Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Star Trek: "Catspaw"

Premiered October 27, 1967

McCoy: Three witches ... what appears to be a castle, and a black cat.
Kirk:  If we weren't missing two officers and a third one dead, I'd say someone was playing an elaborate trick-or-treat on us. 
Spock:  Trick or treat, captain? 
Kirk:  Yes, Mr. Spock.  You'd be a natural.

The starship Enterprise is orbiting a planet.  A landing party has not checked in, this worries the ship's captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner).  A crewman named Jackson beams up from the planet and dies upon arrival.  An eerie voice emanates from Jackson's mouth, telling the captain that the entire crew of the Enterprise will die if they don't turn back.

Kirk departs for the planet's surface to investigate the matter.  He's accompanied by Science Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Doctor Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelly).

Kirk and the others detect no lifeforms on the planet, but suddenly, three witches appear in front of them, telling the men to turn back and "remember the curse!"  Spock determines that the witches aren't real, so they proceed, eventually discovering a castle.

Upon entering the castle, they encounter a black cat wearing a crystal pendant.  They follow the cat, but the floor collapses underneath them and our heroes are knocked out due to the fall.  When they come to, they find themselves in irons in a spooky dungeon complete with skeleton.

"Bones?  Doc?"
Missing crew members Scotty (James Doohan) and Sulu (George Takei) appear.  They're alive, but somewhat zombiefied, apparently under the control of some outside force.    Kirk, Spock and McCoy try to snap their friends out of their catatonic state, but find themselves teleported to another room in the castle where they meet a man in mysterious wizard robes calling himself Korob (Theodore Marcuse) and see the black cat again.

The wizard appears to consult the cat for advice and then admits that he is not native to this world in response to Spock's questions.  Korob then attempts to ply our heroes with food, drink and gems -- all to get them to leave and not ask any questions. 

Kirk informs the wizard that he's done his research badly if he thinks they will leave without getting to the bottom of things.   Korob changes his tune and says that he wanted to test the crew and that they've proven themselves to be loyal, brave and incorruptible.

Sylvia performs some sympathetic magic on the Enterprise
The black cat leaves the room and shortly thereafter an alluring sorceress calling herself Sylvia (Antoinette Bower) appears.  She is wearing a pendant identical to the one worn by the cat. When Kirk demands that his men be released, she dangles a miniature of the Enterprise above a lit candle, and the crew on the ship reports a rapid inexplicable rise in hull temperature!  Kirk reluctantly agrees to cooperate to save his crew.

Sylvia finds that she likes these new (to her) human sensations,  but her tastes seem to trend a bit toward the sadistic and beyond the bounds of the original mission.  She and Korob argue about this.

Sylvia takes an interest in Kirk and tells him that she and Korob are visitors from another galaxy.

They can read and control human minds using something called a transmuter.   She then realizes that Kirk has been using her to get information and transforms herself into a giant cat. 

Hell hath no fury ... 
Will Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise survive this Halloween encounter?

RigbyMel says:

Even though it's not one of the best in the original series, "Catspaw" is a fun episode of Star Trek.  I've heard quite a few people try to fault Star Trek: TOS on its relatively low-tech and definitely low budget special effects, but I think they're part of what makes the series extra fun in general.  The story for "Catspaw" takes some abrupt turns which make it not quite as great as it could have been, but it's still quite enjoyable.

I really quite like the way the aliens of the week tap into the human collective unconscious in an attempt to frighten the Enterprise crew -- that's one of the important elements of Halloween, after all, isn't it?  Additionally, Korob and Sylvia have donned costumes in celebration of the spookiest of human holidays.
Korob and Sylvia in their natural forms ... that of somewhat unconvincing marionettes! 

The title of the episode "Catspaw" refers to a person used unwittingly or unwillingly by another and is a reference to a La Fontaine fairy tale.   Scotty and Sulu are used as catspaws to lure more crew members to the planet.    Moreover the transmuter serves as sort of a pseudo-scientific technological catspaw that allows Korob and Sylvia to attempt to bend the Enterprise crew to their will.

This episode was written by Robert Bloch who also wrote the novel upon which the classic horror film Psycho was based.  In addition to writing a couple of other episodes of Star Trek: TOS,  Bloch was a big fan of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft and also contributed to various pulp magazines such as Weird Tales.

Robert Bloch
This episode is also notable because it marks the first filmed appearance of Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig) -- they hadn't quite gotten his hair right.  The episode was the first one shot for season 2, but did not air until around Halloween in 1967.

Observe Chekov's rather over-the-top wig on the left! 
I remember watching this episode with fascination when I was eight or nine and it was being shown in re-runs.   Little me found it fun/creepy and older/wiser me still enjoys it.

If you're a fan of Star Trek: TOS and Halloween hi-jinks,  "Catspaw" is definitely a good addition to your spooky seasonal viewing!

RigbyMel's rating:

3 jack o lanterns

J.A. Morris says:

I'll note that Catspaw does NOT take place during Halloween.  However, the fact it was intentionally aired on NBC close to All Hallows' Eve and contains lots of skeletons, witches and black cats (plus multiple mentions of trick-or-treating), it was obviously intended to be a holiday episode.


I've been a fan of Star Trek for as long as I can recall.  This is basically a typical "Enterprise encounters alien of the week" episode...with the addition of Halloween trappings.  It's a fun episode and it's become part of my seasonal viewing.

"Catspaw" featured the final appearance of the character DeSalle, the Enterprise's assistant engineer.  It's the third appearance of the character and the only time DeSalle gets to sit in the captain's chair.  Shortly after this episode, Michael Barrier, who played DeSalle quit acting a became a lawyer for the U.S. Coast Guard. 

DeSalle takes command of Enterprise.
"Catspaw" is lots of fun and should be added to the list of Halloween viewing for every Trekker and will likely be enjoyed by everyone who enjoys Halloween episodes.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 jack o' lanterns.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mister Toad : "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Premiered October 5, 1949.

"I'm telling you, brother, it's a frightful sight what goes on, Halloween night. When spooks have a midnight jamboree. They break it up with fiendish glee ..."
-Brom Bones

Note from your trusted holiday bloggers:

We are only reviewing the "Ichabod" portion of this movie, since the "Mister Toad" section does not involve Halloween.

A new schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane (Bing Crosby) arrives in the town of Sleepy Hollow, New York. He quickly becomes the most popular bachelor in town, dining with women all around the little hamlet.

However, Ichabod only has eyes for Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of the wealthiest farmer in the county. Ichabod is smitten at first site, and her father Baltus's wealth doesn't diminish her attractions for him.  

This brings Icky into direct conflict with another suitor, Brom Bones. They engage in games of one upsmanship to gain Katrina's affections.

Despite Brom's physical advantage, the skinny schoolmaster always seems to come out on top, until Halloween night.

Ichabod attends Baltus van Tassel's annual Halloween party and there is plenty of food, music and dancing.   

Ichabod has a great evening, showing off his dancing skills in front of Katrina and is the life of the party.   As the evening progresses, Baltus asks his guests to tell him scary Halloween stories.  

Ichabod is very superstitious and easily frightened.  Knowing this, Brom tells the tale of the Headless Horseman.  He sings of how the horseman rides across the countryside on Halloween, looking to chop of someone's head to replace his own. 

Brom mentions that the Horseman has no power on the other side of the bridge that leads to Sleepy Hollow.  If his would-be victims can cross the bridge, they're home free.  By the end of Brom's story, Ichabod is absolutely petrified.

Crane leaves the Van Tassel's house at 2:00 AM to head back home. He is haunted by Brom's tale of the Headless Horseman. Every night sound seems to be calling out his name. The trees and plants along his path also seem to be sending messages of foreboding and impending doom. Ichabod's fears are confirmed when the Headless Horseman himself appears! The Horseman pursues Crane on a black steed with red eyes and nearly chops off Ichabod's head several times.

After a frantic chase, Ichabod sees the bridge to safety and rushes to cross it. The Headless Horseman is right behind him! Will Ichabod escape or will the Headless Horseman "get a head?"

J.A. Morris says:

I first saw this when it aired in the early 1980s as part of "A Disney Halloween" and I've been a fan ever since. It would have been easy for Disney to water down the Headless Horseman's pursuit of Ichabod. But it's a legitimately scary scene for younger audiences who aren't familiar with the story. It would have also been easy for the creative team to slap on a happy ending, which does not occur.

In Washington Irving's story, Halloween and for that matter, the month of October is never mentioned.  Irving only mentions that it takes place during autumn.  But "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" makes a perfect Halloween story. 

Bing Crosby has been synonymous with Christmas for 75 years. "White Christmas" is the most beloved Christmas song of all time and he hosted holiday radio and TV specials for several decades. But in The Adventures Of Ichabod, Crosby shows he can be versatile when it comes to holiday programming. He narrates and voices all the male characters in this film. "Der Bingle" also sings the "Headless Horseman" song and it's fantastic.

This film is available for streaming and has also been released on DVD and Blu-Ray.

The Adventures Of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is a great adaptation of one America's first great stories. It's highly recommended and it's something I watch every year around Halloween.

J.A. Morris' rating:

4 jack o'lanterns

RigbyMel says:

I remember seeing this on network television several times as a small child and it scaring the dickens out of me. The 1982 airing on CBS as part of "Disney's Halloween Treat" (which included the climactic portion of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" but not as much of the build up) particularly sticks in my mind for some reason - maybe because it had a talking jack o'lantern puppet that hosted the segments? (Possibly also because versions of this special aired on various network and cable channels throughout the 1980s.)

The animation in the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is impressive overall - particularly Ichabod and the Headless Horseman's scary/comic chase though the dark woods.

As J.A. Morris notes above, Bing Crosby's voice over and musical contribution to the mix makes this an extra special treat. I also appreciate how much of the narration is lifted directly from the original Washington Irving tale -- although the ending is presented as a bit more ambiguous than in the original story. (Something I did not pick up on as a small child!)

Bing Crosby and the Rhythmaire's rendition of the song "The Headless Horseman" (which also floats around as a single with slightly different lyrics) is delightfully spooky and full of excellent word play.

Fun side notes, some Disney regulars make (uncredited) vocal appearances in the this short -- Pinto Colvig (the original voice of Goofy) provides some of Ichabod's hysterical screams and Clarence "Ducky" Nash (the original voice of Donald Duck) gives voice to Ichabod's horse as well as various night time animals.

"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is gorgeously animated, deliciously spooky Halloween fare that can be enjoyed on multiple levels -- there are things for young and old to savor in it. It is on my required annual viewing list around Halloween each year.

RigbyMel's rating:

4 jack o'lanterns

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Daria: "Depth Takes A Holiday"

Premiered March 10, 1999

Jane: "The more debased [the holidays] become, the less reason to celebrate them, and the less reason for my family to get together, until presto! I'm finally alone on Thanksgiving with a TV dinner."
Daria: "Sometimes I wonder if you're too cynical, even for me." 
Jane: "Really?  You think?"
Daria: "No, I was being sarcastic."

In this episode from season 3 of the series, Daria (Tracy Grandstaff),  our deadpan heroine,  finds herself face to face with teen personifications of Valentine's Day (an oversized Cupid) and a St. Patrick's Day leprechaun while walking home.

Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day claim that they've come to Lawndale in search of Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day, who've left their home on Holiday Island to start a band with a hip-hop punk electronica vibe in Daria's hometown.

Daria is unconvinced by this, so the anthropomorphic holiday personifications attempt to convince her using various strategies including breathing green beer fumes in her face ...

Causing her to reveal the name of "that particular someone who makes [her] feel like Queen Cleopatra" ...

and zapping her parents Jake (Julian Rebolledo) and Helen (Wendy Hoopes) with Cupid's love taser!

This is enough to convince Daria that something is up and she heads to see her best friend Jane (Hoopes again!) where she meets the three errant holidays, who've come to jam with Jane's brother/Daria's crush Trent (Alvaro J. Gonzalez).  

Daria offers to take them all out for pizza to talk things over.    Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day say they don't want to return to Holiday Island (which can be reached via a wormhole behind a Chinese restaurant, naturally) because it sucks.   Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day show up and warn that there could be dire consequences if the three do not return, to wit, their respective holidays will cease to exist.

Daria and Jane aren't convinced this would be the worst thing ever,  so Cupid and St. Patrick's Day take them to the mall to see that Christmas and Halloween sales are dying as are steak and kidney pie sales due to the loss of Guy Fawkes Day (aka Bonfire Night).   Daria and Jane remain unimpressed. but Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day are proving to be annoying houseguests and an overly amorous set of parents prove to be the last straw.

The gang travels to Holiday Island which turns out to be suspiciously like high school and in the absence of the "cool kids" has been taken over by President's Day.  

Meanwhile, Daria's younger sister Quinn (Hoopes again!!) is concerned about her parents' amorous behavior because she thinks they're planning to have another child and is willing to do anything, including risking being kicked out of the Fashion Club, to stop this horrible up-cutes-manship from taking place.

Will Christmas, Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day be cancelled?   Will Daria and Quinn get a new younger sibling?

RigbyMel says:

I am a big fan of Daria generally.  It was regular must-see viewing for me in the 1990s and overall, I find the series holds up very well.  "Depth Takes A Holiday" is an unusual and somewhat surreal episode, though.  The series tended to keep itself on the ridiculous/sarcastic but sort of realistic side of things most of the time and this is a departure into pure fantasy.

There are a lot of folks who really dislike this episode for that reason.    However, if you're willing to go along with the premise, it's quite fun.

Halloween, Christmas and Guy Fawkes Day have a disagreement at band practice
The teen characterizations of the various holidays are amusing.  Cupid is an overgrown frat boy in a diaper who speaks with a Barry White type voice when using his powers.  St. Patrick's Day is a short excitable fellow clad in a green hat and be-shamrocked Hawaiian shirt.

Christmas wears a red shirt, green trousers and a Santa hat and demands sugar cookies.   Halloween is an orange and black clad Goth chick (naturally).    Guy Fawkes Day is portrayed as a Sid Vicious like punk -  which is a bit of an oddity for a UK celebration (also known as Bonfire Night) based on a failed 17th century attempt to blow up Parliament.   Maybe it's meant to be some kind of commentary on what teenagers interpret anarchy to be?

The show's trademark snark is used to good effect -- there are some awesome/depressing comments about similarities between high school and "real" life, as well a one liner from Jane about the consumption of out-of-season nog that never fail to amuse me.

We learn that in the absence of the "cool kids" at Holiday High,  Presidents' Day has staged a bit of a popularity coup and we see them bossing around Memorial Day and Arbor Day, which is a nice touch.

Although "Depth Takes A Holiday" is a bit of an oddity in the Daria-verse, it's still pretty snark-tacular and definitely worth a look if you are a fan of 1990s pop culture and holidays.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 episodes of "Sick, Sad World"