Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Who is Monster Dad?

Who is Monster Dad, and why does he want us to read his thoughts? Good questions, and I hope to answer them with my first blog here.

"Monster Kid" is a term for kids who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s watching and enjoying horror and science-fiction movies. This was an era filled with these kinds of films--many of them tending to be of less than high quality (B-movies). While these films were being cranked out at an alarming rate to be screened at local theaters and drive-ins, there was also another phenomenon taking place that further influenced these children. Kids were being exposed to older monster movies--like the classic Universal films "Dracula" (1931), "Frankenstein" (1931), and "The Wolf Man" (1941), as well as their many sequels--on TV through late-night shows like Chiller Theatre. The combination of watching new movies at the theater and seeing older ones on late-night TV left a strong impression on many of these impressionable children. Sure, not all kids watched this kind of stuff, and not all of those that did were greatly affected by them--but many were. Before you simply dismiss these kids as future geeks, consider that writers like Steven King and directors like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were Monster Kids back then. They may be geeks, but they're very successful geeks!

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s was a different experience. The relative innocence of horror movies like "Attack of the Crab Monsters" (1957) and "Invasion of the Saucer Men" (1957) was replaced by the blood and gore of slasher movies like "Friday the 13th" (1980) and "A Nightmare on Elm Street" (1984). I suppose that the counter-culture of the late 1960s/early 1970s may have had something to do with this change in the idea of what horror was, but saying that to explain it would be too simple. There are many factors involved with the evolution of horror/Sci-Fi cinema that I don't even know, and trying to list and consider them all would easily fill up a blog of their own. So let's keep with the subject at hand.

I have frequently found myself wishing that I had grown up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and being somewhat jealous of those Monster Kids who did. I love many of the movies of the period and it would have been so cool to have been able to see and experience them when they were brand new. Even as a kid it always seemed like I was missing out on something while growing up two decades too late. It wasn't until later that I realized how lucky I actually was to have grown up when and where I did. As it turns out, there were a lot of horror/sci-fi shows on TV at the time that featured those very same (though now old) monster movies from the 1950s and 1960s.

I grew up in the small town of Uxbridge, Massachusetts. The 1970s/early 1980s was a time before cable came to town, and our television could barely pick up the signals from the Boston TV stations. Among these stations were great independent UHF channels like WSBK TV38 and WLVI Channel 56. Starting in the mid-1970s Channel 56 began regularly running a show called Creature Double Feature on Saturday afternoons. [Look for a blog on Creature Double Feature in the future.] Two horror/Sci-Fi movies would be shown at 1:00 and 2:30 PM every week. Through this great show (as well as the programming of many other Boston-area channels) I was able to experience many of the great (bad) movies that I felt I had missed out on by not being able to watch them at a theater when they were new. Without even realizing it I had become a Monster Kid myself! I suppose you could call people like me "Monster Kids: The Next Generation". Most likely a lot of the people responsible for what was put on the independent TV channels back then were folks who had grown up watching these same movies when they were kids. Throwing a couple public domain horror movies on was a cheap and effective way to fill up a few hours of programming. Nowadays it's much more cost effective to fill that time with paid programming (informercials). If the kids of today only knew what they were missing out on! Of course, many of the movies shown on Creature Double Feature weren't really that old at the time. I mean, a classic movie made in the 1950s, like "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954), would have been barely twenty years old in the 1970s and a more recent film like the Bigfoot-themed movie "Creature from Black Lake" (1976) would have only been a few years old when aired in the early 1980s. A show similar to Creature Double Feature today would most likely be showing stuff from the 1990s and early 2000s.

Of course kids today also have many more entertainment options than we had in the 1970s. Not only is cable television pretty much standard now, but we also have DVD and BluRay players (having already seen the era of the VCR come and go), DVRs, TiVo and video game systems that are light years better than the primitive Pong games of the 1970s and the Atari, Coleco and Nintendo systems of the 1980s. Add to this the virtually unlimited entertainment power of the internet and the fact that cell phones are ubiquitous and can do pretty much everything but make phone calls (oh yeah, they still do that--though it seems like it's the least popular feature on them in this age of texting, taking photos, downloading music and surfing the web on phones).

I'm beginning to digress here. Some of this stuff may become the basis of future blogs. But getting back to this one... Let's flash forward to the 2000s. I never really realized the lasting impact that Creature Double Feature had on me until a friend and I discovered a web site and message board dedicated to the show back in September 2006. It seems that a lot of other people who grew up in the Boston area had fond memories of watching the show too. I suddenly had a great feeling of nostalgia for those old days of black & white TVs, rabbit-ear antennas and snowy reception while watching crappy movies that nevertheless scared the crap out of me. Suddenly, memories of many of these movies returned to me and I had to see them again. It was a strange experience to see just how bad (and not very scary at all) many of these movies actually were. They were thrown together quickly and cheaply to turn a quick buck. The vast majority of them had miniscule budgets--and the terrible monster costumes and special effects reflected that fact. The funny thing was that, regardless of this lack of "quality", I still loved watching these movies even after all those years.
Another thing happened in the mid-2000s that has a lot to do with the Monster Dad moniker of this blog: I became a father for the first time in November of 2005. My poor (or lucky, depending on your point of view) daughter would have to grow up with a former Monster Kid as a dad. By now the reason for "Monster Dad" should be clear: 1.) I was a Monster Kid. 2.) If I have any say in the matter my daughter will also be a Monster Kid (at least to some extent). And 3.) For better or worse, I am now a Monster Dad!

It's a strange, and surprisingly complex, thing to be trying to instill a love of old monster movies into your kid--while making sure you don't turn her into a freak or scar her for life by showing her something that's too scary for her to see at her age. I want my daughter to grow up liking what she likes. I don't want to force any of my favorite movies and shows on her just because I liked them as a kid. At the same time, she's been very receptive to watching stuff that I think is cool. Perhaps she only feels sorry for me and is just humoring me, but I don't think that's the case.

I feel that, for a four-and-a-half year old girl, my daughter's interests are pretty well-rounded. My wife didn't want her to grow up in a world where she was only allowed to be interested in Disney Princesses, Barbies, dolls, ponies and the color pink. She does like all those things, but at the same time she also loves toy cars and trucks, fire engines, "Star Wars", Spiderman and bugs. She doesn't really see the differences between traditionally "boy" or "girl" stuff--she just likes what she likes.

Obviously I'm having some influence on her by exposing her to the stuff that I liked as a kid (and still like). I get excited about the thought of showing her something "new" that I grew up loving when I was young, but have to think about whether she's old enough for it. Like I said, many of those old 1950s and 1960s horror movies are really bad and not particularly scary, but to an imaginative child who's watching them with an open mind they can still be very effective! [My thoughts on the imagination of a child will most definitely be the subject of a future blog.] She is fine with some movies and shows, and others will just be too frightening for her. Trying to find the right balance without inducing nightmares isn't as easy as it seems like it might be.

Well, now you've got an idea of who Monster dad is. You can decide for yourself whether you want to read his thoughts or not. There will most likely be more than a few blogs here about the adventures and mis-adventures of being a Monster Dad, but that's not all you'll find.

I've never been too sure how I feel about blogs in general. As you can tell by my frame of reference I'm a bit older than many hip, young bloggers out there. When blogs first appeared, and were the hot internet thing for a while, I thought they were kind of dumb--just another example of how self-centered the world was becoming (future blog material here?). It seemed so egotistical to think that millions of people would want to read what you were thinking, just because you were thinking it. Obviously some people were better at blogging than others, and some people chose to write (or should I say "blog") about things that others found interesting. Whatever the case, blogging really took off (and I'm sure I don't need to be giving a history of blogs to someone reading a blog).

Political blogs seem to be very popular--though I have to admit that I don't really understand why. Part of the problem I have with blogs is the whole idea of how we, as humans, tend to believe what we read. Everyone has a right to their opinions, but the idea of getting your political news from a blogger (who has no need to be unbiased) seems a bit odd to me (the old codger that I am).

Of course there are blogs about all kinds of subjects--sports, movies, TV shows, parenting, fishing, golfing, celebrities... Pretty much anything that anyone is interested in can be blog fodder. I probably won't be doing much political blogging (though you never know...), but I do hope to write about a variety of topics. You can expect more about my parenting experiences, more about my love of old horror/Sci-Fi movies (probably some random movie reviews too), as well as my other interests (yes, I do have other interests), sports stuff, the horrors of home ownership, random thoughts on life... I guess this won't be a blog with a real focus. Whatever seems worth writing about will be what I write about. Hopefully that's a good enough reason to write a blog. We'll see.

Okay, let's get going...

By the way, I chose the url (referencing the year I was born) because was already taken (by someone who has never even posted a blog on it in the two-plus years it's been up by the way!).


  1. I'm in! Get another entry up Monster Dad....
    Also, I was thinking all those 80s slasher films (I was a HUGE fan of them when I was little) probably were quite influenced by the original horror film, 'Halloween'. I have always been terribly unnerved by the piano piece for that movie. I recently watched it and indeed it was corny but still that music gave me the creeps every time Michael Myers was about to kill someone else. Too bad so many of these movies like so many others were ruined by sequels...looking forward to more of your blog entries! x

  2. The theme music from "Halloween", the ch-ch-ch-ch sounds in "Friday the 13th", Tubular Bells from "The Exorcist" and the theme from "Jaws"...all creepy!