Oct
22

Confessions of a Horror Lightweight

I have often derided myself as a “lightweight” when it comes to horror movies.  

Many people talk about how horror movies are fun because they let you get frightened in a safe environment.  You get all the fun stuff without any real danger.  And this makes a lot of sense to me.

But I’m one of those people who gets deeply immersed in the virtual world when I’m watching a movie.  On some level, I become part of that world, and I forget that it isn’t real.  Brutal violence leaves me profoundly shaken and it takes me a while to pull myself together afterward.

Lots of gore, body horror, intense personal violence — these things are just not my speed.  I barely made it through the original Evil Dead.  The original Dawn of the Dead left me shaken and weeping.  I had to bail on Hellraiser and Blade II.  I don’t even want to think about the Saw movies.

There are few movies out there which bring enough other valuable stuff to make the distress worthwhile.  A Clockwork Orange and Pan’s Labyrinth come to mind; and I’ve still only been able to watch them once.

But all of that doesn’t mean that I dislike horror movies.  Far from it!

Monster movies, kaiju, the work of studios like Universal in the 1930s through the 1960s, Hammer, Amicus — I love that stuff!  I relish the creepy, the occasionally gruesome, the mysterious, the atmospheric.

If the violence is restrained, or just unrealistic enough that I can abstract myself and remember that what I am seeing is imaginary, then I can get frightened, creeped out, even excited by the possibilities of a mysterious and supernatural world.

I spent several very key years of my childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area and spending my late Friday and Saturday nights watching Creature Features.  It was the late 1970s, and things were quite different from the way they are now:

There was only one “Star Wars” movie.  It was called Star Wars.

Home video games were limited to the brand-new Atari 2600, which with a price tag of over $800 in today’s money, was a toy for the well-off.

It was more or less accepted that smoking was bad for you, but most people did it anyway and it was legal just about everywhere.

Home video recorders didn’t exist.  If you wanted to watch a TV show, you had to plant yourself in front of the set when that show was on.  And you’d better hope no one else in the house wanted to watch something on another channel.  Most folks had only one TV set in the house.

During that time, I often spent Saturday staying over at my best friend’s house.  Sometimes we’d swim in her pool.  Other times we’d play games on the Atari, which I was terrible at.  (Some things don’t change.)  We also played with our Barbie dolls, making up stories that were much more befitting the movies we’d be watching later than the usual clothes, cars and glam stuff.

After dinner, we’d make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, finishing up with one giant cookie each, and took that still warm and gooey treat into the den and settled in to watch Creature Features.

We’d get the tail end of The 10 O’Clock News.  And then came the funky theme music and the decidedly un-funky host, Bob Wilkins.  Unlike many horror hosts, he didn’t go in for costume or schtick, but simply sat in his chair in a spooky old house set, smoking a cigar and telling us a little about the movie we were about to see.

As often as not, he’d caution us that we’d best not expect much.  I don’t remember ever being put off, though.

Our favorites were the Godzilla movies.  We’d make up Godzilla’s dialogue, our own translations of what everyone’s favorite giant radioactive lizard was saying with those weird roars.  Those roars have echoed down through the years and informed a lot of my taste in movies.

Come to think, Godzilla movies (along with You Only Live Twice) were probably my introduction to Japan and Japanese culture, giving me a curiosity which blossomed into full blown fascination when I discovered anime almost a decade later.

We saw lots of other movies on Creature Features too.  Universal monster movies, spooky haunted house flicks, William Castle weirdness, goodness knows what else.  I might have even seen Night of the Living Dead there, although I doubt I made it through the whole thing.

Or maybe I did, and that’s why the movie disturbs me so much to this day.  Who can say?  I certainly can’t.

I probably saw my first Hammer films on Creature Features too, but my strongest memory of a Hammer film comes from the fall of 1984.

I was alone in a college dorm TV room, stitching trim on a cape and watching a movie with the (as it seemed to me at the time) outlandish title of Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.  Outlandish or not, that movie ended up having a lot of influence on my writing, and still does.

Now that I’ve shared my background, I’d like to contribute more to this blog.  I’ll be offering my takes on some old favorites and new discoveries.  I hope to share an “old school” perspective, and maybe even show how “lightweight” can be exciting, appealing and fun.  

After all, getting a broader perspective can’t hurt — especially when you have to look over your shoulder or into the dark.


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