Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Monster Squad: "The Tickler"

In “The Tickler,” Walt (Fred Grandy) discovers counterfeit money at the Wax Museum and with the help of the crime computer determines that it is being circulated by a dreaded old enemy: The Tickler (Ivor Francis). 

The Tickler is known as “the man who cannot laugh” and he dresses as a clown so as to pull pranks on unsuspecting people, and, hopefully make himself laugh in the process.

Drac, Frank’N’Stein and The Wolf Man head to Laugh Land -- a weird funhouse -- to apprehend The Tickler, but he is ready for them.  The Tickler captures all three of the monsters with the help of his minions, Twitter and Snicker, and informs them that he wants revenge on Walt and the Squad for sending him to prison.

Soon Walt heads to Laugh Land as well. But will he show up too late to save the monsters from The Tickler’s nefarious feather wheel and giggle goo?

This week’s episode of The Monster Squad (1976), “The Tickler” features Ivor Francis as a villain who tries very hard not to be The Joker.  Although he is also a clown, The Tickler makes a big deal of not laughing about things.  

I suppose that’s the primary differentiation between villains.

Because in every other way, this episode of The Monster Squad -- like each one made so far -- rigorously apes the Batman TV formula. 

The Wax Museum basement doubles as the Bat Cave, the crime computer for the Bat Computer, and the Tickler for the Joker.  The colorful villain of the week attempts to confound the heroes with a terrible machine, and in this case, it’s the feather wheel.  But if you watched Batman, you know that each cliffhanger ending featured some terrible trap for the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder.

What is a little different about this episode of the series is that Walt actually gets out of the dungeon and is able to help out the monsters on their case.  He takes his criminology book into the field with him, a jokey but amusing touch, and it turns out that the book is hiding a weapon, one with which he can escape from his cell and free his friends.

Fans of Star Trek (1966 – 1969) will note that the gun is a toy phaser. The prop department on this series was really raiding Star Trek merchandise on a regular basis.

I liked “The Tickler” a bit more than the previous entry, “Mr. Mephisto,” in part because -- despite the derivative nature of his character -- Ivor Francis provides the series its best villain so far.

There’s something very unsettling about a lugubrious clown, and Francis nicely showcases a sense of menace in the role. He seems like the most dangerous foe The Monster Squad has yet encountered. Perhaps his performance works well because, as a humorless clown, he isn’t constantly reaching for silly jokes.

Next week: "The Ringmaster"


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