Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Movies My Sister Made Me Watch

In thinking about what kinds of things inspired me as a kid and what exactly made me the Monster Dad that I am today, a couple things seem like obvious influences. First was the fact that Boston-area TV stations (pre-cable days) showed TONS of great (and not-so-great) horror/sci-fi/monster movies--especially noteworthy was the WLVI Channel 56 Saturday afternoon show Creature Double Feature. The other impetus was my interest in paranormal/crypto mysteries: Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, ghosts, ancient astronauts, ESP, spontaneous human combustion...

Another thing which has to be considered when looking at what made me what I am today is the fact that my sister Dyan (and yes, I did ask her permission before calling her by name in this blog) took me to a number of movies when I was a kid that ranged from somewhat iffy to downright inappropriate. Before you get the wrong idea, I'm not complaining in any way. In fact, I'm eternally grateful to Dyan for exposing me to some great (and ultimately very influential on me) movies that I never would have seen as a kid, or at least would have only seen the watered down TV versions later on.

And, don't get me wrong, she didn't only take me to see scary movies that I was really too young to be going to (actually there were probably only a couple of those). Many different kinds of movies were seen in those days. The scary ones stand out, but most of the ones covered here were important ones to me in one way or another, and I probably wouldn't have seen them for many years (if ever) if it weren't for my sister.

I remember going to see a lot of movies at the now-defunct Worcester (MA) Galleria cinema. It was a three-screen theater run by General Cinemas. When you went to the theater from the mall you used to pass by a big mural of the surface of the moon on the corridor wall. It was a great way to prepare for an imagination-firing movie experience. My nephew (Dyan's son, a few years younger than me) would also accompany us on most of these trips. To illustrate how young we actually were at the time, General Cinemas had a catchy tune that would play as the company's logo went up onscreen before the movie would start. My nephew and I would get up in the front of the theater and dance around to the little tune like a couple of...well...little kids.

Here's an example of General Cinema's intro:

Pretty catchy tune, huh?

So, what were the movies that I was subjected to? At The Galleria I remember seeing "Das Boot" when it was first released in America--in German, with subtitles and everything. That was an experience. That movie was a bit "grown-up" to me at the time, but not terribly inappropriate. The 1978 remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" was another story. Now, that's a movie that freaked me out. It's a great combination of horror and science-fiction that I still think is a great movie to this day--but I'm not sure I was quite ready for it as a nine-year-old. Another fright-fest was "Creepshow". Some of the individual stories were scarier and more intense than others, but the one about the monster under the stairs was the standout one for me. It was one of those moments where I was convinced that something was going to grab me from under my chair. "Creepshow" came out in 1982, which means I would have been 13 at the time--not a tyke by any means, but I still remember it as being a very edge-of-my-seat experience. The fact that the monster reminded me a bit of Bigfoot (which I was very much into at the time...and still am for that matter) probably didn't help. I was lucky enough to meet Tom Savini--the special effects and make-up man responsible for making "Fluffy" (as the monster is affectionately nicknamed)--at a horror convention in Worcester in 2008. It was great to be able to tell him how much his creation scared the crap out of me all those years ago.

Another moment when I was convinced something was going to grab at me from under the movie seat was when we went to see "Young Frankenstein". Though the movie came out in 1974, when I would have been five, I'm pretty sure it was re-released a few years later. I'm not sure exactly how old I was when we went to see it, but can say that I really only remember the beginning. As much as this movie is decidedly a comedy, and has become one of my all-time favorites, when seeing it for the first time I didn't really get the comedy part of it. I thought it was a straight-out horror movie. The black-and-white photography and the accurate re-creation of the look and feel of a 1930s monster movie probably had a lot to do with that. I don't remember much from that screening (or how long it actually took me to realize that it was supposed to be funny), but I do recall that in the first few minutes I was indeed pretty scared and had that uncomfortable sensation that something was under my seat and about to grab me in the darkened theater.

I also saw a couple documentary-type movies with my sister which need to be mentioned in this conversation. She took me to see "In Search of Noah's Ark" (1976), which was right up my paranormal alley. as mentioned above, I had a keen interest in odd, unsolved mysteries like this. One of my favorite shows on TV was the Leonard Nimoy-hosted "In Search of...". "In Search of Noah's Ark" wasn't scary in any way, but I found it incredibly fascinating as a kid. I remember that when we left the cinema I looked up in the sky and saw a cloud formation that looked like a gigantic cross. It was probably just a couple of crossed contrails or something, but I was convinced that it was a sign from above that Noah's Ark was really sitting up on Mount Ararat, waiting to be found. I guess it didn't occur to me that we saw only one of many screenings of the movie in one of many cinemas that were showing it. If it had been a true sign, then I would assume that the same sky-based cross would have been made visible over every theater showing the movie every couple of hours as the movie ended and the audiences watching it went to the parking lots all across the country (and what about screenings that got out after dark?). But I digress...

Another "documentary" (which was actually a docu-drama of sorts, but was a documentary as far as my youthful mind was concerned) that we saw was "Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot" (1977). This would probably have to be considered the ultimate going-to-the-movies-with-my-sister movie. Not only was the movie supposed to be scary, the fact that I believed in Bigfoot and was very scared of the creature made it all the more terrifying to me. A few years ago I was finally able to watch the movie again on DVD (though I did see it once on TV a couple years after seeing it in the theater). It is pretty obvious now that the movie is a movie (and not a documentary), but as a kid I really did think that what I was watching was real. I remember that we saw this movie at the Interstate 495 cinema in Milford, MA. The reason I feel confident about this memory nearly thirty-five years later is that when we left the theater after the movie my sister had my nephew and myself climb up on a giant snow pile in the parking lot (of K-Mart, which shared the lot with the theater) and throw snow on her windshield--similar to how a number of Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) threw boulders from a cliff onto the cabin of some loggers in the movie--because she didn't have any windshield washer fluid and wanted to clean her windshield before we left.

Not every movie my sister took me to was at a traditional movie theater. I remember her bringing my nephew and myself to see Woody Allen's "Sleeper" (1973) at the Worcester Public Library (most likely sometime in the late-1970s). It was always cool to see an interesting movie in a non-traditional setting. True, like "Young Frankenstein" was more of a comedy than a horror movie, "Sleeper" is more of a comedy than a Science-Fiction movie, but as a kid watching it in a library it was very much straight-up sci-fi to me.

The best non-movie theater movie my sister brought me to was "Forbidden Planet" (1956) at the Worcester Art Museum. It was a great introduction to one of the best early science-fiction movies, and the art museum setting was a great place to see it for the first time.

Finally, here's an example of a movie that we didn't go out to see. While this one was watched on TV it still ranks as one of the scariest movie experiences of my youth--and my sister was once again very much involved. The movie "The Curse of Bigfoot" (1978) was being shown on late-night TV sometime in the early 1980s. I was sleeping over at my nephew's house and my sister (knowing of my interest in Bigfoot) wouldn't let us stay up late enough to watch it (it didn't come on until around 2:00AM) but agreed to set the alarm and wake us up in time to see it. Her house was out in the middle of the woods (literally surrounded by the woods and about a quarter-of-a-mile from the road on a gravel driveway). Not only that but the living room, where the TV was located, had a wall of windows that faced the woods. The movie is a terrible example of filmmaking, but the combination of my age, the fact that it was a Bigfoot movie, the very late hour and the fact that the entire wall facing the woods was made up of windows (that Bigfoot would have had no problem looking in at us through if he happened to come loping up to the house) made for one of the creepiest experiences of my whole life.

What would I be now if it weren't for these movie experiences I had as a kid? I might be a bit more "normal". I'm pretty sure I'd be a bit more boring. And I definitely don't think I'd be Monster Dad today. All I can say is Thank You Dyan for scaring me (and maybe "scarring" me a bit too in the process) all those years ago. I wouldn't change those priceless, terrifying memories for anything!

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