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Why Horror? Why Not?

It’s that time of year again when I’m about to embark on a scare filled run of horror films and why I love them so. It’s always fun to rekindle some memories that led me to the genre. Hopefully I’ll spark some interest and maybe even help you to recall a few memories of your own. Feel free to share.

Truthfully I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became aware of just who the classic monsters of film were. One thing I can definitely recall is loving the feel of a good scare. Looking down the long dark hall late at night and dashing to the safety of my warm cozy bed curled up under the blankets and wishing the bedroom closet was shut so I couldn’t make out the shapes and monsters that hid within the hanging clothes and boxes piled up high.

Back in the days when I was about five to ten years old I began to realize that there was always a classic horror film on Friday’s late night television. Mostly the Universal Monster titles. I’d be nagging my parents to stay up late and watch in the hopes of seeing someone named Talbot turn into a real live Wolfman. The answer was usually the same each week. “You need a good night sleep as you’ve got hockey early Saturday morning.”

Tell a kid he can’t watch something and we all know what that leads to…….

I did get lucky on one of those Fridays when my Father stayed up late with me and we watched Boris Karloff in the 1931 classic Frankenstein. I was hooked. Another TV event I can vaguely remember is the 1973 release of the two part effort Frankenstein : The True Story. Thankfully it surfaced on DVD and remains for me one of the best takes on the Shelley legend. Then there was my introduction to Kharis the Mummy and the hilarity of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Each week I’d devour the TV Guide looking for titles like The House of Dracula or Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. I even remember asking/telling my Mother I needed to watch a vampire movie called The Count of Monte Cristo. Pure innocence.

The TV movie was a genre unto itself and frequently featured titles of terror thanks to director/producer Dan Curtis with his Trilogy of Terror and the great Darren McGavin features and subsequent series, The Night Stalker.

Comical scares were excitedly looked upon growing up. The Ghost and Mr. Chicken or Munster, Go Home. Pretty much anything that caused Don Knotts to tremble. Let’s not forget the Japanese imports that my Dad used to laugh off. The likes of Godzilla, Mothra, The Gargantuas and even The Mushroom People.

There was always the chance you’d come across a gothic chiller in mid stream and not even know the title. The perfect example of this in my case was seeing for the first time a terrifying Vincent Price title where he was following a trail of blood through an old castle resulting with a blood thirsty young woman and a fiery demise. It took me a few years to figure out just what the title of this chiller was. Any ideas?

Monsters and scares were everywhere. Cereal boxes with the classic monsters. Cartoon style.  Jaws at the theater, an adventure in itself. Eventually I found my way to the public library and the many coffee table books discussing horror films with wonderful glossies of Lee as Dracula and other assorted Hammer titles. Books like The Seal of Dracula with what I am quite sure were photo’s my Mother wouldn’t have approved of.

As I devoured the classic titles of Karloff and company I finally got to see my first Lee film as Count Dracula. It was the 1965 Terence Fisher effort, Dracula – Prince of Darkness. It took me a few years but eventually I got to see all the Lee/Hammer titles and the Jess Franco version too. The one Lee film that eluded me is his Dracula and Son film from France. It would play on our one and only French channel years ago and drive me crazy that I couldn’t understand the dialogue and there were no subtitles to read along. I recently acquired a copy, rectifying my never having seen it.

Young scholar that I was I knew Lee had given up the cape in 1973. This according to any book I could get my hands on. I thought I knew something the authors didn’t. Lee and Cushing returned for one more go around in 1979. Count Dracula and His Vampire Bride. I know because I saw the trailer on TV. Eventually I’d connect it to a re-titling of the 1973 flick, The Satanic Rites of Dracula in North American release.

Anyone recall that trailer for the Dino Di Laurentiis extravaganza King Kong? Thanks Mom for taking this little kid to see that one upon it’s initial release. Truly an epic evening at the time. When the 3-D classic The House of Wax was re-released theatrically in 1983 I was there.

One memory I love to treasure is staying up for a  late show and divided on which movie to watch. I had seen neither so both were on my radar around the age of 12. One channel was playing Four For Texas. A 1963 Rat Pack picture with baddie Charles Bronson doing his best to put Frank and Dean six feet under. The other was the 1973 thriller The Legend of Hell House. I opted for Hell House but it scared the heck out of me and I had to switch back to the western and play it safe. Another title that I’m sure gave me nightmares back in the day was Let’s Scare Jessica to Death with it’s dream like quality.

Monsters on magazine covers were a hit when I discovered a comic book store downtown with back issues of Famous Monsters, Castle of Frankenstein, The Monster Times and other assorted selections including The House of Hammer.

The magazines and glossy books allowed for the discovery of the actors under the make up and creating lists of the films they appeared in with the hope of someday saying I had seen them all. Still working on that one which keeps the whole enterprise fun and everlasting.

When the VHS tape became a welcome addition to our home my viewing habits really increased as titles frequently turned up in varying degrees of quality. Night of the Living Dead, Plan Nine, The Creeping Flesh, Alligator and even the all new gross out flick The Evil Dead. My first Val Lewton film, The Body Snatcher with Boris and Bela. The Thing remake from John Carpenter practically turned my hair white on that first viewing.

Both The Exorcist and The Omen …… still scare the hell out of me.

Along with the magazines I found that that same comic book store had a box full of posters from the local theater. I quickly snagged anything with my favorite tough guys and even a copy of The Wickerman. Another film that I still recall watching for the first time and the impact it had on me that still lingers.

Theatrically I never saw many of the modern horror titles from my teenage years. Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers are film series I have subsequently seen but never did upon their original release. This in part because I wasn’t old enough to gain admittance.

That can’t be said for one of my favorite vampire tales starring the beloved Roddy McDowall, Fright Night. I saw this one on opening night and still revisit it every now and then. Another fun title I did get to was The Evil Dead Part 2 and it’s follow up, The Army of Darkness.

There’s probably more stories that may come back to me as I jar my memory banks looking through memorabilia and other assorted collectibles associated with the horror genre but perhaps next year during the Halloween season.

From here on in till the 31st of October I look to celebrate many of the scary themes and films that continue to invade our television screens bringing warm recollections and gasps of terror to our faces. I will try to cover some of my personal favorites and the actors that populated the genre. Then there are the two studios that are most often connected to the classic monsters and who knows what other ghouls and goblins I might rediscover over the next few days.

One thing I am intending to focus on are the many subsequent Exorcist like films of the 1970’s that looked to cash in on Linda Blair’s plight with the Devil.

Take the time to check in for the latest scares I’ll be spotlighting leading up to October 31st, 2020 and when given the chance let’s cheer on Peter Cushing in his enviable fight for good over the powers of evil.

13 Comments »

  1. I’ve been trying for many years to locate a box-set type of gathering of all the Christopher Lee/Hammer Dracula movies gathered together in the one collection. Alas my efforts have never borne fruit.

    • I don’t think one exists and that’s mainly due to Hammer licensing the films to whoever ponied up the capital for their productions. S at least in North America no one singular distributor holds the rights.

  2. Horror I have to admit is on the lower tier of my list of favorite genres, (but it’s still above straight up Science Fiction) though I am partial to many of the old school stuff, including some of the Universal films, and a few of the Hammer films. The Inner Sanctum films I enjoy too, along with the early Corman stuff, Mario Bava’s Horror outings are very good I feel, and are on par with Universal. My all time favorites are the Hammer Mummy franchise

  3. I too discovered horror at an early age in pretty much the same way. Very early on my parents took me to see Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and I was freaked out by the banshee and the death coach — but the adrenaline rush led me to wanting more. I was lucky in grade school to have two Creature Feature-type movie shows to choose from, one on Friday nights specializing in ’50s sci-fi, and one on Saturday nights that broadcast the Universal horrors. My parents were a little more indulgent and let me stay up, but they almost changed their minds when on several occasions I ran up the stairs (the TV was down in the basement den) in a panic. Looking forward to your posts this Halloween season!

    • Yes I remember darby giving me the goosebumps as a kid. But as you say it’s that Adrenaline rush that keeps you coming back for me when you’re a kid and so impressionable. Running the stairs in a panic and were those stairways ever long!

  4. Your shows were on Friday nights, mine were Saturday afternoons…the old black-and-white horrors, the Japanese monster films, outer space sci-fi adventures…all there for me to devour every weekend. I saw that made-for-TV Frankenstein update as well, and one moment really freaked the hell out of me: when that guy gets struck by lightning and turns to bones (although I just watched the clip for the first time since ’73, and it seems pretty tame now). And I also saw the 3-D version of ‘House of Wax’ when it was re-released in ’83…a very fun night at the Vineyard Twin!

    And a very excellent post, Mike, and as always I learned something new: Robert Donat once played Dracula! 🙂

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