What was Joe thinking - no
Halloween column? Preposterous! Might as well cancel the World
Series, and for that matter do away with Thanksgiving and Christmas!
No Halloween column, indeed.
It's been said over and over again by some of your fellow humans,
but let me reiterate - now more than ever we need to live,
to do what we love, to take full advantage of life in a Free
Country. If we allow our emotions to be dominated by fear and
panic, then and only then will our enemies have won.
Not that I'm suggesting we
run around carefree as if nothing had happened - we are a nation
at war, and should be a bit more alert than usual.
On the other hand it would
be absurd to spend Halloween walled up at home, quivering with
Imagine - quivering with fear on Halloween? Ridiculous!
Absurd! Folly! Why - sorry, Igor, what was that? Oh, yeah
. . .
Ahem. My all-too attentive
assistant, Igor, has just been good enough to remind me that
you're supposed to quiver with fear on Halloween! Heh
heh, I knew that. Just testing you . . .
(Good job, Igor, now don't
you have some toadstools to pick or something?)
Anyway, back to Halloween and
fear. It's a special fear, this Halloween fear - it's
controlled, anticipated, and, yes, enjoyed immensely. Halloween
is the day we reserve for taking all our half-hidden ancestral
fears of things unknown and unknowable and bringing them out
to play, mocking and thus getting control of the more nameless
worries that hide deep in the nether regions of our psyches most
of the time.
What was that? Oh no, Joe's
on his way back - Igor! Let out the mice!
Heh heh heh - that ought to
keep him busy . . . I'd better get on with this thing.
Igor reminds me that your usual
folklore columnist has indeed already done the Fear and Halloween
thing to death (so to speak). He seems, come to think of it,
to be rather over fond of this wonderful time of year. I wonder
why that is . . .
Pardon me, Igor? Joe is how
old? Why, he's practically ancient!
Let's see, that would put his
childhood at - ah yes, the early-to-mid sixties! Ah, no wonder
he harbors a special love for the Dark Doings of this season.
For if ever a generation could
be said to be especially Halloween Happy, it would have to be
that which entered elementary school in the early sixties. Oh
my, what days those were . . . what happy glorious days. Let's
go there . . .
Really, it all begins (for
this generation) around 1957. One could argue that it really
begins in 1930, with Universal. One could then argue
that you can trace horror back through Lon Chaney and the Silent
era, those wacky germans with their Max Shrecks and Peter Lorres,
Edison's "Frankenstein", the wondrous Grand Guignol
of Paris, and back into the 1800's with version after version
of Frankenstein and Dracula playing to sell out crowds on the
live stage, complete usually with extraordinary special effects,
and so back to Mary Shelley, and further and further back.
Trust me, I was there. Heh
heh heh . . .
At any rate, modern Halloween,
as our hopefully distracted Mr. Nolte has previously pointed
out, really didn't get going until the mid 1930's. Prior to
that it had been a sort of anarchic anything goes affair, with
adults attending costume parties while the kids were left pretty
much on their own, to wreak suitable havoc.
By the late twenties folks
had gotten fairly fed up with all that havoc wreaking. Something
had to be done. And so it was that Halloween became institutionalized,
with parades and organized trick or treating replacing pranks
and vandalism. By the mid 1930's modern Halloween had taken
root - and though Universal's terrible trio, Frankenstein, Dracula
and the Mummy, had already run their course on the silver screen
(yes, the Invisible Man, too!), there were sequels aplenty that
would carry these icons well into the forties, where they would
be joined by Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man.
Unfortunately, the early classics
had been made as "A" pictures, with great attention
and money lavished upon them, but by the late thirties Universal
(under new ownership) had consigned said sequels to the "B"
category - which meant less dough, tighter shooting schedules,
and inferior scripts. The greatest tragedy resulting from this
is that one of the best sequels, "Son of Frankenstein",
was originally slated as an "A" picture, only to have
the plug pulled at the last minute. I say tragedy, because,
dear readers, "Son" was originally to have been filmed
Ah, to have seen Karloff, Rathbone and Lugosi in living, fiendishly
green hued color . . .
But I digress.
Horror pictures were all the
rage throughout the thirties, but as the forties hit so did War,
and folks were less patient with shadowy doings in unnamed European
countries. There was enough of that going on in real life.
Horror films in the forties
tended to be comedies as often as not, sometimes with great results
(I highly recommend "The Canterville Ghost" and "I
Married a Witch", to name but two), sometimes not. The
final nail in the coffin (so to speak) was when the great Universal
cycle of monster sequels concluded in 1948 with Abbott and Costello
Horror was dead (so to speak).
As we moved from the forties
into the Nuclear Fifties, monster movies came alive again (so
to speak), albeit in a greatly changed manner. The two greatest
preoccupations in that decade were UFO's and the Bomb, and so
every creature that shambled onto the screen was either an atomic
mutation or an alien from Outer Space.
All good fun, of course, but
not quite as cool as the original Universal monsters.
I had to believe at the time
(not that I'm so old, as a matter of fact I was barely in long
pants during the Black Plague) that I was simply being nostalgic.
Kids had this new thing called Rock & Roll, hot rods were
ubiquitous, and these new, Sci Fi type monsters seemed to suit
them just fine.
So, as I said, our story begins
in 1957 - and, funnily enough, with Universal.
You have to remember that television
and the movie studios were locked in mortal combat in the fifties.
TV had stolen a huge segment of the formerly movie-going public,
and the studios were doing everything possible to lure the crowds
back. This is partly why such gimmicks as 3D (which didn't last)
and Wide Screen (which did) were trotted out during the early
to mid fifties. The studios were struggling for survival, and
among other things they were not about to let TV have
broadcast rights to anything decent.
TV in the mid fifties was still
largely broadcasting "B" and "C" pictures
- films no one cared very much about.
Then everything changed.
Walt Disney pioneered the way
with his "Disneyland" show, and its immediate hit with
"Davy Crockett" in early 1955. Those with eyes enough
to see began to realize that TV and Film could work together,
cooperate, and most importantly bring in lots of extra cash.
Universal, cash on their mind,
were quick to see the possibilities, and in 1957 they put together
a package of films to license to television stations, including
"Frankenstein", "Dracula", and the rest of
that ghoulish gang.
They called it "Chiller
Well, it was an instant success.
Independent stations from ghost to coast soon had their own
creepy host to introduce these frightful films, and a whole new
generation fell instantly in love with Universal's creepy crew.
It was monster mania, my friends, and it was scant months later
that the first and still ultimate fan mag of the genre hit the
news stands: Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by the great
and still very much alive Forry Ackerman (I believe Joe has mentioned
him in previous columns). The magazine fed the fans, and created
new ones, and Monster Madness was in full bloom.
Naturally, a studio in England
decides to capitalize on this, and in short order have remade
both "Frankenstein" and "Dracula", this time
in living, dripping color, as well as introducing the world to
a couple of newcomers named Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.
In the states, the typical
atomic alien monsters begin to be supplanted by more classic
tales, as William Castle and Vincent Price gave us such eerie
delights as "The Tingler" and "House on Haunted
Hill". By 1960, AIP, the studio responsible for much of
the aforementioned Atomic Alien Monsters, had switched gears,
luring Price away from Castle and turning out their own neo-classic
horror flicks, including "The Raven", "Comedy
of Terrors", "The Pit and the Pendulum", and many,
The most significant development
as we entered the sixties, however, was not in the movie houses.
The most significant development came from a little plastics
company named Aurora, who manufactured model airplanes. Someone,
observing this monster craze sweeping the classrooms, wondered
if any of these kids would be interested in making models
of their favorite fiends . . .
So it was, in late '61, that Monster Models hit the stores.
By October of the following
year this craze had caught up with our own Joe Nolte, then a
mere child of six. The children's magazine "Jack and Jill"
printed a Halloween tale featuring a kid who mysteriously vanished,
and deliberately did not supply an ending. It was a contest
for the young readers, to finish the tale themselves and submit
Young Joe did just that, and
the following January found his name in print as an "honorable
mention", to his delightful disbelief.
Unfortunately, they did not
print his ending, so (I believe) Joe to this day has no idea
what exactly it was that he wrote . . .
Funnily enough, one of the
entries that did see print was a grim little piece written
by none other than a ten year old Matt Groening.
Matt would of course grow up
to create the Simpsons, which continues to honor this season
with its yearly "Halloween Tree House of Horror" episodes.
As I said, a monster mad generation.
Oh, yes, that same October
of '62 also gave us (besides the Cuban Missile Crisis), the immortal
"Monster Mash" by Boris Pickett and the Crypt Kickers.
It quickly soared to the top of the charts.
And I believe it was also in
1962 that a certain gloomy Mansion first appeared outside Frontierland
in Disneyland, though it would remain closed for seven long years.
The mania continued, of course,
and by the fall of 1964 not one but two TV sitcoms appeared
based on this monstrous craze: The Munsters and the Addams Family.
The mania by this time was everywhere, as Creepy Crawlers, do
it yourself Monster kits, and other assorted terrifying toys
appeared to the delight of monster mad kids across the nation.
And a word should be said for
the "Milton the Monster" cartoon, which aired Saturday
mornings in '65/'66 immediately after the Beatles cartoon show.
But times change, kids grow
up, and the craze ebbed. It was inevitable.
Of course, there was a certain
gothic Soap Opera that began airing in '66, only to be trounced
repeatedly in the ratings. As a last ditch effort, they threw
a ghost into the show late in the year.
Ratings improved, for a time, but had dropped again by April
1967. The show was to be cancelled.
At that point, having nothing to lose, they decided to throw
in a vampire for a few episodes.
Within a week the deluge of
mail told them they were quite possibly onto something, so they
kept the vampire on, and Dark Shadows continued all the way into
(And if you have Sci Fi channel,
Barnabas Collins (the vampire) is about to appear for the first
time as I write this.)
So the magic hadn't quite dissipated,
and indeed I've noticed with delight a resurgence of interest
in the genre of late, thanks largely to "Goosebumps"
and a certain Harry Potter. It gives me hope for the future
. . .
What was that? Joe's coming
back? No, I haven't sent this yet! Igor, where are you? Drat
- gotta go . . .
I wonder where all those mice
came from . . .
At any rate, as I was saying,
I think a Halloween column would be trivial and untimely in these
uncertain days, and I can only hope you all understand. Furthermore
- now wait a minute. I don't recall writing all this . . .
what on earth . . .
What was that? Sounded like
a huge crash coming from the kitchen.
Hang on again, I'll be right
Heh heh heh . . . It's me,
Bartholemew. I knew that crash would get him. At any rate,
I'm sure Joe Nolte will return to his senses soon enough. He's
on his own for November, at any rate. I take Thanksgiving off.
In the meantime I'm sending this column before he gets back.
It'll be our little secret, eh, readers?
Therefore, from myself and
Igor, and all the happy haunted denizens of this extraordinarily
special time of year, from ghost and ghoul and witch and werewolf
. . .