The Monster Boom Years

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The 1960's are remembered for many things. Hippies, political upheaval, rock and roll music, explosive revolutions in literature and film, a war almost as unpopular as the one we're currently in. But I look back on that decade as a time for monsters.

Monsters were big then. The Universal movies were getting played on TV all the time. There were monster models, monster models, monster cartoons, monster record albums, monster sitcoms, monster cereals. Most of the bigger towns had horror movie hosts and the ones that didn't have their own got them broadcast in from other places. And Famous Monsters of Filmland was on the stands of the cooler magazine retailers. Oujia Boards were incredibly popular.

I was at a mini-horror con yesterday in Chesapeake, Virginia. It is a cool little event called MonsterFest and it is done by the library system. The people behind it seem pretty damned cool and they went all out. Attendance was sparse though. The people that did come were wonderful, but there should have been more. In my youth, had there been a free show dedicated to horror and monsters, it would have been packed. I guess the kids have too much to do with their X Boxes and wiis and what-the-fuck-ever game systems they have. And possibly parents were 'too busy' to take them.

I know that times change, but do they always have to change for the worse?

Just about every kid I knew was a monster fan. We'd excitedly discuss the movies we watched over the weekends and imitate the jokes that the horror hosts made. Even if, especially if, they were corny jokes. A few parents disapproved of horror movies and comics, but happily, there didn't seem to be many. Not like today's New Christians who want to deprive their kids the fun of Halloween. Fun that the vast majority of them enjoyed in their own youths. Fucking hypocrites.

I remember when I was in elementary school, there was a book in the library called Terrors of the Screen. I saw a kid with it and I was transfixed. I wanted it so bad. He let me hold it for a minute or two and, to me, it was like holding the Holy Grail. I got on the waiting list to borrow it, but I was low on it. I saw it around the school and I was jealous as hell of the lucky kids that had it. But I was never to have Terrors of the Screen for myself. I never got word from the library and I suppose that it was either lost, ruined by some disrespectful little snot, or perhaps some kid couldn't bear to give it up and kept it. I can certainly understand that. I later made up for the loss by using my saved allowance in 1973 to buy Denis Gifford's excellent A Pictorial History of Horror Films.

What happened? I don't expect today's kids to be the same as we were, but what of those that lived for monsters when they were kids? People from my generation? I'll tell you what happened: They lost the magic.

Like McCammon says in Boy's Life, we all start out knowing magic. As kids, we longed for there to be more to the world than school, parents and their humdrum jobs and the changing seasons. We turned to horror and science fiction to explore the possibilities of magic. Our logical minds might not have really believed in vampires, werewolves and giant insects, but in our souls, in our guts, we did. It was how we managed to survive the agonies of growing up.

How many of those Monster Boomers still have the love of horror in their hearts? Precious few, I think. Oh, I've brought up classic horror movies to my contemporaries and they'll usually get a sad smile on their faces. They can barely remember when they still believed. Now they tend to mock it.

If growing up means that I lose the passion for monsters, rocket ships, dinosaurs, giant bugs, then I think I'll pass. Oh, I've been unable to avoid the terrible aging process and I've been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world of responsibility. I'd probably be homeless if I hadn't. But I keep that magic part of my heart alive. When that dies, you lose your soul.

Me at age 7, doing a Lon Chaney, Jr. impersonation.


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