By the time this goes up on the Web site, I’ll either be in Pittsburgh, or driving through West Virginia marveling at the scenic splendor, thinking it’s too bad there’s nothing there and then realizing that “nothing there” is precisely why the scenic is splendid. That — and keeping an eye out for the occasional drool-worthy Brit sports car (saw a great Austin Healey 3000 last year) — is all part of my yearly pilgrimmage to the Monster Bash in Pittsburgh. The Bash is really in Butler, but no one knows where that is.
For the uninitiated, the Monster Bash is an annual event where horror fans—mostly male, but with a few intrepid females — of a certain age — mostly past 40, but on the spry side of dead — gather to carry on in person the debates they’ve been waging all year on message boards about various important topics. These are usually along the lines of just how good or bad Bela Lugosi was as the Frankentein Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). As you can tell, this is weighty stuff. Justin Souther will probably get a T-shirt out of the deal, I’ll spend too much money on “grey market” DVDs of titles that aren’t commercially available and have my annual bottle of Guinness. I might get wild this year and have two bottles. The atmosphere is that heady.
Movies — all of which we’ve seen before — will be screened. Celebrities and survivors from when these movies were made — most of whom we’ve met before — will be in attendance. Since the thing is held in the Pittsburgh area, at least one person will mistake me for George A. Romero during the course of the weekend. (If you wonder why, go look at Romero’s picture on his entry on the IMDb.)
None of this really matters, though, because the whole point of the thing is just to see friends and acquaintances who 362 days of the year you only know online or over the phone. It will be a bittersweet experience this year, since my friend Richard Valley — the editor and publisher of Scarlet Street magazine and the one responsible for getting me to go to my first Bash — died of pancreatic cancer some months ago. But the nostalgia of having been there with Richard in years past precludes any chance of not going.
In many ways, nostalgia’s the key to the whole thing — or at least to a lot of it. But if you stop and think about it, it’s a weird kind of nostalgia once removed. It’s nostalgia for an era of horror pictures that few of us (and fewer all the time) experienced first-hand. These were second and even third-hand treasures. All but a very, very few of us saw this stuff on TV, wearing our pajamas and trying desperately to stay awake at some ungodly hour of the night. The prints were oftener than not battered 16mm TV prints. The experience was broken up with commercials and generally dreadful “comedy” routines by local horror hosts.
Those of you who missed this era may never have encountered this tradition. It amounted to having some local talent (loosely defined) dress up as some kind of horror figure and introduce the movies. The last gasp I saw of this was Elvira (who, by the way, was at least year’s Bash). The hosts I endured in childhood were Dr. Evil from WBT in Charlotte, Shock Armstong from WTVT in Tampa and Dr. Paul Bearer from WTOG in Tampa.
I actually kind of liked Dr. Evil — in reality, a stage magician with the perfect product-placement name of Philip Morris — who sported a fez and a spade beard. (I even joined his fan club and got a postcard like the one pictured here.) Shock Armstrong (Paul Reynolds), who wore a Frankenstein Monster mask and a football jersey, wore thin for me, because his routines seemed interminable and almost invariably ended with him pouring boiling something-or-other on his offscreen mother. Dr. Paul Bearer — a one-eyed DJ named Dick Bennick — came along in my late teen years, and I was more accepting of the silliness then, and I even met him a couple times. And how can you not like a guy who did a station promotional spot sitting in a coffin, holding his glass eye up and assuring the viewer, “We’ve got our eye on you.”
In short, our exposure to these films was less than ideal. I too clearly recall a TV screw-up during Lew Landers’ The Raven (1935). Bela Lugosi was reciting Poe’s poem, and as he gravely intoned, “Suddenly there came a tapping,” the sound briefly switched to a commercial they were lining up, so it was followed by someone screaming, “Now! Veg-o-matic!” Trooper that Bela was, of course, he continued unfazed, “As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.” Unfortunately, I hear it in my head that way to this day.
Of course, some of the nostalgia is less for the films themselves in many cases, and more for our misspent childhoods. I guess I’m as guilty of that as anybody, but I don’t get morbid about it. If all I got out of these movies today was the same thing I got out of ‘em when I was 10, I wouldn’t still be watching them. I don’t long for beat-up 16mm prints and horror hosts and arguing with my parents about staying up so late or how they were worried that I was too interested in these gruesome movies (“I don’t think it’s healthy”). In fact, one of the nicer things about the 2006 Bash was seeing The Strange Case of Dr. Rx (1942) in a nice print on a big screen with an audience of a hundred or so fans. Any movie with a bogus mad scientist who dresses up in a Klan-go-to-meeting-hood and goads his pet gorilla into pulling his helpless victims toward his cage deserves to be seen as large as possible. (How could my parents think that was unhealthy? I don’t get it.)
I have to admit, though, that it’s not all Guinness and gorillas. Like everything else on earth, horror fandom is broken up into factions — and not all factions talk to each other. You may be sure, on the other hand, that they talk about each other. (You might be surprised, however, to learn that these divisions by and large follow political party lines, i.e. there are liberal fans and conservative fans and it’s sound policy not to confine the two in a small space.) Still — maybe I’m just kind of oblivious at these functions — I’ve found it relatively easy to avoid the folks I have little desire to run into. In fact, I find this much more easily accomplished than convincing myself yet again that I really don’t need that overpriced one-sheet from Scared to Death (1947) that shows up — more overpriced — every year. (Now, if it’s a Voodoo Man (1944) half-sheet, all bets are off and my bank balance soon will be.)
So here I am and there you are and poor Mr. Souther is stuck watching Get Smart and The Love Guru (I swear I didn’t plan it this way.)
Now, while I’m off living it up in lush, picturesque Butler, I thought you might have a little fun with a small horror movie quiz that I’ve cooked up off the top of my head. Now, here’s the catch — since I came up with this trivia challenge without recourse to books or the internet, it’s only fair that you answer in kind. Of course, you can cheat, but you’ll know in your heart that your mind isn’t filled with useless information.
Shall we go?
1. What famous horror actor came out from behind a curtain before the credits of Frankenstein (1931) to warn viewers about what they were about to see? What was this actor already famous for? (Bonus points for anybody who can recite the speech.)
2. What actor was Paramount’s first choice for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) until director Rouben Mamoulian pointed out that while their choice was perfect for Hyde, he couldn’t possibly play Jekyll? Who finally got the dual role? And what role did the rejected actor become famous for in horror circles a five years later? (Hint: both he and the film in question were pictured in a recent Screening Room.)
3. What famous 1933 Paramount horror picture was banned outright in Great Britain, much to the delight of the source novel’s author? And who is that author?
4. In order to use up a contractual commitment to the Technicolor Company, Warner Bros. produced two color horror films in the early 30s—only one of which went into general release as a color film. What are the two films and what is unique about the one that didn’t get released in color outside of the biggest markets?
5. In Universal’s 1943 version of The Phantom of the Opera what famous horror/fantasy writer’s father played the role of Franz Liszt? And what novel by this writer was filmed (badly) by that same studio the following year?
6. What’s unusual about the musical score on James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933)? Who was the uncredited composer?
7. Post-production changes to James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935) caused a very amusing continuity error in the film’s big explosive climax. What is it?
8. The first talkie horror picture (now lost) was Warner Bros.’ The Terror (1928). What was unique about its opening credit sequence?
9. What 1930s Universal classic was reworked as what 1963 Hammer vampire picture? (Hint: the latter doesn’t star Christopher Lee, and this isn’t a universally accepted idea.)
10. What B horror star is given third billing in a movie he isn’t even in?
Famous (and not so famous) Quotes from Horror Movies:
Here’s a collection of lines from horror pictures dating from 1931 up through 2004. I admit that older quotes predominate. It’s not my fault that most of the juicier lines are from old movies. Name the actor or character and the film.These aren’t in any particular order, though the newer quotes come last.
1. “If I could get my hands on you, I’d break your dried flesh to pieces.”
2. “To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious! There are far worse things awaiting man than death.”
3. “How does it feel to hang on your own embalming rack, Hjalmar?”
4. “The brain that was stolen from my laboratory was a criminal brain.”
5. “I tear torture out of myself by torturing you!”
6. “It takes a long time and infinite patience to make them talk. Some day I’ll make a woman and it’ll be easier!”
7. “No, gentlemen, that wasn’t torn — this is cannibalism!”
8. “If there’s much more like this, pal, what say we give ourselves up and let ‘em hang us?”
9. “The werewolf is neither man, nor wolf, but a Satanic creature with the worst qualities of both.”
10. “It’s his insides caught at last — insides is always the last to be consumed.”
11. “She was beautiful when she died — a hundred years ago.”
12. “Pardon, master, I’ve come to warn you! The evening paper states that the Maniac has committed murder again — this time close to this very house!”
13. “We make our own electricity here — and we’re not very good at it.”
14. “Just rub a little on the tender part of your neck.”
15. “You see M’bongo here? He is very stupid. But soon he will be very smart and you will be … not so smart.”
16. “Pardon me, Professor, but didn’t I just see you outside baying at the moon?”
17. “Mad? Of course, I’m mad! So were Galileo, Newton, Lister — and all the others who dared to dream!”
18. “I believe that in ten minutes something monstrous and horrible is going to happen — and when it does you’re going to be right here.”
19. “The blood of these whores is killing me!”
20. “They’re all going to laugh at you!”
21. “Who’s going to listen to a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.”
22. “Humble Pie!”
23. “Hell would be ending up on Celebrity Fear Factor in a worm eating contest with Anna Nicole Smith.”
24. “No time for ritual, no time for ceremony!”
25. “The previous tenant always wore slippers after ten o’clock.”
26. “Morality sucks.”
And there you have it. I probably won’t be online this weekend to check in on this, but I’ll send Justin a list of answers in case he is and has the time. If you get more than half the questions and half the quotes right, we could use you at Monster Bash 2009, I’m sure.