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.
I’ve become interested lately in the “spook shows,” afternoon or midnight shows in theaters big and small during the first half of the 20th century. In these shows, some classic – or not so classic – horror film would be screened, a magician or TV horror host would present a live stage show – often one that included “monsters,” AKA guys in masks – and a “blackout” period wound ensue in which glow-in-the-dark figures would appear to fly through the air above the audience.
I never saw a spook show, although I saw a drive-in showing of “Incredibly Strange Creatures” that included guys in monster masks running through the aisles.
I’m intrigued by spook shows, though, and will likely research them and write more about them here in the future.
In the meantime, above is an ad I found online for a spook show.
It’s possible to figure out a few things based on this newspaper ad.
First, we can tell that this spook show likely happened sometime after May 1958, when Hammer’s “Horror of Dracula” was released in the U.S. That movie starred Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, of course, and ushered in a new era of horror movies in color. The ad notes that “Horror of Dracula” was the moving playing onscreen
That’s assuming there’s no mistake in the ad, however. The monster faces used in the ad are from “House of Dracula,” the 1945 Universal monster release. That doesn’t mean all that much: The images could have been used for decades.
The ad promised free copies of Famous Monsters magazine, which began publishing in 1958.
The show was “presented” by Dick Bennick, who was a TV horror movie host from the 1960s to 1995, although he was in St. Pete after 1973.
The final bit of information from the ad confirms the St. Petersburg location. the Playhouse was a movie theater in St. Pete that operated from 1928 to 1973.
Wouldn’t it be fun to see this show today?
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.
What would Halloween be without monsters? And what would monsters be without Forrest J Ackerman?
Some of you might not recognize the name, but Ackerman – known as Forry to fans and friends – was the editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine from its founding in 1958 until publication ceased – at least under Ackerman, and at least for a while – in 1983.
Ackerman’s publication came at a fortuitous time for his fortunes and for monster movie fans in general. Famous Monsters coincided with the airing of the “Shock Theater” package of old monster movies – including classic Universal monster films from the 1930s and 1940s – on TV.
During the 1960s in particular, monsters were a booming business, spawning model kits, movies, TV shows like “The Munsters” and magazines like FM and its many imitators.
Ackerman, who died in December 2008, was a corny, pun-making treasure trove of movie and science fiction literary history and he brought it all to the magazine.
I met him only once, during a trip to California in the 1980s. My friends and I got to go through his house, dubbed the Ackermansion, which was filled with many thousands of movie props, posters, books and magazines. I still can’t believe Forry let virtual strangers wander around through his museum.
Besides the overwhelming number of books and posters, the house had priceless movie props. I got to see the spaceships from “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers” and metal armatures for stop motion models from the original King Kong.
I don’t know that Forry ever made Halloween a big deal – every day was Halloween for Forry and Famous Monsters – but he sure contributed to the delight and love and knowledge that many, many fans had for the spooky trappings of the holiday.
If, like me, you grew up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, you remember ads featuring Don Post Studios masks.
Post, who died in 1979, was famous for creating deluxe, top of the line Halloween masks. Before Halloween was the industry that it is today, Post’s masks were the stuff of legend, the go-to masks for Halloween parties and trick-or-treating.
Post’s masks were not your typical dime-store stuff. Looking at vintage ads now, I’m surprised that some of them sold for nearly $10. That was a lot of money for kids in the 1960s but these were beautiful, full over-the-head latex creations.
Post’s masks have taken on a life of their own that has continued through the decades. Some of us fondly remember the masks Post created for the ersatz “Silver Shamrock” company for “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.”
His William Shatner mask was, famously, used as Michael Myers’ mask in the first “Halloween” movie.
Of old-school Post masks, I will always think of his Tor Johnson mask, based on the 1950s wrestler/actor in classics like “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” It’s the scary fellow at the top of this item.
Here’s to Don Post and his masks, Halloween fixtures.
By the way, there’s a blog out there with everything you could possibly want to know about monster masks. It is http://monstermasks.blogspot.com/