Classic SNL Review: October 31, 1981: Donald Pleasence / Fear (S07E04)

RATINGS SYSTEM

***** - Classic
****  - Great
***   - Good/Average
**    - Meh
*     - Bad

OPENING: EDDIE'S PREPARATION TECHNIQUES

  • Before the show begins, Donald Pleasence rehearses saying "Live From New York..." and discusses the show with Eddie Murphy, who proceeds to go to a stall to vomit.  He's not sick, though; vomiting is Eddie's pre-show lucky ritual.  Donald decides to give it a try.  As Donald retches, John Belushi emerges from one of the other stalls.
  • This was brief, but the whole thing really didn't feel like it had too much of a point to it besides the John Belushi walk-on, which in retrospect was a wasted opportunity.  It's a shame Belushi's last-ever SNL appearance was a few seconds long and as a reflection in the mirror.  (Belushi appears on a live Steve Martin Thanksgiving special the next month that's basically a mini-SNL reunion, but that doesn't count as part of the show's history)
  • What was the deal with Pleasence practising his "Live From New York?"  The show had done away with it that season; it could maybe be a jab at him for reportedly asking where Gilda was.

*1/2

MONTAGE AND TALENT ENTRANCE

  • Slight change to the opening montage beginning with this episode: the guests now have their names flashed over their photos like the regular cast.
  • Notice Eddie Murphy handing a handkerchief to Pleasence to wipe off, continuing the joke in the opening segment.

SHOW: PROFILES IN BRITISH COURAGE

  • A soldier (Tim Kazurinsky) keeps a stiff upper lip even after losing an arm and undergoing an anesthetic-free leg amputation at the hands of his commanding officer (Donald Pleasence).
  • Aside from the excessive gore in this sketch, this wasn't particularly memorable.  The audience seemed particularly quiet until the gusher of blood coming from Kazurinsky's leg started to flow.  Kazurinsky is the bright spot here, and he gives a good performance as the soldier who remains cooperative and spirited even after his body's been mangled.  Pleasence, on the other hand, mumbled a lot of his lines to the point of inaudibility, and Tony Rosato's stereotypical Indian character Baktu (who said "Goodness gracious" a lot) wasn't funny so much as offensive. 
  • When the sketch begins, the title card stays on-screen for an extended period of time, and someone visibly crosses in front of the camera when the card finally fades into the scene.
  • The twist that Pleasence's Colonel was the one being held as an example of courage for completing his paperwork on time was understated but funny, as was the ending narration where the network prides itself on carrying on the British traditional character, then "Stay tuned for Benny Hill." 

 **1/2

COMMERCIAL: JOGGER MOTEL

  • While jogging in Central Park, a man goes into a tunnel and finds the ground is covered in glue.  He then discovers the numerous other joggers caught in the trap.
  • Written by Eliot Wald.
  • The reveal at the end was well done, and the commercial fit in well with tonight's horror theme.

***

COMMERCIAL: TWO FACES OF JERRY

  • A commercial for a horror movie about Jerry Lewis' two unbearable personalities: the bitter, serious Lewis (Joe Piscopo) and the wacky, childish Lewis (Eddie Murphy).
  • Piscopo did a passable Bitter Jerry, but it sounded way too much like Piscopo, and I've always preferred Martin Short's take on the older Lewis.  On the other hand, Eddie Murphy's Wacky Jerry was strong, and I particularly enjoyed when he joined into Bitter Jerry's rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone".

***1/2

MUSICAL SKETCH: I'M SO MISERABLE

  • While cleaning up the blood from the kitchen table, a woman (Christine Ebersole) sings about how her loneliness is just as unbearable as the abusive and obnoxious husband (Neil Levy) she offed.
  • A quick segment, well written by Joe Bodolai, well sung by Ebesole and with a lovely execution.  I especially liked the little bit of business of Ebersole taking the bloody newspaper from under Levy and proceeding to read it at the very end of the song.

***1/2

FILM: "PUMPKIN" BY ELBERT BUDIN

  • A pumpkin is carved into a jack-o-lantern.  As the knife goes into the pumpkin, blood begins to ooze out.
  • The combination of the eerie music and violent imagery made this very unsettling and a very effective piece; this fit into the whole "death and horror" motif well.
  • The audience is silent throughout the film except for their reaction to a hand going into the pumpkin and pulling out a big lump of various guts.

****

MISCELLANEOUS: GUARDIAN ANGEL

  • A vigilante (Eddie Murphy) has some words of advice on how people can drive away muggers: pretend their gold medallions are actually snot.
  • Another brief bit, with a good performance by Eddie, particularly his demonstration of a drawn-out fake sneeze to maximize effect.  I also liked the throwaway line about people taking a leisurely walk through Harlem at 3am.

****

GUEST PERFORMANCE: MICHAEL DAVIS

  • Davis demonstrates that people can easily hide razor blades in apples.  Director Dave Wilson prompts him to juggle the apples and do a trick where he eats the one aloft apple that doesn't have blades inside.
  • Another entertaining guest performance by Michael Davis; I would put it a step below the one in the premiere, but overall, this was still very impressive.  Davis had some good lines, especially the jab about how SNL demonstrated on numerous occasions it was "not just a funny show".
  • I also got a kick out of when he talks about how a masterful juggler keeps on juggling even while looking away, and then when he actually does look away to get the third apple, he grabs the two in his hand and just keeps moving his arm up and down.  I also liked his fakeouts before releasing the third apple with his other hand.
  • The part with the different personality types for juggling was also well done, especially the "juggler on Quaaludes" bit (he just drops the apples).
  • I loved the audience's delayed reaction to Davis' "But it could taste like Schick!" line.

*****

SNL NEWSBREAK: WITH BRIAN DOYLE-MURRAY, MARY GROSS ON ASSIGNMENT, COMMENTARY BY RAHEEM ABDUL MOHAMMED ON HORROR MOVIES

  • Best joke: Nixon best in bed.
  • The "letters breaking" bit has lost its novelty, and the audience doesn't react to it anymore.
  • Easily the worst Newsbreak so far this season, with most of Brian Doyle-Murray's jokes dying, except for the joke with Betty Ford and Nancy Reagan discussing who was best in bed, if only for the punchline.
  • Mary Gross stumbled a little at the beginning of her assignment ("Weagan- Reagan") and while Joe Piscopo's Sinatra impression makes its first appearance of the season here, the audience was completely quiet except for one time he said "No" in response to one of Gross' questions.  The silence from the audience is almost eerie at times.  Writer Nelson Lyon appears as one of Sinatra's bodyguards; he is the taller one with the grey hair.
  • I did laugh at Christine Ebersole's part when she mentions that she looks like a hooker with the clothes she borrowed from her roommate, then looks into the camera to apologize for telling the audience what she did for a living.  This was slightly better than her appearance in the Saint James Newsbreak.
  • Eddie Murphy begins his Raheem Abdul Mohammed bit by sarcastically remarking on the "warm round of applause" the audience failed to give him.  The audience reacts somewhat more favorably to him than the other material.  I especially liked the line he had about how white people in horror movies buy the haunted houses and "have lots of simulated sex".
  • Brian Doyle-Murray also "blows out" a candle on a birthday cake displayed on the ChromaKey at the end: I still have trouble believing he was only 36 years old because he's one of those actors that always looks significantly older than their age.  For comparison, Seth Meyers, SNL's current news anchor, is 36 at the time of this writing.

*1/2 (gets the half for Eddie)

SKETCH: TALES FROM THE HIP

  • A hipster (Tony Rosato) introduces this week's performance of a piece called "MacBop": lyrics by W. Shakespeare, music by Progress Hornsby.
  • Written by Nate Herman and Eliot Wald
  • The audience didn't really seem to be into this, but everyone's performances were quite good, particularly Ebersole as the lead witch and Piscopo's Dean Martinish crooning.  Even Pleasence, a definite non-singer, wasn't too bad in this.
  • That said, it was less funny and more cheesy variety-show stuff, but I did enjoy Eddie breaking into falsetto on some of his lines as the ghost, and Tim Kazurinsky warbling in drag as Lady MacBeth.
  • Nice little shout-out to Sid Caesar with the Progress Hornsby reference. 

**1/2 

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "I DON'T CARE ABOUT YOU"

  • The calmer of the two performances, as it was just the band on stage without the stage-divers.

COMMERCIAL: THE CLAMS [REPEAT FROM 10/03/81]

SKETCH: INTERMISSION

  • During the intermission of Annie, a frustrated theatregoer (Tim Kazurinsky) has a breakdown after his friendly overture is mistaken for a pass, and locks himself in a bathroom stall to bang his head.
  • Eddie Murphy as the loud out-of-towner was the main highlight of the sketch; his and Kazurinsky's performances were pretty much the only things going for it.  The audience was dead for pretty much the whole thing until Kazurinsky had the line about paying $32 to see "a little girl trying to sing like Ethel Merman", and him yelling "I'm Jewish!" when Eddie tells Joe Piscopo's character to offer a hand "in the spirit of Christian brotherhood."  The ending with Kazurinsky falling into the toilet was weak.
  • This sketch uses the same bathroom set as the opening.  I have to wonder if this sketch was added to the show last-minute when O'Donoghue's more grim pieces were cut. 

*1/2. 

SKETCH: SUGAR BREAKFAST

  • A family starts their day with a lot of sugar and junk food.
  • This had a simple but well-execute premise, particularly with the actors' gradual escalation in energy from drowsy to hyperactive and manic, gleefully losing teeth at that.
  • Eddie Murphy was good in the straight-man role as the neighbor complaining about all the noise coming from the family's house.
  • This is the second appearance of the kitchen set  from "I'm So Miserable".

***

FILM: ANDY WARHOL'S TV: COSTUMES

  • Andy Warhol takes a few calls from his famous friends about his Hallowe'en plans, then his head falls off.  His body then leaves to attend some parties.
  • Another "interesting only as a curiosity" Warhol bit, although it was a little bit funnier than the other two, just for the superimposed "voice of" titles when you actually don't hear who's on the other side.

* 1/2

MISCELLANEOUS: HOME MOVIE CRITIQUE

  • Mary Gross invites audience members to submit their home movies, because the ones they've received so far suck.  She then proceeds to mock a very crudely done submission called "Wonder Wally"
  • I can't really rate this as it's not so much a comedy segment but I would have to say this was actually one of the funnier bits of the show, especially Gross saying the films "suck rubber dunkey longs" (sounded like a screwup on her part) and that Wonder Wally "bites major hose". 

SHOW: THE VIC SALUKIN SHOW

  • Vic Salukin (Tony Rosato), the host of a New York call-in show, offers $100 to the first caller who can successfully scare him.  Most of the responses are underwhelming until one particular caller (Donald Pleasence) gets through.  This turns out to be a joke by his friend Mike...or is it?
  • Wow.  This is easily the most disturbing, pitch-black, fucked-up thing the show has ever done.  The black-and-white visuals (meant to evoke programming on Manhattan Cable public access) and the zoom-in to the speaker as Pleasence speaks really adds to the atmosphere of the sketch.  Even more disturbing was the caller menacingly referring to following Salukin's 9-year-old daughter home from school and mentioning the birthmark on her thigh.  The ending with the pullout to a dead, bloody Salukin is one of the darkest visuals in the history of SNL.
  • The actual part with Rosato taking calls was actually pretty funny, and he gave a good performance.  I particularly liked him demonstrating the type of call he was looking for by calling the woman and grinning evilly at the reaction.
  • While it ended on complete silence from the audience, it actually succeeded in the effect it was aiming for.  Definitely one of the better parts of tonight's show.

****

MUSICAL PERFORMANCE: "BEEF BOLOGNA", "NEW YORK'S ALRIGHT IF YOU LIKE SAXOPHONES", "LET'S HAVE A WAR"

  • This is the portion of the show that made the episode infamous, with the group of punks and skinheads surrounding the band, diving off the stage, knocking mics out of stands and screaming things like "New York sucks!" and "Negative Approach is going to fuck you up!"  Dick Ebersol marched into the control room and switched to a filmed piece as they began to sing "Let's Have A War". The camera actually cuts off when one of the punks (Billy MacKenzie) walks on stage holding a pumpkin, about to smash it.
  • Among the punks dancing are Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, John Brannon of Negative Approach, and a few people from Touch and Go Records including Tesco Vee.

FILM: PROSE AND CONS [REPEAT FROM 10/3/81]

  • Note there is no audience noise being mic'ed while this plays, giving the film a different atmosphere than when it ran during the premiere.  You can even hear Eddie Murphy's last word in the poem.
  • They also don't run the full credits of the film with the countless Norman Mailer credits.

GOODNIGHTS

  • The cast, Pleasence and Davis stand on a still-messy stage holding bits of pumpkin.
  • Eddie Murphy starts playing along on Fear's drum kit as the closing theme played.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This is definitely one of the most unusual episodes of SNL's long history, but this was easily the weakest episode of the season to date.  Pleasence was hardly in the show, and his delivery in some of his appearances was definitely off (the exception being his voiceover only role in Vic Salukin).  The intended theme for this episode was "death and horror", and while I admire that they did try something different, a lot of it didn't come off.  Part of this was because Dick Ebersol killed a lot of material during rehearsal meaning they had to fill time with some other sketches that didn't fit the theme: I wonder if Intermission was just done on short notice.   There are a few bits that definitely succeed, but there was so much content that died tonight that it might have been an unintentional fulfillment of the theme anyway.

EPISODE HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Michael Davis
  • The Vic Salukin Show
  • Pumpkin
  • Two Faces of Jerry
  • I'm So Miserable

EPISODE LOWLIGHTS:

  • most of SNL Newsbreak
  • Ritual
  • Intermission
  • Andy Warhol's TV
  • Tales From The Hip
  • Profiles In British Courage

MVP:

  • Eddie Murphy

CAST & GUEST BREAKDOWN:

cast

  • Robin Duke: 2 appearances [Tales From The Hip, Sugar Breakfast]
  • Christine Ebersole:  3 appearances [I'm So Miserable, SNL Newsbreak, Tales From The Hip, 1 voice-over [The Vic Salukin Show]
  • Mary Gross:  4 appearances [SNL Newsbreak, Tales From The Hip, Sugar Breakfast, Home Movie Critique, 1 voice-over [The Vic Salukin Show]
  • Tim Kazurinsky: 3 appearances [Profiles In British Courage, Tales From The Hip, Intermission, 1 voice-over [The Vic Salukin Show]
  • Eddie Murphy: 8 appearances [Eddie's Preparation Techniques, Two Faces Of Jerry, Guardian Angel, SNL Newsbreak, Tales From The Hip, Intermission, Sugar Breakfast, Prose and Cons]
  • Joe Piscopo:  5 appearances [Two Faces Of Jerry, SNL Newsbreak, Tales From The Hip, Intermission, Sugar Breakfast], 1 voice-over [Jogger Motel]
  • Tony Rosato:  5 appearances [Profiles In British Courage, Tales From The Hip, Intermission, Sugar Breakfast, The Vic Salukin Show]

featured players

  • Brian Doyle-Murray: 2 appearances [SNL Newsbreak, Tales From The Hip]

crew and extras

  • Neil Levy: 2 appearances [I'm So Miserable, Intermission]
  • Lee Mayman: 1 appearance [Intermission]
  • Dave Wilson: 1 voice-over [Guest Performance]

guests

  • Donald Pleasence: 4 appearances [Eddie's Preparation Techniques, Profiles In British Courage, Tales From The Hip], 1 voice-over The Vic Salukin Show]
  • Fear: 2 appearances ["I Don't Care About You", "Beef Bologna/New York's Alright If You Like Saxophones/Let's Have A War"]
  • John Belushi: 1 appearance [Eddie's Preparation Techniques]
  • Andy Warhol: 1 appearance [Andy Warhol's TV]

REBROADCAST HISTORY:

  • Not repeated by NBC; "Sugar Breakfast" aired in the 12/26/81 repeat of the season premiere, "Two Faces Of Jerry", "Guardian Angel" and "The Clams" aired in the 01/02/82 repeat of Lauren Hutton.

Additional screen captures from this episode are available here.