Posted by Richard Harland Smith on September 18, 2009
Halloween is slightly more than a month away but of course merchandise for this most horripilating of holidays has been on the shelves of department stores, pharmacies and party supply shops for weeks now. That’s just good business but I’m not complaining. While it causes me some pain to see Christmas decorations crowding out the witches and skeletons come the last week of October, Halloween can’t come soon enough for me. Mind you, I live in a virtual All Hallows Eve nearly year-round. My work place right here where I sit typing is proud in replicas (honest!) of human skulls, of classic monsters, of devil masks and assorted ghoulish bric-a-brac, tchotkes and geegaws. You’d think Halloween itself would be a bit redundant in my house (of Frankenstein) but the opposite is true. The weeks leading up to October 31st only sharpen my spooky sensibilities and bring everything into focus. These feelings surged yesterday when I ran across the website of graphic artist Rob Kelly, whose glorious Glenn Strange is pictured at the left. This illustration is one of several classic monster public service announcements, the remainder of which can be found (along with other eye-catching works of art) on Kelly’s website. Even given a postmodern makeover, Strange’s underrated monster (the cowboy actor inherited the role for HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HOUSE OF DRACULA and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, in which he even got to speak a single word) continues to thrill me some forty years after I first clapped eyes on him. He may very well have been the first Frankenstein’s monster I ever saw, before Boris Karloff even, possibly replicated as a latex mask in the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland or on the cover of the December issue of Monster World but certainly on the dust jacket for the Famous Monsters Speak lp that so many of us had back in the day, on which Strange’s incarnation of the Undying Monster got to stand cheek-by-jowl with Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula. Seeing this tribute to both Strange and Frankie the other day worked a kind of magic on me… brought me back to myself, to the MonsterKid I am at heart.
It almost doesn’t matter in what form I find my classic monsters. Frankenberry can do it for me, or Herman Munster or Frankie from The Groovy Ghoulies, or the cool tee shirt pictured on the right (featuring Boris Karloff in the role of his lifetime) from Zazzle.com. I love all the classic monsters – Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon – but there’s just something about the Frankenstein Monster that returns me to my factory settings. The mere sight of him, in any of his myriad life forms, brings me back to a wonderful feeling of childlike innocence and wonder. Sadly I can’t tap into the exact emotions I experienced the first time I watched FRANKENSTEIN (1931) or THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) or SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) or THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN or FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN or… well, you get the idea… but I have to think I considered Frankie to be pretty cool because I’ve been a fan for over 40 years. All it takes is a glimpse of that bolt necked fiend to make everything right again for just a little while; a flash from that black and white netherworld of blasted heaths and poorly landscaped graveyards washes away the grief and noise of these troubled times and reminds me that Universal’s classic monsters were a product of the Great Depression, meant to divert troubled minds from the nightmare of insolvency and worry and give them some vicarious thrills. Monsters kept America company throughout the 30s and straight on through World War II. Oh to have been a fly on the wall for those original releases. It must have been… horrific!
With Halloween only a few short weeks away, go spend some money on some of the great classic monster-themed merchandise out there in the world (such as this neat-o bumper sticker designed by monster maker Frank Dietz, available from Cafe Press) or stop by such classic monster-minded blogs as Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog or Universal Monster Army. Mired as we are in the worst recession in almost 80 years, we could all do with a dose of those old school shivers. Can I get an “It’s alive!” on that?
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