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Something Weird Video presents
Monsters Crash The Pajama Party Spook Show Spectacular (2001)

"Good midnight to you. You are here at the invitation of the Young America Mystic Cult of Horrors, and you shall enjoy being horrified to the point of sheer panic..."
- Hypnoscope Announcer

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: September 11, 2001

Stars: Various
Other Stars: Various
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (some mild horror)
Run Time: 03h:34m:00s
Release Date: September 11, 2001
UPC: 014381080520
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BC+C+ B+

DVD Review

In the good old days of the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, when low budget horror was in it's unenviable prime, an unusual form of entertainment was lurking in the late night darkness of American's movie theaters: The Spook Show. The Spook Show, or Ghost Show as it was sometimes called, was much more than just a scary movie or two. It was also a horror/comedy revue, with wild "blackouts," a sort of mutated vaudeville-esque multimedia entertainment spectacular, filled with all sorts of frightening "live" monsters, mad doctors and skeletons, with the promise of blood-curdling thrills and chills. It promised to be a spine-tingling fun and fright show, guaranteed to scare the yell out of you That is, if you could believe the gawdy carnival-like "come ons" in the advertising.

Something Weird Video has assembled what is essentially a primer on the dark, lost art of the traveling The Spook Show with the release of Monsters Crash The Pajama Party Spook Show Spectacular. Watching this entertaining disc, loaded to the brim with 214 minutes of assorted creepy, mostly hokey goodies, is kind of like opening an ancient time capsule. Well, at least it was for me. Sifting through the contents made me envious that I had just missed, by a few short years, the era of The Spook Show. It seemed like it would have been a wonderfully campy experience, and it's a shame that another piece of unique Americana has vanished.

The traveling Spook Show actually came into existence in the United States sometime during the late 1800s, and prospered well into the 1930s. In fact, Harry Houdini incorporated the concept into his stage act as he used it expose charlatan psychics, which was during the heyday of America's fascination with the spirit world. It wasn't until the mid 1950s that these spook-taculars came into prominence once again, which is the era documented by Something Weird on this release.

Let's take a look at the material:

Hypnoscope (4m:13s)
This brief segment opens the disc, prior to the menu options. It is simply a full screen rotating hypnotic disc, with an unintentionally hilarious announcer attempting to hypnotize the audience ("You may feel like a werewolf, with LOOONG, SHAAARP claws!"). This was used as an opening featurette to set the tone for the potentially strange happenings. The Hypnoscope segment is extremely funny, though I imagine if I was a 12-year-old boy sitting in a dark theater I would have been a nervous wreck.

Monsters Crash The Pajama Party (30m:52s)
This is one of two "features" present on this disc. Monsters Crash The Pajama Party was a typical spook show title, and it's David L. Hewitt's 1965 color cheapie about a group of slightly long-in-the-tooth teens who decide to spend a night in a haunted house. Of course, a mad doctor (the wonderfully hammy Vic McGee) and his gorilla live in the basement, and the predictable madness ensues. This film includes a "blackout" scene, where during the Spook Show the mad doctor would actually appear in the theater and haul off an audience member (a stooge) back INTO the movie.

Tormented (72m)
The second feature is the Bert Gordon 1960 camp classic Tormented. You know it's bad because the film has been comically lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. This one stars Richard Carlson (The Valley Of The Gwangi) and Julie Reding, and it is a pretty entertaining piece of camp, and is a good example of Gordon's work. Tom Stewart (Carlson) is getting set to be married when things get twisted by the return his previous girlfriend, the sultry Vi (Reding). While arguing with Tom atop a lighthouse (that's where I always argue with my main squeeze), Vi tumbles over the railing. Tom doesn't try to help her, and she drops like a rock to her death. The remainder of the film revolves around the dead Vi's attempts to haunt and TORMENT her former beau.

Drive-In Werewolf (3m:25s)
The title says it all. A couple goes to a drive-in, and the guy turns into a werewolf. Very funny dialogue and horribly bad acting.

Spook House Ride (1m:9s)
This is apparently some early 1960s' home footage of a Spook House ride at a carnival somewhere. It's funny to see what passed for spooky all those years ago.

Spooks-A-Poppin' Trailer Show (47m:45s)
A laugh-packed 47 minutes of endless Spook Show trailers and teasers, designed to lure audiences in. Such fright-fests as Francisco's Midnight Spook Frolic, Dr. Evil And His Terrors Of The Unknown, and The Great London Ghost Show are all presented here, and many, many more. All of the trailers feature hilariously over-descriptive text that promise the creepiest, scariest, most horrifying experience possible. I could have sat through three hours of these alone.

Gallery Of Spook Show Stills and Exploitation Art (19m:36s)
Accompanied by the equally lurid Spook Show radio spots of the era, this segment is essentially a 20-minute stills gallery with sound. As with the trailer show, this collection of genre promotional art is fascinating.

Spooky Musical Soundies (7m:58s)
Three ancient musical segments comprise this segment. I'm not certain who the performers were (since Something Weird doesn't go out of their way to credit some of the content), but I would imagine these date from the late 1940s or early 1950s. The third musical piece could have been creepy Michael Jackson's influence for Thriller. Funny stuff.

Chased By Monsters (3m:35s)
I felt like I was in some alcohol fueled bad dream with this segment. This is a loosely constructed series of scenes featuring a young man haunted by assorted monsters (re: people with masks). I didn't understand the point of this at all.

Horror Home Productions (16m:20s)
I liked this particular piece, which cobbles together random cheapo silent horror versions of The Mummy, London After Midnight, Mr. Hyde from the 1920s through the 1940s. The collected scenes are set to four songs by the Dead Elvi, who do a nice set of funny modern Cramps/Surfabilly music.

Asylum Of The Insane (6m:23s)
Something Weird includes a pair of 3D glasses for this brief segment. The slightly overstated Asylum Of The Insane is a tacky mid-1960s 3D experiment, which consists primarily of some neighborhood kids with bad Halloween masks making overly dramatic stabbing motions at the camera. Some of the effects are O.K. (when I say O.K., I mean primitively O.K.). At 6 minutes, this piece plays about 3 minutes too long.

My only complaint about this DVD is that there is no real logical flow to the material. The menu system, designed to resemble a haunted house, graveyard, etc, is a little clunky and doesn't use any text descriptions (except for the commentaries). The DVD case mentions a "spooky educational short Don't Be Afraid", but hell if I could find it!

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Something Weird Video presents this disc in a nonanamorphic 1.33:1 transfer. The content for the Monsters Crash The Pajama Party Spook Spectacular DVD is culled from numerous low-budget sources, and as such, the image quality varies from poor to tolerable. However, considering the general light-hearted tone of this disc, the inconsistent image quality didn't bother me that much. The two primary features, Tormented and Monsters Crash The Pajama Party, look the best out of the assorted featurettes, and those aren't really worthy of too much praise. Spread well over three hours, there is a variety of footage here that is nicked, ripped, and scratched. This is certainly not a showcase for demonstrating the wonders of digital video on your widescreen set.

In defense of this release, I will say that the poor image quality almost enhanced the final product. There isn't really anything here that was meant to be taken too seriously, and there is a kind of innocent, nostalgic charm that runs throughout this unusual DVD. I didn't have a problem with image transfer as much as I found the seemingly unnecessary inclusion of the Something Weird logo in the lower right corner very distracting.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: It shouldn't be a surprise that Something Weird has released this disc in mono. If any DVD deserves mono, then I would have to say that this would be it. Some of the shorter featurettes have a muddy, distorted tone, but in general everything sounds as good as one might expect. Some hiss is noticeable.

This isn't a showcase audio disc, of course, but it compliments the content well enough.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Philip "Dr. Evil" Morris; Harry "Dr. Jekyll" Wise
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. 3D Glasses
  2. Secrets Of The Spook Show booklet
  3. How To Put On A Spook Show
Extras Review: Hard to believe, but Something Weird has even MORE material on this disc:

3D Glasses
These are needed for the Asylum Of The Insane short, which is presented in 3D.

How To Put On A Spook Show
Text based instructions on how to create some basic spook show effects, such as The Spider Web, The Ghost's Kiss, and The Spectral Dragon. Also available are onscreen copies of letters and promotional material sent to movie theaters outlining such attractions as the "Girl Frozen Alive" and the "Man Buried Alive" bits.

Secrets Of The Spook Show booklet
This is an 11-page insert booklet, subtitled Memories Of My Misspent Youth On The Spook Show Circuit, written by Jim "The Mad Doctor" Ridenour. As the title suggests, Ridenour details his involvement on the spook show circuit during the late 1950s and through the 1960s, as well as providing some history and background on the genre.

Philip "Dr. Evil" Morris Commentary (27m)
This is a non scene-specific commentary that is accessible during playback of the Monsters Crash The Pajama Party feature, which itself is a typical spook show film. Morris, a veteran of the spook show circuit from 1959 through 1977, is interviewed by Jim "The Mad Doctor" Ridenour. Morris focuses on the history of the traveling "ghost" shows from the late 1800s through the 1930s, and also reveals a few entertaining trade secrets.

Harry "Dr. Jekyll" Wise Commentary (28m:53s)
Another non scene-specific commentary/interview that is only accessible during playback of the Monsters Crash The Pajama Party feature, conducted by Jim "The Mad Doctor" Ridenour. Like Philip Morris, Wise also had a long history with spook shows, and his commentary tends to be primarily personal anecdotes. He is very adamant about his creation of the "Three Foot Tall Rising Louisiana Swamp Spider" bit, and he also reveals how spook show operators could give away a "real dead body" to some lucky audience member.

Something Weird has put together a surprisingly entertaining set of supplementals, on a disc that is basically all supplementals. I could have listened to Morris and Wise for hours, and it's unfortunate their commentary tracks last less than an hour in total. The spook show is a long dead experience, and I found their stories to be fascinating. Likewise, Ridenour's booklet is an equally interesting read, but I wanted more when I was finished.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Monsters Crash The Pajama Party Spook Show Spectacular from Something Weird is not for everyone. The reason is that most people would probably pass out from boredom. However, if you have fond memories of those campy horror features of the late 1950s and early 1960s, then this disc is up your alley. The Spook Shows are a long lost form of entertainment, and I for one miss them (if I can miss something I never experienced).

Thanks to Something Weird, I get the chance to visit another era with this unique and entertaining release.

 


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