Name Your Poison: Culinary Icons of Halloween
It had really started to bother me to the point that I resolved to do something about it. Like every 7 seven-year old boy my son is well acquainted with the Star Wars universe and I couldn’t, in good conscience, continue to let him associate one of my favorite actors with the almost comical character of Count Dooku. The time had come, I decided, to introduce him to the real reason movie goers around the world know the name of Christopher Lee. You see while I despise the modern take on horror movies, which are really nothing more than two hours of torture scenes strewn together with dialogue, I have a certain affinity for the classics of old. More properly called monster movies than horror, they came from a time when there were still such things as literary classics to inspire actors and film makers. Peter Cushing, who along with Lee made Hammer both a house hold name and one synonymous with horror, got the better turn in George Lucas’ double trilogy when he was cast as Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars. Lee had to settle for Dooku, but then again, throughout the dozens of films the pair made together, Cushing always had the better lines. Famously, Lee complained to Cushing that he had no dialogue in Hammer’s 1957 The Curse of Frankenstein. “You’re lucky,” Cushing replied, “I’ve read the script.”
In the 1930’s through 1950’s when many, if not most, of the best of these films were made, the meal still held an important place in daily life and ritual. This was even more true for the days of the mid to late 19th century when many of the literary works on which the movies were based were originally written. It is therefore no surprise that eating and the requisite drinking played a more important role in these stories than just to supply a background scene. In many ways, the communal meal represented the normalcy that was about to upended when shortly, in a literal sense, all hell broke loose.
Few actors were more adept at creating an air of menace by simply walking into a room, or speaking a single word, than Vincent Price. His distinctive vocal delivery cause many to mistake him for being English. In fact he was an American born in St. Louis, Missouri. He was, in addition to being one of the creepiest presences to ever grace the screen, a gourmet chef and cookbook author with his first wife. He even authored (hosted may be the more correct word) his own cooking program which was released on vinyl LP record. Imagine, the actor most associated with bringing Edgar Allen Poe to the screen delivering in his eloquent, if somewhat eerie, tone, classic French preparations such as Coq au Vin. With his first wife Mary he published A Treasury of Great Recipes in 1965. It has been described as not just a cookbook, but a time capsule of the Kennedy age of Camelot and Pan Am globe-trotting luxury. A second cookbook (which could be a reprint of the first – my sources are unclear on this), was published as Come Into The Kitchen. One is almost tempted to add “…said the spider to the fly.” I think Vincent would have approved.
Just as a sidenote: If there are any family or friends reading this while contemplating your Christmas gift list, I can promise to give the aforementioned tomes a good home.
Which brings us back to the beginning. I have to admit that as a Dark Lord of the Sith, Christopher Lee wields a mean light saber. He has claimed to have performed more sword fights on-screen than any other actor. So in all fairness to the Count (Dooku or Dracula – take your pick, your choice probably reveals your age), I have to conclude with what is, truly in my opinion, his…uh… most infamous role. The film is called The Return of Captain Invincible. Released in 1984, Alan Arkin starred as an alcoholic former superhero. Christopher Lee was, of course, the villain – the evil Mr. Midnight. In what is possibly the best scene in the entire movie (which isn’t saying much), Lee taunts Arkin with a fully stocked bar, dancing girls with cocktail shakers, and some of the most witty lyrics to ever name over cocktails. Watch the clip, and I probably won’t have to tell you that the song was written by Richard O’Brien – yes, the same guy who wrote Rocky Horror. Lee is on record in his autobiography Tall Dark and Gruesome as saying there are many other movies he would “rather drink to.” So in honor of one of the masters of the Halloween movie season, here is the clip of “Name Your Poison”, with lyrics below for those of you who like to bartend while you sing. I promise, you’ll be humming the chorus (and cursing me) tomorrow.
Mai Tai say that I’m Old Fashioned,
Tres Vin Ordinaire
That I want a fresh Manhattan
With white anglo-saxons everywhere?
A Black Russian’s no Pink Lady
Give her a Singapore Sling.
And Moscow Mule is not your baby
So Highball the Vodka, and name your sting
Be a big shot, with a Bullshot
Be a schwein mit der Wein
Have a short, or a port, or a snort, of any sort.
Asti Spumante . Uno Chianti.
I got some economic Hocks,
A Gin and Tonic on the rocks.
Where Angels fear to tread, I say-
Choose your booze! Let’s hit the red-eye!
Think of young Deanna Durbin,
And how she sung on Rum and Bourbon.
Or enhance your luncheon hour
With a Planter’s Punch,
And a Whiskey Sour
If you feel like a wreck,
Try a Horse’s Neck
Or a Sherry with a cherry in the new fun size-
If you don’t name your poison
I’ll have to get the boys in
The spirit of adventure opens ones eyes
If you don’t name your poison
I’ll have to get the boys in
And you’ll never see another Tequila Sunrise
Live happily ever after
With a Chablis and some laughter.
Between the Sheets is lovely
With a dizzy blonde and a bottle of bubbly
There’s nothing sicker in society
Than a lack of liquor and sobriety
So! Down the hatch. Here’s mud in your eye!
Take a bracer with a chaser, wash it down with rye!
Bottoms up, stirrup cup!
It’ll put you in the pink.
And all you have to do is
Drink, Drink, etc.