Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beistle Skeleton Cutout Celebrity Sex Tape Scandal(?)

I usually have zero interest in celebrity gossip or scandals, and certainly have no intention of covering that kind of nonsense here in The Haunted Closet... but today I make a rare exception!

Eager to try out my spanking new $9.98 film projector, I was sorting through a dusty old box of Super-8 film reels...

...when I came across one with an intriguing title, The Girl and the Skeleton. It looks like its from the 1960s, and sounds spooky. Perhaps a Halloween-themed animated short or musical performance?

Well you can imagine my horror---HORROR---when I cued it up only to be greeted by THIS lurid image...

I've strategically blurred out certain hotspots on these screencaps, but there is nothing left to the imagination in the actual film, which was not a scary ghost story for children after all, but rather an adults-only stag loop of an anonymous young lady, not wearing a costume (...or anything else, for that matter) cavorting with a cardboard Halloween skeleton decoration.

And not just any skeleton... could it be none other than the famous Beistle Company skeleton? That innocent totem of Halloween mirth that guarded the front windows of many a trick-or-treat house, and which grinned down at me each October from the bulletin boards of every public school I ever attended?

How could this have happened? Did the pressures of fame cause Beistle skeleton to spiral downward into a cesspool of vice? Was he forced into the smut-picture racket to pay off massive gambling debts? Or perhaps the film was made surreptitiously... a blackmail attempt by an obsessive fan?

Surely he knows if this tape ever gets out, his career as Halloween decoration is finished.

Then again, on 15th or 16th aghast viewing, I'm starting to wonder if that really is the Beistle Company skeleton after all, or just some imitator?

Time for a little detective work. Using my special Crime Computer, I've generated a life-like digital model of our suspect, which I'll then position in 3-dimensions for comparison alongside his frisky doppelganger.

Hmmm...very similar, but the trained eye notices the difference in the size and shape of the breastplate and ribcage. Also, the elbow doesn't quite seem to match. But we'll need to zoom in for a closer analysis.

This confirms it. The shading in the eye sockets, the cracking on the side of the skull, and the vertebrae on the neck all confirm that this ISN'T the Beistle skeleton. Case dismissed. Beistle skeleton, how could I ever have doubted you?


I don't really have a new 8MM film projector, nor a grab-bag of film reels, nor a fancy Crime Computer. I do have a DVD player, and recently discovered The Girl and The Skeleton , (which really is just a few minutes of silent, black-and-white footage of a naked lady and a cardboard skeleton, circa 1960s), among the bonus features on Something Weird Video's The Curious Dr. Humpp (1967).

...Dr. Humpp
is a low-budget Spanish-language flick that has something to do with robots, zombies, and a study in human sexual behavior, that reminded me of Ed Wood's end-of-career forays into nudie exploitation, only more competently made (and therefore, lacking Wood's jaw-dropping awfulness, slightly less entertaining).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

King Winterbolt (Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas In July, 1979)

What do you get when you gather up all of Rankin Bass' already established and beloved Christmas characters, among them Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Jack Frost, craft an overly complicated mythic backstory for them, then set them on a hot-air balloon trip to visit a sea-side circus in the middle of Summer? Why, you get a Christmas In July (1979, Rankin Bass), of course.

A lesser (and less-remembered) entry in Rankin Bass' long line of holiday-related specials, Christmas In July nonetheless introduces us to a wonderfully wicked new villian... Winterbolt, King of the North Pole (voiced by Paul Frees). Living in a frozen mountain peak and armed with a magic staff, he ruled the North Pole with an icy fist in the days before Santa.

But Winterbolt's evil is put in check one day by Lady Boreal, Queen of the Northern Lights, who puts him in a deep sleep for many years.

But Lady Boreal's spell doesn't last forever, and one stormy night, after years of slumber, Winterbolt awakens from his frozen bed, looking very much like Dracula rising from the grave.

Winterbolt has two pet snow dragons at his command, which breathe frost, and can whip up a Christmas-cancelling snowstorm.

He also drives a sleigh pulled by giant flying snakes, who nearly end up eating Rudolph in one encounter.

But his creepiest ally is the Genie of the Ice Scepter, a lifeless face formed in an ice wall, with two glowing and glowering eyes, that serves as a "magic mirror" to Winterbolt, offering advice and predictions.

Winterbolt seeks to reclaim his power by stealing Christmas and usurping Santa's role as beloved gift bringer to the good children of the world. His hilariously warped take on the role of Santa is revealed when Winterbolt speculates:
"I could be greater than Santa! I'd give the little brats twice as many toys, and they would love me more! They'd become lazy and dependent on me, and I would rule them all!"
When Winterbolt's magic staff is shattered, his powers are lost, and he transforms into a gnarled old tree.

Oh, Christmas tree...oh, Christmas tree...

Christmas In July has been released to DVD individually and as part of boxed sets Christmas Television Favorites and Classic Christmas Favorites.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas with Pippi Longstocking

The Pippi Longstocking movies were something I would stumble upon in the late 1970s while channel surfing on lazy Saturday afternoons (not TOO lazy... in those days, channel surfing meant standing right next to the screen and turning the clunky tuner knob).

She appeared in a series of four films from 1969-1970: Pippi Longstocking, Pippi In the South Seas, Pippi Goes On Board, and Pippi On the Run, all of which were really just cobbled-together episodes from an earlier Swedish television series (which in turn was based on the children's book series by Astrid Lindgren).

Poorly dubbed in English for American audiences (which is no small part of their charm), the films followed the adventures of wild child Pippi (Inger Nilsson), who immediately endeared herself to me by flaunting all the rules children are expected to follow.

She lives in a good-sized house, completely unsupervised (her mother has passed on, and her ship's captain father is always away at sea) and subsidized by a chest of gold doubloons her father has left behind. She never attends school, only visiting on occasion, and then only to cause trouble.

She has a pet horse (named "Old Man"), a monkey (called "Mr. Nilsson") and a mouse, all of which roam freely in the house.

Her best friends Annika and Tommy (Maria Persson and Par Sundberg) enjoy the freedom that Pippi's house provides, free from the prying eyes of killjoy adults.

Even chores became fun at Pippi's house. When she decides its time to scrub the floor, she just dumps a tub of water and proceeds to skate around on brushes attached to her feet.

No stranger to danger, she even plays with real and loaded firearms!

But what really set Pippi apart is her unexplained superhuman power. She's unnaturally strong, and can lift up cars...

...take on a whole gang of bullies...

...leap off cliffs and land without a scratch...

...and has even been known to eat a nail or two.

This was all dangerous and exciting stuff to my grade school mind, and would earn disapproving glowers from my mother while we watched together.

We get to see how Pippi celebrates Christmas in Pippi Goes on Board (an erroneous title, as the film revolves around Pippi's adventures at home when she decides NOT to go on board a sailing ship with her father).

It starts with her boast to build the biggest snowman ever. This massive snowball is merely its nose!

But when a pair of comical burglars (recurring characters in the series) make the mistake of flaunting their recent theft of Pippi's treasure chest...

...the giant snowball, under Pippi's supernatural strength, becomes a weapon.

The burglars neutralized, Pippi begins making Christmas cookies by rolling the dough out across her floor.

She doesn't settle for ordinary gingerbread men though, instead cutting them in the shapes of her various pets.

When Annika and Tommy invite her to go ice-skating, she must first fashion some skates, by bending a pair of andirons with her bare hands.

Later, Pippi decorates her front-yard lemon tree with gifts for all the town's children.

As for her menagerie, they each receive presents as well. The mouse gets a tiny Christmas tree...

...the horse an oversized scarf...

...and Mr. Nilsson, a stockpile of bananas.

As evening falls, Pippi, having no family on hand to share the holiday with, begins to feel lonely.

But right at that moment, Annika and Tommy arrive, leading a parade of neighborhood children, and bearing a gift.

Pippi opens her new trumpet and proceeds to play the films' theme song.

Meanwhile the children scramble up the lemon tree to retrieve presents.

The Pippi Longstocking series is available on DVD either individually or as a boxed set.