in its own right.

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, too, never really got the love it deserved on the charts, being relegated to the "B" side of not one, but two singles in 1968: in the UK, it was on the flip side of their Magic Bus single; in America, it played second fiddle to Call Me Lightning. While I became a fan of Call Me Lightning because of Joan Jett's cover on her Bad Reputation LP, I will be first in line just to make the case that the Who missed an opportunity to make an entire album based around Stevenson's story. And I bet it would have been terrific.

But first, give Dr. Jekyll a listen (if you haven't heard their song) and check out the lyrics...

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1968) by The Who

"Hyde, Hyde.

Someone is spending my money for me,
The money I earn I never see,
In all things I do he interferes,
All I know is trouble as soon as he appears.

Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Hyde.

When I drink my potion my character changes,
My whole mind and body rearranges,
This strange transformation takes place in me,
Instead of myself everybody can see...

Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Hyde.

Whenever you're with me make sure it's still me,
I've got to the stage I can't tell which I'll be,
The loveable fellow who'll buy you a drink,
Then when he's drunk his he'll change in a wink into...

Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Mister Hyde, Hyde."

Music and lyrics by John Entwistle | Published by Gowmonk, Inc. Copyright 1968.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde song
lurks on this compilation album.
This is a wonderfully dynamic song with a rumbling melody and a haunting refrain in its chorus that gets more and more addictive the more you hear it. Since much Who material tends to be autobiographical, rest assured this song is not merely based on a classic horror tale, but is also based on Who drummer Keith Moon, whose prodigious drinking and often mad state of mind could make him more than a handful to deal with at times, often on stage.

While his bandmates and famous friends (Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Mickey Dolenz, Alice Cooper) were fiercely protective of him, Moon's behavior got him into a lot of trouble. Besides his addiction to alcohol, he had a penchant for destroying toilets with explosives, ransacking hotel suites, and causing general mayhem. This sometimes ended in tragedy, including when he ran over his own chauffeur with his Bentley in 1970, and his eventual death from misadventure with a massive dose of sedatives, ironically from a prescription that was intended to help alleviate his alcoholism.

You don't have to squint when you read the lyrics to to envision Moon embodied inside of them at any given point. He is mostly certainly alive in the verses, as is the good doctor of the story and the creature of his darker being. But two and a half minutes of this sublime track are just not enough for me, and how I long for an previously undiscovered treasure trove of lost Who tracks to be unearthed wherein a full suite of Jekyll and Hyde material had been produced. Alas, it is not to be. It is merely my mind at play, wishing upon a fantastic flight again.

And who's to say that if the Who had busted their rock opera cherry fully on Dr. Jekyll instead of Tommy, that the band may never have broken through in the way that they did. They were well known before Tommy, but they were singles not album artists, and when Tommy went huge, it made them world-beaters. That album and its tour gave Roger Daltrey the confidence and drive for the rest of his tenure in the band, solidifying the band as a focused unit going into the 1970s. Ahead lie Who's Next and Quadrophenia. Would those have occurred if they had swerved in the slightest? It's the stuff of science fiction, the most minute change in a timeline leading to a disruption of events seemingly already established. Would Tommy and the rest have happened at all, and would you like to live in that world?

There might be some people out there (especially movie reviewers of the time) that would be happy if a film where Ann-Margaret rolls around on a bed covered in Heinz baked beans was never made, but I am not one of them...


Friday, October 21, 2016

Other Countdown to Halloween Thrills in Cinema 4 Land...

If you stopped by here because of the Countdown to Halloween website, thanks for visiting. I have posted new material every single day in October thus far, and plans are to keep that going for the rest of the month. But I have other sites taking part in the Countdown this year, so I want to take the opportunity to let you know about what is going on at one of them today.

On my animation website, Cinema 4: Cel Bloc, I have a post about a 1930 cartoon from Van Beuren Studios called The Haunted Ship, starring a long-forgotten team called Waffles the Cat and Don the Dog. The pair would only star in a few shorts before being humanized into a more well known team called Tom and Jerry, who would make a couple dozen shorts before retiring for good. Years later, MGM would take up those character names for a totally unrelated cat and mouse team of their own, and make cartoon history.

The Haunted Ship is an odd little cartoon, both an undersea adventure involving sharks, eels, rays, turtles, and octopuses, but also a full on Halloween cartoon, in which they tangle with skeletons and monsters as well. And its also a bit of a musical. Somehow, it ends up being far more enjoyable and watchable than you might think.

You can read all about The Haunted Ship by clicking here.

And keep checking back here on The Cinema 4 Pylon for more Countdown to Halloween fun!