MONSTERS CRASH THE
(SPOOK SHOW SPECTACULAR)
the uninitiated, "Spook Shows" were after-midnight programs
that traveled from theater to theater during the 1920s through
the '60s. A master of ceremonies, with monikers like Dr. Evil,
Dr. Satan, or Dr. Ogre Banshee, would preside over shows such
as "Frightmare" or "Asylum of Shock" — combinations of interactive
horror-related films and on-stage Grand Guignol-esque shenanigans.
Though quality of such shows would vary from region to region,
they were nevertheless highly popular and relatively long-lasting.
in 2001 the enterprising folks at Something Weird collected over
three hours' worth of Spook Show-related material and compiled
it on a colorful, gimmicky DVD, perfect for family-friendly Halloween
viewings. As All Hallows' Eve and Samhain draw nigh nearly a decade
later, we thought it'd be fun to dust off the cobwebs and give
it a spin. (As of October 2009 the disc is still available.)
the title film: Monsters Crash the Pajama
Party (1965). A group of sorority sisters spend a night
in an abandoned house, unaware that a mad scientist, a gorilla,
and some fright-masked servants are conducting bizarre experiments
in the basement/dungeon. Girls are turned into gorillas, Scooby-Doo-style
chases ensue, and monsters escape from the screen to carry an
unwilling victim from the audience back into the film (an effect
which, sadly, is difficult to recreate for the home viewer). The
film, even at an ultra-brief running time of 45 minutes (a good
three or four minutes of which is taken up by a credit sequence
consisting of an announcer speaking the credits while a guy in
a gorilla suit clowns around with film equipment), is a bit of
a groaner, though some lame comedic bits and excruciatingly bad
acting add a level of masochistic fun to the proceedings.
remainder of the disc is made up of short subjects of various
running times, the majority of which are highly entertaining.
Asylum of the Insane is an underwhelming 3-D bit (two
pairs of glasses are included, so invite a friend over) with
kids throwing a ball back and forth and a ghoul-masked fella
groping towards the camera, amongst other things. Spooky
Musical Soundies is a delightful compilation of old horror-themed
'music videos', the best of which is an Andrews Sisters-style
trio singing about the "Boogie Woogie Man." There's an educational
short subject (the type of film often skewered by Mystery
Science Theater 3000 before the main attraction) called
Don't Be Afraid, in which a mother helps her hapless
son get over his fear of the dark, and Drive-in Werewolf,
another groaner featuring a guy at a (you guessed it) drive-in
theater turning into a (you guessed it) werewolf.
interesting for classic horror fans is a collection titled Horror
Home Productions, featuring a brief amateur remake of the
Holy Grail of horrordom, London After Midnight!
This amusing, under-two minute feature showcases an actor in Chaney-style
make-up, and bears the distinction of having been shot outside;
with furniture and lamps on someone's lawn, it makes for a surreal
viewing experience. Rounding out the collection is a couple of
decent efforts, a mummy story and a riff on Jekyll/Hyde. You might
want to mute these segments, however — a really hideous rock score
has been tacked on.
when you think there's just no more room for anything else, Something
Weird has added on Bert I. Gordon's Tormented
(1960) as a bonus feature. One of Gordon's rare opuses with no
Colossal Men, 50-foot Women, or giant insects in sight, Tormented
features Richard Carlson as a jazz musician haunted by the vengeful
ghost of his spurned girlfriend (he didn't kill her, exactly,
but he didn't try to save her either). Reminiscent of some of
William Castle's gimmick flicks, it's a fun, innocuous finale
to the festivities.
quality of each feature varies throughout the disc. Pajama
Party starts out with some bad scratching and speckling,
though it eventually improves, while Tormented
suffers from nasty splices at times; it's also a bit dark. The
other short subjects, for the most part, are clear in spite of
their age. Also on hand are two audio commentaries by a couple
of vets of the Spook Show circuit, a gallery of 300 Spook Show
stills with radio ads, and a detailed booklet, "Secrets of the
Spook Show," among other ghastly delights.
two complaints. First, the disc opens with a dizzifying swirling
pattern dubbed "Hypnoscope" over which an announcer drones about
the horrors to come. Hit menu as soon as it starts to skip it;
we suffered a nasty headache and we know of another viewer who
got so disoriented the poor guy fell over! Second, the DVD menu
is not the most user-friendly we've encountered. There are four
animated menu screens designed as graveyards and haunted houses.
You can only access material individually by clicking on various
icons (bats, owls, tombstones, skulls, and the like) throughout
each screen, some of which are difficult to locate. While this
gives a sort of Halloween goodie bag approach that may be fun
for some, some of us aren't so patient. Since very few of the
features bear on-screen titles, you also have to keep the DVD
case close at hand so you can figure out where you've been.
spite of those quibbles, this is a very entertaining bag of treats
for horror aficionados, as well as a nice historical record of
the Spook Show period. 10/21/09