Saturday, October 1, 2011

2011 October Horror Challenge (Part 1: Day 1)

Today is Saturday, the first of October. It's a chilly, raw, rainy day in New England. This kind of early Autumn day gets one thinking about the impending celebration of all things Halloween at the end of the month. Of course there's still some 30 days until then, so it's a good time to start a project that looks forward to the 31st as we count down the days...

Last year I embarked on my first attempt to watch 31 horror movies or shows in the 31 days of October. That one ended up being a success. The details of that challenge can be found in the blogs An Absolutely Horrible Month, and The "October Horror Challenge" Post-Game Report. I do realize that I had a very loose definition of what kinds of things I considered to be "Horror" for last year's Challenge. Fans of hardcore horror might have a legitimate beef with things like "Young Frankenstein", "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" and a Halloween episode of "The Love Boat" that I counted last year, and that's fine. When you get right down to it, this is MY blog, so I reserve the right to define what I can watch and count toward this Challenge. First off, it HAS to be something I actually want to watch--and I'm not really so much into modern, hardcore horror movies as I am into stuff from the past. Also, remember that I am a "Monster Dad", and I want to be able to share some of this stuff with my Little Monster. I'm not about to show her something like "The Shining" or "My Bloody Valentine" (both of which are films I like, but which are obviously not appropriate for a five-year-old). With all that in mind, I've decided to go ahead and undertake the October Horror Challenge for a second year!

Last year was the first time I undertook one of these projects. I didn't realize at the time how common these things are in the Blogosphere (especially in October). As such I didn't really know how to "correctly" report the results. I basically just wrote one main blog that that was edited every day with the latest results. Instead of doing it that way this year, I'm going to write a series of updates every few days. By the end of the month I'm hoping that all the stuff reported in the updates will add up to at least 31.

And, now it's time to start the challenge...


Today is Saturday. As I mentioned, it's a rainy and raw day in New England. I'm sort of stuck inside, and it's a perfect day to start the challenge. I have more than enough stuff in my DVD collection that I could watch one movie a day for the entire month that I've never even seen before. But I do have some favorites that I'm going to want to watch for the second (or thirteenth) time. Also, you never know when something good is going to show up on TV. Today is one of those days. Part of the reason I'm even interested in doing a project like this is because I grew up watching Boston-area television back in the 1970s and 80s. Even before my little hometown finally got cable in the mid-80s there was plenty of good stuff to watch on the handful of channels we could pull in through our antenna. In addition to the three (yep, only three back then) major networks, we were also able to pick up some great independent channels like WXNE 25, WSBK TV38 and WLVI 56 out of Boston, and WSMW 27 out of Worcester.

A lot has changed since then, but one thing is startlingly similar--despite the fact that we have a relatively nice flat-screen TV, my household once again does NOT have cable. This makes the over-the-air choices much more limited. Luckily one of the channels we are able to pick up is channel 7.2 out of Boston. This channel is associated with WHDH channel 7 and is called THIS TV. THIS TV plays mostly movies. Sometimes they have very cool movies and sometimes they're not so great. But on Saturday afternoons they have a block of two movies called the "Flashback Saturday Matinee Double Feature", which shows movies that are exactly like the kind of stuff viewers would have seen on Boston TV back in the good old days. Today's Flashback Saturday Matinee Double Feature was an absolutely perfect way to start the October Challenge. At 1:00 they had "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy", and at 3:00 they had "The Incredible Shrinking Man"!

Item No.1: "Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy"

"Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" (1955) is one of the great Abbott and Costello movies that takes advantage of the classic Universal Monsters (like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"--which will also likely be a part of this year's Challenge, just as it was last year). Since Abbott and Costello chiefly made movies for Universal, it was a perfect way for the company to take advantage of its rich monster history by combining some of the greatest horror names in history (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man) with one of the leading comedy teams of the day. It's definitely NOT pure "horror" by any means, but it's a movie that I loved watching on TV as a kid, and one that I still love. I actually have this one on DVD (part of the Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection set), but the chance to watch it on TV like in the old days makes it just a little extra-special for some reason. Yes, it does have commercials and I can't pause or rewind it, but it just feels so nostalgic to watch it that way! I have showed this movie to The Little Monster in the past and wanted to start the Challenge by watching it with her today, but unfortunately she had a long morning and had to go down for a nap before the film started. Oh well, we'll still have plenty of chances to watch a lot of fun stuff together this month!

Item No.2: "The Incredible Shrinking Man"

THIS TV put "The Incredible Shrinking Man" (1957) on this afternoon as the second half of its Saturday Matinee double feature. I first watched and loved this movie on the old Creature Double Feature show on WLVI Channel 56 back when I was a kid. While it doesn't really feature any monsters (other than a regular sized house cat and spider that take on tremendous proportions as the title character gradually shrinks over the course of the movie), I was always deeply affected by "The Incredible Shrinking Man". It raises big existential questions about the human condition that apparently got to me--even through the science-fiction veneer of the story. Even as a child I remember always experiencing a strange feeling of helplessness and smallness after watching the film. It was fun, but also had a darker side. I suppose part of the reason it is so effective comes from the fact that it was based on a book written by the great Richard Matheson (who also wrote "I am Legend" and was writer on the original "Twilight Zone" show). Of course I didn't realize any of this as a kid-I just thought it was a great movie! Just like "Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy", I have this movie on DVD too (as part of Universal's The Classic Sci-Fi Ultimate Collection DVD set), but it is just so cool to see these great old movies on TV--just like I saw them so many times as a kid!

The Little Monster woke up in time to see "The Incredible Shrinking Man", and she seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. She watched the early part--which is of course a bit less exciting than the later parts. The big payoff (no pun intended) was the later parts where the tiny and still shrinking Grant Williams has his life or death adventures in the basement.

The Little Monster watches Grant Williams fashion a weapon out of a pin

And here's the spider from the climatic basement scene

Here's some video of the BIG spider scene!

Two great movies in one day is a nice way to start the October Horror Challenge. Hopefully there'll be more neat stuff like this on TV throughout the month. Of course, when there isn't, there's always my DVD collection, stuff I can find at my local library, DVDs through Netflix, latest secret weapon: The Wife got us a ROKU Box for my birthday a couple weeks ago. Now we have all kinds of online streaming movies from Netflix available to us, ad well as quite a few free movie channels. There will most certainly be days when I don't get to watch anything that can be added to the Challenge total, but hopefully they will be few and far between. Only time will tell...

Item No. 3: "End of the World"

Well, I unexpectedly got a chance to watch another movie later in the night. I was browsing through the free movies available on one of the channels on the ROKU Box when I saw something called "End of the World" (1977). I've always been a fan of end-of-the-world movies and this one certainly sounded like it was going to be in that vein. Unfortunately the description of the movie on the channel made it sound a lot like the Ray Milland flick "Panic in the Year Zero" (1962). I say unfortunately because I would have welcomed a plot like that of "Panic in the Year Zero". The description was a mistake though. Apparently one of the alternate names for "Panic in the Year Zero" is "End of the World" (as I discovered later on IMDb). Obviously someone didn't do their research before posting the description on the channel. Oh well. Anyway, the movie had Christopher Lee...and not much else. It did indeed culminate with the promised end of the world at the end of the movie, but it was pretty far from entertaining. In fact, it was pretty darned near unwatchable. If it weren't for the fact that I could add it to the October Horror Challenge I probably wouldn't have finished it... Hey, they're not ALL going to be gems, right?

Monster Dad - 3
October - 1

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