Thursday, October 18, 2012

Thirty-One Days of Classic Frights

The month of October is filled with pleasure:  nature's panorama of fiery leaf displays, the satisfying crunch as we wade through them, the relief of cooler temperatures and lower electric bills to name a few.  And as the losers among the new television shows begin to fall by the wayside, the increasingly popular variants of "31 Days of Halloween" churn out every Sci Fi and horror movie ever made.

Really good, scary movies are difficult to find.  The slash-and-gore films follow a formula that is numbingly boring or just plain offensive.  Body parts and serial killers abound, but films that produce delicious breath-holding shivers are rare indeed. 

My own  introduction to the genre came courtesy of my dad.  I have vivid memories of hanging onto him for dear life when he took me to the Waverly theater on Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland to see "Godzilla" in the mid-1950's.  Of course, today's state-of-the-art special effects make the venerable monster look ridiculous - a man in a rubbery latex 200 pound suit who lumbered over minature cities and shot streams of faux fire from his mouth - but I'd never seen anything like it.  The first suit was so inflexible and heavy that the performer could only move about thirty feet before it became necessary to escape the heat and weight of the costume.  The story was inspired by a real-life nuclear accident in which a Japanese fishing boat floated too close to an American nuclear test and was contaminated....and the monster was originally meant to be an giant octopus.

The "B" (supposedly referring to "budget") movies florished under Hammer Films, Roger Corman's American International Pictures and then Universal International as the studios churned out the Frankenstein, Mummy and Dracula film series.

I was hooked.  As I became older and was allowed to stay up later, one of my favorite television shows was "Chiller Theater" in the early 60's.  The popular show's opening montage of the wavy word (Chiller) that dripped blood (in black and white) featured classic monster movies starring the likes of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.  It eventually evolved into a show hosted by "Vampira" who was the predecessor of  the late 1980's "Elvira, Mistress of the Night".  Cassandra Peterson's Elvira was a sexy, wise-cracking horror hostess who wore a low-cut gown and spouted trademark one-liners of varying degrees of taste.  As an example, when she arrived in character for the reading of a fictional aunt's last will and testament, she cracked "Hey guys! Sorry I'm late, but then, so is my aunt."  In response to a would-be suitor who asked if she smoked, while offering her a cigarette, she opined "Guess we'll find out soon enough."

Chiller Theater's originating television station, WPIX, has aired one-night-only revivals for the past four years, and there is even a Chiller Theater Convention held annually in New Jersey since 1990, which has become one of the largest horror conventions in the eastern United States. 

What's your favorite scary movie?  


Alison DeLuca said...

I am a sucker for old horror flicks. My friends and I used to load up the punchbuggy with folding chairs and head for the drive in, to watch the worst possible horor flicks. Swamp Thing was great, and so was "Humungous."

Carlie Cullen said...

I love old horror films too. The Thing was a good one and some of the old Hammer Horror films were really entertaining. You just can't beat Christopher Lee as the suave, seductive Count Dracula!