While the first two parts of this series may have been familiar to most horror folks of my generation, the movies that sent me to where I am as a horror fan will be more familiar to the kind folks that read this here blog. Most of the movies I'm about to talk about have been covered here numerous times, so coming up with something relevant and useful to say in what follows has been a strong challenge for me. But as I look at this list of horror movies that inspired me in my path toward horror, I am taken aback by how totally random these movies seem to be.
I've covered some of the movies that inspired me in my currently running Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown - and I've chosen not to repeat my position on many of the films on that list. I'd be completely wrong to negate the impact films like The Shining, Fright Night, Happy Birthday to Me, and others had on me, but there's something about each of the movies I'm about to mention that just feels incredibly special to me. I know I'm not the only person that likes them, but it's kind of like these movies just happened to be in the right place at the right time for me. And that time and place was, for lack of a more intellectual word, awesome.
(If you missed the explanation behind this series, you should know that all credit for this idea belongs to the wonderful Mrs. Christine Hadden over at Fascination With Fear, who does lists better than anyone in the Western Hemisphere. For that, I salute her.)
The Mike's Horror Trinity
In January of 2009, From Midnight, With Love was born. And when I started putting this little blog together, dreaming that someday someone might read the ramblings I had to offer and maybe even consider an opinion of mine as a reason to check out a genre film, I put together a simple bio for the sidebar of the site that explained what I stood for as a genre fan. That same bio still sits in the right hand column of this site - and you can still see these three films listed there as the movies that awakened the monster that I now am.
I can't remember all the details, but I'm pretty sure Phantom of the Opera came to me first. I remember being told about silent movies and realizing that this was kind of like reading a book with pictures, and I don't know if I had the attention span to finish the whole movie, but I do remember getting to the part where the unmasking happens and I remember being really freakin' excited. Whenever people ask me about my first horror movie, I mention this one.
Creature from the Black Lagoon came next, I think. I remember being in awe of the green dude on the cover when I first had the VHS tape brought to me, and I remember taking it to a friend's house when I was in second grade to watch during a sleepover. It didn't go as well as I wanted it to - I'm pretty sure I watched the whole thing alone - but at least I was in love with it. Was this the first time I tried to push someone I know to watch a horror movie against their will? It may very well have been.
Considering that it's the one of these three that I mention the most, it's slightly funny to me that I don't have any vivid memories of my childhood encounter with The Blob outside of the question mark that pops on screen at the ending. I didn't fall as in love with The Blob as I am now until a little later in my life - but I do remember thinking it was a ton of fun and talking about The Blob all the time whenever I had a reason to make a reference to it. (And sometimes when I didn't.)
As I look at these three VHS tapes now - and that's them, in their original glory, as they look tonight - I am completely in awe of how much what these three movies meant to me before I was even 10 years old. Maybe it was a brilliant design by my parents, or maybe it was just dumb luck - but whatever the reason, I can't help feeling that they gave me the three perfect films to push me to the love of horror I have today.
The Monster Squad
Remember that time in part one of this series when I talked about "those orange back monster books from the library? (If not, you should go read it and stuff.) Well, The Monster Squad was the film adaptation of those books - and the library had it too. Again, this was one of those things that kind of got lost in my memory except for parts - "Wolfman's got gnards!" is part of my philosophy on life, obviously - but it was my gateway to the monsters that I hadn't really seen outside of those books. Fred Dekker got me in the door with his monsters-for-kids film, which is probably exactly what he wanted to do - and I applaud him for that.
There's a very simple and not very exciting reason that Pumpkinhead is on this list. When I was 8 or 9, I was ready for all the "scary" movies I could get. I'd seen the trinity, I'd seen the Monster Squad, I'd seen Dracula, and I wanted more. And I thought a monster with a pumpkin for a head sounded like a creepy idea, for reasons that I will elaborate on next week. Well.....
It was NOT a good idea for little me. I have a vivid memory of about 12 seconds of Pumpkinhead carnage when I was a kid. And I remember being instantly shocked and terrified and completely uninterested in seeing any more of that. Did I act cool? Yeah, I was a cool little pimp. But I was terrified. I went away from the screen and I did not come back. I wasn't completely ready to go where I wanted to go, but I learned from the experience.
There it sits, alongside the plastic protector from Freedom Video Superstore in Marshalltown, Iowa that protected it (poorly, as you can see) for over 10 years in store and over 10 years in my hands. On sentimental value alone, this would be the absolute first thing that I would grab and run to safety if my lair was on fire.
I've long ago written a detailed rant about how much Clownhouse meant to my sister and I as we became old enough to watch horror movies. But I couldn't talk about movies that contributed to my horror love without Clownhouse. I must have watched it 50 times between the ages of 10 and 15, and I always knew it wasn't a good movie. But I loved it. And it led to every bad horror movie I've loved, and every horror movie I've watched and shouted at with friends, and every stupid grin I've ever given during a stupid movie. All of that can be traced back to how much fun I my family had with Clownhouse.
When that Freedom Video store went out of business, my mother rushed to town and ran through the store to grab it before anyone else even had a chance. You know how that watch was Bruce Willis' birthright in Pulp Fiction? Clownhouse is like that to my sister and I.
Speaking of stupid and bad, there's Dr. Giggles. I have to list Dr. Giggles here, for similar reasons to Clownhouse. We didn't watch this movie religiously, nor did we necessarily like the movie, but Dr. Giggles became a cult figure in our house very quickly when we first encountered him.
And so it came to pass that my father would torture my sister by cackling like Dr. Giggles. And it's still funny. Heck, I'm pretty sure he somehow mentioned Dr. Giggles while she was in the hospital after giving birth a couple of weeks ago. Dr. Giggles was our home's Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees or Cropsey, and that still makes me smile.
Night of the Living Dead
The VHS Tape shown above demands your attention. First of all, anyone who's worth their weight in horror immediately realizes that the image that has been chosen - completely spoils the final moments of the movie. Then they might notice that they even spelled Duane Jones' name wrong on the cover. I'm laughing about that little yellow spot that denotes the guarantee on the 1986 VHS release of Romero's film, and the back of the box promises a "lifetime commitment" that you can call 1-800-VHS-Tape for details of. Oh, and the blurb on the back of the box reads EXACTLY as follows:
"Possibly the greatest low-budget film of all time filled with non-stop action. From the opening sequence, in which Judith O'Dea is terrorized by the first living corpse in the twilight cemetery, to the last slow dissolves and pans of still pictures, depicting the hero's death, the film is filled with ghoulish undertow that pauses only now and then on the thread-line to reality."
I'm sorry you guys, but I just got really distracted by that blurb. It's....so bad. Does that make sense to anyone else?
OK, back on topic. This VHS tape. This VHS tape may have been in my parents' VHS cabinet as long as the rest of the trinity. Yet I was strictly told that I COULD NOT watch it. So I didn't. I told you guys I was a good kid. Now do you believe me? I'd like to say that I didn't watch it because I was that respectful of my parents - never mind the fact that I snuck several viewings of my dad's copy of Brian De Palma's Body Double as soon as I realized what boobs were - but honestly I was kind of terrified of this movie. If they were that adamant that I couldn't watch it - it must be the scariest thing ever, right?
I'm pretty sure I saw the remake on Monstervision before I finally got the guts to put this VHS tape in the player. The spoiler on the video cover wasn't a big deal, because my dad had already explained the differences in the endings when we watched the remake with Joe Bob Briggs. Heck, when I finally did put in the VHS, I'm pretty sure I was like 16 and my parents came home with groceries with like 6 minutes left in the movie and started yelling for help and I had to pause right when it was about to blow up. Night of the Living Dead and I were just not meant to have a perfect meeting.
Did I love the movie anyway? Of course I did! It's bloody brilliant, and the hype and the distractions and the stupid VHS package only make me love it more. The anticipation was worth everything that followed, and watching Night of the Living Dead for the first time was a key moment in my life as a horror fan no matter how it happened.
Did I got long winded there? Man, I got long winded there. Apologies to those who don't like rambling incoherence, but these are the memories of horror that give me goosebumps. It wasn't the introduction to horror films that most had, and it wasn't always the best way to meet horror. In fact, those last three experiences would almost push most people to avoid horror movies. But these movies got to me at the right moment and it all just came together perfectly for me.
And now it's your turn - what movies got you in to horror? How did you learn to love cheesy goodness or overwhelming zombies or big green gill-men? Hit up the comments below, and then comeback next week for a the How The Mike Met Horror finale, in which i will present a "grab bag" selection of the other stuff that helped me fall in love with horror films.
Until then, keep watching horror movies and having an awesome October!