When Monsters Were Monsters

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To paraphrase wording used frequently in these trying times, I am older than 60 and have a pre-existing condition. That’s right: I am a Monster Kid.

That’s what horror film-crazy folks who grew up in a certain age like to call themselves, specifically Baby Boomers who watched Dracula, Frankenstein, the Invisible Man and their kin to frighten our younger selves during television screenings from the 1950s into the ’80s.

To us, watching 1930s, ’40s and ’50s black-and-white scream shows (some of which weren’t so “classic”) was a rite of passage, even if pre-VCR-era viewings meant they were frequently interrupted by cheesy commercials and edited to fill designated time slots.

Many Gen Xers and Millennials consider the works of actors like Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price as too tame compared to bloodier, gorier tales of more recent years. But even if I might agree, watching the oldies-but-goodies evokes senses of comfort and nostalgia.

How did we kids come to be Monster Kids? Well, in the late 1950s, when the burgeoning medium of TV needed product to fill the air, Hollywood studios emptied their vaults and leased their reel libraries to the small screen. Horror and science fiction movies – those from Universal, most notably – were big on TV because children loved them; the whole family could watch.

As the audience grew, TV stations created in-house shows to introduce the old horror flicks. These programs often featured hammy hosts who, if you heard them closely or imagined them without makeup, seemed suspiciously like the station announcer or the weekend weatherman. Some, such as Cleveland’s Ghoulardi (Eddie Anderson, later the ABC announcer who spoke smooth teasers for shows like “The Lo-o-v-v-v-e Boat” and father of film director, Paul Thomas Anderson) made their open contempt for their movies part of their schtick.

In Detroit, there was Sir Graves Ghastly on Channel 2 and his hipper rival, the Ghoul, on Channel 50. In the Kalamazoo-Battle Creek area, where I lived most of my boyhood, there was Count Molarr on Channel 41. And on Flint’s Channel 12, there was Farrell Reed Pasternak, known to his on-air fans as “Christopher Coffin” on the 1960s show “Theatre of Thrills.”

I’ve never seen video of Coffin, who was known as the erudite “guardian of the ghouls.” But his reputation was such that when filmmakers Sandy Clark and John E. Hudgens made a documentary about classic TV horror hosts, they greatly lamented the fact that none seemed to exist.

“Christopher Coffin … was the one person I most wanted to see in the movie who didn’t get in it,” Clark told me in a 2007 interview that preceded a showing of his “American Scary” at the Flint Film Festival.

Christopher Coffin may only be a memory (Pasternak died in 2019), but you can watch him now in YouTube clips. “American Scary” streams on Amazon Prime. And let’s hope the movie chillers that hosts like Mr. Coffin introduced never go completely out of style, even in days when potential real-life horrors threaten our ways of living.

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