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Daddy Dreadful

DADDY DREADFUL – The Munsters (1964-1966)

This review is part of the Daddy Dreadful review series.

Daddy Dreadful Review – The Munsters (1964-1966)

Monsters, especially popular ones, go through curious phases. When they first appear they terrify audiences, and then as their exposure increases they become more farcical. Finally, they become kid’s toys. In my own lifetime I witnessed the phenomenon of Freddy Kruger go through these stages, from being a serious slasher villain – a child murderer (and suggested molester), in fact – to a humorous trickster and finally to being on kids’ lunch boxes at my elementary school.

Half a century before Freddy, as the nation reeled from an economic depression, Universal unleashed their monsters on the American public, terrifying unsuspecting viewers. A decade later the comedic duo Abbott and Costello were sharing the screen with them. In the 1950s teenage horror schlock dominated the drive-in screens, but at home children were gathered around their televisions to watch these monsters through a new generation’s eyes. Universal sold its monster movies to television, never anticipating what a massive cultural phenomena it would generate – especially for kids.

By the early 1960s horror was largely a genre for children. Beginning in 1958 the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland was being devoured by kids and by 1961 Aurora Model Kits was releasing monsters for youngsters to build themselves. Soon afterward the creators of Leave It to Beaver came up with an idea for a show about a family of harmless monsters trying to fit into modern American suburbia. The Munsters played on the already tired tropes of TV family sitcoms and subverted them with macabre jokes and slapstick humor. Another show with a similar horror theme, The Addams Family, aired at the same time, but whereas the Addams clan was humans who dwelled on death, the Munsters were actual living dead who never quite grasped that people found them horrific. Case in point, one of the running gags was that their niece, Marilyn, named and modeled after Marilyn Monroe, was a beautiful young woman who was nevertheless viewed by herself and her family as the unfortunate ugly duckling.

The Munsters still

The Munsters ran from 1964 to 1966 and while it never garnered critical success it was immensely popular with kids. Even today there is much to appreciate, particularly the comedic duo of Fred Gwynn as Herman Munster and Al Lewis as Grandpa Munster, two actors who had already formed a comfortable professional relationship in Car 54, Where Are You? (1961-1963). Truly, they remain one of the great television comedy teams.

1964 was a significant year in American history. The country was turning away from the conformity of the previous decade and approaching the social unrest and generational discord that would come to define the 1960s. It was the year that The Beatles turned teenage girls ravenous, the Gulf of Tonkin became a flash-pan for Vietnam, LBJ declared a “War on Poverty” and signed the Civil Rights Act, and three civil rights workers were found to have been murdered by the Klan, causing a national uproar. The Munsters was not explicitly metaphorical, but it is surely recognized as a social commentary on the changing American landscape, at least in retrospect. After all, they were “those people” moving into the white suburban neighborhood. They were benign but misunderstood, villainized from no fault of their own. Herman sent people running scared due to his visage but in the end he was a devoted father trying to forge the best life for his family – he just happened to look different. The Munsters were the misunderstood outsiders – is it any wonder that kids latched onto them so fiercely?

This past summer watching The Munsters became a morning routine during breakfast. I wasn’t sure how my son would react to his first black and white show, but he loved it. He laughed at the physical humor and quickly learned the characters’ names. He saw something of himself in Eddie Munster, who carried around a stuffed animal the way my son carried around his Teddy. Each morning he’d ask to watch “the monsters” while we cooked and ate and my wife and I would happily oblige. I enjoyed the show’s reruns as a kid and found a lot to enjoy watching it this time around, laughing unapologetically at the admittedly terrible jokes and puns. The first few episodes are rocky but by mid-season the show has its footing. Just as in 1964, there are far worse ways for a family to enjoy each other’s company.

Recommended Age: 3+
Final Thoughts: Highly recommended. The Munsters is classic television that can still be enjoyed by the kid in all of us.

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DADDY DREADFUL – Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman (2000)

This review is part of the Daddy Dreadful review series.

Daddy Dreadful Review – Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman (2000)

As I wrote in my review for Alvin and Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein (1999), the Chipmunks were a staple of my 80s childhood and the two comedy-horror direct-to-video films put out by Universal in 1999 and 2000 are the last appearances of that incarnation of “the boys”. In their first film I mostly enjoyed their antics with Frankenstein but found the experience generally uneven and unfocused. Nevertheless, I was interested to see what they would come up with in their meeting with the Wolfman.

After the film was over I still had a smile playing on my face. Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman (2000) has a lot for horror fans to enjoy. The script is funny and smart – it had me laughing aloud several times – and it shows knowledge of and respect for the genre. Those who know the classic Universal monsters will pick up on the names, references, and visuals used throughout the movie. Additionally, like the werewolf and Jekyll/Hyde movies that came before, the dual nature of man is the theme, reflected in the timid Theodore discovering through lycanthropy that he has other sides to himself. Whereas the previous movie derived its humor from Hollywood clichés and jokes about celebrity, this time the writers looked directly to the horror genre for inspiration and managed to mine some gold. The music, also, is of the top-quality Chipmunk variety.

My son enjoyed the film, especially the songs, but the feature-length run-time left his attention straying towards the second half. Of course, the more nuanced elements went right over his head. However, my interest never wavered. Whereas Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein felt disjointed and unpolished, Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman truly feels like a squeaky-voiced love letter to the genre’s early film history. Perhaps due to this, the horror elements may be strong for more sensitive young children, but they’ll certainly keep their parents’ attention.

Recommended Age: 5+
Final Thoughts: Strong recommendation, especially for Universal monster fans. Kids passed the toddler stage will likely have the attention span to follow the plot without difficulty.

DADDY DREADFUL – Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein (1999)

This review is part of the Daddy Dreadful review series.

Daddy Dreadful Review – Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein (1999)

As a very young kid I cherished two albums in my slim vinyl collection above all others: The Best of The Monkees and 1982’s Chipmunk Rock, which just so happened to have the first mention of the Chipettes. Beginning in the mid-1980s Alvin and the Chipmunks became a regular part of my Saturday-morning cartoon line-up. Naturally, as I got older I stopped following the squeaky-voiced trio but managed to somehow see the 2007 live-action movie on television and wasn’t at all impressed. I was unaware until recently of the two horror-comedy direct-to-video movies that were put out by Universal in 1999 and 2000, and which effectively showcased the last appearances of the 1980s version of the Chipmunks that I grew up with – characters with a surprising amount of depth which was unfortunately lost in their later re-imagining.

Universal’s first release was Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein (1999) which sees the trio performing at an amusement park which is an obvious stand-in for Universal Studios. The park unwittingly hires the real Dr. Frankenstein and his creation at first runs amok but eventually befriends the Chipmunks. The angry mad scientist tries to get revenge on the boys and antics ensue.

My son cracked up at the slap-stick humor but from an adult perspective the overall film is disjointed – it feels like three different movies were crammed into one, especially when Alvin is transformed into a Looney Tunes-style cartoon and Frankenstein’s creature is all but forgotten for a large portion of the film. The story has a tendency to lose focus and go on long tangents and some of the humor feels like Hollywood in-jokes that don’t translate terribly well to a general audience. It has its moments and the songs are decent, but parents will likely find their attention tried even as their kids are having a blast watching the movie. In my opinion, the following year’s Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman (2000) is the superior film.

Recommended Age: 3+
Final Thoughts: Innocent fun and catchy Chipmunk music. Recommended for the kids.

DADDY DREADFUL – A Halloween Puppy (2012)

This review is part of the Daddy Dreadful review series.

Daddy Dreadful Review – A Halloween Puppy (2012)

The internet, as we all know, is a cesspool of belching, bursting hyperbole. While YouTube comments are a fervent breeding ground for trolls, internet movie reviews fare little better, and it doesn’t take long for any sane person to begin ignoring user reviews with titles like “worst movie ever!” Generally, I try to approach my own reviews as maturely and as fact-based as possible, for I’ve come to realize that even most bad films are made with the best of intentions. So it is with this level of awareness that I proclaim that 2012’s A Halloween Puppy is one of the worst movies I have ever seen. As a dedicated horror fan I am accustomed to sifting through bad films in order to find that diamond in the rough – it’s a process that can be fun when approached with the right attitude. Therefore, I’m no stranger to bad films, but A Halloween Puppy, also known as A Magic Puppy, is perhaps the most transparently lazy movie I’ve had the displeasure to watch, and that’s saying something.

This low-budget feature quickly outlives its welcome in its attempt to tell the tired tale of a spell gone wrong that turns a guy into a (female) dog. If 1959’s The Shaggy Dog took a dump on celluloid, you’d at least understand why it’s shitty. But here we get a litany of reused footage, awkward and static camera angles, blue filters in obvious daylight to stand in for night, atrocious acting, and a script that hardly qualifies to be referred to as such. The advertising stresses the appearance of Susan Olsen from The Brady Bunch, but her dull cameo won’t warm the cockles of nostalgic hearts. More interesting to me was Kristine DeBell as the mother, who I immediately recognized from 1976’s Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Fantasy and to a lesser extent, Meatballs (1979). Understandably, the first of those films required some additional explanation for my wife. By far the most sincere performance was from Muffin the dog who at least didn’t need a reason for eating the grass, unlike DeBell.

Directed by Mary Crawford… wait, no, that’s a lie. Crawford is a pseudonym for David DeCoteau who has churned out a seemingly endless stream of schlocky, micro-budget horror flicks over the years, particularly the homoerotic “1313” series which appears to fill a niche exploitation market that craves male models running around in their briefs. Recently, however, DeCoteau has turned to making talking animal holiday films that generally have very misleading covers, featuring pets that never appear in the actual film. Even more so than his campy adult-targeted gay-themed films, these are purely created to suck the money from parents’ wallets, and that they’re marketed to children actually makes them, in my assessment, more distasteful.

Recommended Age: Adults – good humored, under the influence, and ready to collectively laugh at the screen.
Final Thoughts: Absolutely terrible. Not at all recommended. However, David DeCoteau knows his schlock, and for adult audiences I do recommend his informative short commentaries on YouTube for the “Trailers From Hell” web series.

DADDY DREADFUL – The Worst Witch (1986)

This review is part of the Daddy Dreadful review series.

Daddy Dreadful Review – The Worst Witch (1986)

I can’t help but to have a bit of anxiety when revisiting the influential films of my childhood even as I am excited to watch them with my son and see them anew through his eyes. Ultimately, it may be disheartening to have my fond memories tainted by the viewing of a film that clearly hasn’t aged well. Of course, nostalgia can carry us a long way, and I have to assume that is largely the case with the enduring popularity of 1986’s The Worst Witch. My wife watched this movie every Halloween season on a well-worn VHS recorded from television throughout her childhood. As we sat down to watch it with my son (age three) – my first viewing and his – she texted her two brothers a screen shot and they too felt compelled to find a copy and watch it that same night.

The Worst Witch is based on the Jill Murphy’s children’s book of the same name. It stars Fairuza Balk in her second of three films involving witches in her career, the first being 1985’s Return to Oz and the next 1996’s The Craft. Also starring are Diana Rigg, Charlotte Rae, and Tim Curry. The film was a collaboration between HBO and UK television, and the production quality is clearly minimal. The editing is shoddy and the story, especially the climax, is weak. There are three songs of varying quality: the first is cute and probably the best, the second catchy for kids but Charlotte Rae certainly wasn’t going to win any vocalist awards for it, and third one, performed by a confused-looking Tim Curry before a green screen, is an acid-trip of 1980’s kitsch. Rock Horror this ain’t. In addition to the worst witch, the film may also showcase the worst lyrics:

Your dentist could turn into a queen,
Has anybody seen my tambourine?

Of course, none of this mattered to my son. He loved Aggie’s song and sang it for days. I thought he’d be bored with the fairly slow pace of the movie but he asked to watch it again and again as the month of October went along. It’s a harmless film with nothing objectionable. I have to admit that there is a minor charm to all, and seeing the similarities that J.K Rowling would employ in the Harry Potter series can on its own occupy the focus of one’s viewing. As a bat lover my eyes widened when one girl briefly walked in with a live megabat hanging from her hand, and I wish we could have seen more of that. My wife recognizes the film’s shortcomings but, knowing it word for word, doesn’t adore it any less. Who am I to shit in their punch bowl?

Recommended Age: 3+
Final Thought: Soft recommendation. If you’re nostalgic for it, indulge to your heart’s content. No judgement here. For the kids it’s probably best for the preschool crowd before they graduate to Hogwarts. If you’ve never seen it before and want to, you might want a hard drink handy.

DADDY DREADFUL – Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest (2013)

This review is part of the Daddy Dreadful review series.

Daddy Dreadful Review – Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest (2013)

I loved the Curious George books as a young kid, attracted as I was to the illustrations and the bold yellow which swathed the covers. It wasn’t until my son came along that I saw the troublesome monkey in any other media, and thus far the animated features celebrating the seasons are what we’ve watched. Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest (2013) served as a great introduction to the Halloween season for my son – it’s got pumpkins galore, music, the legend of a hat-kicking scarecrow named No Noggin, and a celebration of “boo” scares.

There was nothing that frightened my son though the movie definitely left an impression. He enjoyed jumping around yelling “boo!” afterward and mentioned “No Noggin” each time we put on our hats. The story is appropriate for preschoolers and, being under an hour, doesn’t outstay its welcome for the adults.

Recommended Age: 3+
Final Thought: Recommended for the preschool crowd.

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