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Confessions of a Cinemasochist

by Steven Utley

Masochism is defined as “the deriving of pleasure from being mistreated.” Fans of monster movies may well be the most ardent practitioners of cinemasochism, the deriving of pleasure from watching lousy movies. Oh, the sacrifices they (we) (I) have made, the discomforts stoically endured, the precious time pissed away watching The Brain From Planet Arous or That Could Not Die, The Monster From Pierdes Blancas or From the Ocean Floor or That Challenged the World, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms or With One Million Eyes or of Hollow Mountain, the It that Conquered the World or Came From (a) Beneath the Sea (b) Outer Space or was, simply, The Terror From Beyond Space — and all, please note, decades before Mystery Science Theater and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, raised appreciation of bad cinema to a low art.

I want to make it clear that I’m not incapable of recognizing and admiring good cinema, nor even of loving it. I want also to distinguish between two kinds of bad movie, the excusable and the inexcusable. Edward D. Wood is well-known for making very bad movies, but there is nothing wrong with them that money, talent, and taste couldn’t have fixed; Wood, I believe, made the best movies he could — he just happened not to have any money, talent, or taste. His Plan 9 From Outer Space, Bride of the Monster, The Violent Years, and Glen or Glenda? are at least good for a laugh. The various parties responsible for prodigiously mounted Hollywood failures (and we all know who they are and which ones those were) lacked only taste, but they lacked it in spades and, so, wasted money and talent. A bad big-budget movie just makes me want to scour myself with hot sand. (I want to make it clear that this activity is not masochistic in nature.)

Now, I was always fond of going to drive-in theatres to watch monster movies back when there were drive-in theatres. For the sake of some of the least deserving motion pictures ever made, I braved heat waves, cold fronts, cloudbursts, settling masses of atmospheric sludge, low-flying airplanes, clouds of mosquitoes, idiots who thought it cool and even a mark of good breeding to lean on their car horns, pre-show Muzak, seemingly interminable commercials for the yummy-umptious muck on sale at the concession stand, and restrooms as foul as any black nook of Perdition. No matter how low my expectations, and often they lay at the bottom of a very deep hole in the floor of the sub-cellar, if a movie featured a monster or two, if it smacked the least little bit of dread doings in the dead of night, I’d try to watch attentively and make as pleasant (albeit, sometimes, hysterical) an evening of it as I could.

Consider this stimulating double-bill from the early 1970s: Dracula Vs. Frankenstein and Horror of the Blood Creatures, both directed, if that is not too generous a term, by Al Adamson, whose oeuvre comprises Blazing Stewardesses, I Spit on Your Corpse, and, oh, about two dozen films in all, released and re-released under perhaps fifty different titles in all. Dracula Vs. Frankenstein (also known as The Blood Seekers, Blood of Frankenstein, The Revenge of Dracula, Satan’s Bloody Freaks, and Teenage Dracula) featured monster-movie veterans Lon Chaney and J. Carroll Naish (it was, in fact, Chaney’s and Naish’s final film), Jim Davis, Anthony Eisley, Angelo Rossitto, Forrest J Ackerman (dying his first on-screen death, at the hands of John Bloom’s hulking, puffy-faced Frankenstein Monster), and the improbably named Zandor Vorkov as Count Dracula, looking like Tiny Tim in sloppily applied whiteface. The plot has something to do with concocting blood serum in a secret laboratory beneath a wax museum of horrors, but don’t quote me on this.

Bad as it is, Dracula Vs. Frankenstein fairly scintillates in comparison with Horror of the Blood Creatures (also known as Blood Creatures From the Prehistoric Planet, Creatures of the Prehistoric Planet, Creatures of the Red Planet, and Space Mission to the Lost World), which opens with nine or ten million vampires running amok in the streets, attacking women, drooling gore all over themselves, and in general carrying on as vampires are wont to do. Just when the viewer is in some danger of becoming caught up in this carnage — whoosh! and we’re rocketing through space with John Carradine and four unknown actors. Carradine and crew touch down on a strange planet and — cut back to Earth, where a man and a woman grope each other and do a fair bit of moaning and You Know, with wires running from their heads to the same consoles J. Carroll Naish posed with in Dracula Vs. Frankenstein. Cut to the strange planet, where Carradine’s people now gape wonderingly at red-tinted stock footage from One Million B.C. (the same footage of lizards magnified to represent dinosaurs that has turned up in so many movies over the years, including Two Lost Worlds, Robot Monster, Teenage Cavemen, and Valley of the Dragons). Cut to the couple on Earth, still groping, moaning, and You Know. Cut to the strange planet as cave-people chop at one another with rubber hatchets. Fade out on me as I run shrieking across the parking lot, vault the wooden fence bise cting this particular two-in-one drive-in, and drop in on an aviation flick called, I believe, The Swedish Fly Girls.

Even movies on television could compel me to take the path of most resistance: late one golden Saturday in the summer of 1964, when I was fifteen and the girl was in my arms and both of us clearly liked the arrangement — I bolted, home to the TV set, to watch Boris Karloff in a 1940 opus called The Devil Commands. Knocked the heck right out of what had promised to become a warm and abiding relationship, or at least a warm one, or at least a relationship, anyway. But I had read and liked the William Sloane novel, The Edge of Running Water, on which The Devil Commands was based; and I had been tantalized by movie stills in the only magazine I read regularly at the time, Famous Monsters of Filmland ; and I didn’t know, in those impoverished pre-VCR times, when I’d ever get another chance. Possibly I figured that while there were plenty of girls and while, moreover, my relations with them were fraught with uncertainty and anxiety, there was only one Karloff — and I knew beyond doubt that I loved Karloff.

In any event, hormones lost the round to a horror movie. Had I been a sophisticated, suave, debonair fellow, I might have effected a compromise, invited my sweetie to watch the movie with me, necked during the commercials. I was, however, only what I was at fifteen. Much craziness can be excused in a teenager because he is a teenager, and much more if he is a fan — of anything, movie monsters, science fiction, comic books, this, that, or some other species of popular music. I was a teenaged fan of all those things and more besides, and, so, by definition, crazy indeed.

I trust you understand now, Mary Ann, wherever you are. The Devil commanded, and I obeyed.

If it’ll make you feel better, spank me.

Copyright © 2005 by Steven Utley

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