Photo © 1992
Stephen Jones with his mum, Vi (London, 1992)
"To a new world of gods and monsters!"
When I was growing up in Britain during the 1960s we didn't have many monsters.
—Doctor Pretorius, Bride of Frankenstein
"Kids these days just don't scare like they used to!"
—Mike, Monsters, Inc.
Obviously, I'm not talking about real-life monsters here—regrettably there are always those, such as infamous "Moors Murderers" Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who were both jailed for life in 1966 for a string of child sex killings. No, what I'm referring to are those creatures of the night who have always stalked their way through the shadows of our imagination and haunted our deepest and darkest nightmares.
Of course, they existed back then, but as a youngster growing up in post-war Britain not long after the end of food rationing and still surrounded by the physical evidence of the Blitz, we were a nation which perhaps, for a while, was tired of monsters.
We had nothing like the Shock Theater—a package of classic Universal horror movies from the 1930s and '40s that was released to American television in the autumn of 1957 and which, almost overnight, introduced a whole new generation to those films and their stars, such as Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. In fact, most people in the United Kingdom didn't even have televisions at that time!
Photo © 2002 Sara Broecker |
William F. Nolan, Stephen Jones and Randy Broecker
at the World Fantasy Convention (Minneapolis 2002)
Photo © 2002 Sara Broecker
Robert T. Garcia, Randy Broecker, Stephen Jones, Neil Gaiman and Greg Ketter
at the World Fantasy Convention (Minneapolis 2002)
Britain was a country looking towards a bright new future. For the most part, the old myths were forgotten, and marionette TV shows such as Space Patrol and fledgling Gerry Anderson productions like Supercar, Fireball XL5 and Stingray inspired young viewers such as myself to yearn for a world of flying cars, moving sidewalks and funny-looking robots.
I had been too young to stay up late and watch Nigel Kneale's trio of Quatermass plays on the BBC, which after all were also science fiction, despite their monstrous alien menaces. I do remember watching such early 1960s series as Pathfinders to Venus and The Monsters, the latter about a journalist investigating a family of aquatic creatures living in the lakes of northern England. However, these were few and far between on our tiny black and white television.
Of course we had Hammer's Technicolor horrors and American International Pictures' series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in the cinemas which, despite regularly sustaining a critical drubbing in the national press, proved to be quite popular amongst the Teddy Boy and coffee bar generation. Unfortunately, these were usually saddled with an 'X' certificate by the British Board of Film Censors, which meant that you had to be at least sixteen years old to see them. In contrast, these types of films were considered drive-in family fare in America.
There were occasional exceptions to these rules: For example, Hammer's 1962 version of The Phantom of the Opera was released under an 'A' certificate, which meant that you only had to be accompanied by an adult. But this was not a lot of use if your parents still considered you too young at nine years of age to watch Herbert Lom tear off his mask and reveal his acid-scarred features. In fact, the following year I was not allowed to accompany my school friends to a screening of Jason and the Argonauts, despite my best attempts to convince my parents that Ray Harryhausen's spectacular stop-motion creatures were based on mythology and, as such, were of vital importance to my history studies. However, to be fair, the reason they would not let me go had more to do with the unsavoury area of town where the film was playing than any thought that I might become hysterical watching an army of fighting skeleton warriors created from the teeth of a slain Hydra.
Then I discovered that there was a way to see these hitherto banned images without actually having to go to the movies. While collecting second-hand comic books through London's chain of Popular Book Centre exchanges, I chanced upon my first monster magazine.
In the late 1950s, riding upon the surprise success of the package of Shock Theater films to television, Californian fan and collector Forrest J Ackerman teamed up with canny publisher James Warren to produce a magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland. It quickly became a seminal title, with such serious articles as Ackerman's own 'Monsters Are Good for You', Robert Bloch's 'The Clown at Midnight' and 'Dante's Inferno' by a teenage Joe Dante competing side-by-side with jokey features like 'Fang Mail', 'You Axed for It' and the editor's often truly terrible puns which accompanied the many mouth-watering still photographs.
Forrest J Ackerman and Stephen Jones
While the films themselves may still have been firmly beyond my viewing experience for a few more years yet, I could suddenly keep up with the latest monster movie news and learn more about the classics. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and the Chaneys (Lon Sr. and Jr.) became gods to me; Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, John Carradine and Vincent Price were my new heroes. I may have been too young to see their films, but I knew their careers intimately, thanks to a bi-monthly magazine which mostly arrived in Britain as ballast on transatlantic ships and sold for half-a-crown.
But it was still not enough. I needed more to feed my monster fix, and there were plenty of other titles springing up which I found in corner newsagents or second-hand book stores: FM's own companion titles Monster World and Spaceman competed for display space with Fantastic Monsters of the Films, Horror Monsters, Mad Monsters, Modern Monsters, Monster Mania, Shriek!, For Monsters Only and, perhaps the best and certainly most eclectic of them all, Bhob Stewart's Castle of Frankenstein.
British publishers soon got in on the act with the one-shot Certificate X! and, later, such small press titles as Supernatural, Gothique and L'Incroyable Cinema, as a new generation of fans began to add their own voices to the growing body of horror film criticism. I would pore over each new issue as it came out, studying the photos and digesting each article in minute detail until the staples would eventually give way and the spine would fall apart with wear.
And with each new nugget of information safely stored away somewhere in my brain, I would learn a little more about the fascination of fear.
Photo © 2004 Mandy Slater |
Thanks to Bob Burns, Stephen Jones achieves the dream of a lifetime
and actually gets to hold the
original skeletal armature
for the 1933 King Kong (Dark Delicacies, April 18th, 2004)
Photo © 2004
Stephen Jones and Bob Burns (April 2004)
My first memory of actually being frightened by a story was a Sunday afternoon adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations on BBC television. The scenes of Miss Havisham's ruined wedding feast were creepy enough, with a mouldering cake covered in cobwebs and rats, but when the escaped convict Magwitch leapt out from behind a gravestone it scared me out of my wits! I can also remember being glued to the TV in abject terror some years later while watching the movies The Uninvited and The Innocents. The scenes of a ghostly woman in white forming at the top of the stairs in the former, and the grey figure of Miss Jessel watching from amongst the reeds in the latter, held me literally spellbound when I was around eleven years old, and they have stayed with me ever since.
By then, horror had finally come to British television. A Christmas screening of the original 1933 King Kong had ushered in this new era in the mid-1960s and, slowly but surely, 'X' certificate films began to turn up regularly as part of late-night programming.
As much of a thrill as it was to finally see such hitherto inaccessible titles as the Universal classics of the 1930s and '40s and the early Hammer films, by then we children had already been introduced to monsters on the small-screen by a kindly white-haired old man who travelled through time and space in a police telephone box.
Although such American series as One Step Beyond, The Twilight Zone, Thriller and The Outer Limits played on some regional television stations, and the occasional episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents would feature a macabre tale (invariably scripted by Robert Bloch or Henry Slesar), the turning point for British TV came in November 1963 when the BBC broadcast the very first episode of Doctor Who.
Although many of the early episodes still adhered to the science fiction formula which television in the United Kingdom had followed since Nigel Kneale's teleplays were produced in the early 1950s, as soon as the eponymous time-traveller and his companions encountered the exterminating Daleks in the show's second story arc, it captured the nation's imagination and, almost overnight, our perception of monsters began to change.
With the Daleks returning for two further adventures the following year (one of which featured a cameo by Count Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster on tea-time television!), and the introduction of such original otherworldly creatures as the Menoptra (human-sized moths) and the Zarbi (giant ants), it quickly became obvious that monsters were here to stay.
More than a decade before George Lucus supposedly created the concept of "merchandising" for Star Wars, we were collecting Doctor Who annuals, toys, button badges, board games, costumes, confectionery and comic books.
As Bob Dylan sang, the times they were a-changing. Beatlemania was in full swing. America was becoming inexorably embroiled in the Vietnam conflict. The first U.S. astronaut walked in space. And I was growing up.
As for my cinematic heroes, well, Lon Chaney, Sr. and Bela Lugosi were long dead, while Boris Karloff had all but retired and was best known in Britain for advertising a brand of beer from his favourite pub. However, the rest of them were still going strong, only I was still not yet old enough to get into an 'X' film.
Then in 1965 my local cinema showed a double feature of City Under the Sea (aka War-Gods of the Deep) and The Face of Fu Manchu, starring Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, respectively. Despite their minimal horror content, both films were rated 'U', which meant that anyone could see them! That same year I went to one of the first screenings of the movie version of Dr. Who and the Daleks featuring Peter Cushing, who I subsequently met along with his co-stars (both human and mechanical) at an in-store promotion in London's busy Oxford Street. By the time an even darker sequel was released the following year, the floodgates had already begun to open.
Meanwhile in America, where the classic creatures had long been a part of the nation's consciousness, it seemed that you could buy almost anything to do with monsters.
Probably the most popular tie-ins (on both sides of the Atlantic) were the Aurora plastic model kits, which you glued together and painted yourself. What dedicated monster fan in the 1960s didn't have a shelf full of those detailed figures, carefully embellished with enamel paints and proudly displayed on their customised stands? Aurora even produced a range of hotrod Monstermobiles, including 'Frankenstein's Flivver' and 'Dracula's Dragster'.
Also very popular (especially around Halloween time) were the heavy rubber masks created by Hollywood's Don Post Studios, along with oil paints, life-size posters, iron-on transfers, button badges, laminated binders, mystery games, jigsaw puzzles, wallets, wall plaques, movie viewers, flicker books, stickers, bubble bath 'Soakys', record albums and numerous other items which are much sought-after (and expensive) collector's items today.
Photo © 2004 Mandy Slater
Forrest J Ackerman and Stephen Jones
with the original King Kong armature in foreground, April 18th, 2004
Countless items were advertised in the back pages of Famous Monsters and other magazines (although many were sadly unavailable outside the United States), and it was not long before my small bedroom was a teenage boy's approximation of Forry Ackerman's famed "Ackermansion" collection—much to the consternation of my usually understanding parents and the admiration of my like-minded school friends.
I chewed my way through hard strips of bubble-gum that tasted like dentist's mouth-wash just so I could collect and swap the trading cards that were packaged with them. From the gory excesses of Mars Attacks!, through colourful characters from The Outer Limits, to jokey sayings attributed to the Universal Monsters, I had them all. In America, General Mills, Inc. created such characters as Count Chocula and Franken Berry to coerce children into eating their way through more breakfast cereals.
In April 1966, Hammer Films was presented with the Queen's Award to Industry for its export achievements. I am certain that I was not the only person who saw it as a validation of our genre.
Television series as varied and popular as Route 66, The Lucy Show, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, Batman, F Troop, Get Smart, Gilligan's Island and The Monkees included episodes featuring the classic monsters, and many old actors who thought their careers were all but over found a new lease of life as guest stars on the small screen. The Addams Family and The Munsters both ran for two seasons, while the daytime soap opera Dark Shadows lasted for an incredible 1,225 episodes.
For younger viewers, two of the movies' best-known monsters were reinvented for a new generation in cartoon form on TV. Boy genius Buzz and his scientist father created a fifty-foot tall crime?fighting robot called Frankenstein Jr., while the mighty King Kong teamed up with another scientist and his two children to battle a villain called Dr. Who (who had no connection to the BBC character).
Most of these shows eventually made it across the Atlantic, although by then Britain had started to create its own home-grown horrors, from the outlandish exploits of The Avengers to such anthology series as Late Night Horror and Mystery and Imagination.
A decade after Shock Theater first aired on American television, I finally inveigled my way into a cinema to see my first 'X' film on the big screen. Although I was still two years shy of my sixteenth birthday, with my parents' blessing I somehow managed to get into a double-bill of Hammer's Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth) and Circus of Fear (aka Psycho-Circus) starring Christopher Lee. After that, I never looked back, and over the next five years I travelled all over London to see the latest horror films as they opened or catch up with older titles on re-release double-bills. It was a golden age for movie-going, although some of the venues I found myself in—especially when tracking down a particularly obscure European double feature south of the Thames—often left a great deal to be desired.
By now, the classic monsters were being recycled for an even younger audience. Probably one of the most important and influential showcases for such seminal scaremongers was the Hanna?Barbera cartoon series Scooby Doo Where Are You!, which originally aired on CBS-TV in 1969. During each half-hour episode, the eponymous ghost?hunting dog and his teenage friends Shaggy, Freddie, Daphne and Velma encountered all kinds of supernatural manifestations, many of which turned out to be a cover for human criminals. The show was so successful that over the next three decades it spawned no less than twenty different series, along with the prerequisite amount of tie-in merchandise.
Boris Karloff died on February 2nd, 1969, at the grand old age of 81. Despite having only half a lung, a steel leg-brace and crippling arthritis which kept him to confined to a wheelchair, he kept working until the end. I learned about his death on my way home from school. Although I had never met him, I couldn't help crying. It truly was the end of an era.
The bubble had to eventually burst, and by the end of the 1970s Hammer Films, along with such rivals as Amicus Productions in Britain and American International Pictures in the United States, were all gone. With the end of the old studio system and the growth of the video industry, the cinema chains were closing down and the buildings being turned into bingo halls. Except for the occasional revival house, double-features were a thing of the past.
A new breed of independent film-maker began churning out horror movies aimed specifically at a youth market inured to gratuitous sex and random violence after the highs of the "Flower Power" era and the lows of the Vietnam war. The best television had to offer was such short-lived, if undervalued, series as Rod Serling's Night Gallery and Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Photo © 1994 |
Jo Fletcher, actor Dan Bloom and Stephen Jones on the set of MIND RIPPER (Bulgaria, 1994)
Photo © 2005 Mandy Slater
Ronald Clyne and Stephen Jones (New York, 2005)
But for those of us who had grown up watching the classic movies on cut-down 200-feet reels of silent Super-8mm film, or setting the alarm clock to catch an obscure television screening in the twilight hours of the morning, the video boom of the 1980s was truly a revolution. Anybody could finally own a copy of a film—a concept previously unheard of, unless you were one of a select group of specialist celluloid collectors. Almost any title (no matter how obscure or terrible) found a new lease of life on video (and later DVD), and a whole generation of monster fans re-discovered the classics of the past in the comfort of their own homes. Although they are no longer amongst us, Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing continue to stalk across our television screens, their dastardly deeds and heroic exploits electronically immortalised for ever.
In the early 1990s, a clever marketing consultant at Universal came up with a concept that horror fans had been dreaming about for years. With eight decades of monster movies to exploit, why not create a marketing tool to take advantage of these moribund money-spinners? The result was 'Universal Studios Monsters', an official branding with a logo featuring Frankenstein's Monster, Count Dracula, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolf Man and The Mummy. The range of products put out under the new trademark encompassed books, puzzles, toys, fashion accessories and even pin-ball machines.
But it was not until 1997 that monsters went legit. No less an organisation than the United States Postal Service honoured the classic Universal Monsters in September of that year with a set of five 32 cent stamps depicting Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster and The Mummy, Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man, and Lon Chaney, Sr. as The Phantom of the Opera. With a new 'Universal Studios Monsters' trademark, there followed a deluge of T-shirts, postcards, fridge magnets, collector's tins, squeezie keyrings, mouse pads, plush dolls, enamel badges, shot glasses, drinks cups, candy containers, chocolate cookies, string lights, and pen and pencil sets.
That same year (which marked the centenary of Bram Stoker's Dracula) also saw horror postage stamp collections issued by Britain, Ireland and Canada, and two years later the U.K.'s Royal Mail produced a 44 pence Dalek stamp photographed by Lord Snowden for its Millennium series.
Also in 1997, Burger King offered Kids Club meals featuring give-away toys of the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Creature, the Mummy and The Phantom of the Opera, while other fast-food chains have used everything from Scooby-Doo to the latest Disney blockbuster to convince consumers to eat burgers and fried chicken.
Sideshow Toys began issuing beautifully detailed action figures of the Universal Monsters (perhaps aimed at those who still remembered their Aurora model kits from the 1960s). These articulated sculptures were available in various sizes and variant editions, along with a line of Little Big Head collectibles that also included Classic Monster Wrestlers ('Big Frankie', 'Mad Mummy', 'Freaky Phantom', 'Crazy Creature' and 'Dangerous Drac'), Monster Shredders and Glow-in-the-Dark permutations. A four-foot tall Little Big Head version of Karloff as the Frankenstein Monster, complete with daisy and limited to only 250 individually numbered fibreglass figures, sold for a cool $1,000 apiece.
From the same company came the Universal Studios Classic Monster Bobble Heads and The Munsters Bobble Heads, while there were any number of Dracula model kits and collectible figures authorised by the Lugosi Estate.
Along with a detailed figure of King Kong, McFarlane Toys' 'Movie Maniacs' series featured collectibles of more modern movie monsters, while Mezco Toyz's series of 'Silent Screamers' included such characters from classic silent films as Graf Orlok and Knock Renfield from Nosferatu, Dr. Caligari and Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Edison's Frankenstein, the 1920 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Metropolis robot Maria, all with their own diorama bases.
X-Plus Toys of Japan offered resin statues and vinyl figures in various sizes and poses of classic Ray Harryhausen creations from films such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, 20 Million Miles to Earth and Jason and the Argonauts. There was also a series of limited edition four-inch chess pieces and twelve-inch cold cast statues of various mythological creatures from these and other Harryhausen movies.
A Halloween treat for little girls with a twisted sense of humour was the Barbie and Ken as The Munsters gift set. The dolls were surprisingly faithful recreations of Lily and Herman from the cult 1960s TV show. If that wasn't dark enough, there was always Mezco's series of nine-inch Living Dead Dolls complete with their own death certificates!
These days you can buy anything with monsters on it, from retro lunch boxes to Christmas tree ornaments, hand-crafted resin model kits to illustrated wall clocks.
But monster merchandise is not just limited to movies. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft can get themselves cute and cuddly Cthulhu plush dolls with poseable wire wings and floppy tentacles, while Bad Boy Designs introduced its Cthulhu Beer Glasses with four designs—Innsmouth Golden Lager, Ithaqua Ice, Wizard Whateley's Dunwich Ale and Witch House Dark ("It's the beer you've been dreaming of").
In celebration of the 70th Anniversary of three of Universal Studio's most famous monsters, in October 2001 Madame Tussaud's New York unveiled life-like wax figures of Count Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and The Mummy to pay tribute to legendary horror stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.
Nowadays, things have certainly changed from when I was a boy. Over the past decade in Britain, Halloween has finally usurped Guy Fawkes' Night as our traditional autumn celebration. Influenced by films and TV, children now "trick or treat" instead of begging for "a penny for the guy".
Monsters permeate our lives. Fast-food restaurants give them away as promotions. TV cartoons aimed at pre-schoolers regularly feature vampires and zombies, witches and ghosts. The toys and collectibles are everywhere. There are horror-themed bars and restaurants all over the world, and monsters are used to advertise everything from cars and sunglasses to food and alcohol.
Picture © 2003 Les Edwards|
There are countless websites devoted to all manner of movie monsters. Electronic role-playing games draw on the works of authors such as H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker, or are based on the latest hit movies and TV shows. The Pokémon collecting craze from Japan involved trading cards that pictured hundreds of cartoon "pocket monsters". In music, everyone from Michael Jackson to the Backstreet Boys have used classic monster motifs in their videos.
On television, the vampire-themed Buffy and Angel are huge hits, Charmed and Sabrina feature cute witches, and The X Files lasted nearly a decade. New shows such as The Chronicle, FreakyLinks, Strange Frequency, Urban Gothic, Wolf Lake and others are always finding their way on to the schedules. Daytime soap operas such as Port Charles and Passions have also got in on the act and regularly feature vampires and zombies.
Godzilla was revived as an overblown CGI lizard, and The Mummy has been given a new lease of life (death?) in a series of big budget action-adventure movies. Even Disney recently had a box office hit with a computer-generated film about loveable creatures invading children's nightmares.
For the older generation, movies such as Scooby-Doo and Resident Evil remind them of their lost childhood, being based on a thirty-three year old cartoon series and a popular video game, respectively. Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings are phenomenal successes, with the result that fantasy has now overtaken romance as the leading fiction genre.
Look around. Monsters are everywhere. Frankenstein's creation and Count Dracula are as recognisable throughout the world as those other icons of popular culture: Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis Presley and Mickey Mouse. And the Wolf Man, Mummy and Creature are not far behind. As a child growing up during the 1960s, I could not possibly have imagined that my favourite genre would one day saturate our day-to-day existence.
Photo © 1998 Seamus A. Ryan
Stephen Jones and Stephen King (London, 1998)
Stephen Jones and John Landis
Photo © 2004 Mandy Slater
Stephen Jones and Ray Harryhausen (Dark Delicacies, April 18th, 2004)
However, I am not so sure that this is necessarily a good thing. Back then, in those days before video and DVD, multiple satellite television and the Internet, I could pretty much recall all the movies I watched and all the books I read. I could give you dates, and names, and details. Today there is far too much monster material being released every week for any sane person to keep track of it all.
As the old Chinese proverb says: "Be careful what you wish for". For monster fans, that has never been more true.
Over the years I have been fortunate enough to meet (and in some cases know) many of my heroes, such as Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, Ray Harryhausen, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, Forrest J Ackerman, Terence Fisher and others.
I have grown up surrounded by their words and images. There are many thousands, probably millions, who have done the same. Stephen King, Clive Barker, John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante and numerous others have cited Famous Monsters of Filmland as a primary influence, along with the same films, books and comics I was also avidly consuming as a teenager.
For the new generation of writers, artists and film-makers, the touchstones remain the same. Only today there is so much more to discover, and the opportunities are there to do so.
If we are shaped by our environment, then I am a product of Mary Shelley's misunderstood Monster and Boris Karloff's sympathetic interpretation; of Bram Stoker's bloodthirsty Count and Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee's very different embodiments of evil; of Edgar Allan Poe's fear of death and Vincent Price and Roger Corman's descents into the maelstrom; of H.P. Lovecraft's cosmic terrors, Robert E. Howard's ancient gods and Clark Ashton Smith's exotic other worlds; of Willis O'Brien's magnificent ape and Fritz Lang's soulless simulacrum; of Ray Bradbury's small town miracles and Clive Barker's urban marvels.
The list of influences is endless, as it is for anyone who lives and works in our genre. All that matters is that we go out there and find them. These days they are all around us. While I can still recall what it felt like to be that little boy who was too young to get into horror movies in the 1960s, I can also rejoice in the fact that we live in a world today that enthusiastically embraces those gods and monsters which shaped the adult I have become. Long may it continue to be so.
Originally published in Gods and Monsters, the souvenir book of the 28th World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at which Stephen Jones was one of the Guests of Honor.
Copyright © Stephen Jones 2002. All rights reserved.