ALL THINGS HORROR
Growing up with an appetite for all things horror, I collected a number of childhood trinkets, baubles and playthings throughout my grade school years that reflected my ongoing—and to some adults in the family, worrisome—taste. Monster magazines and comics abounded. I possessed a wonderful glow-in-the-dark Green Ghost game, a Kabala game with its staring black eyeball centerpiece and the goofier but fun Which Witch board game, not to mention a two-player version of Hangman with a photo of spokesperson Vincent Price on the box.
I collected and meticulously painted all of the Aurora monster models, leaving a thin enough coat of paint on the glowing parts so they shed a milky radiance when the lights went out. Plastic skulls, spiders, eyeballs and bats populated the cluttered surfaces of my bedroom dressers, window sills and headboard bookshelf. Halloween monster masks were not put away after trick or treat. My favorites were hung on the wall to stare down at me like tiki gods the whole year through. Horror was a sustaining thread through my formative years; more than that it was the prevailing cable upon which my imagination rode up and then down through good times and bad.
I held on to a few childhood treasures as my penchant for the horrific took on more sophisticated angles. I still have a couple of those items. Who doesn’t enjoy a flash of kitsch now and again? Most of them are dusty now, as if the memories of those older times collected in an abiding layer, whisper thin, like soot from long-extinguished lamps. Some of those items are powerful on a personal level, they resonate loudly when my fingertips brush them. Such an item is an old board game called Creature Features. Essentially, it is a thin imitation of the Parker Brothers favorite where you can buy Boardwalk or collect $200 when you pass Go. In this game, instead of buying properties, you are given the opportunity to purchase classic horror films (designated on the game board by actual movie stills) and charge “royalties” to your opponents should their tokens land on your movies. Instead of purchasing hotels to increase your property values, your films qualify to win awards which makes their value, and any royalty payments due to you, higher. Yes, I loved this game because it was chock full of invisible men and lagoon creatures, phantoms and undead bandage-wrapped pharaohs. I loved it because it was a significant part of the scary clutter I had lovingly acquired over the years. But it was, and still is, part of a greater, sweeter jumble as well.
Long golden afternoons at the home of my childhood still live on in my memory, and the weight and the starkness of them soothes me and rattles me in measured turns. In particular was a time when the hunt for a job, a ritual of passage, was on my docket during recession years when jobs were scarce. I wrote even then, usually in the mornings when I wasn’t job hunting, and by mid-afternoon I was ready for a change of pace. My father was at work, my brother was still in school, and that left me and my stay-at-home mother to confer and converse. And sometimes—once a week it seems now although it may have been less frequent—take the time to play a game while we drank coffee and prattled about life in our small town and the world at large. And that game, which was more of an obsession for us at the time, was Creature Features.
We played the game in the kitchen while the sun threw dappled shade on the counters and the preliminary efforts for that night’s supper simmered on the stove. We would bemoan the injustice of paying out large royalties when a game piece landed in a fortuitous place and would rejoice when a film under our ownership took a big prize. We would talk. We would cajole. And we would laugh, hard and often. Long afternoons, golden in color, golden in value. The tragic quests and mournful fates of those game board movie monsters played like a barely-heard thread of music under the molten weight of that afternoon sun. It somehow lent to the mood, and it somehow lent contentment.
My parents have both passed on and my childhood home was sold years ago, the windowsills no doubt laden with someone else’s treasures now, the walls decorated with less grisly countenances than the ones I chose; decorated with photographs, I imagine, those tiny paper masks hung on memories, disguising those represented with an ephemeral agelessness. But horror has remained with me, its tragedy and its spectacle still soughing like a midnight breeze and crackling like hilltop lightning. My trove of trinkets and baubles includes memories now, some of them still aglow like a lantern afloat on the moors, like a harvest moon peering through bare black branches, like golden afternoons when the monsters came out to play.