Friday, October 24, 2008

The Halloween Tree

Today's Monster Memories are of:
1993's "The Halloween Tree"
(Click on images to view full size.)

"The Halloween Tree," first broadcast in 1993, and televised each Halloween season on the Cartoon Network, has been a spooky holiday treat for kids (and adults like me) for years since. Inexplicably, it has not been released on DVD, although each October I keep hoping for it. In the meantime, I took my VHS copy, bought some years ago, and recorded it to DVD so I can watch it on the big screen TV. It will have to do until it gets a long-overdue DVD treatment.

This made-for-TV special has a lot going for it. The painted backgrounds are many and magnificent, the character design memorable, the voice work outstanding (particularly that by Leonard Nimoy), the theatrical-quality music by John Debney is worthy of a soundtrack CD release (which I have yet to see), and the narration by the author himself is icing on the cake.

Nearly-verbatim chunks of the original prose from the book are heard over sections of the story, that stand out as examples of the synergy between the poetry and the paintings. For example, the opening title sequence, the trip through The Ravine, and the first view of Moundshroud's house; all scenes that make me warm and chilly at the same time.

In case you haven't seen it in a while, here are a series of images I captured that will give you a chance to view and enjoy some of the dense artwork of the backgrounds and various scenes.

Ray Bradbury was more involved in this production than any other adaptation of his works. He wrote the screenplay, and provided the voice work for the narration. In the story, a group of friends are taken on a trip through time and space by the mysterious Mr. Moundshroud, as they chase the soul of a dying friend. As it flits from place to place, the kids learn how all the customs of Halloween originated, and in the end are responsible for reclaiming the life of Pipkin from the designs their guide have upon it.

The following two panoramic scenes I stitched together from four screen captures each as the camera panned across the artwork. The camera movement caused a little blurring during the screen capture process but you can get a good idea of the original paintings.

The start of the film is similar in feel to the opening sequence in the other Bradbury movie adaptation, "Something Wicked This Way Comes," with the narration of the book's prose over scenes of autumn in a small midwest town of yesteryear.

Now, that's what I would call a haunted house!

Although meant to be the incarnation of Death, Mr. Moundshroud seems to have several different agendas going on at the same time. Is he evil, is he good, is he really trying to educate the kids, and to what purpose? Is he part of the natural order, or is he stealing souls for his own ends? Was their sacrifice for their friend at the end something he was subtly trying to encourage? His motivations are a mystery. What are your thoughts on the subject? Discuss.

I'd dearly love to own some of the artwork done for these backgrounds to frame, wouldn't you? Each one belongs in a museum art display.

"Sweet skulls, sweet skulls, crystal sugar candy skulls..." -Mr. Moundshroud from Ray Bradbury's "The Halloween Tree."

This line of text was the inspiration for the name of my other blog, "Sweet Skulls." Every year I enjoy reading the short book, which is roughly the same size as "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," itself another reading/viewing tradition during October.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

7 Foot Tall Monster Robot ad

(Click on image to enlarge.)

The Greeneville Post, Oct. 20, 1974

A 12 year old boy is dead, shot to death by police, and the grieving parents can only wonder how this tragedy could have been averted.

On Sunday afternoon, as the autumn leaves blew down the street of this average suburb, what started out as a young boy's craft project ended up with a terrified neighborhood, stunned police, and a bereaved family mourning for a budding scientist cut down in his youth.

At 6:18 PM on the eve of the 19th, the Greeneville Police Department received a panicked call from Mrs. Crinklecut, the elderly retired schoolmarm beloved by the whole town. Her frantic report of a "monstrous, horrifying mechanical man" terrorizing her and her dog were at first met with disbelief by the dispatcher. But the patrol car sent to calm her down soon reported back a confirmation of the description.

With a request for backup, Lt. Spooner's radio call described a "hulking metal creature" on the rampage down the street. It stood seven feet tall, with "flashing, glowing eyes," with giant-sized arms that defied everything in its path. "It acts just like a creature from outer space" he radioed in, and as soon as the other cars arrived the police surrounded the mysterious being and demanded that it surrender.

Ignoring the commands crackling over the loudspeaker, the menacing metal monster slowly raised its left arm threateningly toward the armed authorities. The command to fire was given in response, and when the smoke cleared the thing lay on its side, blood leaking from holes left in the silver body by the policemen's bullets.

It was with shock and horror that they then discovered that inside the thing was the body of a boy. Identified by a neighborhood friend as Bobby Theakson, the saddened police realized that the "alien creature" had only been a suit made of spray-painted paneling wood and cheap scrap items available anywhere. The inventive young man had apparently tinkered it together in his garage, over the course of several weeks each day after school. He had been controlling it from the inside, via an ingenious series of levers. Plans for building the incredible machine were found in the garage, and were seized by the authorities to be turned over to the F.B.I. for investigation.

Wiping his eyes, Lt. Spooner bemoaned, "I'm sorry that this turned out so badly. When it raised its arm, we could only assume it was about to fire some kind of ray-beam that would turn us all into skeletons."

The tearful parents did not blame the brave police as the ambulance took away the body of the boy. "We never dreamed he was building such a dangerous weapon," sobbed his mother, Helen. "We thought it was a doghouse." "He was too smart for his own good," agreed the father, Bill Theakson, as he held his wife close. "Always reading those comic books. We knew it would get him into trouble one day." Motioning for Bobby's younger brother, he drew him near. "At least we still have Randy, who is on the PeeWee football team, which is more normal and safe."

The machine that caused the horror was burned by the neighbors on a curbside leaf pile, as they gathered that evening to console one another and try to purge the fear that for one brief fall afternoon gripped this quiet town. But few will be able to forget the nightmare that stalked the street with blinking, glowing eyes.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

"Enter If You Dare!" plus...

The Disney book 'Enter If You Dare,' Scary Tales From The Haunted Mansion, was published on Halloween in 1995. The spooky stories inside are geared toward the pre-teen audience who devoured the "Goosebumps" series, was written by Nicholas Stephens, with about a half-dozen black-and-white illustrations inside by Sergio Martinez.

The tales are basically generic ghost stories that happen to take place in or around the Haunted Mansion, which even in the cover art seems to be "a" Haunted Mansion" rather than "the" Haunted Mansion. Instead of being the backgrounds of the various inhabitants we are familiar with, or adventures of those that come into contact with them, the stories could really be about any haunted house. One feels that the Haunted Mansion title was bestowed simply to help sell it. It's not that it's a bad book by any means; it's just not something that a true HM fan will feel connects with their much-loved manse of familiar spooks.

The best thing about it is the cover art and the sparse illustrations inside, and if you don't have the book I know you will enjoy seeing some of the art here.

And for your enjoyment, here is an illustration from a 1984 issue of Monsterland. Elvira and the classic monsters are like peanut butter and chocolate; they're even better together! I wish she could make one more movie using all of them in it, before she's too old. Wouldn't it be a hoot?

This is the front and back of my favorite-ever Halloween card that I've received, all of which I have saved over the years. I display this on a table-top each October.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tomb of Dracula #1: Part 2

Here it is, the rest of Issue #1 of "Tomb Of Dracula," Marvel's first foray into true vampire lore since the loosening of the Comics Code. And what a foray it was! Sink your teeth into the exciting conclusion...

Talk about your "good news, bad news" scenario! "I'm not dead... I'm a vampire!"

Later the comic was expanded into a b-monthly magazine, which was a welcome transition. More stories, painted art covers, special fiction and articles... I snapped up every issue I came across. Above is the cover of issue #4, published in 1980.

Well, that stoked an appetite in me to go put on my Hammer Dracula movies, starting with "Horror of Dracula," and watch them all in order for the Halloween season. I recommend you do the same!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tomb of Dracula #1

This is probably my favorite comic book that I ever bought. I picked it up in late March of 1972, when I was 13 years old, at my regular haunt for comics and books; Chichester's drugstore on Vineville Ave. in Macon GA. It was my usual Saturday trip to stay overnight at my Grandma's house, as regular readers of this blog already know. She had given me some money to go get our supper, so on the way back to her house I picked up our traditional bag of Krystal cheeseburgers.

While we ate we watched "Kung Fu," then I remember that that the CBS Saturday Night Movie that weekend was "Colossus: The Forbin Project." I enjoyed it, and in fact only recently found it on a bare-bones DVD which I snapped up. It was neat to see it again for the first time in over 30 years.
After the movie I settled down in "my" room, which was her guest bedroom where I had my stash of things I collected in a box in her closet, for safe keeping (from my stepdad). I spread out the comics and magazines, and spent the next several hours reading before I got too sleepy. The one that made the biggest impression on me was "The Tomb of Dracula," as the atmospheric and creepy artwork (by Gene Colan) really seemed almost like a Hammer movie.
The foggy exteriors of the castle and surrounding graveyard, the feral face of the count, his powerful movements, all made for a dramatic and exciting new horror comic experience. No other comic had made such an impact on me up till that time, and because the memories associated with it are so vivid, I still enjoy taking it out and reliving those times every so often. There actually was a bad thunderstorm late that spring night, and I shivered as the rain pounded down outside with lightning and thunder, perfect conditions for reading this comic. I almost felt as if I was living it!
Below is a scan of the very copy I bought all those years ago, and kept in good shape. I'll be posting it in two parts, as there are a lot of pages. Enjoy!

Will Dracula get the girl? Tune in next time to Monster Memories for the exciting conclusion!