Movies were scarier back then . . .

4 Mar

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Movies were scarier back then . . .
by L. Stewart Marsden

With the advent of digital filmmaking, special effects, as well as a loosening of movie perimeters, today’s horror movies are certainly filled with guts and gore — literally.

I know it’s a big stretch to suggest that horror movies back in the days of my childhood were scarier than today, but it’s true.

Think of the limitations back then that those pioneer creators of the horror genre had to deal with: costumes and makeup; cinematography without the benefit of computerization.

The proof is in the pudding.

When I was probably around five years old, my two older sisters and I convinced our grandmother, Gommy, to take us to the Saturday morning movies downtown at the Center Theater. The featured film was The Day the World Ended, and featured a three-eyed monster (I knew this because of the movie posters and advertising in the newspaper).

“You sure you won’t get scared?” asked my older sister Kim, which didn’t make a lot of sense to me because that’s exactly why you went to see a scary movie.

“No, I won’t get scared,” I promised.

imageGommy let us out in front of the movie house, and gave Kim money to get in and for popcorn and drinks.

I got my very own box of popcorn, white with red printed stripes and images of popcorn on the outside. And a large coke with ice.

Down the aisle of the huge theatre we walked, selected seats a bit toward the rear.

After the newsreels, the serials, the cartoons, and several up-coming events announcements, the house darkened and the movie began.

In that day, most films were in black and white. All of the horror films were. Dracula. The Wolf Man. Frankenstein. It made those films more mysterious and scary. A fact not lost on film director Alfred Hitchcock when he produced his classic movie, Psycho.

Our film began. The set-up was a post-nuclear war era where only a few humans were able to survive.

An isolated home somewhere in the desert (where all the cowboy movies were shot, no doubt) had been built in anticipation of the disaster. A scientist and his daughter (young, blonde and perky) had everything they needed to survive for the length of time it would take for the dangerous levels of radiation to subside.

The felon and the floosie

The felon and the floosie

Now come four more characters upon the house after wandering about separately. A young dashing man, a wanted felon and his sidekick floosie, and a nomadic gold prospector with his burro. You knew right away the prospector wasn’t going to make to the end of the movie.

The conflicts are many. The floosie takes a shine to the dashing man, as does the daughter. He likes the daughter but not the floosie. The felon likes the daughter and is also jealous of the dashing man. The floosie is jealous of the daughter. The daughter is kind of a ditz, and her father doesn’t want anyone to stay because of the calculated amounts of rations in order to survive until the radiation lessens.

Oh, the drama!

And to a five-year-old who only cares about being scared out of his wits by the three-eyed monster, delayed gratification! And icky and boring.

Back then there was a film ploy used to “gatcha!” It was an unexpected event — like opening a door and someone is standing on the other side. GOTCHA! The gotchas always happened before the actual scary stuff. They were scary in their own right.

So, it’s late in the evening and the prospector has left the house to go search for his donkey, that mysteriously wandered off from the tool shed (I knew the donkey was dead — and that the three-eyed monster had EATEN it!).

The scientist is all-to-glad to have one less mouth to feed, and the dashing man insists he will go out there and find the prospector.

Oh, man!

The camera switches from dark shots of the stupid prospector, wandering through the woods, calling out his donkey’s name, and the dashing man, who can barely see his nose, also calling out.

All of a sudden: GOTCHA! A hand reaches out of the bushes and grabs the arm of the dashing man.

It ain’t the monster. But I didn’t know that. With coke in one hand, and box of popcorn in the other, I threw both hands up into the air in a reaction of fear.

Slow motion shot: of drink cup spiraling in a slow arc in the air, coke and ice spilling from the opening. Popcorn box, also spiraling, popcorn shooting from the open top. Nearby movie goers, faces up and eyes on the impending drenching and pelting about to happen.

Close-up, narrow field: of me dashing down the row to the main aisle, and scurrying up the incline and out of the theater.

Close-up: the faces of my sisters, horrified over what I just did.

Epilogue: I ran out to the one-person ticket booth and demanded the person “Call my GOMMY!” who responded that she didn’t know my Gommy and had no way of contacting her and would I stop screaming because I was scaring people in line who wanted to buy tickets.

My sisters followed me a few minutes later, and were irate over my behavior. Truth is, years later they would admit under the influence of a cheap burgundy that they, too, were scared and glad to have an excuse to leave the theater.

In order to overcome the trauma, years later I downloaded the movie and watched it on my computer during the day in a well-lit livingroom.

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3 Responses to “Movies were scarier back then . . .”

  1. busymindthinking March 4, 2014 at 11:11 am #

    The memories. I wish your “gommy” had been close enough to hug.

    • skipmars March 4, 2014 at 11:22 am #

      Died at age 96 quite a while back. She was a stern northern Episcopalian with a no-nonsense approach. She made the best soft-boiled eggs, and once when I stayed over at her apartment, cooked me nearly a dozen, which I easily ate with toast bits and butter, salted and peppered just right.

      She was huggable, too.

      • busymindthinking March 4, 2014 at 11:32 am #

        I love that our senses initiate memories! Huggable is always perfect!

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