Friday, October 31, 2008

Monster Movie Exhibition

Happy Halloween cinema trick or treaters! Today we have three very special treats to offer up for your Halloween entertainment and edification. First up is a visit to the Greenbriar Picture Shows blog about a legendary horror double feature that swept the country, followed by an interview with Greenbriar's John McElwee, and then our Bijou Mini-Matinee Halloween Spookfest.

John McElwee is a lifetime crusader dedicated to preserving the history of classic movie exhibition on his website Greenbriar Picture Shows. We recommend bookmarking his site for a weekly visit. Two recent fascinating articles covered the 1938 re-release double feature of Frankenstein and Dracula. Click here for The Pair That Curled Your Hair and here for Part 2 Frankenstein/Dracula Forever.

During the Golden Age of Hollywood, movie exhibition involved much more than posters and trailers. Theater managers and film distribution companies ballyhooed the films, theater exteriors and lobbies in imaginative ways. This is nowhere more evident than in the rare ads, photos of huge crowds, monsters on the marquees and super-sized posters you will enjoy on your visit back to 1938.

We had a few questions for John about what spawned his interest in classic movie exhibition and perpetuates his passion:

Where do you get the fabulous newspaper ads, stills and photos that you treat us to every week at Greenbriar? For instance, where did you get the graphics for the Frankenstein/Dracula post?

I've collected press books, trade magazines, and theatre ads for going on fifty years. I was making scrapbooks in kindergarten. The most fascinating aspect of the picture business for me is how they were sold. Greenbriar's emphasis from the beginning has been on the exhibition aspect of movies. My collection is no great shakes in terms of value. It's mostly old ads and scraps of paper others discarded and I salvaged. My idea of a "prize" would more likely be a theatre page out of an old newspaper someone threw away.

Did you ever work in movie promotion?

Other than campus shows, no. In any case, I'd have only been happy promoting them prior to about 1966. After that, showmanship in the classic grassroots sense pretty much disappeared.

Do you recall when you first saw Frankenstein and Dracula?

These two I remember well, as both were much anticipated at that point in my life. Frankenstein was November 6, 1964 and Dracula March 5, 1965, both on Channel 3's Horror Theatre from Charlotte. I actually went back and verified those dates in old newspapers. That's how far gone I am!

When you were growing up, how many movies did you see every week?

It could run as many as seven or eight with our theatre changing bills three times a week and television running network and syndicated features seemingly non-stop. I read TV GUIDE with a microscope in those days. My parents had given me a subscription for my fifth birthday.

Do you recall the first film or films you ever saw in a theater?

The first theatrical I recall was The Shaggy Dog, which was Summer 1959. Beyond that, it was mostly Disney's for awhile, then various Italian strongmen, Three Stooge features, etc., until I ran across Konga in 1961, which was my happy introduction to horror/ sci-fi pics. Our only theatre in my North Carolina hometown was the Liberty (which I refer to often on Greenbriar). The competing Allen had burned up when I was eight. There were two drive-ins, but I couldn't get to those unless neighbors, my sister and her boyfriend, etc. took me. On one memorable occasion, my mother actually carried my sister, cousin, and I out to the Starlight Drive-In to see The Haunted Palace and Brides Of Dracula.

Did you watch lots of films on television while growing up?

Television was, of course, the only place to see older films in those days, so I watched mostly there, especially as I got older and my interests broadened out to all sorts of film. I was certainly raised with vintage cartoons, so plentiful on television that I'm sure I took them for granted. Sherlock Holmes, Abbott and Costello, and other features were prolific as well, though it didn't seem so at the time. I couldn't get enough of these, and monitored TV GUIDE so as never to miss them. The Three Stooges, for whatever reason, did not appeal to me then (although I like them better now). Laurel and Hardy, on the other hand, were a near obsession.

Did you collect 8mm movies as a child? Did you ever put on shows to your friends?

I collected 8mm from 1964 at the age of ten until 1972 when I switched to 16mm. It was a real novelty to be able to show movies to your friends. I even took my Blackhawk comedies to school and got credit for giving Chaplin and Buster Keaton programs in the classroom. 8mm collecting was expensive, though. Those Blackhawk bulletins were wish books for me, even if I could only manage a single short subject purchase in any given month. A great moment came in 1969 when I acquired a Dual 8 magnetic sound projector. Threading up my first talkie, Brats with Laurel and Hardy, was quite the event. Here was something I'd only seen on television up to that time, and now I could watch it whenever I pleased.

Did you ever attend a Halloween horror show in a theater yourself?

I wish! The only Halloween shows I ever got to attend were those I put on myself. Stage events of that sort were pretty much played out in my area by the time I started keeping up with horror films around 1963. Chillers from the 30's and 40's were gone as well, having been released to television. Oh, to have been born ten or twenty years earlier and experienced that Golden Age of live spook shows and Universal horrors in theatres! Ads I've run across in old newspapers are so mouth-watering. Imagine an all-night marathon of original Frankenstein and Mummy pictures. Theatres continued booking these into the late fifties. You could still go see Karloff and Lugosi classics on a Saturday morning twenty to twenty-five years after they were first released. The Realart reissues of the Universal horror films kept them in circulation for a very long time.

We thank John McElwee for helping keep movie exhibition alive and accessible. Here is the original trailer for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man:

No comments: