Category Archives: monster magazines

Classic: ‘Shock’ theater ad for TV

shock theater ad

For those of us who grew up Monster Kids in the Monster World, this marked the epicenter of that world.

Shock – also known as Shock Theater.

I saw this ad bouncing around the internet recently and wanted to share it here. Regular readers of this blog know I’ve written a lot about Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and what an influence it had on a couple of generations of kids. FM came decades after the movies it celebrated – including the classic Universal monster films – so the 1960s monster craze might have seemed unlikely.

Except for Shock.

In October 1957, Columbia Pictures’ TV subsidiary, Screen Gems, released a package of 52 horror films – including the classic Universal horror films like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” – to TV.

The Shock package was a huge hit. Usually airing late at night – as was the case, a few years later, with host Sammy Terry on WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis – but sometimes airing at other times, Shock popularized the old Universal pictures once more.

Everything that followed came because of this. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, horror hosts, the wave of monster toys, cartoons, comics and novelties that began in the 1960s and continued for decades.

Long live Shock.

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Essential geek library: ‘The Best from Famous Monsters of Filmland’

best from famous monsters

I’ve noted it here before – as have many elsewhere – but it’s hard to overstate the importance of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine to a generation of movie fans and, in particular, horror movie fans.

When FM appeared on newsstands in 1958 – before I was born, no less reading it – the Shock Theater package of old Universal horror films was playing on TV stations around the country, often hosted by an over-the-top character like Sammy Terry here in Indiana.

FM, published by Warren Publishing and edited by Forrest J Ackerman, greatly appealed to the audience of horror movie fans – including me, when I discovered it a few years later.

My relationship with my collection of FMs was a complicated one. I never had a complete run of the magazine, although I had most of them, between buying them new each month on the newsstand and buying back issues.

Then, possessed of the insane writer/designer spirit that led to my actual career, I cut up many of my issues, rearranging photos and articles in scrapbooks in my own fashion.

I bought many of the old issues again, years later, before selling off most of my collection a couple of decades ago.

I kept my copy of “The Best from Famous Monsters of Filmland,” however, and wanted to mention it here in this edition of the Essential Geek Library.

Published in June 1964 by Paperback Library with a cover price of 50 cents, the book was a paperback-sized, 162 page reprint, basically, of some Famous Monsters articles from 1958 through 1960.

Individual articles bore such titles as “Monsters are Good for You,” “Alice in Monsterland,” “The Frankenstein Story” and “Girls Will Be Ghouls.”

Littered with Ackerman’s trademark puns – “Kong-fidentially Yours” – the book offered not only an enthusiastic defense of monster movies but inside information, including the number of models and armatures that were used in making “King Kong,” (27, Ackerman says. In a visit to his house in the Los Angeles area in the 1980s, I got to see one of those armatures, which was nothing but a metal skeleton with bits of material clinging to it by that point.)

I’m not sure when I picked up my copy of “The Best of …” but I’m guessing it was years after publication. It’s in pretty good shape but battered by years of reading, over and over again, by me and the previous owners.

Online sources indicate Warren and Forry published at least three paperback reprint collections of FM articles, following “The Best From …” with “Son of …” and “Famous Monsters of Filmland Strike Back.”

They were just what all of us monster kids wanted and we loved ’em.

RIP Ray Harryhausen

harryhausen skeleton

Ray Harryhausen, who passed away today in London at age 92, was certainly inspirational. He sparked a love of movies and special effects among not only lifelong movie fans but boys and girls who grew up to be directors and, like their idol, special effects wizards.

But for me, Harryhausen was more than just the creator of great movie creatures like Medusa in “Clash of the Titans” or the sword-fighting skeletons in “Jason and the Argonauts.”

Harryhausen lent an air of respectability to the wildest fantasy stories kids could hope to see in movie theaters.

jason argonauts skeleton sword fight

That’s because Harryhausen and his writing and directing partners adapted classic stories – a series of Sinbad movies or “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” based on his friend Ray Bradbury’s melancholy “The Fog Horn” – that were almost impossible for parents to say “no” to. Really, faced with the possibility of letting your kid see Harryhausen’s version of mythology or a “Godzilla” flick, what would you say?

Harryhausen’s stop-motion animation techniques – not the first, since the process pre-dated him with “King Kong” – were also the kind of effect you could show your parents and prompt awe. Look, we would say: He moves the small model of the gorilla a fraction of an inch, then exposes a frame of film, then does it over and over and over again. This was moviemaking at its most artistic and most craftsman-like at the same time. Anyone could recognize it as hard work. Even parents.

famous monsters 118 harryhausen

Magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland – edited by another Harryhausen pal, Forrest J Ackerman – let us revel in the process and marvel over those detailed models.

Harryhausen is being memorialized all over the web tonight, and there’s not a lot I can add to that. Except for a few personal favorites:

Harryhausen worked on “Mighty Joe Young,” the 1949 follow-up to “King Kong,” and made a giant gorilla downright cuddly. Who wouldn’t love a simian who rescued tykes from a burning orphanage?

harryhausen medusa

Beginning with “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad” in 1958 and running through “Clash of the Titans” in 1981, Harryhausen made history his own, giving us cyclopses (cyclopsi?) and minotaurs and sabre tooth tigers and fantastic and eerie creations like Medusa, with her snaky body and hair.

The world changed and the world of moviemaking changed and by the time “Clash of the Titans” came out, two “Star Wars” movies had been released and the world was turning to a more sophisticated type of computer-controlled-camera-and-model animation that itself would be replaced within just a few years with computer effects.

But Harryhausen’s legacy was long since in place, as evidenced by the sly references to his work, including the restaurant named after him in “Monsters Inc.”

Harryhausen made us believe that legends, gods and monsters walked among us. And until his death today, they truly did.

 

Today in Halloween: Topstone monster masks

I probably had some Topstone Halloween masks and didn’t realize it. You probably did too.

Unlike Don Post Halloween masks, Topstone were more reasonably priced masks. They were latex/rubber masks like the Don Post masks but were thinner and sold for two or three bucks – a third of the price of the most affordable Don Post masks – through stores and Captain Company ads in magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland back in the 1960s.

As a kid, I certainly didn’t notice the brands of masks I eagerly bought around Halloween time, so I’m mostly guessing some of mine were made by Topstone. And needless to say many of the masks don’t exist any more. They were never meant to survive for four decades or more.

Topstone sold full over-the-head masks, but I think most familiar to some of us were the “full face” masks, both soft latex and harder plastic, that were common at the time.

Topstone Rubber Toy Company, according to online histories, began making masks in the 1930s. Besides horror masks, the company made clowns, “goofs” and – unfortunately – race-based caricatures like “Remus” and “Chinaman.” As late as 1960, the company marketed “colored” masks.

The company’s heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s, when the advent of the “Shock Theater” package of classic Universal horror films became popular on TV stations and spawned not only magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland and TV horror hosts like Indianapolis’ Sammy Terry but also a craze for scary monster masks.

Particularly memorable was the “Shock Monster” mask that was aggressively marketed to young geeks like me.

Keith Ward, whose other famous designs included Elsie the Cow and Elmer the Bull (the latter for Elmer’s Glue) designed many of the classic Topstone masks.

Ray Castile is an acknowledged expert on Topstone, its history and its masks. He also produced thegalleryofmonstertoys.com.

Everything you want to know about Topstone masks can be found here.

iPhoneography: Cool Halloween stuff

Has it been a year already? Can it possibly be the weeks leading up to our favorite geeky and spooky holiday?

It’s twue, it’s twue. It’s not all that long now until Halloween.

And that means it’s time for our first 2012 installment of iPhone photos of freaky Halloween stuff.

If you remember from last year, I snap iPhone pics of fun, cool and unappetizing Halloween costumes, masks and decor. Considering that I saw my first Halloween stuff in the stores in July this year, I think I’ve demonstrated remarkable restraint in waiting until September.

Anyway, here goes:

Let’s start with the Zombie Baby pictured above. Remember Zombie Babies? I saw them for the first time last year and was immediately taken (and taken aback) with how twisted they were. Really. A co-worker put one in another co-workers chair last year. This year I’m waiting to see if anyone is brave enough to surprise a new parent with a Zombie Baby (like Freaky Frankie here; yes they all have names) in a playpen. They make quite a strong visual impression.

Ah, the classics. You can’t go wrong with a Michael Myers motif, copying the killer from John Carpenter’s classic “Halloween.” The original was apparently a modified William Shatner mask.

And speaking of classics: This officially sanctioned by Universal Studies mask of the classic Frankenstein monster is beautiful. This photo doesn’t do justice to how detailed it is.

Another classic, more recent: Pinhead from the “Hellraiser” movies. The pins are rubbery, of course. No need to worry about what damage you’ll do to the couch when you fall asleep, still wearing it, after the party.

And classics, part three: For decades, Don Post masks have been Halloween standards. Tor Johnson, anyone? (Remind me to do a special Don Post … er, post … in the coming weeks.) This one – Old Lady with Scarf – isn’t top-of-the line Don Post, but it’s nice to see the brand in Halloween stores.

How about a black rubber fetish mask? (The zipper doesn’t work; sorry.) How about standing in a dark room, after everyone else has gone home, wearing a black rubber fetish mask? How about someone calling 911 for me?

If you’re interested in something a little more light-hearted, you could do the time warp clear back to the 1970s with these sideburns …

Or this tambourine. Be cool, man. Some of us were alive during the ’70s.

If you prefer something of a more recent vintage. I imagine Eminem fully sanctioned and licensed this “White Rapper” mask.

As I’m sure that Tupac’s estate approved this “Thug Life” mask.

Getting away from masks for a moment: This scary clown piece would be perfect to hang in the aforementioned dark room. Now with extra creepy!

Last but not least for this time around: Pizza face for your coffee table.

More next time.

The Essential Geek Library: The Film Classics Library

It was 1974 and the videocassette recorder was, at least for home use, still on the distant horizon. If movie fans wanted to relive a favorite classic movie, they had few choices. The could wait for an art-house re-release. They could hope to catch it on late-night local TV.

Or they could buy Richard J. Anobile’s Film Classics Library.

Published by Avon and selling for the then-substantial price of $4.95, Anobile’s Film Classics Library was the closest thing to owning a copy of a favorite film that most of us fans could imagine … up until the time we could actually own a copy of a favorite film.

Looking back from the perspective of today’s instant access for movie fans – Want to see a movie? Pop in your disc. Watch it on On Demand. Stream it online. – Anobile’s books were ingenious and just what we needed back then.

Each movie was recreated in the pages of the oversize paperback through every line of dialogue and more than 1,000 frame blow-ups.

The books were, in a way, like comic books. Anobile took images and dialogue from the movies and reproduced them, in sequence, in such a manner that readers could relive the films.

Everything was included except for movement and audio. Opening and closing credits are included, as are lap dissolves and fades, which, Anobile noted, preserve the feel of the film.

I spent hours of my adolescence studying these books, looking at the still shots and reading the dialogue.

I still own two of the entries from the series, covering James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” I remember but don’t own Anobile’s recapturing of “Casablanca.” Checking around online today, it appears editions of “The Maltese Falcon” and Buster Keaton’s “The General” were also released.

A few other movies and TV shows, including “Star Trek,” received a similar treatment before the advent of VCRs. None of those later books could match the classic appeal of the FIlm Classics Library.