Wednesday, October 03, 2007

MONSTER MOVIES BY DAVID J. SCHOW is the best short story about why we like the horror genre as much as we do. I defy ANY lover of horror and monsters to stay dry-eyed after reading this justly celebrated story. I first came across the story in a 1990 issue of Weird Tales magazine devoted to the short fiction of David J. Schow: a young horror writer making a splash as one of the so-called "splatterpunk" school of horror writing. Personally, I never liked that label since Schow writes some of the best horror fiction around; it's not simply "splatter" and, in fact, often has nothing gory in it. (SIDEBAR: His short story collection "SEEING RED" is a must read for any horror fan).
While this issue of Weird Tales has several great stories in it (including the classic "The Shaft"), Schow's "MONSTER MOVIES" is something else again. It's not a horror story at all; it's ABOUT horror -- and a childhood growing up watching old Universal Mummy movies, reading Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, building Aurora monster models and all the other great ghoulish activities we Monster Kids got up to back in the day. Any lover of horror can't help but identify with Jason: the protagonist of the story. "Monster Movies" is told in two alternating parts which intertwine to create one work; half of the story is a flashback to Jason's Monster Kid childhood while the other half finds the present day adult Jason divorced and jaded with his life. Schow alternates back and forth expertly between these two periods in the man's life.
In the present, Jason strikes up a conversation with Kris: a woman in a bar he knows vaguely from his office job. They talk about their divorces, their lousy corporate jobs -- and then the conversation somehow turns to Jason's boyhood love of old monster movies, etc. His reminiscences bring back a lot of nostalgia he had almost forgotten about: those old silly Universal Mummy movies he's sneak down to watch late at night on TV inside a living room fort he'd construct using sofa cushions, his issues of Famous Monsters which his stepmom had burned when he was 12. . .and the way he used to fantasize characters out of M&M's. It's what only an imaginative kid in the 50's would do. In this quote, which opens the story, we hear 12 year old Jason from the 1950's explain his boyhood reasoning thusly: "The green ones were Martians. The orange ones were Indians by deferral, since they'd stopped making the red ones. Light brown ones were Mexicans; darker brown, Negroes. Yellow -- Chinese. That left green. Martians."
The big, teary-eyed payoff of the story is what happens after Jason and Kris begin a relationship. Kris has been taking note of all Jason's childhood reminiscences and, feeling he needs SOMETHING to get him out of his modern day doldrums, cooks up a surprise night a home in which she recreates all these boyhood loves he hasn't encountered in decades. The pure thoughtfulness of Kris floors Jason (and we the readers as well) and it's a moment that'll leave any horror fan a puddle of mush on the floor.
"MONSTER MOVIES" was so popular that it was not only included in Schow's short story collection "LOST ANGELS" but also reprinted in "FAMOUS MONSTERS CHRONICLES": a history of the magazine which was so influencial on all of us. The spirit of Schow's story provides the closest thing I've ever read to answer that incessant question people always ask: "Why do you like this horror stuff, anyway?" Read this story and you'll know. And if you're one of us already, one of those who keep Halloween in our hearts all year long, this'll be one of the best stories you'll ever read!

1 comment:

Pax Romano said...

I think I have a copy of Lost Angels somewhere ... of coure I will have to move all of Whatshisname's damn hardback graphic novels (COMIC BOOKS!!!!) out of the way to find it. I must read that story!