The Case of Evil Dead II

When we considered what our last episode of Frightening February would be, we almost chose to do an episode on The Thing From Another World from 1951 and John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982. But, our goal is not to completely turn Adam off of horror forever by scarring him with that one scene with the Huskies (if you know you know). So we chose a slightly different–and more comedic–route instead. 

Many generations know Sam Raimi for something he directed. If you were a kid in the early 2000s, you might remember his name in the credits of the Tobey McGuire spiderman films. Moviegoers this Spring will recognize him as the man behind the new Doctor Strange film. But if you’re a fan of horror, another film franchise might come to mind when you hear his name. 

The Evil Dead films are unique and imaginative. The stories are wildly original, its main hero is impossibly charming, and best of all, the Evil Dead franchise is a perfect blend of horror and comedy. So today we’re going deep into the woods with Ash to learn the secrets of the groundbreaking horror comedy, Evil Dead II. 


When Ash Williams heads into the woods with his girlfriend for an intimate getaway, things go awry when he discovers a tape recorder with some unusual incantations. The words on the recorder awake the evil dead spirits, possessing Ash’s girlfriend and tormenting him mentally and physically. With the arrival of four strangers, one of which who has knowledge of the Necronomicon (the book of the dead) Ash attempts to fight off the deadites and survive the night. 


  • Now you may be wondering, why would we do an episode on The Evil Dead II before Evil Dead? The answer is quite simple. While Evil Dead is obviously a very important part of the franchise, the story gets ret-conned in the second film. Also, one of us…we won’t name names, isn’t much of a horror fan. So, we decided that covering the more comical Evil Dead II was a better way to introduce Adam–I mean SOMEONE–to the franchise. 
  • But of course it’s completely impossible to talk about Evil Dead II without at least mentioning the first movie from 1981. Written and directed by Sam Raimi, Evil Dead follows five college kids as they take a vacation together in a creepy cabin in the woods. Much like the Evil Dead II, the voice on a tape recorder recites an incantation from the Necronomicon, raising an undead evil that possesses everyone in the cabin except for a lone survivor: Ash Williams. 
  • It was Sam Raimi’s friend Scott Spiegel that got him interested in horror films. Inspired by a college history course and H P Lovecraft, Raimi decided to write his own horror film around the lore of the Necronomicon (the book of the dead.) 
    • Now, there is a lot on the Necronomicon that we wish we could go into, so we highly suggest researching this topic if you are interested to learn more about the HP Lovecraft creation and how it has bled into the real world. 
  • Passionate about the project, Raimi had to secure much of his own funding, even asking family and friends and anyone else to donate to the film’s production. The lead actor, Bruce Campbell also served as an executive producer and helped Raimi gain funds. Raimi and his friends and crew even shot a short film called Within the Woods to show potential investors. Here is the link if you would like to check it out!
  • When The Evil Dead released, it received the dreaded NC-17 rating and according to box office mojo, it made it to 128 theaters. The film made a respectable amount of money, and has a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, likely from the many recent retrospective reviews it has received. However, we weren’t able to find reviews from its initial release. 
  • Audiences were horrified by the film and its use of practical effects and gore. Many people to this day consider The Evil Dead to be one of the greatest horror films ever made and truly haunting. But for some, the original film felt too over-the-top, with cheesy dialogue and unbelievable experiences. Many interpreted this as a blend of comedy and horror, while that was not the filmmakers’ intentions at all. Bruce Campbell said to years later, “The pundits have made it into a comedy, and they’re so wrong. When some of the reviews for the “Evil Dead’’ remake in 2013 were like, ‘This movie has no comedy like the original,’ it’s like, what are you talking about? A woman got raped by a f—–g tree in the original. To me, that’s not funny.”
  • But this begs the question, why did Raimi decide to retcon his original story, and is Evil Dead II a sequel or a remake? 
    • Apparently New Line Cinema owned the rights to the original Evil Dead, meaning that Raimi and co. didn’t have the legal ability to create a clear-cut sequel to their movie with a different company. So, the decision was made to reshoot the beginning story of Ash coming to the cabin and experiencing the horrors of the deadites with new characters. The first portion of Evil Dead II, when Ash drives to the cabin with his girlfriend and up until he becomes possessed himself is the remake. Everything that happens after that, is the sequel. So the movie is both a remake and a sequel, making it incredibly unique. 
    • For The Evil Dead II, Raimi leaned into the comedic possibilities of the story. He incorporated gags from classic Three Stooges shorts, changed up the color of blood to combat the ratings board (didn’t matter, he got NC-17 AGAIN) and had the characters deliver their cheesy dialogue as straight-faced as possible. And the result, of course, was a surreal and outrageous film that performed even better than the first one. 


  • The Evil Dead II was written by Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel, and directed by Raimi. Bruce Campbell was once again a producer on the film and played the main character of Ash Williams. 
    • Some of Bruce’s driving was done by a stunt man, but Raimi liked using Bruce as much as possible because (as he and Bruce both stated) Raimi liked to torture his longtime friend. 
    • For example, when Ash first gets taken by the evil, he is whipped around, spun, and smacked with branches. Campbell was rigged to a mechanism and actually went through this ordeal for the film. 
      • Throughout Evil Dead II, Ash essentially goes through the ringer. In one scene, Campbell smashes plates against his head, and even grabs his hair and flips forward after his own hand becomes possessed by the evil spirit. The plates and bowls were real ceramics that were unfired, meaning they would break easily. 
    • Once Evil Dead II begins, the movie wastes no time getting started. Linda, played by Denise Bixler, gets possessed and killed almost immediately. This was Bixler’s biggest role as she only appeared in two other projects besides this film. Once Linda’s body resurrects, we see a stop-motion animation of her corpse doing a dance. The Dance was actually choreographed by Raimi’s high school teacher!
  • Most of the film focuses on Bruce Campbell as Ash alone, before other characters appear. The studio reportedly had an issue with this, but it allowed for the character to become more acquainted with the evil he was facing before other characters were thrown into the mix. During the scene when Ash is being driven mad by the evil dead, we see an evil version of himself reach through the mirror and choke him out. To achieve this effect, the production crew had to build a reverse version of the set on the opposite side of the wall. 
  • While Ash grapples with the Evil in the woods, four new characters enter the screen. Sarah Berry plays Annie Knowby, whose father discovered the Necronomicon and owns the cabin. This was also Berry’s largest acting role and she is a writer as well. Dan Hicks plays Jake, Bobby Joe’s boyfriend. Hicks continued acting up until his death in 2020. He even played a train passenger in Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. Kassie Wesley DePaiva played Bobby Joe, a character that was actually inspired by actress Holly Hunter, who Raimi was living with while writing the film. DePaiva has continued her career as a regular in several soap operas. And finally, the character Ed was played by Richard Domeier who went on to become the host of QVC. 
  • After all five characters are in the cabin, they are soon confronted with the living corpse of Annie’s mother, Henrieta, played by Sam Raimi’s brother, Ted. Ted donned a full-body suit and make-up, complete with dentures and contacts. According to Raimi, his brother had no idea what he was getting into and he was also tortured throughout the filming process. 
    • Annie’s living parents were played by Lou Hancock and John Peakes. 
  • Filming Location
    • In 1986 filming began in Wadesboro, North Carolina at an old highschool called J.R. Faison Junior High School. The sets were built in the gymnasium. 
    • Shooting would take place sometimes at night and the temperature could be extremely hot as well. All of the evening shots were completed first, and the exterior shots were also in North Carolina, on the same location that the film “The Color Purple” was filmed. Many of the trees in the woods were real, but some bigger trees were sculpted and put in, with no tops on them. While filming the tracking shots of the woods, the cameraman could not point it too high, or else the audience would see the fake trees. 
    • Shots of the skies and the shot of the twisted and broken bridge were matte paintings with Bruce composited in where necessary. 
  • Make-up and Special Effects
    • Mark Shostrom led the special effects team. He hired three significant artists: Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, and Robert Kurtzman. 
      • Greg Nicotero worked and learned under Tom Savini in Day of the Dead. This is also where Greg met Howard Berger. In 1988 they would go on to create their own Make-up effects business with Robert Kurtzman called KNB EFX Group, Inc. They have worked on films such as Army of Darkness (which is the next film in the Evil Dead movies), The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Reservoir Dogs, the Kill Bill movies, and many more including the show The Walking Dead.  
    • The team began preparing in South Pasadena at Mark Shostrom’s studio for about three months. Everything that they created had to be shipped to Wadesboro.
      • Several different replicas of the actors heads and various body parts needed to be made for the different scenes. In order to create the casts and dummies of the character Linda, an alginate casting was made of the actress. 
        • After Linda’s head drops into his lap and bites his hand, Ash goes to the shed where he secures Linda’s head in a table clamp. He then looks around for a chainsaw and instead of finding it he sees a chalk outline on the wall where it is supposed to be. Suddenly the rest of Linda’s body bursts into the shed holding a chainsaw up and coming straight for him. 
          • In order to achieve this, Robert Kurtzman laid on his back on a skateboard. He held up the Linda body dummy as he wheeled into the shed. Someone from above held a fishing wire like contraption that held and moved the chainsaw up. Greg Nicotero said it looked like a Kermit muppet bursting through the door moving up and down.
      • Sam really wanted to show the transition of Bruce’s eyes to the white. So, they made a special oversized head of Bruce. They had a liquid-filled eye in the head. In order to simulate white clouding in the eye, they injected milk which created a swirled effect that then becomes just white. 
    • A lot of the effects for the film were achieved with a combination of stop-motion, prosthetics and mechanics. 
      • Doug Beswick performed much of the stop-motion animation for the movie. Animator Yancy Calzada was also credited with armature animation. 
        • Doug Beswick animated the infamous headless Linda dance scene. According to a tweet from Mark Shostrom Beswick re-dressed a piece from the film Aliens for a tree in this scene as well. 
        • Yancy Calzada animated parts of the sequence where Ash’s hand runs and hides from Ash. For some of the hand movement, Greg Nicotero stuck his hand up through the floor. 
        • After Ash’s hand becomes possessed, he must cut it off. In this scene, the hand was actually made of gelatin. It had to be refrigerated because it was so warm in the filming location. 
      • One of the most horrifying parts of the film is Ted Raimi’s portrayal of the dead Henrietta. 
        • For these scenes, he was completely covered in urethane and rubber which made it really hard for his body to “breathe.” Sweat would literally pour out of the suit when they would take it off him at the end of the day. 
        • Fiberglass molds were made of Ted and then from there they made a polyfoam outer skin using those molds. Underneath the polyfoam they made a bean suit which consisted of sacs of lentil beans. These sacs of beans give a nice jiggle to the whole body suit. 
        • Mark Shostrom painted all the different body suits and pieces.
    • Wendy Bell was the head make-up artist that created the looks of most of the characters. The crew had to experiment with different types of blood because they needed blood to stay on Bruce Campbell’s face. 
      • Once each character became possessed, their eyes became white. The team achieved this with opaque white contact lenses that the actors could not see through. The actors had to practice their scenes and perform them blind. Campbell even said he wasn’t sure when his eyes were open or closed while having the lenses in.  
  • Composer Joseph LoDuca provided the haunting score for the film. For some scenes, his music played up the comic effect with Looney Tune-esque sound effects. He is a prolific composer that has scored TV shows like The Librarians and Ash VS The Evil Dead. 


  • The film was nominated for a few things, including one of our favorite awards (The Saturn Award for best horror), but sadly it did not win.
  • Reviews
    • Roger Ebert gave the movie 3 stars in his 1987 review saying, “Evil Dead 2 is a comedy disguised as a blood-soaked shock-a-rama. It looks superficially like a routine horror movie, a vomitorium designed to separate callow teenagers from their lunch. But look a little closer and you’ll realize that the movie is a fairly sophisticated satire. Level One viewers will say it’s in bad taste. Level Two folks like myself will perceive that it is about bad taste.”
  • Sequels
    • The Evil Dead became popular and had such a following, that sequels were made and an upcoming movie is expected.
    • Army of Darkness
      • Army of Darkness from 1993 is considered the third movie in the original Evil Dead Trilogy. Ash is transported, as per the ending of the previous movie, to England in 1300 AD. Although it keeps some horror, it also focuses on Ash’s story with comedy and plot action. 
    • Ash vs. Evil Dead
      • In order to explore the character of Ash more the tv show Ash vs. Evil Dead was created in 2015. It ended its third and final season in 2018. It was not renewed for a fourth season by Starz due to its low ratings in season 3. When the show was canceled Bruce Campbell announced that he would not be returning as the character Ash again.He feels that the franchise will be better for his departure from the character.   
    • Evil Dead Rise
      • The next film, called Evil Dead Rise, is set to release sometime this year. The film has been confirmed to build upon the original trilogy and not the reboot movie that came out in 2013. True to what Bruce Campbell said before, he will not be returning as Ash but he and Sam Raimi will be executive producers with Robert Tapert as producer and Lee Cronin as the writer. The action will take place in an urban area focusing on two sisters. New Line Cinema and HBO Max are set to distribute. 


Greg Nicotero’s example drawing of Sam Raimi’s storyboard panel.
  • Evil Dead II opens with a title card for a fictional company called Rosebud. Apparently, the financier for the film, Dino De Laurentiis, could not release an X-rated film. So, an animator created a stop-motion title card of a rose in front of a cloud background for “Rosebud,” as an almost alias for the real financial backers of the movie. 
  • According to Greg Nicotero, Sam drew his own storyboards for the film. When Greg went on further to explain the storyboards he showed a recreation which was a basic stick drawing. We will include a screenshot of the recreated storyboard on our blog!
  • In 1982 Stephen King wrote a review of The Evil Dead. It was an entire article in The Twilight Zone Magazine! In it he called the film “The most ferociously original horror film of 1982.” This contributed a great deal in helping to make Evil Dead II, as Stephen King often supports smaller artists with great ideas. 
    • Here is a link to a website that has pictures of the article.
  • Freddy Krueger’s claw hand makes a cameo appearance above the door in the tool shed! It was to honor Wes Craven, and is a call-back to the first film being a New Line Cinema property. 
  • Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were childhood friends, and the tape recorder used in the movie belonged to Campbell’s father. Back when Raimi was making super 8 films with his friends, they would record sound effects on the tape recorder for the films. The same recorder was used in both The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II.

It’s probably safe to say that there is no other movie like Evil Dead II. This project, like the entire franchise, was a labor of love from start to finish. Not only is it an imaginative gore-fest with lots of comedic relief, it’s also a testament to the friendship between its creators and the vision they had as a team. 

Evil Dead II is a sequel AND a remake. It’s a horror film AND a dark comedy. This wild ride is one of the most entertaining and fascinating films we’ve ever seen. In summation, it’s pretty fucking groovy to say the least. 


This Case Was Based on a True Story

Has this ever happened to you: you’re sitting in a dark theater about to enjoy the next big summer blockbuster. Then the screen goes dark, and some haunting music alerts you that the next movie trailer is for a horror film. Clutching your popcorn you see flashes of ghosts, demons, jump scares, and shaky cam. You may feel a little creeped until you see the scariest part of all: words flashing on the screen that read, “BASED ON A TRUE STORY.” 

As unbelievable as it seems, many classic horror films were based on actual documented events. Sure, the stories may have changed when they made it to Hollywood, but it’s still creepy to imagine that these horrifying tales were inspired by real experiences. For this week’s episode of Frightening February, we each picked a horror film that was based on or inspired by a true story!

*Some of these stories involve real-life tragedies and violent acts. We do not usually discuss this kind of material on our show, so we wanted to give you a heads up just in case you find the topics of real-life violence and death triggering.* 

JAWS (1975)

  • Movie Synopsis
  • It’s the height of beach season, and the town of Amity Island is terrorized by attacks from a great white shark. As panic threatens to deprive the city of its crucial tourist season, the mayor turns to Martin Brody, the new chief of police, to solve the issue. Brody enlists the help of an oceanographer and a sea-wary fisherman to hunt down the great white menace that has turned the Amity Island shore into a feeding ground.
  • Making of
    • Directed by the one and only Steven Spielberg, Jaws was based on the 1974 novel written by Peter Benchley. Benchley penned the first drafts of the screenplay, and actor-writer Carl Gottlieb, who rewrote the script during principal photography.
    • Before Jaws began filming, Spielberg wanted to direct the film Lucky Lady instead. Studio head Sid Sheinberg basically “ordered” him to make Jaws. If you ask Sheinberg, Spielberg was not happy with the decision and reportedly had the attitude of, “You’re my friend. How can you make me do this fish picture?”
    • Spielberg ultimately agreed to shoot the film. He decided to film on the Atlantic Ocean, hindering production and creating logistical difficulties, equipment issues, and weather-related delays. Because of this, Jaws took more than twice as long to make as planned and cost nearly four times the original budget. The film’s box office success proved that Spielberg’s creative decision was worth the risk. He explained, “Lake water, pond water, tank water … [don’t] have the same texture or violence that the ocean has. This needed to be a convincing story about a great white shark because if it wasn’t, no one would believe it.”
  • The Original Stories
    • Author Peter Benchley had a lifelong fascination with sharks and was inspired to write the novel after reading about an estimated 4,500-pound great white shark caught by Frank Mundus in 1964. Mundus started “Monster Fishing,” an activity that began at the port at Lake Montauk. Mundus caught the enormous great white shark by harpoon. Later in 1986, he and Donnie Braddick caught a 3,427-pound great white about 28 miles off Montauk, which still holds the record (not credited by the International Game Fish Association) for the largest fish of any kind ever caught by rod and reel.
    • The second story is one of, if not the worst maritime disasters in U.S. naval history. On July 29th, 1945, the USS Indianapolis sank due to an explosive chain reaction triggered by a Japanese torpedo. Of the almost 1200 men aboard, 900 made it into the shark-infested water alive. But, their ordeal was just beginning. As the survivors waited for rescue, the sharks fed on the floating bodies. However, the survivors’ struggles in the water attracted more and more sharks. As the days passed, many sailors fell victim to heat and thirst or experienced hallucinations that drew them to drink the seawater around them. This resulted in death by salt poisoning. Without going into too much more gruesome detail of the Indianapolis’ original 1,196-man crew, only 317 remained. The number of men that died from shark attacks ranges from an estimated few dozen to almost 150. It’s impossible to know the actual numbers. Regardless, this event is considered the deadliest shark attack in history. 
    • With the final story, the inspiration for Jaws will finally come into focus. In July of 1916, a 9ft juvenile sea creature, then primarily unknown to scientists, briefly replaced the Great War in newspaper headlines. 
    • From July 1st to the 12th, five swimmers were attacked, and four were killed by a great white shark on the Jersey Shore. The shark’s reign of terror spanned 70 miles along the Atlantic, attacking victims from a beach town north of Atlantic City, all the way to a farm town on an inland creek. The first death occurred in Beach Haven, New Jersey, and involved a recent University of Pennsylvania graduate named Charles Vansant. Unfortunately, people on the beach didn’t realize that he was serious when he screamed for help. Scientists at the time believed that sharks lacked the ‘jaw power’ to bite through human enamel. It was the first recorded fatal shark attack in American history, but no one was aware. Death number two was reported after beachgoers discovered a body bitten in half. Another swimmer was pulled to his death in an estuary as a would-be hero wrestled with the shark and died. Now suddenly, the real-life monster made the front page of The New York Times. Some town mayors denied the attacks, fearful of losing seaside resort income until the horror forced resorts to shutter their doors, and the cities called in scientists for help. 
  • How the Movie was the Same
    • Sound familiar? The 1916 story is almost the spitting image of Jaws. The movie shark has a similar body count, killing four people, including a victim in an estuary. Not only that, but moviegoers watch as a would-be hero wrestles with the shark and dies. True to life, the mayor denies it’s happening to try and protect the tourist dollars. After the fictional ichthyologist struggles to identify the species of the killer, he zeros in on the legendary man-eating monster, Carcharodon carcharias, the great white shark, and even brings up the attacks in 1916. 
    • Even though Peter Benchley says the incident was not the original inspiration for his book, these similarities are undeniable.
  • How the Movie Changed the Story
    • Of course, Hollywood always embellishes stories to make them as entertaining or thrilling as possible. For instance, they attempt to kill the shark with harpoons attached to barrels to keep it from diving. In the movie, Jaws is simply too large and powerful for this to work. A super behemoth of a shark can even pull the fishing boat backward. However, this is how Frank Mundus caught his 4,500-pound monster back in 1964. The movie required a more exciting and explosive way to deal with Jaws.
    • Additionally, in the true story, the scientists and fishermen tasked with catching the shark in 1916 were not killed in the process. The four earlier victims were all the shark got to before meeting its own fate. 
  • What Impact the Movie Had
    • For a film almost 50 years old, Jaws continues to deliver to audiences old and new alike. Jaws is firmly the apex predator when it comes to any other shark film. Jaws inspired many horror films. In fact, the script for Ridley Scott’s 1979 science fiction film Alien was pitched to studio executives as “Jaws in space.” 
    • The film was vital in establishing the benefits of a vast national release backed by heavy television advertising and played a significant part in establishing summer as the prime season for releasing studios’ biggest box-office contenders. Opening a film simultaneously at thousands of theaters and massive media buys are now commonplace for the major Hollywood studios. According to film historian and critic, Peter Biskind, Jaws “diminished the importance of print reviews, making it virtually impossible for a film to build slowly, finding its audience by dint of mere quality. … Moreover, Jaws whet corporate appetites for big profits quickly, which is to say, studios wanted every film to be Jaws.” 
    • Jaws might be the prototypical blockbuster, a feat of studio genius and marketing as well as Spielberg’s filmmaking. Considered one of the greatest films ever made, Jaws was a defining moment in motion picture history.


Whether you’re a fan of horror or not, you likely have heard of the Amityville Horror. The infamous house on Ocean Avenue along the coast of Long Island was the site of an incredibly tragic murder. That much is indisputable. The story that took place beyond that has certainly faced its fair share of skepticism. Multiple films follow the story of the Lutz family, but I am going to focus on the one that premiered in 1979. 

  • George and Kathy Lutz move into a large house on the coast of Long Island, New York, with their three children. Their new home is quite the fixer-upper, and even though the real estate agent has disclosed that the previous family had been murdered, the Lutzes move in anyway. Not long after, their daughter starts playing with an imaginary friend, George starts to act strange, and the house’s past seemingly comes back to haunt them. 
    • Stuart Rosenburg directed the film with a screenplay written by Sandor Stern. After the alleged hauntings in December of 1975, George and Kathy Lutz approached a screenwriter named Jay Anson, who wrote a book about their experiences. It was a best-seller, and he eventually sold the film rights for over $200,000 to American International Pictures. Actor James Brolin was cast as the lead, and the film began shooting sometime in the fall of 1978. 
    • The actual home was not used in the film, as it did not have a good layout for filming and because the current residents and the people of Amityville did not wish for more publicity. In fact, the house owners sued the book publisher for invasion of privacy, claiming that the book was not fact-checked and their home had turned into a tourist attraction. 
  • The Original Story
    • On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings around 3:15 in the morning. Initially, he did not report the murders until the next day, when he ran into a bar and declared that his parents had been shot. Shortly after being taken into custody for his protection, DeFeo confessed to committing the homicide. Many facts about the crime didn’t seem to add up. For example, no one in the house seemed to hear the murders, as all victims were found face-down in bed. No neighbors reported hearing shots either. Toxicology reports suggested no sedatives were used, although DeFea claimed otherwise. His story often changed in the subsequent years. 
    • Just about a year later, on December 18, 1975, the Lutz family moved in. The seemingly paranormal experiences that followed for the next 28 days would become the topic of a book written by Jay Anson. It started with the family priest who came to bless the home. After entering the house, he reported that he heard a man’s voice yell to get out. He turned around to find he was alone. Afterward, his car stalled suddenly along the side of the road after the hood and door swung open and the windshield shattered. He called another priest for a ride home. After being dropped off, his friend called to tell him that he was also experiencing strange car trouble after giving him a ride. 
    • Also, on the first day, the family dog somehow jumped over the fence and almost died from strangulation. George and his son were able to rescue the dog in time. Even though the dog is a prominent character in the movie, this scene is not depicted. George Lutz claimed to experience a lot of strange phenomena. He supposedly awoke at 3:15 AM (the approximate time of the murders) for several nights in a row. He witnessed a figure by the boathouse that disrupted the family dog. He also never seemed to feel warm in the home and became obsessed with fueling the fireplace. This detail is another piece of the story featured prominently in the movie. 
    • As the month went on, the family experienced more events like toilets filling with a dark substance, foul-smelling air, nightmares of the murders, and an upside-down crucifix. One of the nights when George went to check the boathouse, he saw his five-year-old daughter standing in the window watching him, with a pig’s face behind her. 
    • The family priest had a bad feeling about one of the rooms in the Lutz’ house, so he called. The phone cut out during the call, but the Lutzes took the warning seriously. When they told the kids, Missy explained that they couldn’t go in that room because her imaginary friend, Jody, was in there. Eventually, the Lutz family had enough. They ran out of their home after 28 days and stayed with Kathy’s mother. But even after leaving the house, they experienced floating above their beds and slime coming up the stairs after them. They reportedly moved to California to get far away from their home. 
    • After the publication of The Amityville Horror, many of these claims were seemingly debunked. In 1979, the attorney for Ron Defeo Jr. claimed that he and the Lutzes created the story together over some wine. He said he wanted to write a book with them, but they cut him out of the deal and found another writer. Furthermore, several publications began investigating all the claims in the book and found a lot of discrepancies. It appeared that the Lutzes had not contacted the Catholic church during their ordeal, which was a big part of the story. 
    • In later years, Daniel Lutz, the oldest of the three children, claimed that the hauntings did happen but were caused by evil spirits drawn to George Lutz and his dabbling of the occult. 
  • How the Movie Changed the Story
    • As you can imagine, the Amityville Horror from 1979 added story elements and visuals to make the story more exciting to viewers. Although many feel that the Lutz’ story is too unbelievable, to begin with, the film and its remakes expanded further. For starters, the film depicts the family priest entering the house, hearing the disembodied “get out!” and receiving boils on his hands. However, the film also shows him locked in a room that immediately fills with flies. No one has ever claimed that this occurred. The priest suffers from several afflictions on screen and is blinded by the spirits. Although a real-life priest claimed to suffer various torments, this was not one of them.
    • Screenwriters completely fabricated one of the most famous scenes in the film. It features the babysitter, Jackie, getting locked in the closet by Jodie, the invisible imaginary friend of the Lutz’s young daughter. She knocks so hard that her hands bleed until the parents come home and let her out. 
    • In their book, both George and Kathy Lutz claimed that the house was built on indigenous land, near a place where the Shinnecock Tribe would leave dying loved ones. The film expresses this information, but the Shinnecock did not live in the Amityville area and did not abandon their sick and elderly loved ones. 
  • Initially, The Amityville Horror was meant to be a made-for-TV film but ended up being the second highest-grossing film of the year and the highest-grossing independent film until 1990. It broke ground as one of the first truly popular haunted house films. It not only inspired several remakes and sequels, but it also inspired a lot of haunted house media. Critics seemingly despised the film, although it was uplifted by over-the-top performances and the draw from basing a horror film on “true events,” no matter how questioned those events may be. 


A Nightmare Before Elm Street

  • Dreams fascinate everyone. They have gripped humanity for years across many religions and cultures. In the Bible, Joseph has dreams that foretell of his future: where his brothers bow down to him. Not only did he have dreams, but he also interpreted the dreams of others. Historically the dreams of Kings, royalty, and Pharaohs tended to be deemed more important, and many ancient civilizations have believed in the powers of dreams. But what happens when those dreams turn sour and become a nightmare?   
  • Movie Synopsis
    • Teens in Springwood, Ohio, have dreams that seem similar. A particular nightmarish character comes after them. When one of the young girls dies after falling asleep and having another nightmare, it is up to the others to find out what is really going on and try to stop it from happening to them.
    • Who directed it, who wrote it?
      • Wes Craven was the director and writer for the film.
      • Fun Fact: Every studio before New Line had rejected it. Wes has since even framed and hung the rejection from Universal on the wall in his office. 
    • Why they made it (if you can find it)
      • The first movie that Wes Craven was able to write and direct was a famous movie called The Last House on the Left. The backers of this movie had wanted a scary movie, and so he and Sean Cunningham (who had hired him) made Last House on the Left.
        • Before this, he had never thought of doing a horror movie; it’s not what he set out to do, especially being raised in a strict Protestant household. However, after the success of two films, he was able to take six months off and focus on the horror genre. 
          • He took this time to write and refine A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • The Original Story
    • Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome
      • In a 2014 interview with Vulture magazine, Wes Craven recounted the most prominent real-life inspiration for the film. He said, “I’d read an article in the L.A. Times about a family who had escaped the Killing Fields in Cambodia and managed to get to the U.S. Things were fine, and then suddenly the young son was having very disturbing nightmares. He told his parents he was afraid that if he slept, the thing chasing him would get him, so he tried to stay awake for days at a time. When he finally fell asleep, his parents thought this crisis was over. Then they heard screams in the middle of the night. By the time they got to him, he was dead. He died in the middle of a nightmare. Here was a youngster having a vision of a horror that everyone older was denying.” 
      • A little background Information
        • The Vietnam War was a brutal conflict. Some people were disrespectful towards those that fought because they disagreed with the war. Our American soldiers were able to come home to the soil with which they were familiar. Unfortunately, some of our Allies did not have the same opportunity. 
          • America fought against Communism in Laos and were limited to bombing from above because the Geneva Accords made it illegal to send troops on land. The CIA made plans to arm civilians in Laos to circumvent this rule. To achieve this, the CIA exploited the unease between the minority Hmong hill dwellers and the lowland Lao majority. They persuaded the minority to help secretly with the promise of good pay and resources. So many of their people perished within the fights, many saying that more lives were lost than American lives. When America pulled out of Vietnam, General Vang Pao, a CIA recruiter and Hmong native himself, knew that swift revenge would be on those who had opposed Communism. He took control and helped the CIA arrange for 3,500 Hmong residents to be evacuated via three airplanes. The rest of the people fled by foot, approximately 40,000 of which not all made it to Thailand. 
          • Those who escaped to America encountered a large culture shock, as they weren’t familiar with 24-hour drive-thrus and other facets of American life.
            • According to, as of 1975, when the war ended, more than 200,000 Hmong refugees that traveled to America. Many settled in Minnesota, Seattle, Portland, Iowa, and Orange County California. 
      • During the 1980’s a strange occurrence began happening. A (usually healthy 20-30 male) Hmong would have loud labored breathing during sleep and then would pass away. Wes Craven read several articles about this happening and was inspired. He thought about different reasons why this could have happened and thought that the dream had killed the men. 
      • Here are just some of the articles that may have influenced Wes.
    • By the end of 1981 the CDC had identified 35 cases of Hmong deaths in the U.S. from this unexplained phenomenon. 
    • We always want to make sense of the unexplained and so one reason many thought that this could be happening was a mixture of culture shock, stress, and PTSD. Still, others believe it could have been delayed effects of the chemical warfare that the North Vietnamese employed.  
  • How the Movie Changed the Story or Stayed the Same
    • A Nightmare on Elm Street did not necessarily change the story. Instead it took a simple idea of dying while screaming or struggling to breathe and expanded it, creating a singular character to fear that turns nightmares to death.    
    • FREDDY is the name of a kid that would often beat up Wes as a kid.
      • The name Krueger reminded him of a German name and the war plants in Nazi Germany.
        • It was also an extension of Krueg, who was a character in Last House on the Left.
      • Freddy’s hat was inspired by a man that Wes knew as a child. He wore a similar cap that scared him. 
      • When trying to decide what weapon Freddy would have he watched his cat at the time stretch out their claws and had that aha moment!
    • Lucid dreaming inspired the fact that Nancy could bring back Freddy’s hat.
  • What Impact the Movie Had
    • New Line Cinema was the house that Freddy built. A Nightmare on Elm Street was the first really successful film for the studio. The ending gross revenue was approximately $24 million. 
      • Rob Zombie (an american singer-songwriter) aptly said in the same Vulture magazine article as before that “Freddy Krueger built New Line the same way Frankenstein built Universal. The same way Saw built Lions Gate.”
      • It made it possible for them to later produce The Conjuring movies, the Blade movies, Seven, Lord of the Rings, Final Destination, and more!
      • When they finally acquired Friday the 13th they spent 10 years working on the Freddy vs. Jason movie which was a huge success due to the loyal fans of both franchises.
    • It had a major impact- people loved it and there were several sequels
      • There were even dolls and other toys made. This was pretty crazy and weird when you think about how he is actually a child killer.

Movies are great at reaching inside our brains and stimulating our deepest fears. It’s always nice to flip on the lights and take a deep breath, remembering it was all just a movie. But what happens when the story is true? Well, thankfully, the true stories that inspire scary films are not usually as terrifying as what you see on screen. But if even parts of these fantastic tales are true, what other strange and terrifying phenomena lurk in the unknown?


The Case of George Romero

Well, friends, it’s February, which means it’s cold and dark. But, the good news is that it’s the perfect time to huddle close and tell some scary stories. Once again, we’re dedicating the entire month of February to the most terrifying genre of all: horror! 

It was the late 1960s in Pittsburg, PA when Fred Rogers went to the hospital for a tonsillectomy. As the host of a children’s TV program, Mr. Rogers realized that showing the children at home his experience might help them face their own fears of doctors, hospitals, and surgery. So, he brought with him a young filmmaker named George Romero. Romero had been shooting one of his independent projects in the Pittsburgh area, a grainy black and white feature about ghouls that ate human flesh, but his work with Mr. Rogers was one of his first paying jobs as a director. He grabbed the little equipment he had, including pin lights from the hardware store, and filmed the beloved TV host as he went in for surgery. He later said it was the most terrifying film he ever directed. 

That was just the beginning. George Romero’s talent and ingenuity took him far, as his films broke new ground and redefined horror. He’s often credited as the person responsible for an entire sub-genre of film: zombies. He was a creative force, passionate about independent filmmaking, and responsible for inspiring–and thrilling–countless people across the globe. So grab some popcorn and turn off the lights, it’s time to get scary with George Romero. 


  • George Romero was born in the Bronx, NY on February 4th, 1940 to his parents Anne and George. His mother was Lithuanian, and his father described himself as Castilian, having moved from Spain to Cuba as a child. 
  • Growing up in the 1940s and 50s, George experienced the fears of WWII, like city-wide blackouts in the case of an air raid, and the subsequent terror of a nuclear attack. He was drawn to horror because it scared him in an entertaining way. Being afraid of monsters from another world was an escape compared to the very real and present fears of everyday life. 
  • When George was 11 years old, he saw the first film that ever scared him: 1951’s The Thing From Another World. It was his favorite horror film. However, his all-time favorite movie wasn’t a horror film at all. It was The Tales of Hoffmann, an opera film that was also released in 1951. 
    • Hoffmann introduced George to the possibility of filmmaking as a career. He could see that it had been made on a budget, which showed him that even if he didn’t live in Hollywood or have a huge budget, he could make films too. 
    • The film also introduced Romero to classical music, another one of his lifelong interests. 
  • By the time he was 14, George Romero was already starting his filmmaking career. Armed with his first camera, an 8 mm (some accounts say it was a gift from his parents while George himself said it was his uncle’s camera) he began making his first independent short called, “The Man From the Meteor” 
  • During the shoot, George threw a flaming dummy from the roof of his building, and of course, someone called the police. Here’s what he told NPR about it years later: 
    • “…the man from the meteor was ultimately shot with his own ray gun and fell flaming off the roof where I lived, in Parkchester. And I set fire to a little dummy and dropped it off the roof, having failed to contact the police and let them know I was going to do this. And so, yeah, I was hauled away by the police, and my parents were called. It wasn’t a serious arrest, I didn’t have to spend the night in jail or anything.”
  • After the flaming dummy incident, George’s parents sent him to Suffield Academy, a college prep school in Connecticut, to finish his education. After graduating high school, he studied art, design, and drama at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now known as Carnegie Mellon University. 
    • He worked for the Pittsburg Motion Picture Laboratory, delivering reels to news stations via bicycle. He was sometimes paid in lunch money, but it was generally unpaid work.  
  • While living in Pittsburg and going to school, he produced several independent short films. He graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1960 and teamed up with John Russo and Russ Streiner and others to form “The Latent Image,” a company that produced industrial films and commercials. Using a $20,000 loan from his uncle to get started, The Latent Image survived by making promotions for companies like Iron City Beer and Heinz Ketchup. George Romero was later quoted saying, “Fresh out of college, all we had was a Bolex and a couple of pin lights, the kind with aluminum shades that could be bought at any local hardware store. Actually, that’s not true. That’s not all we had. We also had balls. Balls enough to advertise ourselves as ‘Producers of Industrial Films and Television Commercials.’
  • By the late 1960s, Romero set his sites on full-length features. Before releasing his first feature film, he worked on a since-destroyed project called, Expostulations, a silent anthology film. The film was once complete, fully shot and edited, and featured five segments written by Romero, Rudy Ricci, and Richard Ricci. One segment was called, “A Door Against the Rain” and followed a boy whose grandfather built him a freestanding door. The boy then walks through it to go on adventures. While the project tried to secure a musical score, the audio recording company went bankrupt. Recently, portions of the film have resurfaced, but most of it has been lost. George Romero considered this project to be the real beginning of his film career, as they built elaborate sets and worked with paid actors for the first time. 
  • Like we said earlier, one of Romero’s first paid jobs as a director was with the classic TV series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood! Fred Rogers was one of the first people to hire George, and he was incredibly supportive of his work. If you aren’t a horror fan, you still have likely seen Romero’s work during Mr. Rogers’ “Picture Picture” segments. These were shorts that taught kids how things were made, like lightbulbs and umbrellas. 
    • The Carnegie Mellon University Library quoted George about the experience, saying: He was the first guy who would hire me. Everyone from Pittsburgh who I know from that period, who is still working in the business in any capacity, started with Fred. Fred was so supportive of people.  He was a beautiful guy.
    • Fred Rogers reportedly saw all of Romero’s work in support of his former employee. 
  • Over the course of his life, George Romero married three times:
    • George married Nancy Romero in 1971. They remained married until 1978. 
    • Christine Forrest was Romero’s second wife and starred in some of his projects. Longtime collaborator Stephen King was even inspired to name one of his novels after Christine! They were married from 1980 to 2010.
    • Suzanne Desrocher and George Romero married in 2011 and were together at the time of his death in 2017. She started the George Romero Foundation in his honor. (2011-2017)


  • So before we get into Romero’s most influential works, let’s talk about the zombie in the room. Today, Romero’s name is synonymous with zombies, but the concept of the walking dead existed before he started filmmaking. 
  • As strange as it sounds, George Romero did not set out to redefine zombies. He took pieces of existing lore about flesh-eating creatures and built a new kind of monster with very clear features and rules. 
    • The Romero Zombie is a re-animated human that craves flesh. They are slow-moving and anyone can become one. They can use tools but are able to be destroyed by a shot or a blow to the head. This clear-cut definition is what audiences grab onto while watching the films. When we see a zombie movie, we can yell out “shoot it in the head” before the characters even understand that it’s the only way to kill them. Romero created a list of tropes that make audience members feel more comfortable. 
  • Romero’s zombies were nothing like the Zombies of Haitian lore, another famous type of flesh-eater. This was because Romero didn’t really consider his creations to be zombies at all. In his first living-dead film, they are only referred to as “ghouls.” He and co-writer John Russo needed a chaotic attack that kept the characters confined to a small space throughout the film. Inspired by the vampire creatures of the novel “I Am Legend,” Romero used the concept of bodies that were once human attacking the living. He only started calling his creations zombies because other people did. 


George Romero made many feature films in his lifetime, not to mention the TV series he produced as well. His work evolved over the decades and he showed audiences again and again that there were no bounds to his technical skill and ingenuity. 

    • While balancing paid jobs, George Romero spent weekends filming his first major feature film. George teamed up with John Russo to write the script and started shooting on 35 mm black and white film about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. The film had about $114,000 to work with, the definition of a shoestring budget.
    • The story follows a small group of people hiding in a farmhouse and defending themselves against a hoard of flesh-eating ghouls. Romero loved the story in “I Am Legend,” but he wanted to see that kind of story from a new perspective. That’s why Night of the Living Dead takes place at the very beginning of a zombie apocalypse, as society has not fallen to ruin just yet. 
    • Night of the Living Dead was groundbreaking for many reasons. It’s one of the most well-known and influential independent films ever made. Not only that, George Romero chose to cast Duane Jones as one of the first black leads in a horror film. The film was released in 1968, a turbulent time in America. As youth counterculture was on the rise, Romero’s zombies illustrated the concept of old ideals being gobbled up by a new generation. Racial tensions continued to rise, and the political climate seemed to heavily influence a film where a black man survives a monstrous hoard of mindless flesh-eaters, only to be killed by other humans. 
      • To George, this connection was coincidental, as the character was reportedly written as white in the script, but he thought Duane Jones was the best actor for the role. Audiences immediately made the connection to racism, which is partly why the film is remembered as a cultural landmark of the 1960s. George Romero explained: “There was all that anger and, you know, race riots coming up. When we were driving it to New York to show it to potential distributors, that night in the car, we heard that Martin Luther King had been assassinated.
    • Although George Romero was a big fan of making statements within his works, Night of the Living Dead was not originally meant to be a commentary on racism. In last year’s episode on the history of horror, we quoted George Romero in the documentary “Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue.” He says, “Why do you do horror? Well you do it to upset the uppercut. But in the end it kind of gets set back up again. We kill the monster, and I didn’t wanna do that.” 
    • Sure, Night of the Living Dead is a classic, but how exactly did it create the modern zombie? Well, the film was originally called Night of the Flesh-Eaters, but that title was too similar to a film that already existed. The name was changed last minute, but for some reason, the copyright had been left off the final print. Because of this, the film immediately entered the public domain, and Romero and Russo’s version of zombies was up for grabs for other filmmakers to use. So, modern cinema got very familiar with the concept of slow-moving zombies that could turn humans with just one bite. These creatures are capable of using tools and are autonomous, meaning they act independently. 
  • MARTIN (1977)
    • Martin is about a young man that has a dark secret. He maintains that he is an 84-year-old vampire. He watches women closely and in order to quench his vampire desires, he sedates, rapes, and kills the women using a razor blade to slit their wrists and drink their blood. 
    • Romero wrote and directed this movie, and it was his fifth feature film. 
    • Why it was influential
      • talked about how Romero once again changed a genre. When he made the vampire a human it changed how we view the monster. They said, “A vampire is no longer just a monster to be feared. Rather, it can be anyone looking to overpower and dominate others. No thirst for blood actually necessary.” Martin has no supernatural powers, the only power he has is that over his victims when he drugs, rapes, and kills them.  
      • The film is now often talked of as an underrated film that deserves a viewing. Comments on the trailers show that many people see it as their favorite Romero film and sites say that it was also a favorite of his. Some now see the character Martin as an original incel. Merriam Webster defines Incel as “a person (usually a man) who regards himself or herself as being involuntarily celibate and typically expresses extreme resentment and hostility toward those who are sexually active.” Martin exhibits this mentallity through his social awkwardness all the way to his belief that he is owed blood and more. 
    • Synopsis
      • As zombies increase in numbers during an epidemic, four people, (two S.W.A.T. members and a couple) escape to an abandoned shopping mall in order to make their stand and try to survive. 
    • Why it was influential
      • In Roger Ebert’s review he talks of how brilliantly Romero blended the satire, gore, and humor saying “But, even so, you may be asking, how can I defend this depraved trash? I do not defend it. I praise it. And it is not depraved, although some reviews have seen it that way. It is about depravity.”
      • It struck audiences with a realistic approach to an apocalypse with new broadcasts relaying misinformation while crewmembers leave and openly question the facts being presented by experts on air. 
      • It was a bold statement of consumerism and how people are zombies when it comes to their mindless obsession with objects. The main characters, as the world is falling apart around them, use fancy clothes, food, and objects as distractions. The survivors become consumers. 
    • In order to keep his film vision intact, he released the film as unrated instead of bowing down to The Motion Pictures Association of America (hell yeah!) Despite there not being an MPAA rating, it was still Romero’s most profitable film. 
    • Synopsis
      • Creepshow is a collection of 5 short stories that combine the macabre with humor. It pays homage to the style of 1950’s comic books. It features monsters, bogeymen, a visitor from outer space, bugs, and a corpse that came back for cake. The five tales are “Father’s Day,” “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill,” Something to Tide You Over,” “The Crate,” and  “They’re Creeping Up on You.”  
    • Why it was influential
      • Creepshow paved the way for horror on television such as Tales from the Darkside (by Romero and Richard P. Rubenstein who produced Dawn of the Dead), Monsters (by Rubenstein in 1988), Tales from the Crypt, and several others. 
    • Creepshow was the very first George Romero-Stephen King collaboration, and the beginning of a long professional and personal relationship between the two men. 
      • Romero also adapted another Stephen King novel to film a few years later called The Dark Half.
    • Synopsis
      • Tales from the Darkside aired episodes that dealt with science fiction, horror, the occult, and more. At the end of each episode there would be a twist or moral for the viewer to take in, similar to one of its predecessors, The Twilight Zone but with a much creepier vibe.
    • Why it was influential
      • Following the success of Creepshow 
      • For many horror anthology fans, this is the first series that they remember growing up with. It continued to pave the way for more horror anthology series’, even ones like Are You Afraid of the Dark and Goosebumps. 
    • This film was written and directed by Romero and exemplifies his creativity within the horror genre. 
    • Synopsis
      • Based on a novel by Michael Stewart, the film centers around Allan Mann who is a recent quadriplegic who has lost his former life as an athlete and law student. As he becomes quite depressed a friend and scientist, Geoffrey Fisher, gifts him with a monkey. The monkey is meant to help him, but what Geoffrey does not tell Allan is that he has been injecting the monkey, Ella, with a serum containing human brain tissue. As Allan and Ella form a bond, it turns into a telepathic connection that leads Ella to act out harmful actions towards those that have wronged Allan or those that Ella has become jealous of. 
    • Why it was influential
      • Once again Romero experimented with discussions of the human condition through horror. It has been seen as an experiment in fear and is an exploration into the basic animalistic impulses that are within humans. The monkey acts out the hostilities that Allan would normally suppress. The film was also his first foray out of the independent film world. 
      • It inspired television episodes such as “Girly Edition” on The Simpsons where Homer gets a helper monkey, and the episode “Monkey” on Malcolm in the Middle.
    • For the movie “Monkey Shines” they had to wait for the monkey to be in heat so it would respond well and positively to the actor. The main actor had to be the first male that the monkey saw that day. These were the days when the monkey was the most affectionate and conveyed a strong bond.
  • Romero went on to finish his “dead” series over the course of his career with: 
    • Day of the Dead (1985) 
    • Land of the Dead (2005)
    • Diary of the Dead (2007)
      • With each film, Romero would adapt and incorporate new styles. For Diary of the Dead, he used the found-footage style of filmmaking. 
    • Survival of the Dead (2009)
      • This was Romero’s last zombie film. He declared after Zombieland that he was done with the sub-genre, because it was now a major blockbuster kind of film. 


  • George Romero’s third wife, who was married to him when he passed away, began the George A. Romero Foundation. The Foundation aims to keep his legacy alive and to help those who want to pursue film, especially independent film. The Pioneer Award is given every year to a deserving individual and Scholarships and Fellowships are given as well. The foundation also works to restore and preserve Romero’s past work. 
  • Although you may not think of gaming immediately when you hear George Romero’s name, you can’t help but notice that many villains within games are zombies! 
    • He also participated in a few projects such as the 1998 live action Resident Evil 2 trailer and he also appeared in Call of Duty Black Ops–Zombies. His Dead series also was an influence for those that made the original Resident Evil.


  • George Romero is the definition of cult classic. His films were hardly ever critical darlings, but they made a lasting impact on the horror genre. He was responsible for delighting, inspiring, and terrifying generations of people; and that was award enough for him. 
  • At the New York City Horror Film Festival in 2002, George Romero was given the Life Achievement Award
  • He has a plaque in the Monster Kid Hall of Fame, installed in 2010
  • There is also a Horror Host Hall of Fame Plaque in honor of Night of the Living Dead, placed in 2011
  • He earned the Lon Chaney Award for Excellence in Independent Horror in 2017 at the FANtastic Horror Film Festival (aka FANtastic Fest)
  • He has a atar on The Hollywood Walk of Fame since 2017
  • He earned many other smaller awards for individual films such as Monkey Shines and The Dark Half


  • In July of 2017, George Romero died after a brief but intense battle with lung cancer. Directors, producers, writers, actors, and other members of the film community mourned the loss of this living legend. Stephen King tweeted, “Sad to hear my favorite collaborator–and good old friend–George Romero has died. George, there will never be another like you.”
  • In the film “Clapboard Jungle, George Romero is quoted saying, “You can make a wonderful movie and it never gets seen.” This certainly appears to be true, as there are several Romero works that are essentially non-existent. The Amusement Park was a work that Romero directed in 1973 that wasn’t released until after his death. 
    • The Amusement Park was thought to be lost until it was found, restored, and released in 2019. It was not meant to be a full-on horror movie but instead a PSA on elder abuse and ageism. It was funded by a church and a charity organization. Originally it was meant to be on tv but ended up not being released as it was too intense and shocking (what did they expect?) 
    • Since Romero was an independent filmmaker the amusement park used was West View Park in Pittsburgh which closed within a few years after the short 50-minute film was made. 
    • As with any piece of art, many different meanings can be gleaned from the film. The two most prominent are that the park is a visual metaphor for society, or that the park is a sort of purgatory. 
      • In it, the elderly are taken advantage of financially, denied opportunities due to age, neglected in basic medical treatments, and mocked.
    • Even after his death, Romero surprised audiences with his unique approach to storytelling and expert use of visual metaphors. 

When we hear the name George Romero, we think of zombies. But, the Romero Zombie is just one of the many contributions he made to film. He was an artist, a pacifist determined to illustrate the horrors that the human race inflicts and endures every day, through entertaining visuals and fascinating storylines. George Romero was a true independent. He saw a way to make his vision a reality and he went for it. He didn’t have big budgets or high-profile connections to make his art, and he ended up creating something so fascinating, so vivid and understandable to viewers, that he ended up changing horror–and film–forever. 

George Romero may be gone, but his art is very much alive, ready to be devoured. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

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Yet Another (Brief) Case Around the Campfire

Recently we braved the cold to gather once again around a campfire to share some spooky stories within its glow…

We begin our Anuual Frightening February with Yet Another (Brief) Case Around the Campfire. It was cold in Ohio and we had snow that had recently fallen and covered the grass around us.

The poem that Adam read called Who’s That can be found HERE

Listen to our episode to hear about spooky forests, haunted houses, rocking chairs, strange object appearances, and more!

Check out the extended episode as a patron on Patreon!

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!

The Case of Sing Street

Hey Cassettes, and welcome back to the BCD!

Just for a moment, allow us to take you back to one of the most uncomfortable times in your life: your teenage years. Were you awkward? Did you hate the way you looked? Maybe you had bullies that made your life hell, or perhaps you had problems at home? And while you navigated the confusing landscape of life between childhood and adulthood, maybe you longed for control, or a sense of belonging, or maybe even an escape. But, as long as you could put your headphones on, turn on the radio, or drop the needle on your favorite record, you knew that everything would be OK. 

This is what the movie Sing Street is all about. Written and Directed by John Carney, this film follows teenager Conor Lawler as he and his friends start a band in 1980s Ireland. Filled with catchy, original songs, Sin Street flawlessly blends music and narrative to tell a moving story about friendship, brotherhood, and the freeing power of music. 

So, this week we’re traveling back to the 1980s to pet some bunnies, play some music and learn all about Sing Street. 


Due to money issues, Conor Lawler’s parents have transferred him to the Christian Brothers School on Synge Street. While enduring his first day of unruly classes, strict teachers, and school bullies, Conor notices a girl named Rafina standing across the street. When he approaches her, she tells him she’s a model. Desperate to get her number, Conor lies and tells her he’s in a band that needs a model for a music video. After Rafina agrees to the video, Conor and his new and only friend hurriedly put together a band under the guidance and influence of Conor’s music-loving older Brother, Brendan.  


  • John Carney is an Irish musician and filmmaker known for award-winning films like Once and Begin Again. His movies are notable for blending music with the plot, and all have connections to Carney’s life. 
    • Sing Street is loosely based on Carney’s childhood. Like Conor, he attended the Christian Brothers School on Synge Street CBS. To gain respect from teachers and bullies, Carney formed a band with his friends. 
    • Eventually, Carney became a founding member of an Irish rock band called “The Frames.” When he was about 20 years old, Carney made the difficult decision to leave the band and pursue filmmaking. He knew that the band would only become more popular, and staying in it would cement his career as a rock musician. But Carney wanted to explore filmmaking even though it meant that he would be broke and have to start from scratch. His career seemed to take off after he and his brother co-wrote and directed the successful TV series Bachelor’s Walk. When Carney made the film Once, he cast his former bandmate and lead singer of Frames as a lead. 
    • Carney considers Sing Street to be his most honest film, not necessarily because it is so autobiographical, but because it represents how he was feeling at this time in his life. He didn’t want the story to be colored by an adult perspective, he wanted to genuinely show the experiences of kids and not in a retrospective way. As he explained to Den of Geek, “I wanted it to feel that the kids in the film were making the film.” 
  • Filmed on location in Dublin, Ireland
    • Like we said before, Sing Street is based on a real place- the Christian Brothers school in Dublin by the name of Synge Street CBS. The actual building was founded in 1864 and is a well-known and established place. 
    • Not only did John Carney attend this school but other successful people as well such as Hot Press founder Niall Stokes, broadcaster Gay Byrne, and Jim Norton who is an actor in the show “Father Ted.” Even Ferdia’s father (Ferdia played Conor) attended the school. 
    • When asked about how he felt returning, Carney said “It was like a prisoner coming back to Alcatraz now that it’s a sort of a tourist spot. School to me was like a prison. I didn’t want to go and I was a fish out of water. I wasn’t a good student. So it felt very much like restraint. So it was kind of funny being back in a position of complete authority from one of completely subservient student life, you know, 30 years earlier.”
    • Since the 1980s, when this film was set, the school has changed to become more progressive, inclusive, and boastful of wonderful teachers and excellent academic records. 
  • The Cinematography 
    • The cinematographer for this film was Yaron Orbach. He has worked with John Carney on his previous film, “Begin Again.” He also was the cinematographer for 13 episodes of “Orange is the New Black.”
    • Some of the most compelling visual elements of the movie are the music videos created by the band. Orbach flawlessly recreated the look and feel of home movies and blended them with the top-notch visuals created by the modern cameras used to shoot the film.  The movie was shot on film & digital using an ARRICAM Lite (LT) Camera and a Red Epic Camera. 
  • Costume Design 
    • Tiziana Corvisieri designed the costumes for the film. The challenge was to recreate the 1980s DIY counterculture punk aesthetic, as kids would throw together makeshift outfits as a form of rebellion. The audience needed to believe that these teenagers were putting their outfits together at home, which means they couldn’t look polished or streamlined. Corvisieri delivered a collection of imperfect masterpieces for Conor and his bandmates. 
  • Casting the band
    • Before Sing Street, John Carney made a film in America with big-name actors like Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo. Carney didn’t enjoy the fame aspect of huge premieres and the headache of the paparazzi, so for his next film he decided to work with a group of fairly unknown actors instead. Casting kids that weren’t established musicians or actors helped reinforce the fantasy that these were average kids writing and playing music. 
    • Ferdia Walsh-Peelo plays Conor, the lead character dealing with a turbulent home life and the trials of a new school. Ferdia was one of the first kids to audition for the part, and John Carney later admitted that he originally thought he could find someone better for the role. The original plan was to find an actor that could pull off playing the part of a musician, but Ferdia was more of a musician than an actor. When the final cast had been put together, the band was made up of musicians that had little to no acting experience. Since Sing Street, Ferdia has starred in the series Vikings as King Alfred.
    • Mark McKenna plays Eamon, Conor’s bandmate and fellow songwriter with an obsession with bunnies. Since this film, McKenna has gone on play Simon Kellerher in the series, One of Us is Lying. 
      • Eamon and Conor quickly become very close, writing music together for the band. This character was actually based on one of Carney’s friends who is also named Eamon, and who also loved bunnies! He is the real-life Sing Street bassist. 
    • Ben Carolan plays Darren, the first friend that Conor makes at school. Darren becomes the band’s manager and films the music videos.
      • Carolan appears in the series Kin with Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy (who play Conor’s parents in Sing Street)!
    • Lucy Boynton plays Raphina, the girl that inspires Conor to start the band. Boynton is six years older than Ferdia, making her 21 while filming. She has appeared in major films like Bohemian Rhapsody and Murder on the Orient Express. 
      • Lucy mailed in her audition on tape and it soon became obvious that she had great chemistry with Ferdia. Raphina   
    • Percy Chamburuka plays Ngig, the bandmate on the keyboard in the film. Chamburuka hasn’t acted much since this film, but pursued a career in music and is now a rapper known as Jafaris. 
    • Karl Rice as Garry and Conor Hamilton as Larry round out the band. Rice appeared in the film Let the Wrong One In, and Hamilton has continued his career as a musician. 

We love Sing Street for many reasons, but what really lifts this film up is the collection of original songs. Written and composed by Gary Clarke and John Carney, each song in the film mimics a certain 1980s style of music. The goal was to create songs that were recognizable but were also completely brand new. Gary Clarke is a well-known Scottish musician known for the bands Danny Wilson, King L, and Transister. John Carney was a fan of Clarke’s music in the 1980s and felt he was the perfect choice to write the music for Sing Street. He claims that Clarke wrote most of the songs with a little inspiration from Carney, but Clarke says that Carney is just being modest. 

  • The Riddle of the Model
    • Sing Street begins with a focus on Conor and his family. His parents are on the verge of separating and money is tight. The strongest relationship Conor has is with his brother, Brendan, played by Jack Reynor. Reynor also starred in the hugely popular film Midsommar. 
      • Brendan and Conor bond over music, as Brendan introduces his brother to new bands and styles. 
      • Conor and his band first try to cover a Duran Duran song before writing their own. Brendan breaks the recording of their cover, declaring that Conor can’t expect to win over a girl with someone else’s art. 
    • The Riddle of the Model is the first song that Conor and Eamon write together, and it’s inspired by artists like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode and calls back to the New Romance style popular in the early 1980s. 
    • John Carney thought The Riddle of the Model was the perfect name for a young teenager’s song because it is just pretentious enough for a teen to create.
  • Up
    • In 1980s Ireland it was illegal to get divorced. It was also easier financially for couples to stay together even if it meant that they were unhappy. Conor’s parents are constantly fighting, and tensions are high at home. In contrast, Conor is completely infatuated with Raphina, even though she already has a boyfriend. 
    • After hearing their mother and father having an argument, Brendan tells Conor that he thinks she is having an affair. Conor promptly grabs the records Brendan lent him and goes to visit Eamon. Together, they write the song Up. 
    • The records in this scene are Joe Jackson, The Police, and The Jam. The song is so beautiful, it moves Raphina to tears when she hears it. 
  • A Beautiful Sea
    • Being in the band has given Conor new confidence that he didn’t have before. He doesn’t want to fade into the background and follow the rules. Instead, he prefers to stand out and express himself however he chooses. After all, rock and roll is a risk. 
    • Appearing at school in make-up and dyed hair, Conor is met with an angry reaction from the headmaster, Brother Baxter. Baxter demands Conor wash his make-up off, but Conor refuses because there are no rules saying he can’t wear it. In a fit of power-hungry rage, Baxter forces Conor’s head under running water and wipes his face clean.
    • This encounter doesn’t deter Conor from pursuing his music, and after some influence from Brendan and Raphina, decides to try out a new “happy-sad” sound. 
      • Conor and Raphina’s relationship continues to blossom. She waits for him to get out of school and he continues to write songs about her. As the characters learn to become their true selves around each other, Conor puts on more make-up, and Raphina puts on less. 
    • A Beautiful Sea is inspired by the Cure, especially the record The Head on the Door. 
    • For the music video, Conor has the original idea that the girl commits suicide by jumping into the water. Raphina suggests instead that she is actually a mermaid that misses her friends and so she returns to the Sea. 
      • Conor tells Raphina to pretend to jump in the water during the music video. Even though she can’t swim, Raphina actually jumps in, forcing Conor to save her. Afterward, he asks her why she did that. She tells him it was for the art, and you can never do it by half. So, he takes the chance to kiss her.
  • Drive It Like You Stole It
    • Possibly the most popular song from the film is Drive it Like You Stole It. The song exemplifies the movie’s message of seizing control of your own life, no matter the circumstances you’re currently facing. 
    • Conor first gets the idea for the song while he and his siblings attempt to drown out the sounds of their parents fighting with the Hall and Oates song, Maneater. As they’re dancing in his room, Conor’s brother Brendan says to him, “This is the life, Conor. Drive it like you stole it.” 
    • When it comes time to film the music video, we no longer see the 1980s equipment and makeshift costumes. Instead, the audience sees what Conor’s vision was for the video: an American prom scene with influences from Back to the Future and West Side Story. 
    • The contrast between Conor’s imagination and his reality shows the height of his ambition and foreshadows why he can’t stay where he is if he wants to achieve his dreams. 

Conor decides that the best next step for the band is to play at the end-of-term disco. He invites everyone he can think of–Brendan, his parents, and Raphina. Watching Conor become more involved in his music has taken a toll on Brendan, and he loses his temper when Conor brings up the gig. He explains that he paved the way for his brother, and he laments the fact that in his own eyes, he hasn’t lived up to his potential. 

The three songs the band plays at the disco are: Girls, To Find You, and Brown Shoes. 

  • Girls
    • Conor starts writing this song during the film after his art teacher asks if Raphina is his girlfriend. He answers yes, but promptly takes it back and says she’s just a model that he knows. The teacher replies simply, “All the complicated girls and boys.” 
  • To Find You
    • At the disco, Conor wants to play a slow song. All of his bandmates protest except for Eamon, and the group launches into a ballad called, To Find You. 
    • Conor and Eamon write the song about his relationship with Raphina after she leaves town with another boyfriend and insults Conor. While writing it, Eamon and Conor discuss destiny and finding their way out of Dublin, foreshadowing the end of the movie. 
  • Brown Shoes 
    • Brown Shoes is the final, show-stopping number to close out the dance. The song is about Conor’s disdain for Brother Baxter and the authority of the school. Before the disco, he and his bandmates made dozens of Brother Baxter masks for the students to wear during the song. The number is the ultimate rebellion and pretty much guarantees that the band will never be allowed to play at school again.
    • Possibly a little inspired by Pop Muzik by M and Motorhead’s Stay Clean, Conor begins writing this song halfway through the movie. It is something that is on his mind and he is dealing with it every day at school.
  • Go Now
    • The movie ends on a more introspective and dreamlike note, as the final song is not sung by the band, but by Adam Levine of Maroon 5. 
    • After the gig, Conor leaves his band behind to run home with Raphina. The two wake Brendan and ask for a ride to the docks so they can take a boat to London and try to make it there on their own. With enthusiastic support, Brendan gets them to the dock safely and hands Conor some song lyrics he wrote. As he watches his brother take the chance that he wishes he would have taken, Brendan throws his arms in the air with excitement and pride. 
      • Conor and Brendan’s relationship was inspired by John Carney’s relationship with his brother. He explained that parents have an idea of who their children should be, but older siblings allow their younger siblings to be themselves. 
    • John Carney wanted the end of the film to be ambiguous. He told Tasha Robinson of The Verge after the film was released: I sort of hoped the scene at the end would look a little like a fantasy sequence. You’re supposed to wonder where the reality ends and the pop video begins. But people are actually taking it very seriously, and people are presuming it’s fully real, which is interesting. That wasn’t the intention.”


  • Don Wycherly as Brother Baxter 
    • Wycherly also appeared in Carney’s TV series Bachelor’s Walk and also guest-starred in a couple of episodes of Moone Boy. 
    • John Carney praised Wycherly’s performance as the thuggish and tyrannical Brother Baxter and admitted that he also had a teacher at Synge Street that was just as rough with the kids. In fact, a story circulated that a former schoolboy saw this teacher waiting in line at the movies once and just punched him in the face in retaliation for the years of abuse he inflicted. 
  • Ian Kenny as Barry 
    • Barry is Conor’s main bully and makes his life hell at Sing Street. The film shows that Barry has an incredibly difficult home life, which could be partly why he acts out at school. Conor and his bandmates recognize the power that music has of bringing people together, so they recruit Barry to be their roadie near the end of the film. This gives him an outlet and includes him in the fun. 
    • Kenny currently plays Declan in the TV series Red Election
  • Aiden Gillen as Robert (Conor’s father) 
    • Gillen is likely most well-known for his role as Little Finger in the HBO series Game of Thrones. 
  • Maria Doyle Kennedy as Penny (Conor’s mother) 
    • Kennedy is an Irish actress known for roles like Siobhan Sadler in Orphan Black, and recently voiced Moll MacTíre (Mebh’s mother) in Wolfwalkers!
  • Kelly Thornton as Ann (Conor’s sister) 
    • Thornton starred in the 2013 film Life’s a Breeze and has starred in several short films since Sing Street. 


  • The film was pretty well received in the United States. It received several nominations and won some awards too. Included in the awards won were:
    • Chlotrudis Award for Best Use of Music in a film
    • Faro Island Film Festival Award Golden Moon Award for Best Screenplay
    • International Online Cinema Halfway Award for Best Original Song (Drive it Like You Stole It)
    • Irish Film and Television Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jack Reynor) 
    • Nashville Film Festival 
    • It was in the top ten Independent Films from the USA National Board of Review
    • It won some other awards as well including a Southwest Airlines Audience Award


  • The film was adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical!
  • When interviewed about the movie Americans always asked about the bunnies in the film but Irish audiences did not. 
  • Some of Carney’s old bandmates from “The Frames” came and met the young band actors in the film.

Sing Street has something for everyone. It’s a heartwarming story about the trials of coming of age and finding where you belong. Not only can audiences connect with the nostalgic music, but there’s also an honesty that we all can identify with. Sing Street is one of those true stories that never actually happened. The feeling, the tone, the experience are all very real, even though the events and characters aren’t. 

Many films tell coming-of-age stories, but this is a movie that immerses you in a moment that you may have forgotten (or at least tried to forget). It reminds us of the people and events that helped us become the people we are today. And watching Conor embrace his talents, make friends, discover his worth, and fight for his dreams, inspires us all to drive it like we stole it. 

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The Case of Betty White

Hey Cassettes and welcome back to the Black Case Diaries!

It’s 1939. Two high Beverly Hills high school seniors, a boy, and a girl, head down to channel 13, a local station in Los Angeles to participate in an experimental TV transmission. They step into the studio with tan make-up and dark brown lipstick so that their faces won’t be washed out under the intense lights from the studio. The young man was Harry Bennett, the senior class president. The young lady was Betty White, and unbeknownst to her, this transmission is the beginning of one of the longest careers in television history.

Every once in a while there’s a person in the film industry that blows everyone away. These are the kind of people that are universally beloved for their kindness, humor, creativity, and groundbreaking work. Up until December 31st, 2021, there was no living person in show business more beloved than Betty White. From her countless appearances in TV, film, radio, and commercials to her dedication to the well-being of animals, Betty White never really disappeared from our collective minds. As the global pandemic raged, the internet called out in unison: protect Betty White at all costs! She was America’s grandmother and by all accounts a friend to everyone who knew her. 

When Betty White passed away, she was so close to her hundredth birthday that People magazine already celebrated it on the cover. Her birthday celebration was slated to premiere in theaters. So, this month, we’re celebrating the 100th birthday of a comedy and TV legend by telling her story. 


Betty and husband Alan Ludden
  • On January 17th, 1922 Betty Marion White was born in Oak Park Illinois. Shortly after, her parents Tess and Horace White moved with their young daughter to Los Angeles, California. Moving to California had a great effect on Betty, and placed her on course for a long and wonderful life. Many of her decisions would be based around her love of living in The Golden State.   
  • Tess and Horace White loved animals, and passed that passion on to their daughter. Every summer they would go backpacking in the High Sierras together for 3 weeks. It sparked Betty’s love of animals greatly. She joked that her parents would bring animals home and beg her to let them keep their new furry friends.
  • Betty White described her parents as completely supportive in everything she did, even when she decided not to go to college. 
  • As Betty was growing up in California in the 1920s, experiments in television (the medium that would one-day make her famous) began all over the world, as early as 1928. 
    • At the New York World’s Fair in 1939, NBC presented the first television demonstration to the American public. Just eight years later in 1947, programs were being televised regularly from Chicago and New York.
    • By 1948, this new form of entertainment was sweeping the nation and stars of the small screen were quickly becoming celebrities. Before television, audiences had to head to theaters and concert halls for entertainment. Television made entertainment so much more accessible, and it widened the scope of what kind of entertainment Hollywood could produce. 
  • But, Betty didn’t initially plan on being an actress. Her ambition was to be a writer. When it came time to graduate from Horace Mann Grammar School in Beverly Hills, she wrote herself as the lead of the graduation play. She would credit that experience as the moment when she “contracted showbiz fever for which there is no known cure.” 
  • Betty graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1939, one month after NBC’s television demonstration at the World’s Fair. Also an aspiring Opera singer, Betty was asked to sing at the graduation.
    • She looked up to Jeanette MacDonald as an idol as well as Nelson Eddy. She said they were almost as important as her mother and father.
  • Donning her graduation gown, Betty and the senior class president headed downtown to channel 13 to participate in the experimental broadcast that we mentioned at the beginning of the episode. 
  • But, Betty didn’t immediately begin her TV career out of high school. For 4 years she worked for the American Women’s Voluntary Services to help the war efforts. She met a lot of young men during this time, but her heart belonged to Paul, her sweetheart overseas. Paul had proposed before he shipped out, and every night they wrote each other letters. But, Betty wasn’t sure about the relationship, and eventually broke the engagement, returning the ring to his mother. She ended up marrying a P38 pilot but it sadly lasted only 6 months. Her second marriage would end as she gained a career instead of a part-time gig in television.
  • As Betty White paved her way towards television she spent time at the Bliss-Hayden school of acting. The school charged tuition from its students that allowed them to perform in productions. After her first performance, they asked her to be in the next play for free! From here she diligently went around to the various radio shows, landing radio gigs such as Blondie, The Great Gildersleeve, and This Is Your FBI
    • However, in order to be on the shows you had to be a part of the union, The American Federation of Radio Artists. In order to be a part of the union, you needed to have a specific job (a problem we still face today, amirite?) Producer Fran Van Hartesveldt helped her out by taking a chance and letting her say one word in a commercial for margarine. In order to get her union card she just had to say “Parkay” which was the brand of margarine. For saying it twice, she got enough money to pay for half the union dues and her father was excited and kind enough to pay the other half. She was official. Around 1950, the union expanded to include TV, changing its name to: The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. 
  • Television continued to rise in popularity, and radio stations were expanding into the TV format. Betty followed, landing a guest spot on “The Dick Hayne’s Show” and shortly after a role on a comedy show called “Tom, Dick, and Harry.” From here she got paid a whole $20 a week to be on “Grab Your Phone” in 1949. It was her first game show.
  • Game shows would become a large part of Betty’s career, especially because she loved games. 
    • For example, she loved the gameshow Password, and appeared on the program in 1961. This is where she met her future husband, the host Alan Ludden. 
    • Alan proposed to Betty, but she refused several times in fear that another marriage would not work out. Another reason was that Ludden lived and worked in New York, and Betty could never leave her beloved California. Patiently waiting for her to change her mind, Alan wore the ring around his neck until she said yes. He also sent her a stuffed bunny that simply said “Please say yes” and had earrings hanging from its ears. 
  • Eventually, Betty accepted and lived with him for 4 years in New York. Finally, Password’s taping moved to California and Betty was able to move back home. 


We already mentioned the beginning of Betty’s career, but we’re going to take a deeper look at some of her first projects. 

  • GRAB YOUR PHONE (1949)
    • On this delightful little show on KLAC-tv, host Wes Battersea asked questions to the audience. The audience could then call in to consult a panel of four women with phones in front of them. Every correct answer earned that audience member a total of $5. 
    • During its run in 1949 Betty received a call from a well-known radio host named Al Jarvis. Jarvis had seen her on Grab Your Phone and wanted to make her his “Girl Friday.” This leads us to her next big project: Hollywood on Television. 
  • Al Jarvis was looking to move his radio show to TV. The plan was to play records on the air, but the audience was more interested in Betty and Al, and wanted to hear them talk! They nixed the records after the first week. 
  • Hollywood on Television had no script, and was on 6 days a week, 5.5 hours a day.
    • It was the first time Betty was paid to be on TV. She started out at $50 a week and when it became popular, she got $300 a week
  • Betty was not one to read off of note cards. She and her first costar, Al Jarvis, saw it as cheating. Even for in-show ad reads she would quickly read a description before the show and then impart what she could remember to the audience during the show. 
  • Betty and Al told little husband and wife anecdotes while hosting the show, and the producers wondered if they could make a new TV show based off of these kinds of stories. It became Life With Elizabeth starring Betty White and Del Moore.
    • Betty White was the first female producer of a national television show! She produced and starred in Life with Elizabeth in the early 1950s. The show started in 1950 and aired live for two years. Taping of the episodes began in 1952. It ran during the same era as all-time classics like I love Lucy.
    • The show presented three sketches in each half hour episode, all about the trials and tribulations of a young married couple. 
  • The show didn’t have a big budget, and Betty often said they had about $1.95 for each episode. 
    • There was a flat backdrop with just a few pieces of furniture to work with.
  • The show ended in 1955, as Betty was already producing her next project.
  • The Betty White Show (1954) 
    • In the mid-1950s, Betty produced what would be the first of 4 different Betty White Shows over the years!
    • The show contained segments such as Bill Hamilton singing love duets with Betty, dance numbers, letters from viewers, advice from Betty, and interviews with guests. 
    • Her favorite thing to do was musical variety shows, especially The Carol Burnett Show!


Betty preferred to do television over movies so there are very few movies that we will list here.

    • Mary Richards moves to Minneapolis after a breakup and finds a job as an associate producer for the news on WJM-TV. Her boss, though disliking her determination and energy, relies on her for solving several problems in and out of the station. 
    • The part of Sue Ann Nivens was written with an “icky, sweet Betty White type” in mind. The creators looked for a woman that could pull this off, but they could not find anyone that was perfect. Finally the casting director, Ethel Winant, went to the real deal for the part. Mary Tyler Moore and her husband were already great friends with Betty and her husband Allen. At the time Mary was a beloved actress and audiences already loved her character, Mary Richards. How Mary reacted on the show could make or break a new character. Luckily, since Mary found Sue Ann Nivens funny the audience gladly accepted the character and Betty was asked to come back several times on the show.
    • This was a late night talk show that brought on several stars to interview and show off their talents. 
    • She was an “irregular” on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show. Jack had extended an invitation to her for anytime she was in New York to come on. Since she was such a staple within Jack Paar’s Tonight Show it would be a while before she was asked to come on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. The time would allow Johnny to gain his footing and establish himself apart from his predecessor. 
    • Betty spent three years on The Bold and the Beautiful. She played a very prominent part as Ann Douglas.
    • When we think of Betty we do not often see her as a dramatic actor. In a Tulsa World interview, she said “It’s… such a great stretch because I don’t get the chance to do serious acting,” she enthused. “So, to get some serious things to do was kind of fun.”
    • The Bold and the Beautiful dedicated the Monday, January 17th 2022 episode to Betty.
    • Four women (Rose, Blanche, Dorothy, and her mother Sophia) live together in Miami sharing their eventful Golden Years after their husbands have passed away.
    • Betty almost was cast as the character Blanche in Golden Girls but Jay Sandrich, who shot the pilot, saw her as a Rose. One reason was that he saw Blanche as too similar to Sue Ann Nivens from Mary Tyler Moore. Golden Girls nudged The Cosby Show out of the number 1 slot the first week they were on the air.
    • They were also able to stay in the top ten of tv shows for the first 5 years of the show. Half their mail came from kids! It went across all the age groups, everyone loved it. 
    • After Golden Girls she was approached about doing a talk show but refused to put another talk show on the air for the American people.
  • The Proposal
    • Margaret Tate, in order to avoid deportation back to Canada lies and says that she is engaged to Andrew Paxton. Even though Andrew is a disgruntled employee of Margaret’s he decides to go along with the plan but insists that they must visit his family in Alaska. 
    • This movie brought more attention to her once again, possibly introducing her to even more audience members. In the role, she plays Ryan Reynolds’ outspoken Grandma Annie. For this part, she had to learn some Eskimo. In a New York Daily News article from 2009, she said “It was actually the Tlingit (Klinkit) language-it’s nothing that you can relate to. You have to memorize it syllable by syllable. I’ve been in this business for 61 years, and this may be the most fun I’ve had on one particular production.”
  • Hot in Cleveland
    • Three L.A. women are on their way to a vacation in Paris together when their plane must make an emergency landing in Cleveland, Ohio. When they discover how desirable they are in Cleveland versus L.A. they decide to stay. They find a lovely house to stay at that comes with one condition. That condition is a live-in caretaker named Elka Ostrosky (played by Betty White.)  
    • Originally Betty did not think she would have enough time for the show and had set to only appear in the first episode. After working on that first episode however, she could not turn it down and said she was in for the long haul. 
    • In her book, If You Ask Me Betty says “What absolutely boggles my mind is that I find myself in yet another hit series, having a ball with a wonderful cast and crew. One of those in a lifetime is a blessing, two of them is a privilege, but three out of three? I owe Someone big time.”
    • Many guest stars that appeared on the show were her old friends from past shows. She loved the blend of her past with her future. 


  • As we said before, Betty White was the first female Producer of a National Television Show. She was a trailblazer in many ways, as she’s also considered to be the first woman to star in a live sitcom.
  • Betty White famously refused to remove a dancer from her first variety show as some TV stations in the south complained that he was black. 
    • In the Betty White show she had a wonderful dancer and singer, Arthur Duncan. When it aired, audiences in the south demanded that he be removed. Betty refused, and Arthur would eventually go on to be a regular on The Lawrence Welk Show. Arthur said of the incident, “I was on the show, and they had some letters out of Mississippi and elsewhere that some of the stations would not carry the show if I was permitted to stay on there. Well Betty wrote back and said, ‘Needless to say, we used Arthur Duncan every opportunity we could.”
  • In 1983, Betty was the first woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Host or Hostess in a Game or Audience Participation Show. It was for the game show “Just Men!”
    • Here is a link to the youtube episode, complete with 1980’s commercials!
  • Betty always said she had two passions: acting and animals. Her friend Dr. Rob Hilsenroth said on the Morris Animal Foundation Website, “In the 1990s, [Betty] suggested pain management should be an area of future research and funded the first few studies. Today, if a veterinarian performs an elective surgery, like a spay or neuter without using pain management, she/he could face a malpractice charge. You can thank Betty White for that revolutionary change in the way we practice all phases of veterinary medicine today.”


  • Betty White’s TV career lasted about 75 years. Over the course of this time, she racked up a lot (and we mean a lot) of awards. We’re going to list just a few. 
  • Overall, Betty White has 22 emmy nominations
    • 1952 Emmy for Most Outstanding Female Personality (Life with Elizabeth)
      • The awards were not very big then, with no red carpet or photographers in sight. She was surprised when she found out she won, especially because she thought Zsa Zsa Gabor was going to win for “Bachelor’s Haven.” She lovingly referred to this first award as her first “golden girl.”
    • 1975 Emmy Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Mary Tyler Moore Show)
    • 1976 Emmy for Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Mary Tyler Moore Show)
    • 1986 Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (The Golden Girls)
    • 1996 Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (The John Larroquette Show)
    • In 2010 she won Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series when she hosted SNL. Her hosting was brought about by a Facebook campaign that garnered a lot of support. Lorne Michaels revealed he had asked her 3 times throughout the years but each time she said no. She said that she thought she would not fit on such a New-York oriented show. Luckily for us her agent, Witjas, would not take no for an answer. 
  • In 1988 she got her Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
  • Many other awards as well, including the 1990 Winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy from the American Comedy Awards, the 2010 Winner of a Britannia award for Excellence in Comedy, in 1986 she shared a Golden Apple Award for female star of the year with the other Golden Girls, in 2015 she won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite TV Icon, and so many more. 
  • In January of 2010, Betty White won the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award. Recently a clip of her receiving it from actor Sandra Bullock went viral, as Betty White delivers a hilarious insult to Sandra. 
Betty with her beloved dog Bandit


As a child, Betty grew to love all animals as did her parents. While she was growing up she had dreams of being a zookeeper or forest ranger, but at that time women were limited in what they were allowed to do.  

Betty loved pets so much that in 1971 she had a show called The Pet Set where celebrities would stop by to talk and bring their pets along with them! The show would also discuss important issues such as wildlife preservation, pet care, and more. 

Betty served as a trustee at the Morris Animal Foundation from 1971 to 2013. She was even convinced to be the Board President from 1982-85. Her final gift to the Foundation was The Betty White Wildlife Fund. In 2009, she won a lifetime achievement award from the Jane Goodal Institute. 


Betty’s career never ended as long as she was alive. Her last on-screen appearance was filmed 10 days before her death, and it was for her 100th celebration movie. The film came to theaters for a one-day-only event on Monday, January 17th. 

Six days before December 31st, 2021 Betty had a stroke at 99 years of age. She was just about 2 weeks away from her 100th birthday. She passed away in her Los Angeles home in the Golden State that she so loved. As the world learned of her passing, people everywhere expressed their grief and gratitude. Upon her death, her agent Jeff Witjas released this statement: “Even though Betty was about to be 100, I thought she would live forever. I will miss her terribly and so will the animal world that she loved so much. I don’t think Betty ever feared passing because she always wanted to be with her most beloved husband Allen Ludden. She believed she would be with him again.”

Betty White lived almost 100 years, and never wasted a single second. She was truly remarkable, breaking through barriers and making it look easy. She discovered her passions and seized life. This was a woman that lived her life so well in the eyes of the people around her, that they felt she deserved to live forever. And in many ways, Betty will. Thank you for everything, Betty; for the laughs, the lessons, and of course, for being a friend. 

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The Case of Penelope (2006)

Hello Cassettes, and welcome back to the Black Case Diaries!

Well, today’s episode is actually a fan suggestion! We asked Robin’s sister Becky what she would like us to cover for her birthday this month. She chose the film Penelope starring Christina Ricci and James McAvoy because she feels that it has been looked at unfairly, especially by critics. Well, we love giving movies a second chance here at BCD, so we’re excited to talk about it! Spoilers ahead!!

Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006 and releasing two years later in the United States, Penelope was not exactly well-received. It currently has a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.7 out of 10 on IMDB. Although critics liked the story’s message, they turned up their noses at this film and felt it was a bit all over the place. Penelope didn’t break any box office records but wasn’t a flop, either. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a bit of a hidden gem relegated to discount bins and free streaming services, just waiting to be discovered! 

So today, we will get people talking about the girl born with a pig nose once again. Grab your brightly-colored scarves because it’s time to go exploring with Penelope.


Sometimes, we set out to make an episode on a film and have a difficult time finding information. Penelope is one of those movies that proved to be a challenge in the research department. So, we’ve decided to review the story and give our thoughts on why it deserves another look. Screenwriter Leslie Caveny put together the story to flip the script on the Beauty and the Beast format. She said, “We have enough stories that prove once again that women will love men no matter what and accept them with all their flaws, so I thought we could use a switching of the gender there.” So, here’s the story of Penelope with some making-of information mixed in!

  • “But local legend had it that a curse was put on the Wilhern Family….” 
    • Penelope begins like any fairytale film should, with narration. We first hear the voice of Penelope, played by Christina Ricci. 
      • Ricci is known for her offbeat characters, gaining popularity as Wednesday Addams in Addams Family in 1991 and as Kat in the 1996 film Casper. She is still a prominent TV and film actress. 
      • Ricci didn’t have to audition for Penelope and was instead approached by Reese Witherspoon for the part. The two women had been friends for years, and Ricci said she was quite flattered that Reese thought of her for the role. 
    • Ricci, as Penelope, tells the audience about a curse placed on her family when an ancestor impregnated one of the house servants and subsequently abandoned her. The woman then committed suicide, which inspired her mother, the town witch, to seek revenge by cursing the family thusly: the next Wilhern girl would be born with the face of a pig. The curse would only be broken when one of her kind, a high society blue blood, learned to love her as she was. 
  • “I’m not the one who ran, mother!”
    • Flash forward to the modern-day, as a young British aristocrat attempts to woo Penelope through a two-way mirror. Penelope’s mother and hired matchmaker watch through surveillance cameras as Penelope reveals her face to the man, prompting him to run. 
    • Here we see Penelope’s face for the first time, a relatively cute pig nose that in no way makes Ricci look ugly. This detail upset critics, as Penelope’s “ugliness” is a significant plot point. Stephen Holden of the New York Times said of the film, “The movie’s fundamental flaws begin with Penelope’s appearance. She is supposed to be so hideous that potential suitors dive out of the windows of her family’s London mansion at the first sight of her.” But more on that later. 
      • Penelope was Mark Palanski’s directorial debut, previously assisting on films like Pearl Harbor, The Amityville Horror, and The Island. Reese Witherspoon chose Palanksi for the movie after seeing his work. Palanski felt it was essential to use a prosthetic that didn’t cover up Christina Ricci’s face so she could still emote. There was a range of noses that they could have chosen from, so a hideous option was available. Ricci felt that having an animal nose was bad enough. Making the character ugly would be adding insult to injury. 
      • The pig prosthetic took an hour and a half to put on, and Ricci couldn’t speak during the process. The actor told Cinemablend that this was difficult for her, as she’s a self-proclaimed “compulsive talker.” 
    • This scene also introduces Catherine O’Hara as Penelope’s mother, Jessica, a vain and uppity woman intent on finding a man to break the curse while keeping Penelope in the shadows. 
      • Catherine O’Hara is a much-loved comedic actress, recently winning an Emmy for her role as Moira Rose in the acclaimed series Schitts Creek. 
      • Jessica fills the role of the overprotective guardian that shields the protagonist from the outside world under the guise of having Penelope’s “best interest at heart.” In fairytale terms, think of her as a Mother Gothel from Tangled
        • Jessica makes Penelope’s curse all about herself, bursting into crocodile tears at the prospect of Penelope (pause for dramatic effect) not finding a suitor (collective gasp). Jessica’s so-called suffering only makes Penelope feel guilt and shame, even though she had nothing to do with the way she was born and has no control over how people will perceive her. 
      • Shortly after this sequence, the film introduces Peter Dinklage as a story-hungry reporter named Lemon, hell-bent on exposing the story of the Wilhern baby born with a pig face. In response, Jessica fakes Penelope’s death, then buries and cremates her to ensure that no one would ever ask about her again. 
        • Peter Dinklage is possibly best known for playing Tyrian Lannister on Game of Thrones, which earned him several Emmy awards. He’s also appeared in Elf (2003) and X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)
      • After the suitor runs, we see a montage of suitors jumping through windows to escape the horror of Penelope’s face. We learn that until today, the Wilherns have been able to keep Penelope’s “condition” a secret through gag orders, but now a troubled man is headed to the police station to report seeing a hideous pig-woman. 
  • “I believe that man is with me.”
    • After the local paper reports that Edward, Penelope’s suitor, is having a mental breakdown and claiming to see a pig-faced woman, the man demands that the paper print a retraction. As security escorts Edward out, Lemon invites him into his van, where they two hatch a plan to expose Penelope. Edward is too scared to face Penelope again, so the men hunt down Max Campion, a blue blood gambling addict, and offer him five grand to get a photo of Penelope.
    • Enter James McAvoy, the love interest for the story. McAvoy is a Scottish actor famous for portraying Charles Xavier in the X-Men films and Mr. Tumnus in The Chronicles of Narnia (2005). 
      • Christina Ricci said that McAvoy is a talented actor and an excellent screen partner, and working with him was a great experience. 
      • In an interview, McAvoy broke down his character by saying that he’s just as trapped as Penelope, and the characters inspire each other to grow and change. 
    • McAvoy, as Max Campion, gets rigged up in a coat that will discreetly take a photo of Penelope when she reveals herself. He heads into some sort of group interview with other suitors. When his camera jacket malfunctions, Max dives behind a couch to fix it. Unfortunately for his mission, but fortunately for the plot, Penelope reveals herself just as Max is hiding. The other men run screaming from the house, but Max stays behind, making Penelope and the family think he already saw her face and didn’t run like the others. 
    • Penelope returns to her hidden room to speak to Max, and the two begin to fall in love. During their first conversation, Max admits that he tried to steal a book because he thought it could be worth a lot of money. Penelope then tells him that there are 300 first editions worth over $50,000. Three-hundred times 50,000 is $15 million—the budget for the film!
    • Intrigued by Penelope and still hoping to earn his five grand, Max promises to return the next day. 
  • “You gotta get out of there sometime.” 
    • As Max returns to Penelope, we see a delightful sequence where McAvoy badly plays several instruments, as Penelope tries to figure out what his instrument is. The couple plays chess, and Max tries to convince her to show herself. Finally, Penelope steps out of her room to play piano with Max. He’s shocked when he sees her face and attempts to touch her nose. But when he hears the camera take the photo, he recoils, leading Penelope to believe that she repulses him. 
    • In this scene, Penelope’s mother, Jessica, discovers Max is working with Lemon, although he does not intend to give him the photo after seeing Penelope’s face. Max confronts Penelope, trying to explain himself. But, Penelope surprises him by showing how little she cares about his motives and her happiness. She’s willing to settle to break the curse. 
    • Penelope delivers a heartbreaking marriage proposal, telling Max that he will break the curse if he accepts her, and she will be like anyone else. Max asks what would happen if the curse can’t be broken, and Penelope says, “then I’ll kill myself, I promise I will.” Upon hearing this, Max declares he can’t marry her, and he’s forced out before he can explain. 
  • “I love you, and goodbye.”
    • With Penelope at her all-time low, Jessica wants to continue looking for suitors. So, Penelope breaks out of the house to explore the outside world. 
      • The outside world for Penelope is a timeless and placeless version of London, populated with a mixture of American and British people. Production designer Amanda McArthur developed an urban storybook landscape with locations like the Cloverdilly Pub, which is actually the Crown and Sceptre Pub in London. Here is where Penelope meets Annie, Reese Witherspoon’s character. This film was Witherspoon’s first as a lead producer and actress.
        • Annie helps Penelope experience life until she accidentally reveals herself as THE Penelope from all the newspapers. 
    • Armed with her mother’s credit card and an adorable cobble-stone scarf, Penelope finds housing, makes friends, and essentially thrives. Of course, it takes her parents almost no time to locate her since she’s using their money.
      • Lemon and Edward are still willing to pay five grand for a photo of Penelope, and since she loses her income, she decides to sell her own image to them for a profit. When Penelope calls the pair to make the offer, Peter Dinklage’s Lemon has the most visible character development of anyone in the film in the shortest amount of time. One moment he wants to expose Penelope, the next, he realizes the harm he has caused by treating her as a monster. 
    • Just as Penelope declares her independence from her mother, Max willingly walks away from the poker table. Both characters take massive steps toward their freedom and well-being, utterly independent of each other. This flips another romance trope on its head. Instead of bettering themselves for each other, they focus on their individual happiness. 
  • “They’re not running.” 
    • After Penelope’s parents track her down, Penelope has an episode, fainting at the pub and waking in a hospital room. Here she discovers that word has gotten out, and the public isn’t afraid of her. They love her. Remember that issue the critics had with the film? The detail that Penelope isn’t ugly at all, yet men would fling themselves out of windows to get away from her? It turns out, only high-society, well-bred blue bloods are the ones that do that. Maybe the film exaggerated their reactions to prove that perspective is essential and that tradition and bias can lead us to fear things we shouldn’t. 
    • Penelope’s popularity now poses a problem for Edward, as he has spent the entire film telling everyone that Penelope is grotesque and should be locked away. Edward’s father angrily tells him he needs to fix his mistake to put his name back in good standing. So, Edward decides to propose to Penelope. 
    • Jessica, Penelope’s mother, brings her daughter down again. She tells Penelope that she doesn’t have friends, she has fans, and that everyone only sees her as a talking pig. The only way to fix that is for her to marry Edward. So, Penelope reluctantly accepts. 
  • “Sure took you long enough.”
    • After seeing the proposal in the papers, Lemon checks in with Max Campion for an armed robbery story he heard from a colleague. However, it turns out that Max Campion is actually the hilarious, lovely, and adorable Nick Frost (those are all objective ways to describe him, don’t come at me). Lemon discovers that James McAvoy is playing Johnny Martin, the son of a plumber and former musician who fell victim to gambling addiction. Lemon just thought he was Max Campion because of a misunderstanding. 
    • Lemon tracks down Johnny and asks him why he won’t stop Edward from marrying Penelope. This is where the audience finally discovers that he turned down Penelope because he cannot break the curse, thus not giving her what she wants. So, he lets Penelope marry Edward. 
      • Attempting to undo the harm he’s caused, Lemon tries to stop the wedding by telling Jessica and Wanda (the matchmaker) about the whole scheme and Edward’s involvement. Wanda pleads with Jessica, begging her to stop the wedding now that they know why Max (Johnny) said no because he had to. Jessica refuses, rejecting another chance at redemption for her character. The only thing Jessica cares about is the curse, and not Penelope herself. 
  • I like myself the way I am.”
    • During the wedding vows, Penelope rejects Edward, realizing she can’t marry someone she doesn’t love just to break a curse. Jessica chases Penelope back into the house, begging her to go through with the wedding. Finally, Penelope declares that she doesn’t want to change because she accepts herself as she is. 
    • A rush of wind and magic knocks Penelope down, and she touches her face to find that the curse has been lifted. It turns out that one of her kind could be herself–she lifts the curse by loving who she is independent of anyone else.
      • Christina Ricci said in an interview: “You always fear when you’re making a movie that has a moral to the story that people are going to reject the idea of being taught a lesson. Or you worry that people are going to somehow feel that they’re being talked down to, or that it’s cheesy to make a movie that’s about self-acceptance.” The moral of Penelope is refreshing and ahead of its time. Sure, Penelope accepts who she is, but only after experiencing life for herself. Under the charge of her overbearing and critical mother, Penelope never even considered loving herself. She didn’t break the curse for or because of another person. It turns out that your opinion of yourself matters more than anyone else’s. 
    • And with the curse broken, Jessica has one last chance at redemption, realizing that if she had just accepted her daughter as she was, then the curse would never have been a problem. But, after a very short heart-to-heart, Jessica launches into her critical self again, suggesting that Penelope get a nose job. 
  • “It’s not the power of the curse; it’s the power you give the curse.”
    • During a narrated montage, we see Penelope move out of the home and start a job as a teacher (how?). We also learn that the butler is the witch that cast the curse generations ago, and she then removes Jessica’s voice before walking out on the family. 
    • Wanda alerts Penelope about Max/Johnny and updates her on why he rejected her proposal. So, she heads to the bar where he works for a Halloween party with Annie to confront him. Even though she’s wearing a pig mask (the Penelope costume is big this year), Johnny figures out who she is. The two embrace, and he’s surprised to see that the curse is broken. 
    • Now, the two of them can be together after growing and becoming complete independently. Neither one needs to fix or change the other, and they are free to start a relationship in a much healthier place than before. 


  • Mark Palanski considered this film “low-budget” with only 15 million dollars. He enjoyed the challenge, as it meant that he had to do some creative problem-solving. Worldwide, Penelope pulled in only about $21 million, making back the budget but not enough money to be deemed a success.
  • We already mentioned the critical reception to this film, but it bears repeating. Critics hated Penelope. Or at least heavily disliked it. Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian said, “I can truthfully say that watching this abysmal fantasy-comedy is less rewarding than being slapped across the face with a large wet fish.” 
  • It was challenging to find positive reviews of the film written just after its release, but more recent reviews from independent sources tend to be more favorable. Maybe the world wasn’t ready to embrace Penelope in 2008. Would the film have done better today? 

Penelope is what Reese Witherspoon’s Type A Studio billed it to be. It’s a modern-day fairytale taking place in a surreal universe, with themes of love and acceptance. It employs classic tropes from the romance genre, but there’s a fun twist for every predictable plot. The film has a quirky and magical aesthetic, with a brilliant cast and an entertaining story. Sure, it’s not perfect, and critics had some valid concerns. But, just as Penelope’s blue blood suitors over-reacted to her charming nose, critics seemed a bit unfair to this film. It turns out that Penelope isn’t as hideous as they thought. 


The (Brief) Case Of Babes In Toyland (1986)


In 1903, Producer Fred R. Hamlin and director Julian Mitchell had just found success with their stage musical adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, based on the L. Frank Baum book. Wanting to keep the momentum, the pair wanted to produce another family-oriented musical production. For help, Julian Mitchell turned to Glen MacDonough to help, since he had worked on revisions of the final text for The Wizard of Oz Musical. MacDonough provided an even greater contribution when he brought composer Victor Herbert into the production. The Operetta would be called, “Babes in Toyland,” and it featured  some of Herbert’s most well-known works such as “Toyland” and “March of the Toys.” “Babes in Toyland” opened in New York in October 1903.

Soon after the Operetta, Glen Macdonough and Anna Alice Chapin released a children’s book with full color illustrated pages. 

The original Operetta follows orphaned siblings Alan and Jane. Their wicked Uncle Barnaby, who has become their caretaker, plans to have them lost at sea in order to steal their inheritance. They are luckily rescued and returned to Contrary Mary’s garden.

Since then it has been made into different forms throughout the years. Each time it is remade the songs and plot change. Some examples are the Laurel and Hardy “March of the Wooden Soldiers” from 1934, a Shirley Temple anthology episode in 1960, the Disney “Babes in Toyland” from 1961, and an animated version by MGM in 1997. 


  • The original run-time for this movie when it aired in 1986 was nearly 3 hours long. Since then, it has been cut down to an hour and thirty-five minutes for video and streaming releases. It has not been officially released on dvd which makes it a relatively rare find. There is however the entire 3-hour glorious movie version available on youtube, which we will link to for you. 
  • It was filmed at Bavaria Studios in Munich, Germany.
  • Most of the original music was cut and a new score and music were put in. It was largely done by Leslie Bricusse. Only a little of Victor Herbert’s music was used, such as “Toyland” and “March of the Toys.”
  • It is clear when listening to the songs that the young 11-year old Drew Barrymore does not sing her own songs as the voice has a more adult vocal range. According to IMDB, Linda Harmon dubbed the singing voice for Barrymore.


  • During a heavy Christmas storm in Cincinnati, a young girl named Lisa (Drew Barrymore) is injured in a car accident and is magically transported to Toyland. There she meets the Toyland counterparts of her sister and friends, each one a storybook character. Lisa learns that the evil Uncle Barnaby plots to marry the young Mary Contrary and steal her away from Jack B. Nimble, also barring Jack from inheriting his family’s cookie company. 


  • Drew Barrymore as Lisa Piper
  • Jill Schoelen as Mary Piper/Mary Contrary
  • Keanu Reeves as Jack Fenton/Jack-be-Nimble
  • Googy Gress as George/Georgie Porgie
  • Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Piper/ Widow Hubbard
  • Richard Mulligan as Barnie/ Barnaby Barnicle
  • Pat Morita as The Toymaster


C-I-N-C-I-N–N-A-T-I !!


  • Shari Weiser, who was in the Labyrinth as part of Hoggle, plays the Trollog in this movie!


It’s a Wonderful Case (1946)

There’s no doubting it, folks, the holidays are here! And with this season comes the return of certain movies. Of course, it’s just not Christmas if Ralphie doesn’t put on the pink bunny suit in a Christmas Story, or if we miss Kevin McAlister setting the traps in his Chicago home. Over time, these films have come to define the Christmas season so well, it’s already hard to imagine what Christmas was like without them. Today, we’re talking about one such movie. It’s a story about a man that believes he’s lived a worthless life until he’s given an incredible gift; a chance to see what the world would be like without him. 

It’s a Wonderful Life is so classic, we’ll bet you even know the story even if you haven’t seen it. Countless TV shows have spoofed the famous plot, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Fairly Odd Parents. But, this popular Christmas gem didn’t start out as wonderfully as you would think. In fact, the film underperformed initially, landing its fledgling production studio about $500,000 worth of debt. So, how did this dud find its place as a bonafide Christmas Classic? Grab a glass of Flaming Rum Punch (or whatever you prefer) and settle in as we discover the story behind It’s a Wonderful Life!


  • George Bailey is about to give up on his life. As far as he’s concerned, he’s a complete failure who has never amounted to anything. When the angel Gabriel hears the prayers of George’s concerned family and friends, he sends a novice angel named Clarence to intervene. Clarence doesn’t know exactly how to help this man until George proclaims that he wishes he’d never been born, and Clarence decides to make that wish a reality. 


  • It’s a Wonderful Life began, as so many Hollywood films do, with a short story. In the winter of 1938, Phillip Van Doren Stern wrote a story called, “The Greatest Gift,” about a banker on the brink of suicide until an angel shows him what the world would be like without him. Stern was unable to get the story published, so he made it into a pamphlet and mailed it out to two-hundred people as a Christmas card in 1943 (OMG 200 Christmas cards?!). According to the New York Times, one of the recipients of the story was Stern’s agent, who was able to sell the story to RKO Pictures, one of the biggest studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood, for $10,000. Due to inflation, this would be about $157,925 today. 
    • RKO had three scriptwriters adapt the story into three screenplays, with a plan for Carey Grant to star in the eventual film adaptation. 
      • Screenwriter Marc Connelly’s script included a scene where George Bailey sees a world with a “bad” version of himself. Clifford Odets took this idea and had the two Georges fight on the bridge, with the evil George dying in the end. The third uncredited scriptwriter was Dalton Trumbo, the famous writer known for scripting Roman Holiday
      • None of the scripts seemed to work. So, the project lost steam until Frank Capra came along and purchased the rights for $10,000, the same amount that RKO had paid. However, RKO also tossed in the three scripts. Capra combined the scripts and added some of his own ideas. For example, he created the character of Mr. Potter, the villain portrayed by legendary actor Lionel Barrymore (Drew Barrymore’s Great Uncle). He also reimagined Bedford Falls as a more believable place, so audiences could connect to the characters. 
    • It’s believed that during this time, Capra visited the town of Seneca Falls to get inspiration for Bedford Falls. According to the Seneca Falls It’s a Wonderful Life Museum, a barber named Tom Bellissima recalled cutting Capra’s hair during a visit. 
      • Seneca Falls and Bedford Falls have a few similarities. For example, they are both located in western New York. The architecture and layout of the town both look similar as well. Not only that, a resident of Seneca Falls once set up affordable housing named after his family. George Bailey does the same thing in the film. 
      • But, the biggest similarity was the story of Antonio Varacalli. In April of 1917, a woman attempted suicide by jumping from the Seneca Falls Bridge. Antonio Varacalli jumped in after her, saving her life, but losing his own in the process. In response to this, he was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Hero Medal. Seneca Falls then came together to raise enough money for Varacalli’s family to come live in the United States, a dream he had been working toward. 
      • In the film, George walks down to the Bedford Falls Bridge and heavily considers jumping into the icy water. Clarence, George’s angel, saves his life by jumping into the water just before George could do it himself. George then saves the angel and forgets about his own thoughts of suicide. The events of Antonio Varacalli could have inspired this part of the film. 
    • After buying The Greatest Gift from RKO Pictures, Frank Capra changed the name of the movie to It’s a Wonderful Life. He hired two screenwriters to help with the new conglomerate script. Their names were Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. 
      • The screenwriters were thrilled to work with someone as creative as Capra, but the relationship between them and the director soured over time. For one thing, Capra was taking their work and re-writing portions of it with another screenwriter behind their backs–something that’s against the rules according to The Writers Guild. The couple also felt Capra was condescending, and they didn’t like that he referred to Frances as, “My Dear Woman.” 
      • They turned in their version of the script regardless, and Capra hired another two more writers to polish it off. The Writer’s Guild stepped in and made sure that Goodrich and Hackett got top credit for their work, with Capra and other writers listed below. 
  • It’s a Wonderful Life opens with a shot of a bell, very much like the famed liberty bell, ringing. This was the calling card for Liberty Films, an independent film studio founded by Frank Capra, Sam Briskin, William Wyler, and George Stevens.  
    • In the 1930s, Frank Capra was quite possibly the most well-known director in Hollywood. While the country toiled through the Great Depression, audiences could look to his films for a dose of optimism. In fact, some critics would even refer to his work as “Capra-corn” because of its perceived cheesiness. Capra didn’t mind, because he believed it was important to spread positive messages. 
    • During the 1930s, he directed award-winning classics like It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. While serving in the Signal Corps during WWII, he directed seven documentaries that were meant to increase public support for the war effort. 
    • After returning from the war, Capra started the Liberty Films, and It’s a Wonderful Life would be their first and only production before they would be forced to sell their assets to Paramount in 1948. 
  • Some would describe Capra as a true independent, a filmmaker that never adhered to conventional standards. His philosophy was that there was one man behind every film, meaning he was involved in most of the decision-making on each production. 
    • Because of this, Capra was responsible for many of the key details of It’s a Wonderful Life, including the casting. 
      • James Stewart was Capra’s first choice for George Bailey from the beginning. He had already starred in other Capra projects like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and You Can’t Take it With You. Stewart’s on-screen characters were often honest and friendly, and audiences recognized his unique and unassuming style of speech. Capra was convinced that Stewart could handle the darker scenes of this movie, and he was right. 
        • There’s a scene where George and Mary kiss passionately after speaking on the phone. Stewart was reluctant to do the scene, saying he was rusty. Capra insisted and changed the scene so that George and Mary would share the same phone, making the kiss afterward feel more natural. The couple shot it in one take, apparently leaving out a whole page of dialogue. When the script supervisor brought this up, Capra reportedly replied, “With technique like that, who needs dialogue?”
      • Capra’s first choice for Mary was Jean Arthur because she had experience playing opposite Stewart in two of his films. Arthur declined, and Capra looked at several other actresses (including Ginger Rogers) until deciding on Donna Reed. 
        • In one scene, Reed’s character was supposed to throw a rock at an abandoned house. Capra hired someone to throw the rock for Reed, but it turned out she was a terrific shot and threw rocks better than anyone on set.
      • From the start, Frank Capra was determined to have actor Henry Travers in the film. Travers was a veteran stage actor that had made a name for himself in famous film productions like, “The Bells of Saint Mary’s.” 
        • Ultimately, Capra decided that Travers would be perfect as Clarence Oddbody, George’s guardian angel. Travers retired from acting in 1949 and lived to be 91. Clarence would always be his most well-known role. 
      • Several different men were considered for the part of the conniving Mr. Potter, like Charles Coburn and Vincent Price. But, the role went to Lionel Barrymore, a legendary actor that had previously appeared in Capra’s film You Can’t Take it With You. 
        • When It’s a Wonderful Life premiered, the Hayes Code was still in effect. One of the stipulations of the code was that villains should always be punished for their misdeeds. However, the film was able to get away with not punishing the evil Mr. Potter! Capra said that he received more mail about this than anything else. 
  • It’s a Wonderful Life started production in the summer of 1946. 
    • Bedford Falls was a set built on the Encino Ranch owned by RKO Pictures in California. Even though it was a Liberty Films production, RKO Pictures would still distribute the film. 
      • This was one of the longest sets built for a movie at the time. The main street was 300 yards long, with a tree-lined center parkway. Bedford Falls included 75 stores and buildings, including a bank with a marble front. 
        • The set had been constructed in 3 separate sections. But when it had all been pieced together, it covered about four acres of land!
        • Twenty full-grown Oak trees were transplanted to the set as well
      • One of the most famous scenes in the movie takes place during a high school dance. As the main characters take part in a Charleston contest, a disgruntled teenager decides to open the floor to reveal a swimming pool! George and Mary then fall in, prompting other dancers to jump in as well. 
        • Critics felt that the scene was “fakery at its worst,” but the school and the gym floor really do exist in Beverly Hills.  
    • The special effects team developed a groundbreaking way to make fake snow. 
      • You can’t have a film take place during a New York December and NOT have snow, right? However, It’s a Wonderful Life was filmed during a record-breaking heatwave, meaning that there was no snow to be found. In fact, the heat was so intense, they had to take a day off of production so everyone could rest. 
      • Up until this point, movie snow was often bleached cornflakes, which as you can imagine, makes it difficult to record audio. The Special Effects crew used 3000 tons of ice, 300 tons of gypsum, 300 tons of plaster, and 6000 gallons of a special mixture of foamite, soap, and water. 
  • It’s a Wonderful Life was the final collaboration between Frank Capra and composer Dimitri Tiomkin. Tiomkin had worked with Capra on previous films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 
    • Frank Capra never saw this movie as a Christmas movie, although it takes place at Christmas. Originally, it was scheduled to release in the Spring of 1947, but RKO pushed up the release to December of 1946, rushing parts of the production. The greatest casualty of this was Tiomkin’s score. 
      • Tiomkin was famous for adding in popular songs or familiar melodies in his film scores, which definitely shows with the “Buffalo Girls” melody appearing throughout the film. 
      • But, the score that the audience hears while watching the final cut of the movie is drastically different than what Tiomkin composed. His music had a darker tone, emphasizing the more serious themes in the film; themes like financial ruin, death, and suicide. 
      • To make the film feel lighter, much of Tiomkin’s music was cut and replaced with pre-written music. Because of the rushed deadline, there wasn’t enough time for re-writes, and most of Tiomkin’s music ended up on the cutting room floor. He referred to it as, “a real scissors job.” 
    • For decades audiences didn’t have a chance to hear the original music, but the Sundance Institute was able to recover much of it. The reconstructed version of what Tiomkin had planned can be found on a recent episode of Saturday Cinema with Lynn Warfel, performed with David Newman and the Philharmonic Orchestra. We will link to it in the blog! 


  • Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy
    • Mitchell was a character actor, and another recognizable role for him was Gerald O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. 
  • H.B. Warner as Mr. Gower
    • During this time Warner had been typecast after appearing as Jesus in the 1927 silent film The King of Kings. Although it was controversial to have him play a troubled alcoholic, Capra took the chance. Warner was thrilled to play such a different character and show that he was not a one-note actor. 
  • Beulah Bondi as Ma Bailey
    • She was also a character actor that ended up being typecast as mothers and grandmothers. She played Jimmy Stewart’s mother about 4 times.
  • The children
    • Larry Simms as Pete Bailey
    • Carol Coombs as Janie Bailey
    • Karolyn Grimes as Zuzu Bailey
      • When George calls her his little gingersnap it is cute but also relevant because Zuzu was actually a Gingersnap brand at the time.
      • Grimes said about the movie, “I absolutely love it. There are so many messages. Capra was trying to make people realize that life is worth living, and that you can make a difference. We lose sight of that every once in a while. That’s why I think people love to watch it.”
    • Jimmy Hawkins as Tommy Bailey
  • Lillian Randolph as Annie
    • Randolph was a prolific actress that appeared in several films and TV shows throughout her career, all the way until her death in 1980.
  • A little cameo appears in the scene where the gym floor opens at the high school dance. You can see that the young man that is jealous of George and opens the floor is Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer!


  • When leaving George’s house after the wedding festivities, Uncle Billy is clearly drunk. He is not able to realize that his “missing hat” is sitting upon his head. When filming this scene, as the character of Uncle Billy exits the camera’s frame, a loud crash can be heard. As intentional as it sounds, it is actually the accidental dropping of props by a technician. Thomas Mitchell just rolled with the sound, calling out from off-screen that he’s okay. Although the technician feared for his job, Capra instead gave him a raise for improving the sound of the film as the audience imagines the crash being Uncle Billy colliding into trash cans. 
  • During a run on the bank when customers fear that they will lose their money, George uses his own personal Honeymoon funds to calm his bank customers. All of the requests for money were scripted except for the last one made by Mrs. Davis. Her request was for only $17.50. Capra had told her to surprise Stewart, and so his reaction was genuine when he kissed her on the cheek for such a low money request!


  • There are a few reasons why audiences didn’t go see It’s a Wonderful Life. For one, the East Coast of the United States was experiencing record lows in temperatures, prompting a lot of people to stay home. But, the main issue was that audiences felt it wasn’t cheery enough to be a Christmas movie. 
    • This is a fair sentiment. The film explores a lot of dark themes and might be a tough watch for some. Frank Capra never saw this as a failure. In fact, he often said It’s a Wonderful Life was his favorite among his films. He liked that it explored the pain of normal life as well as the joy. 
    • Capra didn’t want to make a film about the war, especially since it was fresh on the minds of audiences across the globe. But even though this film expressed a heart-warming message, it may not have been the uplifting escapism that post-war movie-goers were looking for. 
    • There is some debate about whether the film technically flopped, but it certainly didn’t do well and foreshadowed the end of Liberty Films, and in some peoples’ opinion, Frank Capra’s career. 
  • And this could have been the end of It’s a Wonderful Life’s legacy. But, in 1974, the copyright owner of the film made a clerical error and failed to renew the film’s copyright. It fell into the public domain, where TV studios jumped at the free content and played it freely for about 19 years. In terms of the film’s popularity, this was the miracle the movie needed. It’s a Wonderful Life had somehow become a Christmas staple, a movie that people of all ages would enjoy, gathered by their loved ones every holiday season. 
  • Although the film was nominated for five different Academy Awards it did not win any. However, Capra did win Best Director for the Golden Globes and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. 
  • Several television shows have their own episode version of this movie.
  • A sequel was in the works called It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story but it has now been canceled. 
  • Seneca Falls has a museum dedicated to the movie.  

It’s a Wonderful Life had all the makings of a Hollywood classic; a famed director, a well-known and likable lead, and a heartwarming, yet relatable story. But then, the unexpected happened: audiences didn’t see it. For nearly thirty years, the film fell into relative obscurity, generally only remembered by those that saw it when it first premiered. But just when it seemed like the world was better off without it, it resurfaced to bring joy to audiences everywhere.  

As a Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life might get a little too real. The main character is a regular man with extraordinary ambition that eventually gives up his dreams to live, what he considers to be, an ordinary life. He has no understanding of the incredible impact he’s had on so many lives until someone shows him. 

This film holds a message that nearly everyone on this planet longs to believe: that each and every one of us, just through the simple acts of life, has made a remarkable difference. And if we were to learn anything from this movie, it’s that we should all stop and remind the ones around us just how wonderful they are. 


The Case of Our Five Favorite Santas

First, let’s talk a little bit about the origin of Santa Claus! 

Santa Claus is known around the world by many names. Some of the most well-known are; Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, and Papa Noel. These names and origins should not be confused with the Belsnickel and Krampus. St Nicholas is known to be the patron saint of many things including children, sailors, ships, merchants, pawnbrokers, and some cities like Moscow.

One of the most well-known stories tells of Saint Nicholas gifting three girls dowries in order that they may get married. Due to his generosity and good deeds towards children in life, he became their patron saint and a popular bringer of gifts on his celebrated day of December 6th. 

As people traveled and immigrated to the United States the celebrations followed and the legends of Saint Nicholas and the scary and shaggy Belsnickel became mixed to eventually become what we know as Santa Claus. Santa Claus, like the Christmas holiday, is an amalgamation of traditions and practices, and hopefully one day we will go further into detail about Santa’s history. 

Much of the details that we have accepted about Santa Claus came from a Clement Clarke Moore poem called, A Visit From Saint Nicholas. But, two years before that story, there was “The Children’s Friend.” It was notable for removing the religious aspects of St. Nick and associating him with the Christmas holiday. Here are a couple of stanzas: 

“Old Santeclaus with much delight

His reindeer drives this frosty night.

O’er chimney tops, and tracks of snow,

To bring his yearly gifts to you.

The steady friend of virtuous youth,

The friend of duty, and of truth,

Each Christmas eve he joys to come

Where love and peace have made their home”


  • “Sandy Claws” (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)*
    • If you need a refresher, The Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. It follows Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloweentown, as he faces issues with burnout and his own identity. Jack’s purpose in life becomes reinvigorated when he discovers Christmastown and attempts to give Christmas a try instead. 
    • Santa’s voice can be heard at the beginning of the movie during the initial narration. Since the narration doesn’t return, it makes sense that it turns out to be a character in the movie, though this is not immediately obvious to the audience
    • Santa Claus (or Sandy Claws) appears in this film after Jack Skellington visits Christmastown for the first time. However, the audience doesn’t get a great look at the character until much later, when three trick-or-treaters kidnap Santa Claus and deliver him to the evil Oogie Boogie Man.
      • Lock, Stock, and Barrell kidnap Santa so that Jack can take his place. 
  • Voiced by Edward Ivory, this is a pretty classic take on Santa Claus. Although Santa is generally depicted as a kind being that only wants to spread joy, The Nightmare Before Christmas gave some more depth to the character by showing how he would react to being kidnapped. Although this version of Santa becomes more and more frustrated (and possibly scared for his life), he never seems to really lose his cool and still recovers in time to save Christmas! 
    • Ivory was not in very many movies but he was also in the film Nine Months (1995), Rampage (1987), and Blood Red (1989.)
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas is such a well-known and beloved classic, it’s safe to say the film made a major impact on a lot of people. Although the debate about whether it’s a Halloween or Christmas movie will never be settled, you’ll find fans enjoying it during any season. 
    • It won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and Best Music
    • It earned Annies for Best Individual Achievement for Creative Supervision in the Field of Animation and Best Individual Achievement for Artistic Excellence in the Field of Animation.
    • It also won the Blimp Award at the Kid’s Choice Awards for Favorite Movie!
  • So why did this Santa make it into our top five?
    • We LOVE the style of this film, and seeing a Tim-Burton-style Santa is an automatic win. Although he has the classic characteristics of many western depictions of Santa Claus (red suit, white beard, black boots) he still has the same unmistakable charm as other Burton creations. Before this film came out, you wouldn’t find a Santa that looks like this anywhere else. 
    • This Santa is inherently good-natured. He withstands being carried around in a sack and is essentially tortured by Oogie Boogie. But, when he realizes it was a misunderstanding and that Jack never intended for him to be hurt, he seems to forgive him almost immediately. He never hesitates to fix all the damage that the Halloweentown residents had done, and makes time to visit them after delivering all of his presents!
  • We asked our Twitter followers for their suggestions on some favorite Santas! Jacob (@DemChops) suggested Santa Claus from Nightmare Before Christmas, saying, “He was so fed up with the Halloween people but he still gave them some Christmas magic in the end. A true Santa.”


  • North (Rise of the Guardians, 2012)*
  • Rise of the Guardians is based on a book series by William Joyce called, “Guardians of Childhood.” Every year the holidays arrive and with them the protection of the immortal Guardians. The Guardians, known as Nicholas St. North, E. Aster Bunnymund, Toothiana, and Sandman, spread light to protect children everywhere from darkness and despair. An evil spirit called Pitch Black plots to overthrow them by destroying the source of their power, which is the faith of children everywhere. Saving the Guardians is left up to a new young immortal by the name of Jack Frost. 
    • This film was directed by Peter Ramsey for Dreamworks Animation
  • Voiced by Alec Baldwin, North is the leader of the guardians and this universe’s more-secular take on Santa Claus. Although he is far from the traditional depiction of Santa Claus, he is still dedicated to spreading love and cheer across the world and protecting the innocence of children. 
  • Though this isn’t the most popular Dreamworks film, we consider it to be one of their best works. The story is heartwarming and imaginative and encourages children to believe in magic–not just supernatural magic, but the magic within themselves.
    • Rise of the Guardians received the Vanity Fair International Award for Cinematic Excellence and the Hollywood Animation Award at the 16th Annual Hollywood Film Festival. The film also won two Annie Awards for Effects in Animation and Storyboarding. 
  • So why did North make it into our top five?
    • Out of all the entries on this list, North is the most unique version of Santa Claus. Generally, we see an older and less active version of the character in cinema, but here we see a buff Santa with tattoos and a Russian accent (which makes sense because St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Moscow). This Santa is much more active and unafraid to use weapons to protect the things he loves. It’s important to see a different take on a character because it shows that even though someone is unconventional, it doesn’t mean they are any less than someone who is traditional. This Santa thwarts tradition and conventional standards. 
    • Every story that includes a Santa storyline begs the question: how does he keep track of all the children and bring them toys in one night? The universe in Rise of the Guardians answers this question with a combination of advanced technology and magic. The approach feels rooted in our universe, so audiences find it easier to comprehend. 
    • Rise of the Guardians provides a completely different perspective on Santa. We’re used to seeing him as he delivers gifts and interacts with children. In this film, we see him amongst his peers (the other holiday guardians) which adds another layer to his character. There are even some comedic moments when he clashes with the Easter Bunny or gets frustrated with his bumbling elves. 
  • This was another Twitter suggestion! You guys really know how to pick your Santas. Mics and Beers (@micsandbeers) said, “Got to go with the Santa with swords.”


  • Santa Claus (Year Without a Santa Claus, 1974)
  • Based on a book by Phylis McGinley, The Year Without a Santa Claus follows the story of a sick Santa Claus (played by Mickey Rooney) who may not be well enough to deliver presents this year. His doctor even tells him that he should stay in bed because children don’t really believe in Santa anymore. Mrs. Claus takes action into her own hands and sends two elves with a reindeer out into the world to find Christmas cheer. When they run into some trouble, Santa heads out after them and discovers that the world still cares about Christmas. 
    • Of all the Rankin and Bass stop-motion specials, this is one of the most beloved. It included songs by Jules Bass and Maury Laws, most notably the heat and snow miser songs!
    • The special was written by William J Keenan and animated in Japan, like the other Rankin and Bass specials. 
  • This is a special that returns every year during the holiday season, and inspired a sequel special starring the heat and snow misers! You’ll also find their merchandise in stores at Christmas time. 
  • Mickey Rooney during his lifetime was in over 300 films from silent films from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Phantom of the Megaplex. He also voiced Santa Claus in three other animagic specials, including Santa Claus is Coming to Town. So, it’s probably OK to say that this version of Santa is the same one that appears in the other specials of the Rankin and Bass universe. However, we chose the Santa from this particular special because we liked seeing this side of him. Usually, Christmas movies are about children losing their faith in Santa, but this special was more about Santa losing faith in the world. 
    • This Santa Claus is relatable and hard-working. He seems more mortal than other depictions because he has fallen ill. More often than not, Santa is depicted as a supernatural being, capable of looking in on children at any given time to see if they are behaving. This version of Santa, however, doesn’t seem as powerful. 
    • No matter how awful this Santa feels, he’s never angry or upset with anyone. Sure, he feels unappreciated, but that makes him sad more than anything else. And who could blame him for wanting to cancel Christmas? None of us want to go to work when we’re feeling sick. 
    • This version of Santa also really seems to enjoy his job. Sometimes we get the sense from other versions of the character that he feels like he’s doing the world a huge favor, but here it seems that he gets as much out of Christmas as anyone else. 


  • Klaus (Klaus, 2019)*
    • Klaus is the most recent entry on our list! Directed by Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martinez Lopez, Klaus is a Netflix original that follows the origin story of Santa Claus, known in this universe as Klaus. 
    • The story initially follows Jesper, the privileged son of the postmaster general, as he’s banished to a cold and freezing island called Smeerensburg. While there, he meets a toymaker named Klaus. Because he needs to meet a quota of 6000 letters mailed, Jesper convinces the children to mail Klaus letters so that he will deliver toys to their houses. Because one act of kindness always sparks another, Jesper and Klaus end up changing the lives of everyone on the island. 
      • Actor J.K. Simmons provides the voice of the stoic and kind Klaus, a toymaker isolated in the woods. This version of Santa is more unwitting than others and is somewhat of a reluctant hero. Early in the film, it’s clear that he wants to make children happy, but Jesper pushes him to start making new toys again.
      • Simmons is famous for several character roles, like Tenzin in The Legend of Korra and Jay Jonah Jamison in the Spider-Man films.  
    • Impact 
      • Klaus won the 2020 BAFTA for Best Animated Feature
      • It also received several Annie Awards for Best Animated Feature, Character Animation, Character Design, Directing, Production Design, Storyboarding, and Editorial.
      • It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It, unfortunately, lost Toy Story 4.
    • Number two on our list is pretty high, especially for a character that might not be as well-known or established as some of the other entries. But, we chose Klaus because we love how human his story is, and his immense generosity. 
      • When Klaus first delivers a gift, he does it solely because he saw the sad drawing of a child and wanted to cheer them up. He stays back to watch the child open the gift, and we can see how much it means to him that the child was happy. 
      • One of the most appealing aspects of Klaus is that he’s a regular man and not a supernatural being (to begin with, anyway). He uses his craft to bring joy to other people, inspiring others to do the same. 
      • Klaus is reclusive and uninterested in making friends, but throughout the film we see the character open up and grow, and it’s because others are willing to help that he becomes Santa Claus. 
      • Near the end of his mortal life, Klaus embodies the spirit of Christmas so much that he becomes father Christmas. It’s seemingly a reward for a life well-lived that he can continue to spark kindness across the world. 
    • This was another Twitter suggestion from our friend and listener, JD Gravatte! 


  • Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947)
  • This Christmas classic follows Doris Walker, a no-nonsense single mother with a young daughter named Susan. While Doris performs her job as the manager of the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a kind old man approaches her and points out that the Santa Claus hired for the event is intoxicated. Doris invites the kind older man to fill in as Santa not only in the parade but during the holiday as the Macy’s store Santa. Kris Kringle, as he calls himself, is not only a hit with the children but also with adult customers. He truly embodies the spirit of Christmas by helping them buy gifts, sending them to other stores to find them. Soon, it captures the attention of the store that Kris believes that he himself is the real Santa Claus. This issue gets overlooked until Kris assaults the resident psychologist with his umbrella, causing him to get sent to an institution. All this leads to a public hearing, where Kris’s lawyer, Fred Gayley, must defend him by proving that he is indeed the real Santa Claus.
    • Doris’s daughter, Susan, has never believed in magic before, but Kris convinces her that magic is real, saving Christmas for at least one child. 
  • While this version of the character was played by Edmund Gwenn, there was a 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough. Since it’s the same character, we felt it was worth mentioning! 
    • Gwenn won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role! He also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor!
  • Miracle on 34th Street is a tradition for many families during the holiday season. It’s heartfelt and engaging, a warm Christmas classic that’s also a legal drama? Count us in! 
    • The film won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor
    • It also won Oscars for Best Original Story, and Best Screenplay. Finally, it also won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.
  • When we set out to make this list, we knew from the beginning that Kris Kringle was our number one. Throughout the entire film, all the way until the end, the audience doesn’t actually see any proof that Kris is Santa Claus. We don’t see him perform magic or visit the north pole, we only see what the other characters see. And yet, we’re on board the entire time. Why? Because this character is so pure and believable as Santa Claus that it almost seems impossible not to believe him. 
    • This Santa is one of the most wholesome we have ever seen. He has a genuine personality and a great sense of humor and doesn’t get frustrated or upset when people don’t believe him. Sure, he’s got some old-school ideas for punishing naughty people (the umbrella might’ve been out of line) But in 1947, parents were spanking their kids harder than Kris hits that man with his umbrella. 
    • Kris’s interactions with others are heartwarming and memorable. He helps many different characters, from Alvin the janitor to little Susan Walker. 
    • He is able to change those around him for the better with simple acts of kindness, like listening to people and gently guiding customers to where they can find toys so that their children can have a happy holiday. 
    • Whether or not people believe he’s the real Santa isn’t important to Kris. Instead, he just wants to help those around him and only tells them that he is Santa because he’s just an honest person. 


Since there are hundreds of movie Santas, we had some honorable mentions: 

Santa Claus (The Polar Express, 2004)

  • Our first honorable mention is the Santa from the Polar Express. Of course, we don’t see very much of this version, but the audience gets enough of him to know that he is a very classic version of the character. This Santa appears at the end of the film when the main character is finding his faith in Santa again. 
  • Tom Hanks voiced this Santa Claus (as he voiced many characters throughout the film). 

Scott Calvin (The Santa Clause, 1994)

  • Played by Tim Allen
  • While watching his son, Charlie, for Christmas, Scott hears a noise on the roof and goes to investigate while his son follows. After scaring a red-suited man off the roof, the man disappears in the snow but his red suit remains. Scott dons the suit and he and his son are taken to the North Pole where he discovers he will be Santa for the foreseeable future. Problems arise, however, when Charlie’s mother and Step-Father believe that Scott is endangering Charlie’s well-being.

Father Christmas (The Snowman, 1982 & Father Christmas, 1991)

  • Voiced by Mel Smith
  • Father Christmas follows Santa on his adventures as he decides to take a vacation in France, Scotland, and Las Vegas. When he returns from his travels to begin preparations for Christmas he finds that he has forgotten something during his trip.

Willie T Stokes (Bad Santa 2003)*

  • Played by Billy Bob Thorton
  • Willie T. Stokes only works one season a year. He drinks constantly and is an embarrassment to himself and others. He works as Santa at the malls. On Christmas Eve he and his accomplice Marcus take all the information they have gathered while working during the season to rob the entire shopping mall.
Noelle (2019)

Noelle (Noelle, 2019)

  • Played by Anna Kendrick
  • Noelle has always loved Christmas, especially the presents. The holiday is made even more special to her as her father is Santa Claus!  At a young age, her brother Nick is given a Santa hat and revealed to officially be the successor to their father as Santa Claus. Noelle wants to be a part of the magic and is tasked by her father to guide Nick and help how she can. Years later after their father passes away, the pressure becomes too much and Nick runs away. Noelle must save Christmas by finding not only her brother but the meaning of Christmas beyond the presents. 

Nick (Fred Claus, 2007)

  • Played by Paul Giamatti
  • Santa Claus’s older brother, Fred, is jealous of him.

Fred ends up needing help and must live with his brother for financial reasons.

Santa Claus (Elf, 2003)

  • Played by Ed Asner 
  • Buddy the elf finds his human father and helps him see the spirit of Christmas.

Santa Claus (A Christmas Story, 1983)

  • Played by Jeff Gillen
  • You’ll shoot your eye out!

Maybe you believe in Santa Claus, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you call him by a different name. Maybe you think he’s a person, and maybe you think he’s the spirit of Christmas. No matter how you feel about the character, these Santas can all teach us something about humanity. You don’t need magic or a sleigh or millions of helpers to be Santa Claus for someone. As long as humans continue to use their abilities to make others happy, the spirit of Santa Claus will always endure. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlies Brown–wait.