Monster Party: Halloween Horror History

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By guest blogger, Joe Moe

Halloween is arguably America’s second favorite holiday. Our culture’s love affair with the weird and eerie season shouldn’t be too much of a surprise – after all, the Horror genre has dominated pop-culture since pop-culture was invented. Today much of modern media lists toward darker, fantastical realms in large part because horror profoundly impacted young movers and shockers who’ve grown up to rule mainstream media today. Among the horror-loving nerds who were nerdy before nerds were cool Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), Stephen King, Benicio Del Toro, George Lucas, Tim Burton and Peter Jackson (early films included Dead Alive and Bad Taste) were all bona fide horror fans. They grew up in the 50s, 60s and 70s, when horror was a bubonic boil just blossoming into the full-blown infection it is today.

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Back then monster magazines stood out from mundane mags on newsstands like a Werewolf at a dog show. Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (1958) was at the fearfront of that movement, as its editor Forrest J Ackerman was the first to recognize the value in turning the spotlight away from movie stars and focusing it on the talented people behind the camera.

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It was in this concept that a teenaged Rick Baker realized someone actually MADE the monsters he loved. He wanted to be that guy! Baker’s seven Oscars are a testament to his love of his gorefathers, and his FX skills in movies like John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London (1981) show how his process of taking the burden of FX off the camera and depositing it firmly in the lap of his FX team created a template for practical change-o props and gags and took the metamorphosis to new heights of movie realism.

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Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion animation in that original King Kong begot Ray Harryhausen’s genius and advancement of special FX in terrific monster movies like The Beast From 20, 000 Fathoms (1953), 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), his Sinbad suite (1958-1977) and Clash of The Titans (1981).

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I love horror, but you all have probably never heard of a lot of these people. However, here is one guy you probably know well that used horror for a launching point for a long and storied career: Steven Spielberg. The influence of classic horror inspired Spielberg to wrap his sisters in toilet paper and shoot his first Mummy movie. Moreover, Spielberg’s JAWS is steeped in traditions of a horror legacy. Witness the shark’s POV, cruising through seaweed, driven by the throbbing rhythm of John William’s unforgettable score (not so very far removed from a chase through the jungle in Merian C. Cooper’s 1932 King Kong).

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Horror is the most imaginative and inventive tool in the shed. It insists on stretching the magic “what if” to extremes. It requires a symphony of craftspeople and collaborators unparalleled in commercial art. Of the effect of early horror and monsters on his career, Guillermo del Toro has been quoted as saying; ”I first saw them on TV at a very early age, and I thoroughly identified with Boris Karloff’s performance as Frankenstein’s creature,” he goes on to say, ‘‘Karloff embodies the most essential, existential quality of being human — a creature expelled from a womb of darkness and silence by an uncaring creator and thrust upon a world of fire, rain, and hatred. I was weird as a kid. What can I say?”

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Today, Famous Monsters of Filmland continues to publish. And other titles that followed like Fangoria, Rue Morgue and my personal favorite Mad Monster Magazine – (OK, I’m a co-editor of the mag) are growing in popularity every day; along with websites like and Horror Movie a There are Conventions, big and small, that bring uber-geeks together to celebrate the genre: ComicCon (135K attendees), Dragon Con (45K ), Monsterpalooza, Chiller Theater and my personal favorite Mad Monster Party – (OK, I’m a co-promoter of the show). James Wan and his Insidious franchise (2012-2013), The Conjuring (2013) and many other terrific scarefests, can do no wrong resurrecting and revitalizing old funhouse tricks and gags made famous by those that came before him. And the series, American Horror Story continues to push the envelope in atmosphere, shocks and dreadful creepiness (the best kind!).

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So here we are in October and soon we will be at Halloween, the only holiday that begs you to pull on a mask and transform, leave your inhibitions behind and bark at the moon. So rather than write about where Halloween came from, it is more apropos to write about where horror came from. Halloween and horror go hand-in-hand. Horror just stretches well beyond October 31st.

Joe Moe is the Co-Editor of Mad Monster Magazine.