The seed was planted when I was five years old. I’d enjoyed the poolside home of Mommandad’s old friends. They were childless and I was an only, so I played alone, shouting frequent, “Mom, Dad, look at me!s.” But after grilling, they broke out the card table and exported me to a loveseat in a tiny den far away, with a rabbit-eared TV as my only companion.
The moment they left, Dracula flapped into view. I became instantly obsessed. And terrified. Two states of mind that are oddly intertwined. Behind the TV was a sliding glass door, and beyond that pitch darkness—Count Dracula’s favorite setting. I built up a Hoover-Dam-full of pee, yet dared not budge, knowing the moment I did the Count would fly into the room and “sahk my blahd!”
It was my first scary movie, but not my last. I developed an abiding love for the classics (Wolf Man, The Mummy, Frankenstein and his inexplicably sexy Bride), and cried when they whipped The Hunchback (“Why was I not made of stone like thee?”).
All the great monsters, it seemed, were misunderstood, not really monsters, just as my earliest friends were. Aaaaand the really scary ones disappeared when the sun came up, or when you turned off the TV. Real terror was one thing. But pretend terror?
I couldn’t get enough!
Plus, monsters were one of the few interests Dad and I shared. The first time I watched King Kong, Dad told me about stop-motion animation and I became a lifelong fan, even making a few stop-motion home movies. After seeing Jason and the Argonauts, Dad and I talked for days about the “skeleton army.” I may have gotten my creativity and bookaholic genes from Mom, but Dad gave me my sci-fi gene!
I drew caricatures of my friends as monsters, while watching “from” movies on TV, like Creature from the Black Lagoon and Invaders from Mars, or “versus” movies like Godzilla vs. EveryOtherMonsterEver!
Then, Aurora Plastics began advertising their Universal Monster models in Mad Magazine (which I read religiously), and Rory and I decided to build them all! My masterpiece was an artfully dirtied actual gauze-wrapped Mummy!
But then, against Mom’s wishes, Dad bought me a three-foot-tall King Kong model. I obsessed over him for weeks, gluing clumps of real fake hair onto him until he looked impossibly lifelike! Finishing after bedtime, I put him in the kitchen where Mommandad would see him first thing in the morning.
Around 2 a.m. a blood-curdling scream filled the house. Dad and I jumped from our beds and ran into the kitchen to find Mom backed up against the refrigerator, pointing in horror at the moonlit behemoth next to her sink. Cool! My monster had made a real human lady scream! Still, I did feel sorta bad.
After Mom calmed down, the three of us laughed…and laughed…and that…
Was the best special effect ever!