Welcome to the post that will kick off my contributions to the Halloween season! I thought it would be interesting to share with you the history behind my love of horror related entertainment. So without further “a-boo” (GET IT? A”boo” instead of “ado”?) here it is!
How many have encountered a Facebook post asking about the first horror film you saw? Or a post inquiring about the film that scared you the most? Oh but we aren’t supposed to give out this kind of personal information on social media anymore because such a post could be linked to a phishing scam! And that’s why I never give these posters the answer!
Ah, that’s only half correct. It’s true I never answer but that’s only because my response would be far too complicated for such a platform. Okay, fine. I can uncomplicate a response. A short, direct to the point answer would be:
First horror movie – I don’t remember.
Horror movie that scared me the most – None.
Be honest, my responses are unsatisfying, aren’t they? And you might be saying, “Really? You don’t get scared? That’s bullshit!” Well now just hold on a sec there, part’ner! Give me a chance to explain. My explanation is what this entire piece is all about.
My First Attractions To The Horror Genre
It’s no secret that I am a fan of the horror genre. Hello! I operate a horror-themed blog for Christ’s sake! But when did all this love for horror begin? Sorry, I don’t have an exact moment or memory that can serve as a catalyst for my fandom. As far as I can tell, I have always been attracted to all things spooky (perhaps I have inherited “horror genes”?). Growing up, whenever a normal run-of-the-mill TV show had a special horror episode, I was glued to the set. Whenever The Brady Bunch aired an episode where the kids would haunt their own house, I was there. Whenever The Three Stooges ran away comically from spooks, I was present and attentive.
Did televised or big screen horror ever scare me? In terms of fictionalized horror in general, I was often scared, but not so much from ghoulish things on the set or the screen. I will explain this distinction later. Perhaps it was the Saturday morning cartoons and other children-themed shows that aired during those weekend AM hours that gave me my first taste of horror. It was a programming paradise for us little kids born in the 1970s! I was between the ages of 4-8 when I took part in this paradise. Saturday mornings would not be complete without a healthy dose of Scooby Doo, Where are You? . I loved the gang’s adventures inside haunted houses where they would encounter ghosts and monsters, which of course always turned out to be villains in disguise. Maybe this cartoon fostered my love for haunted houses?
The Monster Squad also aired Saturday mornings.
The premise: Wax figures depicting Dracula, Wolfman and Frankenstein come to life and become crime fighters! Okay that sounds hokey, but as a kid I loved it. Even before The Monster Squad, I remember being fascinated by the fab-four of horror monsters. This quartet includes Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein, and The Mummy. I had Mego-Action figures of these monsters and I loved to play with them.
Was it these toys, gifted to me, that attracted me to the larger legends surrounding these monsters? Or was it the comic books that featured these four scare kings that brought me up to speed? It’s difficult to pinpoint. It seemed as though these monsters were embedded into my psyche at an early age. They were staples of childhood culture just like the Teddy Bear and The Choo-Choo Train. We kids of the 70s even had breakfast cereals based on them. Skits on the children’s show The Electric Company feature these monsters. Morgan Freeman played Dracula. Check out the youtube video below!
Looking back, I find it very interesting that little kids in the 70s enjoyed the same movie monsters as their parents or even grandparents. While Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster originated in novels, most people were introduced to these grisly creatures from the movies. These were, as I have already mentioned, the movies of previous generations. And yet, these monsters went on the be icons for future generations.
Speaking of the movies…..
The First Horror Movies I Saw on Television
I can’t tell you the first. I just don’t know. The best I can do is relay my memories of watching horror movies on TV Saturday afternoons. Perhaps I was watching WGN’s Creature Features?
The link has the show airing late Saturday nights in the early 70s and I was in bed then, but maybe it reran in the late 70s in the afternoon? Again, I don’t know. But I do remember watching horror movies some Saturday afternoons when I was five, six and seven years old. Usually, it was at the suggestion of an adult, like my older sister. No, she was NOT trying to scare me. She knew that I ALREADY liked this kind of stuff.
I remember watching a haunted house movie about a loud banging noise coming from behind the walls. I remember staring at the TV set in fascination. This movie was The Haunting. I also remember another movie about a Haunted House where a ghost kept possessing people. “See Danny, she has a ghost inside her” my sister explained. “Now Danny, the ghost is inside him!” This movie, I discovered later in life to be The House That Would Not Die.
Do I remember being scared watching films of this nature? Not at all. Seriously. Somehow at an early age, I learned that what happened “inside the glass” (on the TV) was fantasy. It was not real. Reality happened “outside the glass”. The picture tube of the TV served as a barricade to lock all horrors inside a box of fantasy where they belonged. I felt protected by this barricade. Armed with this mental security, I was able to let my fascination take over.
So, what about the horror movies featuring the Fab-Four? I honestly can’t remember if I first saw these movies as a real young kid (age 4-9) on Saturday afternoons or if it wasn’t until I was a little older (age 9-12) on Saturday Nights on the television show called Son Of Svengoolie. It’s safe to say that it was Chicago horror-host Son of Svengoolie (now just “Svengoolie) that got me to pay attention to these films. Well, as best as a 10-year-old can pay attention, anyway. I often had my Mego Monster action figures out when the Son of Svengoolie aired. I created my own stories with the figures while the weekly movie aired.
I do remember paying attention to the ending of the movie Frankenstein. My Dad was explaining to me why the villagers were chasing the monster. He let me know the monster drowned a young girl, but he didn’t mean to. He thought she would float like the flowers he had been tossing into the water. So when the villagers’ burned down the windmill that the Monster was hiding in, causing the rafters to fall on him, trapping him, I felt something. When the flames surrounded him and The Monster cried out, I wasn’t sacred per say. I felt disturbed. I felt sorry for The Monster. The next scene featured maids gleefully wishing Dr. Frankenstein’s bride-to-be Happy Nuptials. I thought “this isn’t right”. A living person (the monster) had just cried out in fear as he was burning to death and the next thing us viewers know, we are watching happy ladies.
Along came The Bride of Frankenstein (again I saw this on Son Of Svengoolie). Yay, the monster somehow survived the flames! My Dad watched with me again. He explained that the created “Bride” would not like the Monster. He was right. She shrieked at his face. Again, I felt sorry for him. This poor guy, he never gets a break. After being rejected, the Monster killed this “Bride”, along with another scientist and himself. Was I horrified at this murderous rampage? Not really. I was kind of rooting for the monster to do his thing.
Oh, I almost forgot about a horror movie I saw when on television long before I started watching Son of Svengoolie. (well, maybe one or two years before; that’s a long time in child years). This time it was my Mom that suggested I watch this film. Again, it was because she knew I liked this kind of thing. “Danny, it’s about a young girl who everyone is mean to. But she has magic”. The movie was Carrie. It was edited for television, of course. But looking back, I think, “gee this was a creepy film to show a young kid”. She did send me to bed before the infamous prom scene, when blood was dumped on Carrie’s head, triggering her to kill everyone with her magical powers. Surprisingly and perhaps nonsensically, she told me I can get out of bed and watch the end of the movie (I was still awake). This would be the scene where Carrie kills her mother and then herself. Again. I felt disturbed, not scared. I felt sorry for Carrie but not afraid of her as some kids might cower from a horror monster. Even at the very end when her hand reached up from where she was buried, I didn’t see Carrie as a monster to be feared. I might have jumped at the surprise of such a thing, but I never ever thought that in real life, a bloody hand would emerge from underneath the soil in our backyard or anything like that.
The First Horror Movies I Saw At The Theater
This I do remember. I’m not going to count King Kong (1976) or Jaws 2. I’m going to pass over those flicks that I saw in the theater and go to Funhouse (1981). My Dad took me to see this film. I wasn’t scared but I guess I was a bit “disturbed;” that’s the word I’ve been using in place of “scared,” so why stop now? What disturbed me was watching characters that had been with me since the beginning of the movie get picked off one by one. Though I had encountered movie deaths before, never had I seen the “heroes” die so unceremoniously. When the poor guy got an axe stuck into his head as he rode the Funhouse car, I knew he was never coming back. When the young lady stabbed the monster in the back and he still went on to kill her, I worried that the monster was unstoppable. In short, this was my first introduction to slasher films. But I didn’t leave the theater with a fear of carnivals or psychotic Funhouse proprietors, or a fear in general of slasher movies. Instead, I was ready for more.
Funhouse was my gateway drug to harder, “slashier” films. The gate opened and I invited the rest of the slashers in. Come on in, Michael Meyers! Entre vous to you, Jason Voor Hees! I couldn’t get enough of them. Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Silent Night, Deadly Night – a killer Santa Claus! Ohhh yeah, I was on board! Cheesy or not, I had to see them. My Bloody Valentine, Midnight, One Dark Night. I was hooked. And still, I wasn’t scared.
What the Heck was I Afraid of Then?
Oh my God, was I a fearful kid. I really was. I was afraid of spiders (I’m still not very fond of them). I was afraid of loud noises. The weekly Tuesday morning screeching of test alarms (you know, in case a nuclear was at hand they had to make sure the damn thing worked) sent me running off my big wheel crying into my mother’s arms! Not-so-loud noises freaked me out as well. Firecrackers off in the distance frightened me. Hell, a kid with a cap gun scared me when I was four-years-old.
Ghosts and monsters scared me too, when they were “outside the glass” of the TV. If some adult pretended to me a monster and came at me, I screamed. When my Dad moaned into the furnace “Ooooooo GUUUURRRRRU!!!” in such a way that his moan travelled throughout the house via the heating vents, I cried and cried. See, the protective barrier that was the TV tube was absent in these situations. The fourth wall was crushed. The sounds of the haunting banging from the movie “The Haunting” didn’t frighten me because they came within the world of pretend inside the television. But the ghostly sounds of my Dad’s moan were right there inside my very own house. Even when I knew it was him making those noises, I was still scared. It was unsettling.
Haunted houses as Halloween/carnival attractions scared the shit out of me. I was terrified when my Dad took me into a cheesy sit-in-the-car-and-watch-motorized-ghosts ride. The creepy, motorized thing that came out of the coffin at Amlings Haunted House in a suburb of Chicago freaked me out. The first time I went into a haunted house with live actors, my Dad had to carry me through the whole thing.
After I became a veteran of these “Haunts” as they are sometimes called, I learned to enjoy them. Yes I would be afraid going in but that was part of the fun. Not too long ago, I worked as a scare actor at a local Haunt. It was fun.
I guess it’s a dimensional thing. Ghosts and goblins existing in the 2nd dimension, on the flat screen, hardly every scared me. The same creatures in the 3rd dimension though, that was a totally different story.
What About Books?
I learned to read at an early age. I was even spelling words before I mastered the art of talking, so my parents and older sisters have told me. Alas, as a young lad, I didn’t use my gifts to their fullest potential. I didn’t read much during my single digits. I had comics but mostly I just looked at the pictures. This includes horror comics as well.
I read a little bit more during my middle school years. Here I took in some Young Adult horror. I read novels that were part of a Book series. One such series was called Dark Forces, the other Twilight (No, NOT the vampire stuff). In these books, teenagers were encountering ghosts and demons, but in the end, everything turned out okay. Not in a Scooby Doo way. The ghosts and demons were real, in the story, but the endings were usually happy.
Somewhere around this time I did read a Stephen King Book or two. In my high school years, if I read anything it was either what was assigned to me in English class or some rock and roll bio, like a Jim Morrison or Led Zeppelin book. But not horror for some reason. I was losing interest in that sort of thing.
It wasn’t until my late twenties that I delved into reading. I read all kinds of genres, including horror. But then I would read more horror. More. MORE! Horror from the 18th century. Horror from the early part of the twentieth century. Short stories, Novellas and long novels.
When I finally took up writing, what was the first thing I wrote about? Horror! I love writing about this genre.
So there you have it, the history of Dan Cheely’s love for the horror genre and what scares him. Have a Happy Halloween season and look out for more posts from me during this season of ghosts and witches!