U.S.A. | 2001
Vic McGee, Pauline Hillkurt
Charles Hegen, Richard Carlson
Susan Gordon, Juli Reding
Color, B&W, 3-D
| 214 Min. | Not Rated
Format: DVD(R0 - NTSC)
Something Weird Video
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Review by
Lucas Micromatis

For 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.
    Back 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.)
    First, 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.
    The 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.
    Especially 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.
    Just 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.

The 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.
    Now, 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.
    In 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