Ballantine Books has released a superb volume in Monsters: a Celebration of the Classics from Universal Studios by Roy Milano, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of the movie Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff. A close up photo profile of Karloff as the creature adorns the cover of Monsters, cluing the reader to the book’s status as a collector’s item not to be missed. It is a collection of essays and movie photos never before gathered together in one place and it is remarkable. It is a museum between book covers.
Monsters contain a series of essays in tribute to the classic Universal monster movies made from 1925 through 1956. I watched these in the form of TV reruns as a teenager late on Friday nights, viewing our local Chiller Theater on a black and white TV. The films I saw were Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man and others. The photographs in this book bring back memories, but would be an excellent first look for those who have never seen the old films. New movies may be bloodier, gorier, and more sophisticated, but the black and white of shadows and the unknown were the first to terrorize audiences in a day before everyone even had a telephone. Thus, they are a pioneer beginning and a worthy thing to admire. The photos captured in this book are of exquisite quality and some have likely not been seen frequently
Visitors to today’s science fiction conventions (which began in the 1930s) know that there is often a special niche there for fans of the old monster movies. Bjo and John Trimble, who did so much to help fans save Star Trek for three years in the 1960s, know and love Forrest J. Ackerman, who supplied the forward to Monsters. His forward is high tribute coming from the man who began the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958 – 1983), each issue of which I read without fail. He knew them all and today preserves their memory in his 18-room Ackermansion home/museum. Monsters is much like a hardback version of the best from his magazine, combined with modern essays and insight.
The essayists gathered by Roy Milano are memorable in themselves: Sarah Karloff, daughter of he who was the creature; Bela G. Lugosi, Dracula’s son; John Landis; Ron Chaney, great-grandson of The Phantom, and other outstanding directors and actors. They tell about the deep inner workings and the many-layered backstories of the stars and the stories of the films of a past era. All that is missing is the lyrics from the related convention folk songs (filk), such as those about The Mummy. There is one in which the songstress tells that she was not afraid of Kari – While others ran screaming from the theater, she just wanted to be his girl!
Bela, Jr. writes of his father: “…Dad was above all a family man who placed my mother and me at the top of his list…I realized that things he taught me were not just idle preaching. He practiced what he preached and was able to overcome obstacles in his life that few men could conquer.” (Monsters, p. 41)
The stories and photos in this museum-quality collection called Monsters pay tribute to some of the finest members of the human race.