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 Cushing–Christopher 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.