Zombos was gloomier than usual. The ageless Grandpa Munster had finally passed the veil. I must admit that I was also saddened by the passing of Al Lewis. Nothing reminds us more of our own looming mortality than the death of those traveling along with us through life’s journey.
“The man had history,” said Zombos, sipping his claret. “So few performers today have history.”
“You know,” said Zombos, “I remember when he had his Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village, back in the '80s. It was late one night, and we were just walking along, and there he was, sitting in front of his restaurant — I believe it was called Grampa’s — chomping on a huge cigar. As we stopped to take a look, he jumped up, opened the door, and said 'Are you hungry?' Well, of course we could not pass up the invitation. Such a wonderful personality: earthy, yet vastly talented and resourceful, with a true zest for life.” Zombos fell silent.
Our peaceful mood was soon broken by the arrival of Uncle LaVey, the blackest of the black sheep in Zimba’s family tree. Dressed in his black shirt and pants, and with his black widow’s peaked hairline and black goatee, he presented quite the look of the Satanist about town.
“Zombos!” he said, “I thought you might like to see this again.” He tossed over my copy of Freaks, directed by Tod Browning.
“Well, it’s about time you returned it,” I said. He smiled. A peal of thunder echoed outside, followed by a flash of lightning. Rivulets of water started sliding down the narrow windowpanes of the library: a perfect setting in which to view one of cinema’s more outré films. Zombos passed the bottle of claret over to Uncle LaVey, and I inserted the DVD into the player.
As we watched the film again, with David J Skal’s scintillating voice-over commentary, I could not help but wonder — what were Tod Browning and MGM thinking when they made this film? Browning definitely wanted to shock and unsettle his audience, and MGM wanted a horror film that would rival his earlier Dracula success; but what both eventually achieved was an exploitation styled B-movie with flashes of brilliance that has entertained, insulted, and disgusted its audiences since its first showing in 1932.