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My Year of Scary Movies (Part 1): Bats On My Birthday Cake

by Daniel Hutchens
Part 1: Bats On My Birthday Cake

When I turned six years old, my birthday cake was decorated with bats. Not bats of the baseball variety, but bats with wings. As in vampire bats, as in Dracula, as in scary movies, with which I had already become obsessed by the age of six. Hence six black bats winging their way across the icing of a small boyʼs cake.

Maybe it all started with the Aurora models. Most people my age probably remember these foot-high likenesses of famous movie monsters; they were popular kidsʼ do-it-yourself projects, fairly easy to assemble, and cool conversation pieces when friends came over. My older brother had a few Auroras, and I took such a liking to them that I started receiving model kits of my own as presents.
I collected quite a menagerie: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The Mummy, The Phantom Of The Opera, King Kong, Godzilla, etc. Also “The Addams Family Haunted House” model, a spooky looking mansion with sheeted ghosts in various windows, and a ghost that appeared at the front door when you pulled a little lever from beneath the porch. Also I remember having a working model of a guillotine; the poor little figure all trussed up there with his pre-severed head waiting to be re-chopped by the falling blade, again and again.

So I started with the models, but soon graduated to the monster movies themselves, thanks mostly to Chiller Theater, which aired Saturday nights at 11:30 on channel 13 out of Huntington, WV. Until the advent of Saturday Night Live in 1975 signaled a sea change in my TV viewing habits, the Saturday nights of my youth were filled with all manner of delightful frights: weird B-movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space, old classic Universal monster movies like Dracula and Frankenstein, British productions from Hammer and Amicus studios like And Now The Screaming Starts, and occasionally gems such as Psycho.

Chiller also broadcast an all night horror marathon every New Yearʼs Eve, from 11:30 til 6:00 AM, which provided for my friends and me some truly memorable sleepover parties. It was like an endurance test, at first seeing who could act the least scared, and then just seeing who could stay awake longest. I rarely made the end of the marathon, but it was great fun trying. Iʼll never forget one sad New Yearʼs Eve––canʼt recall the particular year––when they suddenly dropped the horror format, and instead featured a Marilyn Monroe fest. I was still young enough to prefer monsters to girls (though of course thereʼs a surge of sexuality in traditional horror, most specifically illustrated through vampire tales, but I hadnʼt consciously realized that yet), and was severely bummed out by the unexpected change.

So Iʼll leave it to the psychologists to explain my sincere affection for monster movies, ghost stories etc. All I know is that the “old-fashioned” scary films I still love––a whole different breed, by the way, from modern day slasher flicks and torture porn––all share a kind of hypnotic mood, almost trance-inducing, dreamlike. The sound of the films is often a powerful component––droning music with creepy keyboard and string patterns, odd creak and rattle sound effects, whispers and echoes, punctuated with the occasional adrenaline-spiking scream––and then there are the gotcha visuals, sometimes ridiculously cheap special effects and costumes, but sometimes a particular shot or character or make-up job will be genuinely inventive and unforgettable.

So now Iʼve decided to revisit some of my favorite horror films, maybe discover a few new ones along the way, and write down my reactions and ideas about these films as I watch them. Not in the sense of being a film critic or attempting to list my “Top 100 Horror Films” or anything of that nature, but just kind of giving into my fright obsession, enjoying it, maybe probing it and finding out what makes it tick...mainly I just want to take the ride and have a great time feeling the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. And I guess the perfectly imperfect place to start would be the aforementioned Plan 9 From Outer Space...Next time.


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