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Vincent & Frankenweenie “classic”

Pretty jazzed about the upcoming “Frankenweenie” stop-motion 3D feature…and how could I not be. As I like to tell my friends, I have a taste for the macabre. And director Tim Burton has always had a healthy respect for the horror genre, along with a rather touching appreciation for the “giants of the dark” that I first discovered in my youth. The first titan of terror that Burton lavished praise and homage upon was the incomparable Vincent Price, and he did this via his six-minute stop-motion short “Vincent” that he created in 1982. It was narrated by Mr. Price himself(a boyhood hero of Tim’s), who would later go on to play the inventor of the title character in Burton’s 1990 feature, “Edward Scissorhands”. Price was nearing the end of his days on this mortal coil by then, and he is obviously in poor health in the Johnny Depp starrer. But eight years earlier circa 1982, he ended up supplying two resoundingly memorable narration performances: “Vincent” being one, and his unforgettable participation in Michael Jackson’s record-shattering “Thriller” album and single. Also, it is impossible for me to recall my childhood without the overwhelming aura of the Frankenstein monster—and specifically his iconic appearance in the eight original Universal productions of the 1930’s & 40’s. They were all filmed and released long before I was born, but their television showings in the 1970’s had an incalculable impact on me as a youth. I remember obsessively thumbing through the weekly T.V. Guide trying to locate either late night or mid-afternoon broadcasts of these b&w classics. It’s easy for me to imagine Tim Burton doing the same after freshly watching his 1984 live-action 30 minute short film, “Frankenweenie”. It lovingly recreates the look, feel and set-ups of works that were first shown up to 53 years before his 1980’s tribute reached fruition. It’s said that Tim has always wanted to re-do “Frankenweenie” as a full-length feature, and he’s finally seized the opportunity. Watch the results at a theater near you beginning on October the 5th…in plenty of time for Halloween.                “Vincent” is a black & white little gem about a seven-year-old boy named Vincent who likes to imagine that he is Vincent Price himself. As his mother chides him to “go out and play with other children”, he idles away his time reading Edgar Allen Poe and creating a sinister make-believe world. Price’s narration is written in the style of Poe’s epic poems like “The Raven”, and it is the only voice in the otherwise dialogue-free short subject. The original “Frankenweenie”, on the other hand, is a live-action half hour length film that utilizes the talents of familiar faces Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern as the parents of 10-year-old Barret Oliver …playing a character named Victor Frankenstein. Victor’s dog(Sparky!)is killed by a car and the young boy is inconsolable. When he learns about electrical impulses in science class(and witnesses their ability to cause movement in the legs of a dead frog)Victor decides to dig up Sparky and try to bring him back to life during a lightning storm. What follows is the beautiful recreation of scenes from the 1930’s “Frankenstein” movies: the lab with the retracting roof(using the family’s “normal” suburban house), a “Bride of Frankenstein” dog— and even the 1931 film’s windmill finale(ingeniously done using a miniature golf course!). And is that a 13ish Sofia Coppola as a classmate of Victor’s!? Indeed it is. This pair of projects was Tim Burton’s infancy, and he would mature into full length features the year after “Frankenweenie” with his hilarious “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” as his debut. Will the new 3D “Frankenweenie” live up to the dark-themed half hour original(it’s been said that Disney fired Burton in 1984 after “Frankenweenie” was finished upon learning how disturbing it was for younger viewers)? We will find out in a matter of weeks…and I hope to be one of the first in line to see it. In the meantime, try to revisit Burton’s short subjects on the “bonus” disc for “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. It’s available on Blu-ray  and DVD…and can also be found on Netflix.    Both films:  A

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