Posted by Richard Harland Smith on November 21, 2006
As a freelance writer and a stay-at-home dad, I can’t say I’ve done my share for fashion lately, not by a long shot. As a resident of North Hollywood, which (like all of the San Fernando Valley) seems 10-15 degrees hotter than sunny Los Angeles at its warmest, you’ll find me most days in cargo shorts and an untucked shirt spotted with pureed carrots and last ironed back when gas was under $2 a gallon. Still, I came of age during the Brylcreamed Camelot era and was bounced on the knees of straight-arrow men with pressed trousers, narrow lapels and razor ties. I look at those old snapshots a lot and one thing that never fails to impress me is that no one seemed to take a bad picture forty years ago. Why? They knew how to dress. They had style.
Things changed, of course; things always do, and I’m not knocking change. But the relaxation of standards has had a disastrous effect in at least one regard—the monster movie. From The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on, monsters and madmen have just gotten sloppier and sloppier, as if the horror is directly proportional to the villain’s disregard of personal hygiene. Hannibal Lector notwithstanding, the threads of movie monsters these days are pretty sad, when the beasts even bother to wear clothes. It has a lot to do with the pants, I think.
Back when monsters wore pants, the scares were better. Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man, Robert Clarke in The Hideous Sun Demon, Brett Halsey in The Return of the Fly, Bruce Bennett in The Alligator People… The juxtaposition of cuffed and pleated gabardine slacks with a glistening, fang-filled maw created a creepy cocktail not soon forgotten. Monsters in pants reminded us of our Dads, who could be alternately awesome or awful, funny or fearsome. Maybe Dracula and Frankenstein never lost their archetypal edge because they both wore suits and seemed like authority figures gone horribly wrong. When monsters stopped dressing up, we lost something. Look at The Werewolf of London– the first time he went lupine, Henry Hull was wearing a dressing gown and a celluloid collar. Well… they had designers then.
I’m not one of those turn-back-the-clock guys, I don’t live in the past. I don’t think progress is bad or technology evil. I like that women can vote and smoke and cuss in public, I think “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” deserved its Academy Award® and for the record I think Ebonics got a bad rap. But I say this… some standards need to be upheld. So let’s bring back monsters in pants. Nightmares were just plain better when they were around. And didn’t everybody look great?
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