The Modest Proposal

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Famous Monsters of Filmland Kevin Jackson

Wim Wenders once said that, growing up in West Germany in the years after 1945, he felt that his unconscious had been colonised by the United States. Lots of British folk felt much the same way, especially the more puritanical cultural critics of F.R. Leavis' dogmatic school, as well as people who otherwise had no values in common: earnest Welfare State socialists and Jingoist, anti-American reactionaries. The heck with them, say I.

As an English baby boomer, born in 1955, I could hardly have been a more willing collaborator with the colonising forces. At about the age of four I discovered the unutterable thrill of Marvel comics (DC too, but Marvel was obviously a far superior house); at about 8 or 9, MAD magazine (the large-format issues coming out month by month were delightful if often baffling; then I discovered paperback reprints of the stunningly creative early issues from the 1950s), and finally, at about 12, Famous Monsters of Filmland.

What a joy! Like many pre-adolescents of the day, I had managed my traumatic recognition that everyone, not excepting me, was going to die by becoming immersed in all things spooky and hideous. Television helped: both the BBC and the ITV (there were only two channels in those distant days, and only my richer friends could afford colour sets) offered a decent supply of dark fantasy. I remember being enthralled by James Whale's Bride of Frankenstein on the BBC, and the first Dracula I ever saw was a low-budget, studio-bound ITV production starring Denholm Elliott. I wanted to know more, and thanks to Mr Forrest J. Ackermann I soon had my wishes granted.

The pictures in FMF mattered more than the words. As my memory tells me—and if I am wrong, I do not wish to know—there were countless beautiful black and white stills, many from the Universal classics of the early 1930s and after, but also from the silent era—"Forry" was a loyal fan of Lon Chaney Sr.—and from my own country, Christopher Lee as the Mummy and as the Frankenstein creature and, above all, as Count Dracula. It was at this point that I decided that I definitely did not want to be an accountant, or even an astronaut, when I was a grownup. Now, I knew that my career was vampirism. (This has not quite worked out. Yet.)

And the covers! Oh, the covers! The one I recall most vividly today showed the creature from Night of the Demon—not a still from the Jacques Tourneur movie but a skilfully executed painting, possibly even an oil painting. And the article about Tourneur's film planted in me a fascination that has survived to the present day: Night of the Demon is always in my top 10 of Best Horror Movies and top 50 of Best Movies Ever. The huge gift that FMF conferred on me was that it gave me the chance to become a horror film fan—in fact a bit of a buff—when I had never seen so much as one on the big screen. In the 1960s, just about every horror film—nor matter how mild—was rated "X", for adults only. In the 1950s, there had actually been an "H", for Horror rating; British censors were as wary of the Seduction of Innocents as their American counterparts.

When puberty arrived, I put away childish things, sold my collections of FMF and MAD to the local comics store (idiot!) and began to read Orwell, Hemingway and T.E. Lawrence. Two out of those three authors still mean a lot to me, and I am sometimes even paid for knowing about them. But I am paid more frequently, and more often, for knowing about vampires and such; knowledge rooted in the hours spent poring over articles and learning who Bud Westmore was. So, to paraphrase Yeats: Famous Monsters of Filmland suffices the ageing man as once the growing boy. I am deeply, deeply grateful to "Forry", and I raise an imaginary Bloody Mary to him.

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