Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Shock of Famous Monsters

The first issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS appeared in 1958--February to be exact. The magazine was designed as a one-shot publication. Or so legend goes....

The special publication of the first "collector's edition" of FAMOUS MONSTERS by Ray Ferry's Filmland Classics gives everyone a ghoulden opportunity to own this replica in a durable format and study its contents and evaluate the magazine's importance in the Shock! Theater phenomenon. (You must have a copy, if you don't already. Order it here.)

The magazine followed by several months the dissemination of the Shock! TV package from Screen Gems to stations across the country. Without doubt, if not for the countrywide popularity, if not frenzy, for Shock!, the magazine known as FAMOUS MONSTERS would probably not have been attempted. The first issue of the magazine contains not only an article on the Shock! television phenomenon (titled "TV Means Terrifying Vampires"), but also lists on one full page the television stations that played the films from the Screen Gems catalog. Even the cover acknowledges Shock! by ending the list of magazine contents with "TV's Monster Parade."

Publisher Jim Warren must have been aware that offering a first of its type monster magazine to a public that was now watching monster films on TV and seeing them in the theater in such productions as I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN would be meeting a demand that was not being addressed by anyone in the publishing world. Such a publication could strike gold--and it did. The first run of the issue completely sold out, and a second printing had to follow to keep the horror-loving hordes satisfied. Warren also realized that the new horror phenomenon was being generated by young kids and teenagers, and so he had the magazine's editor, Forrest Ackerman, write to that audience, insisting on puns and levity to deter the magazine from being too dry and not fun enough. And that was the delightful template. The magazine was not just there to inform (which it did), it was also there for its readership to have a good time, while merging all in one community of budding monster kids.

[As an aside, let me state that this is the charm of FAMOUS MONSTERS, and a template that the magazine's current publisher/editor, Ray Ferry, has successfully adhered to. Make FAMOUS MONSTERS too laden with serious research and sophistication, and it is not FAMOUS MONSTERS any more. Make it too pun-filled and sophomoric, and it becomes a travesty. As in life, everything is a balance. Tip something to one side, and it falls--and fails.]

Now, as the legend goes, the first FAMOUS MONSTERS was intended as a one-shot. I don't believe that 100%. Let's look at the evidence. Pick up your copy of FM #1 and go to the back, page 66. Look at the bottom. There you will see a section from "The Monster Keeper" which asks several questions of the reader: "Which were your favorite articles in this magazine?" "What did you like least?".... and "Would you like to see another issue of a similar magazine?"

So FAMOUS MONSTERS was a "feeler," a way to gauge if the audience was there and then, if it was, to give them more. And more, much more was given. Till now we are closing in on issue #250, over fifty years on.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Inner Sanctum Mysteries

As Doubleday had its Crime Club series, so too did publisher Simon & Schuster have the Inner Sanctum Mysteries. Begun in the 1930s, Inner Sanctum Mysteries was a popular brand name for Simon & Schuster under which the company could release its books of mystery and suspense. On January 7, 1941, an Inner Sanctum radio program premiered. The radio show became quite successful, lasting for over ten years and featuring such actors as Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Orson Welles and--Frank Sinatra! The original Inner Sanctum radio show finished its run on October 5, 1952. Of critical importance was the host element of the show. At first it was "Raymond" (Raymond Edward Johnson), who could make audiences both shiver and laugh nervously with his wicked and sometimes pun-filled introductions and bridging segments. Later, "Raymond" was replaced by "Your Host/Mr. Host," played by Paul McGrath. (Raymond Edward Johnson had asked for too much money to continue, so....)

[Here's a page of free Inner Sanctum radio shows.]

The horror host show angle, which was also found in such horror radio programs as The Witch's Tale, was certainly laying the groundwork for the horror hosts during the SHOCK! THEATER television days. And much like traveling Spook Shows of the 1940s and 1950s, these horror radio shows became a thing of the past once television became popular and the public could watch horror movies instead of listening to dramatizations.

The Inner Sanctum brand name infiltrated very easily into the SHOCK! programming, as Universal had made six Inner Sanctum films in the 1940s, all starring one of the studio's top resident horror stars, Lon Chaney Jr., and all but one of these films was part of the SHOCK! package offered up by Screen Gems (which, of course, should be called Scream Gems for this post).

The six Universal films in the Inner Sanctum series were:


STRANGE CONFESSION was the film that didn't make it into the SHOCK! package. It is these films that, after the popular classic monster films, are the most remembered by SHOCK! THEATER devotees.

Universal's Inner Sanctum films were made available on DVD two years ago in a very nicely presented set and are much recommended. Though the films are not masterpieces, they are good old-fashioned B-film entertainments that are fun to watch (Lon Chaney Jr. gets major kudos here) and even intriguing and atmospheric at their best.