We celebrate Halloween with Will Vinton’s clay monster mash.
We’ve already seen how Vinton’s trademarked Claymation brought Christmas to life…and how his Mark Twain animated special inadvertently brought terror into my childhood. Let’s see what he can do when he’s actually trying to be spooky!
Claymation Comedy of Horrors (1991)
Wilshire the pig is looking to make a quick buck. When the shady carnival ride he is trying to prototype accidentally shoots one of his assistants into the atmosphere, his hopes look pretty bleak.
Luckily for him, the explosion of his machine unearths the journal of Dr. Frankenswine, a mad inventor who created a monster powerful enough to rival the gods! Unluckily for his remaining assistant, Sheldon the snail, the map to find the creature has been imprinted on his tongue…and it leads straight to a haunted castle that’s hosting a mad monster party.
Carnival of Kitsch.
Will Vinton’s style of comedy tends towards dad jokes and camp. His Claymation Christmas relied heavily on puns, groaners, and slapstick humor in the comedic bits. Here, it’s a lot of riffs on TV tropes, like infomercials, game show banter, and references to pop culture.
Unfortunately, a lot of these references were already dated by the time this special came out in 1991. In 2020, they’re downright geological in age. A few of the bits land (Dr. Frankenswine promises that whoever finds his diary could gain access to his monster…or win a consolation prize of a tote bag) while others (many of the monsters are caricatures of semi-famous celebrities or characters from TV) just don’t cross the generation gap.
Master of Clay.
The biggest strength to Claymation Comedy of Horror is, of course, Vinton’s unrivaled stop-motion animation. While the character designs aren’t as whimsical or beautiful as the Rankin and Bass Animation productions, they are unique and well animated.
Rankin and Bass creations, even the most beloved and well budgeted, move about in a stiff and jerky fashion. Vinton’s creations flow and glide, and have a much greater degree of articulations for their movements and facial expressions. Several questionable jokes make it over the hump by using bombastic gestures and pulling faces.
Not Quite a Classic.
I can see why Claymation Comedy of Horrors never made the rotation of Halloween TV specials like The Halloween that Almost Wasn’t or even cult classics like Witch’s Night Out. It has its moments, and Vinton definitely was still on top of his animation game. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t have any of the other components that would make a special truly memorable: there’s barely any musical moments, there aren’t any big names in the voice cast to get attached to, and the humor is neither widespread nor naughty enough to stick with you.