In all of my years of reading FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND Magazine, I was never scared by any of the classic creatures pictured above. Intrigued, yes. Fascinated, definitely. Obsessed? You betcha. But scared? Nah, these fiends didn't scare me one bit. Same with watching the films they starred in. I was thrilled by monster movies but I was never really scared by them.
Let's face it, most of these monsters existed only in what I like to call "Earth Universal", a vaguely European, black and white fantasy land. The movies themselves were in black and white and kind of slow and creaky in parts. Most of them I saw on television for the first time, usually during the daytime with many (too many!) commercial interruptions. I knew, even at a young age, that these creatures were not real, that they could not possibly exist in the real world and thus, I had nothing to fear from them.
And even if, for the sake of argument, they were real, what were the odds that any of them would come and get me? The Invisible Man? Despite several sequels, the original Invisible Man was dead at the end of the film. Dracula? Relegated to Europe and could be beaten by a number of ways: crosses, garlic, wooden stakes, etc The Creature from the Black Lagoon? Lived in the Amazon River basin and, briefly, in Florida. No threat to Central Texas. The Mummy was relegated to Egypt in the first film although other entries in the series relocated him to the United States. But so what? I could outrun the Mummy any day of the week. Frankenstein's Monster and the Bride were both stuck in that weird Europe of Universal films and only wanted to left alone. The Phantom never left the catacombs of Paris beneath the Opera House and the Wolfman could be defeated by means of silver, especially in the form of bullets.
No, the Universal Monsters were heroes to me. They posed no threat or menace to my young life. I loved 'em. Likewise, King Kong and Godzilla. Kong lived in the '30s and died in New York while Godzilla came back again and again but always only in Japan. I would have loved to have seen Godzilla, a giant, radioactive dinosaur, rise up from the depths of Austin's Town Lake and slowly make his way up Congress Avenue towards the state capitol building, wreaking havoc and destruction all around. I even wrote a terrible short story describing that very vividly imagined event. So I was okay with the giant monsters also.
No, what absolutely terrified me, what petrified me, what made my blood run cold was this photograph:
I don't recall in which issue of FM I first saw this still from Don Siegel's masterpiece INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), but I recall staring at it for a very long time and thinking, "this looks real." I had no idea whatsoever about the pod people or the plot of the film but I knew that this was pure terror, something that could actually happen anywhere at any time. A man and a woman running for their lives from a mob in close pursuit on a Southern California street. I wondered if the mob caught them in the film and if they did, what happened after that? What horrible fate awaited these two poor, nice looking people? I could only imagine.
Believe me, Earth Universal offered nothing as remotely terrifying as this one glimpse of real life peril. I often wondered what I would do if I ever found myself in a situation like this. I could run pretty fast but fast enough to get away from a mob with death in their eyes? I don't think so. This is an idea and image that still haunts me today. I don't like crowds. Never have. Maybe it's because of this picture.