Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Tales from the Crypt Christmas (1989)

Did you ever watch the horror anthology series Tales from the Crypt on HBO?
Last week, I discussed the 1972 horror movie Tales from the Crypt and its first segment which takes place at Christmas. Click here to see that post again. The original source material that inspired the movie segment was adapted again in 1989 for an episode of the HBO horror series Tales from the Crypt. The TV episode, also entitled "And All Through the House," is slightly longer than the 1972 movie version and includes more action. Have you seen either filmed versions before? Have you read the original 1954 horror comic? You're in for a treat.

HBO's Tales from the Crypt's Crypt Keeper dresses as Santa Claus to introduce this holiday episode.

Not everyone is happy this Christmas.

The episode begins with an ideal Christmas setting. We see an inviting living room, a roaring fire in the fireplace, snow gently falling outside, a beautifully decorated Christmas tree surrounded by gifts, and Nat King Cole's "A Christmas Song" playing on the radio nearby. But the tone quickly changes. Without an explanation, the wife strikes and kills her husband with a fireplace poker!

We learn that the murder was planned and she's now a wealthy woman.

The noise startles her young daughter out of bed and Carrie calls for her mother from the top of the stairs, asking if Santa has arrived yet. Hiding her misdeed, the woman sends Carrie back to bed until morning. Next, she checks on her husband's life insurance policy and she makes a phone call to her boyfriend. Viewers are quickly caught up to speed. The story's tension begins to grow.

The wife methodically cleans up and removes the body from the home.

The woman sets out to carefully clean up the blood and remove the body from the living room. As cheerful, festive carols play on the radio, we watch the wife's purposeful,  cover-up of her dark crime. After opening the front door and dragging the body outside, we hear a public service announcement on the radio. A criminally insane murderer dressed in a Santa suit has escaped from a nearby mental hospital. People are warned to lock their windows and doors until he is caught by the police. Too bad she didn't hear the warning!

Is there someone out there?

While she's in the yard, about to use an ax to chop up her husband (to more easily dispose of and hide the corpse), she's attacked by a madman in a Santa suit! She runs back inside the house and telephones the police. Before completing the call, we can read on her face that she has a problem. If the police arrive, they'll discover how she murdered her husband--so she hangs up the phone. Meanwhile, the deranged Santa is outside the house, running from window to window, looking for a way in. The tension continues to build in this wicked story.

Will this be the end for the murdering wife?

Just when you think you can't take it anymore, the murderous Santa breaks through a glass window and grabs the wife. In the struggle she's able to reach for the ax and hit him over the head. The madman falls back into the snow in the yard unconscious. The phone rings and the wife answers--it's the police warning her about a criminally insane Santa Claus roaming the neighborhood! (She was outside and didn't hear the radio broadcast that we heard). The police say they are on their way to her neighborhood where they're going door-to-door to search for the dangerous man. Now she knows she has 20 minutes. Taking advantage of an opportunity, she begins rehearsing her story about how the murderous Santa Claus came to her home and KILLED HER HUSBAND! Poor girl, what a victim.

Uh-oh. Santa is missing!

She looks out the window again at the Santa Claus lying in the snow and she decides to more properly frame him for her husband's murder. She goes outside with the ax and uhm....repeatedly applies it to the make it look like he was killed with an ax. Then she goes inside and makes a 9-1-1 phone call reporting her husband's murder by the deranged Santa Claus. Glancing out the window again, she sees that Santa Claus is no longer on the ground in the snow!

Santa is climbing a ladder to enter the house through Carrie's bedroom window.

To protect herself, she races upstairs to find a gun hidden in a closet. Looking outside from an upstairs window, she sees the scary Santa has spotted a window ajar on the second floor. He's placing a ladder against the house to climb up and enter through her daughter's bedroom window.  Scrambling to escape the closet, the woman runs through the house looking to protect her daughter.

Santa says "Naughty or nice?"

From the top of the stairs, she can see her daughter by the front entrance. Carrie says, "See Mommy. I told you Santa would come!" The little girl is so proud because Santa didn't have to climb down the chimney--she let him in the front door! Don't worry, readers. Santa doesn't look like he's going to hurt Carrie. In the final shot, he only seems interested in the murderous wife.

This episode's story is wonderfully efficient and the tension is just right. The episode's director is Robert Zemeckis--a master at his craft who went on to win an Academy Award for Best Director for the film Forrest Gump. Christmas entertainment fans know that he directed both Polar Express and Disney's Christmas Carol as well.

Whether you prefer the 1972 movie version or the 1989 TV adaptation of "And All Through the House," this thrilling and scary Christmas story makes a fun night of entertainment during Halloween too.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thank You Readers! I'm at One Million Page Views

I know, I know--everyone is excited for Halloween but I'm celebrating something else this week. I'm excited to announce that this website and its blog have received over ONE MILLION page views as of yesterday. I feel proud of reaching this milestone. And, I want to take this opportunity to thank all my readers for joining me in the accomplishment.

The last six years have been an exhilarating journey of writing, publishing, and discovery.  I've been fortunate to meet a few of my readers, made some new friends, and gained lots of experiences that have exceeded my expectations. 

It all started with researching and writing the book Tis the Season TV: The Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies.  Since then, I've been able to put together three more books on Christmas entertainment: The Christmas TV Companion, Merry Musical Christmas Vol. 1, and the Triple Dog Dare. The last title is a book that was just released last week--and I'm excited to see readers' reactions to it. All my books are available for purchase through the publisher 1701 Press.

Please indulge me while I share a list of reviews/discussions I wrote on individual Christmas programs. These essays aren't the most popular ones, the most significantly historical programs, or even my favorite Christmas programs--but rather, essays I'm most proud of writing. I think I expressed something in each of the following seven discussions that articulated some point well. And, I think it can be said that these seven could only have been written by me.

The 1969 episode "The Voice of Christmas" of The Brady Bunch (from May 2015)

5 Movies on an Island (from May 2016)

The 1965 episode "Too Many Christmas Trees" of The Avengers (from December 2015)

 The 1967 episode "Humbug Not to Be Spoken Here" from Bewitched (from December 2013)

The 1964 animated special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (from November 2014)

Truman Capote's A Christmas Memory from 1966 (from December 2014)

1987's A Child's Christmas in Wales (from December 2013)

Do you have a favorite review/discussion I've written on this website not already listed above? Share your title below in the comments.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I couldn't have done it without you. Now, where's the remote? I need to get back to watching TV.

Thank you for buying my books and thank you for reading the blog. Want to help an author keep writing? Please consider writing a book review at Amazon Goodreads, or wherever you learn about books. Reviews help spread the word to others about what to read. Thank you!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The discussion that follows is about the 1972 British movie and not the HBO TV series. More on that later.
During the month of October, when everyone is anticipating Halloween, I like to take a second look at horror stories with a Christmas connection. There are quite a few frightening movies set at Christmas time--even Charles Dickens' most popular story A Christmas Carol includes the visit of four ghosts!

The lesson here: Don't get separated from your tour group!

One classic that I turn to again and again is the Amicus Productions portmanteau Tales from the Crypt, directed by Freddie Francis in 1972. I wrote about this movie on the website many years ago, but I thought I'd expand the discussion and include photos. Tales from the Crypt is a British film made up of five individual stories adapted from horror stories in comic magazines. The five stories are strung together by a narrative about a crypt keeper addressing five tourists separated from their group while visiting the catacombs beneath a cemetery. The crypt keeper introduces each of the five stories as a warning to each of the tourists.

Recognize the crypt keeper? That's Sir Ralph Richardson.

Of interest here is the first of the five segments. It is entitled "And All Through the House." The story first appeared in the horror comic The Vault of Horror, issue #35, first published in 1954. A woman named Joanne murders her husband on Christmas Eve in order to collect his life insurance money. Joanne is played by actor Joan Collins--she clearly knows how to play a cold, calculating character!

Startled by noises downstairs, Joanne tucks her daughter Carol--who is eager for Santa to arrive--back in bed to keep the child from her murderous deed.

As Joanne cleans up the mess and the blood, she hears a warning on the radio about a homicidal maniac who has escaped from a nearby hospital for the criminally insane. Local residents are warned that the killer may be dressed in a Santa suit.

Who would kill someone on a white rug? You're never going to get away with it, Joanne!

He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake.

As she continues to clean that white rug, Joanne hears a knock at the door. Someone is trying to get in! Joanne peeks out the window--it's the man in a Santa suit mentioned on the radio! Joanne runs to her telephone to call the police but she stops herself--her husband's dead body is on the floor in front of her. She doesn't want the police to come and discover what she's done. She frantically runs around the first floor closing the curtains and locking the window shutters. She wants to keep the homicidal maniac out.

He knows if you've been bad or good.

Joanne dumps her husband’s body down the basement steps, making his death look like an accidental fall. She tries to do this as quietly as possible so as not to disturb her sleeping daughter upstairs. After carefully cleaning up the murder scene and staging the bottom of the basement stairs, Joanne finally finishes her hard work. She glances one more time to her daughter's bedroom door--but it's open! Joanne calls out, looking for her daughter.

Carol can barely contain her excitement to see Santa Claus.

Joanne finds her daughter Carol in the entryway. "Guess who's here?" the child asks. The innocent young girl is so excited to see Santa Claus, she's let him in the front door.

It looks like the murderer Joanne isn't going to live long enough to cash in her husband's life insurance policy.

Young Carol is played by Chloe Franks, who also plays Katy in the creepy 1972 movie Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? which takes place at Christmas. Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? also includes Ralph Richardson.

As I mentioned before, "And All Through the House" is just the first of five segments within the 1972 movie. I think this is my favorite of the five but I also enjoy the third segment entitled "Wish You Were Here" which references the popular turn-of-the-twentieth-century short story "The Monkey's Paw." Note: only the first of the five stories in the movie takes place at Christmas time.

Remember the TV anthology series?

TV fans may recognize that the story "And All Through the House" was adapted once again in 1989 for the HBO TV series Tales from the Crypt. Click here to read my discussion of that.

Merry Halloween!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Night Gallery (1971)

Known for its themes on the supernatural and the macabre, Rod Serling's Night Gallery doesn't disappoint in the 2nd season holiday episode "The Messiah on Mott Street." The story refers to both Hanukkah and Christmas. Much like the holiday episodes of The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, this seasonal offering ends on a happy note too.

Rod Serling not only delivers the intro but he wrote this episode as well.

Goldman is stubborn, tenacious and deathly ill.

In "The Messiah on Mott Street," the elderly Abraham Goldman has fallen ill and his condition weakens towards pneumonia with each passing day. The old man is a Jewish immigrant living in a tenement in the ghetto. His physician Dr. Levine warns him that he needs to be hospitalized but the old man refuses to leave his home. Goldman is the sole caretaker of his nine year-old grandson Mikey and he fears the outcome of placing the boy in state-controlled foster care while he seeks treatment in the hospital.

Abraham Goldman is played by the legendary Edward G. Robinson.

Another great addition to the cast: Tony Roberts as Dr. Levine.

The doctor warns Goldman that if he waits a few more days before considering further treatment, he may not live long enough to change his mind. But Abraham is a man of faith. The old man believes that God looks after those in the tenement, a belief that the poor are not forgotten by their Maker. He reassures Mikey that the Messiah will come to take care of him. Mikey believes in the comforting words and beliefs of his grandfather.

Mikey has been raised by his loving grandfather, a wise man of strong beliefs and faith.

Another glimmer of hope to which Abraham clings is a letter he's received from his wealthy brother--a successful farmer in California--who is selling his farm to retire. After the sale of the farm, the brother promises to send money as re-payment to Abraham for a loan from many years ago. Abraham says that when he receives the money, he'll pay his friend Dr. Levine for coming to his home and treating him. He also hopes there will be enough left over to help Mikey and himself live more comfortably (and leave the ghetto).

When Dr. Levine leaves Goldman's apartment, he meets a social worker outside in the hallway. Levine asks about Mikey's future if the old man should die, and about Abraham's next of kin. The social worker reveals that Abraham's brother is a senile old man living in a retirement home in California. There is no money or estate coming that will benefit Abraham or Mikey.

A shadow falls over Abraham--is it The Angel of Death or The Messiah?

However strong in faith, Abraham and his grandson are shaken when a shadow falls over the old man as his condition worsens. Mikey fears it's The Angel of Death but Abraham insists it's The Messiah.  The young boy feels like he must do something to help his grandfather and so he heads outside the apartment to look for help. Mikey seeks The Messiah he's heard his grandfather describe as the One who will lift them up and save them from their desperate struggle.

Mikey asks Santa  "Are you The Messiah?"

Mikey encounters several people on the cold December streets. It's Christmas Eve so Mickey speaks with a bell-ringing, charity-collecting Santa Claus on the corner. Still looking for The Messiah, Mikey also addresses a doomsday preacher warning sinners about the punishing wrath of God.

The cynicism and fear from the men he meets on the street don't impress Mikey as The Messiah.

Neither of these men reflect the nurturing love and warmth as described by his grandfather for The Messiah. However, one stranger does match the description! And, Mikey grabs him by the hand and leads him to his home.

Hearing about the young boy's sick grandfather, the stranger follows Mikey to his home.

Yaphet Kotto as Buckner.

Back at the apartment, Mikey and the stranger are greeted by the police--and soon Dr. Levine arrives. The old man's condition has worsened. Abraham has fallen unconscious, his condition is too fragile and he can't be moved to the hospital. Everyone fears he may not survive the night. The stranger introduces himself to Dr. Levine as Mr. Buckner. Buckner is a caring person who wishes there was something he could do. Dr. Levine explains that there's little anything anyone can do--the next few hours are critical for the old man. He'll either live or die. Levine discusses the shadowy space between medical science and faith, between cynicism and purity of heart. Mikey is convinced The Messiah will make things better but the two grown men don't know what the future holds.

Has the wind brought in The Angel of Death?
Like we expect from a spooky, supernatural episode of Night Gallery, a strong wind blows the windows and doors open in the apartment. Fearing the worst, Dr. Levine and Mikey rush into the old man's bedroom to check on his condition. Buckner is no longer with them.

Goldman has survived the night!
A miracle has occurred--Abraham sits up in bed and feels well. Goldman describes having a nightmare that The Angel of Death had visited him and promised to return at midnight but it's midnight now (Christmas Eve has become Christmas day) and Abraham feels better. Clearly, the danger has passed. Mikey and Levine express their concern and relief--and they share with the old man their experiences of the past few hours which mysteriously leave out the stranger's appearance in their lives. Next, there's a knock at the door.

Without any recognition, Mikey takes the envelope from the special delivery man at the door.

A letter carrier has a special delivery letter for Abraham Goldman. Mikey signs for the letter and gives it to his grandfather to open. The envelope contains a letter and check from Abraham's brother in California. Just as promised, money has arrived to help them improve their lives. Viewers are left wondering: Are the Angel of Death and The Messiah the same? And, was Buckner The Messiah after all?

Abraham and Mikey have been rewarded for their faith.

While this summary of the Night Gallery episode may read like a typical holiday story, I want to assure you it's anything but. The story is a bit frightening--with talk of The Angel of Death and shadows falling across the sick man's bed. The supernatural elements feel more spooky and unknowable than how holiday miracles are typically portrayed on television. However, the warmth and meaning resonate as satisfyingly as any other holiday TV episode. Whether viewers are celebrating Hanukkah or Christmas, the story's meaning is the same: family, faith, and hope are the reasons for our celebrations.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

That 70s Show Christmas (2001)

One way to recognize how popular Christmas entertainment has grown is to see its influence on popular culture. Not only does the 2001 episode "An Eric Forman Christmas" from That 70s Show take its name from A Charlie Brown Christmas, but the episode is filled with references to the Peanuts special, and numerous other Christmas movies and TV specials. Those familiar with That 70s Show will recognize the sarcasm and irreverence that are are found throughout most of the series' episodes however, this 2001 Christmas episode also includes a bit of nostalgia as well.

Eric is only smiling because Kitty insists that Hyde participate in the church's Christmas pageant too.
The story begins with Eric expressing his frustration and disappointment with Christmas. He feels the holiday just isn't the same as it was in the past. Hhmm...sound familiar? His mother Kitty suggests that Eric direct the church's Christmas pageant to help him feel the holiday spirit. Yes--these two elements are also key moments in the 1965 animated TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Eric's friends are no help in inspiring the holiday spirit.

At the pageant rehearsal, Eric is further frustrated by his friends' inability to cooperate with his direction. Jackie unreasonably insists that she play the role of the Virgin Mary--who rides in on a unicorn. Kelso sees his character of Joseph, less as a carpenter and more like a spaceman. Donna doesn't want to play the traditional role of a wise man but a wise woman, and even Fes balks at playing a shepherd. Directing the church's Nativity play doesn't inspire the holiday spirit for Eric.

Kitty catches Red stealing Bob's Christmas decorations.

Meanwhile, Red is disturbed by the bright and loud Christmas decorations set out by his next door neighbor Bob Pinciotti. When Kitty catches Red stealing Bob's decorations, she proclaims "I'm married to the Grinch!"

The teenagers make Kelso feel bad for liking the Christmas specials he watched as a kid.

And, in a third story line, Kelso is excited to watch his favorite animated Christmas TV specials on TV. He specifically mentions the Rankin/Bass specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, and The Little Drummer Boy. When his friends remark that his favorite TV programs are made for children, Kelso feels bad for feeling as excited as he is to watch them.

Kelso pops his head out from a snow bank--much like Hermey does in the 1964 TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Do you have a favorite Animagic Christmas TV special?
Kelso ends up having a dream in which he is a stop-motion animated character inside a Rankin/Bass Christmas special! He shares his frustration with Rudolph, Santa, and the Little Drummer Boy about liking programs made for youngsters--and they tell him to ignore his friends!

References to A Charlie Brown Christmas--and other holiday entertainment--saturate this episode.  Above is a shot of the philosophic Leo (yes--that's Tommy Chong) and depressed Eric sharing a heart-to-heart discussion at a wall, much like Linus and Charlie Brown in the classic animated special.

After Pastor Dave discovers Eric smoking in the circle, he is fired from directing the Christmas pageant. In the end, his friends come and apologize for ruining Eric's Christmas. It helps that they give him the one gift he was hoping to find under the Christmas tree this year--a tape deck for the Vista Cruiser. In case you didn't catch it any earlier, Fes even exclaims "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" much like the children do at the end of the animated classic.

To be fair, Fes is always the last one to be in on the joke.

The final image before the credits is the cast of That 70s Show stepping into place to form the traditional First Christmas scene--with Eric's new tape deck in the place of the Savior. I mentioned that this series is irreverent, didn't I?

Check out the complete segment of Kelso's dream--a tribute to Rankin/Bass Animagic Christmas TV specials.

Do you have another favorite TV episode that references Christmas entertainment? Share your comments below.