Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halloween Movie Memories

Whenever it gets near Halloween, a few people usually say to me, "Since you are a big monster movie fan, you must always get excited around this time of year." In all honesty...I don't. Especially in this day and age, when Halloween has basically become what every other holiday celebrated in America is now--an excuse for trendy yuppies to get drunk and/or hook up.

Back in the distant past, however...there was a reason for me to get excited over Halloween. Back before the internet, before YouTube, or streaming, or the availability of thousands of movies on home video....there was a time when most TV stations showed classic horror films around Halloween. I'm not just talking about special-themed cable stations--I mean ordinary, average local TV stations.

In the 1980s, when I was a young teenager and a burgeoning film buff, classic horror and science-fiction films were quite rare on TV. Yes, there was the great Svengoolie, but other than that......every so often, independent stations would show an old monster movie very late at night, but unless it was on the weekend, I wouldn't be able to see it.

So back then I always looked forward to Halloween. That's when the vaults were thrown wide open, so to speak. All sorts of classic fantastic films would be shown, and many of them were ones I had never actually seen! When October came around I would scan the TV Guide intently, and circle any monster movie listings that were on a channel I could get. Does anyone else remember doing that? Those were the days when TV Guide was the real TV Guide--when it was specifically tailored to each section of the country. I can imagine that now there are a fair number of Americans who have never even used a TV Guide, or any newspaper TV listing. Back then there were no on-screen guides or personal devices to remind you when something was on. You had to figure out on your own how to keep aware of any classic monster movie showings.

My family did eventually get a VCR, but as some of you may know, setting up a 1980s version of those things to receive and record channels was practically a thankless task. It always seemed that whenever I tried taping something late at night, the movie would get delayed, and I'd wind up not getting the ending.....or for whatever reason there would be a different program than the one listed. I much preferred watching an old horror or sci-fi movie as it was being shown--that way I knew for sure I wouldn't be missing it.

It's almost impossible to articulate how exciting it was for me to watch a classic monster movie that I had never seen before on TV back then. Now you can go online and find the story synopsis of just about any movie ever made, or at least read dozens and dozens of blogs and reviews written about any movie ever made. In the 1980s, if you wanted info on classic fantastic films, you either read the few monster movie magazines that were still around, or you checked out horror movie books from your local libraries. (As I learned in later years, a lot of the info that I found was wrong.) To actually see a classic horror or science-fiction film--one that I had only read about or only seen a few stills of--was a treasured experience. Would the movie live up to my expectations? Would it be a dud? Would it be something I would remember for the rest of my life?

Today we take for granted all the entertainment content we have surrounding us. Most of the classic films we see now are in pristine condition, and they are in the correct aspect ration, and they're uncut, and we have audio commentaries and special features to accompany them. It's getting to the point now that viewing any classic film is as easy as turning on a light switch.

I'm certainly not complaining about being a present-day film buff--in many ways movie geeks are too spoiled. But there was something about seeing a classic monster movie for the very first time, late at night, on television....yes, the aspect ratios were wrong, and there were too many commercials, and it was more than likely edited...but that sense of discovery, that memory of seeing great performances by Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Cushing, Lee, Price, etc., that you had only read about....being exposed to master craftsmen such as Bava, Whale, Harryhausen...those experiences just can't be recaptured today. In a way I wish I could watch all the great fantastic films again for the very first time, just to have those moments of enchantment and wonder, just to have my imagination reinvigorated.


  1. I know what you mean about horror at Halloween in the old days. PBS channel 13 out of NYC used to show a bunch on and around Halloween with the added benefit that they were uncut and no commercials! So you were a TV Guide marker also, used to drive my parents crazy.

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