It's Halloween night 1956 and rotund Witch Hazel is deathly afraid of getting pretty as she grows older. She peers into her magic mirror and inquires as to who is the ugliest one of all. The bored swami within the mirror responds with exactly the answer Witch Hazel wants to hear: She is indeed the most ugly one of all. Meanwhile, Bugs Bunny, having discovered what a "good racket" the Halloween business is, has donned a grotesque witch mask and is out trick or treating. When he comes knocking on old Hazel's door, she mistakenly takes him for another real witch...one far uglier than she. Hazel can't stand it. She quickly schemes to turn her competition into a gorgeous specimen by spiking her tea with beauty potions. When Bugs removes the mask to take tea, Hazel is shocked to learn he is a mere rabbit. But as it happens, there is one ingredient missing from the brew Hazel had currently been concocting. A rabbit's clavicle. Bugs is aghast. "That old babe means to do me serious hurt!" he astutely observes. In the end, Hazel accidentally drinks the magic tea and is transformed into a Kim Novak-type hottie. The swami from the mirror gets one look at this transformed gal and lustfully gives chase to the screaming babe. I'm not too proud to admit that I would too.
4) Lonesome Ghosts
Mickey, Donald and Goofy are very early prototypes of the Ghostbusters here. They're the Ajax Ghost Exterminators. When a quartet of phantoms find themselves bored and in dire need of delivering a good scare, they call Mickey and Co. to come out and "exterminate" their old haunted house. Venkman, Stanz and Spengler- no, I mean Mickey, Donald and Goofy show up carrying a hilarious bunch of ghost-chasing tools which includes shotgun, fishing net and fire axe. They're not even through the door when the phantoms begin their ghoulish brand of torment. The phantoms employ breaking dishes, boards and trombones to jolt the ghost-chasers. Each one of them figures in a nice set-piece and the cartoon has a nice twist ending. What I came away with most after watching this cartoon was that Mickey is ineffectual, Donald is intelligible, and Goofy is a complete idiot. And those four funny phantoms? They should have starred in more cartoons.
3) Cobweb Hotel
Another bizarre offering from the Fleischer Brothers, this toon opens with a raspy voiced Spider singing about his cozy little hotel while we get horrific glimpses of the terrors contained there within: Moaning flies caught in webbed bedding and flypaper glue. The hotel is all a front to ensnare flies (albeit really stupid ones) to keep the hideous spider's belly full. A newlywed couple promptly arrives to spend the evening. Mr. I. Fly is a punchy little fellow. Seems he's a "Flyweight champion." And good thing too, for when the spider's terrible plan is revealed, it takes all his strength to tackle the fiend and even then, it's not quite enough. His new bride is actually the one who saves the day. Be on the watch for a particularly chilling moment in which the spider, laughing sadistically, clips Mr. Fly's wings leaving him helpless. It's a very dark and inventive cartoon which captures the feel of old dark house films perfectly.
2) Fraidy Cat
Sometimes you just have to wonder about the genesis of a cartoon. The set-up of this one is simple enough. Porky Pig has bought a creepy old mansion and is spending his first night there with his cowardly cat Sylvester. The rub of course, is that the house turns out to be haunted. Okay, I'm with you so far. But what makes this tale so damned macabre, so utterly twisted is that the house is not infested with ghost or demons, but with mice. Homicidal mice. Crazy, bloodthirsty little bastards that wear executioner masks, carry axes, knives, nooses and who (it would seem) probably off one poor cat while tormenting poor Sylvester to the point of madness. Porky plays the straight man to all of Sylvester's frantic, terrified antics and in another turn of unexpected events, he actually (unwittingly) sentences the cat to his doom. The result is one of the most chilling scenes ever depicted in a mainstream cartoon. Sylvester is haplessly taken to the basement by the murdering mice. We do not see or hear what these fiends do to him. We only see several hours pass on the kitchen clock. When Sylvester re-emerges, he is in an unnerving zombie-like state. His fur has turned a ghastly shade of pale white. His eyes are soulless pits and he can only produce a soft, mournful mewing sound. Cheezus! It is a creation that could give the great Lon Chaney a run for his money.
1) Trick or Treat
Even if this could be considered a Disney morality play, it's still a wickedly good cartoon. Boasting a catchy theme song, this short manages to catch the spirit and atmosphere of All Hallows Eve perfectly. On Halloween night, old Hazel (a real witch of course), witnesses Donald Duck cruelly playing pranks on his three nephews and offering them no treats for their troubles- despite hording a cup board full of them. Taking a quick liking to the boys, Witch Hazel vows to aide them in getting their just desserts from Uncle Donald. In a fantastic bit of animation, Hazel stands before a bubbling cauldron and conjures up potent brew to use on the selfish old Donald duck. "Kids," rasps Hazel, "This stuff is loaded!" Never the less, the belligerent Donald locks away the treats and swallows the key. Angry now, Hazel casts a gruesome spell on Donald's feet and he quickly learns a hard lesson concerning the rules of Halloween night. To quote the classic theme song: When ghosts and goblins by the score, ring the bell of your front door, you better not be stingy.