1/31/07

912 The Screaming Skull

(1958, Horror, b&w), with:

A Gumby Adventure: Robot Rumpus
(1956, Children, color)

The producers feel they must offer a free coffin if you die of fright while viewing the Screaming Skull!

Rating: **

In a nutshell:

Short: Gumby learns a valuable lesson after causing a lot of accidental property damage.
Film: A man uses a skull to drive his new wife to a nervous breakdown.

Short Summary:

Gumby only eats white food.In Robot Rumpus, Gumby (famed in song and story, as seen on TV) and his orange horse pal Pokey kick back in the kitchen, demanding milk. When Gumby’s ridge-chested mother wants to know why they aren’t out doing the yard work, he points out the window to a team of hard-working robots. Mother thinks the use of robot labor is a grand idea, and gives her son crackers to go with his milk.

But then something goes wrong. The garden robot starts hoeing down flowers. The garbage robot starts to disassemble the garage. The painting robot scrawls graffiti on the house. The lawnmowing robot pushes his mower through the front wall, across the house, and out the back wall. Mother glares disapprovingly at her son and calls her toupee-clad husband Gumbo for help.

By the time Gumbo’s fire truck arrives, the robots have lifted the entire house from its foundations to rock it back and forth. Gumbo rushes from robot to robot, flipping the on/off switches on their backs. When he checks inside the house, he finds Gumby, Pokey, and Mother all rolled into a single clay ball in a corner of the kitchen. Gumbo is captured by another robot while they untangle themselves. It reactivates the other robots, forcing Gumbo and Gumby turn them all off again.

Finally, only the strongest, wiliest robot remains. Gumbo moves in for the kill, but it hurls a wrench through his soft body before throwing the hapless clay fireman onto the roof of a neighboring house. Gumby rescues his dad with a ladder truck, and then eviscerates the last robot with a commandeered steam shovel. Gumby is forced to repair all the robot damage by hand, while a robot’s severed head is hung above the garage as a grim reminder of his failure.

Film Summary:

The Screaming Skull reaches its climax in shocking horror! Thrill as a manic-depressive bride hears screaming and sees skulls on the property of her creepy husband’s deceased first wife—a woman who, naturally, died under suspicious circumstances. Gasp in no surprise whatsoever when we discover it is actually the sinister husband trying to drive his rich new wife to suicide, and not (as the filmmakers try quite unsuccessfully to convince us) the kind but simple gardener. Groan in boredom and irritation when it turns out the house is haunted by a possessed skull after all. Sigh in relief as the first wife’s murderous head bone exacts deadly revenge on her killer, effectively ending the film.

I’d like to give you more details, but it turns out there aren’t any.

Introduction:

It must be the feast of St. Penguinian.Tom has become a beautiful butterfly, with gossamer wings, antennae, a party favor proboscis, and a delicate, slender body. He describes transformation in unnecessary detail, lingering uncomfortably over the “soft front parts of the pupae.” Mike feeds him nectar.

Host Segment One:

Tom has lost his wings in an industrial accident, gained all his weight back from binging on junk food, and accidentally shrunk his antenna to the point of invisibility. At least he still has his party favor proboscis. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl et alia have dressed in penguin costumes. They demand to know why Mike et alia have not done so as well. Mike and the ‘Bots hurry into whatever costumes they can find, with Mike as a dog, Crow as a sheep, and Tom as a reindeer. Turns out it was all a hoax to make Mike and the ‘Bots look ridiculous. Pearl and her cohorts celebrate the success of their prank—until Mike points out how much time and money it took them to pull off a practical joke that required the extended use of several stupid-looking penguin costumes.

Host Segment Two:

Tom and Crow have created a whimsical Claymation world, detailing the adventures of those lovable clay lumps, Bolis and Horseflop. They make Mike move the characters as these two carry on a “campaign of terror and savagery” against replicas of their own robot selves. When Mike puts a stop to it, Tom cries, “This is how it is in the real world… Horrid lumps of discharge destroy beautiful, innocent robots with impunity!” Mike calms them down with the promise of Dizzy Grizzlies.

Host Segment Three:

The producers of The Screaming Skull have promised a free coffin to anyone who dies of fright while watching their film, so Tom calls them up claiming to have a friend who has died during the viewing. He has second thoughts while the operator dutifully takes down his information, but doesn’t admit it’s all a scam until she has already sent the coffin. Quoth Mike, “You guys should try thinking of pranks that don't involve lying about the dead.” “You think of one,” Crow replies.

Host Segment Four:

Crow paints his head like a skull and mounts it to the desk, shrieking eerily when Mike comes in. Mike shrieks back while he batters Crow’s head with a bag of chips, a baseball bat, and finally a bag of golf clubs. Screaming all the while, he tests a number of different clubs for heft and balance before settling on his favorite Big Bertha driver.

Host Segment Five:

Tom’s coffin arrives; he has to admit that no one has actually died and send it back. He maxes out Mike’s credit card to pay for shipping both ways. Down in Castle Forrester, Bobo has put on an ape suit and tries to pull the costume prank again. On Pearl’s orders, Brain Guy shrinks him to size of a marmoset.

Stinger:

The creepy husband throws a stool at his dead first wife.

Thoughts:

Killer skull or red herring?Okay, so Gumby is nude, lopsided, and hairless. Pokey is nude too, but has a mane. Gumbo is nude and presumably hairless, but covers his nakedness with either a toupee or a matador’s cap. This leaves Mother as the only one with both hair and clothing. So what’s the dress code here? The most obvious conclusion is that only women can wear clothes, but Gumbo’s hairpiece/beret scuttles that theory. On further speculation, my guess is that Gumby-world clothing requires a license, like cars in the real world. Gumby will finally get to wear shorts when he’s old enough to take the clothing test. Pokey can wear a mane under the terms of his learner’s permit. Gumbo lost his license for full clothing when he got drunk one night and ran his brand new polo shirt into a tree. The weekend job at the fire department is only part of his community service—on weekdays he has to visit middle schools to warn students about the dangers of mixing of alcohol and clothing accessories. Remember kids, don’t drink and dress!

Moving on to this episode in particular, what’s the message supposed to be? I know it’s just a cartoon, but think about it—these days, all shows for the younger age groups have some kind of moral, even if it’s only something like “please share,” or “be kind,” or “niceness is nice.” Is this episode trying to teach the young Billys and Bettys of the world that all underprivileged sources of manual labor will eventually turn on their employers? If the robots insurgency had led to a utopian socialist robot paradise, I would call it a Marxist allegory, but it didn’t; Gumby et al. turn the revolutionaries into scrap. Okay then…it’s trying to teach our little Juanitos and LaChondras that malcontents from the lower classes must be put down with extreme prejudice? Adorable Guillaume and precious Brunhilda need to know that we must not rely on lesser beings if we are to survive? It’s a racist allegory, right? Am I reading too much into this?

And now, I will simulate the experience of watching The Screaming Skull. ......................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

Thank you, and good night!

Maybe it’s just the blank daze induced by the utterly empty film, but the only host segments that do anything for me at all are the first costume sketch and the “Crow as skull” sketch, and even those were just vaguely amusing. No wait, I quite liked sketch about the Gumby short; hearing the ‘Bots wax eloquent on any subject is always good for a laugh or two. On the other hand, Tom’s butterfly transformation is just odd, and the coffin subplot wasn’t that funny either. There isn’t much to the shrinking scene at the end. It looks completely, totally, and unequivocally fake—so much so that at first I wasn’t quite sure why Bobo had suddenly moved to the back of the room. Just because it’s cheesy doesn’t mean it has to be bad, though. It could have been the set up for something hilarious, but the segment just shrinks him and ends with no attempts at any further jokes. Maybe the empty haze of the film affected the folks at Best Brains as well.

The commentary to the Gumby short is hilarious. When the garbage robot starts to disassemble the garage, Crow says, “Habitat against humanity.” When a robot projectile leaves a wrench-shaped hole in Gumbo, Mike puts words in Gumby’s mouth, “You can throw things through Dad! I’m going to get an anvil!” When we see a robot’s severed head above the garage, Tom makes retching noises and cries, “This is worse than Seven!” Unfortunately the short ends after only six minutes, and we start the long, eventless slog through the barren film. By necessity, ninety percent of the commentary during The Screaming Scull refers to the fact that nothing is happening, as in Tom’s, “They have two servings of tension that they’re trying to serve to seven people;” and Crow’s, “Remember folks, if you die of boredom, you do not get a free coffin. Sorry;” and Mike’s, “They made a tiny bit of movie and just put the rest in a box filled with foam peanuts.” It’s to their credit that most of these comments are funny, but you can only throw insults into the void for so long before you realize this whole system works better when there’s actually something out there to insult. If the Gumby short was available separately (say, in a collection of shorts or something), this episode would get one of the rare Zero Stars ratings, but Robot Rumpus is six of the funniest minutes ever to appear on the show. It’s worth repeated viewings, so long as you turn it off before The Screaming Skull can begin.