Horror Half-Life Part II- 1974-1979 Dirty Habits or The Devil’s Playground
In the summer of 1974, we moved out of NYC about 50 miles away to the Connecticut suburbs. We spent Â¾ of our Saturdays in my Great-Aunt Gladysâ€™ and Uncle Walterâ€™s Astoria, Queens apartment. The walls of the second floor walk-up were the same sickening green as my former Bronx home, probably a result of some 1930â€™s racketeering scheme. I still spent a good amount of time under the table playing with any of a number of superhero or monster toys. My play space was two levels below the smokeline which was a healthy mix of cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke. Directly above me, members of the â€œGreatest Generationâ€ – including the aforementioned aunt and uncle, my maternal grandfather, his various brothers and sisters and a few buddies from WWII along with spouses – played endless games of Canasta and Gin Rummy. They would discuss collectively how they â€“ including their wives – saved the world from Fascism, Nazism and overall annihilation. It was usually the second spilled Schlitz that dripped on my head that compelled me to move into the living room to hang out with my cousin Pat. He was 12 years my senior and on those Saturdays, he was my best playmate. (I would find out years later that it was gradeâ€“A, 1970â€™s, imported Jamaican Gold that made me a tolerable playmate for a 16 year-old.) He would spend hours showing me his horror comic collection that included Eerie, Strange Tales and my first crush – Vampirella. Werewolves tearing into jugulars, zombies with an eyeball hanging out of a socket creeping out of black swamp and even a mad scientist switching the brains of a teenage lovers strapped tightly to twin operating tables were my introduction to comic books.
Sometime around 2pm, after an early afternoon of reruns for Hoganâ€™s Heroes and Mission Impossible, the Afternoon Movie would start on Channel 5. Years before thousands of cable channels became available 24/7, you needed to pick a station and be loyal to it. In Patâ€™s and my case, it was Channel 5 – an independent NYC station. They would usually kick off with some sort of radioactive monster movie. By the time I was 7 years old, I had seen every major city – Tokyo, Hong Kong, London, Buenos Aries, even my hometown New York – stomped, burned and eaten by every imaginable giant insect, amphibian, mammal and unexplainable thing from outer space.
At 4pm the good stuff really got going! It was then that I would see the blood-soaked victims of Dracula, an unstoppable menacing green mummy and packs of werewolves terrorizing the lush English countryside in full Technicolor. I would later find out that these films were produced a few years earlier by a company in England called Hammer Studios. My adolescent mind did not care where they came fromâ€¦.just as long as there were more to come.
Back in the suburbs, I was victim to the weekly grind: school from 7:30 to 2:30, play from 2:30-4, homework from 4 to 4:430 – then came â€œMy Timeâ€. After Ryanâ€™s Hope and The Edge of Night, our local ABC affiliate Channel 7 ran something called â€œThe 4:30 Movieâ€. While what you would see could run the gamut of romance to horror, they would theme the week out. It was through this that I took crash courses in Edgar Allan Poe via the films of Roger Corman, Mythology courtesy of the creations of Ray Harryhausen, and World Geography by way of Godzilla leveling the planet one city at a time. I also learned what it meant to be just plain creepy via one of my childhood idols – the great Vincent Price.
Sometime in the spring of 1979, there was a perfect storm. We lived half a mile from Long Island Sound at about 10 feet above sea level. One night, a gale force wind had come though knocking the 60-foot oak tree in our backyard down. En route to our lawn, it would take out our chimney and, in turn, our aerial TV antenna. Always a heavy sleeper, I did not hear a thing. I woke up to a very cool new â€œjungle gymâ€ in my backyard and a very pissed off father and panicked mother.
â€œPaul, Paul thereâ€™s no TV?!â€
â€œBetty, thereâ€™s a pile a bricks and a 60-foot tree in the yard and all you can think about is TV!â€
â€œBut my stories!â€
Just keep eating your Capâ€™n Crunch, play with your 3 year-old brother and donâ€™t make eye contactâ€¦ do something.
â€œYah know, Paul – I was over Peggy McGuireâ€™s and they have cable TV. You can get movies without commercials and stuff and you donâ€™t even need the aerials. And the picture is so clearâ€¦â€
â€œLetâ€™s get rid of the Goddamn tree first!â€
â€œIâ€™m just telling youâ€¦ Itâ€™s only like $11 a month.â€
I quietly put my liverwurst sandwich into my Super Friends lunchbox and started the 550-foot walk to school.
Meanwhile in Gotham Cityâ€¦I mean the playgroundâ€¦I was chasing Sean Keirnan (a.k.a The Joker) around the convent on our schoolâ€™s property. Somewhere between the statue of the Blessed Virgin choking out a serpent with her foot and the clothesline of drying nun habits, I saw Kevin McGuire engaged in a heated discussion with Charlie Deer. I only caught a few words every time I passed by.
Drying habits, gaining on the Jokerâ€¦.
â€œâ€¦and then he puts a mask on and stabs his family to deathâ€¦.â€
â€¦.Blessed Virgin, drying habits, almost got himâ€¦.
â€œâ€¦on the bed is a dead woman with a gravestone at the headâ€¦.â€
â€¦drying habits, dying serpent, youâ€™re mine, Joker!…..
â€œâ€¦and then he grabs this guy and sticks him to the wall with a butcher knifeâ€¦â€
Dryingâ€¦..The Joker can wait.
â€œKevin, who are you talking about?â€
â€œHe killed his entire family, dummy!â€
â€œIn a movie I saw on cable.â€
â€œItâ€™s called Halloweenâ€¦and heâ€™s gonna kill you too.!â€
Oh, yeah! Bring him on!