by C. Courtney Joyner
For a Monster Kid, I’ve been very, very lucky. For the last thirty years I’ve been able to eek out a living as a writer, with all of its ups and downs, but still working on movies and novels and film journalism, happily focused on the genres that I love: horror, fantasy, science-fiction and Westerns. My first issue of Famous Monsters, with KING KONG displayed in tones of red and orange as he tore a Pterodactyl in half, flipped an emotional switch that’s never been turned off. I was about seven or eight, and already a movie lover but had no idea that I’d be writing films one day, including ones starring Vincent Price, Viggo Mortensen and Helen Hunt. Or that I’d be able to contribute to video series like PUPPETMASTER, direct horror and science fiction flicks, write novels, including a sequel to 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, work as a film journalist, or give comment on more than a hundred home releases of movies we all treasure. My work has allowed me to surround myself with a fantastic world that - without being too pretentious - inspires me, but is mostly just wonderful fun.
And I still have that issue of Famous Monsters. These Monster Memories come in bits and pieces, and I hope putting them together they make some kind of sense, or at least create a
picture of a joyous influence that’s never stopped having an impact…
Growing up in the 1960’s, it’s almost impossible to explain the Monster Boom to anyone who wasn’t there; who wasn’t drooling over the latest issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS or an Aurora Forgotten Prisoner of Castle Mare. It seems beyond comprehension now, these movies that were made almost a hundred years ago, suddenly became so important culturally, that the Universal monsters were all over TV and AIP and Hammer horrors were in the theaters, their ads screaming from newspapers.
The fantasy world of classic monsters and horror absolutely surrounded us – along with The Beatles, Peanuts and Bond - and for a monster kid, you were being given a gift every day. If we weren’t staying up late, wrapped in blankets or pajamas, watching Scream-In in Philly or Chiller Theater in Pittsburgh, we could find DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE or DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN at the bijou. Toys, gum cards, 8mm movies, magazines, View Master slides, comic books, paperbacks, puzzles, games, and even underwear – were all about Monsters and they were all for us. Exclusively. Parents weren’t allowed in this world without our permission, and that was glorious.
I admit that my heart – at age ten or eleven – skipped a few beats
every time a new issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS appeared on the stands. A Basil Gogos cover made me leap. But the reality was, that thanks to Jim Warren and FJA, there were a bunch of kids learning about METROPOLIS and Lionel Atwill and what it took to make KING KONG or THE MAGIC SWORD. A shot of Jack Pierce making up Lon, jr. as The Wolfman for HOUSE OF DRACULA or to see John Chambers at work on PLANET OF THE APES – this was the stuff to inspire us. How could it not?
Looking back through the fog, I don’t think anything took up as much of my fantasy time – besides Vampirella – as ogling over the pages of ads in the back of FM at all the great stuff you could get from the Captain Company. I dreamt about the Don Post Calendar masks that I could never afford, but finally scraped together enough allowance and lawn-mowing money to order an 8mm 200ft. edition of THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I sent off my money order, with the help from my mom
who got it at the post office, and then came – the torture. The torture that only the Captain Company could bring as we waited. And waited. And waited some more for that envelope to arrive. I can’t remember how many decades passed – I think it was really only about six weeks – but when that silent film, with the resurrection of the bride, arrived on a Saturday, it was beyond a thrill. It was screened on my bedroom wall every night for months. Those Castle and Ken films – with a looong time between purchases, having to raise the seven dollars – were always, always worth the lawn mowing. Now, as I watch FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN on blu-ray I still hear the echo of the Sears projector rattling along as the grave robbers break into Talbot crypt.
Since there was no video or streaming, we just watched what we were lucky enough to catch when it played on TV; every TV guide had to be thumbed, looking for the word “melodrama” in the description of a movie, because that
meant “horror.” And if CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN was on at 3am, then you figured out a way to sneak downstairs to the TV and watch it on a school night.
Geography played a huge part in finding my monsters and comics. Growing up in Philadelphia, there was a corner drugstore that was great for DC, Marvel, and even a few model kits. On Saturday, that would be stop one. Take my bike down the hill, across from the old Bala theater – where I saw KING KONG VS. GODZILLA for the first time – and there was Pop’s candy store. Amazing name for the place, but true. The candy, models, and magazines – especially magazines – were stocked to its old, stained ceiling. If there was luck, I could find CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN or perhaps, WEB OF HORROR; the problem with a magazine buy was that the cover price could blast a hole in the budget for the week, so you had to be careful about the horror you chose. After Pop’s I usually rode my bike to another pharmacy about a mile away. Walk in the door, turn to the right, and there was a great magazine rack of Warren titles. FAMOUS MONSTERS, CREEPY, and VAMPIRELLA to sneak-a-peek. Of course, THE MONSTER TIMES would come later.
VAMPIRELLA, with a racy Ken Kelly cover, and TERROR TALES with a cover by God-knows-who were the only magazines I ever had confiscated at school. I should have known better with VAMPIRELLA,
and the issue had a great story with Neal Adams art, so that was a true loss but TERROR TALES shouldn’t have been in the hands of a ten-year-old; the cover was of a young girl tied to a rack, screaming, clothes shredded and blood-drenched, with a vampire biting her neck as he was being staked from behind by a werewolf. The point of the stake was coming through the vampire’s chest, with more blood spurting everywhere. Another monster could have been ripping the werewolf’s head off, but I don’t remember. The damage those Eerie Publications did to my brain has never been repaired.
I once talked to the great Western comics and SGT. FURY artist Dick Ayers about his work for Eerie, and he called the stories he drew “eye poppers.” Flipping through old issues, it was amazing how many eyeballs came flying out of heads like bloody ping-pong balls when someone was bitten by a vampire, attacked by a werewolf, or stubbed their toe.
My grandfather gave me his old 8mm wind-up home movie camera and my first epic was going to be a monster movie – of course - and I talked my friend Mark into playing a werewolf in make-up I’d create using the instructions outlined in Dick Smith’s MONSTER MAKE-UP magazine, published by Famous Monsters. As recommended, I used Kayro syrup for adhesive and tried my own version of hair with cotton balls soaked in food
coloring. Not exactly up to Mr. Smith’s standards, but with plastic fangs, he looked like a monster of some kind; more oozing mutant than werewolf, but it was okay. The cotton balls stuck to my friend’s face, but so did the food coloring, and he had to go to the christening of his sister’s baby the next day – his cheeks and chin seriously stained red, green, and brown. I can still hear the angry phone calls my mom received; I had to write a lot of apology notes for that production.
I had a good buddy who was an expert shoplifter. One day he strolled into a K-Mart and snatched the Ken Films 200ft. Super-8 of WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH off a rack, and gave it to me as a surprise birthday present. When he told me what he’d done – after we’d watched it a dozen times – I thought about giving it back to the store. For some reason, I didn’t want to mail it but went to the K-Mart with the movie in my jacket, and prowled around the home movie display in the Camera department. Not too smart; I couldn’t have been more obvious, or more
nervous, and realized if I did put the movie back, K-Mart security would probably spot me and think I was stealing it! I zig-zagged my way through all the departments, and made it outside, soaked in sweat, with Victoria Vetri and the Danforth dinosaurs safely in my pocket. I honestly feel that I’d have been less panicked hot-wiring a car, but a Super 8 movie? It was like having something stolen from the Monster Holy Land. I put the box on a shelf in my room, and I’m relieved the statute of limitations has run out on this crime.
One of the other great things about this period was the astonishing work in illustration; for genre fiends, it was the Sunday comics – Hal Foster’s PRINCE VALIANT always knocked my eyes out – the great Marvel age of Kirby, the DC renaissance with Kubert and Adams – but also the incredible artists who were a part of all the Warren magazines. What Frank Frazetta painted for CREEPY led me directly to the paperback spinning racks and his fantastic covers for Conan and Tarzan. And James Bama’s covers drew me into Doc Savage. That’s what started me buying books; sometimes new, and sometimes used and for a quarter. And of course, mixed in with all the horror were the Westerns. Tons of them. All of these genre elements were beautifully intertwined in the 60’s, and got a generation of kids caring about reading,
writing, and creating. I’d like to think so, anyway.For my thirteenth birthday, my sister took me to see I DRINK YOUR BLOOD and I EAT YOUR SKIN at the drive-in. She still talks about that double-feature.We moved to Pittsburgh in 1972, with George Romero’s amazing legacy standing tall for every movie kid. My school in Sewickley was an incidental haven of future actors and filmmakers: Caitlin Clarke of DRAGONSLAYER, Rusty Cundief of TALES FROM THE HOOD, and Greg Nicotero were all classmates or alumni, separated by a few years but brought together at parties, plays, or at lunch by shared movie talk.
I can’t remember how I came to be an extra in DAWN OF THE DEAD, but I think it was just a general notice for people to come out to Monroeville Mall – in the middle of winter – and be a zombie. It was great, and the first movie set I was ever on where I could really watch what was going on. I brought some classmates, and we were all cast, but I yakked a lot with Richard Rubinstein, who was pitching in by painting the zombies grey. My father was a doctor and I wore one of his lab coats, and there was a nurse zombie who was dragging a toaster behind her. One of the more re-printed still from DAWN shows me, in my glasses, with my face pressed up against a door at JC Penny’s. I got killed that night, but they asked me back, and put a beard on me to be another zombie in a hallway, and in the parking lot. The “Argento cut” of the film has more of me in the parking lot, so I guess he liked my
shambling. The snow drifts were keeping folks away, and so the extras had to double-up. The great fun was watching the motorcycle stunts in the mall, and I know influenced me when I wrote the motorcycles roaring around the high school in CLASS OF 1999. Whenever I post that zombie shot on Facebook, it gets more hits than anything else I put up.
Greg Nicotero was best friends with the little brother of one of my best buddy’s, and a few years behind me at school. His older brother threw a summer party and I went along with everyone else. I’d already been in DAWN and Greg asked me a zillion questions – Did I save any extra bullet hits, what was Tom Savini like? – and he showed me some of the stuff he was doing. I was about to graduate from high school, and I think Greg was in the ninth grade. I’m in his room – his studio, really – looking at these sculptures and fotos of his make-up work and it was amazing, and he really was just a kid. The rest, as they say, is history.
And college turned the Monster Kid into, at least, the Monster semi-pro. Moving to L.A. to attend USC – an English major, as I couldn’t get into the film department much
as I wanted to – led me to finally meet great filmmakers I’d been corresponding with since high school, getting to know the pros, but forging the tight, life-long friendships with other Monster – but really Movie – kids. Our bonds were deep, because of the shared passion, whether it was Universal horror, James Bond, or Sergio Leone, we all wanted to make movies, and we all wanted to make horror films. I was lucky again, in that I was close to Jeff Burr and Darin Scott, we were sharing a house, we wanted to make a horror flick. I’d been having a little luck with some script writing, but no features produced, and the decision was made to make the film an anthology. I wrote two episodes and a wrap-around that would end up featuring Vincent Price, which was a dream. But it really was up to Darin, Jeff, and Jeff’s brother Bill to raise the financing, which they amazingly did, and for Jeff to direct. An incredible feat, but they pulled it off, we got a theatrical release as THE OFFSPRING, and off we all went following more horror dreams with our other projects.
Working on a film with a horror icon, one of the actors in the cast had been doing a lot of sculpting and wanted the icon’s opinion of the work. He stepped from his trailer, with me by his side, to face a table covered by a sheet. The actor pulled the sheet away to reveal an array of sculptures, many of them women’s privates with fists and eyes exploding from them; the sculpts were in metal, wax, and clay. The icon leaned down to me, and whispered, “This woman is terribly disturbed!”
We shot the wrap-around material with Vincent Price on FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM at Roger Corman’s studios in Venice. Roger came by for a reunion with Vincent, and also actress Hazel Court, and to look things over. Roger walked around the set of the old, decaying, cob-webbed library and said, “I believe I’ve made this movie about a dozen times.” Indeed.
And I’m still eeking away, for the last few years finding a home writing novels, with success with Westerns and Fantasy and recently optioning a fantasy pilot from one of my books to a major. After all the magazines, comics, Super 8 on my wall, and near-thirty produced movies as skeletons in my closet, the world of screenwriting and filmaking is never far out of reach. And the world of Monsters is always there, leading The Kid in me on.
To find out more about C. Courtney's career in movies and literature, please read the interview with him HERE or his website, ccjoyner.com