Fraidy Cat

Fraidy Cat 2There were many third stooges over the years. It started with Shemp, then Curly took over when the act got big. Shemp came back when Curly got sick and stuck with the act until his death. He was replaced in 1957 by Joe Besser. Truth be told, Besser is probably my least favorite stooge. He’s many people’s least favorite stooge. His whiny persona was a stark contrast to Curly and Shemp. However, he was a skilled comedian who had a successful career making short subjects before he joined up with Moe and Larry. Although our somewhat spooky short today, is actually a bit of a remake of a Three Stooges classic..it’s 1951’s Fraidy Cat.

Fraidy Cat 1Besser is teamed up with Hawthorne (full name Jim Hawthorne but credited only as “Hawthorne”). The boys work for the Wide Awake Detective Agency. Problem is, all the places they’re supposed to be keeping an eye on have been robbed in recent days. Rumor has it that the robberies are being pulled off by a large ape. Besser and Hawthorne are given just one more chance not to screw things up.

Fraidy Cat 3The duo heads off to the antique shop they are supposed to guard. Unknown to them, the ape is already inside. As they investigate, the two detectives get more and more scared. At one point, Joe sits down in a rocking chair to relax, while a cat sits right next to it with it’s tail moving back and forth underneath the rocking legs of the chair. Of course, when the tail gets caught, Joe freaks out. At one point he is so scared that he jumps into a bed and put the covers over his head. He doesn’t realize that he has also knocked a rubber mask of a sinister face onto his foot. So every time he peeks above the covers, he sees the devilish face staring at him. There is also a gag late in the film involving Joe getting his head stuck in a prop guillotine and a mannequin head that Hawthorne assumes is the decapitated Joe.

Fraidy Cat 4In wasn’t until after I started watching Fraidy Cat that I realized this was a remake. Visions of Curly doing many of the same gags Besser was doing were dancing in my head. Though it’s not beat for beat, this is a remake of the 1943 Stooges short Dizzy Detectives, which is a certifiable classic. While I admire Besser’s talents as a comedian, this short just can’t escape the fact that Moe, Larry and Curly did it better…much better. Beyond the truth that you can’t out Curly Curly, this short really does reinforce how well the three person dynamic worked for the Stooges. Here we have just two characters, so Hawthorne has the impossible task of trying to be both Moe and Larry…and it just doesn’t work.

Fraidy Cat 5It doesn’t help that Hawthorne is not at all impressive in this short. His delivery of the lines is a bit too bombastic and he can’t seem to figure out whether he should be the straight man or mug for the camera. Besser still delivers some solid laughs, though. Yes he’s doing Curly’s gags, but adds a bit of his own touch that is still funny.

For Halloween viewing, Fraidy Cat doesn’t play up the spooky elements of the story quite as well as the Stooges original does. From a comedy standpoint it’s only mildly amusing. In the end, the film will primarily be of interest to Stooges completists.

Walt Sent Me Episode 17: Hocus Pocus

Walt_Sent_Me SmallerTodd and Kristen are back with another Halloween-themed episode of Walt Sent Me. This time they look at the 1993 Disney film Hocus Pocus. They also take in the 1952 Donald Duck short Trick or Treat.

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Eyes of a Stranger

Eyes of a Stranger 2After John Carpenter’s Halloween was a hit at the box office, slasher films became Hollywood’s horror genre of choice. Many long running series with bizarre killers like Jason, Freddy and Chuckie would come along throughout the 80’s. However, there were a few films that featured killers who were just normal looking people…no hockey masks or razor-sharp gloves. One such film was 1981’s Eyes of a Stranger.

Eyes of a Stranger 1Our story takes place in Miami, where a killer is sexually assaulting and murdering young women. As the film begins, a nature photographer finds a body in the water as he’s out taking pictures. Local news anchor Jane Harris (Lauren Tewes…Julie from The Love Boat) reports on the story and pleads with women to be on their guard. The killer often engages in obscene phone calls with his victims before he attacks. Still, right after Jane’s report a waitress is killed in her apartment, as is her boyfriend who is decapitated with a meat cleaver. The head winds up in the fish tank…making this the second film I’ve seen this month where that happens (the first was He Knows You’re Alone).

Eyes of a Stranger 5Jane is obsessed with the story and with finding the killer. Her attorney boyfriend David (Peter DuPre) thinks she should leave things to the cops. He’d rather she just decide to move in with him, but she refuses because she takes care of her blind and deaf sister Tracy (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Apparently, Tracy has been unable to see or hear since she was abducted as a child. Nothing is wrong with her eyes and ears…she just seems to be blocking. So basically she’s like Tommy.

As more murders happen, Jane soon begins to suspect that a man named Stanley Herbert (John DiSanti), living in the same high-rise apartment complex she lives in, may be the murderer. Jane even swipes a key from the building super and sneaks into Herbert’s apartment to investigate. Soon, she decides to give Herbert a taste of his own medicine by calling him and claiming to know what he’s doing. This backfires, though, when Herbert recognizes Jane’s voice from television and sets out to kill Tracy.

Eyes of a Stranger 3In recent years, I’ve begun to understand the appeal of slasher films a bit more. I admit, I was never someone who watched them during my youth. While they feature terrible things happening to people, there is an element of fun to them…especially the more outrageous the bad guys are. In this film, however, our killer has no gimmick. He’s just a sicko…raping and murdering women. So that alone makes it hard to have “fun” with the film. However, there is some solid suspense here. Yes, the film seems to be borrowing elements from the likes of When a Stranger Calls and even Rear Window, but it does have some good scare moments.

Eyes of a Stranger 7Lauren Tewes makes for a solid leading lady and brings some interesting things to her character. At first she seems like she’s going to be your standard plucky reporter sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, but she goes through an interesting change. Once she’s on to the killer and decides to call him, Tewes brings subtle hints to her performance that suggest she is enjoying tormenting the killer over the phone, just like he enjoys tormenting his victims. In fact, it even seems like she is becoming aroused by this, dragging on a cigarette and gasping in ecstasy after hanging up. It adds an interesting element to her character that I wish had been explored a bit more.

Eyes of a Stranger 8I’ve also got to give a lot of credit to Jennifer Jason Leigh who is extremely convincing as a deaf and blind girl. She’s underused in the early parts of the film, but the big climax is all about her. It’s a tense sequence, with the killer toying with her…standing just out of her reach. With a lesser actress the scene could’ve become unintentionally funny, but Jennifer Jason Leigh really makes it work.

There are a number of grisly moments, courtesy of makeup artist Tom Savini, that horror fans will appreciate. It’s not a gore fest, though…the suspense element ultimately wins out. The average viewer, though, may find the disturbing nature of the killer makes the film a bit more difficult to take than other early 80’s slashers.

The Beach Girls and the Monster

The Beach Girls and the Monster 3There’s nothing quite like a beach party movie! You get to hit the surf with Frankie & Annette and the rest of the gang, plus you usually get a few tunes from the likes of Dick Dale and the Deltones and Little Stevie Wonder. It’s not exactly scary stuff. But what happens when you mix a 60’s beach party movie with a monster movie? The answer lies in 1965’s The Beach Girls and the Monster.

The Beach Girls and the Monster 1It all begins down on the beach where the kids are all surfing and dancin’ their lives away. It’s all good fun until one of the girls wanders off and discovers a cave which is home to a rubbery, seaweed covered creature that promptly kills her. The kids are all shocked and the local cops are baffled. The Sheriff even takes the case to Dr. Otto Lindsay (Jon Hall) who believes that the claw found at the scene looks a lot like it could come from a mutated fatiqua fish. Ignore the fact that fish don’t exactly have claws.

The Beach Girls and the Monster 2It turns out that Dr. Lindsay’s son, Richard (Arnold Lessing), knew the victim. He was once a promising young man destined to follow in his father’s footsteps, but ever since he had an automobile accident he has spent all his time pursuing surfing. Not only does Richard have to deal with his father nagging him about being a scientist, he also has to fend off the advances of his stepmother, Vicky (Sue Casey). Meanwhile, the body count keeps growing as the monster goes after the teens. That is, when they aren’t surfing or having bonfires and singing songs on the beach.

The Beach Girls and the Monster is one of the most gloriously awful movies I’ve seen in a long time. Let’s start with the monster: he’s essentially a guy lumbering around in a knock-off Gill Man mask. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the same design for sale at Walgreens. If rubber monsters aren’t your thing, we’re also treated to extended sequences of surfing. One such moment comes when Richard and his buddy Mark (Walker Edmiston) set up the movie projector in the bedroom to screen some surf footage. No need to actually work the stock footage into the actual story.

The Beach Girls and the Monster 4The major artistic motif of director Jon Hall (yep, the same guy that plays Dr. Lindsay) is nighttime driving scenes achieved with actors sitting in a stationary car with rear projection behind them. Scene after scene after scene is done in this style. Some are shot from the front, some from the back, some from the side. At one point, the actor doing the driving in one of these scenes forgets to stop moving the steering wheel though the car has supposedly stopped.

The Beach Girls and the Monster 5A real highlight of the film is its bizarre music. The score is a mixture of surf style and free form jazz. There are also a number of songs, beginning with a track called “Dance Baby Dance,” co-written by Frank Sinatra Jr. The actors contributed to the songwriting, as well. Arnold Lessing wrote “More Than Wanting You” and sings it in the film. “There’s a Monster in the Surf” was written by Walker Edmiston and Elaine DuPont, who plays Richard’s girlfriend Jane. This song was a standout moment for me as it is partially performed by a puppeteer manipulating a lion hand puppet. The puppeteer is also wearing a ridiculously fake beard, presumably to hide the fact that his lips are moving. The puppetry is actually quite good, though.

The Beach Girls and the Monster 6The Beach Girls and the Monster is one of those terrible movies that is an absolute joy to behold. It pales in comparison to the Frankie and Annette beach party films, and those weren’t exactly high-caliber productions…but it manages to be just as fun.