A new magazine, SHOCK! THEATER CLASSICS, will make its debut June 28 (tomorrow). The publisher/editor/art designer is Ray Ferry, who has handled similar duties on FAMOUS MONSTERS for nearly fifty issues. The new magazine venture from Ferry was already known, but today the title was finally revealed on the Famous Monsters website and its companion Google group. Clearly a homage to the Shock Theater days, SHOCK! THEATER CLASSICS will cover the films and experiences that made the late 1950s and early 1960s so memorable to the "monster kids" growing up in that time.
For more about Ferry's vision for the magazine and ordering info go here.
In the late 1930s, Universal made a deal with book publisher Doubleday to use the publisher's The Crime Club imprint for a series of mystery films. Eleven in number were produced. Three of these, THE LAST WARNING, THE MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM, and THE WITNESS VANISHES, made it into the Shock! package. This is Universal's The Crime Club series:
THE WESTLAND CASE (1937) THE BLACK DOLL (1938) THE LADY IN THE MORGUE (1938) DANGER ON THE AIR (1938) THE LAST EXPRESS (1938) THE GAMBLING SHIP (1938) THE LAST WARNING (1938) THE MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM (1939) INSIDE INFORMATION (1939) HOUSE OF FEAR (1939) THE WITNESS VANISHES (1939)
I'm fascinated by what came before SHOCK! in the 1950s--what primed audiences to accept into their hearts and nightmares old Universal horror and mystery films when the SHOCK! package made its television debut in October, 1957.
This is a time-line, updated at times, of important horror film events that came before SHOCK!
Pre-1950s - 1950s: Spook Shows. One never hears of their influence upon the monster craze of the late 1950s, but surely spook shows, typically hosted by a magician, were the horror film host events of their time, drawing in packs of young people in theaters across the United States. Even Bela Lugosi had his own spook shows during this time. Perhaps not unexpectedly, spook shows began to die down as more and more monster fans sat home watching horror hosts and horror films on television.
1954 (April 30) - 1955 (April 2): THE VAMPIRA SHOW, airing on KABC-TV from Los Angeles. Soon after its premiere, major news magazines like LIFE and NEWSWEEK contained features on the show and its star, Maila Nurmi. TV GUIDE also devoted an article on the show. THE VAMPIRA SHOW appears to be the first horror hosted film show on television. 50 episodes were shown, with the films being of the public domain variety, like REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE DEVIL BAT'S DAUGHTER, and FOG ISLAND. In the SHOCK! promotional book, a suggestion was made to have that package hosted by horror hosts.
1956: THE VAMPIRA SHOW is revived on another Los Angeles station, KHJ-TV.
1956 (May): A television showing of KING KONG in the NY City area was watched by about 90% of people with television sets, an extraordinary feat. This event may have been the prime influence for Screen Gems to get together their SHOCK! package.
1957 (June 19): I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF premieres, double-billed with INVASION OF THE SAUCER-MEN. The film will become a huge hit, one of the ten top grossing films of 1957. It's unlikely that the film had a chance to influence the release of the SHOCK!, considering that only four months separated the two events, but it certainly may have prepared audiences for the SHOCK! television package.
1957 (June 25): A week after the premier of the above, Hammer Films' CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN makes its first USA showing. It also is a significant success.
Shock Theater presents THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET....
As most Universal horror films, THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET starts off with delicious chiller atmosphere, expectantly foreshadowed by Hans Salter's familiar monster music played over surprisingly dull opening credits. It's gloomy and raining on Market Street, as a lone man stops on the corner and then proceeds cautiously to the ground floor office of a Dr. Ralph Benson. Within the office, he is greeted by Benson, played with his usual slimy efficiency by Lionel Atwill. We learn that the man is here to be used as an experimental subject for suspended animation. His payment: one thousand dollars for his starving family. Dr. Benson assures him that the experiment will be successful. Of course, it isn't, and as the police arrive in the morning, alerted by the man's wife, Dr. Benson makes his escape through a window....
It's difficult not to feel annoyed that Universal could not maintain the same level of tension and atmosphere throughout the rest of the movie. With an ever-growing emphasis on the more humorous characters of the film whom we are introduced to on a ship in which Dr. Benson makes his escape from England, MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET struggles to find a focus. In his last starring role, Lionel Atwill is the film's only welcome presence, but his devilish intensity and fiery briskness is depressed by the lackluster story. The male "hero" (hard to call him that as the character is emasculated from the start), played by Richard Davies, is the worst such male lead character in any Universal horror film I have seen.
In its original theatrical run, MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET was the lower half of a double bill toplined by THE WOLF MAN.
All of the film's effective moments come in the early Market Street scenes, which last perhaps a scant seven minutes. Clearly, the Mad Doctor should never have left Market Street.
While the majority of the films in the SHOCK! package have been released on DVD, a good number are only available on out-of-circulation videos or bootlegs--and a few are unavailable anywhere.
Shock films missing in action on DVD, but not on video:
House of Horrors The Mad Ghoul The Mystery of Edwin Drood Nightmare
Shock films only available from select "grey-market" dealers:
The Cat Creeps Chinatown Squad The Great Impersonation The Last Warning The Mad Doctor of Market Street The Man Who Cried Wolf The Mystery of Marie Roget Mystery of the White Room Reported Missing! The Secret of the Blue Room Secret of the Chateau The Spider Woman Strikes Back The Spy Ring The Strange Case of Doctor Rx The Witness Vanishes
Shock films currently unavailable:
Danger Woman A Dangerous Game Destination Unknown Sealed Lips
Pictured above is the front cover of the promotional spiral-bound book released by Columbia's television division, Screen Gems, for its original SHOCK! package. The SHOCK! library consisted of 52 films, all from Universal's vaults:
The Black Cat Calling Dr. Death The Cat Creeps Chinatown Squad Danger Woman A Dangerous Game Dead Man's Eyes Destination Unknown Dracula Dracula's Daughter Enemy Agent Frankenstein Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man The Frozen Ghost The Great Impersonation Horror Island House of Horrors The Invisible Man The Invisible Man Returns The Invisible Ray The Last Warning The Mad Doctor of Market Street The Mad Ghoul Man Made Monster The Man Who Cried Wolf The Mummy The Mummy's Ghost The Mummy's Hand The Mummy's Tomb Murders in the Rue Morgue The Mystery of Edwin Drood The Mystery of Marie Roget Mystery of the White Room Night Key Nightmare Night Monster Pillow of Death The Raven Reported Missing! Sealed Lips The Secret of the Blue Room Secret of the Chateau She-Wolf of London Son of Dracula Son of Frankenstein The Spider Woman Strikes Back The Spy Ring The Strange Case of Doctor Rx Weird Woman Werewolf of London The Witness Vanishes The Wolf Man