Wednesday, 9 November 2016

70s Monster Memories

Fangs For The Memories

70s Monster Memories
by We Belong Dead
ISBN: Doesn’t appear to have one,
nor a publishing house.

You know, most years on this site I usually complain that over half the books I read covering some aspect of movies or literature are pretty much badly written or, laughably, terribly researched to the point where a good deal of the ‘facts’ found in the tomes in question are just plain wrong. However, this last year or so seems to have been a bumper year for me reading more than above average movie or genre related books and I’d have to say that this fairly new but, already out of print (before I’d even finished reading it), collection of reminiscences called 70s Monster Memories doesn’t end that trend... it’s a really excellent book. And here’s why you should seek it out if you are of a certain disposition and are still able to source a copy from somewhere.

Although there may be a few stray, incorrect facts within some of the articles in this tome (apparently the date of the first UK Film Fair at Wimbledon is a couple of years out in one article... which started a disagreement between me and another person in the queue at the latest incarnation of these things at Westminster, earlier in the year), it mostly side steps that problem because, despite being served up by a large number of writers, these pretty much all take the form of personal reminiscences of specific times and places where the people relaying the information are able to remember things pretty well and, if they don’t quite remember a fact or figure about what they are talking about, are happy to own up to that within the context of their article.

This book is written by a number of contributors who, presumably, work for the magazine We Belong Dead and so the book is, in some ways, like a 400 plus page magazine. It’s glossy with full colour reproductions by the gazillions on each page but don’t let this fool you... there’s a heck of a lot of text to get through in this thing and it’s not a quick read. Once you start savouring some of the articles that make up this wonderful tome... you won’t want it to be either.

“When I were a lad” I loved the old Universal and Hammer movies, which I used to watch from the age of six or seven in glorious black and white (with the exception of the loss of my Hammer virginity at the age of about seven with Taste The Blood Of Dracula, which I saw on my Uncle’s colour TV). Although I’d not be content to describe myself as a 70s Monster Kid, as the majority of the writers in this tome do, I did like a lot of monster stuff and loved drawing skeletons... which apparently used to frighten the other children at my infant school so much, it got to the point where my teachers were concerned I might need a child psychiatrist... never could figure out why.

However, that being said, the kind of person who will probably best benefit from wallowing in the nostalgic pages of this book are the kinds of people who remembered the seventies and the ofttimes simpler, sometimes more dangerous way we were all living our lives. This isn’t about monsters that were created in the 1970s as such... more about the monsters which were readily available to us kids at the time so... a lot of the old cinematic incarnations, for example, such as the Hammer, Universal, RKO, AIP and Amicus horrors are lovingly remembered here.

And as for the range topics covered in this splendid tome, many of which are dear to my heart and which I never thought I’d see written about in print... well, there’s just some astonishing stuff in here. Where else, for instance, will you find a book that carries reminiscences and facts about the old Aurora Glow-In-The Dark Monster Model Kits, Dracula Ice Lollies, Sound Effects recordings, BBC TV Double Bills, US TV movies and a plethora of things which might seem strange to be banging on about to a younger generation (although they may have fun discovering some of this stuff for the first time). There’s even a wonderful article about Horror Top Trumps which reproduces many of those fondly remembered cards on the pages (and if you want to see a really in depth look at these old cards, then take a peek at @hypnogoria’s multipart blog about these cards here, which is a real treat and which is even more thoroughly researched than you can possibly imagine. Truly great stuff there.).

As I was going through this I started remembering things from my youth that I’d completely forgotten about such as the lurking terrors to be found in a range of British Public Information films of the time... some of which were like miniature horror films themselves in some ways (and that article in itself will lead onto another review on here at some point... just in the middle of the ‘visual research’ now). It was great having my brain stimulated to remember crisps in the shape of Dracula’s fangs, Horror reference books, an abundance of journals, monster comics like Dracula Lives and Werewolf By Night, poster magazines, movie tie in novels, action figures, rubber sharks and a whole range of pulpy horror novels with loads of sex and goriness by writers like Shaun Hutson, James Herbert and, of course, including a good look at the Killer Crab books of Guy N. Smith. There’s even an interview with Vincent Price’s daughter in this thing... not to mention a foreword by Dez Skinn and an afterword by Alan Frank. And if you’re too young to know who they are... don’t worry, you can read this book and find out.

I have only three real criticisms and they are really just personal preferences more than anything else. When I was a young ‘un in 1976 (I’m told, although I’m sure it was 1975?) we used to buy Topps Shock Theatre Bubble Gum cards (also known as Shocking Laffs) which were filled with gory images from Hammer Horror films and had cheesy captions, not to mention a terrible joke on the reverse side. I loved these cards but they were eventually banned at our infants school (I’m not surprised in hindsight) before I could put together a whole set. I still have mine and am about 8 cards away, still, from completing my set (these things aren’t that easy to come by on ebay either, these days)  and I regularly open up one of my trading card albums to remind myself of those days. However, criticism number one is that, although these are covered in this book, it’s only a one page article and, since there were a few things of note about these cards and their US variations, I would have liked a longer, in-depth look at these.

Criticism number two is that one of the most terrifying TV shows of the 1970s, Sapphire and Steel, is not covered here at all... which I think is a terrible oversight. Surely someone has fond memories of chatting away in the playground the next day after the show aired and discussing the man with no face or the ghost soldiers haunting the railway station?

My third criticism would be... although there are a large number of absolutely essential illustrations, some of the covers and packaging described in the article don’t always match up with what is being shown. For instance, a writer may speak lovingly of the cover of Issue X of a magazine which caught his eye in an obscure shop in a seaside town one year and describe it in detail but the accompanying illustrations on the page may contain no shot of the particular issue number being so affectionately detailed.

But these are pretty small criticisms, it has to be said, for a book which is an absolutely stunning, ‘must have’ purchase for anybody who grew up watching monster movies on the telly as a kid in the 1970s. Granted, since there are so many writers talking about aspects of their own childhood there are a fair few articles which have overlaps in content with others in this volume but, seriously, 70s Monster Memories is one heck of a goldmine of a book as far as I’m concerned and I’ll definitely be revisiting it time and time again for nuggets of information over the years. Even though it’s not technically a reference book, there’s so much stuff in here that you just can’t find in other books on the market. At least not at the moment. So this is a hard recommend from me and, if you can find a copy, it would make a perfect Christmas present from people of the right age. Something to really get your fangs into.

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