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Jewish World Review
Oct. 20, 2006
/ 28 Tishrei 5767
Another Halloween is upon me and I haven't a thing to wear. No, that isn't true. I do
have several rubber masks. They're packed away in a box somewhere in the garage but even if I
were able to find them I don't know if they would still be usable since rubber can disintegrate
or melt in extreme temperatures. I know this from experience because years ago I took out my
pair of Frankenstein hands only to discover that they had melded into one totally disgusting
blob of rubber.
As a kid I collected masks which included Frankenstein, Wolf Man, the Mummy and other
assorted monsters. I found them for sale in the pages of my favorite magazine, "Famous
Monsters of Filmland." The masks were created by Don Post Studios and they were positively the
best around - the most authentic likenesses of the Universal movie monsters you could get.
"Hand painted, hand-made in Hollywood of durable latex," the ad said.
Six or seven years ago I had the pleasure of visiting with Forrest J. Ackerman,
publisher of "Famous Monsters," at his home in Hollywood. To me he looked almost the same as
he did in the photos that appeared in his magazine some forty odd years ago. His house is
exactly what you might expect the house of a movie monster maven to look like - filled with
thousands of photos, books, props, stills, and other odd and sundry items from science fiction
and horror movies throughout the decades.
The house itself he called his "Ackermansion" which is located in Hollyweird,
Karloffornia and is one of those old California Spanish places which looks as if a horror movie
actor might have actually lived there in the early 1930's. For a kid of my generation it
would've been the perfect place to go trick or treating on Halloween.
Forry, as Mr. Ackerman prefers to be called, was the perfect host - leading us through
every room of the house, proudly showing off his fantastic collection of monster memorabilia
and telling us behind the scenes stories as we went along. Here was a man who certainly loved
what he did for a living, or more precisely, was able to make a living at what he loved most.
As a ten year-old kid, I collected every issue of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" that
came out. I loved the magazine because I loved the movies that the magazine honored. Those
great old horror movies that scared the wits out of me. Pictures like the original
"Frankenstein" starring Boris Karloff, as well as all the subsequent sequels; the Wolf Man
pictures; "Dracula;" the mummy pictures; and the "Invisible Man." "The Hunchback of Notre
Dame" starring Charles Laughton was pretty frightening too, as was the original silent "Phantom
of the Opera" starring Lon Chaney. These were the truly classic horror movies.
We didn't have the big screen televisions they make now, but watching Lon Chaney Jr. in
"The Wolf Man" at home in our den on a rainy cold night was bigger than life. Not to mention
scarier. "The way you walked was thorny…through no fault of your own," the old gypsy woman,
Maria Ouspenskaya, chanted over Chaney as he lay dead at the end of the picture, finally at
peace. Jack Pierce's makeup gave me nightmares for years. This was my favorite horror movie.
Another one that really got to me and stuck within my little impressionable brain was
"The Beast with Five Fingers" starring Peter Lorrie. A concert pianist is killed in his gothic
mansion; one of his hands is cut off and comes to life crawling across tables and floors
terrorizing everyone who is in the house. Sounds silly? Oh, no. Not when you're a nine
year-old boy watching it on TV in a dark room at Halloween.
About the only thing more fun than actually watching scary movies on television as a kid
was scaring my little sister with them. She would watch them with me and I happily would
torture her with them long after they were over. I'd put on one of my masks and chase her
around the house. I got to the point where I memorized the scariest lines from the films and I
could imitate the character's voices, usually late at night in the dark when we were in bed.
"RRrrrr! Smoke, good!" I would say in my best Frankenstein voice. "T'was de hand! You, you
must believe me!" I would shout as Peter Lorrie. I did them all, from the old gypsy woman to
Quasimodo to Igor.
I don't think kids nowadays can get scared watching those old movies like we did.
They've been exposed to too many other images of blood, gore, and just plain repulsiveness that
are much more frightening in the films and TV of today. I wonder how a ten year-old of today
would react to watching "Frankenstein" for the first time. He'd probably think it's funny.
That's a shame. There was a style, mood and sense of storytelling in those pictures that all
the best computer generated images in the world can't duplicate. And there is absolutely
nothing today that can equal pound for pound, the scariness of Lon Chaney Jr. changing into the
"Even the man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when
the wolf bane blooms and the moon is full and bright."
Maybe I'll go out to the garage, dig out one of my old masks and visit my sister this
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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© 2006, Greg Crosby