TAMI Flashback: Be Careful, Kids!
This month's TAMI Flashback installment features three short films for children. But grown-ups may find them entertaining also, because they're so wonderfully odd.
For TAMI fans of a certain age -- middle age, that is -- Mission Possible: Bike Safety may evoke childhood memories of cruising the neighborhood on a way-cool Schwinn Sting-Ray. Actually, cruising is the wrong word -- in that era, any self-respecting kid rode like a bat out of hell. Traffic laws were for cars, right? And bicycle helmets were 20 years away. It's a wonder any of us survived into adulthood.
A goofy imitation of the Mission: Impossible TV series, Mission Possible: Bike Safety is a well intentioned but probably pointless attempt to teach kids about bicycle safety. Shot in Austin in 1975, the film features a Mission: Impossible-style team of careful, law-abiding kids who must teach bike safety to two reckless children, Dirty Larry and Careless Carol. Larry (whose face is actually dirty) and Carol are the terrors of Austin's Allandale Neighborhood and the Village Shopping Center on Anderson Lane, running stop signs on their battered bikes and nearly mowing down pedestrians.
When Larry and Carol enter a store, the Mission Possible team seizes their bikes and won't return them until the two scofflaws watch a bicycle safety film. The film is short but dreadfully boring -- that is, exactly like the bike safety films we all had to watch in school. But boring or not -- spoiler alert! -- Larry and Carol seem to get the message. When the Mission Possible kids turn them loose on their freshly repaired bikes, the two obey all the traffic laws as they ride away. (Larry's face is clean, too.)
The silly Mission Possible: Bike Safety isn't a masterpiece of the safety film genre, but producer/director J. Larry Carroll was not untalented. He went on to a long and successful career as a writer for dozens of TV shows, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Walker, Texas Ranger and Diagnosis Murder.
If Mission Possible: Bike Safety is silly, the Dallas-made Are You Listening? is just ... bizarre. The 1971 film is meant to teach its young audience the importance of listening and following directions; its effectiveness is debatable. Less debatable is the notion that, if Are You Listening? is any indication, a lot of people did a lot of drugs in the Seventies.
Are You Listening? is one hell of a trip, man. As it opens, a beautiful grade school teacher is telling her rambunctious class they have a problem with listening. "So, let's play a little game," she says. "Let's pretend that I am a mouth, and you are all ears." And then she turns into an actual giant mouth, and the children into actual giant ears; the classroom resembles a Sid and Marty Krofft TV show. (I dearly miss 1971, don't you?)
The mouth leads the ears on a walk to the zoo, telling them they must follow directions and be very careful when crossing the streets. They pass a man and woman arguing about forgotten picnic supplies, because they hadn't listened when they reminded each other to bring them. Remember, giant ears: Listening is important!
At this point, Are You Listening? becomes amazingly disjointed for its six-minute length. At the zoo, the mouth tells the ears the names of various animals. It also explains the importance of being polite when giving directions. Then it tells the ears that some people can't hear, but "there are directions you can see," and these written directions also work for people who can hear but don't listen. (Rhetorical question: If people don't listen to directions, do they bother to read them?)
The zoo tour ends abruptly when the ears spot an ice cream truck and magically turn back into children. A happy ending? I'm not so sure -- the chirpy, get-happy background music becomes slightly distorted, creepy-sounding ice cream truck music, as if the ice cream man is some kind of psychopath beckoning the kids with evil intentions.
Speaking of psychopaths, A Day of Horror stars a truly sinister one. Unlike Mission Possible: Bike Safety or Are You Listening?, A Day of Horror is no educational film -- unless we consider it a cautionary tale about wandering in rural areas where psychopaths lie in wait.
Made in 1964 in Hays County by Austinite Ramon Galindo, A Day of Horror is a no-budget horror short about a group of kids enjoying a trip to their favorite fishing hole. On the way, one girl injures herself and falls behind the others. A monstrous maniac (played with menacing glee by Austinite Chris Crow) kidnaps her and terrorizes her in his decrepit farmhouse full of bones and crude surgical instruments. When the girl's friends discover her, they enlist a sheriff's deputy to help rescue her and capture the maniac.
If this story sounds familiar, maybe that's because it's strikingly similar to the plot of another low-budget, locally made horror film released 10 years later -- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. A Day of Horror is no Chain Saw, of course, but it's quite entertaining. Galindo -- who wrote, directed, shot and edited the film, as well as doing the makeup and effects -- created a wonderfully crude, creepy and campy little film.
Everything about A Day of Horror is painfully amateurish, but no matter; it's the perfect short to kick off your next horror movie night. The grainy black-and-white film stock creates the right atmosphere, as does the classic monster-movie score. (Aside from the score, A Day of Horror is silent. But it needs no dialogue.) Crow chews plenty of pastoral scenery as the villain, and the children (all from Austin's Travis Heights neighborhood) run and scream enough to remind us all -- kids and grown-ups alike -- to be careful out there.