Showing posts with the label 70's

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972, 1973, or 1974, depending on who you ask)

Nothing says "Christmas" like absurdly low-budget horror.

Silent Night, Bloody Night (not to be confused with Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I still have to get around to) is a cheaply made horror movie revolving around an abandoned mansion in Massachusetts. If I cared one bit about spoiling this thing, I wouldn't tell you that the mansion used to be an asylum, a fact which only comes out in a flashback making up the majority of the movie's last act, nor would I let it slip that the asylum's supposedly dead owner is actually less dead than everyone supposes. But if didn't reveal all that, this review would be absurdly short, so you see my dilemma.

Before they reveal the mansion or town's dark history, we're treated to a Psycho-style bait-and-switch. A big city lawyer comes to town with his mistress (the movie makes a point of having him call home at one point, in case we didn't know he was married) to offer some of the locals a chance to buy th…

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977)

Halloween is Grinch Night was made in the late 70's, presumably in an attempt by Dr. Seuss to cash in on the popularity of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It is in no way a great work of art, but it's nowhere near as bad as the last part of the "trilogy", The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat.

There's very little plot to this thing. Mostly, it's a series of Seussical rhymes and jokes (almost all of which are below the expectations we've formed for the good Doctor). The special focuses on a Who named Euchariah who gets lost on Grinch Night and runs into the Grinch. He allows the Grinch to subject him to various horrors in order to buy time until daylight.

When I say horrors, I'm referring to a magic cart apparently full of specters, ghosts, and illusions; sort of a portable haunted house. The sequence is a little unpleasant, actually, not from the content but from the premise of a young child allowing a creepy man to subject him to scary things in th…

Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)

I'm pretty sure Here Comes Peter Cottontail represents Rankin-Bass's first attempt to push into a holiday other than Christmas. This largely forgotten artifact features Danny Kaye as the narrator (as well as a handful of other voices) and Casey Kasem as the title character, which means you'll spend most of the special expecting Peter to ask for a Scooby snack. No, that's not quite right: you'll probably spend most of the special looking for a ledge to jump off of. But you'll also notice that the main character has Shaggy's voice.

The special, which is based on some book called "The Easter Bunny That Overslept," starts in the magical land of April Valley, which I'm assuming is a reference to Baum's "Laughing Valley." Either that, or it's just stupid. Regardless, all the Easter Bunnies live in April Valley, where they color eggs using paints brought to them by Seymour S. Sassafrass, who grows the plants to... you know what? Le…

Book Review: Letters to Father Christmas

Letters to Father Christmas
J. R. R. Tolkien, 1976, 1999

Premise: This whimsical volume reproduces a series of letters that Tolkien’s children received from “Father Christmas” between 1920 and 1943.

This was very interesting, as a student of early fantasy writing and as someone with interest in different ideas of Santa. It is not, however, exciting to read.

These letters were clearly never intended to be published. They were purely a gift from a father to his children, and while they are often elaborate and entertaining, there is very little in the way of plot here. Plus we are only getting half the story, as Father Christmas often thanks the children for their letters or answers their questions.

The time and skill involved in creating these mementos is obvious. Most letters came with an enclosed drawing, all reprinted in lovely color here. As more characters were introduced over the years, they developed their own writing styles. Happily, the text is transcribed for ease of reading, …

Paddington: Christmas (1975)

Oh. Oh wow! I forgot all about this show, but it all came rushing back at the first notes of the opening music. This is a holiday-themed short based on the Paddington books. I love Paddington, and I especially love this Paddington. There’s a dry British wit at play here, as well as copious amounts of charm.

The animation is the real star, though. Paddington himself is a three dimensional stop-motion bear, and some of the things he interacts with are three dimensional, but all the people and the backgrounds are two-dimensional cut outs. The use of color is very deliberate, and all the voices are done by the same narrator. In all, it’s very evocative of reading a picture book.

The story of this particular short is just a straightforward account of Paddington’s experience with Christmas, with little jokes about his gifts and special note of all the tasty food.

It’s sweet, and amusing, and well worth tracking down just for the unique style.

Here, it’s only five minutes:

The Small One (1978)

Let's get one thing straight from the start. The Small One is an animated piece directed by Don Bluth (and very much in his style) when he worked for Disney. Nestor the Long Eared Christmas Donkey is a stop-motion special by Rankin-Bass.  Both of these pieces are about the origins of the donkey who carries Mary to Bethlehem. Both of these pieces are not very good.  However, The Small One is only mediocre, so compared to the steaming pile of excrement that was Nestor, Small One comes out pretty far ahead in the donkey-story quality scale.

There are aspects of this special that aren't terrible, even. The story follows a young boy forced to sell his beloved but undersized donkey, who just wants to find his friend a new home. The animation is quite well done, both the boy and the donkey are cute, and there are some sweet interactions between them.

The story ends with the purchase of the donkey by Joseph. We don't follow them to Bethlehem, we never actually see Mary. This actua…

Frosty's Winter Wonderland (1976)

Frosty's Winter Wonderland is a sequel to 1969's Frosty the Snowman. Unlike Frosty Returns, Frosty's Winter Wonderland is actually a sequel to the original, complete with Jack Vernon returning as Frosty. Unlike said original, this is neither worth your time or attention.

With the magician from part one absent, Jack Frost steps in as the villain, motivated by jealousy over a perceived slight: the children of this one particular town seem to like Frosty more than they like winter itself, despite the fact the snowy weather gets them out of school. Naturally, Jack Frost decides to steal his rival's magic hat, transforming him back into a normal snowman.

So, rather than move on to another town, he decides to go with murder.

This is all occurring concurrently with Frosty confronting loneliness due to the children's absence at night. For some reason, they think its a good idea to make Frosty a wife. In a fairly troubling scene, he provides the specifications for her cons…

A Very Merry Cricket (1973)

Okay, do you remember the book A Cricket in Times Square? Me too. Do you remember the animated special adapted from the book, or at least that there was one? Yup. This is the holiday-themed sequel to that animated special. And it’s really quite good.

We meet back up with our heroes from the first story: Harry the cat and Tucker the Mouse, who live in the tunnels near Times Square. Tucker is upset with how loud and angry everyone seems to be, even though it’s the holidays. The two mull it over for a while, then decide to get their friend Chester (the musical cricket) to return to New York to bring everyone a little Christmas Spirit.

It’s Chuck Jones animation, which means that the movement is kinetic without being totally unrealistic, and the character designs are lovely. The soundtrack, however, might be the biggest star here. The montage that opens the special is meant to convey the insanity of New York City, and it does a pretty good job. There are a few songs sung or spoken-in-time …

The Tiny Tree (1975)

Arggh. I knew I should have just fast forwarded past this without looking. I found this on a VHS of programs recorded off of the Disney Channel when I was small. 

This is one of the stupidest specials I've seen in a while. Not quite scratch-my-own-eyes-out, but that's mainly because it's short.

Okay. The Tiny Tree is a completely nonsensical special about a tree that lives in a meadow with a bunch of folksy animal friends who all have different caricatured regional accents. A little girl and her family move into the house by the meadow, and the tree and the animals make friends with her.

You have to understand that the little girl is in a wheelchair, but doesn't seem to be able to reach the wheels for some poorly-animated reason, so this amounts to a handicapped child being repeatedly kidnapped by a bunch of half-clothed, talking animals.

But it's okay, because the child loves the tree. Now, I loved trees as a child, but the way the narration keeps stressing how mu…

Holiday Brit-Coms: Keeping Up Appearances: A Very Merry Hyacinth (AKA The Father Christmas Suit) (1991) & Are You Being Served?: Christmas Crackers (1975)

I'm more of a fan of British Sitcoms than Erin is; I watched them a lot on PBS when I was in high school, and again when I worked nights when we lived in DC.

However, I, uh, wouldn't start with either of these episodes.

Keeping Up Appearances, in case you don't know, is a comedy of manners and class about a woman (Hyacinth Bucket) born to a lower-class family, now living a middle-class lifestyle while reaching for upper-class respectability. She, of course, constantly postures and overreaches herself, and annoys those around her to no end. I rather like how indefatigable she is, though.

The Father Christmas Suit (called A Very Merry Hyacinth in US release) is a highly farcical episode, that definitely relies on the viewers knowledge of the characters prior relationships for its humor. As seemingly simple a thing as handing out presents in a church charity drive becomes a fiasco when Hyacinth decides just how it has to be perfect. It isn't a great episode, though. Just me…

Nestor: the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

I'm not sure whether I'll be able to coherently describe what happened in the special, but I know I can explain how it came to be. There was a meeting, quite possibly in a studio boardroom, where someone said, "Hey. You know what we need? Another Rudolph." To which someone else added, "And we need something that's religious, really puts the Christ in Christmas." And fifteen minutes later the storyboard for Nestor: the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey was born.
I don't think I've ever seen this before, probably because it doesn't have the same exposure most of the other specials have. This is kind of a shame, because it's just about the most screwed-up thing I've ever seen, and I feel like more people should be familiar with it.

This is narrated by Nestor's descendant, whose name escapes me and I don't care enough to look up. I should probably add that Nestor's descendant works for Santa Claus at the North Pole. This isn't…

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: Christmas and the Hard Luck Kid (1970)

This isn't much of an episode if you're unfamiliar with the show, and even if you are it's just fine. I found it sweet and amusing, but not compelling in any way.

The plot follows Mary first learning she has to work on Christmas, and as soon as she comes to terms with that emotionally, she gets conned by a co-worker into covering his Christmas Eve shift too. Of course, everything turns out merry and bright, if not what she had planned, so all is well.

I actually like the idea of this episode a lot more than the execution. It's true to the idea of the series, following a young woman making her way in a new life in a new city. And sometimes working in the industry you want to work in means you have to work holidays. The feeling of co-workers and friends coming together because you can't be with family isn't dated at all. Some of the humor... is.

However, I absolutely love everyone's 70's wardrobe.

I also liked that the majority of the jokes in the dialog…

The First Christmas (1979)

This is a bizarre little animated special on a collection I found cheap on Amazon. This was the first special on the first disc, so here we are.

The special opens with caroling children singing, then immediately transitions to tanks firing, followed by a description of the Middle East now, then finally settling on the Ancient Roman Empire. The next five or ten minutes introduce a flurry of characters and locations.

From a narrative point of view, this offers very little in the form of a coherent story, but then again, neither did the New Testament. What this does surprising well is depict a complex social and political landscape, complete with intrigue and danger. When we follow a couple Roman soldiers through the streets of Bethlehem, it's genuinely fascinating, and the special's depiction of Herod - while certainly not even-handed - makes for an interesting foil.

Things start to drag when the story shifts to Mary and Joseph, who are obnoxiously two-dimensional (as usual). Th…

Wonder Woman: The Deadly Toys (1977)

Okay, this was kind of awesome. Well, it was weird and bemusing, cheesy and very surreal, but that can be a kind of awesome, right?

I had never seen a full episode of this series, but I think I'm going to have to watch more after seeing this one. The cheese factor is right on the level that I really enjoy: the occasional wink and nudge in good fun, charming, affable characters, somewhat silly fight sequences and dated but well-meaning special effects.

This episode isn't that impressive itself, though. Diana (in her civilian life as agent Diana Prince) is assigned to protect a trio of scientists. They each have knowledge of a piece of some doomsday weapon, and one of them has been kidnapped and... replaced with a lifelike android. If someone were to get all three scientists, then clearly, disaster! So Diana investigates, both in and out of costume, and eventually figures out the plot and rescues the scientists. No surprise there.

In the process there are more androids (who see…

The Stingiest Man in Town (1978)

I remembered this one from my childhood and wanted to track it down. It might be my favorite Christmas Carol I've seen yet this year, but it's a very odd one.

This is actually an animated remake of a live action musical version (also a TV special) from 1956. It's full of songs and music; there's actually very little dialogue. I really like the music, although bear in mind the style has a lot in common with old-fashioned movie musicals.

Some of the songs are wonderfully surreal. Near the start, Erin asked me to confirm that we'd just heard a bunch of alley cats singing about how Scrooge was so stingy that Satan was going to complain about him in Hell. Yes, yes we had.

They manage to fit digressions about both Santa Claus and Jesus into an hour-long Christmas Carol, so there are a few common scenes missing from this adaptation. Nothing about young Scrooge at school, and if you blink you'll miss the Ghost of Christmas Future.

I like the voice acting most of the t…

Jack Frost (1979)

Jack Frost is one of the later Rankin-Bass stop-motion specials, and as such represents a trade off. The animation is far more refined than most of the more famous specials: the movement is far more fluid and natural than Rudolph, Year Without a Santa Claus, or Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, for example. However, the special is missing any of the charm that made those work, which is probably why this hasn't endured in the same way.
I think a lot of the blame goes to the concept of the narrator, a groundhog named Pardon-Me-Pete, who drains the energy from the special every second he's on screen. Say what you will about the best Rankin-Bass specials, but there's a sort of fairy-tale mythology they seem to inhabit. Pete just doesn't belong in that world, and he kills any chance this might have had to gain some gravitas. And it does try: the story used in Jack Frost is actually structured as a sort of tragedy, with the main character having to sacrifice his chance at …

John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together (1979)

I suppose even the Muppets can have an less-than-stellar special. This is far from terrible, but not actually all that good either. Really, the big problem is there aren't enough Muppets.
Whenever the Muppets are on screen, the energy picks up, the jokes are actually funny, and the acting improves. When the camera is focused on John Denver and legions of bland back-up dancers, it's dull as dirt. Now I generally like John Denver, or at least don't dislike him. But here he's incapable of acting like a human being, and he looks sort of like a robot. Plus he keeps adding boring religious stuff in between scenes of Muppets being sweet.
Also this isn't particularly well directed or well shot. Or even well structured: this special flirts with the idea of having a plot, but ultimately abandons it for ill-thought out musical numbers.
It's not all bad: Rowlf and Kermit both get in pretty songs, the opening Twelve Days of Christmas is classic, and Miss Piggy gets in some…

The Nutcracker w/Mikhail Baryshnikov (1977)

Overall, this is a better version of The Nutcracker, but it still isn't great.
After our experiences with Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, I was leery of anything that crossed the line between filming a stage production and making a movie. This special made this error less, but I yelled at the screen several times anyway. “Stop with the poor special effects and just film the dancing!”or something. Maybe Erin recalls, I was somewhat incoherent in my frustration.
Happily, when they did film the dancing here, the dancing is very strong. The costumes were better, the choreography was better, it was just overall better done than the blatant cheesiness of the first one we watched.
Now, there are a few aspects of the costuming that make it clear that this is ballet, filmed in the 1970's. There is no hiding of bodies, no shying away from ridiculously tight shiny pants. So be aware of that.
This version does actually manage to get across my favorite thing about professional ballet:…

Black Christmas (1974)

Good horror movies differ from bad ones more in the moments that aren't scary than those that are.  It's the time between the deaths and bloodshed that develop tone and build characters we care about, thus giving their deaths meaning.

A good horror movie cherishes these moments, making the most of every second.  Black Christmas, on the other hand, does not.  The characters remain dull, often coming across as being as bored with the movie as I was.  Time drags between killings.  Which isn't to say the deaths are all that interesting, either: by and large, they're as ridiculous and slow-paced as the rest of the film.

As far as the plot's concerned, logic is a stranger to this film.  A sorority girl disappears, and the police conduct a thorough search of the park.  But not the house she lived in.  If they'd bothered to look there, they'd have found her body in the attic.  Along with the killer.

It's not so much that the movie is absurd that bothers me: it…

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978)

I have serious memories tied up in this special. This means I even like the sappy parts. It's such great classic Sesame Street, though, that I suspect you'll like a few of the sappy parts too.

I was going to start off by saying that the opening with the oversized skating costumed characters is pretty useless, but on re-watching, Bird Bird skating with the little girl is pretty cute, even though it isn't the same little girl he's friends with through the rest of the special.

Living in New York City adds a whole other level to watching Sesame Street, and something like this from the 70's makes the original target audience (inner-city kids) really clear. There is a sequence based in the old subway, with beat-up turnstiles and a guy who sells tokens. (The subway car and the station are obviously sets, but I don't know about the platforms.) I love that it's set so firmly in New York.

I love Oscar in this, he's so delightfully snarky. I even love him tryi…