Friday, October 19, 2012

MY NIGHT WITH THE MONSTERS

It was a moment I would not soon forget and the memory of it still evokes a uniquely rarified experience that only the most special kind of wonderment can bring.

Disbelief is the word that easily comes to mind to describe my feeling when I turned the page of the Seattle Times that February day in 1999. I think I may have even audibly gasped. But, there it was -- in black and white -- an article that told of the week long run of a dozen classic Universal monster movies that were to be shown at the Seattle Egyptian Theater! The newspaper article lauded the series as "the classiest horror retrospective to play in Seattle in years." How could anyone disagree?

Just before the turn of the century (sounds a little weird to say that, but it's true), Universal Studios struck brand new 35mm prints of a select group of films with the idea to present a retrospective of the classic years of their famous monsters franchise. And what a group it was: DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE MUMMY, THE WOLF MAN, THE BLACK CAT, THE INVISIBLE MAN, all titles that have since been indelibly etched in the consciousness of countless fans of vintage horror.

I was able to make one trip to to see the very last of the double bills that were playing that week; I managed to get to the Sunday, February 21, 1999 showing of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN and FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, two of my favorites from the later cycle of films.

The magic began as soon as I stepped into the theater. The Egyptian is adorned with modern reproductions of many of the decorations and ornamentation from the dynastic eras. I allowed myself the impression that I had simply walked back in time to those days, or -- better yet -- back to 1932 on the set of Universal's THE MUMMY!


Then, the lights went down and show was on. For the first time ever, I saw the animated Universal logo on the big screen.

I was mesmerized.

I think I might have come to for a moment long enough to remember that I was watching a 35 mm print of a Universal monster movie from the classic era, just like audiences did when they went to the theater back in the 30's and 40's. Here was Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man -- Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., and Glenn Strange . . . larger than life!

For anybody that has yet to see a Universal film in this format, it is very difficult to say that anything on a home screen -- including Blu-ray -- can compare. My friends, this is the way classic monsters are meant to be seen!

So I sat, glued to my seat and watched both films. I watched Abbott and Costello bungle their way from McDougal's House of Horrors to the House of Frankenstein, and I watched the duel of the monsters between Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man just before the villagers blew up what was left of the doctor's castle in Vasaria.

Yes, I was there in the Seattle Egyptian, transfixed by the shadows on the screen in that darkened movie theater as sure as I might have from the baleful gaze of Dracula himself -- and, for a couple of magical, precious hours, time stopped . . . and I was a Monster Kid again.


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