Saturday, May 20, 2017

how to make a monster (kid)

Sometimes when the world has me weary, I think I might've been born too late, but then I remember the wonder of being a boy in and around Detroit in the late 70s and early 80s—and how my mother had inadvertently created a "monster kid".  

Born in late 1974, I was raised by a young single mom who loved horror movies, but didn't quite have the sense to know which ones her young boys should and shouldn't be watching.  Which means for every half dozen or so classics we'd see on Saturday afternoon TV (such as FRANKENSTEIN or BRIDES OF DRACULA), we'd also get a nightmarish dose of something like DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE or THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE at the Bel Air Drive-In on Saturday night (on 8 mile, now long since demolished). She meant well, and neither my brother (a year older) nor I have become serial killers, so.

The Bel-Air endured from the summer of 1950 until 1986.  

We couldn't afford cable TV until the mid-80s, so like most people at the time, we had 5 or 6 channels to choose from, and if we were lucky a couple of them might be showing old movies.  Nearly every Saturday afternoon from around noon until 4 or 5 pm, the three of us would be glued to the TV set, watching Thriller Double Feature or Creature Feature (on dueling UHF channels, WXON 20 and WKBD 50—there was always a choice between a couple of horror movies beginning around the same time).  

Before those shows had come along, there'd been legendary horror host, Sir Graves Ghastly, who'd only lasted until I was 7 years old but comprises some of my earliest memories. Sir Graves (Lawson J. Deming) had a spooky opening—and I mean hair-raising to a little squirt like me—and every Saturday afternoon he would sing (in drag) and do strange vaudeville-esque bits with puppets in between commercials and the movie, as well as showcase the artwork of his youngest fans. The movies he showed were mostly classic and B horrors from the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and this wonderful man and his show were really the start of it all for me. Sir Graves was a beloved institution on Detroit television for fifteen years, and I had been fortunate enough to catch the tail end of it.  

I remember going to the school library and being the only kid in class who'd go digging for books about horror movies, seeking out glorious, garish, informative tomes such as MOVIE MONSTERS or MONSTERS AND VAMPIRES, both heavy lifting for a wide-eyed 6 year old.  I can recall one of my fourth grade teachers (we moved twice in the fourth grade) randomly asking the class what year the original King Kong was released, and I had been the only one to raise a hand.  When I correctly answered 1933, the kids near me did a double take, wondering who I was after all.  My teacher, Mr. Connor, was also caught off guard, perhaps thinking there might be hope for this one yet.  Alas, while I harbored a bit of unhealthy pride in the knowledge that I was one of the enlightened few, monsters were but the one subject on which I was any kind of authority.

Just as Sir Graves had bellowed his trademark laugh for the final time (in November of 1982), along came this guy calling himself Count Scary, who occasionally hosted horror movies on local TV at night—and certainly made himself known.  Every time it was announced he'd be hosting something, it was an event unto itself, regardless of the movie he was showing.  He took the funny vampire shtick a step further, going almost purely for laughs, and (I'd swear it) often succeeded. To an 8 year old monster kid with a strange sense of humor, there was no greater talent in the world—and I still think the man (local radio legend, Tom Ryan) was brilliant, but what do I know?  

Here's an early intro to The Count, from the summer of 1982:

By 1986, Tom Ryan had become something of a local cult hero with Count Scary:

By the late mid-80s, cable TV and videotape happened (to us), which changed everything, but that's a story for another time.  I had seen it all—even managed to make it through THE EXORCIST without incident (though, yeah, nightmares over that one), and if Christopher Lee himself were to come tapping at my bedroom window by the moonlight, I'd have known exactly how to handle the situation...

Run like heck!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

a short drink at the Gem Saloon

THE GUNFIGHTER (1950; d: Henry King)

Sometimes a man just wants to get in out of the cold, let his horse stand still, and forget his troubles. Sometimes he has no need for a name or reputation.

It's been a long, hard ride, and this old hand wants to sit down for a spell, maybe tip a glass or two, and not think too much about anything but whatever good may lie ahead. Let my horse drink slowly and close his weary eyes some, and dream of Cayenne, only a few hours of sandy valley ahead now.

Just a little ways longer, ol' boy.   

Ah, the Gem Saloon—Cayenne's so close I can taste it.  Just a couple hours rest and we'll set out on the last leg...

“Hiya, Jimmy!”

“Hi, old-timer.”

Well, so much for anonymity.

“Give me a drink.”


“Just gimme the drink, would ya?”

“You bet your life, Jimmy.”

Can't anyone just let a guy buy a drink anymore without making a fuss?

“Do you know who that is?”


“Jimmy Ringo.”

“Well...What do ya know.”

Great...another loudmouth. And just when things were getting cozy.

“Nice to see you again, Jimmy.”


“He don't look so tough to me.”

“Well, if he ain't so tough there's been an awful lot of sudden natural deaths in his vicinity.”

“How many you figure?”

“Ten, twelve, fifteen, depends on who's tellin'.”

“I bet he ain't as fast as Wyatt Earp.”

“In Dodge City, they say he is.”

“Just two hands, like anybody else.”

“Yeah, same number, it looks like,, wait a minute, Eddie, ya ain't thinking of doing nothing foolish, are ya?”

“You mean he's so tough I can't even talk to him?”

“I mean this ain't no joke, boy. That's a mean man.”

“I just want to see how a big, important fella like that handles himself. That's all. What's wrong with that?”

“I'm tellin' ya. I wouldn't do it if I were you.”

“Chuck, how about a little service down here? That's if Mr. Frazzlebottom don't object.”

“Eddie, don't you know who this is?”

“You mean it ain't Mr. Frazzlebottom?”

“He's Jimmy Ringo, Eddie.”

“It looks like Mr. Frazzlebottom to me.”

And this is the price I'll always pay for the path I've chosen. Once a gunman gains fame, he'll never again find peace.

Chuck, nervously: “You ever heard anybody kid like him?”

“How about a drink, Mr. Frazzlebottom?”

“No thanks.”

Let it go, boy.

“How's that, Mr. Frazzlebottom?”

“Eddie, please...”

“Please, what?  I asked the man to have a drink with me, what's wrong with that? How about it Mr. Frazzlebottom?”

Boy, this one's impossible.

“Okay, partner.”

“I knew Mr. Frazzlebottom wasn't going to pass up a free one.”

“Don't you understand, Eddie, this is Jimmy Ringo...

“Alright, so it's Jimmy Ringo. So what's everybody supposed to do, fall on their knees?”

“Well, you could be a little polite, at least.”

“Mr. Ringo. Chuck figures you got a little extra consideration coming to you around here, is that right?”


“How's that, Mr. Ringo? You'll have to speak up if you want me to hear ya.”

“Why don't you button up your britches and go home?”

“How'd you like to try to make me, Mr. Ringo?”

“Now listen, partner. I come in here minding my own business. Now how about lettin' me go out the same way?”

“I want to know first what you meant by that remark you just passed.”

“I tell you just bought me a drink. Now I'll buy you one and then we'll drop. What do you say? Give him a drink from me.”

“Never mind the drink! I want to know what you meant by that remark you passed.”

“How come I gotta run into a squirt like you in every other place I go these days? What are you trying to do, show off in front of your friends?”

“Are you ready to back up that remark or not?”

“What about this—ain't some of you in charge of this donkey?!”

“I'm telling you, Mr. Ringo!”

“Eddie don't mean no real harm, Mr. Ringo.”

“Then let Eddie keep his big ugly nose out of my business if he don't wanna get it slapped!”

“Did you see that?”

“Yes sir, he drew first.”

“Did you see it?”

“Yeah, I saw it.”

“Yes sir, I saw it...except, I'd get on out of town anyways if I were you.”

And Jimmy Ringo's legend continues to grow, whether it suits him or not.

“Because, he's got three brothers that ain't gonna care who drew first.”

“Alright...everybody stay where you are.”

And as they waste their booze and breath on prayers for that hapless donkey, who'll bend a knee for this run-down, thirsty nag?