Monsters and Me
By Brian Pinkerton
Blame it on the babysitter. Or perhaps the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. You see, it all started like this. When I was little, my parents routinely escaped the terrors of three rowdy young boys by going downtown on Saturday nights to enjoy the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Our teenage babysitter did what most teenage babysitters would do, she turned on the television to distract us from tearing up the house.
And that is how we discovered WGN-TV’s Creature Features, a weekly offering of monster movies unlike anything we had ever seen before. I recall the first movie to dent my brain was War of the Gargantuas, a Japanese epic about two enormous ogres (one green, one brown) battling it out in Tokyo, shoving one another into crumbling skyscrapers as the military counterattacked with tanks, bombs and lasers. The mayhem was positively thrilling and left a lasting mark. (Imagine my surprise during this year’s Oscars telecast when Brad Pitt declared the same movie to be a cherished memory from his childhood.)
In the following weeks and months, Creature Features introduced me to many of the Universal classics of the 1930s and 1940s, and I relished in their moody, black and white worlds. My hunger for monster movies extended to the cheapie 1950s and 1960s horrors regularly screened on Saturday afternoons on fuzzy UHF channels – dumb but compelling films like Attack of the Puppet People and Death Curse of Tartu.
When an elementary school classmate excitedly told me about a terrifying TV movie featuring a haunted house, it became my mission to track it down. He described the chilling scene of a woman hearing a baby crying in the middle of the night and tracing it to a jar of glowing red goo in an old shed.
I combed the TV Guide for the movie’s reappearance and when it showed up for a late night rerun, I pestered my parents into letting me stay up to watch it in exchange for a nap earlier in the day. The movie was indeed super eerie and many years later I discovered the director was none other than Steven Spielberg. The title is Something Evil, one of Spielberg’s earliest, most obscure films and to this day it remains unreleased on DVD, adding to its vague, dream-like existence.
I remember my other personal entries into the world of horror: the fantastic wolf man painting on the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland # 99, gleefully out of place among the ladies magazines stocked at the local grocery store…Bernie Wrightson’s Swamp Thing comic book…Jack Kirby’s The Demon…television’s Kolchak The Night Stalker…short stories by Richard Matheson.
Whenever my interest in horror waned, there would be something unexpected to rev it back up. I remember seeing the original Halloween in a theater packed with shrill teenagers screaming in unison like a massive chorus – it remains one of the most electrifying movie experiences of my life.
I found bad movies endearing, too, and grew particularly fond of Ed Wood films before he became a household name. There are still people who won’t forgive me for making them watch Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Some passions of my childhood dissipated over time but somehow the monsters endured. There is something about the thrill of a safe scare that invigorates us in our stale, ordinary adult lives. We all like fake frights with a soft landing because there are too many real terrors in everyday life – just watch the evening news.
The classic horror films continue to reach new audiences through their original incarnations, sequels and remakes. (A new version of I Spit on Your Grave? Seriously?) Zombies are back in style (TV’s Walking Dead), vampires are hot (the Twilight books and movies) and werewolves haven’t lost their bite (Bill Gagliani’s wonderful Nick Lupo series).
My passions inevitably become my creative outlets. As a writer, my earliest novels were suspense thrillers (I also love Hitchcock) but more recently I have been creating horror stories with satisfying results.
My newest book, Rough Cut, is a big, affectionate tribute to the world of horror movies. It features a deadly rivalry between two horror directors – a legendary ‘80s slasher filmmaker and a contemporary “torture porn” hotshot. There are references to everything from Bela Lugosi to Blair Witch.
Rough Cut has got horror, humor and heart…it’s my letter to the genre that has kept me wonderfully entertained for so many years.
Brian Pinkerton is the author of Rough Cut (Bad Moon Books), as well as Abducted, Vengeance, and Killing the Boss. He can be found at http://www.brianpinkerton.com. Please see a purchase link for Rough Cut at left. Link for the Rough Cut paperback: http://www.badmoonbooks.com/product.php?productid=2317.