The hor­ror, the hor­ror

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - Viewpoint - By PhilliP adams

Prior to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, Mel­bourne’s Rich­mond was a rough-and-tum­ble La­bor strong­hold head­quar­tered in a bulky town hall in Bridge Road. Next door was a huge Hoyts cin­ema, imag­i­na­tively called the Cin­ema. Both build­ings were, in a sense, haunted. The Tam­many-style op­er­a­tives in the town hall en­sured that even if you were dead, you weren’t – you stayed on the elec­toral roll and con­tin­ued to vote La­bor. And the Cin­ema was home to hor­ror movies – to mur­der­ous mum­mies, Boris Karloff mon­sters, Lon Chaney wolf men and an im­pres­sive vol­ume of vampires.

We’re talk­ing 1940s films – be­fore the ar­rival of It Came from Outer Space and Crea­ture from the Black La­goon (jump­ing off the screen in mi­graine-in­duc­ing 3D) along with Things, Blobs and other nas­ties that went bump in the night.

Arthur Hodges and I used to wag Scouts to see vin­tage hor­ror at the Cin­ema, our favourite be­ing James Whale’s master­piece Franken­stein, an early ef­fort in plas­tic surgery. We sat side by side in a the­atre so cav­ernous that, a few years down the track, bikies would ride their ma­chines up and down the aisles in thun­der­ous trib­ute to Mar­lon Brando’s The Wild One. But on hor­ror nights, such as the time we saw

The Beast With Five Fingers, you could hear a pin drop.

Arthur and I saw them all. Or rather I did. Arthur never saw a thing. No sooner did we take our seats than he’d curl into the foetal po­si­tion and put his scout’s hat over his face. For the rest of the show he’d whis­per “what’s hap­pen­ing?” and ex­pect me to pro­vide a run­ning com­men­tary.

I don’t need to re­mind you of Boris as Franken­stein’s tragic mon­ster or poor Lon mor­ph­ing into the wolf man. But in the case of The Beast With Five Fingers I had to in­form a ter­ri­fied Arthur, hid­ing in his scouts hat, that a hand cru­elly sep­a­rated from the wrist of a crazed con­cert pi­anist was crawl­ing across the floor like a great white spi­der… ap­proach­ing the next vic­tim’s trouser leg on its way to his throat. Stran­gu­la­tion and a cin­ema full of screams. In the same way Arthur sat – squirmed – through mum­mi­fied mon­sters and hu­man bats seek­ing trans­fu­sions. He loved his hor­ror. When the lights came up and we rushed to the door to avoid God Save the King (a point of pride to young proto-repub­li­cans), Arthur was con­vinced we’d got our money’s worth and that he’d loved ev­ery mo­ment of the movie, par­tic­u­larly that sec­ond stran­gu­la­tion.

If the ’30s and ’40s had been a golden age for movie mon­sters, the ’50s and ’60s, with their Phan­tom of the Opera and House of Wax – 3D again – were marked by ever bet­ter pros­thet­ics, make-up and tech­ni­cal wiz­ardry. But for me (and Arthur in his hat) the home­made un-spe­cial ef­fects added to the charm of our nights at the Cin­ema. It’s like the creaky stop-mo­tion King Kong star­ring Fay Wray or the silly Tarzan movies. You haven’t lived un­til you’ve seen Johnny Weiss­muller wrestling a rub­ber crocodile or rid­ing an In­dian ele­phant through the African jun­gle. The very ab­sence of green screen and clever-dick dig­i­tal ef­fects en­hanced the charm. This was the era of in­no­cent hor­ror.

Are you still with us, my scout­ing friend Arthur Hodges? You’d be 80 by now. So per­haps you’ve passed on like the Cin­ema, Rich­mond. If so I’m sure La­bor in Rich­mond still has you on the elec­toral roll and you con­trib­uted to that 5 per cent swing to the La­bor Gov­ern­ment.

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