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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.

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

From the Desk of the Unimonster...

What's this? TWO updates to the Crypt in one month? That's right, fright-fans, the Unimonster is sending even more Halloween goodness your way! If only someone would perfect downloadable candy.....

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06 November, 2021

In Defense of Halloween III

 



Recently, I put forward three opinions of mine that I felt were not likely to be shared by many in the Horror community.  As I explained at the time, I have never minded swimming against the tide of popular opinion, and had I not limited myself to three such opinions, then the article would’ve been a book.  But if I had made the list four opinions long, then the fourth might have been the most controversial of all—I happen to think that Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a pretty good movie.

Now, before effigies of the Unimonster are lit ablaze for this heresy, let me explain.  In 1982, I was as disappointed and angered as everyone at the blatant head-fake on the part of everyone connected to the film, especially John Carpenter and Debra Hill, who made it a condition of their involvement in the project that it not be a sequel to the first two films, thus forcing the decision to not have Michael Myers in this movie.  As with most fans, in the days before spoilers, scripts, even the completed films could be leaked on the internet months in advance, I went into the theater for Halloween III expecting to see my favorite Slasher once more carving his way through the population of Haddonfield, Illinois.  And like most, if not all, fans, I left unhappy with what I watched.

Halloween III was quickly forgotten in the flood of much better Horror films that seemed to appear on a weekly basis in the 1980s.  In time Michael himself would return to the screen, in the aptly named Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and all would once more be right with the franchise.  Well, as right as it could be when discussing the Thorn trilogy films.  And for most of the next twenty years, I seldom thought about Halloween III; I certainly didn’t go out of my way to watch it again.

In October 2000, however, I began collecting Horror movies, in order to occupy my mind and fill my time in the wake of my divorce.  The collection was to have no boundaries; new, old, good, or bad, if it was a Horror film, then I wanted it.  As a consequence of that choice, I was forced to reevaluate my opinions on a number of movies.  Some that I had once loved had aged badly in the years since I had last seen them, leaving me sadly disappointed.  A few, however, like fine wine had improved with age, developing a character and quality that had eluded me upon my initial exposure years earlier.  Halloween III is one of these.

In 1982 I was too focused on what the movie was not to appreciate it for what it was.  The eighteen-year-old Unimonster wanted a Michael Myers Slasher film and didn’t get one.  The fifty-seven-year-old Unimonster looks at it on its own merits, and sees a good movie, one capable of entertaining even so jaded a viewer as me.  Not perfect, not a great film by any standard by which one might choose to measure it.  Then again, most films aren’t.  Viewers are content with most movies if they can simply be described as “good.”  If I watch Halloween III today and see a good movie, how did I not see it then?

It has long been my contention that there was only one real mistake made in the development of the third Halloween movie, and that was making it a Halloween movie in the first place.  Had it simply been titled Season of the Witch, without a misleading connection to the Michael Myers Halloween

films, there would have been no preconceptions about the movie, thus no disappointment at it having failed to live up to them.

I’m not saying that the movie doesn’t have problems quite apart from the expectations of the audience going in.  The plot has holes large enough for the cast to walk through; said cast, with the possible exceptions of Tom Atkins and Dan O’Herlihy, not so much stumbles as they meander listlessly through their performances; and the Silver Shamrock jingle, carrying the signal that will activate the deadly microchips in the masks, is so annoying one finds oneself wishing that it did actually melt brains, if only for some relief.

But those negatives are balanced against some very positive points.  The concept is very good, even if the execution was somewhat lacking.  The masks, created by Don Post Studios, were very effective, and are still popular among fans and collectors.  And while most of the performances left quite a bit to be desired, both Atkins and O’Herlihy were on point.  Tom Atkins is one of my favorite actors, and he doesn’t disappoint here, and Dan O’Herlihy can chew scenery with the best of them.

Halloween III will never be a favorite of mine and will always rank near the bottom of the list when it comes to the Halloween franchise, with only the two Rob Zombie efforts earning a lower score.  On its own, however, it can surprise a viewer.  Just forget how bad Halloween III was and open your mind to how good Season of the Witch can be.


24 October, 2021

Horror All Night Long: the Joys of All-Night Drive-In Horror-thons

 









How one was first exposed to the joys and frights of Horror films has much to do with when that first exposure took place.  For those fortunate enough to be there at the beginning, their first taste of horror came in a theater, as the classic Universal Monsters first thrilled audiences.  If that initial experience happened in the late 1950s, then in all likelihood it came in the form of a local Horror Host, airing twenty-year-old cheesy movies to a late-night weekend audience, while dressed in a goofy outfit and doing his best to sound like Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi [any resemblance to a certain Vampire Count of my acquaintance is purely a coincidence].  And to those of us who spent our formative years in the 1960s and ‘70s patronizing the local Drive-In Theater, there was a regular ritual in which we took part at least once a season, often once a month.  That’s when, apart from the routine Friday or Saturday night visits to our favorite ozoner, we would indulge in the All-Night Horror Movie Marathon, or Horror-thon.

Often used as a way to package films too played out for a regular run, even for easy-to-please Drive-In crowds, the Horror-thon was just another example of the need exhibitors had to wring every possible cent out of their venues, especially in the troubled decade of the ‘70s.  The decline of the Drive-In was well underway by the middle of the decade, exacerbated by the 1974 OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargo, and the resultant Energy Crisis, which had a profound effect on all industries dependent upon the American love affair with the Automobile, Drive-In theaters included. 

Another cause of the industry’s poor health, though still in nascent form, was the growing Home Video revolution.  While the battle still raged between VHS and Betamax to determine which format would become dominant, there was no longer any doubt that home video was the wave of the future, and that the ability for consumers to own copies of their favorite films, for them to enjoy in the privacy and comfort of their own homes, and at their convenience, would strike a severe blow to motion picture exhibitors at every level of the industry.  In order to fight back, theaters in general, and ozoners in particular, had to constantly strive to give the consumer more bang for their buck, and in so doing were faced with ever shrinking profit margins.  Keeping their establishments going all night long, while screening cheaply-acquired films that would bring in a guaranteed audience, was an economically safe bet.

However, the youthful Unimonster was blissfully ignorant of the socio-economic motivations behind these all-night fright-fests.  When I was a ten-year-old Horror fanatic, voraciously devouring everything I could in the way of monsters and scary movies, these dusk-to-dawn bacchanalias of terror were a godsend, an easy way for this young MonsterKid to feast upon the latest and greatest Low-Budget Horror available.

The first time I saw Night of the Living Dead was at just such a festival of fear and the same holds for such classics as Blood Feast, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Movies as diverse as The Navy vs. the Night Monsters, Shriek of the Mutilated, and both Dr. Phibes films were screened for my eager enjoyment at such events, as were a panoply of Hammer’s finest Horrors, the titans of Toho, and the sexy, sensational, salacious Horrors from France, Spain, and Italy.

One might be inclined to say that I was on the young side for viewing many of these films, and I would, of course, be forced to agree.  However, I was blessed with an older sister possessed of three great attributes: a vehicle with a spacious trunk, a susceptibility to a little sibling bribery and/or blackmail, and rather liberal attitudes on just what constituted appropriate viewing for her younger brothers.  Suffice it to say that, the MPAA ratings notwithstanding, even as a ten-year-old I managed to see whatever I wished.

Today, in the age of streaming media, round-the-clock movie channels, and video-on-demand, the notion of sitting in one’s car overnight, to watch movies on an outdoor screen, in the company of squadrons of mosquitoes seems rather quaint—if not completely ludicrous.  And that’s sad, really.  Because those of us who shared the joys of warm summer nights under the stars, watching blood-spattered images flicker across the screen, gained so much more than just the movies we watched. 

We gained the indelible memories of how we watched them—and fell in love with Horror films for the first time.

20 October, 2021

The Unimonster's Top 13 ... Charlie Chan Movies!


 


Charlie Chan Movies


1.)                          Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)

2.)                          Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939)

3.)                          Murder Over New York (1940)

4.)                          Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)

5.)                          Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)

6.)                          Charlie Chan in the Scarlet Clue (1945)

7.)                          Charlie Chan at the Racetrack (1936)

8.)                          The Black Camel (1931)

9.)                          Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935)

10.)                     Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)

11.)                     Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939)

12.)                     Charlie Chan in Rio (1941)

13.)                     Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)

Celluloid Sleuths: The Great Detectives of the 1930s and ‘40s

 


I love mysteries.  From unsolved true crimes, to unexplained phenomena, to a good, old-fashioned whodunit, there’s something in my psyche that needs to solve the puzzle, crack the code, and find the answer.  Even as a young Unimonster, I loved shows like Mannix, and Cannon, and Kojak.  Clue was my favorite board game.  And nearly every weekend would feature at least one old mystery movie on the afternoon matinees.  Any mystery movie would do, but my favorites were the iconic detectives of the ‘30s and ‘40s—The Thin Man movies, featuring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles; the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies, with Rathbone as the great consulting detective and Nigel Bruce as his companion and biographer, Dr. John Watson; and Charlie Chan, played for several studios by Warner Oland, Sidney Toler, and Roland Winters.  They were, in the words of a character from Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939), “… whodunit celebrities.”

The Murder-Mystery genre of the 1930s was one of the decade’s most popular, with everyone from the biggest of the big studios to the poorest of the Poverty Row producers wanting to get in the game, and they all wanted their own signature detective.  There was Philo Vance, Bulldog Drummond, James Lee Wong, Mr. Moto, Michael Lanyard, and Simon Templar.  All had their adherents, but none matched the popularity of the big three series.

The first, and inarguably the greatest, of the great detectives was Sherlock Holmes, the world’s first private consulting detective.  Created by Sir Arthur Doyle, a London physician with a struggling practice which left him a great deal of free time to write, Holmes made his debut in the novel A Study in Scarlet, first published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887.  By the time of Doyle’s death in 1930, he had written fifty-six short stories and four novels describing the adventures of his most popular creation.  The character was first adapted for the screen in 1900 (though the film wasn’t registered for copyright purposes until 1903), a mere thirteen years after his debut.  That film, Sherlock Holmes Baffled, was not only the character’s first appearance on the screen but was the first instance of a Detective film.  Only thirty seconds in length, the film dealt with Holmes failed efforts to stop a burglar who can appear and disappear at will, while stealing a sack full of the detective’s belongings.

Though many actors have portrayed Holmes on-screen in the one hundred and twenty-one years since that initial appearance (in fact, Guinness World Records lists Sherlock Holmes as the most portrayed literary human character in film and television history), none save Jeremy Brett have become so intimately connected to the character as has Basil Rathbone.  In fourteen films made between 1939 and 1946, two for 20th Century Fox in 1939, and the remainder for Universal, Rathbone so perfectly essayed Doyle’s detective that for succeeding generations he was Sherlock Holmes.  Nigel Bruce’s version of Holmes’ friend and companion Dr. John Watson, on the other hand, bore little resemblance to the literary character, but the on-screen chemistry worked so well that it’s hard to fault Bruce’s acting.

The success of Doyle’s literary creation inspired an entire genre of fiction, the Detective story.  While Holmes had many imitators, few enjoyed the popularity of Earl Derr Biggers’ Charlie Chan.  Modeled on Honolulu Police detective Chang Apana, Chan first appeared in the novel The House Without a Key, though he wasn’t a central character in the narrative.  He was featured in five more novels by Biggers, the last being 1932’s Keeper of the Keys.  Beginning in 1926, a series of films were released starring various Asian actors in the role of Charlie Chan.  However, in all these Chan was merely a supporting character, and none of these films were successful, either financially or critically.


Then, in 1931, Charlie Chan Carries On was released by 20th Century Fox, and marked several milestones in the Chan filmography.  It was the first film in which the Chinese Detective was the central character.  It was the first time that Chan had been portrayed by a white actor, Warner Oland.  And most importantly, it was the first successful film about Charlie Chan.

Oland would portray Chan in sixteen movies for Fox before his death in 1938.   His last film, the unfinished Charlie Chan at the Ringside, was hastily rewritten as Mr. Moto’s Gamble, the third entry in Fox’s Mr. Moto series.  Following Oland’s death, Fox cast Sidney Toler to continue as the inscrutable investigator.  He would play Chan in no fewer than twenty-two movies, with the first being Charlie Chan in Honolulu, released in 1938.  Eleven of these would be for Fox, but when the studio virtually dissolved its B-picture division in 1942, ending its Charlie Chan series after Castle in the Desert, Toler bought the film rights from the Biggers estate, and made eleven more Chan pictures at Monogram.  Monogram Pictures Corporation was one of the more successful of the “Poverty Row” studios, though even the best of these could hardly compete financially with a major studio such as Fox.  Toler’s first appearance as Chan for Monogram was 1944’s Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, produced on a budget of $75,000, roughly half of what Fox’s budgets ran.

Though Monogram’s production values were found lacking in comparison to those of 20th Century Fox, there was no let-down in entertainment value, and the quality of the productions did gradually increase.  But as the Monogram Chan films improved, Toler’s health rapidly declined.  Twelve films in two years, eleven of them as Charlie Chan, took a heavy toll on Toler.  In addition, his final three movies came after he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, which affected his ability to perform on screen.  His final appearance, in 1946’s The Trap, had his sidekicks Jimmy Chan and Birmingham Brown (Victor Sen Yung and Mantan Moreland) carrying the bulk of the action.  Toler died of cancer in February 1947.

Following his death, Monogram cast Roland Winters in the role of Charlie Chan, with his first appearance coming in The Chinese Ring, released in December 1947.  He would play the detective in six films, with the last being 1949’s Sky Dragon, bringing to a close a series that spanned nineteen years, three actors, and included an incredible forty-two movies.

At the opposite end of the scale from the B-pictures from Universal, Fox, and Monogram was the entry of Hollywood’s biggest player into the Celebrity Sleuth genre.  M-G-M was the unquestioned king of the Hollywood studio scene, and it made sense that, when they purchased the rights to Dashiell Hammett’s just-published, best-selling mystery novel The Thin Man, that the finished film would be a top-notch production.  With William Powell and Myrna Loy as the husband-and-wife high society sleuths Nick and Nora Charles, M-G-M had a box-office hit, one that would spawn five sequels.  Unlike Universal, or Fox, or Monogram, which put their Detective films out with the efficiency and rapidity of an assembly line, M-G-M spaced the Thin Man films out, with the last, Song of the Thin Man, released in 1947.

These were some of my favorite movies when I was young, back when Saturday afternoon matinees were staples of the television schedule, each series for reasons of its own.  And now, fifty years later, my admiration for them is even deeper.  As a child, it was the spooky atmosphere of the Sherlock Holmes films, or the sarcastic banter of Sidney Toler’s Charlie Chan, or the action and comedy of the Thin Man movies that had me hooked.

But now, as an adult, I see so many layers to these films that too often are derided as B-grade “popcorn” movies—as though that were a bad thing.  Now, I can see the chemistry between Powell and Loy, the easy, comfortable way they interacted, the affection and attraction their characters showed for one another that had audiences convinced they were a couple in real life (they weren’t).  I can appreciate the variations of the actors’ performances in the Charlie Chan role; the gentle wisdom of Warner Oland, the exasperated sarcasm of Sidney Toler, even Roland Winters, the least effective of the three, brought a more energetic, active style to the character.  And I can understand why, to generations of fans, Rathbone is Sherlock Holmes.

These movies are still favorites of mine for the same reason as so many of the movies I love; indeed, so many of the topics upon which I expound in this space.  It’s because of the sense of nostalgia that they inspire within me.  Nostalgia for a better time in my life, a time when my personal happiness was a far simpler objective to achieve.  A time when happiness meant a dollar bill in my pocket, a good movie on the TV, a new comic book to read, and a new model kit to build.

Some things never change.

16 October, 2021

The Unimonster’s Top 13… ‘80s Horror Films

 

‘80s Horror Films


1.)               Night of the Creeps (1986)

2.)               Ghost Story (1981)

3.)               Re-Animator (1985)

4.)               Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

5.)               Friday the 13th (1980)

6.)               A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

7.)               The Monster Squad (1987)

8.)               Pieces (1982)

9.)               Waxwork (1988)

10.)          Creepshow (1982)

11.)          Predator (1987)

12.)          Lifeforce (1985)

13.)         My Bloody Valentine (1981)





The 1980s—Horror’s Greatest Decade

 





In the more than one century of Horror cinema, there have been many watershed years, years that have shaped and defined the genre.  1922 saw the first truly great Horror film—Nosferatu, directed by F. W. Murnau.  1931 marked the birth of the American Horror film, as Universal unleashed its twin titans, Dracula and Frankenstein.  1951 which marked the beginning of the era of the Science Fiction Horrors with the release of The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing from Another World.  And 1968, wherein one movie, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, separated what had been considered Horror, from what would henceforth be Horror—with a line that was sharp and bright, and black and white.

But those were individual years, brief moments in time that stand out because a small, discrete number of films released in those years were transformative to the genre.  Though great Horror films may have been produced in the years preceding or following the years we have singled out, they lack the importance of those we have chosen.

But what if there were an entire decade that was, start to finish, that transformative, that influential, to the genre as a whole?  What if there was a decade that altered how filmmakers made Horror films; how distributors marketed Horror films; and how the horror fans viewed Horror films?  We’ve discussed how one or two films, in a single extraordinary year can change the way the Horror film is perceived by the public.  Can there be an extraordinary decade of extraordinary years?  There can be, and there was—the years from 1980 to 1989, the decade of the 1980s.

In the ‘80s, each year saw an increasingly rich cornucopia of Horror flooding Drive-Ins, Main Street theaters, Multiplexes, and eventually, our neighborhood video stores.  The decade began with movies such as Alligator, The Awakening, The Changeling, Fade to Black, The Fog, Friday the 13th, Humanoids from the Deep, Maniac, Motel Hell, Prom Night, and The Shining.  It ended with La Chiesa (The Church), Leviathan, Offerings, Pet Sematary, Society, and

The Woman in Black.  In between lay a decade filled with some of the greatest Horror films ever made. 

The decade opened strong, with films such as An American Werewolf in London, Dead and Buried, Ghost Story, My Bloody Valentine, and Scanners in 1981.  1982 gave us Basket Case, Cat People, Creepshow, Pieces, Poltergeist, The Slumber Party Massacre, and John Carpenter’s The Thing, keeping the streak going.  1983 was no less impressive—Cujo and Christine, Psycho II and Sleepaway Camp.

In this spectacular decade, 1984 would have to be regarded as the standout year.  Any year that saw the release of C.H.U.D., Children of the Corn, Firestarter, Gremlins, Night of the Comet, and Silent Night, Deadly Night would be a memorable one by any standard.  However, in November of that year we would see the release of one of the most important movies of the decade, the film that launched the third great Slasher franchise, Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Freddy Krueger, personified by a stellar performance by Robert Englund, redefined the Slasher genre.  The first era of the Slasher had passed its zenith, and the second era, characterized less by the silent, psychopathic, “unstoppable” slashers, and more by the smart, wisecracking, undeniably supernatural beings such as Freddy, Chuckie, or the evil Djinn from the Wishmaster films, had begun.

1985 was only slightly less remarkable than the preceding year.  Several of the best Horror films of the decade were released in 1985, films such as the conclusion to George Romero’s Dead trilogy, Day of the Dead; Fright Night, directed by Tom Holland; Tobe Hooper’s space vampire film Lifeforce; Re-Animator, directed by Stuart Gordon, and based on a story by H. P. Lovecraft; The Return of the Living Dead, Dan O’Bannon’s self-referential take on the Romero Zombie-verse; Silver Bullet, based on a Stephen King graphic novel, and directed by Daniel Attias; and Larry Cohen’s The Stuff.

1986, while not the equal of the previous two years in terms of quality, certainly excelled in terms of quantity.  Aliens, April Fool’s Day, Chopping Mall, Demons, The Fly, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Hitcher, House, Night of the Creeps, Rawhead Rex, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2—among others.  None, with the possible exception of Night of the Creeps, are great movies (and yes, that’s my opinion … but then, everything I write is my opinion).  But they’re all good—and that’s a lot of good movies for one year.

1987 was the first year of the final third of the decade.  By this point, most Horror fans would be expecting a let-down, but the ‘80s offered no real let-downs.  Yes, if you only associate ‘80s Horror with Slasher movies, then you will be disappointed as the decade wears on.  But ‘80s Horror was so much more than that.  Of the films that I consider the year’s standouts, none are Slasher films.  Angel Heart, Evil Dead 2, Hellraiser, The Lost Boys, The Monster Squad, Near Dark, Night of the Demons, John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness—they show the breadth of Horror in the 1980s.

Likewise, 1988 saw the release of some of my favorite ‘80s movies.  Beetlejuice, The Blob, The Church, Child’s Play, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, The Lady in White, Pumpkinhead, and Waxwork might not have been the decade’s biggest or best, but they were highly entertaining, and hugely successful.

The end of the 1980s marked the end of this period of unparalleled Horror film popularity.  Fittingly, 1989 lacked some of the excellence of the rest of the decade, though there are still gems to be had.  Three in particular served to ring out the ‘80s in style, and all three are uniquely ‘80s movies.  The ‘Burbs, directed by the great Joe Dante, and starring Tom Hanks, came towards the tail end of the actor’s forays into comedy, and this is one of his better examples, as well as being an excellent Horror Comedy.  Mary Lambert’s Pet Sematary might be the best adaptation yet of a Stephen King novel.  And Society, directed by Brian Yuzna, is the perfect summation to the “decade of greed and excess.”

Were the 1980s Horror’s greatest decade?  While any use of the appellation “greatest” is by its very nature subjective, I certainly believe that it applies in this instance.  Yes, the first half of the decade of the 1930s were certainly groundbreaking, marking the birth of the American concept of the Horror film.  One could make an argument for the latter half of the ‘60s, or the opening years of the 21st Century.  Even today, occasionally, the Horror gods smile down on Hollywood and we are blessed with a phenomenal year or two.  But never before, and never since, have we had a full decade as spectacular, as impactful to the genre, as the decade of the 1980s.

10 October, 2021

How to be a Monsterkid in the 1970s, or The Fine Art of Blackmailing your Sister

 

For those unfamiliar with the term “Monsterkid,” and to be fair, that’s likely to be anyone under the age of fifty, it denotes those of us fortunate enough to have done the following: lived our formative years in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s; spent our disposable income on Famous Monsters magazines, Aurora’s Monster model kits, Horror comic books, and Monster movie matinees; and to have received our education from late-night Creature Features and Drive-In Horror marathons.  The first was a matter of fortuitous timing on the part of my Mother and Father.  The second may be ascribed to my general lack of thrift and the proximity of the local 7-11, Pic ‘n’ Save, and the Regency Square Twin Theater.  The last, however—the last took some work on my part.

In the 1970s, these were the Spanish Quarter Apartments, where a young Unimonster called Home.



Not the Creature Features, thankfully.  No, that was easy.  Though the local station that had the early ‘70s version of the Shock Theatre package had dispensed with a host for the movies, I didn’t care.  I eagerly poured over the TV Guide each week, making note of the Horror films on the schedule—and in the early 1970s, there were plenty.  But the week revolved around the Friday night Creature Feature.  That’s where I first met Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Mummy Kharis—both Universal and Hammer versions.  It’s how I came to love Giant Bugs, Zombies, and Charlie Chan.  It was Monsterkid manna from Heaven.

For newer movies however, or movies that couldn’t be aired on television in the early 1970s, there were two options available—the Regency Square Twin Theater, with two, count ‘em, TWO, screens, and the Drive-Ins, of which we had two to choose from, depending on the movies that were playing. 

Regency Square was where we went every Wednesday in the summer for the Kiddie Shows.  It’s where our parents would take us to see family-friendly, age-appropriate movies—in short, nothing I wanted to see.  The Regency was safe, it was supervised, either by our parents, or, if we were dropped off to see a movie on our own, by the theater staff.  It was where I had to sit through Herbie the Love Bug, and Pippi Longstocking.  It was also where I first saw Star Wars, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And it was where, on a July day in 1975, I stood on line for three hours to see the movie that forever ended my love of swimming in the ocean.

The problem with the Regency, however, was that I couldn’t see the movies I really wanted to see there.  Even if we went without our parents in attendance, there was always some adult nearby to say, “NO!”  “No, that movie is rated R; no, that movie is too scary for kids; no, and do your parents know you’re here?”  It doesn’t take a village to raise a child, it just takes a bunch of adults to act like adults, and treat kids like kids.

If the Regency represented structure, and control, and discipline, then the Drive-In represented the polar opposite.  The Drive-In was freedom, and chaos, and hedonism—at least, it was to a pre-teen Unimonster.  The problem was getting there.  It was a Drive-In; we couldn’t simply be dropped off.  That was compounded by the fact that one went to the Drive-In at night; even in the far more permissive ‘70s, our parents weren’t going to let us roam free once the sun set.  Heathens we may have been, but we weren’t neglected heathens.  And our parents did not do the Drive-In.

And so it fell to my eldest sister, Wanda Susan, to facilitate our trips to the Drive-In.  Mom would give her money—$10 or so—for our admission and for food from the concession stand for our supper or snacking.  It would be Wanda, and I, our younger brother Mark Edward, and usually our cousin Andy.  Andy’s mother Dottie would frequently accompany us, as she and Wanda were close in age and often hung out together.  At a dollar a head, it didn’t leave much in the way of cash for food, but enough for a hot dog, some popcorn, and a coke for each of us.  In theory, and if all went as Mom expected it to.  In actual practice, however, that was seldom the case.

As soon as we were out of the driveway, Wanda wasted no time telling us how it would be.  Forget the hot dogs and popcorn.  We were going to pick up Dottie and Andy, then stop at the closest 7-11 to the Drive-In, where us kids would get a 15¢ bag of chips (always Wise’s Onion and Garlic for me) and a 10¢ Coke.  Then it was into the trunk for the three of us for the trip through the Drive-In’s front gate.  Once parked, it was out of the trunk and onto a blanket in front of the car; sitting inside was reserved for Wanda, Dottie, and any friends they might meet up with at the Drive-In.  Of course, Wanda pocketed the money she saved by not buying our dinner, or paying for us at the gate.  To be honest, we really didn’t mind—in our minds it was an adventure, and we were excited at the idea of putting something over on the adults, parents included.

If there was a drawback, at least in the first few such trips, it was that Wanda chose the movie we would see.  I found that particularly annoying, as her tastes in movies did not correspond to my own, not to mention the fact that they seldom watched the movie anyway.  They were too busy talking, laughing, gossiping, and, being true children of the ‘60s, indulging in a little forbidden weed.  It didn’t take too many such excursions for me to recognize the inherent opportunities for some harmless sibling extortion.

And so a deal was struck.  We would continue to tolerate the snacks on the cheap and the trunk rides to the Drive-In, and in exchange we would go see whatever movie I wanted to see.  Mom and Dad would remain blissfully ignorant of her lack of supervision, her misappropriation of funds, and her “recreational” activities, and I would see the best of ‘70s Horror and Exploitation film.  Over the next few years, we would see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blood Feast, Night of the Living Dead, Sugar Hill, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, A Bay of Blood, Blacula, Two Thousand Maniacs—and Naughty Stewardesses.  Hey, Man does not live by Horror alone.

I know that I’ve written previously on this topic, of how my sister Dee Karen introduced me to Horror films at a young age, and fostered my growing love for the genre, a love that continues to grow to this day.  I’ve related how my sister Wanda Susan did her part to encourage that love, unwittingly and perhaps unwillingly, as the case may be.  But I think it bears repeating.  No one springs fully formed from the womb; we are all products of our experiences and influences, be they positive or negative.  I have been blessed with wonderful siblings, including two older sisters who have had a profound influence on my life.  Both of them, each in her own way, played a huge part in their baby brother Johnny growing up to be the Unimonster.  And for that, I love them both dearly.

08 October, 2021

Long Live the Kings: Godzilla vs. Kong

 




It’s no secret that the Unimonster is a hardcore Kaijû fan.  From the time I was five or six, and saw my first Godzilla movie on a Saturday matinee, I was addicted to the city-stomping exploits of Japan’s giant monsters.  At that age, I didn’t care if it was Toho’s Godzilla, Daiei’s Gamera, or the lower-budget Kaijû such as Nikkatsu’s Gappa, as long as there were cities being smashed, monsters fighting other monsters, and hordes of Japanese running screaming through the streets of Tokyo, or Yokohama, or Osaka.  As I became an older and more discriminating Kaijû-fan, I found that it was the monsters of Toho that gave me the greatest entertainment and satisfaction.

Even now, nearly fifty years later, I still thrill to the sound of Godzilla’s roar, the sight of him rising above a city skyline.  Needless to say, the recent series of Kaijû films, co-produced by Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., and Toho, have warmed the cockles of the Unimonster’s dark little heart, so I was eagerly awaiting the debut of the latest entry into this series, Godzilla vs. Kong.  Anticipated by fans of Legendary’s Monsterverse franchise at least since 2017’s Kong: Skull Island introduced the giant ape to the series, not only did the movie have to justify the massive hype it received prior to its release, it also had to overcome serious questions about how Kong, who measured 104 feet tall in former film, would battle Godzilla, who was 393 feet tall, with a 200 foot long tail. 

Those of us who were Kaijû fans in the ‘60s and ‘70s remember the first meeting of these two titans, in 1963’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, in which Toho declared King Kong the victor.  Would this battle have a similar result, or would Godzilla reclaim his title as “King of the Monsters?”  Would we fans of the original Toho monsters fully embrace these newer versions of our beloved Kaijû?  And could the filmmakers present a believable—and entertaining—fight between our two favorite monsters?

Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Alexander Skarsgård, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, and Julian Dennison, and directed by Adam Wingard, the movie takes up a few years following the events in Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters.  Kong, a young Titan in the previous film, has grown to maturity in an enclosure on Skull Island.  The enclosure, which uses sophisticated graphics and weather control to duplicate the environment Kong is used to, has sadly become necessary due to the fact that Skull Island is now an ecological disaster zone.  It also serves a more important function, that of concealing Kong from Godzilla.  Ilene Andrews (Hall) is in charge of Kong’s care, as well as that of Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a young Iwi girl, orphaned in the disaster which befell her island, and who shares a special bond with the gigantic ape.  A friend of Ilene’s, a geologist named Nathan Lind (Skarsgård), comes to her with a wild proposal to use Kong to find a way into the “Hollow Earth,” a hidden realm deep beneath the Earth’s mantle which, Lind believes, was where the Titans originated.

Ilene opposes this at first; worried that moving Kong would attract Godzilla.  Nathan argues that Kong may be humanity’s only hope against Godzilla, the once-benevolent Titan who seems to have turned against mankind, following an apparently unprovoked attack on a facility belonging to Apex Corporation in Pensacola, Florida.  With little choice, Kong is loaded on board a ship, and proceeds towards Antarctica under heavy naval escort.  Needless to say, what they had been dreading soon comes to pass, and the two royal Titans are slugging it out on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

I must admit to a little trepidation when the plans for a new series of Godzilla movies were announced more than a decade ago.  Memories of the abysmal 1998 film, and of its star, “Gino” (Godzilla in name only), colored my anticipation of a fresh Kaijû franchise.  And quite frankly, until the climax of the first in the series, I was unconvinced that my apprehension was misplaced.  But when Godzilla pulled the MUTO’s jaws open, and, with his trademark roar, destroyed it with a single blast of his atomic breath—well, I was sold.  And each entry in the series has been better than the one before.

I won’t tell you which Titan won; in fact, I’m not sure that I could.  As far as I’m concerned, the fans are the real winners.  The Unimonster gives it 10/10!