Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monstrous Monkee Mash”

“What an episode! I’ve never felt this way before!”

Boo! Welcome to the recap for “Monstrous Monkee Mash.” The name is a tribute to the novelty song, “Monster Mash,” written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard L. Capizzi, released in 1962. In that song, Bobby Pickett imitates Boris Karloff and tells the story of a mad scientist, whose monster rises up from the slab and creates a new dance sensation. Micky did his own Boris Karloff impression in “A Coffin Too Frequent.”

I have mentioned that I love these spooky themed-episodes, which would include “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” “I Was a Teenage Monster,” “The Case of the Missing Monkee,” “A Coffin Too Frequent,” and this one. The plot for “Monstrous Monkees Mash” is nothing special, but there are some unusual moments, editing tricks, and some other self-referential jokes. And of course it’s packed with pop-culture allusions. “Monstrous Monkee Mash” first aired January 22, 1968 and the opening credits tell us the director was James Frawley and writers were Neil Burstyn and David Panich.

The episode creeps in with a shot of the same spooky house used for the exterior shots in “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” but this time includes a flash of lightning effect. Lorelei, played by the gorgeous Arlene Martel (She was also Madame in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.”), leads Davy into the mansion library. She’s wearing all black, white face powder, and blood red lips. I had no idea Davy liked the Vampira type. A spooky but fun score accompanies this scene and the entire episode. Davy compliments the painting of the green-skinned vampire, which is clearly a real person standing in a frame. He goes over to the little toy bat on the desk and pulls its string. “I want to drink your blood,” says the bat in James Frawley’s voice. Davy wants to get the hell out of there, but Lorelei places a large gold necklace around his neck and kisses him. (It would have been fun if it had been the same “magic locket” from “Fairy Tale”.) There’s a “pop” sound, and Davy’s hypnotized!

The Count steps out of the painting and reveals their plan: Davy will become Dracula reborn. They express their excitement with evil laughter. Bwha-ha-ha ha! This episode is a tribute to the Universal Studios movie monsters from the classic horror and sci-fi films made in the 1920-1950s, featuring the iconic Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, and others. These also included comedies, such as Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, etc. Abbott and Costello were an influence on The Monkees comedy style. Lon Chaney Jr., who was a guest star in “The Monkees in a Ghost Town,” starred in nearly 20 of these films and was Universal’s lead monster movie actor in the 1940s. His father, Lon Chaney, was in the two films that began this phenomenon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

At the Monkee’s house, Mike, Micky, and Peter notice that Davy isn’t back from visiting his new girlfriend yet. Mike calls Lorelei’s number but all they get is an earful of evil laughter. Mike comes to the conclusion they need to go help Davy. Peter and Micky have a better idea; they hide under a blanket.

Back at the mansion, the count gives Davy lessons on being a vampire, including making him drink tomato juice to “get used to the color.” Davy’s feelings are summed up as, “Blood, bleh!” He gives Davy a Dracula cape, and Davy flies around, suspended on obvious black wires until he crashes into the wall. Peter, Mike, and Micky show up at the scary mansion and pull a large doorbell rope that’s an homage to the bell the Addams family pulled to summon Lurch. (You rang?) The Count and Lorelei invite them in, and then they leave the Monkees alone in the library and pop into the picture frame to eavesdrop.

Now, we get to the trippiest scene in the episode, thanks to the editing. There’s a random behind-the-scenes moment of Micky showing the director his medium and small “scare.” Mike finds the book on how to become a vampire. Peter takes a look and carries on about how he’s sure he’s seen the vampire pictured in the book before. (The audience can see it’s the Count.) The Count figures that Peter’s not-so-sharp brain is perfect for “the monster.” Micky flusters Mike with a comically self-centered panic attack, thinking the book applies to him personally. Throughout all this, there’s lots of quick cuts to the pictures of the Count in the book and various shots of the actual count, using the very fast editing style that they used in “Monkees on the Wheel,” “Monkees Watch Their Feet,” and “The Frodis Caper.” Besides making me dizzy, these quick cuts make the scene a standout. With just the dialogue and action alone, it wouldn’t be as interesting.

That would have been a very creepy Morticia Addams-type line to say, but with Peter’s delivery it’s adorable instead. Mike catches on that the Count is the same as the vampire in the book. He pulls Micky and Peter close to tell them his plan. Lorelei gets a pen and notebook to spy from inside the portrait. Mike suggests they act like everything is fine, while Peter goes to search the house. Peter quite wisely doesn’t want to, so Mike and Micky go to search the house, squeezing through the library door Stooges-style.

In the basement of the mansion, Davy is chained to the wall while he chats with The Wolfman, played by Monkees stand-in David Pearl. Davy convinces The Wolfman he’s being treated badly by the other monsters. In a cute reference to the Universal monster movies, Davy points out that the Wolf Man made over 30 movies with Dracula and never even got second billing. The wound-up Wolfman growls and menaces Lorelei when she enters the basement, so Davy translates his demands, “He wants a better percentage of the profits, he wants cook-outs on weekends, and he wants to play his own music.” Nice meta-comment on that last demand.

Lorelei pops into the library with Peter and they repeat the same “What a kiss!/It’s not my kiss, it is the necklace!” dialogue from earlier, and now he’s hypnotized. The Wolfman enters and wants to carry Peter off, so The Count distracts him with his “magic powers”– hot dogs on a string. “I love hot dogs!” declares the Wolf Man. So dumb, yet so funny. The Count and Lorelei lead Peter away for a good old fashioned brain swapping. This didn’t work out so well for the mad scientist in “I Was a Teenage Monster.”

Mike looks around the mansion while Micky holds his hand and crouches over like a little kid. The Mummy approaches them but instead of fearing him, they admonish him for being so dirty. Suddenly scared again, Micky makes a selfish suggestion to forget Davy and form a trio. They go back to the library and find Peter’s also missing (He’s gone!). Micky’s already moved on to forming a duo, and if Mike vanishes he’ll go solo. He sings, “Here I come, walking down the street…I get the funniest looks…”

Mike and Micky tiptoe around the hallway, unaware that the Wolfman is following them. Mike finds a “secret door” and excitedly walks through it. Micky turns around to tell The Wolfman “You oughta get a haircut, they won’t let you into Disneyland.” He realizes he’s talking to a monster and runs back into the library. Micky performs a classic Monkees-scramble to fast music, piling furniture against the door to keep the Wolfman out. Lorelei appears and the two of them repeat the kiss/necklace joke for the third time, until he gets to “What a necklace!” and Lorelei cuts him off with, “Oh, shut up.” [Cute. – Editor’s Note] Nice crescendo for that repeated gag. Lorelei tells the Wolfman he can have Micky. The Wolfman opens the door out so the furniture was never blocking his access to the library. Hee hee.

In the basement, Mike is impressed with the level of creepiness until he realizes he’s alone. He opens the sarcophagus and finds the Mummy. Creeped-out but still polite, he apologizes, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was occupied” and runs back upstairs to hide in the library portrait. Lorelei and The Count enter and start discussing their plans so Mike spies on them this time, using Lorelei’s pen and notebook. The ghoulish family intends to take Peter to the underground crypt with the monster and put his brain into the body of the Monster. They keep mixing up whose brain is going where, until Mike finally has to break out and ask for an eraser. The Count obliges. Heh.

Downstairs, Micky and Davy are both chained to the wall and they worry about their future as monsters. They fantasize about what it will be like and pop into Dracula/Wolfman costumes. Davy does a passable Transylvanian accent while Micky’s wolf man sounds like iconic disc jockey Wolfman Jack. Davy thinks they need a girl so he can bite her neck. Micky howls to attract a female, and Monkees extra Valerie Kairys answers his call.

Unfortunately for Davy, The Count interrupts them before any biting occurs. They’re confused about what he’s doing since it’s their “typical Monkees fantasy sequence,” and they analyze that part of the show for him, as Mike analyzed the tag sequence in “Monkees on the Wheel.” Basically, in a Monkees fantasy sequence, they’re in control and allowed to be and do whatever they want. The Count lays it out for them, “It seems this show is different!” He proves it by telling them to take off their makeup. They can’t! They break the fourth wall to call the makeup and prop department for help, but no one shows up. The Count is suddenly in a director’s chair with a cameraman nearby. He declares, “And I control you anytime I want to simply by thinking about it!” Thoroughly in charge, he orders the Wolfman to chain them back up and proceed with the operation. As the Count said, this show is different, and they’ve broken down and re-imagined their own format!

One thing about Ron Masak’s performance as the count: He shouts all of his lines. It’s over-the-top, even for The Monkees. My guess is that he’s doing an imitation of the television “Horror Host,” the kind that presents old horror films and makes jokes in between commercial breaks. This is a television trend that started when Screen Gems licensed 52 Universal horror films in 1957 and encouraged the use of hosts for the nationally-syndicated program, Shock Theater. Examples of hosts would be Vampira, Zacherley, Elvira, and, more recently, Svengoolie.

Here comes Mike to the rescue. But first he performs some awesome physical comedy. He gets to the basement steps, sneaking around in the most obvious way possible. Once he’s confident there’s no one around, he starts in with the manly strut and…he falls down the stairs. He hears the Count coming and hides in the sarcophagus with the Mummy. Cozy!

The Count gets ready for the brain transfer and breaks the fourth wall to mention the obvious fake backdrop behind him. Funny, I was thinking the same thing. It’s nice that it occurred to them their audience was observant. Mike sneaks out of the sarcophagus wearing the Mummy’s bandages. The Count calls on the Mummy-man for assistance, so Mike pretends to be the Mummy, shouting “Mummy!” at the Wolfman. The Count begins the operation, while Mike does his best Igor impression. The Count holds up and identifies a tool as a scalpel. Mike corrects him that it’s a bone chisel and, “it’s used to split!” He grabs the operating table with “Peter” on it and proceeds to “split.” Bad pun, but funny anyway.

Mike wheels “Peter” into the dungeon and frees Micky and Davy from the wall chains. The Count catches on that Mike tricked him, but Lorelei gleefully reminds him they still “control the others” with their thought waves. The Count summons Micky, who “attacks” by gnawing on Mike’s hand. This is a call back gag to “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” when Micky turned into a werewolf, and Mike salted his hand and offered it to him. Next, the Count uses his powers to make Davy bite Mike’s neck. This is getting weird; everyone stop snacking on Mike!

Mike tries to wake Peter for help, but of course Mike has taken the monster, and Peter’s still with the Count. Lorelei reminds the Count that he has the switch that activates the monster. I love Arlene Martel’s sexy/scary Morticia-esque performance in this episode. The Count throws the switch, commenting, “Do you realize the last time I did this, New York went out!” This ignites the romp to “Goin’ Down” (Dolenz, Jones, Tork, Nesmith, and Hildebrand). Monsters and Monkees dance and run around. The best part is Micky-as-Wolfman and the Wolfman fight over a fire hydrant. Ha. The most pointless part is old footage from the first season of The Monkees where the boys jump over a pool in front of the California Mountains.

This is a silly and cheesy but still fun episode. Despite the lack of originality, I can’t dislike something so hilarious, even the dumbest jokes land. This one certainly slides by on style over substance. The guest cast was a scream (pun intended); the Monkees were all charming and funny. The set decoration, the spooky yet bouncy background score, and the mood lighting are perfect, giving it just the right horror movie tribute feel. This is creepy-cute well before Tim Burton, though it obviously owes a lot to The Munsters and The Addams Family. While “Monstrous Monkee Mash” doesn’t have the social commentary factor of “The Monkees Watch Their Feet,” or the hipness of “The Frodis Caper,” it is worth mentioning with those other two because of the comic self-awareness, cool editing tricks, and variations on the traditional Monkees episodes.

David Pearl, who is hilarious in “Monstrous Monkee Mash,” got a credit at the end as the Wolfman, though this is far from his first appearance on The Monkees. Find a complete list of David Pearl’s appearances here.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Advertisements

Vintage Cable Box: “The Hunger”

Vintage-Cable-Box-Cover-Image

“Are you making a pass at me, Mrs. Blaylock?”

the-hunger-movie-poster-1983-1020189658

“The Hunger”, 1983 (Catherine Deneuve), MGM/UA

Bauhaus is considered “post-punk”, which is simple short-hand for the in-between years of the death of Disco, the birth of New Wave, the seminal jazz of New Romantic crossed with what would become Goth and Alternative. “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” opens “The Hunger” with Peter Murphy performing appropriately aloof. Can you imagine New York City in 1983? It was a city alive, steeped in bastard culture, the figurative melting pot; millions of people doing what they wanted, all the time stiffs in cheap suits acted as though they were in control. They weren’t.

I love this movie because it speaks to a city that no longer exists, but only in photographs; the difficult photographs you can’t upload. The photographs you have to dig up out of your photo albums and scan if you want anybody else to see them. It was an uncomfortable, even excruciating mix of the pop culture sensibilities of the time.

Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie are a crazy-sexy, chic couple of kooks, fabulous and beautiful, but they also happen to be vampires. They subsist on the blood of the unknowing, live in a fantastic brownstone (with an elevator!) – that’s what comes from immortality; at least you know where to keep your money, but nothing changes. People still want. People are still victims of their stupidity. Nothing changes for this pair. All they seek is food. Bowie begins to notice his aging. It’s not fair. He was promised immortality from Deneuve’s embrace, and now he’s pissed.

gal-vamps15-jpg

Enter Susan Sarandon’s character, Dr. Sarah Roberts, who seems to be pioneering work in advanced aging, which sparks Bowie’s interest. One of my favorite bits in the movie has to be Bowie waiting all day for Roberts to see him, meanwhile he has aged 50 years in the waiting room, while she ignores him. This is what it feels like in a doctor’s waiting room! Eventually, he is consigned to a coffin, and Deneuve gets friendly with Sarandon, and when I say “friendly”, I don’t mean pleasant, cordial smiles and flowers. Deneuve’s only (albeit predatory) interest in Sarandon is sustenance and companionship; the same, self-serving reasons she chose Bowie’s character 300 years before.  In her highly-publicized (not to mention extremely erotic) love scene with Deneuve, Sarandon is deliberately made up and photographed to resemble Bowie.

“The Hunger” was unfairly maligned at the time of its release for being nothing more than a feature-length MTV music video. The first time I saw the movie on cable, I was instantly smitten with the visuals and the long dialogue-free passages telling a story in pictures, and the presence of the super-cool Deneuve and Bowie as sophisticated New York vampires who masquerade as music teachers during the day and blood-thirsty creatures by night. When laserdiscs became affordable, I actively sought out this title, so I could see the film unfettered and unmolested in letterbox format.

The bloody and (admittedly) ridiculous finale notwithstanding, “The Hunger” was an extremely influential film, not only to modern cinema but the mythology of vampire movies as they would evolve in the next thirty years. As depicted in Whitley Streiber’s source novel, they are not dreamy-eyed teenybopper bait yearning to be loved. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing searching for food, and when they find you, they will destroy you.

“The Hunger” was Tony Scott’s first feature-length film. He would go on to an illustrious career; the director of choice for action movies, Tom Cruise, and Denzel Washington. Scott directed “Top Gun”, “Beverly Hills Cop II”, “Revenge”, “Days of Thunder”, Quentin Tarantino’s “True Romance”, “Crimson Tide”, “Enemy of the State” among many other movies. He died in 2012. Mr. Bowie passed away last week, so I rushed this one in tribute to the Thin White Duke.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.