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I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
Freaked me out!
A group of us guys were discussing the scariest films we'd seen as kids. I was 10 in 1957 when I saw this film while spending a week on Catalina Island. The theater was at the landmark "Casino" which was about a half mile walk from the small port village of Avalon. I was heavily absorbed in war, sci-fi, and western action films, with a special appreciation for stunts and special effects but unfamiliar with the horror genre in general and werewolf lore in particular. I was also the runt tagging along with a trio of cool eleven year old friends. It could've been a scene out of "Stand By Me". Four smart-ass kids walking at night down a dirt road to see "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" for my first and only time.
As an aspiring artist, I remember being fascinated by the opening titles where a make-up artist sketched the monster's face but when the actual transformation took place in the film it freaked me out, to say the least. Maybe it was the collective scream of a hundred other kids, but I covered my eyes until brave enough to slowly glimpse the monster. The scenes shot in Griffith Park looked too much like the dark, tree lined path we had walked to the theater. That half mile walk back to town was the longest, creepiest walk of my childhood.
A few months later I saw "A Man of a Thousand Faces" and became completely fascinated by the art of make-up and dove into everything I could find on Lon Chaney Sr. Later I finally saw Chaney Jr. in "The Wolf Man". By then I was too cool to be scared but still reading anything I could find on werewolf and vampire lore and probably first in line to see "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein".
One of the standouts
This was one of my favorite shows! I was about 14 in 1961, and I've not seen the show since. My recollections may be a bit cloudy. I've always remembered an episode where the Shore Patrol brought a drunken sailor (Mickey Rooney) to Dr. Hennesey. His character was almost falling-down drunk (OK, that's an easy laugh, especially for a 14 year old) and he was armed with a saxophone. He kept saying to Hennesey, "Now... Wayne King and His Rubber Band playing thirty golden minutes of 'Dartinella'!" at which point he'd launch into a solo cacophony akin to humpback whales doing a scene from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf". It just had me on the floor. There also must have been just enough pathos in Rooney's portrayal to make it so memorable. I remember this show with fondness. I'm sure the beautiful Abby Lane added to my devotion but I also remember a nice balance between comedy and drama. I was also pretty keen on movie and TV themes but I have no recollection of the Hennesey theme praised by other reviewers. I'd love to hear it again.
Playhouse 90: Alas, Babylon (1960)
Almost a prequel to Mad Max
April 1960... I was about to turn 13 and looking forward to high school. The black and white world view my Catholic education offered was dissolving into shades of grey. It was a year of personal renaissance-an explosion of diverse interests from zen, Tchaikovsky, architecture and TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90, which aired the haunting "Alas Babylon". Despite the optimistic prospects of an energetic young President, the looming complexities of the real world hit home. Nuclear annihilation was not just a very real possibility, it seemed hell bent toward probability with each evenings newscast. Alas Babylon. The details have seriously faded but I recall the title was a coded message between characters confirming the collapse of civilization. Alas Babylon might as well have been the prequel to Mad Max. My last recollection was hordes of strung out junkies destroying anything that stood between them and the nearest pharmaceuticals. It may not have had the biting wit of Dr. Strangelove or the graphic gore of The War Game but I was riveted nonetheless. I haven't a clue how it ended but I'd love to see it again if only to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
Catchfire aka Backtract = BACKFIRE!
Dennis Hopper's BACKTRACK (Catchfire) had everything going for it- good plot potential and great cast. How did everything to go so wrong? I bought the set- up, yet came away feeling this film was the result of Hopper making a bar bet that he could bed Jodie Foster and get paid to party with his friends in the arty enclaves of New Mexico, then throwing together this production to win the bet.
The high point for me was Bob Dylan's cameo as a chain saw wielding deconstructionist (maybe a metaphor for the whole film) and his barely intelligible dialog: "(mumble, mumble), Laddy John Dill, (mumble, mumble)..."
Years later I ran into Dill at an art school reunion and it provided the perfect icebreaker..."Hey man, I just saw a horrible film where Bob Dylan dropped your name. That doesn't happen everyday, does it?"