I don’t always have something ready for Halloween, but when I do, it’s a doozy.
I must preface this post by looking backward many years to the many enjoyable lunches I spent rapping with my old buddy Voger.
Though (sadly) we haven’t seen each other in years, for close to 20 years – when we both worked at a newspaper where neither of us works any longer – we took every opportunity possible to converse about pop culture of all kinds.
We weren’t that far apart in age, but both of us had what might be described as an unhealthy obsession with the old, black and white years of showbiz, from decades before either of us was born.
There’s something special about the kind of bond that forms when you’re probably the only two people in a building holding hundreds that have any idea who Mr Fields and Stinky were on the old Abbott and Costello Show.
One of the cooler things he introduced me to way back when, was a bizarre movie called ‘Mother Riley Meets the Vampire’ aka ‘Vampire Over London’ aka ‘My Son the Vampire’.
The movie, initially released in 1952 was one of series of flicks featuring an English drag performer named Arthur Lucan, who portrayed a character named ‘Old Mother Riley’.
Arthur Lucan as ‘Old Mother Riley’, and Bela Lugosi as ‘Von Housen’
He created the character as part of music hall act with his wife Kitty McShane (who often played Mother Riley’s daughter), moving on to a successful series of films (Lucan was one of the UK’s biggest wartime movie stars) and even a comic strip.
The character was so beloved, that after Lucan’s death in 1954, another actor, Roy Rolland took over the role and continued to play it on stage and TV into the 1980s.
‘Mother Riley Meets the Vampire’ was not only the last ‘Mother Riley’ film, but also a late entry into the Bela Lugosi filmography. Lugosi plays a mad scientist with an army of uranium controlled robots,who also happens to believe he’s a vampire (I mean it’s Bela Lugosi, so what did you expect…).
The movie – which I saw thanks to my man Voger – is a bit of low comedy, of interest as part of the English drag continuum (see Python, Monty) and as Lugosi-ana.
However, the movie had a second life, thanks in part to the rise of Allan Sherman.
I’ll assume that most of you over a certain age already know/dig Allan Sherman, a kind of proto-Weird Al (with a healthy shmear of New York Jewish culture), who is best remembered these days for his big 1963 hit ‘Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter From Camp)’.
Sherman recorded a series of very funny albums in the early-to-mid 60s, composed of song parodies. Admittedly, how funny you find them will have a lot to do with the breadth of your cultural grasp (and probably your age). Many of his funniest numbers tap into NY/suburban Jewish culture, and are based on older pop songs and classical pieces.
I love his records, but I was also lucky enough to have a 4th grade teacher (where are you now Mrs Teller??) who played his records for us. They made me laugh then back in 1971, and they make me laugh today.
I have no idea who had the idea to resurrect an obscure British film, have Allan Sherman create a theme song for it and rename it to tie it into Sherman’s string of album titles, i.e. ‘My Son the Folksinger’, ‘My Son the Celebrity’ and ‘My Son the Nut’, but thus was born ‘My Son, The Vampire’.
Opening with a bizarre percussive prelude, the song opens up into a pseudo-tango, with Sherman shouting either “BLOOD!” or “BLAAHHH!”, then launching into a fairly typical, fairly funny lyric.
The record went exactly nowhere (which is where the movie went, too), but it still makes for an interesting footnote in the Allan Sherman story, and a nice little Halloween treat.
I hope you dig it, and I’ll see you all next week.
Oh, and…Goodnight Voger, wherever you are.
NOTE: Stay tuned for a tribute to the late, great Jack Bruce on the next episode of the Iron Leg Radio Show