Apr 282012

Time Machine of Terror!

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.

– ### –


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.


Aug 202011

Time Machine of Terror


A Salute to the Furious Red Planet


by Mark McLaughlin


The other day, I visited my favorite little shoppe of horrificness, a mysterious emporium of first-class curios and second-hand terrors known as PROFESSOR LAGUNGO’S EXOTIC ARTIFACTS & ASSORTED MYSTIC COLLECTIBLES. I was surprised by one of the store’s most recent acquisitions. It was a dusky-red rock inside a Lucite case with a stainless-steel base. A little bright-red plaque on the base read, in bright yellow letters, WARNING! MARTIAN ROCK. DO NOT OPEN! DO NOT EVEN STARE AT ROCK FOR MORE THAN 15 SECONDS.
Professor LaGungo, the mega-elderly but still bright-eyed proprietor of the store, rushed with surprising speed to my side. “Stop staring at that rock!” he said.
I looked away from the stone. “Don’t worry, I only stared at it for about five or six seconds,” I said, “so there’s no problem, if indeed that is a Martian rock with some kind of staring-related hazard attached to it.”
“Oh, it’s a Martian rock all right,” Professor LaGungo said. “And it has an absolutely gigantic staring-related hazard attached! You see, if you stare at it for too long, it will get mad, burst out of its case, hit you in the forehead and kill you!”
What? How and why would it do that?” I said.
“The rock would kill you because it is furious with you – and all Earthlings! Mars is the furious red planet, and even the littlest piece of it is more irate than the largest of Earth boulders, which cannot express any feelings at all.”
“So what makes that Martian rock so angry?”
“There are great quantities of living silicone crystals on Mars, and every rock has at least a few bits of that crystal in it – but those wee bits are enough. More than enough! Those crystalline life-forms have come to hate the non-crystalline life-forms of our planet.” The Professor pointed to the rock in the case. “That particular rock is upset because it is here on Earth, a planet it abhors. Plus, it misses all of its crystalline buddies on Mars.”
Needless to say, I was a little skeptical of this explanation, even though I’ve learned that one should never doubt anything the Professor has to say. The old shopkeeper me a shrewd look. “The expression on your face,” he said, “tells me you still have questions. Two more questions, I’m thinking.”
“True!” I said. “You’re quite perceptive. Question No. 1: How did that rock get to Earth, and Question No. 2: How do you know all this stuff about Mars?”
Professor LaGungo smiled. “The rock came to earth in quite an unusual way. Back when Orson Welles did his WAR OF THE WORLDS radio stunt, it made a lot of Earthlings mad at Mars during the broadcast. Mars could actually feel that anger, making the furious red planet even more furious. So it fired that rock into space, all the way to Earth, to kill Orson Welles. As luck would have it, an Orson look-alike was shopping in my store at the time and the rock almost hit him as he was walking out the front door.”
“Astounding!” I said.
“Quite so,” the Professor agreed. “The rock was extremely hot from its sizzling voyage through space, so I used some tongs to drop it into a bucket of water. That made the water boil instantly and the resulting steam swirled around my face and up my nose. That remarkable steam seeped into my brain and provided me with all this Martian knowledge.”
The Professor rummaged around behind the counter, pulled out a notebook and quickly scribbled out a list, which he tore out of the pad and handed to me. “If you want to see how Mars has captivated the imaginations of movie-making Earthlings over years,” he said, “get into the Time Machine of Terror! and go check out these movies. These aren’t all the movies that have been made about Mars, of course – that list would be longer than my arm. But I consider these to be among the most imaginative and well-known.”
For those of you reading this column for the first time, let me tell you a bit about the Time Machine of Terror!, or TMOT! for short.
The TMOT! is an ancient Lemurian time machine which resembles an alarm clock with big bat-wings. It was broken when the Professor found it, and he didn’t have access to a supply of its original parts, so he fixed it with parts from old movie projectors, TV sets and VCRs. As a result, it can now only travel in the dimension of old sci-fi and horror movies and TV shows. But I like that kind of programming, so I travel in the TMOT! all the time.
I decided to start with the most famous Martian movie on the list – WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953). In this epic production, the Martians are completely inhuman creatures with froglike bodies, spindly limbs and monstrous eyes. Their streamlined doomsday machines glide over the Earth, firing deadly beams and killing without mercy.
The Martians make no attempt to communicate with humans – as far as they’re concerned, we are just pests that must be eradicated. Fortunately, the Martians hadn’t figured on the deadly voraciousness of Earth germs – weensy killers against which humans had already developed immunities.
I didn’t spend much time visiting the 2005 remake of WAR OF THE WORLDS because it doesn’t add any impressive new insights. The special effects are better, but that’s about it.
Next to the Martians of WAR OF THE WORLDS, the lead alien in DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954) is friendly and vivacious, and chattier than a Hollywood gossip columnist. She looks like an aristocratic woman in a sleek, S&M-inspired space outfit. Her plan, basically, is to find Earthmen to help perpetuate her alien species. The Earthlings do not take well to that plan, even though she’s only looking for an interplanetary roll in the hay. Is that so wrong?
In THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959), we meet a lot of chintzy, outlandish monsters who reeeeally hate Earthlings. They may be especially mad because they had such a small budget for special effects!
MARS ATTACKS! (1996) was based on some surprisingly graphic bubble-gum cards from the Sixties, in which mega-brained, bug-eyed Martians fired deadly ray-guns and used monsters and torture devices to destroy Earth real estate, cattle and especially citizens.
Turning that card series into a feature film must have been a dream project from director Tim Burton, whose creations are always macabre and yet darkly whimsical. You can tell he truly relished the task. The whole production revels in its dark humor like a huge, happy pig rolling in slop. And really, that’s not a bad thing. But while many sci-fi and horror aficionados loved the movie when it came out, it proved to be a bit much for family audiences.
The Martians in MARS ATTACKS! are reminiscent of an unholy three-way cross between Bus Bunny, Marvin the Martian and the Marquis de Sade. They are skeletally thin, incredibly agile, selfish, wildly imaginative in their malice – and adorable!
In FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967), British scientists discover a Martian spaceship buried underground, right in the path of some subway construction. Inside are the remains of the crew: locust-like Martians about the size of large dogs. When Earthlings start fiddling with the spaceship, they accidentally turn it on – or more accurately, bring it to life. The spaceship, apparently, is filled with the souls of its former passengers.
This is a development that does not bode well for humanity. But, plucky Earthlings figure out a way to settle the hash of these pushy red-planet grasshoppers – who may have been the inspiration for the Devil, if the image of the towering Martian mega-soul at the end of the movie is any indication.
Martians are also brought back from the sleep of centuries in GHOSTS OF MARS (2001). Colonists from Earth open a Martian temple and unleash the disembodied souls of ancient aliens. These souls promptly take up residence in Earthling bodies. The Martians then customize their new bodies, making them more savage in appearance, with plenty of gashes, piercings and other decorative injuries.
In THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT (1962), those jolly yet dysfunctional comedians (they just can’t stop hurting each other) make the acquaintance of an absent-minded scientist and his daughter. The scientist has invented the ultimate war machine, which is really just a submarine with tank treads and helicopter blades. Martian spies are pestering the scientist, eager to steal his weapon, and so it is up to the Stooges to save the day. The Martians look like Frankensteinian monsters in space jumpsuits and capes, whose heads feature extremely wrinkly eyes and oversized craniums.
In the made-for-TV movie MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967), as in DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS, we learn that Martians are humanoid like us and in desperate need of breeding stock. That’s a problem? I fail to see the dilemma in either movie. What’s wrong with expanding Earth’s dating options to include the nearest planet? If either of those movies had been more of a success, perhaps Mars wouldn’t be quite so furious at the Earth…
As I examined the movies suggested by Professor LaGungo, it soon became clear why Mars is so angry at Earth. Clearly, Mars is jealous of our abundant resources. Earth has more food, more oxygen, more water – and more potential sex partners! Martian movies make it pretty clear that life on the red planet is a constant, desperate struggle for survival. So how can we get Mars to like us more…?
Well, Martians in general seem to be pretty smart and ambitious, so we should offer them jobs, nice new apartments and plenty of food on Earth! Then they might even share their superior Martian technology with us – they do have a lot of fancy ray-guns and other neat techno-goodies.
It is possible to get along with Martians – Bill Bixby managed to do it in the classic TV sitcom, MY FAVORITE MARTIAN (1963-1966). He gave the Martian kindness, understanding and a place to live, and the Martian gave him friendship and wisdom.
By sharing, communicating and cooperating, our two cultures would get along famously. An excellent solution, yes? And who knows: maybe someday, us Earthlings will learn to initiate that foolproof peace plan with each other!


– End –


MARK McLAUGHLIN is part Greek and part Irish and so may be related to both satyrs and leprechauns, clearly making him a satyrechaun. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award many times and has won once. McLaughlin’s fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in hundreds of magazines, anthologies, and websites, including The Living Dead 2, Cemetery Dance, Dark Arts, Midnight Premiere, Fangoria, Horror Garage, FilmFax, Shroud Magazine, ChiZine.com, Galaxy, The Best of All Flesh, 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 his fiction include Raising Demons for Fun and Profit, Slime After Slime, Pickman’s Motel, Motivational Shrieker, and At the Foothills of Frenzy (with co-authors Shane Ryan Staley and Brian Knight). He is the co-author, with Rain Graves and David Niall Wilson, of The Gossamer Eye, which won a Bram Stoker Award for Poetry. His collaborative novel with Michael McCarty, Monster Behind the Wheel, was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist for Best First Novel, and will be reissued by Medallion Press in 2011.

His latest project is Partners in Slime, a story collection co-written by Michael McCarty, which can be found at www.DamnationBooks.com. Visit Mark online at www.facebook.com/MarkMcLaughlinMedia.