My Grail Quest (…If the Holy Grail Were, in Fact, a Giant Mushroom Person)

There are few things that I pursue over a long span of time with anything resembling dogged determinism. However, one thing that has remained with me as a longtime goal in life is to identify and watch certain movies. Seems simple enough; something that I might have accomplished by now, given all the time I’ve had.

There are two complicating catches, though. One is that I can only recall scant details, fragmented bits, or vague impressions of the films. Though some I recall seeing completely, others are movies that I’ve not even seen before. (In this case, the impressions are usually from having seen clips of the films in passing or seeing them in a documentary on genre movies.) The other complication is that all of these scant memories are from childhood. So this has been a bit of a challenge, overall.

Still, I’ve given over sizable resources — in the form of brain cells and mental attention — to the problem over the passing years. Surprisingly, I’ve managed to identify and subsequently watch a good number of these films. The rest of this post will be a brief catalog of my minor triumphs.

Quite a few of these films were first planted as seeds in my mind after watching a PBS-produced 1983 documentary on horror films entitled The Horror of It All. I loved this documentary, and faithfully watched it every time I found it airing on local channel WHYY 12. Narrated by Jose Ferrer, it basically gave a general history of the horror movie genre, including interviews with directors, actors, memorabilia collectors, and, of course, lots of movie clips.

Sadly, the doc never made it to DVD — or, I suspect, to VHS. I did find a blog post at the site, Kindertrauma, dealing with The Horror of It All, but there wasn’t much on the web that looked relevant or useful. (Though reading through the Kindertrauma post inclines me to think that exploring their site more might be a good idea.)

At any rate, here are some items that I’ve identified from my mental “list” and have watched.

The Bat Whispers
I saw this as brief snippets in the above-mentioned documentary. Specifically, I remember the shadows of the hooded, bat-like figure creeping along dark hallways. I had presumed, as a child, that the eponymous Bat was some kind of actual half-bat-half-man monster, as opposed to a criminal mastermind. Still, despite this subtle disappointment, when I got to watch the film recently I was struck by the innovative camerawork using miniature sets.

Curse of the Demon
Seeing a few fleeting clips from this film in the same documentary made a profound impression on me. For years, I could vividly recall the images of a man running off of a train, and the huge, smoke-shrouded face of the demon. Somehow, rendering all of this in black-and-white made it all the more horrific. When I finally identified the title and found the film, many years later, around 1996 or so, I bought a VHS copy from a local video store. This was extremely unusual for me — I tended to rent a copy first, to view it, and only bought films that I knew I really loved. The minor gamble paid off, and the film became one of my all-time favorites.

Zontar, The Thing From Venus
This one is a bit different than others on the list in that I could identify the film from the outset. I’d seen it when I was really young, had vague recollections of the startling impact it had on me at the time, but wasn’t able to watch it until the late 00’s, when it was released on DVD with a few other low-budget sci-fi films of the 50’s. Unlike most of the films on my list, this one retained its ability to make an impression on me — I still consider it a highly underrated film, with some unexpectedly-good content buried in all that awful. I think of it as a precursor to body/organic horror in film. It’s subdued, but I feel it’s there.

The Gorgon
This movie technically makes it on the list, but is a “weak” entry, as far as I’m concerned. I recall watching this one (and many, many others) when it aired on a local channel’s weekend Creature Double Feature program. (I can’t express the amount of nostalgia inherent for me in that cheesy, mottled hand rising from the grave.) I remember little in the way of visual detail; what stuck with me more was just the title and a perceived sense of slow, brooding intensity that built throughout the film.

The Eye Creatures
This film was one I’d seen quite a few times as a kid. I was particularly haunted by the creepy heartbeat sound that accompanied the alien creatures as they stalked through the night. A recent viewing, however, informed me that the creepiness was…more subjective than I’d thought. Still, it was nice to see again.

Beach Girls and the Monster
This is an interesting entry on the list. For some inexplicable reason, whenever I caught this one playing on TV, I had usually tuned in during the last 30-45 minutes. As such, I couldn’t recall ever seeing the first half or so of the film. What stuck with me, though, was the exceptionally dark cinematography (probably less a bold, dramatic choice than poor lighting on a cheap budget) and the staring eyes of the monster (especially the “startling” reveal of the monster head behind a closet door).

The Giant Claw
Another one where I could recall the title, knew it made a big impression on me, but couldn’t recall much else, aside from the giant bird itself. Fortunately, this actually didn’t age as badly as it might have — it’s a fun, cheesy flick.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
This 1973 made-for-TV movie holds the distinction of having traumatized me severely for about three months, as well as making me exceptionally afraid of ventilation ducts until the age of 12. Of all the films on this list, I remembered the most detail about this one, save for the title. I got to see it again, about two or three years ago, and was pleased to see it retained much of what had made it so unnervingly eerie.

Sasquatch, the Legend of Bigfoot
Another film from which I could recall scattered fragments, but not the actual title. When I came across this one on DVD in the mid-2000’s, I was surprised to recognize it as one of the movies that engrossed me during childhood. Inexplicably, it held up to subsequent viewing, and I still really love this film — there’s something about the 70’s look of it and the pseudo-documentary style that I just eat up.

Matango
When I saw this one in the early 80’s under the title Attack of the Mushroom People, what impressed me most was the lurid color and the memory-fogged visual of the mushroom people moving through fog.

Fiend Without a Face
This movie made a frightening impression on me, especially the scene of the farmer being attacked in his barn by the creatures.

Island of Terror
Finally, we have this movie, which I’d seen several times as a kid, and which always unnerved me. I even recall having nightmares about the monsters in this one. Something about their ridiculous, inhuman shape must have gotten to me at the time.

An honorable mention goes to In Search Of…, the TV series, for the notable impact it had on my childhood and sparking a love for all things esoteric. And it seems I’m not the only person who feels this way

 

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