Oct 182011


by Mark McLaughlin


A Visit to 1963: Madmen, Monsters and Mushrooms


Welcome to the Time Machine of Terror! — or, TMOT! for short. I purchased the TMOT! from an elderly shopkeeper named Professor Artemis LaGungo, proprietor of a quaint little shoppe of second-hand horrors known as PROFESSOR LAGUNGO’S EXOTIC ARTIFACTS & ASSORTED MYSTIC COLLECTIBLES.


The TMOT! is powered by spinning mystic gears from an ancient Lemurian time-temple — evil, twisted gears lubricated with the blood of the damned, the tears of the innocent, and peppermint oil. The peppermint oil makes it smell nice. I have to travel in it, ya know.


The TMOT! resembles a giant, old-fashioned brass alarm clock with bat wings. Fortunately, it’s invisible to anyone outside of the machine, so it doesn’t scare anybody. It came with a tracking device (which looks like an ordinary wristwatch), in case I forget where I’ve parked it. People often ask, “Mark, will traveling in the TMOT! doom your soul forever?” — to which I reply, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.”


The TMOT! does have one problem. It was broken when Professor LaGungo acquired it, and since he didn’t have access to an ancient Lemurian hardware store, he had to improvise on some of the replacement parts. He used various parts from a film projector, a VCR, and a couple old TV sets, and as result, the TMOT! can no longer visit actual locales from the past.


It can only visit old movies and TV shows. But hey, fiction is usually more interesting than reality anyway, so it’s still a sweet ride.


I’ve always enjoyed James Bond movies, so before you arrived, I set the TMOT! for 1963 — the year that the first James Bond movie, DR. NO, appeared on movie screens across America (on May 8, to be exact).


Before we go time-traveling, let’s see what else happened in 1963:


On February 21, 900 died when an earthquake destroyed the village of Barce in Libya.


On March 16, 11,000 were killed when Bali’s Mt. Agung erupted.


On March 22, The Beatles released PLEASE PLEASE ME, their first album.


On June 16, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova blasted off in the Vostok 6 and became the first woman in space.


On July 1, ZIP Codes were introduced inAmerica.


On July 26, 1,800 died during an earthquake inSkopje,Yugoslavia.


On August 28, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech to an audience of about a quarter of a million people.


In September, the first X-Men comic book was released by Marvel Comics.


On October 4, Hurricane Flora killed almost 7,000 people.


On November 6, General Duong Van Minh took over South Vietnam.


On November 14, a volcanic eruption created the island of Surtsey.


On November 22, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as his successor.


On November 23, England enjoyed the first episode of the BBC TV series, DOCTOR WHO.


On December 25, Walt Disney released THE SWORD IN THE STONE, his eighteenth feature-length animated movie.


Pretty crazy year! Okay, TMOT!, make with the time travel!


Geez, those gears make a lot of noise. Since they’re lubricated with the blood of the damned and the tears of the innocent, their mad grinding sounds a lot like damned folks screaming and innocent folks crying. The peppermint oil doesn’t make a sound. Smells nice, though!


And here we are: 1963, right in the middle of DR. NO. Bond, James Bond, is in the Caribbean, trying to stop a mad scientist from sabotaging America’s space program. Ursula Andress co-stars as Honey Ryder, the original (and in the hearts and minds of many fans, the loveliest) Bond girl.


This was the movie that set the stage for a movie franchise that has never died, and in fact, is more popular than ever. Bond is handsome, debonair, and witty; his ladies are sexy and intelligent; his colleagues are stuffy and always shocked by his naughtiness; and the villains–!


The villains are always evil, ruthless, cruelly handsome masterminds. Ian Fleming, author of the original Bond books on which the movies are based, modeled Dr. No after Sax Rohmer’s Asian super-badguy Fu Manchu. Dr. No has artificial hands — the originals were lost in a lab accident. The Doc built his NASA-style tropical-island lab with ten-million he’d stolen from the Tong. Back then, you could really do a lot with ten-million dollars. These days, that paltry sum wouldn’t even pay for a single measly secret missile.


I do find it pretty funny that in the big finale, a flashing sign goes off in Dr. No’s secret lab that reads, ABANDON AREA. Boy, talk about planning ahead! Apparently, Dr. No said to himself, “You know, on the off-chance that Bond defeats me someday and causes all my plans to screw up, I’d better put in an ABANDON AREA sign so my stupid henchmen will know what to do.”


So as Dr. No sinks slowly into a pool of boiling radioactive water (what secret lair is complete without one?), we bid a fond adieu to the Caribbean and steer the TMOT! toward….


Nathaniel Hawthorne!


Our next stop takes us right into an eerie cinematic costume epic. TWICE-TOLD TALES is an Old World horror anthology-movie featuring three stories by old Nate himself. His specialty was weird domestic melodramas (but then, all domestic melodramas are weird — just watch any episode of any daytime soap opera).


Each story stars Vincent Price as a different character, and he also narrates this supernatural shindig. Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French from the old FAMILY AFFAIR sitcom) is Vinnie’s co-star in the first story, which concerns two old coots who discover, springing from a nearby tomb, mineral water with the miraculous power to turn them into young coots.


They use this earthborn energy drink to revivify the lovely dead lady sealed up in the tomb, but then jealousy reveals its ugly head, with gruesome results.


In the second tale, Vinnie is an overprotective father who turns his lovely daughter into a poisonous (but still lovely) creature whose touch is deadly — just to keep her from doing the horizontal mambo. Geez, Papa, lighten up already!


The third segment is a haunted house tale so crammed full of nasty family secrets that it makes the JERRY SPRINGER SHOW look like a quaint Victorian tea party. Clearly the producers of this movie sensed that the Sixties were going to get pretty raunchy, and so they tried to tell the world, “Behold the wages of sin: pain, death, and rampant over-acting! Repent! Repent!”


But did the world listen? No. Decadence ensued, paving the way for an even greater horror: Disco.


Now let’s steer the TMOT! over toEurope and see what’s happening there. Ah, we’re just in time to celebrate BLACK SABBATH.


1963 was an excellent year for anthology horror movies. Just as Vincent Price hosted TWICE-TOLD TALES, so Boris Karloff hosts this Euro-horror trilogy directed by Italian terror-maestro Mario Bava. Unlike camera-hog Vinnie, modest old Boris only stars in one segment.


Telephone calls from nutty stalkers have been a staple of cheesy horror movies for years, and the first segment of BLACK SABBATH may have started the trend. A beautiful woman keeps getting calls from a mysterious, murderous presence. Why is it that young ladies victimized by krazy-killer-kallers never just LEAVE THE HOUSE AND DRIVE TO THE POLICE STATION? No, they stick around, waiting for the next loony call.


They usually don’t even call the police — although when they do, the police are apt to tell them, “The calls are coming from inside the house!”


A nurse with sticky fingers gets what’s coming to her in another segment. She steals a ring from a dead medium — and as all horror fans know, you never steal anything from a dead witch, warlock, vampire, or other supernatural sort — not even a pixie. If you do, you can pretty much count on the icy talons of death creeping forth to reclaim the loot. This segment is especially atmospheric and creepy, with a sharp twist ending.


The segment featuring Boris proves that the family that slays together, stays together. One by one, the members of a rural peasant-type family succumb to the seductive horrors of vampirism. Perhaps Mario Bava was trying to remind us of the wholesome family values of an earlier time. Ah, those were the days. The tyke from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER never chopped up anyone with a cleaver. OUR MISS BROOKS never tortured anyone with hooks. MR. ED never trampled anyone dead.


Bye-bye, Boris. Now the TMOT! is taking us to the imaginary country of Mandoras, where THE MADMEN OF MANDORAS keep Adolf Hitler’s head alive and insanely happy inside a cheap special effect. The severed Nazi noggin is leading the titular loonies into a hare-brained scheme to take over the world. A few years later, some tepid new scenes with boring (and disposable) new characters would be added, creating the TV movie, THEY SAVED HITLER’S BRAIN.


It would seem that folks in the early Sixties were worried that the dead dictator was still up to his old genocidal tricks. Apparently Hitler was planning to remove color from the world, because the movie is in black and white — which neatly matches the hues of Adolf’s pale skin and uber-sable hair.


After countless boring chase scenes and loads of tedious exposition, the fearsome Fuhrer’s brain-box is trapped in a burning car — and, in what is surely the movie’s most expensive bit of footage, it begins to … melt. I guess decapitated despots are made of bee’s wax. Who knew?


Now let’s find a foreign locale with a bit more color — namely, the lush, full-color South Pacific island of MATANGO: ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE.


MATANGO features a yachtful of jaded Asian young folks, looking for kicks on the high seas. Unfortunately, they share the fate of the GILLIGAN’S ISLAND gang and end up stranded on an unknown island, wondering what the heck they’re going to eat.


Before you can say portobello casserole, they find a big batch of tasty mushrooms. They’re pretty proud of their discovery — in fact, they all get a swelled head over it. A swelled mushroom head, that is. One by one, they all start turning into mushroom people — but then, I’m guessing you already figured that out, since the title of the movie makes a clear reference to mushroom people.


Clearly, the folks at Campbell’s missed out on a brilliant movie tie-in promotion by not releasing a new line of Cream of Matango Soup. Oh, if only the TMOT! could travel in time through the real world — I could go back to the Campbell’s boardroom, make my pitch to the corporate honchos and watch the money come pouring in! But, then I’d be changing the path of the space/time continuum, and when I returned to the present day, three-eyed koalas with tentacles would probably be ruling the Earth. I hate when that happens!


MATANGO boasts excellent special effects and a lot of super-creepy moments. Who’d have guessed that oversized, ambulatory produce could be so scary? I’m guessing this movie might have inspired ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES. (Note to self: Start work on the script for ATTACK OF THE ZUCCHINI CREATURES — if Hollywood doesn’t buy it, add sex scenes and sell it to the porn industry.)


My cat’s probably getting hungry back at the house, and I could sure use a cup of coffee, so I’ll set the TMOT!’s coordinates for home. We’ve covered a lot of ground today, haven’t we? Well, you know what they say. Time flies when you’re traveling in a giant bat-winged alarm clock!


– End –


Mark McLaughlin’s fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in almost one-thousand magazines, newspapers, websites, and anthologies, including Black Gate, Galaxy, Fangoria, Writer’s Digest, Flesh & Blood, Midnight Premiere, Dark Arts, and two volumes each of The Best of the Rest, The Best of HorrorFind, and The Year’s Best Horror Stories (DAW Books).


Collections of McLaughlin’s fiction include Motivational Shrieker, Slime After Slime, and Pickman’s Motel from Delirium Books; At the Foothills of Frenzy (with coauthors Shane Ryan Staley and Brian Knight) from Solitude Publications; and Raising Demons for Fun and Profit from Sam’s Dot Publishing.


Also, McLaughlin is the coauthor, with Rain Graves and David Niall Wilson, of The Gossamer Eye, which won the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Poetry.


With regular collaborator Michael McCarty, he has written Monster Behind the Wheel, a supernatural ebook-novel from www.MedallionPress.com, and Partners in Slime, a collection of weird horror stories from www.DamnationPress.com. He is also a successful marketing and public relations executive who regularly writes articles for business journals, newspapers, trade publications and websites.


McLaughlin is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association. To find out more about his work, visit www.Facebook.com/MarkMcLaughlinMedia.