Revisiting Dark Shadows’ 1897 Storyline by Kristin Battestella
Let’s celebrate with Dark Shadows as we are so often wont to do! Though arriving in the middle of the macabre sixties soap opera, the 1897 storyline is the series’ longest time travel jaunt at 183 episodes. Its Victorian turn of the century vampires, werewolves, and panache make this plot the perfect place to sample what the eerie endurance of Dark Shadows is about as our company stock becomes all new characters for the period mayhem. Thanks to video releases and streaming options broken down into forty-episode seasonal Collections, viewers new or old can easily jump into this Dark Shadows breadth. Here’s a recap of said Collections covering the 1897 ghosts, secrets, and curses.
When the Ghost of Quentin Collins (David Selby) drives the entire Collins family from Collingwood, governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and her two possessed charges (David Henesy and Denise Nickerson) flee to the Old House as Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) search for answers to rid them of the poltergeist and stop Chris Jennings’ (Don Briscoe) werewolf transformations. When Barnabas and Professor Stokes (Thayer David) discover Quentin’s I Ching wands, Barnabas uses them to will himself to the year 1897. Once in the past, he introduces himself to Judith Collins (Joan Bennett) and investigates Quentin’s secrets. Unfortunately, Barnabas harbors a secret of his own – he has been unchained from his coffin and is once again a vampire.
Collection 13 begins with Episode 696 from February 1969, just before the nineteenth-century switch, and concludes with a wallop for Number 735. Opening narrations get the viewer up to speed on the scandals and ancestral players after the Episode 701 transition, and the paranormal tricks work well with the soap opera mysteries. We’re like the newly arrived vampire Barnabas indeed – at the mercy of unfolding mysticism, scheming gypsies, heirs at each other’s throats, and missing wills. Why is the maid Beth Chavez still on at Collingwood if her mistress Jenny Collins has left? Where is Edward Collin’s wife Laura and what does she have to do with Quentin’s banishment? Why does governess Rachel Drummond see lights in the empty Tower room? Borrowing from classic literature on Dark Shadows is apparent with this Jane Eyre symbolism, yet the familiar gothic tropes anchor the spooky changeover. Iconic Dark Shadows music accentuates the shockers, and Robert Cobert’s morose motifs and creepy cues help build character suspense. Scary shadows, fake cobwebs, spotlights, darkness, and candle effects invoke careful mood and ominous set design even as Dark Shadows remains notorious for its fly-by-night production cheapness. Thankfully, the antiques, colorful frocks, microphone shadows, and set bloopers alike set off the quality storytelling keeping us on the edge of our seats with illicit twists, fiery whodunits, and Martinique zombies. Episode 705 has a sweet, fatal climax, and plenty of red herrings and tower mysteries makes for some great undead kickers and fainting frights – especially Episode 723.
The mysterious Laura Collins (Diana Millay) returns to Collinwood determined to take her children Jamison (David Henesy) and Nora (Denise Nickerson) away from Reverend Trask’s (Jerry Lacey) strict boarding school. Her former lover Quentin Collins, however, has other occult plans for her. Barnabas Collins also battles Laura with the help of gypsies Magda (Grayson Hall) and Sandor (Thayer David). Unfortunately, his unraveling of Quentin’s secrets has deadly consequences, and Barnabas must help family matriarch Judith in the 1897 past to save the Collins’ 1969 future.
Dark Shadows adds even more supernatural elan with children in peril in Episode 736 and wolfy foreplay thru 775. The 1897 action interweaves bizarre dreams and eerie prophecies as the ensemble tackles several well balanced plots at once. Unlike slow soaps, something happens each episode with real-time half-hour pacing. First time viewers are treated to surprise connections and cliffhangers regarding the murders, blackmail, and poisons. Certainly, there are melodramatic hysterics, but the lycanthrope suspense, meddling witches, and phoenix – yes a phoenix – storylines remain unique. The impish Quentin is oh so suave, calculating, and full of love to hate charm as he causes trouble in every way possible. Paranormal layers populate Dark Shadows with bats, doppelgangers, Egyptian motifs, and psychic torment. Cool crypts, wolf howls, and chilling knocks at the door invoke atmosphere while the wobbly Styrofoam tombstones and visible boom mikes are drinking game-worthy. Poor Barnabas Collins, stuck in a foreign time and dealing with ghosts, wolf investigations, and vampire victims all at the same time. His flub, “My cousin, Uncle Jeremiah…” is certainly understandable! We can laugh and forgive such same day tape mistakes because Dark Shadows comes together so effectively – creating intense, ambitious daytime action with complex characters to match.
While werewolf Quentin Collins and Magda the gypsy who cursed him seek a cure for his lycanthropy, time-traveling cousin and vampire Barnabas Collins tries to keep their paranormal secrets from fellow family members Edward (Louis Edmunds) and the newly married Judith Collins Trask. Corrupt Reverend Trask has all but taken over the Collinwood estate and soon seeks to cleanse the family of its evils once the mysterious Count Petofi (Thayer David) and his magical cohorts come to town.
After nearing over 100 hundred episodes in the 1897 storyline, Dark Shadows lends itself a hand by adding even more vengeful ghosts, gypsy curses, and freaky talismans to the gothic storytelling. 1969 names and plots are mentioned to remind the audience of this 1897 excursion’s original purpose, but the time travel troubles, shockingly bloody vampires, and expanding werewolf yarns lead to a zany off-screen shootout and elaborate action sequences. Character shakeups and spooky developments keep the paranormal fresh; no player is superfluous as each wrench contributes to the complex immediacy amid witches, zombies, and disembodied hands. Steamy dream sequences, psychics, and undead secrets come to a head as disposable policemen, jailed werewolves, and possessions provide tension and suspense. Manipulated wives mix with supernatural causes, and the infamously inaccurate Collins Family History book means anything can happen. The Picture of Dorian Gray twists delight along with a crazy finale in Episode 816. Of course, that monkey’s paw style hand leads to some wildly bad makeup and pasty skin effects that are actually ghoulishly fitting, and the black and white kinescope versions of Episodes 797 and 813 are more disturbing thanks to chilling séances and ghostly overlays. When the panning cameras, zooms, booming screams, coffin creaks, slamming doors, fog machines, and lights out cooperate, it’s the exclamation on all the fearful gothic mood. Certainly, the gypsy material here is stereotypical and cliché. For some audiences, Dark Shadows may seem comical in its juicy horror camp. However, today many shows seem to easily unravel with less material over shorter amounts of time. There’s even been a small Victorian cum steampunk resurgence onscreen, but Dark Shadows has been doing this kind of entertainment all along.
Vampire Barnabas Collins is re-entombed in his coffin by the warlock Count Petofi who is intent on escaping 1897 by traveling to the future with werewolf Quentin Collins. Unfortunately, the witch Angelique (Lara Parker) has marital plans for Quentin, leaving the possessed Charity Trask (Nancy Barrett), jealous maid Beth Chavez (Terry Crawford), and painter Charles Delaware Tate’s (Roger Davis) perfect woman come to life Amanda Harris (Donna McKechnie) with brokenhearted, violent, and trigger happy threats.
1969 time travel goals lay the 1897 exit groundwork as skeletons, full moons, gunpoint confrontations, and confessions spearhead the intersecting supernatural tangents, unreliable I Ching attempts, and astral projections gone awry. The vampires, vendettas, paradoxes, and possessions are no longer secret thanks to prophetic harbingers and fatal deadlines. Hooded executioners provide suspense and vicious murders push the daytime television envelope while deceptive visions create an eerie mix of who is who, past or present, and living or dead. Vampires can’t help against unique spells during daylight nor is the werewolf available during the full moon. Characters learn of their own suicides from their future ghosts as villainous malice and emotional anchors swell with sword-wielding terror. Spectral toppers, paranormal visuals, and dark romanticism balance the traditional two-shot soap opera conversations. Although the performances are sincere and earnest, the cast tries not to laugh over crazy dialogue, infamous flubs, and teleprompter glances. Enemies sit together over brandy, waiting for who will blink first before the witch hypnotizes a man to put the pistol to his temple. That’s Twisted! Hidden letters written in 1897 are read in 1969 just in the nick of time – bringing the ominous facts full circle with bloody bright red flashbacks, cyanide, and jealous women. Redemptions and rejections lead to dying for love morose, and mystical bargains trap the afflicted via voodoo effigies, shackles, or black magic. Episode 839 would seem to resolve this fatal past with all is well second chances but the lycanthrope troubles and bodily possessions then and now linger. Stolen portraits, magic rings, late messages, and all aboard whistles add to the diabolical in Episode 850, and unknown prices must be paid. On Dark Shadows, most characters accept the fantastic rather than balk. However, no one ever really escapes from Collinsport.
Barnabas Collins travels from 1897 back to 1796 with Countess Kitty Soames, the reincarnation of his beloved Josette DuPres (Kathryn Leigh Scott) after seemingly defeating the vile Count Petofi – who has switched bodies with the now immortal Quentin Collins in order to travel to 1969. Unfortunately, ancient Leviathan interference and an evil antique shop run by the enthralled Megan Todd (Marcia Wallace) upset numerous events past and present for Dr. Julia Hoffman and the rest of Collinsport.
Body swaps, mistaken identity, and abused I Ching hexagrams open Episode 858 amid bitter marriages, magical portraits, and blackmail. Enemies become allies as characters must prove who they are thanks to skeleton keys, psychic visions, and mystical ruses. Inner monologues matching the real person in the wrong body curb confusion as well as garner sympathy while buried alive threats and haunted punishments result in kidnappings and failed rituals. Dubious lawyers and lookalike vampire encounters ramp up the scares in Episode 868 as suspicious relatives and antagonizing ministers plot with buried suitcases and decoy burglaries. Will power over evil, cliffside desperation, and deadly shockers in Episode 876 up the intensity before 879 adds double-crosses, stranglers, poison, and fresh cement. Climatic scandals keep the paranoia and graveyard chases on track as victims must stay awake lest spells overtake them. Green screen mistakes and innate camera flaws may make the magentas look garish, however, the distorted hues are terribly effective for gaslight ambiance and ghostly overlays. Cursed people are packing, gold diggers are making plans – there’s a sense that 1897 is a wrap and 1969 is imminent thanks to psychedelic dreams, astral interference, and time travel technicalities. Unfortunately, the fiery 1897 finale fumbles thanks to a shoehorned in 1796 detour before the much maligned leviathan storyline with its naga lockets and necronomicons. After three odd colonial episodes, the vampire brides and meddling witches are also left hanging for torches and snake altars before the return to 1969 in Episode 888. It’s a big WTF that today would have audiences immediately tuning out and complaining on Twitter. If Dark Shadows had directly taken the I Ching back to 1969 and then revealed the unusual Lovecraft-inspired leviathan abstracts as a subplot to what happens with our 1897 immortals; the ancient rituals and cult incantations might have been received differently. A lot happens on Collection 17, but Dark Shadows has plenty of juicy left to come, and the 1897 escapade remains perfect for a spooky marathon.
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Spike: Into the Light Comic
Reviewed by Sebastian Grimm
You know as well as I do that the major success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is all because of Spike. If he’s your favorite characters too, you’ll find this comic Spike: Into the Light an amusing little read.
Written by James Marsters himself (the actor who played Spike) this little comic has all the fun comedy we have learned to expect from the blond one.
In a time when Spike is trying to be a good boy, he travels to a different town called Greenville where he helps save a woman in an alley from two thugs. He then uncovers a demon trying to kidnap little kids, tries to recover some money he stole in his heyday, and replace some broken boots.
This story is supposed to take place near the beginning of Season 7 of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. So, you might want to watch the end of six before you start this read.
Now, the artwork is all very well in this book. I found the demon especially interesting and Spike was as we would expect him. I enjoyed the inner monologue Spike gives us in this comic and it was fun watching him try to be a good guy when all he wants to do was bust some skulls. Or drain some blood for God’s sake!
My only disappointment was that, I like Spike when he’s bad. Seeing people take advantage of him, breaking his boots and not paying for it, stealing his money, all these things happening and he just taking it…it was hard to watch.
Still, I’d say this comic was a success. Well done James, and I look forward to more if you have it in you.
This is a rare 4.5 ☆☆☆☆ ½ on the scale.
Sebastian Grimm signing off.
Mary Moon Comic
Reviewed by Sebastian Grimm
I’m reviewing an old comic Circa 2012 that I picked up at a used bookstore. Mary Moon is a story about a gal who gets bitten by a werewolf and a vampire at the same time, making her some sort of hybrid were-vamp.
This Volume 1 by Black Mirror Comics seemed somewhat like an indie publication and does have a few typos. However, they seem very passionate about their story and there’s even information in the back about how to subscribe to them. Now, I haven’t looked up the website to see if it’s still in service, but here’s my review of this issue.
First off, the art is rather well done. Much better than I would expect from an indie comic company. I enjoyed most of the images. There are a few that are a little out of whack, but overall it’s done well.
This story is an interesting idea. What if you were bitten by a vampire and a werewolf at the same time? Would you be a cross between both of them, or would one be a more dominant feature in your blood?
In Mary Moon’s case, she experiences these beings separately. She’ll be a vampire, she’ll feed on blood, and be stated. Then her werewolf being emerges, feeds on flesh, and is sated. They don’t seem to mix the bloodthirst and the flesh thirst, but hopefully, the victim will stick around long enough to feed bother her beings.
All this being said, about halfway through the book we find her in the emergency room being cared for by doctors. This is where the story falls apart for me. She is supposedly in Transylvania, being cared for by medical professionals there. However, the people in the hospital look like Americans. They use a lot of technical American speech almost as if it’s an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The primary doctor in the story is so angry, he yells every single thing he says as if that is how his demeanor is. But it’s really strange because he’s overly dramatic at some points. Also, the way he’s painted is like he’s the devil or something when he’s just trying to save this woman’s life–we think. Not only that, the medical procedure is pretty flawed. When she’s bleeding internally, she goes into cardiac arrest and flatlines. They don’t try to revive her in any way shape or form. The doctor just says, “Wrap it up. Time of death is…” For a doctor who was so angry about getting the patient fixed as soon as possible and yelling orders to every nurse, attending, and orderly around, he just drops her when she flatlines?
Besides this 7-10 page scene in the book, the rest of the story is rather well done and interesting. The vampire and wolf art is pretty good and the storyline is enjoyable. I’d give this comic 3 ☆☆☆ out of five, and remember, I am a tough critic.
Sebastian Grimm signing off.
Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz is very excited to at last ramble about the highs and lows and ways to watch the gothic sixties soap opera Dark Shadows! In this introduction to the series, learn about the storylines, technicalities, and monster mayhem!
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To read even more of Kristin’s Dark Shadows Reviews, visit I Think, Therefore I Review.
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Bad, Bad Dog: Full Eclipse and Howling II: Your Sister is A Werewolf
By Kristin Battestella
Somehow, I managed to stumble upon not one, but two questionable tales of wolfdom- the 1985 sequel Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and the 1993 HBO original movie Full Eclipse. Ruh-roh!
LA detective Max Dire (Mario Van Peebles) loses his wife and his partner and can’t quite deal. Fortunately, new special officer Adam Garou (Bruce Payne) invites Max to join his exclusive criminal task force- composed of other quality, but struggling cops like Casey Spencer (Patsy Kensit) who take the law into their own hands. The team injects themselves with a special serum designed by Garou, giving them superior prowess against the crime on the street…and a few werewolf tendencies.
Director Anthony Hickox (Waxwork) and writers Michael Reaves (Gargoyles, Smurfs) and Richard Christian Matheson’s (The A-Team, and yes, son of Richard Matheson) standard, undeveloped cop story has its share of script issues as it weakly deals with all the typical detective traumas like alcohol, empty marriages, and corruption. More repeating clichés and meandering plots waste far too much time for a 90-minute movie. Worse still, Full Eclipse never decides whether it’s a cop movie or a horror film- this wolf unit is supposed to be so total justice and badass, but the entire idea is just too preposterous even for fantasy. The dark realism attempt comes across as totally hokey, and a lot of the poor design work is too dark and tough to see anyway. Though dated by the nineties fashions, the lingering low budget feelings and mismashed plots are worse than any of the old motifs. ‘Looks old’ you can forgive if the tale holds up, but this nineties badass isn’t really that badass at all thanks to too much useless, bad action and slow motion police work. And all this is before all the cheesy werewolf mess! There’s simply not enough mystery or scares to accept the crappy effects, wolverine like wolf claws, and cops suited up like cannibal superheroes.
Fans of Mario Van Peebles, thankfully, can find a few things to enjoy in Full Eclipse. Granted, Peebles (Damages, All My Children, New Jack City, Heartbreak Ridge, Posse, Solo, I’ll stop) is kind of just being himself as always, but it’s juicy, cocky, and fun to watch as expected. Likewise, Bruce Payne (Highlander: Endgame) is freaky fun. The script and goofy wolf serum plot don’t serve him well, but some might enjoy his violent creepy, disturbing as that it is. Unfortunately, it’s Patsy Kensit (Emmerdale, Lethal Weapon 2, music chick and rocker wife) who drops the ball most in Full Eclipse. Yes, there’s plenty of nineties rowdy English rose pretty, but she’s also pretty obvious and absolutely unbelievable as a cop- much less an action hero with hairy secrets or a meaty attitude. Actually, there’s no chemistry among the cast, and Full Eclipse isn’t nearly as sexy as it could have been. And that ‘love scene’ between Kensit and MVP is just pathetic. I’ve never seen people bump and grind whilst being so far away from each other!
Likewise, fans of that horror titan himself, Christopher Lee, can attempt the badly bizarre novelty of Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. But of course, Sir Christopher’s voice is great as always- and I do so love the way he insistently repeats that subtitle! He certainly looks the classy werewolf hunter, or excuse me, the ‘occult investigator’. Big C always comes to play even in a bad, bad movie such as this, but the classy older Lee going for those funky white sunglasses and red leather jacket for some undercover eighties clubbing is just….no. In some scenes, it’s like there’s Christopher Lee, and then there’s everyone else- and to top it off, he has the Holy Grail in his wolf arsenal. I kid you not. Lee’s Occult expert Stefan must convince reporter Jenny (Annie McEnroe) and Ben White (Reb Brown, Captain America) that his sister- the reporter Karen White from the 1981 film The Howling– is now a werewolf needing to be staked in her crypt. To stop all the virile werewolves from rising with the full moon, the trio must travel to Transylvania and destroy the ancient wolf queen Stirba (Sybil Danning) before she makes hairy werewolf love in a spectacular eighties light show. I repeat, I kid you not.
Truly, this cast is so, so bad (I made a mistake when I typed my notes and wrote ‘sos’ bad, as in ‘S.O.S’, wow!) Annie McEnroe (Beetlejuice) is a totally unrealistic and mousy reporter with pathetic delivery. In her scenes with Lee, it feels like he would have been better off talking to a wall because it is that one-sided of a conversation. None of it sounds right, especially the bad howling during the weird wolf sex. While I love the idea of a sexy and badass black wolf chick stealing the show, Marsha Hunt (Dracula A.D. 1972) isn’t given the proper treatment. Her makeup and over the top wolf plots are too eighties to be sexy, and the full doggy getup ends up looking more like a drag queen. It’s an utter injustice for what could have been hot hot hot. Thankfully, Sybil Danning (Amazon Women on the Moon) is totally fetching despite that scary and violent leather bodysuit. The incredibly weak script gives her nothing to say but growls and gibberish- was that aged 10 millennia did you say, really? Danning looks perfectly perky and kinky in her prime, but if only we could have seen more of her and Lee together in something more Hammer juicy. Alas, instead we get the very disturbing Little Person Werewolf Hunter Jiri Krytinar (Amadeus), who unfortunately gets his brain imploded by Stirba before turning Don’t Look Now. Ouch.
This utterly preposterous story from director Phillippe Mora (A Breed Apart) twists source novelist Gary Brandner’s mythos and also goes by Howling II: Stirba- Werewolf Bitch. Well, I may as well stop reviewing right there, for there isn’t anything major wolfy or bitchy here. This 1985 sequel is a far cry from its cult treat predecessor, with nasty werewolf implications that don’t go far enough and awkward, reaching ties to the original film. Too many changes to the werewolf essentials almost turn Howling II into a vampire move. These Transylvania wolves are immune to silver and can only be stopped by titanium stakes through the heart. Every eighties horror shtick possible is used – fire magic wolves get their powers binded by Big Christopher in what is a completely random and unfulfilling attempt at sexy horror and wolf comedy. Everything about Howling II is mistaken, from the bad, unnecessary eighties music over taking everything to the low of the lowest budget 1985 design. The punk teen Euro wolfy fashions, horrible lycan effects, awful zooms, and disastrous attempts at what you don’t see horror- really; these werewolves toss crates to ensnare their victims! Likewise, they themselves are caught in some bad action scenes and get captured with fishing nets!
I’m harsh, yes, but Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and Full Eclipse can be entertaining believe it or not- if you really, really like bad wolfy movies or are seriously jonesing over the leading men. It’s ironic because Mario Van Peebles and Christopher Lee are probably as far from each other in the leading man spectrum as you could get, but both deserve to be in a quality wolf horror movie. Nonetheless, their fans can still have fun here. However, if you are a highbrow fright connoisseur and expect some sense of credibility or logic in your lycan films, then move along doggie.
The Munsters Uneven Second Season Still Full of Fun Treats
by Kristin Battestella
At once The Munsters seems like a short-lived show with two seasons worth of spooky shtick – if you’ve seen one episode with lovable monster Herman, vampire housewife Lily, The Count Grandpa mad scientist, unfortunately normal niece Marilyn, and little werewolf son Eddie then you’ve seen them all. However, with thirty-two episodes for the Second 1965-66 season, The Munsters both strays from its affable formula yet provides enough hair-brained fun for triple the time of today’s shorter, ten or thirteen episode seasons.
Lying down on the job, getting mistaken for a customer – The Munsters‘ funeral parlor jokes continue this season in “Herman’s Child Psychology.” The family gathers around the dusty organ for a sing a long and nice father and son moments turn into bemusing reverse psychology as peer pressure puts Eddie in a mini rebellion phase. It’s a simple premise, but this cool refresher even kids that these kinds of things are supposed to work on Leave it to Beaver. Likewise, everyone struggles to all fit on the couch for a family photo and end up victims of the powder poof in “Herman Munster, Shutterbug.” Lily knows Herman dabbling in photography will be botched somehow, and sure enough, the clan ends up humorously held hostage after Herman inadvertently snaps bank robbers in the act. Of course, the crooks can’t handle The Munsters at home, but Grandpa sides with Herman and Marilyn with Lily when the couple both secretly take second jobs to buy each other 1865 anniversary gifts in “Happy 100th Anniversary.” Not only do they scare the employment agency, but the two end up working side by side – but in their welding masks. Granted, The Munsters repeats on the moonlighting jobs, and gosh it sure was easy to get work for a week back then. However, parallel scenes, charming quips, mistaken hijinks, and men versus women in the same workplace combine for some preposterous, memorable laughter. Grandpa says the dripping with class Munsters must frighten the common man and that’s why they can’t get a renter for their guest room in “Lily’s Star Boarder.” Of course, jealous man of the house Herman objects to the idea, snoops, and jumps to a totally wrong conclusion about their secretive guest. Rather than a crooked swindle, here The Munsters smartly puts an outsider in the mansion and lets the happenstance ensue. Unfortunately, the court thinks Herman hitting his head and getting amnesia is a Candid Camera stunt in “John Doe Munster.” Lily and Grandpa must go to the adoption judge over comic book reading Herman – who doesn’t recognize his family. However, he does think Mrs. Munster is a cute cookie and is willing to go home with her if he gets his own TV set!
Meetings with the Mayor, creature sightings, and pesky reporters make for an interesting mix of humor and politics when Grandpa’s anti-voting machine and Spot’s running away clash in “Underground Munster.” Whispers of corruption, red tape, and a politician really throwing dynamite on the situation add to the race against the clock, and The Munsters gets better midway through the season as secret passages in the dungeon lead to the discovery of an old fort in “The Treasure of Mockingbird Heights.” Labels such as “playpen” and “hobby room” on the ye olde prison stocks delight Herman and Grandpa – not to mention the map to buried pirate treasure. After all, the boys agree such luck doesn’t happen to this kind of nice, normal family. Teamwork, humorous obstacles, surprises, and suspicions keep the two-hander cracks fun. Unfortunately, Eddie’s being bullied and Herman faces practical jokers at work in “Herman’s Peace Offensive.” While doing the right thing, not resorting to violence, proper parenting, and standing up to bullies are basic sitcom topics, The Munsters’ unique brand adds witty gags alongside parlor zest and father/son boxing gone awry. The lessons are learned – although innocent Herman mixes with horse racing bookies instead of discouraging Eddie from gambling in “Herman Picks a Winner.” Fred Gwynne also goes sans monster makeup after “disfiguring” stray lightning in “Just Another Pretty Face,” making for one of the most memorable Munster episodes. It’s Herman complete with all the same mannerisms, but the repulsed family takes him to the doctor and considers plastic surgery. Poor Herman feels Hollywood flashy in a regular suit and too embarrassed to go to the parlor, but his original Dr. Frankenstein blueprints and some mad scientist twists bring rectifying delights. Likewise, “Zombo” provides great horror within the horror as Eddie becomes obsessed with the titular host’s show – only to be shocked and disappointed at the behind the scenes fakery and “This is television” cardboard veneer. Here The Munsters uses the spooky bad horror expected of the era to wink at their own comedy as well as the still relatively new vogue of television.
Viewers also get to see more of the funeral parlor after Herman’s publication of “Going out to Pasture” in “The Mortician Monthly” for “Cyrano de Munster.” When he turns to ghost writing love letters for a co-worker and Lily finds out, well, The Munsters add its own spin on the familiar theme. And imagine, back then, one had to look up people’s addresses in the phone book! Dr. Frankenstein IV stops by in “A Visit from Johann,” and Gwynne does double monster duty again as the eponymous but less sophisticated Herman lookalike. Johann, however, escapes the dungeon and ends up on a switcharoo honeymoon weekend with Lily. Alas, it’s Herman ruining Grandpa’s go kart birthday gift for Eddie that brings the father and son-in-law to war in “A House Divided.” Booby traps and elaborate alarms lead to the divvy of mansion property with competing televisions, rival organ music, and newspaper squabbles. Instead of cruel crooks, the bemusing nasty stems from the territorial escalating, and rather than some kind of scam, the car accident victim of the jaywalking Herman tries to settle in “Herman’s Lawsuit.” Her lawyer sees their lifestyle and thinks The Munsters destitute, but the out of touch family doesn’t realize they are the ones being paid! The unplanned series finale “A Visit from the Teacher” sees Grandpa’s crazy invention to save electricity, Herman electrocuted while trying to fix the toaster, and Eddie’s school essay about his zany family – bemusingly summing up The Munsters in a little episode about nothing but them being themselves. Of course, the school officials think it is all just a disturbing fantasy until they end up trapped in the coffin phone booth, and The Munsters think it is nothing but plain old jealousy when others don’t appreciate their good-natured hospitality.
Generally, The Munsters’ episodes have a Munster moniker in their title, and the names of each half hour pretty much giveaway that show’s entire plot. However the titles aren’t shown in the episode’s credits this season, and Year Two is slow to start with the same unnecessary gimmicks and dancing bears. Repeat bank heists and people fleeing in super speed get old fast and detract from the family humor this show does best. Rather than takings cues from its own brand, The Munsters relies on too many then-references and jokes that will fall flat for audiences mid-century unfamiliar. Quoting other television shows in attempted self-awareness doesn’t work when the family themselves behave inconsistently and out of character from episode to episode. One and all happily go to the beach without negative comments on sunshine and nice weather, Herman says he never won an award when he just did win the episode prior – isn’t grilling wolf burgers a little cannibalistic? Dated stereotypes and an evil Russian trawler in “Herman the Master Spy” add to the unevenness in the first half of the season, almost as if the show doesn’t know what to do beyond putting the family in outlandish stunts such as “Bronco Bustin’ Munster.” Fun individual moments like Herman’s clumsy, house damaging, not so athletic grace in “Herman, Coach of the Year” are like every other sports episode, and attempted, ahead of their time comments on gay marriage, cross-dressing, and male to female body switches come off as woefully unsmooth. The hypnosis and hiccup gags in “Herman’s Sorority Caper” do enough alongside the drive-in showing “The Beast That Ate Lower New Jersey,” however, frat boys abducting Herman and sorority shower traps dampen the fun, and The Munsters often resorts to such dumb turns rather than fully embracing its potential for unique, spooky horror treats. “Big Heap Herman” piles on stereotypical Native American portrayals – with Native Americans complaining about their faux village tourism and putting on stereotypical Native American portrayals. There’s promise with tiny cabin births and little ladders for physical gags, but somehow it all comes down to two vampires walking through the desert. Say what?
He may speak a bit of Spanish and basic French, but Herman Munster’s family knows he is a big boob who can get lost on the way home and needs his inflatable sea horsey to go scuba diving. Herman wants to impress his family at all times and be their hero but still have time to catch up on Little Orphan Annie. He’s 152 and in the prime of his life yet afraid a hair cut will ruin his rugged Steve McQueen look. Herman falls for every trick in the book, as in “Herman, the Tire Kicker” when he uses his $375 bonus to inadvertently buy a hot lemon for Marilyn. However, he laughs at his own jokes, too – which makes Herman all the more lovable whether the pun is stellar or corny. In “Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?” Herman plays guitar and sings a song, leading to radio stardom that naturally gets the better of him. Gwynne’s simplest slapstick actions and solo physical humor are always good fun, and this season the majority of episodes focus on Herman. He only cracks the mirror twice and school professors take Herman for a missing link in “Prehistoric Munster,” but when offered a happy hour drink, he agrees to a hot fudge sundae with pecans on top – and kicks back four of them. Although I wish we saw more of him at the funeral parlor, about his work Herman says, “I really dig it.” When promoted to driving the Hearst for “Herman’s Driving Test,” he discovers his license expired 20 years ago, which means good old law abiding Herman has been driving almost the entire series without a license! Tsk tsk. Of course, Lily gets unnecessarily jealous and easily angry at Herman despite their long lasting marriage – she wore a black veil and held their wedding reception in the family mausoleum. They aren’t seen in that shocking double bed together as much, but Lily keeps herself classy with braids, a black parasol, and an old fashioned bathing suit at the beach. Her iconic dress actually changes quite a bit, but hello, tiara! Lily puts out her best bone china for guests and makes everyone’s favorite owl egg omelet brunch complete with bat milk yogurt, salamander salad, vulture livers, and cream of buzzard soup. Ever the loving aunt, she calls home from the movies to check on Marilyn – if only because the western movie massacre was disappointing thanks to all the fake blood. Lily paints, sculpts, and although she enjoys having the lights out and needing a candle during nighttime storms, she also want the television back ASAP. She gets very upset when Herman turns handsome – er gruesome and often lays down the law with her family. While early on Yvonne De Carlo doesn’t have much to do besides yell at Herman, Lily has her spotlight when late Cousin Wolverine sends The Munsters a 10,000 inheritance in “The Most Beautiful Ghoul in the World.” Lily and Marilyn open a beauty parlor to rival Grandpa and Herman’s latest experiment, however Lily’s Old World beauty techniques make regular folks’ heads turn – and sue Lily for disastrous results.
Fortunately, ever wise Grandpa says there’s no sense crying over spilled blood! Even without his crystal ball, he knows Herman will goof up his experiments or turn his well intended pills and potions into a family mishap. While Grandpa does antagonize Herman with cowardly taunts and experiments on him even when he runs out of anesthetic, they also look through old photo albums together and their mad scientist team ups do help…occasionally. Grandpa turns into numerous animals, disguises himself to fool Herman, and uses his trick index finger as a lighter or key. We don’t often see his pet bat Igor, but Grandpa plays checkers with a ghost – who won’t pay up when he loses – and has some interesting Tesla style energy, wireless, and lighting designs that unfortunately backfire. When not focusing on Herman The Munsters does seem more rounded this season with ensemble moments and great wisecracks from Al Lewis. Grandpa loves the operations on Dr. Kildare and thinks My Three Sons is a “weird fantastic adventure,” but he gets lassoed into his own scam when a wealthy widow is searching for him in “Grandpa’s Lost Wife.” The yacht and thoroughbreds were too good to be true, and Grandpa goes back to sitting at the kitchen table reading “Playghoul.” What kind of message is that for dear Eddie? He buries Grandpa in the sand at the beach, has a surfboard in the shape of a coffin, and picks up a new pet snake named Elmer. Eddie also wins a track race on his own despite Herman wanting to take coaching credit or Grandpa cheating with magic. He’s reluctant to take mystery potions to improve his organ lessons, and such tricks yield unintended jazz results when Eddie is forced to play the trumpet in “The Musician.” While Eddie remains a plot point or moral example as needed, Butch Patrick still generally appears at the dinner table or for a pet mention and then disappears until the end of an episode. For every stride The Munsters makes in giving him something to do, the gags still take over any character development. Sure, he slides down the banister with his Woof Woof or takes a pole to the kitchen and has cool stairs in his room. However, home from school trouble is told rather than seen, and the robot companion in “Eddie’s Brother” becomes more about Herman playing favorites. Unlike other sitcoms of the era, The Munsters never adds more children to its nucleus – but the series also should have paid more attention to the youth it had. I suspect they could have written Eddie out as off to boarding school or with relatives in Transylvania and the series wouldn’t have changed much.
Naturally, Pat Priest as Marilyn fairs little better, coming and going with off screen exposition despite providing sound advice amid the haywire. She listens to Lily’s this or that and has some funny moments with Grandpa – although the family whispers about what could have scared her pregnant mother into making her look like that. The Munsters have high hopes, however, making her dresses out of left over lining fabric from the funeral parlor and storing them in her hope chest made with cedar from the parlor’s “Forever Yours” casket model. When not helping in the kitchen and serving tea or sour lemonade, Marilyn stays home and studies rather than going out with the clan – but at least she has some scenes of her own and gets to say she is home for a big test instead of being name dropped as an afterthought. Why couldn’t Marilyn be the focus of the driving test episode? Even for her birthday in “The Fregosi Emerald” – complete with a cursed ring, sow’s ear purse, and a tarantula skin wallet with a picture of Herman inside it – Marilyn has the same old jinx and bad dates. Fortunately, she actually has a storyline of her own in “A Man for Marilyn.” Herman scares a boy by saying they would love to have him for dinner, but Grandpa turns a frog into a prince while Lily literally ropes in a passerby and dresses Marilyn up in a black lace wedding gown. After all, “Happy the bride the moon shines on, dear!” It’s a cute little episode that makes most of The Munsters’ built in Marilyn gag. This sophomore year there are also less guests with more self contained stories, but fun choice appearances nearer the end of the season include Dom DeLuise as Dr. Dudley, Harvey Korman again, Batman’s The Riddler Frank Gorshin, and mom Bonnie Franklin from One Day at a Time. John Carradine also returns as deadpan funeral director Mr.Gateman, telling “Mrs. M” he is in a gay mood and famous for his sense of humor – and he confesses that the parlor runs better without Herman.
The Munsters debuts new credits and a tricked out theme for Year Two, however the crash sound when Herman breaks through the front door is occasionally absent, and sometimes the show starts cold while other times a title card is presented. The volume is once again uneven, and some animal effects are better than others are. While make up and fashion changes are understandable, the special effects seem reduced this season, with less objects broken and cheaper looking travel facades, poor water and boat photography, silly rodeo footage, and seriously fake forestry. Fortunately, the Munster Mansion is less cobwebbed, making it just a little bit easier to see everything, including a new guest room with an upstairs candlestick phone that seems to be where Marilyn’s room was in the front gable. Herman and Lily’s master suite leads to the covered widow’s walk on the right of the house, and décor such as the trick knight at the top of the stairs, a growling tiger blanket, and a crooked, dusty “Home Sweet Home” sign set the quirky, quaint mood. That big house, however, has only has one bathroom hear tell. The cranky clock raven has a handful of snarky quips, but Kitty and its lion roar only appears a few times, erroneously as both a ginger and a black cat. However, sort of dragon, kind of dinosaur Spot and his tail are more visual this go round, with talk of him stealing car bumpers because he has an iron deficiency and other critical plot moments almost making him more important than Eddie! The pyrotechnics under the stairs come in handy grilling hot dogs, too, while the smoke, fog, and grayscale schemes keep the 1313 Mockingbird Lane lawn looking creepy fun for a nighttime dig. But hell, I want to open a shop with only $5,000 capital! And $20 bail? Hot damn. All the family’s ideas, information, and schemes come from their daily newspaper, too, and it’s easy to enjoy the nostalgia on The Munsters thanks to old laboratory gadgetry, flashbulb cameras, tape recorders, period radios, and giant bags of snail mail.
Strangely, Episode Seven “Operation Herman” is not included with The Munsters on Netflix. The doctoring may be unfunny, and Herman breaks the hospital rules to bring him Woof Woof when Eddie gets his tonsils removed, but even with the dose of laughing gas, it looks to be just a simple oversight rather than anything offensive. Streaming options, affordable series DVDS with perks, and retro reruns on networks like Cozi TV make it easy to catch The Munsters or the color follow up features Munster, Go Home and The Munsters’ Revenge. I am however hesitant to move on to the sequel series The Munsters Today. Despite running longer than The Munsters, I’m just too tepid about all that eighties neon! The Second Season of The Munsters starts with a lot of the same old same old. At times, the series seems out of steam and parodies its own parody with repetitive plots. Perhaps such simplicity is expected from a sixties show with so many episodes yet seemingly so few innate possibilities. Fortunately, The Munsters still has plenty of memorable delights in this second leg, and one and all can continue the creepy family fun marathon year round.
The Munsters Debut remains Macabre Good Fun
by Kristin Battestella
Meet the lovable and naive Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) – a 150 year old green skinned Frankenstein’s monster – and his vampire housewife Lily (Yvonne De Carlo) along with their Grandpa Count (Al Lewis), unfortunately normal niece Marilyn (Beverly Owen, Pat Priest), and young werewolf son Eddie (Butch Patrick) in the 1964-65 Season One debut of The Munsters. Though often derivative, gimmicky, and of its time, The Munsters jam packs these first thirty-eight episodes with gags, wit, and slapstick brimming with Halloween mood.
Fittingly, “Munster Masquerade” begins The Munsters with young romance and cross culture social clashes. These high society dames are worried about misspelling “Munster as Monster,” but the titular kin think an uppity masquerade party complete with King Arthur and Little Bo Peep costumes is horrifying! The Munsters establishes its series tone and now familiar tricks early, however, such gags and reverse quips – we weren’t dug up last night, put the color back in your cheeks, not letting the lack of rain spoil the evening – are part of the spooky, for the laughs charm. One might not expect much in these short twenty-five minutes or less run times, but the horror tropes, sci-fi humor, and lighthearted morals are surprisingly well balanced. The Munsters may not realize what they are, yet they make a point of being kind because they know what creeps regular folks may be. As a redo of the previous two test pilots, “My Fair Munster” is almost a bottle episode of mean neighbors despite that Munster friendliness alongside rectifying Marilyn’s old maid status with Grandpa’s mistaken love potion. “Rock-A-Bye Munster” adds self-awareness with a trick television and mini Frankenstein’s monster toys, leading to a witty case of mistaken pregnancy and the birth of the Munster Koach. The robot is hokey and the clash with truant officers remains unrealistic, yet “Tin Can Man” provides great funeral jokes and fatal quips before Herman falls asleep in the backseat as their car is stolen for a bank heist getaway in “The Midnight Ride of Herman Munster.” His innocence ups the zany plot twists, as he is surprised they want to go to the bank at dawn – it’s too early to be open – and he won’t speed in a 25 miles per hour zone when they leave. Likewise “The Sleeping Cutie” piles on the hypnosis humor, a pill that turns water into gasoline, sleeping potions, and a suitor named “prince.” What could possibly go wrong? Instead of a night picnic in the cemetery, the family braves the fresh air so Eddie can camp like the other boys in “Grandpa’s Call of the Wild.” Naturally, the trip spells disaster for Grandpa – who brings his electric chair outdoors and almost ends up in the zoo. The clan teamwork continues in “All-Star Munster” when Herman is mistaken for a basketball star by redneck visitors misunderstanding the comparably well to do Munsters, and “Bats of a Feather” fully introduces the family pets – Kitty with its lion’s roar, Spot the dragon under the stairs, and that “spoiled bat” Igor. Hey, why isn’t their temperamental raven in the cuckoo clock considered for the pet fair? I protest.
Herman’s detective school moonlighting and fun disguises raise Lily’s jealous suspicions in “Follow That Munster,” and the lighthearted marital discord carries over in “Love Locked Out” when Herman is sleeping on the couch until both separately go to a marriage counselor for inadvertently competing advice. Eddie finally has a friend over in “Come Back, Little Googie” but he’s an insulting, nasty boy trying to trick everybody, providing for The Munsters special brand of cruel versus kind lessons. Relocating to Buffalo for Herman’s promotion in “Munsters on the Move” wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t scare away potential home buyers – literally! Unfortunately, life insurance crooks are trying to kill Herman with on set accidents in “Movie Star Munster,” but such stunts don’t hurt him, forcing them to up their risks. Granted, there are scams like this practically every other episode on The Munsters – Herman always signs some kind of terrible contract in a quest for fame and fortune. However, the escalating trappings here are mad fun, and although diva Herman may be dumb enough not to read the fine print, but I’ll be darn he isn’t doing a scene if he doesn’t feel the character’s motivation! Fashion shows faux pas, a disastrous golf course, and snooty club members give everyone their moment in “Country Club Munsters” – complete with hatred and veiled statements reminding The Munsters how such bigoted people aren’t up to their kindly standards. “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” sees the family working both for and against a cad banker making moves on Marilyn just for the Munster gold, and say hey, Uncle Creature from the Black Lagoon pays a visit before a hilarious museum excursion leaves Herman locked in a sarcophagus for “Mummy Munster.” Women in the workplace jealousy anchors “Lily Munster, Girl Model,” and ridiculously fun Nutcracker spins and pirouettes have the whole family in on the magic act for “Munster the Magnificent.” Herman making friends and helping a little boy in “Yes, Galen, There Is a Herman” accents The Munsters with slightly serious Frankenstein movie parallels, and the eponymous boy’s disbelieving family takes him to a psychiatrist. Sure, today it is creepy the way Uncle Herman picks up a boy on the street and takes him back to his dungeon to watch Grandpa’s home movies, but the wink within a wink embracing fantasy versus destructive reality makes for a fine little finale on The Munsters debut.
Of course with so many episodes, The Munsters certainly has a few clunkers including the bickering couple using The Munsters for their own gain in “Pike’s Pique” and the shocking townsfolk reactions and presumed to be celebrating Halloween excuses in “Family Portrait.” The harp and phonograph of “Far Out Munsters” are fun, as is the irony of The Munsters liking The Beatles despite being initially too old fashioned for rock n roll – “You know, they’re almost as good as Kate Smith!” However, although the Beatniks invading Mockingbird Heights accept The Munsters as all right, the capitalizing Fab Four covers miss the mark along with the ham radio and mistaken aliens of “If a Martian Answers, Hang Up.” Too many stunt episodes in a row like “Herman the Rookie” complete with Dodgers guest stars and get rich quick schemes like the desolate timeshare of “Herman’s Happy Valley” feel like we’ve seen this same old already. You don’t have to watch The Munsters in order, but when one tunes in for every episode, you know what you’re going to get. With so many one trick ponies, it’s somewhat amazing The Munsters lasted as long as it did, and the series also has numerous inconsistencies. The make up stylings are redesigned in the earlier episodes, and even the credits change halfway through this first season with Fred Gwynne moving from his last “and” billing to first. The juvenile crank speed running away in horror exits get old fast, and bungling cop jokes suggest more than a hint of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis’ prior series Car 54, Where are You? The vampires on The Munsters adhere to no traditional undead rules, and how do a vampy wife and a monster man end up with a werewolf son, anyway? Throwaway dates, locations, and relations change from episode to episode with no clear show bible logistics. It’s no fun seeing so called regular folks trying to swindle the family, yet The Munsters relies on too many of these scam sitcom scripts when that contrast isn’t necessary compared to the titular topsy turvy perspective. Fifty years on, some jokes and pop culture references may not be understood by today’s audiences, and it is unfortunately very surprising to hear terms like wetback and gyp or Romani jokes alongside woeful Asian stereotypes in what is such a beloved and otherwise family friendly show. Honestly, I’m surprised these rare but jarring moments weren’t edited out for the video release.
Sure he works at a funeral parlor, however Herman Munster is a normal guy who wants his idyllic mid century family to be safe. So what if he’s a dunce at his might and stomps his foot when he doesn’t get his way. “Fiddlesticks!” is Herman’s go to exclaim, especially when he’s late for the carpool that picks him up in the back of the parlor’s Hearst – and he’s ticklish, too. Herman may crack the mirror – literally – but he’s more worried about his bills than being mistaken for the misspelled monster in the headlines crook of “A Walk on the Mild Side.” Always concerned about money, Herman tries a disastrous laundromat job in “Herman’s Raise” as well as wrestling on the weekends for extra cash in “Herman the Great.” However, he’s simply too sweet to be ruthless against the cheating competition. Herman won’t disobey a “Don’t Walk” sign but blows up the signal when he presses the button! Gwynne excels in solo physical humor scenes with few words as in “Dance With Me, Herman,” and he plays a suave lookalike in “Knock Wood, Here Comes Charlie” complete with a British accent and monocle. Fearful, finger pointing mobs may be played for laughs on The Munsters, but Herman makes sure his kin isn’t involved with the nasty folks in town, and more looking through the window Mary Shelley motifs are made humorous when Herman tries dieting at Thanksgiving in “Low-Cal Munster.” Herman and his wife Lily sit on the couch together and read, rock on the porch together during a storm, have a beach date on a rainy day, and – gasp – sleep in the same bed! Lily’s pussycat is more handsome than that unfortunate Cary Grant in her eyes. Although the family fears her wrath and she does get annoyed at his bungling when Herman and Grandpa are mistaken for burglars in Halloween masks in “Don’t Bank on Herman,” Lily easily forgives. She’s a good mom, too – sewing Eddie’s doll and raising Marilyn despite her niece’s “flaws.” Lily cleans nine rooms and a dungeon, vacuums with a vacuum set to exhaust the dust, and cooks oatmeal, pancakes, and Herman’s favorite cream of vulture soup. She plays the harp, sleeps with her namesake flower, and in “Herman’s Rival,” the 137 years young nee Dracula does palm readings at the local tea room. Although her white hair streaks and make up design varies at times, Yvonne De Carlo (The Ten Commandments) is always delightful thanks to bat necklaces, a werewolf stole, tiaras, iconic gowns, sparkling taffeta coffin capes, and “Chanel No. 13.”
Likewise, Al Lewis is all in good fun as that charming 400 year old widower Grandpa. The Count – known to turn into a wolf himself – has a werewolf son named Lester and still loves him some ladies despite having had over one hundred wives and falling for a mail order bride scam in “Autumn Croakus.” Occasionally, Lewis breaks the fourth wall, and these talking to himself asides or sight gags add self-aware wit. Grandpa hangs upside down in the living room, takes his eggs night side up, and roots against the Angels. Yes, there are a lot of hammy Dracula cliches on The Munsters – Grandpa’s cape and widow’s peak alone – but there is always a lovable quip or two to match his cool basement laboratory, potions, wacky inventions, and the latest money making scheme up his sleeve. Grandpa watches television and soap operas are his favorite comedy, but he has a naughty streak, too – tempting Herman with trick pens or food when he can’t eat. Unfortunately, their bemusing bromance does suffer in “Grandpa Leaves Home” when the feeling unloved Count runs off to perform in an ill-received magic club act. Grandpa’s tricks aren’t as good as they used to be, and such endeavors always have hair-brained results on The Munsters. Child star Butch Patrick’s Eddie hangs with his Grandpa the most, helping him in the dungeon when he’s not howling at the moon or playing in the fireplace, that is. Wolf look and all, “Edward Wolfgang Munster” is a gosh darn cute little boy with his little short pants, knee socks, pointed ears, and Woof Woof doll. He’s so tiny beside the seven foot Herman and no bigger than the golf bag when he caddies for his dad! Fortunately, his small stature means Eddie can hide in the cabinet or other fun places, and he has a pet door where one can deliver his bedtime glass of milk. Although he plays baseball with the other kids, they often don’t believe his stories about the Munster household – which unfortunately seem to happen mostly without Eddie. I’m glad The Munsters isn’t Eddie-focused in a Beaver Cleaver gone Halloween fashion, and the series was in fact envisioned as a parody on Leave it to Beaver by producers Joe Donnelly and Bob Mosher. However, Patrick often only has one scene even when the episode’s premise starts with him, and he’s most often seen with his back to the camera at the family table. “Eddie’s Nickname” is his only centric episode, but we do get to see his room in detail alongside nice father and son time and some moral lessons. Besides, today he would have a far worse nickname then “Shorty.”
She’s supposed to be Lily’s sister’s daughter, yet Marilyn’s mother is never mentioned by Lily or Grandpa, and her last name is still somehow Munster. Yeah. It’s somewhat sad that The Munsters’ normal blonde niece is so underdeveloped that the Beverly Owens to Pat Priest casting change in Episode 14 is almost completely unnoticeable. The Munsters does at least make good use of Marilyn’s repeatedly scaring away dates right from the start, and each unsuitable suitor gone is for the better as far as her Aunt Lily and Uncle Herman are concerned. The family pities her for being so “ugly” or “hopeless” and think she looks better with the bags under her eyes when she can’t sleep. They insist she stay in school and get an education because she’s only going to get a boy to like her for her brain! Marilyn does get a kiss in “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” – where we see her girly bedroom inside the left gable of the Munster Mansion complete with floral wallpaper, a canopy bed, and dainty furniture which Herman finds “distasteful.” Though never shown having plots or hobbies of her own and mentioned as being off studying when not included, Marilyn is briefly seen playing the organ and being Herman’s talent show magician’s assistant. She doesn’t desperately fall for every wolf on the make, either, and can tell when someone is suspicious. Most of Marilyn’s scenes, however, are with Lily, and it’s apparent the character really only exists as a soundboard for the wife at home. Like Eddie, Marilyn has one scene and few lines per episode. On the rare occasion they are alone onscreen, the cousins are still talking about others rather than having stories of their own. Marilyn has one shtick and one shtick alone, but it is a fun one, and the would-be con artists who knock on The Munsters’ door deserve to find this innocent and demure decoy. For sure, The Munsters has its fair share of famous and recognizable guests including postman John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) and Bewitched’s Paul Lynde in several episodes as Dr. Dudley. Batman’s Commissioner Gordon Neil Hamilton is here, too, with Bill Mummy (Lost in Space), Pat Buttram (Green Acres), Barbara Babcock (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman), Harvey Korman (The Carol Burnett Show), Don Rickles, and more. I must say, I would have certainly watched a spinoff featuring John Carradine as Herman’s undertaker boss Mr. Gateman!
Although the drag racing creation of the Dragula roadster in “Hot Rod Herman” will conflict with the later Munster, Go Home movie plots and a regular car driven by an unseen ghost is seen only once early on, the aforementioned Munster Koach is always good fun. Likewise, the cowabunga theme music remains as memorable as the always recognizable Munster Mansion – a great television house that has appeared in other films and television shows such as The ‘Burbs and Desperate Housewives yet continues to inspire builders who want to live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Sure, the kitchen is kind of drab. The décor is too derelict trashy and hellllooo dust mites rather than fancy Gothic sophistication – at Halloween one always strives for the latter and ends up with the former! However, that candlestick phone in the indoor coffin phone booth is yes please, and let’s throw in some nostalgic bells and whistles such as that $2 with a 50 cent tip taxi cab fee for good measure. Secret passages, creaking doors, and cobwebs spook up The Munsters as do phonographs, candelabras, cool spell books, and creepy potion ingredients. I wish the series had been in color – if The Munsters had lasted for a third year on CBS in the 1966-67 season, it could not have remained black and white. Thankfully, the smoke, fog, bubbling cauldrons, poofs of dust, and objects moving by themselves benefit from the eerie grayscale palette while setting the spooky Halloween funhouse atmosphere. Although the uneven sound is perhaps understandable, the laugh track and cutesy music effects feel like an intrusive insecurity today. The Munsters is a funny show, and the audience gets the puns a minute without the canned response – and we prefer our own spontaneous chuckles to being told we are too dumb to know good comedy when we see it. The pet jokes are much more fun on The Munsters thanks to some surprisingly not bad special effects. Not only are those opening stairs cool, but Spot’s flames and pyrotechnic gags, Kitty’s lion roar, wolf or animal filming, and bemusing bat work accent the horror humor. As to that grouchy cuckoo clock raven voiced by Mel Blanc…want!
All the mid-century so-called fantasy sitcoms have their gimmicks, and The Munsters is at once of its time with simplistic plots, stock character tropes, and lighthearted happy family motifs in costumed dressings. Too many episodes in a row can be tiring or annoying when every half hour seems the same. Fortunately, the very affordable Complete Series DVDs add to the fun with actor spotlights, behind the scenes features, unaired pilots and color versions – treats not available on current retro channel airings or streaming options. The Munsters uses every trick at its disposal to crank out its weekly humorous horror wheelhouse, and ironically, any derivative hang ups also make this debut easy to marathon for a weekend. Viewers can pay attention or casually tune in for the best gags or leave Herman, Lily, and the gang on to occupy the kids. Let the delightful family frights of The Munsters Season One play for a harmless party or Halloween mood any time of year.
Silent Film Scares!
By Kristin Battestella
Here are but a few early film frights to catch your tongue!
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Sleepwalking, hypnosis, and a demented carnival atmosphere are just the beginning for this influential 1920 paragon. From the German intertitles complete with a madcap, unreliable narrator font to the eerie, off key merry go round score, the distorted perceptions and exaggerated visuals force the viewer to pay attention. Green patinas, teal evening scenes, golden up close shots, and opening and closing irises layer on the dream like retelling alongside askew, Expressionist angles and a stage like design – a play within a play to which we the audience are willingly privy. Contrasting triangles, shadows, lighting, and more surreal architecture parallel the lacking reality, for there is no external frame of reference and forced perspectives belie a fun house whimsy. The actors, makeup, and abstract period styles are fittingly macabre, and the stilted contortionist movements evoke a poetic but unsettling ballet where a misused seemingly innocent, forgotten pawn needlessly dies once his job no longer computes. Though very indicative of its early interwar time, this remains immediately progressive – man is misled, controlled, even compliant in his misdeeds but not willing to be responsible for his actions when it is easier to be led astray and defer your killing hand to the orchestrating puppeteer. Do we not let popcorn entertainment and social media dictate our needs because someone somewhere told us so? Are we living in a fantasy if we think otherwise? Maybe so. The mass sheep consequences are indeed frightening, and some may find it tough to view this picture objectively knowing the catastrophic calamities to come. The appropriately named Cesare, deadly predictions, a perceived loved triangle, escalating murders, and crazy case connections twist and turn while satirical police sit on high up stools like toy soldiers waiting to be told what to do – like us in our 9 to 5 cubicles. Ignorance is bliss, and that is mighty scary. This is must see genre at its finest thanks to heaps of real world fears and social commentary for horror fans and classroom studies.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – This 1920 John Barrymore silent classic still looks good, with fine style and design and eerie organ music to match. There’s a lovely level of atmosphere for a spooky event- project this baby on some creepy cloth and you’re set! Granted, it’s a little slow to start and long for a silent film at 80 minutes. The presentation itself is almost Victorian in establishing the parlor goodness before its hint of pre-code sauce- the dance and proposition of Nita Naldi (The Ten Commandments). The posturing and makeup for Hyde may seem hokey, there isn’t that much of a visual difference compared to today’s high tech effects transformations. Nonetheless, Barrymore (Don Juan) sells the depravity without over exaggerating as the era often dictates, and the result is quite timeless. There aren’t many title cards, either. As the film progresses, the good and evil torment steadily increases thanks to the freaky pictures and creepy performance. A must see.
Fall of the House of Usher – This very early 1928 silent adaptation of Poe’s macabre tale is only 13 minutes. There are no inter cards to read, nor what we would call dialogue. The fashions are decidedly Roaring instead of Victorian, too. The visuals are so out there-even nonsensical-that it’s almost tough to see Edgar in any of it. Nonetheless, this moody piece is perfectly disturbed with great, haunting organ music and eerie, distorted photography. It’s trippy, unexpected, and a little scary. This is another one of those old films that makes for a great demented projection during a spooky party or ghoulish gallery presentation. Though not for everyone, anyone who is a fan of early film experimentation or audiences who just like weird shows should definitely check this out.
Faust – This 1926 F. W. Murnau biggie waxes on all the good and evil one can muster thanks to its Old World appeal, supernatural surreal, and timeless story. Familiar strings and sweeping orchestration ground the Expressionist horror framework with frenetic ills or melodic tender as needed while stunning images of angels both light and dark are fittingly disproportionate with oversized wings. So maybe the mounted skeletons may seem hokey, but the smoke and mirrors, creepy eyes, and evil horns make for superb overlays and superimposed shadows. Why do we toy with spectacular effects when each frame here is like a seamless painting – unlike contemporary, noticeably shoddy CGI. Ghoulish makeup, severe looks done with very little, dark hoods, rays of light, and religious iconography loom large, telling the tale with symbolic light and dark objects dueling for our attention – just like the delicate titular ballet. The battle for one man’s soul is set amid our earthly plague fears, and despite the torment and somewhat odd, dragging domestic humor, the acting is not over the top but subdued for the weighty subject. This macabre is closer to the past than the present, setting off the repentance questions and plague as divine retribution debate. His Old Testament gives no answer, and evil enters in on Faust’s doubts, trading decadence with quills to sign in blood, hourglass measures, alchemy, superimposed flames, and mystical books to match the thee and thou spells. Our deceiving little old man becomes more traditionally devilish looking with each lavish temptation, duplicitous with his immediate tricks of pleasure and unfulfilling youthful elixirs that cannot be sustained. Could you do good with such power? Flight and winds show not how high one goes but how far we will fall, and despite a somewhat overlong hour and forty minute full length edition, the grim sense of dread here snowballs as the looming evil drapes the bedchamber within his robes. Will innocence and love triumph and restore the divine? This stunning attention to detail not only makes me want to tackle Goethe again, but shows what can be done when time is taken to ensure a picture lasts 90 years rather than be a consumed and quickly forgotten 90 minutes. The multiple versions and assorted video reissues will bother completists, but we’re lucky to have these copies at all and horror fans and film students must see this still influential morality play.
The Hands of Orlac – Art and music meet the grotesque for this 1924 tale of pleas, surgeries, and will power. Precious few newspaper clippings and streamlined, made to look old intertitles accent the ominous locomotives, vintage vehicles, smoke stacks, and well done but no less hectic disaster filmmaking before the macabre executions and madcap medicine. Doctors in white coats with terrible news, a saintly woman in white, bleak black trees against the clouded white sky – rather than our beloved silver screen, the picture here is truly a black and white negative with bright, symbolic domestic scenes and nighttime outdoor filming. Overwhelming buildings loom tall, and the sharp, gothic arches of a sinister father’s house reflect his uncaring. Eerie superimposed faces, phantom feelings, and impatience to remove the bandages build toward the eponymous hysterics, but the simple agony of handwriting changes and crooked hands so skilled with a killer blade but unable to master the piano wonderfully increase the torment and self doubt. Is it the mind doing these fatal repeats or the appendages themselves taking over? The full near two hour restored version feels somewhat overlong, with melodramatic scenes and unnecessary transitions interfering with the anguish. At times, contrived fingerprint exposition and solving the crime clichés pull the rug out from under the horrific hands possibilities, but fortunately, the blackmail, murder investigation, and bittersweet love anchors the monstrous appendage swapping. Where today we would have all kinds of bent, hairy, or special effects to hit the viewer over the head with how evil these hands should be, it’s amazing how these wicked hands psyching out our pianist don’t look evil per se but actually fairly normal. With our contemporary pick and choose genetics and scientific advancements, the concept of these influential limbs out for themselves is perhaps more disturbing. Could you loose your art and livelihood when calamity takes your hands or would you use extreme science to restore your limbs, accepting the inadvertent trade of music for something more barbarous? This is an excellent must see both for the ghastly what ifs and the inner turmoil at work.
The Unknown – Lon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera) and Joan Crawford (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) star in this short but memorable 1927 silent from writer and director Tod Browning. Similar to Browning’s Freaks in many ways, the grotesque yet tender and sympathetic love triangle here is fast paced and well edited with intense twists and a great, revitalized score. Sure, it may be a Leap of Faith in taking Chaney as armless and the carnival set-ups are hokey- but trust me. There’s no over the top acting, only perfect expressions and emotions all around. Crawford looks dynamite, too, with great eyes and readable lips that don’t need inter titles. It’s not all Chaney’s footwork and bravo to his double Paul Desmuke; their combination is strangely delightful to watch. It’s probably a tough concept for some contemporary, effects-obsessed audiences to comprehend, but hearing or reading words aren’t required for the viewer to receive the trauma here. Yes, some of the essential plot points are fairly obvious today. However, the performances keep it splendid nonetheless. This hour is by necessity of the silent style yet also very modern in its own way. It’s definitely a must see for classic fans, lovers of the cast, and film makers or would be actors- who should definitely take a lesson on the big reveal here!
Wolf Blood – This 1925 silent hour plus is the earliest remaining onscreen lycanthrope picture, complete with Canadian flavor, old fashioned logging, spooky forestry, railroads, and jealous love triangles to match the desperate titular transfusion and its would be consequences. A befitting green hue graces the outdoor scenes while standard black and white reflects the bleak interiors and golden tints accentuate the high society parties. The focus is blurry at times, the print understandably jumps, and the music is surprisingly loud. However, the rounded iris close ups add a dreamlike quality, and the vintage jazz tunes and period fashions are a real treat. If you’re looking for a time capsule logging documentary, this is it! Flirtations, camp injuries, company rivalries, drunken dangers, and medical debates give the first half of the picture a purely dramatic pace, but the wolfy fears, mob mentality, and deadly possibilities build in the latter half. Fantastic medicine, superstitious leaps, dreams of becoming the wolf – this isn’t a werewolf film as we know it but the key pieces are here. How fast people turn on you once you have wolf’s blood! The wolf footage is also quite nice, with what looks like real mixed wolf or husky dogs. No, there is no werewolf transformation and it’s all a bit of a fake out in that regard, but the community fears and early man versus beast melodrama is still fun to see.
Horror Addicts Episode# 091
Horror Hostess: Emerian Rich
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For this review we have to get in the time machine and go back to 1980 and take a look at Moondeath by Rick Hatula. Moondeath was Rick Hatula’s first novel and was originally released by Zebra books. From 1977 to 1994 Zebra books was a major publisher of horror novels, but as the horror boom of the 80’s died down, Zebra books died with it. So for several years you probably couldn’t find a copy of Moondeath until late 2011 when Evil Jester Press re-released Rick Hatula’s Moondeath.
Moondeath takes place in the picturesque little tourist town of Coon Falls New Hampshire and follows the story of divorced teacher Bob Wentworth. Bob is looking to make a fresh start and has just moved to town to take a job as a teacher. Bob meets an unhappily married woman named Lisa and starts a relationship and things look good for Bob.
Things change though when a car with a young man and a woman he was having an affair with, goes off of a bridge and into the river. To the people in town it looks like an accident but the young man was married to a woman named Julie and Julie has some dark secrets. After the accident people start dying on nights when the moon is full. The local sheriff and townspeople think there is a large dog or a wolf doing the killing, but Bob believes the deaths are the work of a werewolf.
Like Julie, Bob also has a dark secret and the townspeople are not willing to believe his story. The townspeople try to hide the fact that they have a werewolf problem but the bodies keep stacking up and secrets don’t stay buried forever. There is something evil in Coon Falls and there may not be a way to stop it.
If you read Moondeath remember that it is a product of the early 80’s because the story seems a little dated. For one thing there is a scene where a werewolf is terrorizing a man in a phone booth. Also the story reminded me a lot of the slasher movies that were so popular in the early 80’s. You have people dying off in a beautiful small town one by one and no one in town seems to worry about it, until the bodies really start to pile up.
Another thing that makes Moondeath a little dated is the lack of strong women characters. One of the villains in the story is a woman named Julie. She comes across as slutty and very one dimensional, I think if the story focused on her more and how she feels, it would have made the story better. The other main female character, Lisa comes across as hateable because she is married to an abusive alcoholic and does nothing about it even though she knows who her husband is cheating with. I also didn’t like how she wouldn’t believe what is going on in Coon Falls despite the evidence that is in front of her.
I can forgive Moondeath for having weak characters because in a lot of books and movies in the early 80’s, women were not presented as strong unlike today. My other complaints was that the book was a little slow moving and there was a couple unanswered questions that annoyed me.
That being said there was a quite a few things that I did like about Moondeath. Rick Hatula does a great job of using forshadowing. For instance when Bob and Lisa meet for the first time, you see Lisa playing with her wedding ring which tells you right away that this couple is going to be more then friends. Also there is a point after a fight between two boys in a high school takes place and after being beaten up, one of the boys stomps down the hallway, you know we haven’t seen the last of him. Another scene that I liked was one day when Bob is showing up at the high school he sees an ominous looking cloud passing over the school and he thinks that something evil is coming.
I loved how Rick Hatula describes the death scenes in the book and the parts where black magic is being performed. I also thought it was a nice touch how there we’re scenes in the church where what the preacher was saying was a metaphor for what was going on in the book. Lastly, I did like all of the male characters in the book but would have liked to have seen more from the villains point of view. All in all I did enjoy Moondeath and would recommend it to anyone who liked horror in the early 80’s.
Also recently I read a short story from Biting Dog Press called Search and Destroy by Nancy Collins. Search and Destroy follows vampire hunter Sonja Blue as she goes to investigate why homeless people are dying at an alarming rate outside a small town in Washington.
If your not familiar with Sonja Blue, she was created by Nancy Collins in 1989. Sonja has had 5 novels written about her and several short stories. Search and Destroy is the first new Sonja Blue adventure in 10 years.
Sonja was only 18 years old when she was raped and fed on by a vampire. She was left on the street to die but miraculously survived and became a living vampire. She now spends time hunting vampires, ogres and demons. Think Buffy but more powerful, funnier and a lot scarier.
My only problem with Search and Destroy is that I wish it was longer. Despite how short the story is, Nancy Collins does a great job of creating some characters that you quickly grow to like and she gives a good commentary on what its like to be an outcast from society. This is a fast paced story with a lot of action and is very well written, but I wanted more. Hopefully we will see more of Sonja Blue in the future.
A daring new departure from the inspired creator of The Vampire Chronicles (“unrelentingly erotic . . . unforgettable” — The Washington Post), Lives of the Mayfair Witches (“Anne Rice will live on through the ages of literature” — San Francisco Chronicle), and the angels of The Songs of the Seraphim (“remarkable” — Associated Press). A whole new world—modern, sleek, high-tech—and at its center, a story as old and compelling as history: the making of a werewolf, reimagined and reinvented as only Anne Rice, teller of mesmerizing tales, conjurer extraordinaire of other realms, could create.
This week’s Horror Addicts featured author is Linda Ciletti. For HA episode 43: Werewolf, she has written a story titled The Hunger.
Linda told me that “I originally wrote it for a writing class I took at a local college “Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror”. It really opened my eyes at the genre range I could write, and it was good practice…Basically it’s one kill scene told from the introspection of the werewolf who is hunting for a meal. There’s no dialog…just his thoughts and actions.”
This is Ciletti’s first time on Horror Addicts, “horror isn’t typically a genre [Linda writes]. But it’s good to write a little in every genre because even though [she doesn’t] write horror novels, the ones [she does] write could have horrific parts in them.”
“The Hunger is my first Podcast. My ‘getting my feet wet’. I hope to podcast my other short stories as well.”
When asked to compare writing horror to what she usually does. Linda replied, “I normally write romantic adventure…medieval, fantasy, time travel and some contemporary. [But] it was fun to write this werewolf piece in his introspection. However, even these stories have horrific scenes or characters. It was only different in that the entire story centered on one horror character.”
As a day job, Linda is a Educational Programs Coordinator. “[She] set up programs for small business people to attend. A reservationist (sic) of sorts…arrange a speaker, a room, food, materials, etc. I also do the marketing for the programs, marketing materials, and other various duties. I like it..most days.”
On Linda’s website she mentions that she used to play guitar when she was younger. She also mentioned her hopes to start up again. I wondered what had started the hobby? What ended it? “It was the thing to do at that time. Everyone was playing guitar. I was 13. I have a creative side that must be satisfied, so that was one of the many ways I’ve done that. I really enjoyed it and still pick it up on occasion and play a bit. Last year I wrote a poem/song and performed it at a conference I went to, so I wouldn’t say it ended. I just don’t give it top priority.”
Another hobby of Ciletti’s is to craft porcelain dolls. “..I started doll collecting…the whole HSN (home shopping network) thing. Then thought, I should make my own dolls. I had done ceramics years earlier, so porcelain doll crafting wasn’t too far from that. Finally I found a shop that taught porcelain doll crafting and I started a very expensive habit. But I really enjoyed it.”
I was curious what process one has to go through to make a doll. “I didn’t pour my own porcelain…so I bought clay molds already poured and shaped, cleaned them smooth, cut out holes for eyes…then they were fired. Then you paint, and paint, and paint, then they are fired again. After the porcelain is done, you put in glass eyes, chose a wig, and buy or make clothes. Before the shop closed, I got into making dolls that represented my book characters. I love them. Unfortunately, the shop closed and my dolls days came to an end. So the book dolls I have now are all I’ll have.”
Linda had a very interesting experience to get her into writing. “I found a book lying on the road in the rain, picked it up, took it home, and began to read it…wet. Then I dried it out and finished reading it…and thought, I can do that and better. I was always a reader. After that I began reading voraciously. Loved the happily ever after endings of romance. That’s what starting me writing. It’s been a long growing and learning experience.”
Linda has been on Second Life (3D virtual world where users can socialize and connect) since April of 2009. On her website she wrote Second Life! Not just a game. Linda told me, “I say “not just a game” because as Fayre, I’m not roleplaying a character. Fayre represents me as a writer. I’m making writer contacts, making writer friends, and gaining opportunities I wouldn’t have gained had I not been in second life. Such as meeting an editor who said to send her a submission…and meeting the Podcasters and podcasting. SL can definitely work side by side with RL. Who knows what can happen.”
Draegon’s Lair and KnightStalker are the novels currently published by Ciletti. “What inspires any of [her] books are the characters that enter [her] head. It escalates from there. [She’s] sure other books [she’s] read are some inspirational influence. But mostly, the character shows up and [Linda] just start[s] writing.”
“Draegon’s Lair is about a woman who, betrothed for political reasons to the very cruel and sadistic lord, Bastion of Worthingshire, flees to escape abuse. She knows the price she’ll pay (a public flogging and possibly death) if she’s caught and brought back…she’d attempted running before. But this time she’s running not only for her own life but for that of her unborn child. After missing two menses, she knows she’s pregnant and she does not want her child raised in Bastion’s household.
It’s also about Draegon, a reclusive lord who keeps his face hidden from all but his second and steward, Diminimis. Draegon had suffered abuse in his early years and understands the fear it instills in a person. His earliest years are lost memories to him but for one; and because of this one memory, he knows the blood of a murderer runs in his veins and that he must hide his face so that others cannot see this innate evil in his eyes. He fears this evil and considers himself unworthy because of it. He is content in his world of shadows until he rescues a wounded Alys from a band of pursuers. Soon he realizes the truth of living in hell. Suddenly he yearns for a love he is unworthy of. But how can he convince Alys of his unworthiness? This spirited and persistent woman who believes him to be more than what he is.
“KnightStalker is about a struggling young mother, Rachael, raising her five-year-old son alone. She had never married, but had lived with her boyfriend for several years. Until he walked out on her and their toddler son. Because of this, she has trust issues and is afraid to let any man into her and Timmy’s lives.
It’s also about Michel of Banesford, a late 12th Century knight who vows to stop a serial killer even if he must follow him through time itself. Little does he know, that’s just what he would do. Michel follows this killer into present day. He knows he can never return to his own time, but after meeting Rachael and Timmy, he knows he has found his home in this new world. But his vow to stop the killer knight must be fulfilled. The story is about Michel’s adjustment to a future time and Rachael learning to trust. It’s also about love and family and commitment, whatever the cost. And keeping one’s vows and promises.”
Currently, Linda has two novels in the making. “One, Dream of the Archer, is being submitted. It takes place during the days of Robin Hood and the Archer is one of his men. She is also revising a Faerie Fantasy about a faerie prince who is determined to save a human child the faeries are going to tithe to hell. [Linda hopes] it will be ready for submission soon. [And she’s] now working on its sequel.”
For more information on Linda Ciletti visit these websites: