Category Archives: monster world

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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Welcome to the low-rent universe

war-of-the-colossal-beast

It’s news to no one that shared universes are the big thing in movies right now

Marvel began building its shared cinematic universe in 2008 with “Iron Man” and has announced plans to continue it through at least 2020. Not to mention Marvel’s TV entries in that shared universe, like “Agents of SHIELD,” “Agent Carter” and “Daredevil,” the latter debuting on Netflix in April as the first in a series of “street-level” hero shows that will culminate in a “Defenders” series.

Of course, DC/Warner Bros. are trying to get their superhero universe going; Sony wants a “Spider-Man” universe but I’ll believe it when I see it.

And Universal has announced a shared universe of remakes of its 1930s and 1940s monster films featuring Frankenstein, Dracula and other creatures. I’m still pondering that one for another entry here.

So the other day, a movie company that I’ve never heard of, Cinedigm, announced plans to create, of all things, a shared movie universe. But using what classic cinematic tales?

The 1950s and 1960s exploitation movies of American International Pictures.

Specifically, 10 films: “Girls in Prison,” “Viking Women and The Sea Serpent,” “The Brain Eaters,” “She-Creature,” “Teenage Caveman,” “Reform School Girl,” “The Undead,” “War of the Colossal Beast,” “The Cool and the Crazy” and “The Day the World Ended.”

Strangely enough, I like this idea.

Marvel has this kind of thing perfected, down to an art and a science. I’m not sure DC’s superheroes will ever really come together on the big screen because of, I believe, a wrong-headed approach that seems more like Warner Bros. is ashamed of comic books.

But the AIP films, some of which were originally directed by low-budget auteur Roger Corman?

That’s genius.

Not because the company says it intends to shoot all 10 movies back-to-back from recently-completed scripts. Not because remaking these old AIP classics for cable TV a while back worked so well.

Because these dimly-remembered movies are perfect fodder for the remake machine.

Somebody once said that if you were going to remake a movie, don’t remake a classic. How could a remake of “Psycho” possibly work? (It didn’t.)

But with the AIP flicks, most people won’t be comparing them and, unless the remakes are horrible, they won’t be comparing them unfavorably.

And the idea of a universe shared by the monstrous, mutated “Colossal Beast” and the juvenile delinquents of “The Cool and the Crazy?” How can that possibly work?

The producers say the movies will share “a recurring cast of antiheroes, monsters and bad girls.” I can’t say that’s a bad idea and I base that on what Marvel has done with its movies.

Really, consider how improbable it might have looked, 10 years ago, to propose a shared universe that would include a bone-crunching political thriller, a good-natured space opera, a Nordic fantasy world and a rampaging monster movie. Yet “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the “Thor” movies and the Hulk’s appearances all worked.

Who’s to say those juvenile delinquents won’t end up fighting alien invaders to big box-office returns?

Stranger things have happened.

Classic horror: Universal’s ‘Mummy’ movies

Mummy's_Hand_

It’s hard to imagine how a shambling, vengeance-seeking collection of bones and old cloth ever became a horror film sensation.

And yet: The Mummy.

One of the classic Universal monsters, the Mummy might not have the same level of recognition and shivery admiration as Dracula or Frankenstein or even the Wolf Man, but he’s nevertheless a favorite for some of us, inspiring reboots in recent years and cameoing in movies and cartoons for generations.

Universal’s first entry in the series, “The Mummy,” was released in 1932 and starred Boris Karloff. Made at a time that the world was still fascinated by ancient artifacts discovered – some might say stolen from – ancient Egyptian tombs, the movie was more atmospheric and creepy than monsteriffic.

For me, the best of the Mummy’ moments came with the sequels.

Beginning with the dawn of the 1940s, Universal released four sequels: “The Mummy’s Hand” (1940), “The Mummy’s Tomb” (1942) and “The Mummy’s Ghost’ and “The Mummy’s Curse” (both in 1944).

These movies portrayed the Mummy as a bandage-swathed, limping killer, sympathetic when he’s used by manipulative masters but an inexorable killer – granted, a slowly paced one – that stalks young women who are reincarnated versions of his lost love.

Tom Tyler, who had played Captain Marvel and was best known as a cowboy movie star, played the Mummy, Kharis, in the first sequel. This one was perhaps the creepiest for one of the Mummy’s features: Supernaturally dark eyes visible through gaps in his bandages.

The next three films betray the ever-cheaper budgets Universal was willing to allow for the movies. Each of the four sequels made use of footage from the earlier films, but the practice seemed more standard as the series wore on.

Mummys_Tomb

The three final films in the four-movie sequel series starred Lon Chaney – a star for Universal in “The Wolf Man” following in Tyler’s stuttering footsteps. It was a mark of how quickly Chaney’s star had fallen that he went from playing Universal’s most tortured and likable monster to being unrecognizable as the Mummy.

mummys curse

One of the oddest elements of the series was the passage of time, which meant that later installments took place in the 1970s – albeit a very 1940s-style 1970s.

The time jump was nearly equaled in “say what?” by the switch in locales from Egypt to the United States, finding the Mummy and his masters turning up in first Massachusetts then Cajun country.

As much as I love “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” there’s something to be said for the comedians’ meeting with the Mummy in 1955 that, for pure and simple thrills and laughs, very nearly beats the A&C classic monsterfest that was originally released in 1948.

jonny quest mummy curse of anubis

As for those cameos: One of my favorite episodes of “Jonny Quest,” the classic 1964 primetime animated adventure series, is “Curse of Anubis,” in which Jonny and the Quest gang go to Egypt when antiquities come up missing and murders are committed. There’s plenty of human villainy, of course, but striding through the mix is a mummy – maybe the Mummy. There’s no doubt the wonderfully atmospheric scenes of the Mummy stalking victims – sights familiar to anyone who had been watching the Universal films in their early TV showings – inspired plenty of goosebumps.

Not bad for a shambling bunch of bones.

The Essential Geek Library: Stephen King’s ‘Danse Macabre’

stephen king's danse macabre

Here’s another in my series of reviews of books that every geek needs to read. Check tags below for earlier entries.

And, as usual, these reviews are framed in the reality that most of them came out before the Internet, when fans bought books if they wanted to find out who played the second male lead behind Kevin McCarthy in the 1956 classic “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” (It was King Donovan.)

Stephen King was my favorite writer when his non-fiction book “Danse Macabre” came out in 1981.

King classics like “The Stand,” “The Shining” and “Salem’s Lot” had helped King surpass even favorites like Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein in my estimation. So I was so ready for what King thought about horror and science fiction in books, movies and TV.

And I was not disappointed.

“Danse Macabre” mixed a little bit of autobiography and a whole lot of intelligent, thoughtful criticism between its covers. In densely-packed chapters, King skipped from a TV favorite like “Thriller” to a memorable short story with a few stops in between, but it all made sense.

“Danse Macabre” is like sitting down over a few beers with the most clever and amiable geek you could imagine and letting him entertain you with his opinions.

Like any book, “Danse Macabre” is a moment in time, a slice of history. It’s strange, after all these years, to read King talking seriously about now-nearly-forgotten horror flicks like “The Prophecy.” It shows that the genre wasn’t all made up of the milestones like “Bride of Frankenstein” that have withstood the test of time.

The Internets tell me that the book was reprinted in 2010 with an addendum. I haven’t read it, but it’s not surprising that more than 30 years later – via occasional columns in Entertainment Weekly and his Twitter account – King is still sharing his insight and love of the horror genre with us.

 

Comic book ads: Haunted house bank

haunted house bank comic book ad

Here’s an ad I remember even if I didn’t have the product it advertised.

The Haunted House Mystery Bank looked cool in the ad and videos I’ve seen online suggested it was indeed cool. You place a penny in a particular spot and the doors open and a ghostly figure comes out and grabs the coin.

The bank was battery operated and made of metal, but I love the ad – which appeared in comics in the 1960s – itself. The artwork is cool and primitive and the copy is appropriately breathless and jokey at the same time.

Online sources indicate this was a “Disney Haunted Mansion” bank, but I’m not sure about that. Check out that ad. No mention of Disney. You’d think they would have marketed the product with the Disney name.

That price, by the way, separated a lot of us out of the possibility of buying this bank. How many kids in the 1960s had six bucks for something from a comic book ad? How many kids had parents who would let their kid send off six bucks?

Today in Halloween: Collegeville costumes and the Tylenol scare

collegeville_1981_masks

How did a horrific health threat change Halloween as we know it?

We’ve noted before that Halloween has shifted from a holiday for kids when I was young to one for adults. It’s a billion-dollar industry now, with teens and 20-somethings – and older people too – vying to see who can wear the grisliest or sexiest costume.

Above is a detail from a 1981 costume catalog from Collegeville, a Pennsylvania company that started out in the early 1900s as a manufacturer of flags but ended up being second only to Ben Cooper as the store-bought costume supplier to generations of kids.

But a 1989 article in The New York Times profiling Collegeville put a twist on Halloween trends that I’ve near heard before.

That’s the year that someone tampered with Tylenol capsules, secreting cyanide in the over-the-counter medicine and causing the deaths of seven people.

The Times – this is in 1989, remember – theorizes that the resulting scare might have prompted parents to keep kids home from trick-or-treating, years after the first rumors of razor blades in Halloween apples couldn’t kill the holiday.

But The Times maintains it also sparked interest in at-home Halloween parties, which prompted interest in more elaborate costumes for kids, which led to more costumes for adults, who had to be on hand for the party.

Here’s how The Times reported it, back in 1989:

When people in the Halloween business explain why, they quickly get around to a key date – the fall of 1982. That was when the chilling news broke that seven people had died from Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide. The infamous Tylenol scare almost completely destroyed Halloween. Some towns outlawed trick-or-treating that year, and parents everywhere kept their kids from venturing into the streets.

As a result, costume makers were devastated. But then some bizarre events began to unfold.

Children wanted to do something on Halloween. So if they couldn’t go asking strangers for bags of sweets, then they were going to party. Partying became much more popular. At the same time, parents got fussier about what their children wore. ”When they went door to door, the kids could wear a costume that you just get by with,” Mr. Cornish said. ”But when you went to a party with all your friends, you had to start dressing up a little more.”

As parents watched their children go to parties, they got envious. They wanted to dress up as the grim reaper or Yosemite Sam, too. So the morbid events of that year turned out, in the long run, to have been just about the best thing to happen to costume makers since Halloween was invented. As Bob Cooper, the president of Ben Cooper Inc., a Brooklyn-based costume maker, put it, ”There’s been a change in the way that the holiday is celebrated.”

I’m going to extrapolate here and suggest that since 1982, people have mostly gotten over their fear of tampered treats, so that’s no longer affecting Halloween.

But an entire generation of people born after the Tylenol tampering case are very accustomed to teen and adult Halloween parties now. They’ve been high school students, college students, members of the workforce and now, more than 30 years later, they’re parents.

And elaborate costumes for kids and adults, along with parties and trick-or-treating, are the norm for them.

So perhaps something fun and good came from something horrible.

(Image from plaidstallions.com)