Monday, February 22, 2010
Confessions of a Monster Kid – Ghost of Frankenstein, Creature Features & Famous Monsters of Filmland #67
If you hadn’t already guessed it, I was (and am) a monster kid. I grew up in the Chicago area on a steady diet of monster movies, horror and sci-fi TV shows, monster model kits, and monster magazines.
I should note here that it was really my mother’s doing… Mom was a fairly young parent back when I was a kiddie and she cultivated my appetite for monsters. She liked scary movies and was often watching them. Of course, as a result, I was very likely to encounter these frightening phantoms on the tube, sooner rather than later.
Way, way back when I was about 3 or 4 years old (yes, I do remember things from that time), I awoke and went into the living room where she was watching TV. She was watching Ghost of Frankenstein. She let me sit and watch it with her for a bit. I was scared by the monster (played by Lon Chaney, Jr.). My mother took swift action. No, she didn’t say, “Oh, that’s just a guy in a costume. It’s fake.” Instead, she made sure the fantasy was left intact by saying, “The reason he is so angry is that everyone is so mean to him.” Very quickly, a scene in the film took place where Lon Chaney sees some bullies picking on a little girl, throwing her ball on a roof top. Lon scares the boys away and picks up the girl. Instead of throwing her into a pond somewhere, he takes the girl up to the roof and gets her ball.
“See,” Mom said. “He’s actually really nice and likes kids.” This was something I understood. From that point on I started to understand these deformed or misshapen creatures for what my mind had determined were simply misunderstood beings.
This being the 60s, monsters were everywhere… especially on TV, courtesy of programs like The Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, The Munsters, Lost In Space, and other great genre programs. My enthusiasm really started to take form at the furthest tail end of the monster boom in 1970 when WGN-TV Channel 9 in Chicago launched their Saturday night (at 10:30pm) horror movie program: Creature Features. Week after week, the program initially showed classic Universal horror films, often with double features. My parents would only allow me to stay up for the first film, but that was okay. I slowly began to learn the pantheon of the monsters one-by-one.
All my friends were watching it, too. Mondays often had a lot of talk about the latest monster movie we saw. While the movies were creepy, the truly scariest part of the show was the program’s opening. It started with a loud screech of a coffin opening coupled with a slo-mo shot of a bat flapping its wings (culled from Dracula), followed by Ray Mancini’s theme to Experiment In Terror playing over a slickly edited (for its time) opening featuring the Universal monsters. There were quick cuts, some in slow motion and even one shot played backwards that had Bela Lugosi as Dracula moving back behind a tree. There was no horror host, per se, but a drawing of Lon Chaney’s vampire in London After Midnight would be superimposed on the screen along with the CF logo. WGN-TV newsman Marty McNeeley (or announcer Carl Greyson) provided a whispering voice enhanced with an echo, reading a poem, as follows:
“Gruesome ghouls and grisly ghosts,
Wretched souls and cursed hosts,
Vampires bite and villains creep,
Demons scream and shadows sleep..
Blood runs cold in every man,
Fog rolls in and coffins slam,
Mortals quake and full moon rise,
Creatures haunt and terrorize..."
After that, he gave a short intro to the film, usually with minor puns. During commercial breaks, I seem to recall that the host would speak over a title card, but I’m not totally sure on that point. Apparently, WGN lost this opening in the years since, because the only version I see of it these days is a fan re-creation that is pretty good but unfortunately not the real deal.
Though the monster craze may have withering elsewhere, it was strong in the greater Chicago area, thanks to Creature Features and WFLD’s Screaming Yellow Theatre (where Svengoolie was born… which is a story to focus on in the future). Ignoring the passing of a national fad, I watched the monster movies faithfully while keeping an eye out for all things scary. Then something amazing popped up. It was Famous Monsters of Filmland. I was at the Colonial Drug Store looking for the usual comic book super hero fix when I stumbled on Famous Monsters #67. “What is this odd thing?” I grabbed it fast before it could vanish and looked through it, finally seeing the familiar Universal monster faces that I knew from week after week of Creature Features viewing. This other stuff on the cover about “witches and witchcraft” didn’t really grab me, but this magazine was about MONSTERS. I bought it, ran home, read it from cover to cover again and again. Each time, I stopped on the usual back issue selling page, where I was stunned by how long this mag had been around… and wondering why I had never seen it before… and wanting every single back issue. Maybe the drugstore didn’t carry it before, or it got hidden on the large magazine rack the store had, or maybe I had found some 80 page giant-size comics that I just had to have. I do also recall Vampirella #1 was there, too, but I decided it was too weird for me and left it. Anyway, my allowance at that time was only 50 cents a week.
Thereafter, I haunted the magazine rack, too, grabbed an FM whenever I saw a new issue. Not only did the magazine talk about these great movies I caught on Creature Features, it also showed there were many, many more I had never seen.
For example, there was Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, which I saw pictures from in FM… and that great cover from #42. I went monster gaga when an ad in TV Guide proclaimed that the film would be on this coming Saturday night. This was as exciting as catching the summer matinee screening of King Kong Vs. Godzilla at the Plano Theatre. Who could win this battle? I liked Frankenstein, but the Wolfman was my favorite monster. We all know what happened… that damned dam.
Anyway, let’s look at FM #67. Though it was published after what I consider the true Golden Age of Famous Monsters’ publishing history in the 60s (and 100-page issues), it still is a pretty slick package at 64 pages.
A lion’s share of the contents was appropriately devilish witchcraft films as it says on the cover. Interesting, but at 9 to 10 years old, all I really wanted was monsters. The article on the German silent film, The Golem, did the job and showed me a “new” monster. My favorite article of the issue was about film sets of the Universal classics… which had photos of those sets, often with a monster planted firmly in its midst.
There was also a Filmbook of The Black Cat, one of the darkest films ever created by Universal. I do have to admit that even though I knew who Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were, I had absolutely no interest in it… no monsters here. I had to get older to grasp what was going on to enjoy its dark depths.
I really dug the You Axed For It section, with page after page of monster pix.
Oh, and I was mesmerized by the Captain Company pages in the back with all of its various monster stuff for sale, including (gulp) 8mm films. I could actually own my favorite films and watch them any time I wanted to… though I never bought a single one directly through Warren’s Captain Company.
All combined, this unusual issue got me hooked. The joy I had buying it, lasted for years. Though I would eventually leave it behind me while I pursued girls, parties and whatnot, I kept my old tattered issues.
As a kid, though, I took it very seriously, actually saving up my nickels, dimes and pennies to do what I had never done before: I subscribed to FM… but that’s also a story for another day.
Okay, as you can see, I posted a number of pages from this issue here. Click on them to see the larger versions. Or you can actually download the whole issue by right clicking http://www.roadsidehorrors.com/dst/fm67.cbr. It is in compressed rar format, but the tag says cbr to make it readable through the CDisplay program (which can be downloaded through Download.com). CDisplay will allow you to take the whole document and read it clearly, page by page on your computer. It can still be opened up using Winrar, too.
I must note that the images from Creature Features in this blog article came from an incredible website devoted to the program. Check it out for an amazing amount of info, graphics, video and audio by clicking http://wgncreaturefeatures.tvheaven.com/cfmainmenu.html. You’ll be glad you did!
Coming Soon: More Confessions of a Monster Kid!!!