Thursday, October 1, 2015

Enter If You Da... Um, No One's In Line

I'm not old enough to remember when movie houses and drive-in theaters hosted live spook shows, but the ephemera of the era is fascinating. Tattered posters, cheesy trailers, and cheap giveaway items all paint the picture of a magical world, one where maybe, just maybe, a monster really could escape the screen and capture a girl from the audience.

Obviously, these delightfully ridiculous events are what inspired this blog, as well as many other writers, directors, and actors working in the horror genre today. The bad news is, these spook shows actually had a short shelf life, their peak of popularity lasting from the late 1930s until the early 1960s. There's several reasons why the live spook show was put to rest, but the most apparent was that audiences were growing jaded and cynical. Between increasingly impressive special effects in the movies themselves, and a steadily declining interest in the supernatural and/or mystical as the 20th century marched onward, people weren't impressed anymore by plastic snakes and a man in a gorilla suit. The tricks were revealed, the monsters were ignored, and the jokes weren't funny anymore. So after a mere three decades, the spook show was considered passe.

That was the 1960s. If general audiences were too jaded and cynical for the double bill of a cheesy horror movie coupled with a cheesier magician or mystic act THEN, just imagine what it would be like to try it today. The climate is all wrong, it would be impossible. The live spook  show is a product of its time, like Woodstock or the neighborhood haunted house. While there's ardent fans and collectors who are keeping the spirit of things alive, I'm afraid that trying one of these events with modern moviegoers, in modern theaters, would go rather poorly indeed.

That may not be the most shocking revelation to most of you, but here's what I'm worried about: I think our continued dive into irreverent disdain may be costing us some genuine experiences. Film and television execs are all about numbers, and if they don't see people lining up for something, they're not going to take the chance on a future idea that offers a similar story. When's the last time we got a new Halloween special? Seriously, give it a think. What's the last new TV event you watched that revolved around October 31st? Was it made in the last 10 years? Back in the 50s and 60s, there were dozens of TV specials being pumped out for all the major holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas. Granted, not every one of them was a winner, but there was so much variety and imaginative storytelling compressed into those animated half-hours. And the 1990s, for all the flak it gets as a pop-culture decade, managed to give us some solid movies for our favorite day of the year, including Hocus Pocus, which was originally slated to be a Disney Channel original when the execs saw rough footage and decided it was worth a theatrical release.

Still waiting on that sequel, ladies.

Unfortunately, as everyone becomes more desensitized and uninterested in original stories and ideas that involve a healthy suspension of disbelief, things like Halloween specials fall by the wayside. Nostalgia is huge, of course, and many would say that many previous outings -like It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown- would be impossible to top. That may be true, but should that keep us from trying? I was watching Girl Meets World with my family the other day, and they did a Halloween episode. Yes, it was corny, had cringe-worthy acting, and was not remotely scary (it's a Disney Channel show, after all, have to protect the little ones), but at least they did a Halloween episode. Whatever happened to Stevil? Sabrina's river of candy corn? Jennifer Love Fefferman? They've gone the way of the live spook show.

I realize a lot of this sounds like an old man shaking his fist at "kids today" and just ranting about how he misses TGIF sitcoms. Guilty. But all the same, we need more each Halloween than just another grotesque Hollywood release and some repeats on television (which by the way, many of the old favorites don't even get shown anymore. Progress). Hopefully, others like myself who grew up watching Garfield and Odie get terrorized by pirate ghosts and Charlie Brown receiving rocks instead of candy will be motivated to give the rest of us some new October viewing traditions in the future. In the meantime, let's be thankful for Youtube, huh?

No comments:

Post a Comment