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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Movies At Dog Farm Remembers: The Early Scares And Formative Horrors

Poltergeist snowy tv
"They're here."  Poltergeist (1982)
     I'm edging up on my 43rd birthday at the end of this month, and that means I've logged about 43 years watching genre movies.  I started young.  Of course, when I was starting out there were a lot less genre movies to watch.  They weren't quite as accessible, either.  You had your drive-in, your theater (not multiplex - a crucial distinction) or your thirteen channels of broadcast television.  One of those thirteen channels was PBS, and all the others were snow after a certain hour of the night - that would be snow like what Carol Anne watches on her family's sweet-ass tube television in Poltergeist, kids.  You see, back then television stations still ended their broadcast days at around 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.  Then you'd get "The Star Spangled Banner", then some sort of quasi-religious daily affirmation, then snow.  At least once a week, though, I'd get a shot of late night genre goodness delivered before the snowstorm.

The Bowman Body's casket nameplate
The nameplate on Bowman Body's casket.
     Most of my earliest recollections of exposure to genre movies were tied to once weekly viewings of Shock Theater hosted by The Bowman Body.  I've written fondly of Shock Theater in the past here.  It was preceded each Saturday night by Soul Train.  As such, I was one of what I'm sure was a legion of surprisingly funky lower middle class pre-teens well-versed in the old black and white Universal horror movies and sci-fi B movies straight from the 1950s.  I watched whatever was on, but a few stand out.

The Blob (1958) poster
Scary stuff, right?
     Many of the movies dealt with the traditional werewolves, vampires, and mummies.  Most of the others dealt with anthromorphic horrors of some sort, because a guy in a monster suit usually still pretty much looked like a guy in a monster suit.  Occasionally, though, something a little different would come along, and those were always the ones that had the most impact.  The Blob (1958) actually terrified me as a child.  If something with a more or less human form came after me, there were safe places to hide.  The Blob could get me anywhere.  The lyrics to the deceptively catchy Burt Bacharach song "Beware The Blob" that played over the opening credits said it all:  "Beware of the Blob! - It creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor - Right through the door and all around the wall - A splotch, a blotch - Be careful of the blob!"  Now where in the hell was I going to hide from a monster like that?

the monster from The Monster That Challenged The World (1957)
The monster challenging the world, one closet door at a time.
     The Monster That Challenged The World (1957) was another favorite.  I just rewatched this a few days ago, and giant prehistoric mollusks from the Salton Sea still hold up pretty well.  The movie actually builds up to some solid chills, and it boasts an impressive monster design that gets its fair share of screen time.  Secretary Gail MacKenzie telling her little daughter Sandy to close her eyes as one of the monsters tears through the door is still strong stuff.  I don't recall too many children being placed in harm's way in the old horror movies, so that moment really hit home for me.  Again, too, this was a monster that didn't possess a recognizably human form.  Apparently, I was just sophisticated enough a viewer to demand a bit more from my monsters in order to buy the premise.  So how about a monster that still keeps me from going into ocean water more than knee deep?

Jaws (1975) - the shark surfaces
Easily one of the best movie scares ever.  Jaws (1975)
     Jaws (1975) is a seminal horror for a lot of viewers, and I was young enough to be completely gobsmacked by it. Jaws was a little too upscale for Shock Theater, and I know that first viewing was a prime time network broadcast.  I know this because I almost didn't see it.  You see, my mother had found some boogers wiped on the underside of the kitchen table, and when I was confronted about this I tried vainly to convince her it had been my father who'd left them there.  The booger issue was less serious than the fact that I lied about it.  I was punished for lying, my punishment being no TV for a month (seems a little harsh, doesn't it?).  I knew nothing of Jaws, but my father - God bless him - did.  He knew I'd want to see it, and he brokered a one night reprieve for me.  Because the network television premiere of Jaws was a special circumstance, he convinced my mother to let me off the hook for just one night.  Thanks, Dad.

     I've been thinking about all of these special movies because we old people always tend to wax nostalgic on birthdays.  I've also been thinking of them because I anxiously await the day I get to introduce my little baby Gunnar to genre movies.  Adrienne says I have to ease him into it because she doesn't want to be left to contend with the nightmares.  I envy Gunnar.  If only something as innocent as The Blob could still breed nightmares for me . . .  I'll get to see everything old become new again through Gunnar's eyes, though, and that's going to be pretty freakin' awesome.

     What movies gave you your first nightmares as a child?

Posted by Brandon Early

1 comment:

The Old Man said...

You picked two amazing movies with The Blob and Jaws. When I taught Film, I would open with Jaws. No other movie provided great story and characterization with the added bonus of some jump frights to keep students tuned in. Like Raiders, Jaws is one of the films that I can see countless times and never tire of its power.

Enjoy introducing this world to Gunnar!