My horror obsession began with classic black and white cinema. This was way back in the late nineteen-sixties. Monsters were huge business, and it seemed as though every young person was a fan. They were everywhere.

I was still very young, in my late single-digit years, when it all stated. There was a show, Sir Graves Ghastly Presents, that came on late night television on Friday nights. I wasn't allowed to stay up and watch it, but an older brother and his friends were religious viewers. I could hear their raucous partying, the whoops and cheers as they watched the movies Sir Ghastly aired. I wanted more than anything to join in the fun.

One night I was able to do so. I forget the reason for the occasion, but I think my mother was tried of me begging. Now, most of the movies being shown at the time were Universal classics. Frankenstein, Dracula, and Mummy sequels, and things of that nature. The night I stayed up was something altogether different.

The movies began at 11:00, which was pretty late for me. I remember filling the bathroom sink with water and dunking my face in it to help me stay awake. I think I was eight years old at the time.

The show finally started. I've seen footage of Sir Graves Ghastly in later years, and he was your basic corny horror host. But to me he was exotic and mysterious, and a little bit frightening.

The movie that night was Black Sabbath, the Italian horror anthology directed by Mario Bava. A certified classic. This was pretty heady stuff for the monster-crazy audience. Three stories were adapted for the film. Pieces by Chekhov, Tolstoy, and de Maupassant were liberally used for the trio of stories. Boris Karloff appears in Tolstoy's "The Wurdalak", and when AIP distributed the film in America, they added introductory sequences by him.

One of the stories, "The Drop of Water", had me paralyzed with fright. It was the scariest thing I had ever seen up to that point, and it is still remarkably disturbing. This short piece of horror stayed in my head for days, disturbing my thoughts and dreams. Did it scare me off of horror?

Obviously not. I could not wait for more. And I did not have to. The show was so immensely popular that as second showing started up on Saturday evenings. A good time for me to be able to tune in.

I think the very first movie shown in the new time slot was a great one. It was The Wolf Man, and I watched it with trembling hands sometimes seeming to come up to cover my eyes of their own volition.

My family moved from our native Baltimore to Virginia when I had just turned nine. Goodbye Sir Graves Ghastly. However, all was certainly not lost. There was a hostless show called Creature Features that played on 6:30 Saturday evening. They were still showing the classic monsters that meant so much to my heart.

I remember a cold winter, when the sun set early. Frigid nights, warm by the television, watching the atmospheric old movies. But their time was short.

The old monsters, or creatures as some prefer, were getting creaky. They were not scary enough. They were all tragic figures, anyway, and it was a time of great fear and unease. There were assassinations, a terrifying cold war and the ominous stigma of a doomsday bomb hanging over everything. Shortages and crises, killers and satanists.

In the movies, there were starker things afoot. Night of the Living Dead, The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist reflected the tension of the time. Shambling old Boris Karloff wasn't enough to interest a jaded new audience. Though Boris helped usher in the new era in Peter Bogdanovich's Targets, a movie that married classic horror with the current paranoid mindset.

There were other horror movies and shows to enjoy along the way, of course. The Night Stalker, the original movie and the delirious, short-lived weekly show was a big one. The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, and Thriller. The ABC Movies of the Week were regularly showing decent horror. I caught Hammer and AIP movies on the late show movies.

By the late seventies the genre was really changing, and if you had asked me, I would have emphatically said they were changing for the better. Halloween ushered in a wave of slasher movies that are still revered by fans today. I was seeing hard-hitting horror movies at the drive-ins in my area. The Italian movie industry stepped up its horror with unprecedentedly lurid results.

Things eased up a bit as the eighties came on. Horror comedies were the order of the day, and I didn't complain. Scary movies like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street yielded sequels that were funny and entertaining. Funhouse horror, as I often think of it.

The nineties were darker in many ways. Not a whole lot of big budget horror was on the screens in the first half of the decade, but everyone had VCRs and we were able to mine the depths of horrors long past. We rarely got to see things by filmmakers like Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, Amando de Ossorio, or Paul Naschy before, but with video duplication services abounding they were possible to obtain. By then it was all possible, even if we got blurry images and often dealt with Spanish or Japanese subtitles. So it was a rich time for serious fans.

A mostly lukewarm slasher revival emerged after the success of Scream, but the genre took a big turn in the two-thousands decade with so-called Torture Porn movies. Spearheaded by gut-wrenching spectacles like Hostel, High Tension, Martyrs, The House of 1,000 Corpses, and Saw. These movies didn't feature explicit sex, but were considered to be pure violent exploitation. That most of them are very well made only added to their effectiveness. Many felt that this cycle of grueling horror was a direct result of 9/11, the Iraq War, and horrifying reports about The Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

Where the hell do you go from there? Real porn mixed with horror? Sure. I have not seen them, but as I understand it, things like A Serbian Tale and The Life and Death of a Porno Gang go miles further and lower than Franco or D'Amato ever sank.

Where, indeed, do you go from there?

I like some newer horror movies. Ari Aster, in particular, has elevated the genre to higher and more disturbing artistic heights. But mostly I am looking back to the days when I learned to love horror.

I watched classic black and white horror here and there over the years of my alleged adulthood, but I mostly turned to modern movies. Now I'm watching more of the old stuff.

I can't ever go back to the wonder, the awe, the bone-chilling fear I felt when I was first discovering horror, but I can revisit the old films with more educated eyes. My wife Clara and I have started up a silly-but-fun ritual. Popcorn and frozen pizza with a classic horror movie on Friday nights. Sadly, no Sir Graves Ghastly or The Bowman Body these days. There seems to be scads of would-be horror hosts introducing movies online these days, but I think I'll pass on them.

I'm enjoying the anticipation all week of seeing a scary old movie. It's a little bit like being a kid again.

We've watched The Mummy, The Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People, The Body Snatcher, The House That Dripped Blood, Tales of Terror, The Black Cat, Mark of the Vampire, The Wolf Man. Last night we watched Frankenstein.

I had not seen the James Whale classic in far too long. Maybe twenty years? It more than holds up. Frankenstein is classic Grand Guignol theater.

You know the story, but how long has it been since you've seen it?

Boris Karloff was a movie veteran by the time he made Frankenstein, but it was the one that made him a star. His performance is breathtaking. Tragic and frightening, he conveys menace and pity in equal portions. The final scenes where he is screaming in terror at the fire that always frightened him are excruciating to behold. The breadth of emotion and existential panic he displays with only his eyes are nothing short of astonishing.

Maybe I spend too much time in the past, but damn it, I like it back there. At least I am still reading mostly current literature. For films I am looking back to see where it all began for me. It's helping me understand the person I am. These movies molded me like clay and they are as much a part of me as my own DNA.

Written by Mark Sieber

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