This was another book during my grade-school days that really fed my excitement about monsters — Jerry A. Young’s 1983 children’s book, “Movie Monsters From Outer Space.” (Why does the author’s name sound so much like a pseudonym to me?)
I’m sure it’s obscure by now. If memory serves, this was another title I ordered from those classroom bulletins put out by Scholastic Book Clubs. (I was in the third grade, I think.) It gave kids a brief, fun run-down of a bunch of space-based baddies — those are the Cylons from the original “Battlestar Galactica” (1978) on the cover.
It featured a bunch of older B-movies too. I remember really wanting to see “Forbidden Planet” (1956) after seeing a picture of its monster there.
I also seem to remember reading about Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” (1979), although I suppose that I could be recalling another book. (It would be odd if Scott’s masterpiece were described here, because it was … kinda not for kids.)
So I finally watched “The Wolf Man” (1941) for the first time a few nights ago, and I indeed had a lot of fun with it. Sure, it’s tame by today’s standards, and bit corny too, but it was interesting watching Lon Chaney, Jr. for the first time and seeing the granddaddy of all werewolf films.
Here are a few things that jumped out at me while watching the film and reading a bit about it afterward (and, yes, I do realize that most people already knew these things):
I knew I recognized the senior Talbot — it’s actor Claude Rains, who was none other than Louis in the following year’s “Casablanca.”
Chaney was a big man. He is almost always both the tallest and broadest character on screen, and for some reason that surprised me. Maybe it’s because that in the posters and other media I’ve seen, the Wolf Man always seems smaller in comparison to Dracula, Frankenstein or the Phantom of the Opera. I half expected the diminutive Rains to become the Wolf Man, while Chaney’s character would become the hero who has to protect the girl, etc.
This is weird … but Chaney bears has a strong resemblance to my best friend from early childhood, Shawn — who also grew up to be a big guy like the actor. It’s uncanny. It’d be nuts if Shawn were his great grandson, and we just never knew it.
It was a little odd seeing Rains cast as Chaney’s character’s father, as he didn’t seem much older. Rains was only 17 years older than Chaney.
The old gypsy man is played by Bela Lugosi.
Rains is easily the best actor here, followed by Maria Ouspenskaya as the old gypsy woman.
This seminal film was not the first Universal Pictures werewolf movie. That would be “Werewolf of London,” which preceded it by six years. That movie is the one that inspired the 1978 “Werewolves of London” song by Warren Zevon, as well as John Landis’ 1981 masterpiece, “An American Werewolf in London.”
The Wolf Man monster was made famous for a certain onscreen transformation that represented groundbreaking special effects for its time — the gradual transformation of the monster’s face on camera. But that key effects sequence didn’t appear here in the 1941 original — only in its several sequels.
The movie was released on December 9, 1941, just two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This is a place in Queens that my siblings remember, even if I don’t — the “Adventurer’s Inn” amusement park off the Whitestone Expressway on Linden Place (the College Point area). The park had a bit of a turbulent history, and actually went by a number of names between its opening in the 1950’s and when it closed in 1978. (Somewhat confusingly, it was once called “The Great Adventure Amusement Park,” but it had no connection with the Six Flags Great Adventure megapark that opened in 1974 in New Jersey.)
There are still plenty of people out there who remember “Adventurer’s Inn,” as evidenced by the websites you can find about it. One that I really like is Todd Berkun’s “LI & NY Places that are no more.”
I myself had no clue. I certainly passed the site occasionally when I lived in New York, but I had no idea it was a place my parents took us when we were kids. Any remnants of the park have long since been razed; the College Point Multiplex now occupies the site (not far from The New York Times distribution center).
The Mr. Peanut Peanut Butter Maker was an unusual late 1970’s toy; although it first appeared in 1967, I had some variation of it around 1977 or 1978, when I was in kindergarten or the first grade. I loved it beyond reason. (I was bizarrely fixated with peanut butter at that age.)
As a few toy collectors have pointed out online, what’s interesting about this product is that it was both a child-safe toy and a marginally functional appliance — you could indeed make peanut butter with it, albeit very slowly. You just poured the peanuts in and cranked away. I honestly can still remember how it tasted, without the added oil and sugar of store-bought peanut butter. It wasn’t as smooth, but it was damned good.
Omni in the 1980’s was an absolutely unique magazine dedicated to science fiction and science fact — it was always weird and occasionally wonderful. Its content was consistently a good deal trippier than anything you’d find in more mainstream contemporaries like Scientific American or Discover — futurism, the paranormal, and short stories that were pretty damned abstract. (I remember Patricia Highsmith’s “The Legless A” being a real head-scratcher for me.) And the covers to Omni were frequently awesome.
I had a subscription around 1989 or so — I believe I got a year’s subscription as either a Christmas or birthday present. I still remember it arriving in the mailbox. I think I had all of the issues you see below — except the third one. That issue is from January 1983, and I never had it. I’m including it here because it’s too interesting not to share.
Stephen King fans will recognize Don Brauitgam’s artwork for the cover of King’s classic 1978 short story collection, “Night Shift.” Brautigam apparently sold it to the magazine later. (Interesting, too, is the similarity of the artist’s name to a key character in King’s subsequent “Hearts in Atlantis” and his “The Dark Tower” series — the kindly psychic, Ted Brautigan.)
Anyway, if you were geeky enough to enjoy this back in the day, the entire run of Omni is currently available at Amazon for $3 a pop. It was available online for free for a while, and I think you can still find all of the short stories uploaded in pdf if you google them — I found a bunch, including Highsmith’s story. (I wonder if I’d get a better sense of it if I read it today.)
These “Battlestar Galacatica” models were released by Monogram in 1978, the same year the TV show debuted. My older brother had all four of them hanging from the ceiling of our room. (I was a first grader in 1978, and still a few years away from model building.)
I definitely had watched the show, but I wasn’t quite as into it as the other boys in my class. (And that’s probably ironic, considering my sheer fanaticism as an adult for Ron Moore’s remake series between 2004 and 2010.)
The other boys were constantly screaming about it. (Maybe I was just a quiet kid — it seemed to me at the time that they were endlessly hollering about whatever it was that they liked.) I’m not sure why I was less enthusiastic — I certainly loved my “Star Wars.” And a year after “Battlestar Galactica” hit the small screen, my best friend Shawn and I went nuts for a show that is now remembered by few — “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.”