Halloween TV Havoc!: Richard Pryor Meets The Exorcist on SNL!

Back when SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE was actually funny, guest host Richard Pryor (making his first and only appearance on the show) starred in an EXORCIST parody called THE EXORCIST 2, which is no relation to the later film (and much better!). Pryor and Thalmus Rasulala (BLACULA ) play two priests battling Satan for a little girl’s soul, with Laraine Newman in the Linda Blair role. Enjoy this priceless Halloween spoof from 1975:

The Party’s Over: Dean Martin in MR. RICCO (MGM 1975)

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It’s an older, more world-weary Dean Martin we see in MR. RICCO, a fairly gritty but ultimately unfulfilling 70’s flick that would’ve made a decent pilot for a TV series (maybe in the NBC MYSTERY MOVIE rotation with Columbo and McCloud), but as a feature was best suited for the bottom half of a double bill. This was Dino’s last starring role, though he did appear in two more movies (THE CANNONBALL RUN and it’s sequel), and this attempt to change his image from footloose swinger to a more *gasp!* sober Martin doesn’t really cut it.

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Dean’s a defense lawyer, a “lily white liberal” who gets black militant Frankie Steele (Thalmus Rasulala ) off a murder rap. When two cops are blown away in an ambush, the witness provides a description of Steele, causing friction between Ricco and the police, especially his friend Detective Captain Cronyn (Eugene Roche, an underrated character actor who’s really good here). The cops raid the militant’s warehouse headquarters looking for Steele, and a racist cop shoots one of them, planting a weapon on the dead body. The dead guy’s brother Purvis (Phillip Michael Thomas, years before MIAMI VICE) is arrested, and sister Irene (Denise Nicholas of TV’s ROOM 222 and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT) hires Ricco to clear him. Meanwhile, it seems Steele’s still on the loose, as Ricco’s home is attacked with a barrage of gunfire. But Ricco has his doubts about it all; why would Steele want to kill the man who got him cleared of a murder charge?

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This sets the stage for (few too many) action scenes, and what amounts to an introduction to Mr. Ricco’s world. He’s pals with Cronyn, has a faithful dog companion named Hank who fetches his wide golf shots, lives with elderly Italian Uncle Enzo (veteran Frank Puglia in his last film), a plucky girl Friday (Cindy Williams marking time between AMERICAN GRAFFITI and LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY), and Italian restaurant owners Nino and Angela (Nicky Blair, Rose Gregorio) who set him up with sweet Katherine Freemont (Geraldine Brooks). If that doesn’t sound like a TV pilot premise, what does? The television connection is also linked to Emmy-winning director Paul Bogart, better known for his work on the small screen (series ARMSTRONG CIRCLE THEATER, U.S. STEEL HOUR, THE DEFENDERS, ALL IN THE FAMILY, the TV-movies LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL, AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, THE SHADOW GAME) than his films (MARLOWE, HALLS OF ANGER, SKIN GAME, TORCH SONG TRILOGY).

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But Dino had just ended a nine-year run on his variety show the previous year, and was in the midst of a painful divorce. The great crooner probably wasn’t up to the grind of another weekly series (or even the MYSTERY MOVIE format of every three weeks), and was slowing down as he approached sixty. The point is moot, however; whatever the film’s intentions, MR. RICCO tanked at the box office. A new generation of stars and filmmakers was on the rise, and Dean Martin no longer had the cache he did in the Fabulous 50’s and Swingin’ 60’s. He continued with his CELEBRITY ROAST specials, played Vegas for his aging fan base, and had a memorable reunion with ex-partner Jerry Lewis at the 1976 Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon. Dino finally succumbed to lung cancer in 1995, putting an end to one of show biz’s greatest careers. MR. RICCO is average at best, but it does have the last starring performance of Dean Martin to recommend it. For fans of old Hollywood, that’s more than enough.

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That’s Blaxploitation 2: BLACULA (AIP, 1972)

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The distinguished actor William Marshall starred on Broadway, played Shakespeare’s Othello on the London stage, sang operas, and later became beloved by 80s kids as “The King of Cartoons” on PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE. But he’s best remembered today as Prince Mamuwalde in the first Blaxploitation/horror film, 1973’s BLACULA. It’s the late 1700s, and the Prince and his wife have traveled to Transylvania on a diplomatic mission protesting the European slave trade. When their host, Count Dracula (Charles Macauley) insults them, they get up to leave. But Dracula has other ideas, putting the bite on Mamuwalde and damning him to a fate “torn by an unquenchable thirst. I curse you and give you my name. You shall be called….BLACULA!!” With that, Dracula locks the Prince in his coffin, and leaves his wife Luva to rot to death in their cell.

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After a cool animated title sequence (by designer Sandy Dvore), we’re in 1973. Two (flamboyantly stereotyped) gay antique dealers purchase Count Dracula’s estate. Bringing their treasures back to Los Angeles, they open up a coffin, and…out pops Blacula! He dispatches the two dudes and returns to his bed, his hunger satisfied. Dr. Gordon Thomas, his girlfriend Michelle, and her sister Tina were friends with the guys, and when they visit the funeral parlor, Thomas, who happens to be a police pathologist, notices two puncture marks on his neck. Blacula is there behind a curtain, waiting for his new servant to arise. He lays eyes on Tina, and she’s a dead ringer for his long-dead wife! Blacula follows her, but she runs, dropping her purse along the way.

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