By Nate Bloom
“Haunted Mansion” opens in theaters on July 28. This Disney film is inspired by the Haunted Mansion attraction at three Disney parks (California, Florida, and Japan). In 2003, there was a Haunted Mansion film that didn’t get great reviews, but made a lot of money. The 2003 film, and the new film, really don’t have much to do with the Disney Park attraction — other than that the films and the attractions are “spooky.”
Because it is a Disney film, the Haunted Mansion films are “good-natured” spooky. They are not even close to being horror films. They are a mix of “kind-of” scary stuff and a large dollop of “comedic spooky” stuff.
Here’s the basic plot: Gabbie, a single mother (Rosario Dawson) and her young son (Chase Dillon) move into a mansion, only to find that it is haunted. To combat the “spirits,” they hire Ben, a former paranormal investigator turned tour guide (LaKeith Stanfield); Kent, a priest (Owen Wilson); Harriet, a psychic (TIFFANY HADDISH, 43); and Bruce, a college history professor (Danny Devito).
Others: WINONA RYDER, 51, has a major role as Pat, a New Orleans tour guide. But it’s not really laid-out in advance publicity “what Pat does;” JAMIE LEE CURTIS, 64, has a biggish part as Madame Leota. Leota is a spirit who resides in a crystal ball. Her head appears in the ball and speaks; And — DAN LEVY, 39 (“Schitt’s Creek”) is listed fairly high in the credits, but his character is not named.
“The Mistress” is a really horrific horror film that has played some film festivals, and it will be available on July 28 via video-on-demand. I usually don’t note the opening of a smallish-budget indie film that is going almost straight to “VOD.” But “Mistress” caught my eye because the director and the film’s star are “nice Jewish guys” from the Midwest.
Here’s the basic plot: Newlyweds move into their dream home where they discover a collection of 100-year-old letters from a young woman who committed suicide after being abandoned by the owner of the home.
The director is GREG PITKIN, 54, a Chicago native who has made seven indie feature films since 1999. His best-known film is “Dummy” (2002), an interesting and well-reviewed comedy-romance that starred ADRIEN BRODY.
JOHN MAGARO, 40, an Akron, Ohio native who was raised in his mother’s Jewish faith, plays the “male half” of the (hetero) newlyweds. Magaro works steadily, but never has found a “star-breakthrough” role.
Here’s another “sort-of” Midwest story. It involves one of the best sit-coms of all time — “WKRP in Cincinnati.” It originally ran from 1978-1982 and was such a hit in re-runs that it was revived as “The New WKRP” in Cincinnati (1991-93).
I was always irrationally “annoyed” that the show’s creator (Hugh Wilson) wasn’t Jewish — and only one WKRP character, Mrs. Carlson, the station owner’s mother, was played by a Jewish actor (SYLVIA SIDNEY in pilot; CAROL BRUCE in 10 episodes).
An online channel called “Best Eps” (best episodes) recently ran the story of how WKRP was saved from cancellation by the airing (Oct. 30, 1978) of an episode (“Turkeys Away”) that critics have consistently called one of the top 100 sit-com episodes of all-time.
Critics loved WKRP, but it had a terrible time slot and ratings were bad. It was saved by the immensely popular Turkeys Away episode — which was an instant classic.
Without spoiling the episode’s surprise completely — I’ll just say it involves the owner of WKRP (Mr. Carlson) promoting his money-losing station via a free Thanksgiving turkey giveaway.
The whole episode isn’t online. But literally millions have viewed the excerpts (best parts) of Turkeys Away — which are on the internet. Just do a search for ‘WKRP turkeys.’ Many excerpts will appear.
Here’s the backstory, courtesy of Best Eps: Hugh Wilson modeled the station owner of WKRP on JERRY BLUM (1932-2019), an Atlanta radio station manager he knew and liked. “Turkeys Away” was inspired by a (real) turkey giveaway that didn’t work out as Blum intended. It wasn’t quite the (fictional) disaster on WKRP, but it wasn’t “pretty” (more info on “Best Eps”). By the way, Wilson cast Gordon Jump as Mr. Carlson because he looked so much like Blum.
I looked up Blum and I “found him” buried in the Jewish section of an Atlanta cemetery. A Star of David is on his gravestone. The gravestone says that Blum was an Air Force Captain.
Variety gave Blum a nice write-up after his death. I’m sure his connection to Turkeys Away is the reason.