When it comes to Halloween entertainment there are perennial television special favorites. Like most fans of the holiday, I would rank Charles Schulz’ It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966) and Rankin and Bass’ Mad Monster Party (1967) near the top of the list. A few years ago, however, a friend sent me a slice of heaven in the greatest ever hour of Halloween entertainment : The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976). Lynde, for the unenlightened, was a comedic entertainer who got his break in Bye Bye Birdie (1962), which lead to his popular role as the warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched (1964), to the The Paul Lynde Show (1972), and most famously to his entrenchment as the “Center Square” in the game show “Hollywood Squares.” Lynde’s Halloween special is so stunningly beautiful, so representative of its era (and what an era the 70s was: the last great decade of American pop culture), that I felt a pronounced nostalgic lump in my throat. This Halloween bash seriously belongs in one of those time capsule thingys that we occasionally shoot into space for Martians to peek at.
Of course, with the banality of reality TV and unimaginative attachment to hyper-realism, some will pooh-pooh my blushing exclamation as misplaced nostalgia. Others may see the show as a bizarre curio from a long gone era (these are the boring and predictable types who think of everything pre-existing their entry into the world as relics from tens of thousands of years ago). On my end, I will utterly dismiss the naysayers as being hopelessly constipated. You know the type. They prefer angst-ridden X-Men to Jack Kirby’s fun lubbin’ Jimmy Olsen who teamed up with Goody Rickles and the Hairys. Stay far, far away from these people. They will only bring you unhappiness. They will turn you gray, incorporate you into their bourgeoisie, status-quo painted white picket fence world, or, heaven forbid, get you a job in a faceless institution. Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my!
Now that we have that settled, you can kick back and immerse yourself in the glories of quintessential 70’s camp! Just think of The Paul Lynde Halloween Special like one those Roselyn Bakery Cakes with six inches of icing atop an inch of cake and indulge in this one-of-a-kind hallucination.
Paul bitchily rummages through the closet because he knows there’s a holiday of some kind around the corner. Nope, it’s not Santa (love the wig). No, it’s not Peter Cottontail (Lynde literally becomes a flaming bunny!). Dagnabbit, Continue reading THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (1976)
DIRECTED BY: Robert Altman
FEATURING: Bud Cort, Sally Kellerman, Michael Murhpy, Shelley Duvall, Rene Auberjonois, Stacy Keach, Margaret Hamilton, Jennifer Salt, William Baldwin
PLOT: An oddball genius constructs a one man flying device in the basement of the Houston Astrodome, assisted by a sexy but murderous guardian angel.
WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Robert Altman’s showman’s understanding and appreciation of the circus influenced the presentation of this surreal satire with its unconventional plot, eccentric characters, and eye-catching production design. Watching this colorful odyssey is like exploring a side road on the cinematic highway to Oz.
COMMENTS: Five out of five stars all the way for this gorgeous, pensive work of art. In this strange black comedy, Brewster McCloud (Cort -“Harold” from Harold and Maude) is a likable misfit who lives in the fallout shelter of the old Houston Astrodome. He endeavors to build a mechanical flying suit which will enable his escape from an incomprehensible world to some unknown imaginative utopia. An eccentric angel adeptly played by the quirky Sally Kellerman strangles anyone who opposes Brewster.
Brewster McCloud has a humorously heavy ornithological thesis with a narrative lecture provided by an off kilter science professor. The instructor’s recitation of facts about the social and mating habits of birds provides a funny comparative commentary on human nature. Avian themes glue the plot points together and furnish continuity between a sequence of strange events as Brewster struggles to achieve his goal.
There are three subplots: a coming of age story centered around McCloud, a social commentary stemming from the exposition of similarities and differences between humans and birds, and a murder investigation. While the police attempt to determine why the strangulation victims are found plastered with bird droppings, Brewster tries to beat the clock and perfect his flying machine before the authorities close in. He must stay Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970)
DIRECTED BY: Victor Fleming (credited), King Vidor, Mervyn LeRoy (uncredited)
FEATURING: Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton, Frank Morgan, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Jack Haley
PLOT: A cyclone carries a Kansas girl (and her little dog, too) to a magical land over the rainbow.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: In creating a list of the 366 best weird movies of all time, The Wizard of Oz presents a huge challenge. After all, this Technicolor extravaganza contains such trippy imagery as a bizarre cyclone that hurls snatches of a young girl’s fears past her spinning window; a land of doll-like little people threatened by a witch; talking apple trees; a giant floating green head appearing and disappearing before a curtain of flame; knife-nosed, green-faced Cossack guards; and of course, flying monkeys—never underestimate the weirdness of flying monkeys. These should be the building blocks of a stunningly psychedelic pic, but if this magical movie only seems fantastic, never weird, it’s because the entire adventure feels so safe. The musical numbers, the comedy, and the deliciously stagey sets serve to remind all but the very youngest children that we’re in an artificial, sheltered environment, and that no harm can ever come to Dorothy. We’re invited to sit back and soak in the spectacle, not to experience it directly.
COMMENTS: Most reviews of The Wizard of Oz could be distilled down to two words: “me too.” Are you a viewer who loves the movie? Me, too. You admire the immaculate casting and performances? The unforgettable music? The clever nonsense wordplay of Continue reading CAPSULE: THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)