Horror Half-Life Part II – 1974-1979 Dirty Habits or The Devil’s Playground

by Chris Conway

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 ¾ of our Saturdays in my Great-Aunt Gladys’ and Uncle Walter’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 1930’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 “Greatest Generation” – 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 – 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 grade–A, 1970’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 Hogan’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 Pat’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 from….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 “My Time”. After Ryan’s Hope and The Edge of Night, our local ABC affiliate Channel 7 ran something called “The 4:30 Movie”. 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 “jungle gym” in my backyard and a very pissed off father and panicked mother.
“Paul, Paul there’s no TV?!”
“Betty, there’s a pile a bricks and a 60-foot tree in the yard and all you can think about is TV!”
“But my stories!”
Just keep eating your Cap’n Crunch, play with your 3 year-old brother and don’t make eye contact… do something.
“Yah know, Paul – I was over Peggy McGuire’s and they have cable TV. You can get movies without commercials and stuff and you don’t even need the aerials. And the picture is so clear…”
“Let’s get rid of the Goddamn tree first!”
“I’m just telling you… It’s only like $11 a month.”
I quietly put my liverwurst sandwich into my Super Friends lunchbox and started the 550-foot walk to school.
Meanwhile in Gotham City…I mean the playground…I was chasing Sean Keirnan (a.k.a The Joker) around the convent on our school’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 Joker….
“…and then he puts a mask on and stabs his family to death….”
….Blessed Virgin, drying habits, almost got him….
“…on the bed is a dead woman with a gravestone at the head….”
…drying habits, dying serpent, you’re mine, Joker!…..
“…and then he grabs this guy and sticks him to the wall with a butcher knife…”
Drying…..The Joker can wait.
“Kevin, who are you talking about?”
“Michael Myers!”
“Who’s he?”
“He killed his entire family, dummy!”
“In a movie I saw on cable.”
“What movie?”
“It’s called Halloween…and he’s gonna kill you too.!”
Oh, yeah! Bring him on!

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