Friday, October 31, 2008

A Treat

To close out the month, here's the first Silly Symphony cartoon produced by Walt Disney in 1929. "The Skeleton Dance" was drawn by Ub Iwerks and features music by Carl Stalling.

Boo and whatnot.

Courtesy blip3452

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Good Grief

... In Which The Typing Monkey Discusses the Major Themes of It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Forget the maudlin Christmas sentiment of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the greatest animated adaptation of Charles Schulz's iconic Peanuts comic strip. Great Pumpkin tackles faith versus reason, hope versus cynicism and never once talks down to the audience.

In 1966, eager to take advantge of the unexpected success of the 1965 Christmas special, director Bill Melendez quickly produced another Peanuts cartoon using Halloween as his seasonal focus.

Though most adults who grew up watching the various Charlie Brown cartoons can recall large amounts of the Christmas Peanuts cartoon, details from the Halloween outing don't always fare so well.

Most remember Charlie's refrain "I got a rock." And Linus' desire to see The Great Pumpkin usually lodges in our collective memory.

A Charlie Brown Christmas is not without its charms -- the underdog victory, unapologetic religious message rendered without holiday overkill and a perfect soundtrack from West Coast jazz man Vince Guaraldi.

But Great Pumpkin, benefiting from not having to hang its story on the obligations of Christmas, trumps its predecessor in every way.

Schulz and Melendez focus the story on Charlie Brown's sidekick Linus Van Pelt. So instead of following the constant drubbings from a world that kicks Charlie to curb so often that something as minor as an invitation to a Halloween party inspires America's favorite blockhead to dance like a lunatic, the audience watches as Linus' beliefs are tested.

In Christmas, Charlie's failures are supposed to arouse our sympathies while Linus quotes scripture and declares that a withering weed of a Christmas tree needs only "a little love" to transform it into a robust symbol of the holiday. Sentimental hogwash.

Pumpkin plays Charlie's Job-like miseries for laughs. He is accidentally invited to the party, he can't master the basics of a simple ghost costume, and the girls use his cranium as a scratch pad for Jack-o-lantern designs. The ostensible star of Peanuts becomes the comic relief.

Meanwhile, Linus dares to dream that the Halloween equivalent of Santa Claus -- the titular, grand gourd -- will deliver gifts at a nearby pumpkin patch simply because the patch is "sincere." Children and adults want to share in Linus' well-intentioned idea, but even Linus doubts his convictions. An early scene in which he's writing a letter to the Great Pumpkin has the boy writing: "If you are a fake, don't tell me. I don't want to know."

That moment offers a small taste of the crushing disappointment due to arrive by the third act. Children watching might share in the nagging feeling that perhaps not all the marvelous stories our parents tell us about the world are true, and grown-ups might recall specific moments in which life pulled the curtain back to reveal a sad truth, whether we were ready to see it or not. (The moment when Linus frets after accidentally says "if" in reference to the Great Pumpkin is key.)

As for Vince Guaraldi's part, the composer/pianist retains enough of the spritely piano, bass and drums sound that makes his theme "Linus and Lucy" a cross-generational favorite. But he lets the low moan of a flute do much of the heavy lifting in Great Pumpkin.

Like a dead leaf sawing the cool air, the flute plays during Snoopy's mood-altering reenactments of a downed pilot crossing the French countryside during WWI. It also accompanies the one tender act in the film, unexpectedly executed by Lucy, the gruff older sister of Linus.

And the final scene -- a conversation between Charlie and Linus -- reads like nothing less than the deflated regret of two adults recalling the previous night's failures. They might as well be nursing hangovers as Charlie sighs with uncertain optimism for next year, even though he knows as well as we do that life will pull the football away before he can kick it.

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Have a Seat, Put Your Feet Up

Annual budget requests are due next month at Typing Monkey International corporate headquarters. The Typing Monkey's staff accountant is working right now to find out where we can sneak a Coffin Couch into our acquisitions expenses.

Coffin Couches. It's a couch made out of a coffin.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Graveyard Smash

Scientist's dub album ... Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires (reviewed below) is an ideal Halloween party album, and here's why: Dub, as a genre, already behaves like a grinning Frankenstein's monster.

Recording engineers stitch these creations together from parts of existing songs. A (usually lone) technological wizard, treating the recording studio as a laboratory, chops and severs a reggae tune. The reassembled bits are reanimated and often enhanced with sound effects that have little or nothing to do with the original work, yet make sense once the new construction breaks free from its restraints.

Obvious thematic elements aside, the self-consciously spooky Curse of the Vampires matches up nicely to the rest of the stuff any reasonable Halloween party playlist will include -- in fact, it's an ideal party closer.

After Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor," the Bauhuas hits, Screamings both Jay Hawkins and Lord Sutch, Birthday Party, Nick Cave, the various garage rock nuggets, Burt Bacharach's dancefloor-filling theme from The Blob and whatever else you're spinning, cool down the drunks and please the heads by dropping the needle on Curse of the Vampires.

The low beats-per-minute and soul-soothing one-drop rhythms will gently release your guests into the night without bringing them down. And they'll call you November 1st to ask you what that record was you played right before they shuffled off to the bus stop.

Or if you're staying in on Halloween to watch movies, Curse works as an alternative soundtrack to some horror films that don't require a lot of attention from the viewer in terms of dialogue.

The album is short -- nearly 38 minutes -- so it gives the viewer enough time to watch the film as intended and establish the essential conflict. Keep an eye on the time and you can watch the remainder of the average 80 to 90 minute low-grade shocker while Scientist's top-shelf second-wave dub enhances the visuals.

The Typing Monkey recommends the living-dead melodrama White Zombie, a tale of lust and Haitian voodoo starring Bela Lugosi.

It Starts With Maniacal Laughter

Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires
Counting the number of essential dub albums doesn't require taking one's shoes and socks off. But whichever hand begins the tally, make sure it includes this 1981 LP from King Tubby's apprentice Scientist (aka Hopeton Brown).

Amidst a series of concept dub records all seemingly wrapped around some of Scientist's favorite things (... Meets the Space Invaders, ... Wins the World Cup, etc.) the young studio wizard put out this horror-themed collection.

The 10 tracks are drastically remixed from source material provided by The Roots Radics, Scientist's frequent collaborators. Like King Tubby, Scientist often strips away all other instruments save the drums and bass, letting guitar and horns slide in and out of the mix like distant orbiting bodies.

But unlike his mentor's humid, tropical dubs or Lee "Scratch" Perry's abstract psychedelic versions, Scientist's work has a cold detachment to it. So his creature-feature theme makes perfect sense.

Scientist relies on reverb as much as delay and echo, and the expected speaker-rattling bass sometimes sounds compressed ("The Voodoo Curse"). In "The Corpse Rises" the bass staggers into the song from a distance, a thrilling trick that builds anticipation for the moment when it actually takes over the mix.

The between song declarations ("I want blood!" "This is the mummy's curse") expose the glee of a student set loose in the laboratory -- Scientist cut most of his early material in Tubby's studio -- and add much to the B-movie feel of it all.

He kills the mood once at the start of "The Mummy's Shroud" by letting some bird chirps into the track, and essentially flips on the lights by the last two cuts. "Plauge of Zombies" has positive-vibe Rasta vocals and "Ghost of Frankenstein" seems to be a version of lover's rock.

Perhaps those are the happy ending to Scientist's mini monsterfest?

Reference material: Augustus Pablo's desolate, Near East-tinged collaborations with King Tubby clearly showed Scientist the potential of dub. There are even elements of garage rock twang and Velvet Underground spaciousness.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

We pause now to bring you this important message:

How to get a head. (See what we did there?)

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (1858) by John Quidor, oil, 26 7/8 x 33 7/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

glopitaglopitaglopita ...

The Typing Monkey interrupts the seasonal festivities to acknowledge the passing of American composer, arranger and trumpeter Neal Hefti on Oct 11, 2008.

His two best-known compositions -- the theme to the television series Batman, and the theme to both the film and TV versions of The Odd Couple -- deserve all the praise they get. (And any kid who doesn't feel like fighting crime or busting out some go-go dance moves upon hearing the opening bars of the Batman theme should be regarded with suspicion.)

But Hefti's exit reminds us that he also wrote the original score for two of the better just-outside-the-mainstream comedies of the 1960s: How to Murder Your Wife and Lord Love a Duck.

Murder stars Jack Lemmon as the ultimate urban bachelor undone and redone by the shackles of unplanned matrimony. His scenes with co-star Terry Thomas suggest a comedy duo in waiting, and Thomas, always delightful, is nearly bulletproof here. Hefti's playful jazz-pop matches the film's tone perfectly.

Check out the opening narrative:

[Courtesy stutrix]

Duck pairs up Tuesday Weld and Roddy McDowall in an oddly philosophical and bleak comic attack on teen culture that remains evergreen. The ace performances from Ruth Gordon and Harvey Korman are nearly pushed aside by Max Showalter's queasy performance as Weld's father. Showalter -- better known to modern audiences as Molly Ringwald's giggling, inappropriate grandfather in Sixteen Candles -- runs away with a short scene in which he cranks up the ick factor while somehow remaining funny.*

Oh right, Neal Hefti ... if there is any doubt that Hefti possessed that rare gift of mid-20th century composers who grasped the basics of rock, blues, jazz and pop in a way that those on either side of the generation gap couldn't or wouldn't, his title track for the film's opening credits will convince.

Dig it:

[Courtesy SolarCoasterX]

*Showalter's scene with Weld is available on YouTube, but just see the movie. It's essential.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Ghastly Menagerie

We've been posting a lot of links lately, and for that we'd apologize, but the fact is, the Web hosts loads of excellent horror and Halloween-appropriate content. (Also, we've been gorging on Ghost Dots -- the sugar crash just kills our motivation.)

Something more substantial is on the way, but in the meantime, point your eyeballs at this nifty blog that posts image after image of art both high and low, each item depicting the terrible beasties humans have dreamt up (or witnessed) throughout the centuries: Monster Brains.

Friday, October 10, 2008


In the name of pseudo-science, fear mongering and wild speculation, The Typing Monkey would like to resuscitate the following article from

Once you've read it, come back, take a deep breath and realize you can prepare yourself for the imminent zombie apocalypse.

This post was made possible in part by Dr. F. Beldinstein.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Swingin' at the Seance

Halloween Stomp: Jazz & Big Band Music for a Haunted House Party
No finer collection of horror-themed novelty tunes and one-offs from Depression-era acts and giants of the big band era exists. And it's mean of us to even bring this disc up because Halloween Stomp has been out of print for years -- probably soon after the initial 1993 pressing on a rarities-and-reissue imprint from Germany.

"Mysterious Mose" by Harry Reser, and The Ray Noble Orchestra's "Haunted House" sound just like the pre-war, public-domain cartoons that local TV stations ran on weekday mornings during the '70s alongside vintage Popeye and Walter Lantz offerings -- right down to the voice work and sound effects.

The Casa Loma Orchestra offers the first of several doses of melancholy romance with "This House Is Haunted (By the Echo of Your Last Good Bye)", a pleasing break before the disc flings out more madcap numbers.

The Italian and Cockney counterparts to Louis Armstrong make good showings, respectively, with Louis Prima's "Mr. Ghost Goes to Town" and Nat Gonella's "Skeleton In the Closet."

Kay Starr shows them all up with her superior reading of "Headless Horseman." The song was sung by Bing Crosby in the 1949 animated Disney double-feature, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad, for the portion based on Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

While there's absolutely nothing wrong with Der Bingle's grandpadamous take, Starr shades her version with some hepcat speak. Besides, who would you rather hear sing about an 18th century urban legend?

The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra ends the show with "Dry Bones" -- a tepid party closer that can't match the Kay Starr track that precedes it. Drink 'em up and hit the road folks.

Since copies of Halloween Stomp are going for $40 plus change on Amazon, securing your own copy means scouring used CD racks, trying your luck at online auction sites or begging your friend for a dub. Good luck.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pictures at an Exhibition

In 1998, Scott Skelton and Jim Benson put out a book called Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour. It's a not-too academic study of Night Gallery, the horror anthology television series that has the misfortune of being the lesser sibling of Serling's greatest TV achievement, The Twilight Zone.

If by some chance the specific charms of Night Gallery passed you by the whole series is on DVD, and likely running on some cable channel. Unlike the eerie sci-fi parables and obvious fantasy-tale allegories of The Twilight Zone, the stories trotted out for Gallery were out and out horror, usually in the Victorian or morality play style. The intention was merely to titillate and scare viewers.

The hook was simple: Host Serling would point out some grim oil painting in his er, night gallery, and talk a bit about what the painting suggested. All the items in Serling's collection were at least spooky, if not outright gruesome. Once he uttered the title of the painting, the teleplay began.

Much like the covers of EC comics, and its many imitators, the paintings were often more terrifying than the guts of the actual stories. But to a horror fan, the pull of the morbid images was hard to resist, even if last week's episode failed to live up.

Serling's widow Carol endorsed Skelton and Benson's book so it must at least give the man and his also-ran show a fair shake. So while we wait for our copy of An After-Hours Tour to arrive, and before you run out and rent or purchase the Night Gallery DVDs, familiarize yourself with the show -- or get reacquainted if it's been a few years -- via Skelton and Benson's superb Night Gallery Website.

They have all the paintings from the show, screen shots, an episode guide, and even theme music and some sound clips from various episodes. There's more beyond that, but you should just stop reading this and get over there. Hurry up, we're turning out the lights.

Friday, October 3, 2008


To put us in the proper frame of mind to fully enjoy October, aka the best month that ever lived, check out the Website Labyrinth13, put together by a man named Curt Rowlett. The name of his site is also the title of his book -- a collection of the author's summaries of various supernatural events, real crimes with occult shadings, and the odd conspiracy theory.

Rowlett's the best kind of Fortean* reporter, in that he lays out the paranormal details without ever once questioning whether ghosts, psychic phenomena or visitations from extra-terrestrials are even near the borders of reality. That's for the reader to decide.

And if nothing else, even the most scientific among us should let go of preconceptions as often as possible, leaving the window of possibility open just a crack while our rational minds sleep. The fresh air is good for you.

Rowlett does reveal his leanings with his account of living in a haunted house. Aside from that, there's plenty of brain-tickling goodness within his site, such as this short piece on the use of opium during the Victorian era.

Also of interest is the true tale of the day a BBC news broadcast was interrupted by an audio broadcast from a purported space alien who warned mankind of impending doom. What's taking so long?

*We'll discuss Charles Fort and The Fortean Times soon.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

We'll be right back after these messages.

According to this commercial enterprise, October is National Donut Month. That explains why Typing Monkey publisher S.L. Kreighton had three dozen cake donuts from Mighty-O Donuts shipped to the office yesterday morning via special courier.

This information was pieced together moments before intern Francine mumbled something about how "October starts with 'o' ... like a donut" and then passed out at her desk. So far nobody has brushed off Francine's rainbow-sprinkle mustache.

The "What We Did On Our Summer Vacation" project has sputtered and died a few CDs short of us looking like total idiots. We're now free to embrace October and the full-on Halloween frenzy that it brings.

But before things get all scary, let's take pause and enjoy this live performance of "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell & The Drells:

[courtesy of Sixtiesalltheway]

Seriously, Mighty-O donuts are delicious.