Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Horror Of...Halloween Night, Vincent Price's Once Upon A Midnight Scary

Hello again. As we settle nicely into Halloween, it's time to be sure we are all comfy. Because it's time to tell some tales. Tales of horror. Tales of suspense. Tales of dread. Tales of dark forces stalking you.

And who better to do this than Vincent Price? So let's resurrect this old soul, prop him up, and have his tale a tale or three? You aren't afraid?


The movie sadly is only available in VHS, but it can be found on YouTube. So we can all enjoy.

Vincent Price's Once Upon A Midnight Scary is a TV Special from CBS. It was shown in 1979, and, unsurprisingly, it has the eponymous Vincent Price acting as a host. Like the Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror, the show is made up of 3 tales, with Price acting as a host and link between the tales being told. Say what you will about the quality of the production, but...It's Vincent Price hosting scary stories!!!

The title is also a play on the starting line of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven. That is all so apt for a show that Vincent Price is hosting. ...Of course it also tempts me to go watch the Price/Lorre/Karloff movie, The Raven.

Now it's not the finest of storytelling we've ever seen. It's largely, it is an after school special, as it's geared to kids. Also it's not telling whole tales, more it's excerpts. The idea is to inspire kids to read, in this case, scary stories. And on All Hallows Read, that sounds like a great idea.

So, no, it's not the most chilling set of tales you'll see, and it's no Black Sabbath. But to be introduced to a few stories, and enjoy a little Vincent Price, that's worth experiencing once.

They start with quick clips of the different tales, to hint at what is to come. And they smartly mix in a scene from one of the stories where a witch is scream in a raspy voice. As a kid, that is nightmare fuel. And even now, it should get to the wee kid in you.

Ah! When TV and movie makers got this stuff.

When the credits are done, they move up into the house. We see a husky ( -- the dog, standing in for a wolf, I assume) run down some stairs and then passed a desk. At the desk a tall back chair slowly swivels around. And, it's Vincent Price.

Hoarding done right.

He welcomes us and introduces himself...And I suddenly am concerned that I've been invited to a certain house on Haunted Hill... And, damn, Vincent Price still had it in 1979, and even at the end when he was making Edward Scissorhands. He's warm and convivial. And pulls you into the promise of ghost stories. He is part talking about the wonder of ghost tales, and of appreciating literature itself.

Price begins the first tale. "The Ghost Belongs to Me", by Richard Peck. In the tale a young Ron Weasley impersonator finds himself being given a strange warning from an odd young girl. Her mom "sees things". And the girl's mom said that there is a ghost residing in the kid's barn. The ghost of a young girl. And she tells him that he has the gift to talk to the ghost. So, he has to help her. But he isn't interested in the crazy idea.

That night, the boy goes to check it out. He sees a light in the barn. He hopes it's a trick, but actually does finds a ghost girl in need of his help. Only he can save those that will be drowned at a nearby bridge. He's scared and unsure. But he does follow as she beckons him. He finally finds himself standing watching the bridge she warned him of, and the river is up and surging against the bridge. As he stares at it the ghost vanishes. And when it's gone, a bus races up, but screeches to a halt, as he's standing in the road. The driver is angry until he sees that the bridge he was heading to was wobbling, and then collapses into the river.

He sees the ghost again, down the road, and calls out. The driver can't see anything, as the ghost walks on and fades.

Vincent Price comes back, and wonders if the ghost girl does come back? His only answer to that question is that you'll need to read the story to find out. Damn tease, Price. ...No. The idea with the show is that they want to interest viewers in some of these ghost stories to inspire kids to pick up these and other books. Yet another reason to share this show with kids.

Uh, yeah! I already watch this when
Disney originally made the story.
He now moves on to "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving...What is it with me and Sleepy Hollow? Anyway, this tale will have some added fun in it, as it stars Rene Auberjonois. He's played and been in so many roles over the years, including playing Odo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Paul Lewiston on Boston Legal, and Clayton Endicott III on Benson. In this story he's our Ichabod Crane.

"Good lord! And I thought Denny
Crane was a bit much."
As the story starts, there are tales persisting in Sleepy Hollow of a soldier who lost his head in the Revolutionary War to a cannonball. His spirit is said to still wander the land ever since. A headless horseman.

But as the events start, a dance is happening in Sleepy Hollow, and Ichabod Crane is attempting to woo the lovely Katrina. But he is having trouble. Then Brom appears and out manly mans poor Ichabod. Brom brags about "wamping on swines"...I am not sure what he's suggesting he's been doing. Does he beat pigs for fun? Is this a double entendre I'm missing.

Katrina seems far more interested in Brom. Really pleased when he shows up, and ready to leave when he offers to escort her home. He warns that people are saying that the Headless Horseman is passing to and fro. So Katrina should have a man to escort. (I always wonder when I see a telling of this tale. Am I supposed to dislike Brom? Or, is his pushy alpha male act supposed to impress me, and garner my approval? ...I always wonder.) Katrina agrees with this.

Ichabod tells them that he's not afraid. He has the stomach for it. And his horse is plenty fast for dealing with spectral steeds. But Brom and Katrina keep at him, warning him of how fast and dangerous the Horseman is to cross. And Ichabod grows more troubled, yet tries to hide it.

"I say. It is quite blurry tonight."

But he sets off, and as he leaves they warn him to cross the old church bridge fast, as it should keep him safe from the Horseman. On his way, he nervously talks to his horse, trying to hide his fear of the dark night and it's noises.

As he goes, a silent figure on horse appears out passed him. He doesn't notice it at first. But then he does, and tries to act as if he doesn't fear it to be the ghostly threat.

He then rides on, barely containing his terror. The horseman follows. And he gets closer and closer. And then, finally, he's in front of him, and Ichabod can no longer deny what has come for him. It is the Headless Horseman. He sits quietly in the saddle. Under one arm he carries a carved pumpkin. (I think it's a pumpkin. The video quality and day for night effects really make it hard to see much.)

Ichabod flees now. He tries to outrun the Horseman. As he goes, he can hear the Horseman laugh.

Finally, Ichabod reaches the bridge, and crosses it. On the other side he sees that the Horseman does not follow. In Ichabod's relief he laughs and taunts the Horseman.

This only pisses off the Horseman, who takes his pumpkin and tosses it at Ichabod. Though now it looks to be an actual head.

The next day all that was found was the horse, Ichabod's coat, and a smashed pumpkin.

Great. And suddenly young Billy Corgan gets a
"brilliant" idea.
What happen to Ichabod? Price suggests you read the book decide for yourself. ...Price! You may yet boost literacy in the US!

Rises from the dead, and screws with your head.

Walking over to a set of clocks, Vincent Price starts to talk about the last story. "The House With The Clock In Its Walls" by John Bellairs.

In it a clock may spell the doom of the world.

In the story a young boy, Lewis, is orphaned and made to move in with his odd uncle. He's sent up to his room for the night. Then he hears his uncle. He sees that he's knocking on walls throughout the house the whole night. 

Splendid. He's found a strange magic books. So it shouldn't
be too long until some demons are freed and feasting
on him.
The kid had no idea what his uncle was seeking. But, awake know the boy looked around the large house's library, he stumbles onto a secret opening, and books. Looking in one he sees it is a book of spells and curses, written by a wizard.

He decides that his uncle must be a wizard. And, he decides to continue watching what his uncle is up to. It leads him to follow his uncle up into the attic.

That's it. Read it out.
When he gets up to the attic though, his uncle is gone. So, he wanders around the attic, and finds an organ, which for some reason is an awesome find...? And he plays around with it. (I guess he's not worried about sneaking now.) As he does play with it, he finds one of it's knobs is broken. And as he tries to replace it, he discovers something stuck in the organ. A scroll. Which he starts reading...Kids...

And, Price? You should be warning this kid off. You are the narrator!

"I've gathered you all here to unmask a murderer...
Ah. There's only one of you. That makes this easier,"
The uncle catches him reading it, and takes him down to the library before explaining what is happening. (Which is what cultured people do.) The house was once owned Isacc Izard, a witch. And he created the Doomsday Plan, as shown on the scroll. It was a means to destroy the world. (Destroying the world. The only maniacal plot dumber than wanting to rule it.) As part of the plan he's hidden a clock in the walls of the house. It is a means to come back to life, and blow the world up. (Now me. I'd want to come back, be immortal, and take an extended vacation on a tropical beach somewhere...And they called me MAD!!!)

"Yeah. That's great, Uncle Jonathan. I know a spell to.
It's called Child Services."
Sadly the scroll doesn't point to where the secret clock is. But they still can hear the clock...somewhere in the house. They just can't pinpoint it.

As they talk, the uncle decides to show him some of his tricks and spells And he levitates our young hero up.

The next day he meets a local kid playing baseball. He seems amazingly obnoxious.

And Lewis instantly takes to him. He brags to the new kid that he does magic. And the new kid wants proof. So the new kid demands he raise the dead...Alright I can imagine a kid thinking that would be a cool proof. (And hence why kids shouldn't be allowed the use of magic. Per the Ministry of Magic's decree.) So they agree to meet at midnight at the graveyard.

The downside of leveling up your wizard.
So your young idiot starts studying up and then heads out. At the graveyard the new kid is still obnoxious, and Lewis sets out to raise the person in tomb they pass. He writes out the symbols, says the magic words, and out comes the dead.

It is an old woman, who continually screams that she is free.

"You're a Necromancer, Lewis."
Our idiot is quite pleased with himself, in awe of the power he's wielded. He finally runs, as the undead woman gives chase. When the two boys get out of the graveyard, the new one is pissed. He's angry that Lewis made the old crone rise. ...Really! You want to play it that way?

Our idiot runs home. When he gets there he tells him uncle what he did. The uncle is really monotone. He's also really unconcerned about the dead rising. (Geez. What does he get up to?) Mostly he's happy that he pulled off the magic.

When he tells his uncle the name of the woman he rose, his uncle is less happy. ...But any other random woman he yanks back into our world is fine...? Man, that is cold.

It's Selenna. Izard's wife. And she will come to the house now. She'll return just to set of the doomsday plan clock, just to spite her husband.

"By Satan's Fire! Who repainted
this place!"
And so she does.

As they race around trying to find the clock before she can, Selenna enters the house.

Our idiot hero comes up with a brilliant plan now. The Izard family was amazingly logical. So, to beat their magical protection of the clock, they have to be utterly random and ridiculous...

So they play the organ in the attic, play magic card tricks, and that leads them to the magic eight ball, which tells them the clock is in the coal bin...MAGIC! Do a bunch of random stuff and PRESTO! ...Wait, that is how magic often works...Huh.

So they race to the bin. They break through the wall there, and find a passage. And at the end of that, the clock.

The uncle warns that they need to be careful. It is possible that the clock could destroy the world is they aren't careful in dismantling it.

Then Selenna appears behind them. She freezes the uncle, and threatens Lewis. Not sure what to do, he smashes the clock. And, somehow this causes Selenna to disintegrate. Also, that doesn't destroy the world...Guess dismantling wasn't that risky.

With that the story is at an end, and we return to Vincent Price, who is hanging with his raven. (Cause we all imagine he does that all the time, right?)

Just hanging with his raven and magic candle, or
an average Thursday night at Casa Price.

But as with the other stories, he asks us to ponder what else was in store for the characters in the last story. Would Izard return? Would the kid become a full wizard? Would he make friends? The book holds the answer.

And I have heard said that the book is far better than what was shown here.

To close out this show, Price suggests we each have to decide whether we believe in ghosts, goblins...or vampires.

Then he looks in a mirror, and has no reflection. He bids us goodnight, and transforms to fly away.

It is a fun spooky ending to our show. Not the height of film making or storytelling. If you are inclined to watch Vincent Price have a little fun, it will be worth your time.

It's not the strongest choice to watch or share around Halloween. But it carries a nostalgic cache. And, it is a nice reminder of the power and importance of literature.

So, if you are curious still to see just how this show works, feel free to take a look and form your own opinions.

But let's be honest. Above anything else, it could have used some of this.


And since I mentioned The Raven at the start, how about a Vincent Price reading of The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe?

Happy Halloween.

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