The TCM blog, Movie Morlocks, recently had a piece in which the author recounted how he got his child to not be afraid of what he initially thought of as relatively benign horror movies from his youth, such as the original Blob. I, on the other hand, had no such guidance from my folks; I discovered horror films on my own, and more or less dealt with the consequences of watching such films the same way. It's not that they didn't care. It's just that in some things, such as television, they were surprisingly permissive.
I've never had any great love for horror movies, but I watched them, like most kids did, whenever they were on TV, whether on local networks on Saturdays and holidays, or cable TV later on in life. Here are a few that stand out in my memory, regardless of quality.
- Dracula (1979). You can have Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman. Me, I'll take Frank Langella as the dude in the cape and fangs every time. I'm pretty sure this would air on NBC when I was a kid and I'd watch it every time. I suspect it was this version that helped shape my earliest impression of the vampire mythos in general. Director John Badham made this after Saturday Night Fever, and while I was far too young to appreciate the presence of all-stars like Laurence Olivier and Donald Pleasance in the lineup, I still remember John Williams' thrilling score. This was also a movie I recorded with our Betamax VCR (shut up, it was a good VCR which lasted us years!).
- The Mask (1961). This one played on good ol' WPIX-TV, back when they still played old movies. It was one of my earliest forays into 3-D television. Don't remember where I got the 3-D glasses to watch this movie (probably from a CrackerJack box or a comic book or someplace like that), but you always knew exactly when to don them, because they'd tell you: "PUT THE MASK ON NOW!" Looking at one of the 3-D scenes on YouTube, I was pleasantly surprised to see that as far as cheap thrills go, it still holds up, in a way. Obviously it's not on the levels of gore fright fans are used to these days, but it's imaginative, in a carnival fun house kind of way. In my dream movie theater, this would be a midnight movie.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. One of the first movies I saw on my own, without my parents, this one played, if I'm not mistaken, at the old Colony on 82nd Street in Jackson Heights, just down the street from the Jackson. That theater was a two-screener, I think. It was quite small; I didn't go there nearly as much as the Jackson. I wish I could say what drew me to this film. I know I didn't see the first two Elm Street movies. Maybe it was the image of Freddy Kruger with that glove of his. Maybe it was the psuedo-superhero aspect of the "dream warriors" concept. It wasn't the presence of Patricia Arquette (!) and Laurence Fishburne (!!), sad to say. Maybe it was the theme song by Dokken! In a recent interview, Wes Craven lamented the fact that Freddy turned into a comedic figure after starting out as straight horror, but I always liked the funny Freddy.
- Poltergeist II: The Other Side. By 1986, I had cable TV, and this was one of many movies I'd see in constant rotation, so of course, I'd watch it. The first Poltergeist is a modern horror classic, but this one... Actually, I would watch this one because it was unintentionally funny! I mean, the MST3K guys should've gotten hold of this one, because there's so much mock-worthy material to be mined here, despite the return of the original cast. (Geraldine Fitzgerald was in this movie!) The Dissolve recently used Poltergeist II as an example of why horror sequels suck.
- The Gate (1987). Don't expect anyone to remember this other than hardcore horror fans. It was also a cable TV staple for awhile, and I would watch it for no apparent reason other than to kill time. Maybe I was drawn to the premise of kids fighting demons. Watching YouTube clips didn't jog my memory of this film much. I vaguely recall the ending, but that's about it. This didn't exactly set the world on fire, although it did inspire a Gate II. And Stephen Dorff is in this movie, for what that's worth.
Got any childhood horror movies you're not too embarrassed to talk about?