Monsters and Matinees: How Movies With Dad Spawned A Classic Horror Fan

How Movies With Dad Spawned A Classic Horror Fan

It was a moment of serendipity that had me nearly bouncing out of my seat.

Classic Movie Hub was looking for stories about “classic sci-fi movies and horror and …”

I didn’t give Annmarie Gatti a chance to finish the sentence – instead, I interrupted and nearly yelled “Yes!” out of pure excitement. I may not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I came into the world with an insatiable appetite for classic horror movies. It’s true.

Family folklore has it that my parents were watching a Peter CushingChristopher Lee film at the drive-in when Mom was pregnant with me. She made Dad leave halfway through the film and always maintained that’s why I was so obsessed with horror films growing up. I don’t know the title of the movie – they couldn’t remember and there wasn’t a film released right before I was born – but my fate was sealed.

Horror of Dracula (1958) Christopher Lee
Did a Christopher Lee movie my mother watched while she was pregnant with me have anything to do with my love of horror films? I think so.

By the time I was 5, I was watching the “old movies” with Dad. Bela and Boris, giant insects and animals, dinosaurs and time machines. We watched them all. Occasionally Dad put his hands over my eyes during a scary part, but that made me only want to see more.

I don’t know how our little tradition started, but I do remember sneaking out of bed and “hiding” (as if dad didn’t see me) to watch the movies. Other nights, I waited for Dad to get me once Mom fell asleep. At first, this ritual revolved around the Friday night Fright Night movies that started after the late news. With the lights off, Dad sat in a chair just feet from the TV. I was on the floor at his knee.

It was a successful night if Mom didn’t catch us. When she did, it was off to bed for me. She once caught   us watching a Hammer film and I clearly remember her telling Dad: “She is going to grow up with serious problems if you let her watch these movies.”

She was right: I grew up with a serious problem in that I couldn’t find enough classic horror, sci-fi and B-movie creature features to watch (this was well before the current endless buffet of movies offered via cable and streaming).

The War of The Worlds (1953) Lobby Card
The first time I tried to watch War of the Worlds on television, my parents sent me to bed. After I finally saw it, I realized they were right to do that. The film still gives me nightmares.

A few years later, the Saturday Night Movie started showing similar films – but often with the dreaded parental warning.  Back then, parents listened so when the warning popped up before George Pal’s TheWar of the Worlds – a film I had been eagerly waiting to see – they turned the station. I threw such a tantrum, I was sent to bed (and I pouted for days).

Eventually, I saw The War of the Worlds (yes, it gave me nightmares) and countless other horror/sci-fi films thanks to Dad. Our favorites were “giant anything” movies like Them! (ants), Beginning of the End (grasshoppers), Tarantula (self-explanatory), It Came From Beneath the Sea (octopus), The Amazing Colossal Man and a favorite that has been passed down through generations in our family, Mysterious Island (giant bees, crab, chicken). When the creature or monster appeared, Dad and I would look at each other in awe as if what we were seeing was real.

Mysterious Island (1961)
This artwork for Mysterious Island details some of the oversized animals that gave stranded travelers trouble in the 1961 film adaptation of the Jules Verne story.

Not all the films were great, but it didn’t matter. We affectionately called them “Herman movies” from Dad’s nickname of Herman (as in “Munster”). When there was a particularly bad film, one of us would say “It’s a Herman movie” (a special code we still use) and keep watching. We were having fun.

The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)
The Amazing Colossal Man was a 1951 B-movie from Bert I. Gordon that was fun and creepy.

Dad taught me to find joy in every movie – even the bad ones – and that film education has been a gift. I learned about Universal Monsters, Hammer Films, and B-movies. Later, we added disaster flicks (thank you, Irwin Allen). The more ridiculous the better – hence our outing last year to see Skyscraper.

Before there was Google and Wikipedia to make everyone feel like an expert, Dad was a wealth of movie trivia. To this day, when we watch Tarantula (yes, one of our favorites), he reminds me that the young pilot at the end is an uncredited Clint Eastwood. I always pretend I didn’t know and respond with a variation of “wow.”

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955)
Giant creatures, like the octopus in It Came From Beneath the Sea, have been a favorite to watch with my dad since I was a kid.

We still watch these films and enjoy modern creature and disaster movies that clearly have a basis in the classics. One night a few years back, dad called and without saying hi, blurted out: “Are you watching this movie about the shark and tornado?” Of course, I was. We hung up quickly to get back to the movie. Dad just wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing out. In my family, Sharknado is the perfect father-daughter movie.

I know many classic movie fans have similar stories of how a parent or other family member helped cultivate their love for these films. In fact, it’s a topic that has come up a few times while waiting in line at the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival. I adore these tales and how they are another bond between classic movie fans. I would love to hear your story, so please share.

As I write for Classic Movie Hub, I hope you won’t mind it will be with the pure enthusiasm of a little girl who watched these films in the dark with her Dad and enjoyed them despite seeing the zipper on the creature’s suit.

Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.

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7 Responses to Monsters and Matinees: How Movies With Dad Spawned A Classic Horror Fan

  1. Jo Gabriel says:

    You’re a true Monster Girl like me!!!!!

  2. “Dad taught me to find joy in every movie – even the bad ones.” What a lovely sentiment.

  3. jim allcorn says:

    Toni,
    Like you, I was born & raised in Buffalo. And, also like you, I was a “monster kid” from my earliest memories. In fact, my first memories of watching television are bits & pieces of the movie DINOSAURUS & of THE MUNSTERS television series. Then, the very first movie that I can remember watching in its entirety is Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY during its debut on channel 7’s old Fright Night Theatre genre movie showcase on a Friday night in 1966 when I was five years old.
    Fright Night Theatre was a staple in our family & Friday nights were my favorite time of the week as I got to stay up late with my parents & watch the program’s host Adam Keefe give me my introduction to everything from the Universal & Hammer classics to B movie fare like THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE to Mexican fare like THE VAMPIRE’S COFFIN, THE MONSTER DEMOLISHER & THE BRAINIAC. And, despite my young age none of them really frightened me with the exception of two of William Castle’s shockers HOMICIDAL & STRAIGHTJACKET.
    But, as you know, the thrills & chills didn’t end with Friday night because Saturdays & Sundays had plenty of their own. With two movie showcases, in particular, being particularly genre friendly. Those being The Big Show of the Week & Movie For A Sunday Afternoon. Both of them also being on channel 7 if I remember correctly. Both showed films like KING KONG, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, VALLY OF THE GWANGI, THE MONOLITH MONSTERS & many more too numerous to mention.
    Those were the days, huh?
    They left an indelible mark on me & they made me a horror fan for life. And, it’s great to see that I wasn’t the only one similarly affected.

    • Toni Ruberto says:

      Thanks for such a thoughtful note. We clearly had very similar childhoods as young movie fans. I’m happy your memories also involve your family – that makes it all the more special. I remember the Big Show of the Week and Movie for a Sunday Afternoon and all of the movies you mentioned. As with you, the experience has stayed with me my entire life. Let me know if you are still in the Buffalo area. It would be nice to talk more.

      Toni

  4. Irene says:

    I do enjoyed your story. I was a big fan of Shock Theater every Friday night. Scared the daylights out of me but couldn’t wait to watch the next one.

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