At Halloween I always like a good scary movie. If you’ve read the Town Crier any time in Octobers past, there’s a good chance you’re aware that a good, spooky movie is, in my opinion, a lot of fun.
As a kid growing up in Dalton I went to the movies all the time. My first few years of going to the movies was limited to the Wink Theatre, as it was the only indoor theater in town at the time.
There was also the Cherokee Drive-In theater that I went to a few times with my parents, me already in my pajamas and given the back seat in case it got too late for me and I wanted to go to sleep. I never went to sleep.
Of course, the other big source of macabre movies, this being a time before home video of any type, was the TV. Late night horror shows with hosts like Dr. Shock in Chattanooga or Saturday afternoon "Godzilla" movies on Ted Turner’s Superstation out of Atlanta gave me plenty of opportunities to see monster movies. I would peruse the weekly TV guide to spot upcoming films in the horror field, looking for the label “thriller,” which is how they listed horror films.
There’s actually a generation of horror movie fans known as “monster kids.” These are kids that grew up with monster movies at the theater and on TV in the 1950s, ’60s and '70s.
Most agree that the start of this monster craze was the release of a package of old horror films to TV syndication in October 1957 called “Shock!” The “Shock Theater” (as it became known) package was 52 pre-1948 classic horror films from Universal Studios that included “Dracula,” “Dracula’s Daughter” and “Son of Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “Son of Frankenstein,, “Werewolf of London,” “The Wolfman,” “She-Wolf of London” and “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” “The Mummy,” “The Mummy’s Hand” and “The Mummy’s Tomb.” Throw in the “Mad Ghoul,” “The Black Cat” and “The Invisible Man” and you get a veritable "who’s who," or perhaps more appropriately a “what’s what,” of the monster movie masterpieces.
This package was so successful that the next year they released “Son of Shock” with another 20 horror films from Universal and Columbia. Once these films hit the eyeballs of the little kids glued to the midnight glare of the TV screen the whole monster thing took off.
It wasn’t long until there was a Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine that catered to the youthful monster mavens, with interviews, reviews, bad puns and plenty of stock photos of your favorite creatures.
Then came monster models, monster stickers, monster toys and TV shows like “The Munsters” and “The Addams Family." As I write this there’s a new "Addams Family" animated film in theaters, and a feature remake of “The Munsters” is in the can waiting for release probably next summer.
Yes, I stayed up watching the old black and white films, I glued the models together and I bought Famous Monsters magazine when I got a spare buck. But the monster craze on TV kept the monster movies on the big screen a staple. And that gets me back to the Wink and the Capri.
End of a generation
I mark the end of the "monster kids" generation in May 1977 with the release of "Star Wars." It had space monsters in it but was really a science fiction film.
Action figures came out with it that had the kids of those days playing out their own Luke Skywalker stories on the living room floor. And it was big budget with never-before-seen special effects.
When the first horror films came out in the early 1930s the subject matter was so new and so “shocking” to the sensibilities of audiences of the time that “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” (both released in 1931) were aimed at grownup audiences. Some movies, like 1934’s “The Black Cat,” aren’t really suitable for kids even now.
But by the late 1940s the first wave of classic monsters were meeting Abbott and Costello in comedies where they were played for laughs. But for kids in watching these films for the first time at home on TV, they still thrilled and chilled, especially if it was late, the house was dark, and you were watching without any adults around.
Second and third waves
In the late ’50s and early ’60s a second wave of horror movies originated from Europe, most proficiently from Hammer Studios in England. They remade "Frankenstein," "Dracula" and "The Mummy," but this time in color and with red blood. Yikes. This wave lasted up until "Star Wars."
A third wave of American horror came along in the '70s and ’80s. These films included much more graphic and violent R-rated content like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “Nightmare on Elm Street.”
But along with the graphic content there was also a change in who we went to see. As someone that was around for the earlier films, the classics, as well as the later generation of scares, I can say audiences changed from fans of the actors to fans of the monsters.
Knowing the actors
We always loved the monsters, from the Frankenstein monster who was scary and unpredictable, but who you also felt sorry for, to Dracula with his suave ways to invade your house and the Mummy, who, no matter how slowly he shuffled along, always caught the damsel and had her back in the pyramid by dawn.
But we knew the actors' names and went to see their films. I remember in the early ’70s getting the latest edition of Famous Monsters magazine and seeing Vincent Price on the cover in his skull-like makeup for the movie “Madhouse.” I didn’t know much about the plot, but it didn’t matter.
When it finally came to the Capri in the Dalton Shopping Center (about where Las Palmas is now) I went to see a “Vincent Price” movie. Same thing with the British actors from the Hammer Studios, Christopher Lee (who played Dracula 10 times) and Peter Cushing (who played Dr. Frankenstein six times and Van Helsing, Dracula’s nemesis, five times).
When “Tales From the Crypt” with Peter Cushing on the poster came to the Capri, I was there. We sought out Boris Karloff films, Bela Lugosi films, Vincent Price films and Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing films. They were “monster” stars and we were their fans.
Now it's the monsters
But in the more modern films, it’s the monsters people go to see. Have you ever said, “Hey, the new Bill Johnson movie is in town! Load up the kids and let’s go.” No, you haven’t. No one has.
But people over and over have said, “Hey, the new 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' movie is in town with Leatherface! Let’s go early so we can get some popcorn!” FYI, Bill Johnson played Leatherface in the second “Texas Chainsaw” movie.
It’s the same with "Halloween." Character: Michael Myers. Actor: ???
Some may know the actor Robert Englund who has played Freddy Krueger eight times, but that’s rare in the monster movie biz these days. There have been about eight actors playing Leatherface, 10 have played “Halloween”’s Michael Myers, and Jason from the “Friday the 13th” series has been played by 10 actors.
Of course, some this has to do with these series going on for 35 or 40 years. The actors for the monsters age out after a while. The first Michael Myers was actually played by two actors and both those guys are middle aged now. Karloff played the Frankenstein monster in three classic films and then as he got older he went to more “mad doctor” roles. The classic monster actor who played the most monsters was Lon Chaney Jr. He played the Wolfman, Dracula, the Frankenstein monster and the Mummy for Universal Studios.
Which brings us back to the Wink and the Capri. I would go to see a “Vincent Price” movie, and then I’d go see a “Halloween/Michael Myers” movie. Intersperse that with the non-star/non-name monster movies like “Frogs” (killer frogs), “Squirm” (killer worms … filmed in Georgia!) and “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” (giant killer tomatoes, I’m not kidding) and you can see I spent a lot of time scared in the movie house.
There were a pair of “Dark Shadows” movies, “Night of Dark Shadows” and “House of Dark Shadows,” that came out based on the gothic horror TV soap opera, with one showing at the Wink and one at the Capri. And through some lucky break they actually did a re-release of the original “King Kong” from 1933 at the Capri, so I got to see one of the most influential monster movies of all time on the big screen.
It’s funny because I have not seen all the “Halloween," “Friday the 13th” or “Nightmare” movies. They seem redundant many times. But I still seek out the films I haven’t yet seen of Boris Karloff, Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. When it comes to spooky movies, it’s not the monster that makes the man, it’s the man that makes the monster.
Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.