For this holiday week Balladeer’s Blog is focusing on topics that are seasonal. This time around it’s bad movies and hilariously lame educational shorts that have a specific Thanksgiving theme. As always my Bad Movie page contains full-length reviews of the films I’m offering a brief synopsis of here.
BLOOD FREAK (1972) – This movie is about a man who turns into a murderous monster with the head of a turkey after he eats a chemically treated gobbler at the turkey farm where he works. Blood Freak has been a cult classic for Thanksgiving for decades now, with many Movie Host shows of the late 70s onward making a point of screening it at this time of year (including The Texas 27 Film Vault). The biker who turns into the blood-crazed turkey monster is an Elvis look-alike which adds to the fun. So does the desk-bound, chain-smoking, script-reading narrator who sermonizes about the evils of drug abuse while the movie plays.
A DAY OF THANKSGIVING (1951) – This 12 minute educational short would make a nice dessert after a Turkey Day screening of Blood Freak. The Johnson family – composed of Mom, Dad, Dick, Susan, Tommy and the toddler Janet – can’t afford a turkey for Thanksgiving. The children are at first callously (and comically) bratty about it, but relent after Dad – in his sexiest voice for some reason – gives the kids a lecture about being grateful for what you have instead of obsessing over the things you don’t have.
The children’s attitude does a 180 from “Even the pilgrims had a feast” (with an implied “dammit” after it) to cheerfully throwing off the shackles of eating turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Free from their bourgeois preoccupation with fowl the Johnson family says a mealtime prayer expressing gratitude for “washing machines and hot water out of the tap” for “public libraries and cookies and milk after school” and other things. The whole scene is accompanied by angelic choral music composed by the producer Art Wolf.
SLASHER IN THE HOUSE (1981) – The Thanksgiving entry in the 1980s trend toward slasher films to fit every holiday on the calendar. Jake “Body by Jake” Steinfeld plays a psychotic killer who escapes from an insane asylum on Thanksgiving and begins racking up a body count by preying on a large and hilariously dysfunctional California family celebrating the holiday.
Every victim of Steinfeld’s rage – which is enhanced by the PCP he injects under his tongue – could win a Darwin Award for their sheer stupidity, which is monumental even for people in a horror film. This one is not as comically bad as Blood Freak, but provides a wealth of fun for people who love dissecting all the groan-inducing cliches of 1980s slasher flicks.
DINING TOGETHER (1947) – This 10 minute short is from an outfit called Children’s Productions and it plays like children were on BOTH sides of the camera. Two robotic little boys prepare for Thanksgiving Dinner by polishing candle holders, setting the table and dressing up for job interviews from the looks of the suits they put on. In addition they hold chairs for the female guests as they sit down to dinner (their parents obviously don’t want children – they want maitre’d’s), praise their mother’s cooking with the insincere air of the brainwashed soldiers praising Lawrence Harvey in The Manchurian Candidate and otherwise behave like automatons.
The syrupy narration praises them for eating their soup course ( at Thanksgiving Dinner?) without making noise. “We are glad we have good table manners”, the narration continues, “Good manners make people happy, and good table manners make eating together a happy time.” Enjoyably enough, the narration is often drowned out by the overwhelming piano music on the soundtrack. Typical of these educational shorts the entire enterprise plays like it was produced by emotionless aliens trying to approximate human behavior.
THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (1978) –You’d have to be higher than Carrie Fisher says she was during the filming of this bizarre little turkey to not realize how badly it sucked. This pile of Ewok- dung stains the Star Wars universe even more effectively than the introduction of Midichlorians in The Phantom Menace.
This infamous special was disowned by George Lucas who has claimed he’d like to track down and burn every bootleg copy. You’ll be longing for a character as complex as Jar Jar Binks as you watch this hilariously bad special that aired Thanksgiving week of 1978.
The alleged plot of The Star Wars Holiday Special (henceforth TSWHS) is that Han Solo is trying to get his friend Chewbacca to his home planet in time to celebrate Life Day, the universe’s biggest holiday next to Frontierado. Han, Chewie and Princess Leia only make scattered and brief appearances in this thing, along with Mark Hamill as Luke in a very early appearance after his reconstructive surgery. (Dude, you did that to yourself over CARRIE FISHER? )
Life Day is apparently the equivalent of Thanksgiving in the Star Wars universe, and Han Solo is trying to elude Imperial forces to get his pal Chewbacca home in time for the holiday festivities.
The main characters of TSWHS are Chewbacca’s Wookie family – his wife, Malla, his apparently demented father Itchy and his “special needs” son Lumpy. (“Itchy?” … “Lumpy?” Was someone suffering from a severe skin condition when this script was written?) Not even families on reality tv shows are as dysfunctional as this trio.
Not only that but Malla, Itchy and Lumpy don’t speak English and communicate in that same “mating call of the buffalo” grunting that Chewbacca uses, yet the show DOESN’T PROVIDE SUBTITLES TO LET US KNOW WHAT THEY ARE SAYING … not once. Seriously. And not just for brief periods, these scenes of bizarre grunting and growling go on for several looooong minutes with the audience unable to understand anything that is being said.
If you watch this thing try to count how many minutes are wasted on incomprehensible Wookiespeak.
Lucas’ ideas about what constitutes entertainment on Wookieworld are mind- boggling. First, we see Lumpy watching a small version of acrobat images that are as silly and boring as the giant bubbles that Palpatine and Anakin were watching in Revenge of the Sith. Malla watches a cooking show with a four-armed cook speaking in English and making jokes that are so bad you find yourself wistfully longing for a return to no sound but Wookie grunts.
I’m told Harvey Korman plays the cook as well as other “comical” characters in the special but since nobody under the age of 50 will know who he is we’ll ignore that fact. Art Carney embarrasses himself as a friend of Chewbacca’s family in a few scenes, too. Itchy also watches a music video featuring Jefferson Airplane minus Gracie Slick, who I guess wasn’t born yet since this is supposedly “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.
These scenes are every bit as exciting as you would expect scenes of people in Wookie suits watching tv to be. I’m surprised George didn’t do an Indiana Jones Holiday Special in which viewers got to watch Indy’s family listening to old Fibber McGee and Molly radio shows.
The most mind-bogglingly weird moment of Wookie entertainment, however, comes from the most famous scene in this entire special. It’s known as the “Wookie Porn” segment. It features Chewie’s father Itchy watching a hologram of Diahann Carroll singing. Itchy’s reaction to the video is to beat his arms on his chair and make excited sounds. The whole ugly scene can’t help but make you VERY uncomfortable, though thankfully his hands are kept at his sides the whole time.
Storm Troopers show up to menace the Wookies periodically throughout the telefilm, Itchy watches a cartoon ( “non-stop television-watching action”) which introduced the character of Boba Fett to the Star Wars universe (No, really. It’s the one thing fans actually LIKE about this Holiday Special) and we learn that Bea Freaking Arthur is the owner of the famous Mos Eisley Cantina from the original Star Wars movie. She SINGS A SONG while shooing her customers out in a scene which seems to have been edited in from Hell’s Tony Awards Special or something.
Lucas saves the worst for last, however. Han, Chewie, Luke and Leia show up at Chewie’s home in time for Life Day, as if anybody cares at this point, and Carrie Fisher (who has claimed she was so coked up in this scene that Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill had to literally hold her upright) sings a song that forever transforms the formerly grand-sounding Star Wars theme music into a nightmare that you can never escape. In this finale that makes you want to kick George Lucas where it hurts we learn THE LYRICS TO THE STAR WARS THEME!
If you thought the Cartwrights singing the words to the Bonanza music was an awkward scene you haven’t seen anything yet! The Star Wars theme is apparently the Life Day Song and Princess Leia sings the lyrics to it … lyrics which not even Barney the Purple Dinosaur would stoop to singing and which will pop into your head every time you hear the Star Wars theme forever after. I won’t scar your soul with them by typing them here, but if you seek TSWHS out you can hear them for yourself.
One final note about this incredibly bizarre SithTV production: not long after this Thanksgiving special aired the mass suicides in Jonestown, Guyana took place. Coincidence? I’ll let you be the judge.
No brief description can do justice to this cosmic bomb. Suffice it to say Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill seem ready to die of embarrassment as they force their way through this incomprehensible mess, a condition avoided by Carrie Fisher because she supposedly claimed she was coked out of her mind during the filming.
THE MOUSE ON THE MAYFLOWER (1968) – Country western star Tennessee Ernie Ford narrates and supplies the voice of the title character – a Puritan mouse named Willum – who stows away on the Mayflower during its trip to America. The little rodent also gets to participate in the first Thanksgiving celebration with a Native American mouse. Their same-sex relationship is a moving plea for tolerance set against the backdrop of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans coming together to share a feast and give thanks. Okay, the same-sex relationship element is purely an assumption on my part, but still …
At any rate this cartoon, which COULD have been a holiday classic, is horrendously boring and I doubt 21st Century children will even sit through it. If the tale had been set in a half-hour timeslot instead of an hour it might have been more watchable. As it is it’s a challenge to endure even if you’re desperate for a Thanksgiving cartoon version of the Grinch and all the other Christmas cartoons.
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