Demonic deals. Cursed, severed animal parts. Reanimated corpses. Unholy séances. Unwanted brain transplants. These things have long plagued humankind. Four particular young men were unlucky enough to have to deal with all of them. Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter may have been too busy singing to put anybody down (well, unless we’re talking about Don Kirshner, Bob Rafelson, LBJ, each other…aww hell, The Monkees loved putting people down). That didn’t stop an assortment of creeps, spooks, and kooks from putting them down.In keeping with its postmodern take on entertainment, “The Monkees” often spoofed well-worn genres: spy pictures (“The Spy Who Came in From the Cool”, “Monkee Chow Mein”, “The Card Carrying Red Shoes”), heist pictures (“Monkees in a Ghost Town”, “The Picture Frame”), gangster pictures (“Monkees à la Carte”, “Alias Micky Dolenz”), sports pictures (“Monkees in the Ring”), beach movies (“Monkees at the Movies”), motorcycle movies (“The Wild Monkees”), pirate movies (“Hitting the High Seas”), westerns (“It’s a Nice Place to Visit”, “Monkees in Texas”), sci-fi (“The Monkees Watch Their Feet”, “Mijacogeo”), even documentaries (“Monkees on Tour”, ”Monkees in Paris”). However, “The Monkees” trampled no genre as regularly as horror.
After its 1930s golden era, the horror movie was somewhat dormant for the next two decades, censorship pushing it into self-parody in the forties and atomic-fears largely replacing it with invading Martian and giant bug movies in the fifties. In the sixties, strictures became less strict. The European horrors of Hammer Studios made real red (well, painty red) blood permissible in monster movies. In America, Roger Corman infused Edgar Allan Poe tales with the Hammer aesthetic (which The Monkees would one day spoof in their feature film Head, co-written by Corman collaborator Jack Nicholson). The success of those films followed viewings of the classic thirties horrors on late-night TV packages like “Shock!” and “Chiller!” Following them were supernatural new series ranging from the straight up scary (“The Twilight Zone”) to the tongue-in-fanged-cheek (“The Addams Family”, “The Munsters”). Before long shows of all genres, such as “Route 66” (“Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing”), “Gilligan's Island” (“Up at Bat”, “And Then There Were None”), “Batman” (“Marsha, Queen of Diamonds/Marsha’s Scheme of Diamonds”), and “Star Trek” (“Cat’s Paw”), were getting in on the haunting fun.
As the sixties slithered on, horror exploded around the
globe. Suddenly France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and everyone else were exporting
their own vampires, ghouls, and maniacs. No one loved these movies more than
the kids who spent the mass of their free time devouring the latest pop records when they weren’t watching werewolves devour victims. TV producers were as quick to pick up on the pop/horror connection as Bobby “Boris” Pickett and Sheb Wooley, and soon The Addams Family were pushing their monstrous butler into a career as a rocker in the “Lurch, the Teenage Idol” episode and The Munsters were hosting an impromptu performance of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by L.A.’s The Standells in the “Far Out Munsters” episode (both episodes aired within two months of each other). On the flip side, a new Saturday morning cartoon starring the originators of that particular song regularly pitted the most popular pop band in the world against a menagerie of monsters.
|Count Gilligan in "Up at Bat".|
The Monkees ‘ pot puffing overheats in episode 51, in which consummate character actor and scenery-chewer extraordinaire Hans Conried drops character to grumble “BLEEP, I hate these kids” (I always enjoyed thinking that BLEEP masked a “Fuck,” but I guess it could have been “Goddamn” or something). All Monkees sport red eyes in “The Monkee’s Paw” (particularly Davy and Peter), and it has nothing to do with the cursed paw that robs Micky of his voice. Unlike the W.W. Jacobs horror tale that inspired this episode, there is no zombie, and “The Monkee’s Paw” isn’t as explicitly horrific as the other episodes mentioned. “The Devil and Peter Tork” is another story. As the title suggestions, it is an homage to Stephen Vincent Benét’s famous short story, The Devil and Daniel Webster. Instead of Daniel trading his soul to the biggest monster of all in exchange for a stretch of good luck, Peter simply wants to play the harp. “The Devil and Peter Tork” feels like a bit of a step backward after the wildness of “The Monstrous Monkee Mash” and “The Monkee’s Paw”. In fact, it is a literal step back. As you may have sussed from the returns of the laugh track, Mike’s hat, and Micky’s bad flat-ironed hairdo, “The Devil and Peter Tork” was filmed much earlier in the season. NBC claimed it held the episode back because of its use of the song “Salesman”, which references drug dealers. In truth, the network didn’t like Micky ribbing it over his censored attempts to say “Hell” on the air. Although “The Devil and Peter Tork” is traditional compared to “The Monstrous Monkee Mash” and “The Monkee’s Paw”, there is one sequence that really feels improvised, and it is the one that makes this the most poignant “Monkees” episode. Mike stumbles through his defense of Peter at the climactic trial scene by explaining that demonic Mr. Zero (the always excellent Monte Landis, an unofficial new cast member in season two) didn’t actually give Peter anything at all because Pete’s innate love of music was all he needed to play the harp. It sounds corny, and maybe it is, but Mike’s way of trying to find the right words to express his very simple statement smack with a realism rarely seen on “The Monkees”, especially when the guys were running from ghosts and vampires and Frankensteins. This time it took a monster to bring “The Monkees” down to earth, and it’s kind of beautiful.