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Monday, November 5, 2007


This year's Halloween has come and gone. As is my custom, I fed the monsters who came to the door--or at least I did until 8 in the evening when Pushing Daisies started; then they were on their own. I had the pleasure of tossing a treat to Spider-Man this year, and I was proud to see one little boy come calling dressed as the Thing from The Fantastic Four. That kid got VIP treatment: TWO Hershey bars where his cohorts got one. The Fantastic Four have privileges at my house.

I don't mind entertaining Trick-or-Treaters. They are the part of Halloween that I still enjoy. I wish I could say the same for the TV programming surrounding the holiday.

It doesn't seem so long ago that Cable channels--in particular American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies--used the latter part of October to trot out all the true, great classics of the horror and science fiction/horror genre, all the scary and creepy movies that I grew up enjoying. My love of classic horror and science fiction films is something that my older siblings, Jack, Mike, and Prinny, taught me. My childhood happened to coincide with the great pop-culture monster craze when the old horror and SF pictures from the 1930s through the 1950s were first sold to television. My big brothers and sister, who appreciated those pictures, would sit me down to watch with them, and I so took them to heart that I immediately needed no prompting to watch them. Soon I was the one gathering them round the TV for them! Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster (please don't refer to the Monster as Frankenstein; the Monster is the Monster, Frankenstein is the Doctor), the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon--they and all the other great old creatures became as important a part of my boyhood as the super-heroes of Marvel Comics.

I was equally riveted when it came to the science fiction pictures that took over from supernatural horror in the 50s, when the Bomb was more scary than the undead. I was both ecstatic and terrified over The Day the Earth Stood Still (which remains one of my great favorite movies) and would literally run from the room and hide when Gort emerged from the spaceship and zapped the Army. That scene still gives me a tingle. I was captivated by the giant ants of Them! and the nightmare of The Incredible Shrinking Man. I loved the shocking scene in The Fly in which David Hedison's wife pulls away his shroud and reveals the grotesque insect head beneath it. I jumped in fright at the menace of The Thing from Another World. And will I ever forget the day I heard Jack singing a strange, creepy song that he said came from a movie about a semi-liquid life form from space that completely absorbed its victims and grew with each one it claimed? It sounded to my little-boy imagination like the most horrifying thing I'd ever heard, and in The Blob, when it finally came round on TV with that silly but unsettling Burt Bacharach theme song, I found the monster that scared me most of all. Today, I still think of the Blob as Hollywood's most fundamentally, viscerally terrifying monster--a thing that can follow you wherever you go, sneak up on you and attack without a sound, and wipe you out without a trace. No kidding; for all the fearsome phantasms that the big screen has ever conjured up, none has ever matched The Blob for its simply and purely frightening concept.

For Halloween, you used to be able to count on all the genuine classics of horror coming round on TV. This year, I couldn't find even one of them. I just find that sad. The Cable movie channels still have horror marathons all right; at least two of them set aside 13-day blocks of programming for them, ending on Halloween night. But you don't see the real classics now. What you get is slasher and psycho-killer movies and zombie flicks and low-grade monster pictures, many of which were made for TV or direct-to-DVD. What you see is a lot of dismembered and disemboweled bodies, heads ripped off before your eyes, blood and internal organs flying across the screen, people getting hacked to pieces, knife-wielding masked men, creatures designed as much to induce nausea as fear, cannibals and sadists and grotesqueries of every description--and not one of them holds up to the genuine, classic monsters of my youth.

I hate what passes for "horror movies" these days. When I go to a horror picture, or watch one on TV, I want to be simply, skillfully, artfully scared. I don't want to be assailed and assaulted with sadism and bodily mutilation and gore. The only "Gore" I can stomach is Al. The great American horror movie is the prime example of the thing that "they don't make like they used to," and I avoid them like the plague. The last one that I can think of that I saw and liked was Signs--a subtle alien-invasion flick that effectively and thoroughly scared you, yet showed you nothing more gruesome than an extraterrestrial's severed finger. Signs is the way to do it--and the way they almost never do it any more.

I can see that I'm just going to have to make it my project to create my own Halloween horror marathon for this time of year, by collecting all the scary movies that I truly love on DVD and setting aside some time during the season to gorge myself on them. My lineup would be the original Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, the original Frankenstein starring Boris Karloff, the original Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney, and Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, a selection of Mummy and Invisible Man flicks, and this list of essentials from the 1950s:

The Day the Earth Stood Still (which I already have)

The Thing from Another World

It Came from Outer Space

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The War of the Worlds (which I already have)

Forbidden Planet

The Blob


The Incredible Shrinking Man

The Fly

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Plus, I think, Dark City (I have that one already too), Poltergeist, and Signs. That collection should be scary enough for anyone!

Well, that's for the future. For now, there's still Thanksgiving and Christmas for this year to contend with. And I'll be spending part of this year's holidays in my accustomed locale, The Twilight Zone. We'll be chatting up the Zone a lot in December; wait for it.

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