Thursday, September 10, 2020

Spooks! (1953)

Directed by:
Jules White

The 148th (!) Three Stooges short finds Moe (Moe Howard), Larry (Larry Fine) and the cowardly Shemp (Shemp Howard) running the Super Slueth (that's not my misspelling) Detective Agency. The frantic George B. Bopper (uncredited Frank Mitchell) shows up looking for help. His daughter, Mary (Norma Randall), went to get the morning paper and didn't come back... and that was 26 hours ago. Mr. Bopper leaves a photo of the missing girl. Moe comes up with the idea to dress up as chefs and go house to house giving out free samples of pie. They end up at the right place and, after hearing a woman's scream from outside, decide to sneak in through the window.

Mary has been kidnapped by mad scientist Dr. Jeckyl (Philip Van Zandt) and his brutish assistant Mr. Hyde (Tom Kennedy). Jeckyl is planning on transferring Mary's brain into a man-in-a-suit gorilla in his lab. Once they discover the Stooges are inside, they attempt to kill them using an arsenal of weapons that would make Jason envious, including a knife, a cleaver, a sickle, a pitchfork, a hammer, an axe, a baseball bat and even a makeshift flamethrower that sets Larry's ass on fire.

Gags include the usual slaps, eye pokes, kicks in the ass and nose pulls accompanied by bone-breaking noises, plus a mousetrap on the tongue, a pen stuck in a nose, lots of trap door usage and some genuinely strange stuff like a mounted winged dog puppet (?!) that comes to life. Shemp even has a second role as a a bat with a human head that goes "Gib gib gib gib gib ruff ruff" to which the actor winces, "What a hideous monstrous face!" You can definitely see what an influence this had on Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD II (1987) in spots.

Little-known actor Van Zandt has been an unexpected pleasure in these shorts playing the heavy so it was sad to learn he killed himself just a few years after appearing in this. And if you're wondering why legs, fingers, hypodermic needles, roman candles, pies, weapons and other things get thrust directly at the camera, it's because this was one of only two Stooges shorts (the other was the same year's Pardon My Backfire) to be released to theaters in 3D. Spooks was screened theatrically before, and even name drops, the Columbia 3D western Fort Ti (1953). 

Both Spooks and Pardon were later included as extras on the Indicator Blu-ray release of the Vincent Price 3D vehicle The Mad Magician (1954). Columbia also released this with 21 other shorts on their The Three Stooges Collection: Volume Seven, which covers 1952-1954.

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