Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cardboard Monster Finger Puppet Book 1970s

UPDATE: Found!

I'm used to wading back into the dark, dusty corners of the haunted closet to dig up forgotten relics from the past, but allow me now to turn the tables and appeal to the collective wisdom of the Internet to help me identify a lost artifact from my own haunted childhood.

It was a book of some kind (coloring book? activity book? sticker book?) with maybe a dozen or so full-color, cut-out, monster finger puppets on the cardboard back cover. It would have come out in the late 1970s, possibly ordered through the Scholastic Book Club. No idea what it was called, who the author or artist was, or who published it.

I'd totally given up finding this book, until a piece of evidence materialized... the equivalent of finding a bloody footprint at a long abandoned crime scene. A photo of one of the elusive monster puppets turned up in a recent post at Plastic Pumpkins. Unfortunately, Plastic Pumpkins blogmaster Steven was in the same boat as me, having only vague memories of the book.

As the detectives say, anything you can remember might be useful. I know its tempting to set aside everything you're doing to work exclusively on this for me, but also allow yourself some personal time to check out Plastic Pumpkins, which is loaded with scans from kids' magazines, roadside attraction ephemera, thrift store treasures, and one of my favorites, The International Language of Wieners.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

An early Halloween treat...

Since I seem to be The Last Man On Earth possessing a copy of spooky anthology Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures, a scanner, and an Internet connection, I thought I'd update one of my earliest posts on favorite short story The Patchwork Monkey (Beverly Butler, 1976) with scans of the complete text.

Happy reading.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bringers of Wonder (Space 1999)

I first happened upon Space 1999 as a grade-schooler in the late 70s, when it appeared in syndicated reruns Saturday afternoons. This high-concept science fiction series, equal parts space adventure and interpersonal drama, followed the exploits of Commander John Koenig (Martin Landau), Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) and crew, trapped on a space station based on a Moon forever wandering the galaxy after being knocked out of orbit.

Despite its frequently cerebral tone and serious themes, Space 1999 wasn't immune to Monster-of-the-Weekism, presenting some truly frightening extraterrestrial terrors, most notably the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meets Alien abomination from a Season 1 episode called Dragon's Domain.

This man-eating tentacled terror even appeared on the Space 1999 lunchbox.

But for me, the real scares came in a two-part Season 2 episode titled Bringers of Wonder. Space 1999 never had a Halloween episode, but if it did, this would be it. The show is crawling with monsters, including a ship full of alien visitors who show up at their front door in costume (as normal human beings) and are using a trick in order to get "treats" (nuclear energy to revive their degenerating bodies.)

The unexpected visitors arrive on a faster-than-lightspeed craft staffed with friends and relatives of the Moonbase Alpha crew, and announce their intention to bring them all home at a festive reception party.

Only Commander Koenig (Landau), immune to the alien psychic powers that have clouded the perception of the rest of the crew, sees the visitors for what they really are...

Disgusting monsters! Yes, these alleged humans actually look more like Sigmund & the Sea-Monsters might look after climbing out of an eyeball and slime casserole.

They glow and undulate. Green globs literally drip down their bodies, and we get plenty of too-close views of their veiny eyeballs.

What really got to me throughout this episode is the fact that nobody else can see them for what they really are, standing among them completely unaware.

We later see a group of these inter-dimensional monsters stationed on the Moon's surface, waiting for orders to seize nuclear material from a remote waste site.

But the monster party doesn't stop there. Maya, a regular character added for the show's second season, is an alien "metamorph", and has the ability to transform temporarily into almost anything.

She uses that power to change into no less than five different monstrous creatures, including this fish-eyed alien... amphibious man resembling the Creature From the Black Lagoon...

...a one-eyed, two-horned Moon Ape that wouldn't look too out of place on Jason of Star Command...

...and even a large cockroach that had me scratching uncomfortably at still fresh psychological scars from my viewing of Bug!

The fifth monster is one of our gooey, one-eyed haystack friends, a disguise Maya uses to try to infiltrate their ranks.

The Bringers of Wonder episodes can be found on DVD in Space 1999: Set 7.
Toss a copy of Jason of Star Command or Sigmund and the Sea Monsters in your cart while you're at it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Trick or Treat (1978, CHiPs)

CHiPs (an acronym of California Highway Patrol) was the cop show for kids that didn't like cop shows. Officers Ponch (Erik Estrada) and John (Larry Wilcox) rarely drew their weapons, and let legions of criminals walk free with a stern warning.

In the world of CHiPs, police work wasn't about using either brute force or ingenious detective work to bring hard-boiled criminals off the gritty Streets of Mean. Instead, a typical beat might entail rescuing a runaway boat on jet-skis, luring an escaped circus tiger back to his cage, or delivering a newborn on the floor of the disco (after winning the disco contest, of course!)

The Season 2 Halloween episode, Trick or Treat (1978), stayed true to the formula.

Nothing scary to see here, folks, as Ponch and John tackle decidedly lightweight incidents like a hold-up woman dressed as a ghost, candy-bag theft by an older woman convinced she's lost her wedding ring in a batch of candy, and a pair of naughty ladies stealing city property for a scavenger hunt.

Sarge demonstrates how to thoroughly search a suspect for hidden contraband.

The biggest treat of this episode is getting a look at vintage plastic Halloween adornments... close encounters of the Ben Cooper kind.

Below we have Bigfoot (mask only, missing the smock, from the 1977 Sid & Marty Krofft show Bigfoot & Wildboy), a Batman (1974, this rendering based on the comic strip), and a Raggedy Ann (1973). Oh yea, there's also a non-plastic vampire and witch, too.

Later that evening we'll encounter this group. Bigfoot again, this time complete with smock, Skeleton (looks like a slight variation of a 1974 version that I remember as being the first costume I ever wore), The Incredible Hulk (looks like an earlier version than the 1980s model posted below), and Darth Vader (sin smock, con cape).

Here's a closer look at Skeleton.

Costume images came from the awesome and topical book Halloween: Costumes and Other Treats. See many more images in a previous post here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Chicken Heart That Ate Up New York City

Fat Albert and the gang have left their inner city junkyard to spend two weeks in the fresh forest air of Camp Green Lane. On their first night, sitting around the campfire, Bill tells the scary story of The Chicken Heart That Ate Up New York City.

(thump-thump... thump-thump...)
"The chicken heart was kept alive in a vat, in a laboratory, in a special solution."
(thump-thump... thump-thump...)

"One day a careless janitor knocked the vat over."
(thump-thump... thump-thump...)

"The janitor went to get a rag to clean it up. The chicken heart grew six foot five inches!"
(thump-thump... thump-thump...)

"He went out in search of things to eat. It went out the hallway and rang for the elevator."
(thump-thump... thump-thump...)

"It ate up all of the cabs."
(thump-thump... thump-thump...)

"Ate up the jersey turnpike."
(thump-thump... thump-thump...)

"It’s coming through the woods—he’s right behind you! Ahhhhh!!!"
(thump-thump... thump-thump...)

This telling of the Chicken Heart story appears in the October 1972 episode of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, "Fish Out of Water". If the whole thing seems more silly than scary, that's because this is a story that is meant to be heard, not seen. It's based on a sketch from Bill Cosby's 1966 album Wonderfulness.

But the Chicken Heart story doesn't originate here. Rather, that sketch is the humorous telling of how Cosby first heard the story, as a frightened 7-year old, on the late night radio program Lights Out.

Lights Out was hosted by playwright turned radio personality (and later, film director) Arch Oboler. The show first aired in 1934, but was rebroadcast in reruns as late as the early 1960s. The stories were unique and scary enough to warrant several pages of coverage in Stephen King's non-fiction survey of the horror genre, Danse Macabre. The Chicken Heart story, according to King, exploits "the mind's innate obedience, its willingness to try to see whatever someone suggests it see, no matter how absurd" to force your imagination to confront the impossible, grotesque, hungry heart that eventually expands to cover the entire Earth. (thump... thump...)

Some of Oboler's Lights Out material wound up on a 1962 album Drop Dead (available as an Amazon download here).

You won't find the usual ghosts, vampires or werewolves here. Aside from the Chicken Heart story (played straight, with tongue nowhere near cheek), you also get Taking Papa Home, in which an elderly couple, driving home from a retirement party, finds their car stuck on the train tracks, the wife desperately trying to remove her husband, drunk from celebrating, as the train barrels toward them.

In A Day at the Dentist's, a patient realizes too late that the dentist about to apply sharp tools to his pearly whites is the husband of the woman he's been having an affair with.

If you aren't already squirming in your chair, try listening to The Dark, about a mysterious black fog, seeping from behind an attic door, that turns anyone it touches inside out--without immediately killing them!

"It's a man! But the skin is the inside, the raw flesh is the outside. Organs hanging... A man turned inside out, the way a glove is turned inside out."

The Dark may have inspired the final gag of The Simpson's Treehouse of Horror 5 (aka The Simpson's Halloween Special V) in which a fog turns the Simpsons family inside out before they break out into song.

Buy the Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids featuring the episode "A Fish Out of Water" here.
Buy Bill Cosby's album Wonderfulness here.
Download Arch Oboler's album Drop Dead here.
Buy Stephen King's Danse Macabre here.
Buy The Simpsons Season 6 (featuring Treehouse of Horror V) here.