Monday, October 17, 2016

Beavis and Butt-Head: "Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest (aka Butt-O-Ween)"

Premiered October 31, 1995.

Beavis: That sucks that we're like, too old to get candy.
Butt-Head: No way Beavis, they're aren't any laws about Halloween.

It's Halloween in Highland and kids are trick or treating.

Beavis and Butt-Head (both voiced by Mike Judge) hadn't realized this. After getting clocked for taking candy from kids, they become angry that they're now too old to get free candy.

Beavis and Butt-Head decide to create make-shift costumes and go trick or treating anyway.  The boys are rebuffed at every house, everyone says they're too old for Halloween.

When they arrive at the home of their neighbor Tom Anderson (Judge again), he's going to turn them away too, but his phone rings.

While Anderson is distracted, Beavis finds a bowl of Halloween candy and consumes every piece of it in seconds.  Beavis is suddenly transformed into his hyperactive alter-ego, the Great Cornholio!

As Cornholio, he continues to roam the streets of Highland, terrorizing children and eating their candy.  (As well as pissing off Butt-Head who still hasn't gotten any candy.)

Beavis & Butt-Head meet ... The Great Pumpkin? 
Beavis and Butt-Head later encounter local tough guy Todd (Rottilio Michieli).  Butt-Head wants to hang out with Todd and his crew, but he ends up being thrown in the trunk of Todd's car.

The night grows late and the trick or treaters are fewer and further between.
Cornholio and Butt-Head find themselves in a deserted field near a graveyard ...

RigbyMel says:

I remember watching this when it first aired.  I always enjoyed Beavis and Butt-Head in small doses (and my younger brothers were HUGE fans).  Having been on the receiving end of the "aren't you too old to be trick or treating?" wheeze from adults, I can understand the duo's frustration.  Their methods, however, are ... questionable.

The Halloween hijinks and mayhem are right in line with what you'd expect from two dim-bulb. miscreants such as Beavis & Butt-Head.  It's a nice touch that they initially didn't even know it was Halloween and mistake trick or treaters coming to their door for salespeople giving out free samples.

The Doofus Duo shows off their "costumes"
Their eventual "costumes" are painfully uninspired  -  Beavis puts his underwear on his head and says he's a "nad" and Butt-Head elects to pour hot melted cheese over his head in order to be nachos. (Ouch!)

Beavis terrorizes the Red Ranger (and his parents)!
We see 90s relic kids out and about dressed as Power Rangers (both Red and White Ranger costumes are seen during this cartoon), which may add a twinge of nostalgia for cartoon viewers of a certain age.

It's also evident that Mike Judge (who created the series and voices the titular morons) had a lot of fun doing the voice-over work for our "heroes" in this episode.   Some of Cornholio's rantings are particularly inspired.

Cornholio strikes fear in the hearts of the hapless Stewart Stevenson and friends
The only issue I have with this special is the ending -- which feels like it flew in out of a (mild SPOILER) slasher movie.   I think it could've ended a minute or two sooner to no ill effect.

If you're a fan of Beavis & Butt-Head and want to revisit the 1990s (or see a Halloween special very much situated in said decade) "Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest" is worth checking out but I cannot quite give it my highest rating.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 jack o'lanterns

J.A. Morris says:

Beavis and Butt-Head was a polarizing series two decades ago.  It's funny to think about that now, since they seem so tame by today's standards.  It might sound simple, but if you enjoyed Beavis and Butt-Head, you'll like this episode, since it's a typical episode with some nice Halloween elements thrown in to the mixture.

The boys' hippie teacher Mr. Van Driessen sports a Nixon mask--the scariest thing he can think of!
I enjoyed "Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest" and laughed out loud more than I expected.  Beavis' talking into the mirror, rehearsing his "How's it goin'...I'm a nad" introduction is particularly funny.

I agree with RigbyMel about the joy on display when Mike Judge is voicing Cornholio.  I would guess that lots of Cornholio's rants were ad-libbed on the spot by Judge.

I also share my co-blogger's disappointment with the ending.  It seems like Judge and company just ran out of ideas.  But that's not enough to ruin what comes before.

This episode can be streamed on Amazon  and has been released on dvd.

"Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest" is a very funny Halloween episode.  If you were in high school or college (like I was) during Beavis and Butt-Head's heyday, this will be a nice way to get reacquainted with the boys, and newcomers will also likely enjoy it.  The lackluster ending means "Bungholio" gets slightly less than my highest rating.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 and a half jack o'lanterns

Monday, October 10, 2016

Popeye: "Fright To The Finish"

Premiered August 27, 1954.

"So beware this Halloween Eve, when the Earth will be haunted by spooks, ghosts, and hobgoblins."
-Olive Oyl

It's Halloween night and Olive Oyl (Mae Questel) is reading a book of spooky stories.  This sets Olive on edge and she is afraid that ghosts and hobgoblins will haunt her.

Popeye the sailor (Jack Mercer) and Bluto (Jackson Beck), Popeye's rival for Olive's affections, are bored by Olive's frightful tales.  Bluto wishes Popeye would leave so he can be alone with Olive, Popeye wonders why Bluto hasn't gone home already.

Bluto gets a fiendish idea.  He will scare Olive Oyl out of her wits and blame Popeye, which will send her into his arms.  Bluto perpetrates several Halloween tricks to further his plan.

Will Bluto succeed?

J.A. Morris says:
I grew up watching various Popeye cartoons and I've long been a fan of the spinach-eating sailor. Fright To The Finish was produced by Famous Studios.  Hardcore Popeye fans prefer the Fleischer Brothers shorts, but this Halloween toon is pretty good.  Fright To The Finish has great animation and is packed with sight-gags from start to finish.

It's full of great Halloween imagery like skeletons and jack o'lanterns.  The voice cast is also excellent.  Jack Mercer (who is also credited with writing Fright To The Finish) voiced Popeye for nearly five decades and he does a great job here.  Mae Questel (the definitive Olive Oyl voice actress) and Jackson Beck are also very good.

(A mild SPOILER below)

Fright To The Finish is a rare Popeye cartoon where the sailor man does not save the day by eating spinach.  I watched it several times before I noticed this departure from the formula.

This short can be found on a dvd called Popeye:The Sailor Man (75th Anniversary Collection) and it can also be streamed on Amazon.

Fright To The Finish is a very enjoyable Halloween cartoon and is highly recommended.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 Jack O'Lanterns!

RigbyMel says:

This is quite an enjoyable animated short.  

There is definitely an emphasis on the "trick" aspect of "trick or treat" on full display here,  as well as some rather wonderful sight gags -- particularly involving poor Olive Oyl's reactions to the appearance of various Bluto-created ghosties and beasties.    One almost has to admire Bluto's Halloween prank ingenuity.  

There were several bits of this short that reminded me a bit of the Brom Bones/Ichabod Crane rivalry as depicted in the 1949 Disney incarnation of the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow", but the dynamic is different enough not to detract from the fun.  

Popeye plans to get his own back with a little help from some of Olive's vanishing cream
I also love that we get a series of "vanishing cream" gags in this. I've always enjoyed the way cartoons will play with this notion since it's totally what little kids think of when they hear the term "vanishing cream."  

I  find it interesting to see the way that different signs and signifiers of the spooky season are deployed in this short -- we don't see children trick or treating, but we do get ghost story telling, pranks, skeletons, jack o'lanterns and even ghostly manifestations, after a fashion.   Halloween is not quite as strictly codified as other holidays and this makes for intriguingly varied pop cultural takes on the spooky season.

RigbyMel's rating:

4 Jack O'Lanterns!

Monday, July 4, 2016


Premiered November 17, 1972

"A rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as "our rebellion."  It is only in the third person - "their rebellion" - that it becomes illegal." - Benjamin Franklin

We're going to depart from our normal format here on the presumption that most people have some understanding of the basic events of the American Revolution.

John Adams exhorts members of the Second Congress to "Vote For Independency!"
1776 is a musical film (based upon the 1969 stage musical of the same title) which dramatizes the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The story is framed around the Second Continental Congress with a focus on John Adams (as portrayed by William Daniels), Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), and Benjamin Franklin (Howard DaSilva).

Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams contemplating the prospect of a new nation
RigbyMel says:

At first glance, it might seem incongruous to have chosen to treat the subject of the Declaration of Independence in a musical format,  but it works surprisingly well.

The stage version is definitely evident in the way 1776 was filmed.
Portions of the dialogue and some of the song lyrics are taken directly from things said or written by various participants in the Second Continental Congress.  The songs and the way the plot is structured serve to highlight the drama and debate involved in the decision to declare independence from the British crown.

That being said, 1776 should not be read as any sort of documentary film.  There is a lot of artistic license taken.   For instance, since the action takes place entirely in Philadelphia and mostly indoors, we need an antagonist, and John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (portrayed in the film by Donald Madden) becomes the primary villain for dramatic purposes.

John Dickinson vs. John Adams in the film
Dickinson did take a much more cautious approach to independence and abstained from voting to ratify the Declaration, but his objections were much more nuanced than his film portrayal would suggest.

The film incarnation of Dickinson leads the conservatives in singing "Cool, Considerate Men."
What 1776 does exceptionally well is to humanize the Founding Fathers and to unpack some of the major issues of the time.

For example,  we get this exchange between John Adams and Ben Franklin:

Adams:  "Mark me, Franklin ... if we give in on this issue [the question of slavery], posterity will never forgive us."
Franklin: "That's probably true, but we won't hear a thing, we'll be long gone.  Besides, what would posterity think we were?  Demi-gods?  We're men, no more, no less, trying to get a nation started .., First things first, John.  Independence,  America.  If we don't secure that, what difference will the rest make?"

"Virginia abstains." - Jefferson is less than pleased that he hasn't seen his wife in over 6 months. 
We also are shown that the Founders ... gasp! ... missed their wives and families and were separated from them for extended periods of time in service of the new nation.

There are only 2 roles for women in the film --  Adam's wife Abigail (Virginia Vestoff) appears via dramatized versions of the letters the two exchanged,  and Jefferson's wife Martha (Blythe Danner) serves as muse to her husband making a(n entirely fictional) journey to Philadelphia to (*ahem*) encourage him to write.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie involves the Declaration Committee's song "But, Mr. Adams" which involves Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Roger Sherman (Rex Robbins) and Robert Livingston (John Myhers) bickering over who will actually do the writing of the declaration whilst dancing up and down on the staircase of what is now known as "Independence Hall" -- a hilariously preposterous take on a serious subject.

"Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, refuse to use the pen!" 
Don't they look happy to not be the primary authors?
Another scene that is anything but funny but no less powerful is the "Molasses to Rum" song performed by Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (as played by John Cullum), which indicts the hypocrisy inherent in the northerners' opposition to the slave trade at the time since they, too, profited from the Triangle Trade.

If you only know John Cullum's work from Northern Exposure, ER or Mad Men,  it's well worth seeing his performance to hear what an amazing baritone voice he has and why he has been nominated for and won several Tony Awards over the years!

Richard Henry Lee (Ron Holgate) and friend.
From a pop culture history perspective, it is also interesting to note that the fountain that makes an appearance in "The Lees of Old Virginia" (a comedic showcase featuring Richard Henry Lee as played by Ron Holgate) can still be found on the Warner Studios back lot.   You may also recognize this fountain from the opening credits of 1990s TV sitcom favorite Friends!

Does this fountain look familiar? 
The same fountain as it appeared in the opening credits of Friends!
I was introduced to 1776 thanks to showings on cable TV in the mid to late 1980s.  I've geekily re-enacted bits of it on the staircase of Independence Hall and even did a song from it (Martha Jefferson's "He Plays The Violin") for my senior vocal recital in the mid-1990s.

RigbyMel (right) and her little brother doing our own version of a number from 1776 on a visit to the real Independence Hall!
The musical holds a special place in my heart and it continues to be required 4th of July viewing in our house.

Lobby card for the film
RigbyMel's rating:

4 American Flags!