Classroom Scare Films
The shopping's done, the credit card bills are on their way, and with them the holidays malaise will soon be settling in. Time to get back in the back-to-school spirit and scare some life into the New Year with a retrospective of classic educational scare films. With that end in mind, I put together a film program that will be screened at the Enoch Pratt central Library this January, so mark this date on your calendars:
Saturday, January 28, 2006
2 to 4 pm, Wheeler Auditorium
Pratt Central Library
Mental Hygiene for Captive Audiences!
In their day, the educational films shown in school were considered the future of liberal education, providing educators an opportunity to indoctrinate captive audiences in the proper ways of mental hygiene and physical safety. From the classic era of the ‘50s and ‘60s right up until ABC’s star-studded after-school TV specials in the ‘70s and ‘80s (which featured future celebs like Jodie Foster and Scott Baio), these cautionary tales covered everything from dating do’s and don’ts to the perils of drug abuse and wreckless driving in a hard-hitting style full of tragedy and devoid of subtlety. They were scary, yes, but also titillating – after all, where else could kids get the cheap thrill of seeing the kind of gratuitous drug use, sexual situations, death, destruction, and mayhem typically reserved for mature audiences in restricted motion pictures and late-night TV?
According to genre expert Ken Smith, author of Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films 1945-1970, these films constituted "a uniquely American experiment in social engineering" whose message was to “fit in” and follow “correct behavior” in grooming, manners, and citizenship. So get with the program – our program - and get ready to become a better, safer, healthier adult!
Following is the film program that will be screened.
Let’s Be Clean and Neat!
Soapy the Germ Fighter (1951)
Soapy the Germ Fighter tells the story of how one young boy cleaned up his act and became a bacteria battler. One night, a talking bar of soap named Soapy appears and teaches Billy Martin that it is not "sissy" to be clean and that he will be his partner if fighting germs. If that doesn’t sound very scary, keep this in mind: Soapy appears to be wearing no pants and apparently shaves his legs. He also appears to be wearing a wedding ring, but where is Mrs. Soapy while her husband visits little boys in the middle of the night (did the soap dish run away with the spoon?)? This film also depicts tough-looking Health Department officers dressed like film noir shamuses, fighting against the bacteriological menace lurking around us. (1951, 10 minutes, video)
See also: Brains On Film Review
Mind Your Manners!
Lunchroom Manners (1959)
A cult classic thanks to early exposure in a Pee-Wee Herman HBO special, Lunchroom Manners used the bumbling exploits of an ill-mannered puppet named Mr. Bungle to show children how to behave in the school chow room. Watch how much soap model student Phil uses in the men’s room – is this clean-cut kid a budding obsessive-compulsive? Fun Fact: Mr. Bungle the puppet inspired Mr. Bungle the rock band (Faith No More vocalist Mike Patton's side band). Dirty Fun Fact: Mr. Bungle was also a character in the 1977 adult film Sharon's Sex Party (also known as Teenage Pajama Party) (1959, color, 12 minutes, video)
Dating Do’s and Don’ts
Dating Do’s and Don’ts (1949)
Long recognized as one of the campiest educational films ever made by genre experts Mystery Science Theater, this fun how-do guide follows clueless Woody’s quest to ask fun girl Ann (pronounced here as “Ay-yun” ) out on a date. The narrator talks him through it and offers possible options for several situations that might arise. (1949, 11 minutes, video)
Let’s Be Safe!
One Got Fat (1963)
This incredibly strange bike safety film could have been named Planet of the Apes Meets Mean Streets. As narrated by the dulcet-toned Edward Everett Horton (the voice behind The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’s “Fractured Fairy Tales”), a group of children - all wearing ape masks straight out a Devo music video - make themselves bag lunches and pedal off to the park for a picnic. Along the way, the kids who “monkey around” get hit by cars, steamrollers, pedestrians, or fall into open manholes. Except for one sensible lad who ends up with all his fallen buddies’ lunches and a sudden weight problem! (Dale Jennings, 1963, 12 minutes, video)
Live and Learn (1956)
Producer Sid Davis was the King of Gore when it came to Safety Films, and this is one of his best cautionary tales. Here we have kids impaling themselves on scissors, burning their faces off, falling off cliffs and rooftops, and shooting B-B gun pellets into each other's eyes, complete with all the gore before and after. Fun fact: The little girl running with scissors was none other than Jill Davis, the producer’s daughter. Funner Fact: Before he became an educational film producer, Sid Davis was John Wayne’s body double! (He's in 1948's Red River, uncredited). In fact, Wayne loaned Davis $1,000 to make his first production, 1950’s The Dangerous Stranger, and thereafter Davis continued to make a pictures for $1,000 or less. (1956, 10 minutes)
Shake Hands with Danger (excerpt) (1970s)
This Occupational Jeopardy film has one of the all-time great theme songs (excerpted here), which is sung by the film’s Dukes of Hazzard-influenced (and uncredited) narrator, who tells how a worker came to be known as “Three-Fingered Joe.” (1970s, color, 3 minutes, video)
The Last Date (excerpt) (1949)
Winner of the 1949 National Committee on Films for Safety’s best picture award, The Last Date tells the story of Jeanne, a popular pretty girl whose life is ruined when her speed demon beau Nick (played by future Bewitched star Dick York!), just can’t drive 55. Throughout the film the narrator warns viewers about a new fad called Teenacide– “the fine art of killing yourself, and maybe someone else, before you're 20. You do it with a car!" (1949, b&w, 5 minutes, video)
Let’s Be Paranoid!
Duck and Cover (1951)
Alert Bert the Turtle shows school kids what to do in case of an atomic attack in this famous Civil Defense short recognized in 2004 by the National Film Registry as a “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” motion picture. (1951, 9 minutes, b&w, video)
Just Say No To Drugs!
Go Ask Alice (“Party Scene” excerpt) (1973)
Go Ask Alice was allegedly the diary of an anonymous teenage girl describing her rapid descent into drug addiction and an eventual overdose after she got In with the Far-Out Crowd. This excerpt from 1973’s made-for-TV film depicts her first drug experience - set to the sounds of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy”! – at a brew and (peyote) button party. In no time at all Alice goes from being a “nice girl” to rubbing elbows with pushers, pimps and prostitutes. And yes, that’s a bespectacled William Shatner playing her nerd professor Dad. (1973, 12 minutes, 16mm film)
Stoned: An Anti-Drug Film (edited version) (1980)
Scott Baio (Chachi of Happy Days and Charles of Charles In Charge) stars as Jack Melon, a bespectacled, pocket protector-toting high school nerd who is too shy to form any meaningful relationships with his peers in this edited version of the 1980 ABC AfterSchool Special. Living in the shadow of his popular jock brother, “Melonhead” Jack starts smoking pot and suddenly turns into a confident alter ego he dubs “Super Jack.” It takes a terrifying brush with tragedy for Super Jack to see the dangers of smoking the wacky tobacky. (1980, 30 minutes, 16mm film)
See also: Shocked Cinema Review
Suggested Further Viewing:
• The Atomic Café. Dir. Kevin Rafferty, Jayne Loader and Pierce Rafferty. New York: New Yorker Films, 1982. 88 minutes, VHS. Documentary on the films produced in the ‘40s and ‘50s about the atomic bomb and Civil Defense.
• Atomic Scare Films, Vol. 1. Something Weird Video, 1996, 120 minutes, VHS. Compilation of atomic scare films from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s.
• Classroom Scare Films, Vol. 1: Drug Horrors. Something Weird Video, 1997, 120 minutes, VHS. A collection of six anti-drug propaganda films from the 1960s and 1970s that focus on marijuana abuse.
• Classroom Scare Films, Vol. 2: Health Horrors. Something Weird Video, 1997, 120 minutes, VHS. A collection of eight educational films made in the 60s and 70s dealing with alcohol, smoking, VD, scoliosis, and dental hygiene.
• Classroom Scare Films, Vol. 3: More Drug Horrors. Something Weird Video, 1997, 120 minutes, VHS. Compilation of educational shorts.
• Hell’s Highway: The True Story of Highway Safety Films. Dir. Brett Wood. New York: Kino International, 2002, 91 minutes, VHS. Documentary about the graphic, sometimes violent and gruesome driver's education films that were produced between 1959 and 1979 by the Highway Safety Foundation of Mansfield, Ohio.
• Sex Hygiene Scare Films, Vol. 1-4. Something Weird Video, 1997, 120 minutes per tape, VHS. Compilation of short films on dating, puberty, hygiene and sexually transmitted diseases that were shown to high school teenagers from the 1960s to the 1970s.
Suggested Further Reading:
• Smith, Ken. Mental Hygiene: Classroom Films 1945-1970. New York: Blast Books, 1999.
• Morton, Jim, ed. Incredibly Strange Films. San Francisco: RE/SEARCH Publications, 1986. This guide to unusual films has a chapter on educational films.
Suggested Further Internet Surfing:
- Moving Image Archive. http://www.archive.org/details/movies. Part of the Internet Archive project, this digital library of film clips provides free access to researchers, scholars, and the general access.
- Educational Scare Films (Something Weird Video)
- A/V Geeks
- Educational Archives Lunchbox (4 DVD set from Fantoma)