Sunday, August 16, 2009

"WE'RE PART OF THE COVEN EXCHANGE PROGRAM!" I can't tell you how pleasant it was seeing The Snoop Sisters again after all these years. I hadn't seen that show since I was knee high to a gravedigger. The Snoop Sisters was one of those early 1970s rotating mystery movies-of-the-week similar to that which produced such shows as Columbo and McCloud, etc. The Snoop Sisters starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as a pair of elderly mystery-writing amateur sleuths (do you think the creators of MURDER, SHE WROTE ever heard of this show???) who constantly stumbled upon murder. While the show only produced a pilot movie and 4 movie-length episodes, both Hayes and Natwick were nominated for Emmy awards (Natwick won).
The two "movies" kindly provided to me by Weaverman are probably the two I would be most interested to see: "A BLACK DAY FOR BLUEBEARD" and "THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT"; coincidentally the final two movies in the series. "A BLACK DAY FOR BLUEBEARD" is the slightly lesser of the two. The "mystery" plot itself is incidental and merely provides the maguffin for a bunch of charming and well-known character actors (many with horror genre ties) to lark about having a good time. The viewer has a good time since it's all great fun. Vincent Price himself plays a washed-up horror actor named Michael Bastion who, along with his unhappy wife Tammy Grimes, appears at a horror film retrospective of his past cinema glories. The delightful opening scene finds Helen Hayes dressed up as the Frankenstein Monster with Mildred Natwick as the Bride! The Snoop Sisters have been invited to the theatre by Vinnie for the horror film festival. At the movie theatre, Tammy informs Vincent that she and her vast amounts of money are hitting the road and filing for divorce; Vincent has been written out of her will. However, before the film (utilizing clips from Universal's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN) has finished, Tammy Grimes is stabbed right in the theatre seat!!! Vincent Price's Michael Bastion is, of course, the major suspect but pleads his innocence as he is carted off to jail by police Lt. Ostrowski (who just happens to be the nephew of the Snoop Sisters.
(l to r: Vincent Price, Katharine Helmond, William Devane, Roddy McDowell & Bert Convy)
Ostrowski is played in both Snoop Sisters movies by Bert Convy; known mostly for his TV game show hosting duties on TattleTales etc. But Convy, of course, has a much earlier connection to the horror genre with his classic 50's horror 45 "The Monster Hop". Other suspects scattered throughout include Mort Sahl, William Devane, Roddy McDowell and Katherine Helmond (best known as Jessica Tate on the later TV comedy "SOAP" but also with some later horror credentials in "THE LEGEND OF LIZZIE BORDEN" and "THE LADY IN WHITE"). Frequent Bela Lugosi partner Angelo Rossitto has a cameo.
As I say, the murder mystery doesn't really matter; it's all about the fun and hijinx all these players get up to. It's also nice to see the reunion between Helen Hayes and Vincent Price; Vincent made his big pre-movie success on the English stage with Hayes in the play "Victoria Regina" as Prince Albert and, when the play toured America, it was Hayes who insisted that they bring Vincent along with them instead of recasting him with a well-known star. Besides the Snoop Sisters appearance in horror costumes, there's Vincent Price's delicious entrance at the movie theatre. A hearse pulls up out front of the theatre and a group of masked muscle men remove a coffin from the back. Upending the coffin, the brutes open it to reveal Vincent Price in full vampire make-up ready to sign autographs. Price is allowed to have great fun lampooning his own horror image. In sort of a comedic version of his earlier deadly serious turn in Amicus' MADHOUSE, Price gets to ham it up as the script makes a point of saying that horror star Michael Bastion is NOT the greatest of actors. Price also gets to indulge in his culinary reputation as Michael Bastion is also a gourmet cook! All in all, "A BLACK DAY FOR BLUEBEARD" is a great deal of fun for those of us who loves these character actors that Hollywood just doesn't seem to produce anymore. As the final Snoop Sisters movie, this one was a nice way to go out.
The penultimate Snoop Sisters film was "THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT" concerning a murderous cult of Satan worshippers. This story gave Universal a chance to join in on the early 70's proliferation of Satanic cinema fun with chanting cultists in flowing black robes, pentagram amulets, jeweled sacred murder daggers, crystal balls, tarot cards and even a strange, zombie powder! Besides Hayes, Natwick, Convy and the Snoop Sisters' faithful valet Barney (Lou Antonio) the cast includes Greg (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE) Morris (as a cop specializing in the occult), flamboyant Cyril "Captain Hook" Ritchard (as an occult shop proprietor named "The Honourable Moloch", Joan Blondell (as a dodgy medium), George (Route 66) Maharis (as a shifty cultist), and introducing Alice Cooper as a witch named Prince (!).
This one has a stronger storyline and is a lot more involving for the viewer. It concerns a Satanic cultist who defects from his coven with a sacred pentagram amulet containing some sort of "zombie making" powder. He is killed but not before slipping the amulet into Helen Hayes luggage at the airport. Soon, the Snoop Sisters are plagued by murders and cultist attacks. In order to solve the mystery, the Snoop Sisters visit the Honourable Moloch at his occult shop. Moloch advises them to seek out the answer to two riddles from plastic crystal ball-wielding medium Joan Blondell and rock song singing witch Alice Cooper (in a skeleton suit).
With this information, the Snoop Sisters are led to one of those huge houses up on a California hill in which the Satanists meet for their magical mumbo-jumbo. The ladies find the jeweled dagger used as the murder weapon but, before they can escape, the robed cultists show up. The sisters and Barney must don black robes and try to blend in with the sabbat. While trying to escape, they find themselves in an elevator with some real Satanist who ask if they're new to the cult because they haven't seen them here before. Yes, Mildred Natwick stalls, we're part of the coven exchange program!
These two Snoop Sisters movies were a lot of fun; which is exactly what they were meant to be. The accuracy of the "occult" is played very fast and loose in "THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT" and the murder mystery in "A BLACK DAY FOR BLUEBEARD" is, as I said, totally unimportant. It's the chance to have a lot of fun with some wonderful performers in a horror genre setting that makes The Snoop Sisters some really wonderful, nostalgic watching. William Devane and Katherine Helmond are perhaps criminally underutilized but the rest of the guest stars make quite an impact. Joan Blondell's Bronx-y medium has only one scene but she's great fun; it's almost like one of those blousey dames she played in countless 30's gangster films at Warner Bros. decided, by the 1970s, the new age racket was the place to be. As an Alice Cooper fan, it's always great to see him and here his one scene is also quite memorable. Alice manages to sneak in a little singing as well as providing some humour in his performance. And the outrageously camp Cyril Ritchard as Moloch lifts the entire production . . . even if his wolf ears DO seem a little overpriced! You just can't beat these two TV movies for some October-y Halloween viewing.


Weaverman said...

As you rightly say, the Snoop girls were harmless fun. Were you are irritated as I was by the performances of Lou Antonio ? Is it just me or does he seem to bounce everywhere and mug outrageously. Thank heavens he took to directing tv movies.

Cerpts said...

I was probably so happy to see the Snoop Sisters again that I didn't let Lou Antonio bother me but I was never a fan (notice how I barely mentioned him in that whole post) LOL.