Who knows what evil lurks…? The Shadow knows

Willis Webb

With its great technology and intricate special effects, today’s film/video far outstrips those early stories and serials that originated with radio in my youth.

One radio in the house forced us youngsters to listen to some of the choices of our parents — Young Widow Brown, Lorenzo Jones and The Great Gildersleeve. However, radio introduced us to The Shadow, The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger, among many. Several of those radio characters became movie features, some in movie serials, which were short one-reel stories of less than 30 minutes and as the label “serial” implies, were continued each week.

Enterprising movie makers and theater operators latched onto the phenomenom and made one-reelers on some of those old radio heroes/villains. These serials became part of the Saturday afternoon “kiddie” package of a “cowboy” movie, some cartoons and a serial in addition, of course, to a healthy preview package designed to keep us little big spenders coming back.

One such continuing story was about giant zombies. An evil man in Africa captured a tribe and used his invention to turn the tribesmen into the aforementioned zombies. An average man was turned into an 8-foot zombie replete with bushy hair and super-human strength. The zombies were almost impossible to kill. And, they scared the daylights out of kids. It was a can’t-miss formula for great box office.

In addition to the matinee every Saturday, our mother occasionally allowed my younger brother and me to walk the eight blocks to the downtown theater to see a feature film.

Of course, that bit of freedom wasn’t just one way. In addition to walking to the theater in the early evening twilight, we had to walk home with nothing but dim lights on streets darker than they should’ve been. A perceived hazard to 8- or 9-year-olds taking the route to the Webb household, was having to walk past The Hubbard House, the mid-point in the trek. That huge home was three stories, with lots of ornate trim and “gingerbread.” The Hubbard House was almost always dark and we never saw anyone stirring, day or night. The legend grew at night in our little minds.

One of the great horror pictures of all time, The Thing, is one of the feature films we were permitted to attend unchaperoned. A few months back, The Thing died and resurrected my memories of seeing it and having to walk home past that, uggghh, haunted house.

The Thing was played by none other than James Arness, best known for his portrayal of Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke for 20 years. He was a 6-7 unknown at the time. This monster was, we were told, actually a vegetable not unlike a carrot (which kids hated in those days) and so powerful that if you somehow managed to damage The Thing or, say, tear off an arm, it would instantly regenerate. Additionally, the story showed The Thing nourishing itself on blood from man and animal.

One particular jump-out-ofyour skin scene involves a member of the exhibition checking a greenhouse (set up to study flora and fauna at the North Pole — yeah, go figure) and opening a chest only to have a dead dog fall out, scaring the criminy out of everyone in the theater.

Some government scientists are sent to the spot because some “alien spacecraft” crashed and was immediately covered with snow and ice and frozen in.

The Thing is so destructive and murderous that, ultimately, the scientists devise a trap in the greenhouse that sends thousands of volts of electricity through the monster and melts the “vegetable.”

After watching the movie, walking home on dark streets and swearing the Hubbard House sent ghosts after us, my brother and I wanted to turn the tables and spank our mother when we got home. But, naturally, good sense overcame those foolish notions and we were left with our nightmares of a giant carrot trying to eat us.

I’m glad I didn’t know it was Arness. I’d probably have never watched Gunsmoke.

Click here for digital edition
2011-10-27 digital edition

Copyright 2009-2017 Rockdale Reporter, All Rights Reserved.

Special Sections

Special Sections