Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Books – Monster Mash by Mark Voger


Officially titled Monster Mash: The Creepy, Kooky Monster Craze in America 1957–1972, Monster Mash is the story of monsters and horror culture when it was first released in all its glory on America’s masses. The book is a real treat, and takes readers through every aspect of the monster phenomenon of my personal formative years and before. 

The Great Bela Lugosi
Voger first takes us through the creation of the seminal literary monsters; Shelley’s Frankenstein, Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stoker’s Dracula, H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man and finally Leroux’s The Phantom of the Opera. Early movies experimented with horror themes quickly (talkies Dracula and Frankenstein were both released in 1931, and both scared audiences to death). His contention is that horror mass media began with Screen Gems releasing something called their “Shock Package” to television stations in 1957. These were 52 films that dealt with dark crimes, horror or the supernatural. All of the original Universal monster films and their multiple sequels were in the package. There were also many crime noirs with horrorific or violent themes. This was decades before home video, and most children had never seen any of these films. Kids, consider your worlds rocked. To go along with the Shock Package, local TV stations created the role of the cheesy horror host to host the movies. In Cincinnati, we had Dick Von Hoene on Channel 19’s Creature Feature every Saturday. His alter ego was the “Cool Ghoul,” complete with cheesy makeup and a funny monster shtick. 

Dick Von Hoene as "The Cool Ghoul"
From there the monster phenom just grew. The book covers the monster magazines, including the most influential, Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by super-fan Forrest J. Ackerman. The Mad Magazine monster parodies are also given some love, as they should. Of course monster toys and models are thoroughly examined, as well as licensed products such as shampoo, posters, 8mm films and inspired records. No record critique would be complete without a look at the book’s title song; the infamous Monster Mash 45rpm by Bobby “Boris” Pickett. It is still played today every Halloween. The words “I was working in the lab, late one night ...” are as emblazoned on my brain as my first phone number and my mother’s maiden name. 

The Munsters
One of the most fun sections of the book is a look at various monster TV shows, especially The Addams Family and The Munsters. Which was your favorite? Voger combines multiple interviews he has done over the years with the shows’ most famous stars to get a comprehensive look at their roles and methods. The book also does a nice job exploring the monster comic books of the 1960s, especially Creepy and Eerie magazines and the creation of the most important and lasting comic horror host; Vampirella. 

Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows

Voger raps up the story with a long look at the Dark Shadows TV explosion, including interviews and photos of producer Dan Curtis and the show’s most famous stars. He also briefly mentions the Planet of the Apes craze—not typical monsters, but those gorilla soldiers sure scared the heck out of me as a kid. The author suggests 1972 as the place to end the book, as Dark Shadows had been cancelled and Hammer Studio’s last Dracula movie was released. As we all know, the monster craze never really ended, and with conventions, toy shows, merchandise (both old monsters and new), and media, today it is bigger than ever. 

Wolfman Model
Loaded with color photos, well-researched articles and informative sidebars, Monster Mash is an extensive look at the heart of the monster craze in America. And it’s a fine look back at a dark and sometimes parentally forbidden part of our childhoods. That’s one reason the phenomenon is so delicious. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars. 

1 comment:

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