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Give the Devil His Due: Some of My Favorite Halloween Horror Films


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween. Judy and Minnie are out at a friends house while I sit with the porch light and other front lights out watching American Horror Story while Izzy and Pierre bark at anyone who dares ring the doorbell, so far four or five. But I cannot help but share some of my favorite horror movies.

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“Without me, Transylvania will be as exciting as Bucharest… on a Monday night.” Count Dracula (George Hamilton) on being banished from his castle by Romanian Communists in Love at First Bite

Yes it is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve and time for me to share my favorite Halloween horror films with you. Horror movies can be scary, but they can also be funny and even kind of klitschy. I think that is why they have such an enduring fascination to so many people, including me. I love horror, suspense, science fiction and the paranormal. They tend to be less scary than driving to work on the local interstate highways in the Hampton Roads area or going to a Mall or Wal-Mart.

Horror films have always fascinated me, especially the ones that are not simply built around a bunch of slashing and mindless killing and brutality.

Some of the films I like are more dramatic and suspenseful while others are more on the funny side of the horror genre. Not that there is anything wrong with that. There are hundreds of not thousands of horror films out there and many are variations on a theme and many are so bad I will not watch them. That being said there are some that I cannot miss.

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I love the whole vampire and Dracula genre. The Bela Lugosi Dracula was interesting but the klitchshy Hammer Dracula films with Christopher Lee were always my favorites. It was always fun for me to watch how some idiot managed to find a way to spill some blood on Dracula’s ashes and re-animate the Prince of Darkness. Of course the fact that Lee’s Dracula was always going after some really good looking girl made the series predicable and enjoyable.

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The female versions of the Dracula films produced by Hammer Productions were even more enjoyable for a teen age boy. Ingrid Pitt played a great Carmilla Karnstein, a seductive female vampire who preyed on great looking women in The Vampire Lovers.  In the vampire genre Quentin Tarintino’s Dusk ‘Til Dawn was pretty good and Wesley Snipes Blade series was enjoyable too.

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I think that the horror film that still gives me the creeps is another vampire film, Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. I saw it the first time while visiting my wife’s cousin who lived in the Netherlands back in 1985. It was on Dutch television in English and subtitled in Dutch. To me it is the ultimate in horror, I have a copy but haven’t watched it in years. It scares the bejesus out of me.

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Now I admit these are not the best Dracula movies, but they are entertaining. I liked Interview with a Vampire, Dracula(1979) starring Frank Langella, Sir Lawrence Olivier and Donald Pleasance, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) starring Gary Oldham and Winona Ryder were all actually better films.  Other films in the vampire genre that I like included Fright Nightand The Lost Boys.

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There were parodies as well, my favorites being Love at First Bitestarring George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin, Dick Shawn and Arte Johnson, Mel Brooks’ Dracula Dead and Loving it starring Leslie Nielsen and Blackula, a blacksploitation parody starring William Marshall.

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Frankenstein was okay but I love Mel Brooks’ parody Young Frankenstein starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Terri Garr and Peter Boyle.

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Then there are the Satanic or Demonic possession and oppression films based on actual events. There is the classic The Exorcist and more recently The Conjuring. Both kept me on the edge of my seat and were scarier at home than they were in the theater. Another film which I like but which might better fit into the Science Fiction or loosely based on real events category is The Mothman Prophecies. 

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Zombie films have never been that interesting to me but the original Night of the Living Dead is a classic that I will watch and I did enjoy the parody Shaun of the Dead starring Simon Pegg, and Zombieland starring Woody Harrelson.

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In a different class is the cult classic Army of Darkness a sequel to the Evil Dead films.  In this Bruce Campbell plays a hardware store employee who gets transported through time to a medieval castle being attacked by a ghoulish army. It really is a classic full of great one liners and action. I think one of my favorite lines is where Campbell’s character “Ash” answers the leader of the dead army when he is asked who he is: “Well hello Mister Fancypants. Well, I’ve got news for you pal, you ain’t leadin’ but two things, right now: Jack and shit… and Jack left town. 

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When I was in junior high school, high school and college a lot of different horror films came out which became cult classics which spawned sequel after sequel. There was the original Halloween starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I never got into the most of the sequels because none of them were as good as the originals.

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Another film that I found positively frightening was Invasion of the Body Snatchers starring Donald Sutherland. It was a remake of an earlier film but the whole concept of falling asleep and being replaced with a pod person freaked me out.

Like I said at the beginning of the article, there are thousands of horror films out there. I could go on and mention more but to do so would be to repeat variations on similar themes or to stretch the genre to include various murder mysteries with horror or demonic elements such as Silence of the Lambs, The Shining, or films which are more appropriately classed as Science Fiction such as Alien.

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In a totally different category are the Ghostbusters comedies, and Scrooged. Both comedies with classic horror twists. I love those movies. Then there is Mel Brooks classic parody of the original Frankenstein using the original  Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Terri Garr, Marty Feldman, and Gene Hackman.

So as Halloween winds down and the trick or treaters go home, while you are snuggled in your bed with your love, turn on the television and find something scary to watch. After all, tomorrow is Friday, but not the 13th.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Blazing Saddles at 39

blazing_saddles

“I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers and Methodists.” Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman) 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiTKIbR69ss

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Today is the 39th anniversary of the release of the Mel Brook Western parody classic Blazing Saddles. I wasn’t quite 14 years old when it came out but somehow managed to get a ticket to the R rated movie. I didn’t have a fake I.D. like President Obama said was how he might have gotten into the theater to see it when he was 13, but I remember getting in to a lot of R rated movies back in those days without any parental supervision.

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To me the film is a cultural icon and classic. I watch it several times a year and if there is nothing else on and I want a good laugh there is a good chance that I will put it in my DVD player.

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The movie couldn’t be made today. It insulted everyone and was one of the most politically incorrect movies ever made. However, 1974 was a different time. It was a time of social and political turmoil as the Vietnam War wound down, the economy tanked and the Nixon Presidency teetered with each new revelation about the Watergate break in and cover-up.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=upvZdVK913I

Mel Brooks used comedy to confront many of the evils still rampant in our society, racism, sexism, political corruption as well is simple ignorance were all targets of Brooks’ wit.

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Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, and Madeline Kahn it became one of the surprise hits of its era, surprising even Brooks in its acceptance and box office success. Unlike many movies it has endured and now at 39 years is considered one of the classics of American film.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6dm9rN6oTs

Brooks’ rich parody of the Western genre. Even John Wayne, though asked by Brooks to be in the film after looking at the script “Naw, I can’t do a movie like that, but I’ll be first in line to see it!” 

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Now when I see some of the same prejudice, racism, ignorance and corruption today I am reminded of Jim the Waco Kid’s (Gene Wilder) comments to Sheriff Bart when he experienced the racial prejudice of a little old lady:

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“What did you expect? “Welcome, sonny”? “Make yourself at home”? “Marry my daughter”? You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.”

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Now since it is getting late and I have things to do in the morning even though “My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives” I must prepare for bed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Laughing to the Music: The Musical Genius of Mel Brooks

The Zany Mel Brooks as the Governor in Blazing Saddles

When most people think of legendary comedian Mel Brooks they are likely to think of the hilarious shtick of such movies as Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs, the Movie, DVD or Video. Brooks is a comic genius but mixed in with the comedic side of Brooks he has a musical side that captures some of the most popular genres of yesteryear and overlays them with incredibly witty lyrics and catchy music.  Whether the music is Broadway musical, crooning, or even something out of the old west brooks brings a comedic edginess that can offend and delight at the same time. Today I will share a bit about the songs and soundtracks from the various Brooks films interspersed with the songs from the films.

Teri Garr, Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein

Now I know that some people will say and rightly so that I am just a bit warped in my worldview.  I’m okay with that, in fact I would hate not to be as I think that life would be boring.  Maybe that is why I like Brooks so much.  He demonstrates that rare form of being able to entertain and even provide social commentary on issues like racism and discrimination in Blazing Saddles.  Part of how he did this so successfully was in the music that he often wrote for his movies.  It is one of those unusual things that most people, even Brooks aficionados have no idea that Brooks was the genius behind the music in his movies.

As for me I love Brooks’ music as well as his comedy.  I can practically sing from memory the major songs of each of his movies and frequently will find that I am inadvertently singing them going down a hallway at work or in the car. Some Priests sing hymns or praise and worship songs, I sing Mel Brooks songs. C’est la vie.

Springtime for Hitler 1968

The first film that Brooks music featured prominently was the original The Producers starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder and Dick Shawn which was reprised on Broadway and later on the big screen with Nathan Lane, Matthew Modine and Will Ferrell. The original Producers involved a Broadway producer who has seen better days (Mostel) and his new tax accountant (Wilder) trying to find the “world’s worst play” to produce as a flop which they would then keep the money raised for the play.  They find their play written by former German Soldier Franz Liebkind the author of Springtime for Hitler “a gay romp with Adolph and Eva at Berchesgarten.”  They hire the world’s worst director “Roger DeBris” to direct the play and raise a huge amount of money to produce it by selling well far more than 100% of the profits.  Expecting the play to offend everyone they begin an early celebration before finding out that people love the play. The play becomes a critically acclaimed hit leading them to try to blow up the theater.  The music of Brooks is prominently featured in all three. The irony of producers producing a guaranteed flop which becomes a hot on the big screen and then a real hit on Broadway is not to be lost.  The theme song from the play Springtime for Hitler both in 1968 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZGp0hCxSg98 and the later version http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCUfkMkVbwo also found its way into Blazing Saddles.

Springtime for Hitler 2005

As an interesting side note Brooks has a cameo during the song in both versions where as a member of the cast he sings “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty come and join the Nazi Party.” The Producers also featured more Brooks’ songs including Love Power sung by Dick Shawn playing Lorenzo St. Dubois or LSD http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkYBJId7WZs Prisoners of Love featured in both the 1968 and the 2005 versions and When You Got it Flaunt it, I Want to Be a Producer and Keep it Gay all from the 2005 version are classic show tunes.

Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder as Sheriff Bart and the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles

The Producer’s netted Brooks an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.  Brooks’ next two hit films Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein both featured interesting musical arrangements, The most memorable coming from Blazing Saddles which starred Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn.  The songs Blazing Saddles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tyhpt6_pwc the Ballad of Rock Ridge http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WiTKIbR69ss

Madeline Kahn as Lilly Von Schtupp singing “I’m Tired”

I’m Tired http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQU0_PHUB2E and the French Mistake featuring Dom DeLuise http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMK6lzmSk2o are all Brooks’ work.

The French Mistake Musical Scene from Blazing Saddles

He even managed to take an old tune into Young Frankenstein where Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle as Dr Frankenstein and the monster perform Puttin’ on the Ritz http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VH2nQHPs4aA.

Dr Frankenstein and the Monster (Wilder and Peter Boyle) singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz”

Brook’s next film’s High Anxiety, a takeoff on Hitchcock movies starring Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn and Cloris Leachman feature Brooks’ songs High Anxiety http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki_UcRmELvs and If You Love Me Tell Me Loud. History of the World Part I which starred Brooks, Kahn, Korman and a host of comic greats would incorporate music is ways undreamed of by those who viewed these films.

The Inquisition from History of the World Part One

In fact the musical segment The Spanish Inquisition featured the song The Inquisition http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oppHeMlaLVM where Brooks plays the Spanish Inquisitor Torquemada in a spoof of the 1930s musical featuring dancing monks in wink tips, nuns who perform a synchronized swimming number as well as banter between Brooks and the various Jews and heretics that he is trying to convert. The irony of course being that Brooks is Jewish.  The closing song Jews in Space http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_jLnrUXJNM is the trailer for a sequel which was never produced. In Spaceballs Brooks collaborated with others to produce the title song Spaceballs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezyoKr0v-HQ which was performed by The Spinners.

Men in Tights

Brooks would continue making movies which though not as popular brilliant as his earlier works would feature some funny songs written by Brooks.  Robin Hood: Men in Tights featured Men in Tights http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc1am3KyYgA , Marian and the Sherwood Forrest Rap http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APTXBm5Zp-Y The 1983 film To Be or Not to Be in which Brooks starred with his wife Anne Bancroft was about the Nazi invasion of Poland featured the Brooks songs A Little Peace and Ladies. A music video for this film entitled The Hitler Rap http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yu2NqfISm9k was released as part of the promotion for the film.

Hitler as a polish Jew playing Hitler in a Parody in pre-War Warsaw in To Be or Not to Be

I don’t know that we will ever see a comedic genius who is able to also incorporate music, especially classic Broadway style show tunes in about every movie that they make.  Brooks in my mind is one of those once in a blue moon kind of entertainers whose creativity is not bound by words or gags but crafted through a diverse experience of live performance, film, writing and producing taking comedy to places where his edginess and occasional social commentary was heard and appreciated by middle America.  That is the genius of Mel Brooks.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under film, music, purely humorous