Are you the obsessive Halloween nut who goes all out with decorations, candy and the perfect mood-setting party ambience? If so, then Monsters Crash the Pajama Party is the holiday accessory you need to have. The DVD first blipped on my radar when James Rolfe of Cinemassacre.com covered it as part of his annual Monster Madness web series. I was so entranced by its bizarre presentation of spooky oddities that I had to see it for myself and sure enough, it’s as nutty as you’d think. Unlike most discs that would bring you straight to the menu screen with a list of selection avenues, this DVD opts to make finding its contents a scavenger hunt. The gimmick is similar in many ways to the Nightmare Series Encyclopedia bonus features disc on the 1999 Nightmare on Elm Street DVD box set in which you navigate through an expansive, unlabeled labyrinth to uncover interviews, outtakes, trailers or some other hidden goodie.
Monsters Crash the Pajama Party is Halloween sensory overload in all the best ways. One glance at both the front and back covers, brimming with ghosts, graves, and hooded skeletons, and you’ll be rewarded with a blood storm of hidden treasures that await you. This 2001 release comes from the people over at Something Weird Video, a film distribution company whose library primarily dabbles in the world of exploitation tastes and other peculiarities. One glance at their crowded website and you’ll be inundated with a plethora of sub-genres to peruse through including, but not limited to, Grindhouse Follies, Sexy Shockers, and, my personal favorite, Nightmare Theater Chill-O-Rama Horror Show. With Something Weird Video, you know EXACTLY which type of movie you’re getting. Who better to pay homage to the since abandoned pastime of the Midnight Spook Show?
Long story short, the Midnight Spook Show (sometimes also referred to as Midnight Ghost Shows) were a series of late-night entertainment venues where the film you would eventually see is hardly the main attraction. You went to the spook show to be wowed by a blend of startling scares and on-the-spot effects wizardry. These stage magicians were the precursor to the horror movie host, prepping the audience with a sly, devious charm before turning off every light in the theater and doing everything in their power to frighten them with spooky noises and, on occasion, zip line a glowing skeleton across the packed auditorium. The spook show, whose popularity spans across over three decades, faded over time, however, due to budgetary constraints, lack of enthusiasm, and the shifting tastes of theater audiences.
I can’t see these shows, as fun as they seem, existing in the same mainstream form of which they once thrived. Haunted houses can get away with startling patrons because it’s a safe, controlled environment that they have planned out to a T. But a modern theater audience, especially now, yields unpredictable and possibly dangerous results. Startling someone in costume could lead to a panic attack, which then leads to lawsuits, which ultimately leads to bye, bye goes the spook show. In that case, DVDs like this are the closest mode of experiencing this once thriving phenomenon for ourselves.
Released in 1965, the DVD’s main attraction, Monsters Crash the Pajama Party, is a silly half-hour spook show that features a group of aloof teenage girls who decide to spend the night in a supposedly haunted house. Little do they know that underneath the manor, thriving in the cobweb-encrusted basement, is a mad doctor (Vic McGee) and his ape assistant preparing the laboratory to transform the slumber party teens into hairy gorilla servants. It’s all extremely corny and doesn’t, even for a second, pretend to bring logic into the fun. The show doesn’t quite hold the same effect without the theater experience, but moments throughout indicate what might have transpired. There’s a moment where the ape assistant exits out of frame as the screen goes black. He returns onscreen about a minute later with a girl (actress planted in the audience) that he’s brought into the movie with him. Audiences at the time must have loved that even if they saw right through the tricks.
Once you’ve finished with the show, the remaining features on the DVD can be found by selecting odd shapes around the various menu screens (bats, ghosts, heads, etc), and seeing what comes up. For example, selecting the grave that highlights R.I.P. on the headstone envelops you in an endless 45 minute reel of trailers and posters highlighting the array of spook shows you could engage in during its heyday where anything was possible. Decapitations, impalements, blood sacrifices; it was all fair game.
You could make a fun drinking game out of this one. Take a shot for every show hosted by a ‘Dr.’ of some kind. A few, among many featured, include the likes of Dr. Evil and His Terrors of the Unknown, Dr. Womb’s Seance of Wonders, and Dr. Satan and his Shrieks In the Night. My personal favorite theatrical presenter, however, without even seeing him in the advertisement is The Mad Daddy’s Shock Theater. No chainsaw-juggling, blood soaked, ghoul frightening spook show extravaganza would be complete without a sinister Mad Daddy at the helm. It’s just makes sense. And to answer your question, yes, I’m prepared for this last few sentence to single-handedly obliterate my writing career.
You’re more likely to learn more adjectives to describe the tantalizing frights associated with Halloween by watching this DVD than by picking up a thesaurus or listening to Joe Bob’s anecdotes. It’s easy to laugh at just how socially outdated some of the advertisements were too. The most notable offenders were the spots and radio posters with such taglines as “you need a strong He-man to protect you!” These “tough” boyfriends were more than likely just as scared shitless by the show’s antics as their dates, if not more so.
I won’t spoil most of where specific features are but here a few other things to look out for.
ASYLUM OF THE INSANE – Labeled as “Bonus Spook Short in 3-D Spookarama!” on the cover, this little tidbit is a stunningly hilarious exercise in false advertising. The feature is a collection of shoddily captured home movies with kids in masks throwing thrusting things at the camera. Worst part is the 3D (one pair of glasses included) doesn’t even work. Although, it’s difficult to feel cheated when the result is as charmingly pathetic as it is.
DRIVE-IN WEREWOLF – The three minute short film features a man and his date arriving at a drive-in theater. He goes to get some refreshments but returns, without explanation, as a werewolf, and goes after his date. Short, sweet and stupid, mostly stupid.
DON’T BE AFRAID! – This educational short depicts a mother and her young son discussing how it’s okay to be afraid of the dark, and ways to overcome that fear. Corny, sure, but not as mind-numbingly outdated as you’d expect.
And much, much, much more.
In spite of Monsters Crash the Pajama Party being touted as the DVD’s main attraction, the longest hidden feature, clocking in at a brisk 76 mins, is the delightfully goofy 1960 chiller, Tormented, from b-movie director Bert I. Gordon. The plot revolves around a soon-to-be married jazz musician, Tom (played by Richard Carlson from Creature from the Black Lagoon fame) who finds himself in a heap of trouble when he lets a duplicitous former flame, Vi (Juli Reding), fall to her death from a Cape Cod lighthouse tower after she attempts to blackmail him. Tom can’t seem to catch a break as he’s not only plagued by Vi’s ghostly shenanigans, but under the suspicion of the “eh, all I care about is getting my money, you know what I’m saying, Dad” smooth-talking cabbie played by Joe Turkel (who would infamously go on to play the sinister bartender Lloyd in The Shining).
Tormented wastes no time in delivering unintentional laugh out loud moments often found in the most entertaining of 60s shlock. “Darling, you look as if you’re ready to kill me,” Reding’s Vi says with a smile as she’s casually leaning against the frail lighthouse railing mere moments after blackmailing her ex-lover. But the movie’s crown jewel scene is when Vi finally reveals her spirited form to Tom for the first time – a disembodied head. Tom, needless to say, is more annoyed by the floating head rather reacting to the situation with any type of, well, horror to the point where he wrestles it, an image just as funny as Ash scuffling with Linda’s severed melon in Evil Dead II. It’s easily digestible pulp nonsense that falls in line with the spirit of this release.
If flailing skeletons, cheap haunts and low-budget ghoulish charm ignites your Halloween spirit, then this assortment of oddities is more than likely in your wheelhouse. Monsters Crash the Pajama Party is a wickedly fun ode to the detail-oriented (right down to the literal skeleton bone) visual trickeries of the midnight spook show that every pumpkin-carving, candy-devouring devotee of the Bloody Disgusting community ought to consider adding to their collection