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My Dad’s Gift of Monsters

My love for monster movies began In December of 1973 as I anxiously awaited for what Santa would bring me.

Since my father purchased an 8mm movie projector (no sound), my Christmas typical request from Santa included movies.

For those who are absolutely too young to know what those were, let me tell you.

It was heaven. It meant we could watch movies (abridged versions) IN OUR HOUSE!

We were living large, baby!

Before there were more than three main channels (ABC, CBS, NBC) plus PBS, before VHS players, before cable, before you had the option to watch 1000 things at a time, there were 8mm home movie projectors and we had one.

And don’t even get me started at how hard my heart excitedly pumped when the teacher wheeled that bad boy into class. It meant we were about to watch a film about frogs or multiplication tables or (whitewashed version of) the American Revolution.

Ask anyone who went to school in the 70’s and 80’s and they’ll tell you.

Any day that projector cart appeared in class was a great day.

Getting back to monsters, to say I loved movies since a very young age would be an understatement.

After seeing the Wizard of Oz during its 30th anniversary release, I absolutely LOVED them.

The stories. The colors. The music. The smell of the popcorn in the lobby. All of it.

Having a home movie projector, I had a list of films I very much wanted Santa to bring me.

I mean, I’d been a pretty stellar kid that year, just saying.

My movie requests weren’t anything usual- Disney Princess for absolute certain because it meant for those ten fabulous minutes, I could watch Cinderella sing (as I read the subtitles) while she dealt with her extreme loneliness by dressing rodents and stared at the castle that would soon be her home and she could dress even more rodents.

My father had other ideas.

Instead of bringing home a slew of princess films or animated shorts from the local Kmart, he brought home Cinderella and the 1955 monster feature…Tarantula.

My. Mother. Was. Pissed.

Convinced his choice of cinema would give me nightmares, which she’d have to deal with and he’d sleep through, he promised her I’d love the film.

I didn’t. Not at first. I did not hide my disappointment when unwrapping the gift, expecting to see this:

But seeing this:

To defuse the situation, my father promptly put the movie in the projector and encouraged me to curl up next to him and watch it.

And I LOVED IT!

I mean, who wouldn’t love a story about a weird scientist living outside an Arizona desert town who injects animals with growth serum and no one bats an eye? Then, during a terrible fire, a juiced up arachnid escapes, eats up a bunch of cattle before turning its sites on the townsfolk who say, “no thank you giant spider. We’ve called the military.”

The spider is promptly napalmed by the jet-squadron leader who was played by up-and-coming actor named, Clint Eastwood as shown in this stellar clip:

 

Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie a 94%, BTW.

To avoid me having nightmares, my father added his crazy, comedic commentary that only made me laugh.

It not only helped me sleep soundly, but initiated our love for the chaotic black and white monster films he used to see at the Saturday matinee when he was a kid.

From then on, whenever he’d channel surf (all three stations), he’d yell for me when he’d discover a doozie of a movie. No matter what time it was, I’d run in there, curl up next to him, and we’d watch it.

Just like Mystery Science Theater, he’d always had something clever to add and never once did I have a bad dream.

Over the years we viewed Them, The MummyCreature from the Black Lagoon, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The Wolfman, the original Thing (From Another World) with James Arness (Gunsmoke), King Kong, and of course all the Godzilla films.

His love for giant, radioactive creatures weren’t the only movies we’d watch together.  Because of him, I will always remember the iconic command alien, Klaatu, gave to Patricia Neal in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

As insane as the plot lines were and lame as the special effects came across, the reason I loved watching these so much was it gave me time with my father.

He worked a lot, in a job he hated, but he did it to put food on the table.

Those moments of joy and laughter with films about some giant leeches who appeared in a local Florida hot spot, hold a special place in my heart.

Not only did he know many movie lines and plots, but he was a wealth of film information. He’d tell me where the movies were filmed, the actors in them and other projects they’d been in, some behind the scenes trivia, the first time he watched that particular movie in the theater and who went with him.

James Arness is The Thing From Another World

One of my favorite stories of his was when he was around eight, he begged his mom to take him to watch the original The Thing.

She absolutely didn’t want to see it. My grandmother was not a lover of monster films, but none the less, his pleading got to her to take him.

Yet, my father reported that James Arness was so terrifying as the creature, my father hid behind the chairs and stayed on the floor the entire film. Only watching the movie by peeking between the seats in front of him.

Even when my grandmother would yank him up by his shirt collar and put him back in his seat, he went right back to hiding on the floor.

I’m pretty sure I felt the same way when we watched Dracula with Bela Lugosi, despite my dad’s colorful commentary, but to be fair, that movie is creepy.

 

It took me years to realize the reason my dad liked watching movies at home so much was because he hated crowds, he hated waiting in line, and going to the movies was expensive.

Still, like anything, there are always exceptions.

In 1977 he kept talking about a film he could not wait to see. Opening weekend, he took my younger brother and me to stand IN LINE for AN HOUR at the Houston (Texas) Galleria before we found our seats and first viewed that iconic opening.

I can’t begin to list all the movies we’ve watched, commented on, laughed about.

Even today, I get phone calls from my father who says things like, “Quick! Turn on TCM. The original Frankenstein is on and things are about to get weird!”

Now, my children are well versed in 1950’s monster films as well as knowing all the adversaries Godzilla has faced down and the entire Star Wars and Star Trek universes.

All this information comes in handy when we talk to my dad or visit because now I get to witness the joy my children have when discussing the finer points of radiating an animal and guesstimating final size.

Those precious, joyful memories are glued in their brains and mine, forever.

So here’s to the monsters!

May they continue to bring families together and establish beautiful memories.

What film(s) have you watched with your father?

Drop your responses in the comments below.

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