Thursday, April 28, 2011

Happy Arbor Day from The Haunted Closet!

Once again, it's that holiday I'm vaguely aware of that has something to do with trees.

I usually observe Arbor Day by not knowing it's Arbor Day. But this year I thought I'd break tradition and venture forth into that spooky old forest growing in the back of this ol' closet to examine some of my favorite arboreal (it's a word!) friends that managed to uproot themselves and branch out into the realm of monsters.

We will dispense with the pleasant-trees (zing!) and get right to "Mel", the mean-spirited specimen from 1973's Tales That Witness Madness, a British-accented anthology film of four spooky tales wrapped in a framing story set in an insane asylum operated by the always pleasant Donald Pleasence. Anyone who's familiar with Amicus' 70s anthology output will feel right at home here, even though this is a World Film Services production.

In the film's third segment, "Mel", couple Brian and Bella Thompson (Michael Jayston and Joan Collins) get into an argument over Brian's latest addition to their modern country home, a section of dead tree with the name "Mel" carved into it. Perhaps going for that primitive-meets-modern effect that causes people to decorate their contemporary living spaces with tribal masks or tiki carvings, Brian displays Mel in the living room after finding her in the neighboring woods. It's shaped vaguely like a women, even more so after Brian sands and prunes it.

Bella isn't impressed with Brian's decorating taste, but she has a good reason to object beyond mere aesthetics, as Mel seems to be alive, gently leaning and shifting position around the room, and emitting a soft heartbeat heard only by the audience.

When Brian steps out for a visit to the pub, Bella leans in too close and gets clawed by Mel's sharp extremities.

When Brian returns, Bella gives him an ultimatum: if he expects her to sleep in this house, the tree has to go. Well, you can guess how that turned out...

Tales That Witness Madness has not found its way to DVD yet, but is available streaming on Netflix as of this writing.

Next up is one of my earliest monster-tree memories, the sour-apple trees from The Wizard of Oz (1939).

Back in Kansas, Dorothy was used to picking apples off of trees. But in Land of Oz, trees pick fruit off of YOU!

In the animated sort-of sequel, Journey Back to Oz (1974), Dorothy (voiced by Liza Minnelli) and some new friends revisit the ferocious forest, where the trees have grown larger and nastier with the help of Mombi the Bad Witch's magic.

They all look like they belong to the same family tree (slide whistle) of the evil trees from Living Island, home of 1969's H.R. PufnStuf.

But going back even further, we have this unpleasant fellow from Walt Disney's first color cartoon, the Silly Symphony Flowers and Trees (1932). His morning yawn reveals a mouthful of bats and a lizard for a tongue.

While trying to burn down the forest, he ends up setting himself on fire instead, leaving behind a semi-disturbing burnt-out corpse.

Flowers and Trees led to Disney's first animated feature, 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which had its own spooky forest of anthropomorphised trees.

Even though these monstrous trees appear to be the product of Snow White's overactive imagination, they can be found occasionally roaming the Disney parks as costumed characters.

Charlie Brown had regular run-ins with a ravenous kite-eating tree, which loudly and visibly devoured any kite that got too close.

It was sometimes depicted with an actual tooth-filled mouth, and in 1969's A Boy Named Charlie Brown, it even leaned menacingly at passers-by.

In 1982's The Last Unicorn, Schmendrick the Magician winds up tied to a tree that is brought to life by magic, transforming into a voluptuous lovesick tree-woman, threatening to smother the poor wizard with her... affections.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) featured a walking, talking hangman's tree...

Moving out of the realm of animation, we have Baranga, from 1957's From Hell It Came. I haven't actually seen this film, about a murdered island prince reincarnated as a murderous walking tree (available on DVD from Warner Archives burn-on-demand store), but the trailer looks like a lot of fun.

Anyone remember when this picture of a young Baranga was taken? I'm stumped.

After classroom chum Veronica plants ideas of witchcraft in her head, the impressionable Flavia has a nightmare that the tree outside her window is scratching to get in, in 1984's Poison For the Fairies (a.k.a. Veneno Paras Las Hadas) (hat tip to Kindertrauma for introducing me to this gem.)

But that tree was a wallflower compared to the one outside the Freeling's house in 1982's Poltergeist, which not only scratched at the window, but busted right through to grab up little Robbie between its massive limbs for a midnight snack.

Why do we always fight on holidays?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Bunnies

It's Easter weekend, and I'm cooking up some rabbit stew... can you help me pick the best bunny to put in the pot?

Okay, so it didn't come out so good this year... Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

TRON made me do it...

With the long out-of-print Disney film TRON finally getting re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray this week (as well as its worthy sequel), I thought I'd post a summary of the original story in 24-pages of artist's renderings, courtesy of the 1982 Read-Along Adventure Book-and-Record, The Story of TRON, and share a few memories of what TRON made me do when I first saw it in theaters as a grade-schooler... USING FRISBEES AS WEAPONS
Me and every kid I knew owned a frisbee or two, but by the 1980s, they were all lost under the bed, in the closet, or somewhere in the garage. But after seeing TRON, this forgotten old relic from the 70s got dusted off and put to good use as a projectile-missile in order to replicate the disc-war segment of the film. Originally I tried building my own custom Tron-like disc out of cardboard, only to abandon it for the much superior (and more painful) standard frisbee. Think of dodge-ball, but with hard plastic discs, and no adult-supervision getting in the way of the fun, and you get the idea. Many bruised fingers were incurred from trying to also use the frisbee as a shield to deflect incoming discs. RAMMING INTO EACH OTHER WITH OUR BIKES
After a bit of brainstorming trying to figure out how to modify our standard bicycles to leave a deadly light-wall behind them (one failed attempt involved attaching a piece of chalk to a stick that extended out the back wheel and scraped along the ground. Didn't work.) my circle of friends and I finally realized that all the thrills of the light-cycle game could be captured by just ramming our bikes into each other. The rider of the bike still standing was declared winner... but in a way, we were all winners. ADAPTING LIGHT CYCLES AS A BOARD GAME
This may sound strange, but one way I found of expressing my loyalty to a particular video game when I was a kid was to try to make my own board-game adaptation of it. The fact that home-console adaptations of arcade hits were still pretty crude and rarely captured the action of its arcade inspiration no doubt fueled my desire to take matters into my own hands. A few years later when I finally got my first PC, I would try making my own versions of arcade hits coded in BASIC, though they were usually about as crappy and un-fun as my earlier board game attempts. For the light-cycles board game, I cut out dozens of little colored rectangle pieces to use as jet-wall sections. Of course they never ended up staying in place, and the draft from a door opening, or a good sneeze, would derez the entire match.