“…so many dragons lurking out in the fog
So many crazy people mumblin’ monologues
It’s not the tales of Stephen King that I’ve read
I need protection from the things in my head
Vampires, Mummies and the Holy Ghost
These are the things that terrify me the most
No aliens, psychopaths or MTV hosts
Scares me like vampires, mummies and the Holy Ghost…”
As you could probably guess, I have been watching a lot of horror movies this month. I love Halloween season as much, if not more, than Christmas. Who am I kidding? To me, this IS Christmas!!! I have been hopelessly addicted to scary things since my parents stuck their old black and white TV in my room when I was eight or nine years old. It was put there with the intention of me watching Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and all those other PBS shows for kids that helped you learn to read, how to sound out words phonetically, and all that other stuff. What they were not counting on was me turning the channel one Friday evening and stumbling onto Ted Turner’s Superstation, Channel 17.
It was a Friday night in October, I remember that clearly. I was supposed to be asleep (yeah, right…), but, even then, I had a thing about not sleeping. So I turned on the television and ran through the clunky dial. I hit the space that went to the UHF stations (anyone else remember that space before Channel 2?), and Channel 17, out of Atlanta, came in clearly. There was a guy in a weird suit and slicked-back hair, talking with a weird accent, and he was introducing his show, Friday Night Frights. The movie that night was “Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man,” one of the classics made by Universal Studios, back when they RULED the horror movie world.
To say I was hooked from that moment on is an understatement. I began my love affair with horror right then and there, and that affair has never waned, not for a moment. My parents never seemed to notice that, unlike every other night of the week, I had no problem taking a bath and going to bed promptly at 9 pm on Friday nights. I would close the door to my room, throw the pillows down on the floor, and flip that TV dial over to the UHF space, and spend the rest of the night staring at the black-and-white screen, eyes wide one moment, and hidden in the pillows the next.
On the surface, this would have been enough to satisfy any young boy. But a bad (or good, depending on your outlook) thing happened. There was a “white elephant sale” at church, one of those things that is basically a group yard sale, but with food and cleaner visitors. I got dragged to this thing, compromising only when I heard there would be cotton candy there, and walked around, looking at all the junk people had brought to sell. Being me, I spent a lot of time at the table where all the books are, because you never know what you will find on a book table. And, there it was, sitting off to the side… a box of old magazines. I glanced down, saw a couple of old Popular Mechanics on top, and almost walked on by. But, again, there it was… something in the box caught my eye… the word “monster.”
Under those two Popular Mechanics issues, there was a stack of magazines. The top one had Frankenstein on the cover. The title above the picture of Boris Karloff said, “Famous Monsters of Filmland.” I remember the next moments of that night as clear as a sunrise on Brasstown Bald Mountain. I looked up to see if anyone was watching me, then I tossed those Popular Mechanics aside and dug into that box. There were thirty-five issues of Famous Monsters in that box. I could not believe there was a magazine about MONSTERS!!! HOW COOL IS THAT??? I looked around again. Nobody had spotted me yet. None of my friends were close by. And I had no desire to see them at that moment. This treasure was MINE, MINE I say!!!!
A lady’s voice brought me out of my trance. “You like magazines?” she said. This was obviously a trick question. Even then, I knew enough not to act interested in something you want to buy. I had seen my dad trying to finagle the guy who sold him our black Chevy station wagon two years before. Act like you don’t care, and they will try to make a deal with you. I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess so,” I said.
“They’re a dime apiece,” she said, turning back to help someone with a collection of Rod McKuen poetry books. A dime apiece. Dang, I thought to myself. I had two dollars and three quarters in my pocket, a small fortune for me at the time. I was going to have to leave eight issues behind!!! How was I supposed to pick what eight I didn’t want? What a gyp! I looked back at the lady. “Anybody else look in this box tonight?” I asked her.
She shook her head and took a bite of carrot cake from a paper plate. “Not a soul,” she said. “Nobody wants old magazines. They just take up space.”
…. Oh, really…..?
“What happens to these, then? I mean, if nobody wants them?”
She shrugged her shoulders. “They go in the trash, I guess. Why? Do you want them?”
HA!! A trap! Now, play this right… “I guess. There’s some cool stuff in here.” I picked up the Popular Mechanics I had thrown to the side and held them up. “Cars and stuff,” I said. “What time does the sale end?”
She looked at her watch. “About an hour, I guess. You want those, honey, take them.”
Umm… “All of them? You sure? The whole box?”
“Give me fifty cents, it’s yours, honey.”
I practically hit her in the eye with two quarters and started dragging the box across the room. My mother threw a fit when she saw the monsters, but my dad, bless him, said, “What’s it going to hurt?”
The poor man had no idea…
I read those magazines from cover to cover a hundred times. I learned about people like Lon Chaney Sr and his son, Junior. I learned about Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. I learned about Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing and Hammer Studios. I learned about Vincent Price and Roger Corman. I learned about King Kong and Godzilla and Rodan and Mothra. I learned about people named James Whale and Tod Browning, who directed movies. I learned about make-up artists like Jack Pierce and Bud Westmore, who made monsters out of actors with grease paint and rubber and yak hair.
It was like wildfire after that. I had to learn more, I had to see more of these movies. I found the model kits by Aurora, so I had my own collection of monsters – Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Creature from The Black Lagoon, and the one that really freaked me out, The Bride of Frankenstein. A WOMAN MONSTER!!! (I shall refrain from making the obvious joke about my first marriage here…)
In 1981, two things happened that changed my world forever. I found a magazine called Fangoria, and my parents got our first VCR. It was all over after that. I could record horror movies and keep them??? I had managed to sneak into the local movie theatre in 1978 and see a movie everyone was talking about called Halloween, and suddenly, horror had color to it, and that color was blood-red. Fangoria taught me about the man who made Halloween, a genius named John Carpenter, and about other men of blood-red vision like George Romero, Tom Savini, Herschel Gordon Lewis, and Sean Cunningham. And now, I could get my mom to take me to the video store and rent stuff like Friday the 13th and Dawn of the Dead over and over again? Are you KIDDING ME??? Oh, it was bliss… pure bliss…
These days, my collection of horror is a thing of beauty, in my humble opinion, of course. I have all of the Universal Monsters. I have the Val Lewton collection. I have every Godzilla movie, and most of the rest of the Japanese rubber-suit monsters as well. I managed to get Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci movies long before DVD’s were even invented. I have what many people think is an unnatural fondness for zombie movies and slasher movies. But, when it comes right down to it, my love of horror still goes back to the monsters. Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, they are still the ones I sharpened my teeth on, pardon the pun, and those are the ones I still like the most. Oh, I like the Saw movies, and the first Blair Witch Project, and Paranormal Activity. But on a rainy weekend afternoon, I am more inclined to put Godzilla Vs. Megalon in the player first, then back it with one of Christopher Lee’s Dracula portrayals, and then round it out with the director’s cut of Dawn of the Dead (the original, not that dumb one with the fast-moving zombies). I will not discuss sparkly Twilight vampires, so do not ask. The only teen vampires that ever worked were Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric, end of story. Sparkle, indeed…
Some people hang poster art in their homes, of movies like Gone with the Wind and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Me, I have a poster of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (signed by Gunnar Hansen, the guy who played “Leatherface,” no less) and a huge one-sheet of the Lon Chaney version of Phantom of the Opera. My Phantom doesn’t need to sing about music of the night, he just scares the bejesus out of Christine when she rips his mask off. I have a snow globe of Michael Meyers stabbing a girl from Halloween, and when you shake it, little flakes of red fall everywhere instead of white snow. It sits on a shelf right next to my Hannibal Lecter mask and my Freddy Kruger glove.
And, this week, on AMC’s The Walking Dead? My high school, my alma mater, is featured as a home base for a swarm of zombies. Yes… my high school… where I walked the halls and was the president of the Student Council… is now a featured location on a TV show… about zombies…
I could just cry… it’s just so… so… *sniff*… so perfect… I love Halloween… *sniff*… I really do…