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Welcome to the Crypt!

Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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05 September, 2009

Rediscovering my Inner Monsterkid

I don’t think that it’s a secret among the readership here that I am a lover of Classic Horror. I certainly have never attempted to hide it; indeed, I proudly proclaim it. Classic Horror and Sci-Fi are my bread-and-butter, my raison d’être. Nothing satisfies me like a good Black & White movie—though I’m quite pleased the screen I watch them on is no longer 13 inches wide. I love everything from Edison’s FRANKENSTEIN, released in 1910, to the gore-filled Slasher flicks of the ‘80’s. True, I love the new stuff too—but nothing hits the spot quite as well as Karloff and Lugosi or a Giant Bug.

The only problem with that is that my icons… my heroes of horror, were gone before I had the chance to know them, even in a second-hand fashion through their films. Bela Lugosi died in 1956, eight years before I was born. Peter Lorre passed away in 1964, the same year I entered the world. Jack Pierce died when I was four, and the incomparable Karloff when I was five. I have vague memories of “the Wolf-Man guy…” dying in 1973—of course I mean Lon Chaney, Jr. I knew these names, of course—thanks to ‘Uncle’ Forry and his Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine—but all in the past tense, no differently than how I knew Washington, Jefferson or Lincoln. The stars of my youth, the ones I watched when my older sister would take us to the Drive-In, they were real, they were the present. Vincent, and Christopher, and Peter, and Robert… they might not be as good as Bela and Boris, but at least they were still here, and still making movies. And Forry was right there, still writing about them.

As I grew up, I failed to notice my heroes of the Horror Films were growing older, as well. When I was thirteen, I was thrilled to see Hammer’s best actor, Peter Cushing, as the Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS. I also couldn’t help being struck by how old he appeared. I was nineteen when Famous Monsters of Filmland ceased publication, torn apart by a struggle to oust Forry from his editor’s chair. However, I was blissfully ignorant of this, mind occupied with the normal pursuits of a young man of that age. Soon the pressures and stresses of adulthood crowded the monsters out of that mind. Only occasionally could I revel in my childhood joys, with the chance airing of a well-remembered favorite or the regular Halloween movie festivals. With marriage came joint ownership of the television and the need to keep a wife, who did not share my love of horror, happy.

One genre film she did enjoy, far more than I did actually, was EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Though I didn’t care for the film, considering it one of Tim Burton’s rare misses, I was pleased to see Vincent Price’s cameo appearance as Edward’s ‘Father’. I was also shocked at how old and frail he appeared, no longer the overpowering presence that so dominated the screen when he was on-camera. His death in ’93, followed by that of Peter Cushing the next year, in many ways were mileposts along the road that leads from the carefree days of childhood to the point at which life has wrung all the childlike joy from one. They were reminders that life is, at best, a temporary condition, one which ends for all eventually. In 1994 I received a much more personal, and lasting, reminder of that fact when my Father died.

More mileposts followed, and soon I felt as though the end of that road couldn’t arrive quickly enough, that I could hardly await the day when I could settle into being a bitter old curmudgeon sitting on my porch, yelling at the neighborhood children to “Keep the Hell off my lawn!” Divorce, middle-age, jobs lost and started were weighing me down, and life had essentially been reduced to a continuous cycle of nothing but Work/Not Work… no enjoyment, no relaxation, just working until I was tired enough to go home and sleep.

My family, my friends, even myself could see that something needed to change, and quickly. I needed to find something that I could enjoy, that would give me something to do, to keep me from focusing on all the negatives in my life at that time. Two unlikely, unconnected events coincided to give me that something, and reawaken a childhood love: Finding the Internet, and AMC’s Monsterfest.

In 1998, the Internet, while not new, was hardly the pervasive presence it is now. Now, phones, televisions, appliances—even our cars—are connected to the web, seamlessly and continuously. Then, connecting to the web was a process—and not always a smooth one. That was the year that my ex-wife and I had bought our first Internet-ready computer, and when we divorced a year later, I wound up with the machine. I turned back to writing; something I had done throughout my teen years, and something that always had helped me cope with problems that were plaguing me.

I also discovered communities on the internet, where people who shared common interests could gather and discuss them. I found several on Yahoo that appealed to me… one for Civil War enthusiasts, a couple for Aviation buffs… and of course, several for Horror fans. I was reminded of just how much joy I had found as a child in reading about Horror Films, and discussing them with my friends; and thought that perhaps, I could recapture some of that joy.

It was the fall of 2000 when I began to join the groups, and the buzz at the time was the upcoming Halloween season, and the anticipated glut of Horror films on cable TV. One package that was drawing many of the comments was American Movie Classic’s Monsterfest. Five days of non-stop Horror Films, featuring all the great Universal and Hammer classics that I had loved in my childhood. It had been years since I had seen most of those movies; I had to watch them. My only question was… “How?” Most of these films would be shown while I was working… how was I going to see them?

I knew the only answer was to record them, and, with the purchase of a jumbo pack of tapes and an extra VCR, I was ready. By the first of November, I had 42 movies on tape, ranging from James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN to PET SEMATARY, with dozens of classics in between. Favorites I hadn’t seen since childhood were mine to watch whenever I wished… and I found something to occupy both my mind and my time. Perhaps not the most productive use of that time, or that mind, but I didn’t care. At least I had something I could focus on outside myself—something that might serve to lift me out of my depression.

Well, they did that, and more. Soon I found inspiration for my writing, and began sharing my thoughts and opinions of these, and other, Horror Films with my fellow fans in the various Yahoo groups I inhabited. I began collecting Genre films, recording every one that aired, buying new ones as I could, seeking out the barely remembered treasures of my youth. In time, this led to an invitation to write for the Horror-Web, and my writer’s voice found an outlet, and a home. I also found friends, including one of the best I’ve ever had. I’ve never met the man face-to-face, yet I love him like a brother.

In the time I spent writing at Horror-Web, I gained so much… experience, and perspective, and an insight to the world of Horror Films that I had never known existed. I began my beloved Drive-In, my Attack of the B-Movie Monsters Yahoo group, devoted to the Drive-In theater culture and movies of the ‘40’s through the ‘80’s. It was through this eclectic group of fans that I gained two more of the best friends a man could wish for, friends that have hung together for each other through some very trying times. I also gained an identity—a nom de plume that would become very familiar to those who enjoy my writings—the Unimonster.

When my time at Horror-Web had run its course, contacts that I had made there served me well as I transitioned to writing full-time for Sean Kotz’s CreatureScape.com. There I was given the freedom to choose my topics, and to write the type of column I had long wanted to write… as I had described to Sean, an, “…op-ed column on the world of horror.” There I was free to rant and rave to my heart’s content, and to speak directly to the fans, whether they shared my opinions or not. Thus it was natural that, when Sean decided to change the focus of CreatureScape, I continue with my own site, and The Unimonster’s Crypt was born.

It’s now been two years since that day, and other than a lengthy hiatus during a period of transition in my personal life, the Crypt has continued growing at a healthy pace. As has my writing, which I like to think has improved considerably since I began committing thoughts to paper for the Horror-Web. Something else improved over the course of the Unimonster’s existence… John’s outlook on life. Ironically, it took one of the worst years of that life to teach me some valuable lessons about the mileposts on that metaphorical road I was traveling.
Beginning with the death of my Mother in the spring, and continuing through a personal health scare in the summer and a transition to a new house in the fall, 2008 was one huge milepost on that road… at least, that’s how I would have viewed it a decade ago. That’s before I had the pleasure of meeting one of my few remaining heroes of horror, albeit telephonically.

At what felt like my lowest point last year, I received a phone call from Forry Ackerman… the same Uncle Forry who had first inspired my love of horror nearly forty years before. For the duration of the phone call, we talked about many things… surprisingly, very little of it was genre-related. Instead, he spent more than a half-hour imparting some much-needed wisdom to an earnestly willing listener. Though it’s taken me awhile to glean the full value of that wisdom, I think I finally understand what kept that man happy until his death, several months after that conversation.

Through his long life, Forry had suffered many setbacks and heartaches, troubles that would’ve embittered many against a cruel and imperfect world. Yet he remained Forry, filled with the happiness of sharing his love of the Fantastic with any who cared to hear an old man talk. He never lost that ‘childlike joy’, or reached the end of that road. And that, I think, was his intended lesson to me.

Life is a journey, true. One that we can’t slow or stop. But we can have fun along the way, and we can choose what baggage makes the trip with us.

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