TIME MACHINE OF TERROR! 1943: The Year Death Gave Up The Ghost
by Mark McLaughlin
Professor Artemis Theodore LaGungo rarely leaves his shop of second-hand curios, PROFESSOR LaGUNGO’S EXOTIC ARTIFACTS & ASSORTED MYSTIC COLLECTIBLES. So, I was rather surprised to see him enjoying an ice-cream cone in the food court at the mall.
“Hello, Professor!” I took a seat at his table. “What flavors do you have there?” I asked, pointing to the two green scoops of ice cream in his waffle cone. They weren’t the same shade of green: one was light green and the other was darker, with a hint of blue.
“Pistachio and mint,” he replied with a big grin. The act of smiling crinkled the outer corners of his eyes into deep crow’s feet — more like pterodactyl’s feet, actually.
“This is the first time I’ve seen you at the mall,” I said, “or out of the shop, for that matter.”
“I had to go to the health food store to get some vitamins and herbal supplements,” he said, nodding toward a plastic bag on the table. The bag was filled with assorted bottles and jars of various shapes, sizes and colors. “I usually order these things by mail, but today I decided I needed a change of scenery.”
He reached into the bag and pulled out his purchases, one item at a time. “I have some zinc tablets … echinacea drops … vitamins C, D, and E … astralagus and goldenseal … calcium … fish oil … alpha-lipoic acid and L-carnatine … and of course, damiana and yohimbe bark.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of those last two,” I said as I studied the label of the yohimbe bark bottle. “Says here this stuff enhances sexual performance…”
“I may be old but I’m not dead,” Professor LaGungo said with a wink. “These pills and whatnot aren’t the reason behind my extreme longevity, but they do help to improve my quality of life.”
“So what IS the reason behind your longevity?” I asked.
The Professor looked around the crowded mall. “It’s not the sort of thing one discusses in public. We’ll chat about it some other time, back at the shop. For now, let’s just say that I’m a lot like the year 1943.”
“In what way?”
The Professor raised a grizzled eyebrow. “Death gave up the ghost in the year 1943. And if you want a bit of insight into that fact, I suggest you jump into that Time Machine of Terror! that I sold you and find out more.”
After I finished my shopping, I went home and did exactly as the Professor suggested. But before I tell you about what I observed in 1943, let’s take a look at what was going on the world that year, back when World War II was in full swing:
On January 15, the world’s largest office building — the Pentagon in Arlington, VA — was dedicated.
On January 27, fifty bombers mounted the first American air raid against Germany.
On February 8, U.S. forces defeated Japanese troops in the Battle of Guadalcanal.
On February 20, American movie executives agreed to film censorship by the Office of War Information.
On March 2, U.S. and Australian forces sank Japanese convoy vessels in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
On March 13, German forces sent more than 960 prisoners to Auschwitz, where they were either put to death or enslaved.
On March 22, the German militia burned alive the whole population of Khatyn in Belarus.
On March 31, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical OKLAHOMA! opened on Broadway.
On April 19, Albert Hofmann self-administered LSD – the first trip of its kind. He first synthesized the drug in 1938.
On May 11, U.S. troops invaded Attu in the Aleutian Islands.
On May 24, nasty Nazi Josef Mengele became chief medical officer of Auschwitz.
On May 29, Norman Rockwell’s now-classic illustration of Rosie the Riveter appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.
On June 1, British Overseas Airways Corporation Flight 777 was shot down during a passenger flight by the German military. The attack may have been an attempt to assassinate British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, since the Germans may have believed he was aboard.
On July 10, the allied invasion of Axis-controlled Europe started with landings on the island of Sicily.
On July 19, Rome was bombed by the Allies.
On August 17, General George S. Patton’s soldiers arrived in Messina, Sicily, followed by the British 8th Army under Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, completing the Allied conquest of Sicily.
On September 3, mainland Italy was invaded by Allied forces.
On September 8, General Dwight D. Eisenhower announced the surrender of Italy to the Allies.
On October 6, Americans and Japanese fought the Battle of Vella Lavella.
On October 13, Italy’s new government joined the Allies and declared war on Germany.
On October 18, Chiang Kai-Shek became president of China.
On November 15, German SS official Heinrich Himmler ordered that Gypsies and part-Gypsies should be placed in concentration camps in addition to the Jews already being victimized.
On November 22, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and China’s Chiang Kai-Shek met at the Cairo Conference to discuss strategies for defeating Japan.
On November 28, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill met with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in Tehran to discuss war strategy.
On December 4, the Great Depression officially ended in America as President Roosevelt closed the Works Progress Administration.
On December 24, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower became Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
Celebrities born in 1943 included actors Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro, actresses Sharon Tate and Lynn Redgrave, Monty Python comedians Eric Idle and Michael Palin, Rolling Stones Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, directors Tobe Hooper and David Cronenberg, chess champ Bobby Fischer, singers Fabian and Barry Manilow, musician/Beatle George Harrison, athlete Joe Namath, reporter Geraldo Rivera, and rock legend Jim Morrison.
Celebrities and other noteworthy personalities who passed away in 1943 included scientist Nikola Tesla, critic Alexander Woollcott, composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, actor Conrad Veidt, Ford Motor Company President Edsel Ford, Bulgaria’s King Boris III, jazz pianist Fats Waller,
and children’s author and illustrator Beatrix Potter.
Also in 1943, horror fans lost Dwight Frye, the marvelous character actor who played Renfield in DRACULA, Fritz the lab assistant in FRANKENSTEIN, and a variety of other rambunctious second bananas. He was never the romantic lead, but he always turned in fine, energetic performances. In fact, his performances were usually better and more memorable than those of the leads.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Time Machine of Terror! — or TMOT! for short — looks like a giant, batwinged, brass alarm clock and it can travel through the dimension of old movies and TV shows. Because I was traveling back through time, I had to pass through 1944 before I could get to 1943. So the first movie I visited was one that was released at the very beginning of 1944, but was made and originally scheduled for release in 1943. That movie was RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, starring Bela Lugosi as vampire Armand Tesla — an interesting choice of names, when you consider that eccentric and highly innovative inventor Nikola Tesla died in 1943.
Armand Tesla is a scholar of the macabre whose passion for, and knowledge of, the occult transform him into a vampire when he dies. The vampire may be long in the tooth, but he still has an eye for the ladies. With the help of his werewolf assistant, he tries to convert a proper young British lass into his vampire consort for eternity.
The vampire’s efforts are thwarted by the combined efforts of his rebellious werewolf assistant and a Nazi bomb. Watching the werewolf in RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE is a real treat, well worth the price of renting or buying the movie. His shaggy face has a gleeful quality reminiscent of both the Cowardly Lion and Disney’s Shaggy D.A.
The werewolf is quite eloquent when he speaks — no growling or howling for this cultured lycanthrope. He wears a suit, dapper fellow that he is, and throws punches when attacked. Just as the werewolf is unique, the vampire in this horror classic is also notably different from other cinematic bloodsuckers. In reflections he is invisible, but his clothes are still visible. He seems to be able to teleport himself sporadically, disappearing and appearing in a snap.
Plus, when Tesla has a stake (and a metal one at that) driven through his heart, his body doesn’t decay if he is stored in the dark, and he can come back to life if the stake is removed. Tesla plays fast and loose with the rules of life and death.
SON OF DRACULA also presents us with a peculiar vampire. While visiting America, this caped bloodsucker calls himself Count Alucard — an alias that doesn’t hide his identity all that well, since it’s just Dracula spelled backwards.
Played by Lon Chaney, Jr., the Count is stout, manly, gruff and easily irritated. He’s no effete European sophisticate, like the ones played by Lugosi. Count Alucard’s Southern bride, like Armand Tesla, becomes a vampire after she dies because of her morbid fascinations and obsessions. Her family plantation manor becomes a tomb of terrors where death doesn’t have to be the end. It can be merely a transitional phase.
Bela Lugosi is usually associated with batlike vampires, so his role as the headlining creature in THE APE MAN is a real departure for him. He plays a mad doctor who, like so many other horror medics from Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Moreau, dares to tamper with the forces of Nature, the will of God, and basically, the grand scheme of things.
As a result, the doc experiences a shock. He turns into an Ape Man, and only the spinal fluid from regular folks can return him to normal. Like a vampire, his well-being depends upon the death of others.
In FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (which should have been called FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER MEETS THE WOLF MAN, if they are referring to the creature and not his creator), we are shown that monsters simply cannot die. They can be incapacitated and immobilized, but life still lingers no matter what. The Wolf Man beseeches some sympathetic scientific types to help him to die — to no avail.
And while the Wolf Man’s fate seems a bit uncertain …a bit on the DECEASED side … at the end of the movie, deep down we all know: he’ll be back in yet another Universal monster movie sequel, and so will Frankenstein’s Monster.
Clearly the horror films of 1943 addressed the concerns of a world at war. Americans were being bombarded with messages of pain and death … bombings, concentration camps, torture, mass killings … and so they needed to absorb these macabre movies to help them to deal with all the world’s horrors.
In these movies, death was thwarted time after time, by both seemingly deathless monsters AND the mortals who managed to defeat those monsters. These literally death-defying scenarios gave the viewers hope … hope that death was not inevitable.
It was good for Americans to watch death give up the ghost.
And so, waving farewell to that fateful year of madness and monsters, I steered the TMOT! back to the here-and-now.
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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, Mark McLaughlin 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.
You can find out more about Professor LaGungo at www.Facebook.com/ProfessorLaGungo.