This installment, we have a rare Halloween treat for you from the creator of The Adventures Continue website, Mr. Jim Not. Nolt takes us on a journey into his introduction to Monsterdom via the classic Universal films, and his discovery of the Cool Ghoul, John Zacherle. So put on the microwave popcorn, sit back and relax, and prepare to be terrified!

Fright Night
Jim Nolt

"I am Dracula... I bid you welcome." Remember that line? All of us, I'm sure, have some memories from our childhoods which will remain with us throughout our adult lives. And if you are like me, a child of the fifties, those memories must include the great horror films produced by Universal Studios a decade or two before. Do you remember that small airplane circling the earth to the accompaniment of the Universal theme? When I saw that little plane I knew I was about to spend an hour or so with one or more of those creatures that make little boys' hearts beat fast and little boys' mothers worry.

Today there are hardly any kids... even very young ones... who aren't somewhat familiar with Jason's problems or who have not had their own nightmare about Elm Street. But back in the early '50s, we were... well... protected from the horrors of the film world, if not those of the real world as well. I didn't encounter my first movie monster until I was about eleven years old. And then, appropriately enough, it was on a dark, dreary autumn evening. As nearly as I can recall, it happened on a night my sister and I returned home from one of those interminable 4-H Club meetings we attended on a monthly basis. It was late when my aunt and uncle dropped us off, and ordinarily we would have had to go straight to bed. But on that particular night we found Mom waiting for us... watching television with her eyes closed. Being considerate children, we decided to let her sleep, but took more alert positions ourselves. After the commercial ended we witnessed a sensation which will remain forever in my mind – the closing scenes from Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman. In Dr. Mannering's laboratory, two bodies laid stretched out and strapped down on operating tables. Across the lab, Mannering himself was busy pulling switches while checking his notes on monster rejuvenation, completely oblivious to the remonstrations of Baroness Elsa Frankenstein who was frantic with fear and trepidation. Hoping to keep Mannering from repeating the mistakes of her father and his father before him, the Baroness rushed to Mannering's side. She pleaded with him. But as is so often the case with mad scientists, he completely ignored her. Finally, in desperation, the lovely Baroness threw caution to the wind, rushed across the room, pushed Dr. Mannering aside, and pulled at the switches of the control panel herself. As luck would have it, however, she pulled the wrong one, thereby setting off a series of small explosions. At the same time, the camera cut to the top of the dam where Vasec, a hater of monsters and monster-makers alike, gleefully prepared to rid Vasaria once and for all of all its lycanthropes, misanthropes, and any miscellaneous thropes who might be lurking in the dark recesses of the castle. He was about to blow up the dam!

Meanwhile, back in the lab, things got completely out of hand. The Frankenstein Monster, who had gained some strength from Mannering's ministrations, but who realized too that all was not well, broke free of his constraints. Simultaneously, as luck would have it, the full moon shone through the window of the castle, and Larry Talbot's howling transformation began. He too broke free in a matter of seconds, and taking an instant dislike for the grotesque tall fellow in the room, Talbot's furry alter ego attacked. The ensuring fight was tremendous! The Wolfman lunged toward the Monster who, not wanting to be bothered, simply swatted away the hairy man-beast with one of his powerful arms and followed up with an angry snarl in close-up to further underscore his annoyance. Undaunted, the Wolfman again lunged. Sure that the Monster would win (possibly because my sister Joyce was rooting for the Wolfman), I pulled my chair closer to the screen to be better able to share in his victory celebration. Mannering and the Baroness, on the other hand, seemed less enthusiastic and quickly fled, without even so much as a backward glance.

At the sound of that that commotion, Mom awoke. After looking at the clock and at what we were watching, she sent us straight to bed. I suppose she thought that laid us, and the matter of monsters alike, to rest. ,b>But it didn't. Twice that night I awoke to check my face and hands for early symptoms of werewolfery, and for weeks after I was sure that the Frankenstein Monster had taken up residence under my bed, just waiting to grab my foot as I climbed in. How deliciously frightening!

The following month's 4-H Club meeting was interminable as always, and I thought only of getting home, dawdling around until everyone went to bed, and then enjoying another evening with what I already thought of as “my” monsters. Eee-gads! What a disappointment when I could find only a musical, the news, a pirate movie, and a snowy test pattern even after twice checking all four channels. Where had my monsters gone? Later that week in school I thought I'd check it out with a friend... someone who knew about these sorts of things. Bernie voiced that self-assured laugh of his and told me if it was shocks I was after, I should check out Shock Theater Saturday nights at 11:30. 11:30 at night?!?! Mom would, under no circumstances, allow me to stay up that late. Maybe those street-wise guys from center-city Reinholds could get away with it, but I lived two miles north of town. Our ways were different.

Well, it's times like these that require desperate measure, so I went to my sister, and we entered into a conspiracy. Early Saturday evening we convinced Mom that we both needed a currents events reports for school on Monday morning, and the only way to get them was to watch the news at 11:00. Our strategy was brilliant. With that out of the way we had only to hope that Mom would grow tired and go to bed before the news was over. As is always the case with anticipation, time slowed to a standstill that Saturday night. I thought we'd never make it through Perry Mason, Dick and the Duchess, The Gale Storm Show, Have Gun – Will Travel, and Gunsmoke. But finally... finally... it was time for the news.

To make things look legitimate, Joyce and I prepared ourselves with paper and pencil. All through the news we stole glances at Mom for signs of fatigue. At about 11:20, as the sports began, her eyelids dropped to the shot position. I quickly suggested that it would be best for her to go upstairs and assured her that Joyce and I would turn off the lights and follow as soon as we heard the weather report. She took the bait and headed upstairs, too sleepy, I suppose, to realize that the weather might not really be important to Monday's current events report.

The night we watched the original Dracula, both of us quivering in our sneakers.

Mom was hard to fool twice, though, and subsequent viewings were rare. When I did get a chance to watch, however, Roland, the host of Shock Theater, (as portrayed by John Zacherley), introduced me to the many other ghouls and monsters that inhabited movieland at that time. But I forever remained loyal to the following three:
Dracula – The Transylvanian Count who stalked the night for not only beauty and blood, but for peace as well. There are far worse things awaiting man... than death.
Frankenstein's Monster – A great lumbering being who was to be pitied as well as feared.
The Wolfman – A melancholy and tormented Larry Talbot playing host to a raging beast.

Of course, these creatures would have been nothing if it were not for the fine actors who portrayed them – Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr., and John Carradine. Though the actors and monsters were somewhat interchangeable, each, with the possible exception of John Carradine, became closely identified with just one of Universal's finest. Karloff is the Frankenstein Monster. Bela Lugosi will forever be Dracula. Lon Chaney, Jr., of course, is the consummate Wolfman. Even very late in the monster cycle, when Universal began to parody its own horror films with the likes of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Chaney remained vintage Larry Talbot. John Carradine, the man with the distinctive, low voice, was often cast as a mad scientist or other evil-doer. Yet twice he wore the Dracula cape, first in House of Frankenstein and then again in House of Dracula.

The great horror films from Universal Studios were made many years ago, and all these great actors are long gone. Gone, yes, but never to be forgotten.

When I was a boy I needed a 4-H Club meeting or the excuse of a current events report to finagle a spot in front of the television to watch those actors who brought life to the dead and the undead alike. And even when those and similar dodges worked, I still needed the cooperation of a station manager. Red Skelton used to thank his audience for inviting him into their homes each week. That wasn't really the case though – actually the network extended the invitation, and the audience was there to open the door when Red arrived. Fortunately all that has changed, and today, with my generous supply of DVDs, whenever I want, I can sit down for an evening with my monsters and dear friends – Boris, Bela, Lon, and John. Children of the night... what music they make!

Check out Jim Nolt's video on YouTube: Monsters

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