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The joys of Horror Lite

To me, the horror in horror movies is like hot sauce. A little bit of the mild stuff is exquisite, but even a tad of the intense stuff is far too much.

My favorite hot sauces? Frank’s and Louisiana Hot Sauce, each of which can be dubbed “Wimp’s Delight.”

My favorite horror movies? The ’50s and early ’60s classics, which can also be dubbed Wimp’s Delight. And my favorite horror sub-genre is, of course, those old Japanese ones.

I like all those old flicks for one simple reason – they’re not scary.

There are several reasons for this.

First are the special effects. Simply stated, they’re not very special. Given the special effects of the times, coupled with the films’ bargain basement budgets, they’re not scary so much as corny. The “scary” scenes looked less like theatrics designed by a master of the macabre than something the neighborhood weirdo puts on his lawn for Halloween.

Next, the dialogue was cheesy and the acting was wooden, again due to budget constraints. Thus the suspension of disbelief never got suspended.

The Japanese movies suffered the further indignity of sloppy dubbing. So either the actors’ mouths moved and no sound came out, or they spoke with a lack of mouth movement that would’ve turned Edgar Bergen green with envy.

Getting a rise from the rising sun

As for the Japanese movies, there was a slew of them, “Godzilla,” “Mothra” and “Rodan” being the headliners.

Godzilla looked like a dinosaur, except with a hint of atomic disfigurement, a bad attitude and the size and heft of the pyramid of Cheops. Mothra, as its name implied, was a giant moth. While those two were the public’s favorites, Rodan was my kind of monster.

He (or she – it was impossible to tell) was a gigantic pterodactyl. He was trapped deep within the earth’s crust ever since the dinosaurs’ extinction, only to be discovered when Japan’s unluckiest miner drilled into his boudoir. Predictably, the miner had a colossal nervous breakdown, and Rodan, now free, took to the skies.

After that, you can best believe Tokyo had some serious dues to pay, what with him ripping up the Ginza, leveling pachinko parlors and destroying millions of salarymen’s manga. But that isn’t why I liked him, since I was never a fan of vandalism or of pterodactyls, either.

Nope, I liked him because he was an altar ego of sorts. And in some ways, he still is.

Out of time

Classically, adolescence is a time when young people feel alienated and unable to relate to those around them. In my case, I related to people all right; what I couldn’t relate to was the times. I always had a nagging feeling I belonged in the Jazz Age. Not that I wanted to deal with its medicine – especially its dentistry – but somehow the 1920s appealed to me more than the 1950s.

Of course, my view was terribly naive. I imagined myself going out on the town in tux and top hat, holding a walking stick in one hand and a hot-cha flapper in the other. We’d be in some classy uptown speakeasy, doing the Charleston and Black Bottom, swilling bathtub gin and laughing merrily till dawn. Of course, I had a pencil mustache and maybe a monocle, and when not dancing the night away in the fleshpots and bistros, my urbanity and wit earned me a place of honor at the Algonquin Round Table, making the likes of Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker dissolve in hysterics at my quips, puns and bon mots.

That was the “real” me. Sadly, it was trapped in the body of a zhlubby chub with horn-rimmed glasses and zits, whose big night on the town was putting myself in world-class sugar shock at Boynton’s candy store by stuffing my face with Atomic Fireballs and then washing them down with RC Cola. As much as that was fun, it was kids’ fun. I longed for sophisticated, adult fun.

and still out of time

I think I got my fascination with and fondness for the Roaring ’20s from two places. One was having read and reread Frederick Lewis Allen’s history of the ’20s, “Only Yesterday.” I fell in love with that book, since it was the first history I read that had really juicy stuff in it, from the Teapot Dome scandal to Warren G. Harding’s peccadillo with Nan Britton. So I guess, by proxy, I fell in love with the ’20s.

The other influence was from my parents, who were in New York City and of age during the ’20s and who told great tales of the times (though none as salacious as Warren G’s).

But regardless of where it came from, the result was the same – I felt alienated from the times.

That feeling went away during the late ’60s and through the ’70’s, but by the ’80s it came back and stayed. And while in my early teens I’d felt mere decades out of time, after 40 years of teaching 18-year-olds, I felt displaced by millenia just like my old pal Rodan.

By the late 1960s, the non-scariness of those old flicks went out of style, replaced by uber-realistic vionlence – and lots of it. At that point, I gave up watching horror movies, or violent movies of any ilk. I’d watched movies for entertainment, not to get poop-sick scared.

So now if I want a dose of horror, I pick up a New York Times but you can rest assured I don’t do it very often.