October 31st, 2012
|10:30 pm - 31 Days of Halloween: Mockingbird Lane / The Worst Witch / The Amazing Screw-On Head|
And so, we come to the end of the month, that night of nights: Hallowe'en. All Hallows' Eve. Samhain. The anniversary of Harry Houdini's Death, if none of those other titles does anything for you.
Our plan tonight was to watch something appropriate, order a pizza, and pass out candy, however, even with pumpkins out and the porch lights on, we got zero (0) trick-or-treaters (I even counted 'em twice). I have no idea what to make of that. Last year we went through a bag and a half of "Fun Size" candy bars, and the year before we had zero again. Oh, well.
Anyway, Wednesday night is usually TV night. We've been getting together with a friend and working our way through TV series. We're currently in the middle of the second series of Downton Abbey, though, and it's not really Halloween fare, so my wife and I assembled a trio of seasonally appropriate TV specials.
First, we watched Mockingbird Lane, Bryan Fuller's abortive reboot of The Munsters. I have reasonably fond memories of The Munsters; it was lower-brow than The Addams Family, and I remember being frustrated as a kid by the fact that it was easier to follow, but the humor felt a little too dumb for my tastes (I was a little snob, apparently). I was actually pretty taken with the new version.
Basicially, the original cast of characters is back, if only in name. Grandpa Munster used to be a silly old man with pointy teeth, the sort of guy your own grandpa became when no other adults were around to make him self-conscious. This time around, he's played by the always wonderful Eddie Izzard, who makes him menacing. He's not above snacking on the neighbors or transplanting the local scoutmaster's heart into Herman's chest. That's the plot, you see -- Herman (Jerry O'Connell) looks like a normal guy, but he's actually a patchwork monster of the Frankensteinian variety. His heart is going and needs replacement, and this comes at a bad time because his son Eddie is starting to go through ...changes... and needs a father's guidance. Oh, it's not puberty that's the problem -- he's turning into a werewolf. Herman's wife Lily (Portia de Rossi) gets the unenviable task of supporting and comforting her son and her husband, and reigning in Grandpa.
Reactions to Mockingbird Lane have been on the positive side of mixed, and I really liked it. Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, etc.) is a master at creating lush onscreen worlds, and the visuals are a kind of spectacular that was simply not possible in the '60s. It's not very kid-appropriate, and the writing is much darker and cleverer than the original -- Grandpa, especially, is nicely reworked as a hilariously callous sociopath, and Izzard is a perfect fit for the role. The casting in general is really good, actually. Sadly, I don't think we're getting any more Mockingbird Lane. It's possible, but if not, we've still got a really solid 39-minute pilot.
Next up was my wife's contribution to the evening, The Worst Witch. Neither one of us remembered how bad it was -- I have rose-tinted childhood memories, and Lindsay wanted to show our guest a different side of Tim Curry. As it turns out, The Worst Witch was good for kids in the '80s, but it holds little appeal for adults in 2012. You don't really want to know, do you? You do? Very well.
The Worst Witch is based on a series of books by the same name, and centers around the life of Mildred Hubble (played by a young Fairuza Balk), the worst student at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches. Look, you know the Harry Potter series, right? Well, Mildred is basically a cross between Neville and Harry, but with no Y chromosome, and Malfoy is a girl named Ethel. They butt heads over and over, and Mildred keeps ending up on the wrong side of a teacher named Miss Hardbroom (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire Diana Rigg), who is a combination of Snape and McGonnigle, and the headmistress, Miss Cackle really doesn't know what to do with her. Eventually Tim Curry shows up as the Grand High Wizard, who is basically a cross between Cornelius Fudge and Gilderoy Lockhart, who, as you recall, was essentially Martha Stewart portrayed by Kenneth Branagh.
Where was I? Oh, right, digressing.
It's not very good. The jokes are cheap and childish, and it was shot on video using mid-'80s vintage effects, which means it looks even cheaper than it actually was. There are some embarrassing musical numbers whose lyrics sound as if they never got out of the rough draft stage (consider this gem: "Anything can happen on Halloween / Your toenails grow long and your hair turns green / Your teacher could become a sardine / Your dentist could turn into a queen / Has anybody seen my tambourine?"). It's obviously intended for kids, but I wonder if modern kids, raised as they are on beautiful CGI and convincing green-screen effects, would have the patience for it? We made it through, but only barely. Twelve years later the books spawned a TV series which apparently involved a remake of this story, and I can only assume that it's better (but you won't catch me watching it).
We finished off the night with The Amazing Screw-On Head, a 22-minute pilot based on the comic by Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, and produced by the aforementioned Bryan Fuller (which I hadn't realized until tonight).
The Amazing Screw-On Head centers around the adventures of Screw-On Head, an agent who battles the ancient forces of evil under the auspices of The Lincoln Administration (yes, that Lincoln Administration). He's a (mechanical?) head with numerous interchangeable bodies, and has been summoned to defeat the evil Emperor Zombie, who has stolen an antediluvian occult manuscript with the intention of opening a gateway between two universes, and letting a banished, malevolent, Lovecraftian god back into this one. There's also a monkey, a vampire lady, two horrible old women, and a dog named Mister Dog. The story is weird for the sake of weird in a way that actually works, mostly, I think, because it's weird in the service of a plot that's going somewhere -- even if it hinges on an alternate dimension being locked inside of a turnip.
The stark animation fits Mignola's visual style beautifully, and the cast -- which includes Paul Giamatti (Screw-On Head), David Hyde Pierce (Emperor Zombie), Molly Shannon (Head's ex- (and Zombie's current) girlfriend, Patience), and Patton Oswalt (Head's manservant, Mr. Groin) is excellent. It is unfortunate that this one didn't get developed into a full series, but I'd rather have one really good episode than a series that starts with a bang and descends quickly into mediocre self-parody, which is how I think this one would have gone.
Anyway, that was our Halloween. Had we not had guests, I think I'd have tried to find a truly bizarre movie to finish out the month, but really, I think Mockingbird Lane and The Amazing Screw-On Head strike closer to my ideal Halloween fare than anything else, anyway. They're funny, sure, but they're also dark and even sardonic at times. Levity is an important part of Halloween; this is the last hurrah of the season, after which the year turns cold and dark. Halloween and Christmas (and their ancient counterparts) get us through the most difficult part of the year. I just wish we had something similar around the end of January to get us through the last part of winter.
Oh, well, there's B-Fest, I guess.
All three of tonight's selections are probably available on YouTube, but here are the trailers for Mockingbird Lane and The Amazing Screw-On Head
Couldn't find one for The Worst Witch, but if you're reading this, you're too old for it anyway.