Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Doomed Bladder

In '73, when this book was published, I was 11.

There were no videostores. There was no cable TV. The internet wasn't an embryo's eyeball.

Regular TV consisted of three private stations (0, 7, 9) and one public station (the ABC).

Aside from Awful Movies With Deadly Earnest and some late night marathons on Channel 9, the horror film scene in Melbourne, Australia was limited.

I had not yet discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland, although the odd horror film mag did show up at the local newsagent. The problem was, it wasn't "odd" enough for me.

Dennis Gifford's Horror Movies (A Pictorial History of...) appeared on the shelves of the Mt. Waverley Municipal Library in September of '73 (around the time of my birthday). A squashed image of The Golem adorned the spine, and that's what grabbed my attention. I reached up and pulled it off the shelf. When I flipped it over to see the cover, I nearly wet my pants with excitement.

I scanned the vicinity and noticed an unoccupied cubicle nearby. I heard a stern "Walk, please!" behind me as I ran to the cubicle. Slowing, I parked my butt on a red, plastic chair, placed the book in front of me, and opened it to this:

I was in heaven!

I'm sure I experienced a Bookgasm, the pulp equivalent of an Orgasm, although I probably had one of those, too.

I don't know why, but this grotesque fiend filled me with wonder and the joy of creation. There was something so damn RIGHT about him, so VERY, VERY RIGHT.

After staring at him for a full five minutes, I came down from my big 'B' and read the book's explanation of where this chap came from: Doomwatch, a '72 release from Tigon.

I'd never heard of the movie, and I didn't recall it ever playing in Australia. It didn't matter, anyway; I had the book, and I was going to take it home.

I checked it out for three weeks. Then I extended my loan on it five times. After six months, I received a letter from the library asking if I was still in possession of it?

Were they kidding?

Horror Movies had become my favorite book. The Doomwatch pic of Mr. Lumpy Face got looked it every day. Sometimes three or four times a day. It was never far from my reach.

It even traveled to school with me once, and I must have showed Mr. Lumpy to at least a hundred girls and boys. It was more thrilling to show it to the girls because they screamed and got really mad at me. On the playground, they'd run to teachers and point me out. I'd slip away like a misunderstood monster (with an eye patch and massive glasses).

Of course, the book featured a cornucopia other great pictures such as the fanged monster from The Mad Doctor of Blood Island ('70) and this beauty of Dr. Phibes.


My first thought was: Why doesn't my doctor, Dr. Tait, who placed a flat stick on my tongue and made me say "Aaaahhh", look like this? Or did he?

Phibes was certainly up there as far as handsome monsters went, but he still didn't pip Doomwatch. No, sir, Doomwatch (as he came to be known) was the monster hero of my 11th year.

He was also the hero of my brother's 9th year, although my brother had serious nocturnal issues with him, as it turned out.


My mother took me aside one night and said: "What have you been showing your brother?"

"Huh?"

"He said you've been showing him pictures of monsters."

"He wants to see them."

Back in those days, I was making sure he saw them. It was a mission of mine to expose him to these things.

"That's not what he told me."

"He likes them, too," I explained. "He's always asking to see them."

That was true. The trouble was, his curiosity was braver than his eyeballs and stomach.

My mother shook her head. "Don't show him any more monsters."

"Alright."

"And I think you've seen enough, too."

What did she mean by that?

If I followed it to its natural conclusion, she was insinuating that my days (and nights) of monster watching were facing closure.

"I won't show him any more," I said.

"You'd better not. I don't want him waking up and wetting the bed any more."

He was wetting the bed?

Mr. Doomwatch was interfering with his bladder?

"Okay," I said, and began to walk off.

"Just a minute!" There was nothing "nice" in my mother's tone. "Where's that book?"

"What book?"

"You know what book. That horror movie book."

"It's in my bedroom."

"It's going back tomorrow. It's overdue."

"I need to keep it a bit longer."

"For what? So you can show more people terrible pictures?"

One of the great "terrible pictures" of cinema:
Mad Doctor of Blood Island

I didn't have an answer for that. Well, the answer was yes, but I couldn't say that.

"I need it for school," I said.

"Rubbish! It's not a school book. Go and get it."

Handing the book back to my mother produced several tears. She took off with it into her bedroom and I didn't see her for the rest of the night.

On the following morning, she drove me to school. She had the book in her bag. It was STUFFED into her bag quite disrespectfully. I felt bad for it. I felt some animosity towards her for treating my bible with such contempt.

"Is that the book?" I asked her as we approached the school.

"Yes. I'm taking it back to the library. And I'm paying YOUR fine."

"There's a fine?"

"Two dollars. And some of it's coming out of your pocket money."

"Oh."

My mother was in no mood to discuss horror books, that much was clear. My brother and sister were in the car, too, so there wasn't much opportunity to negotiate a further extension on the library loan with her.

"Mum, can I take one more look?"

"What for?"

"Can I?"

"Alright. Quickly."

I slipped the book slowly and carefully out of her bag.

I flipped straight to Doomwatch (p.155), then I said a private goodbye to him in my head. He'd been a real mate, a loyal friend. Whatever skin ailment he was suffering from, I accepted it.

There was no way a few facial lumps were going to come between friends.

2 comments:

  1. ...and I thought I'd been affected by Gifford's book as well! Not as much as you, obviously.

    I'm till trying to see all the films that had photos in there! 35 years and still not done.

    My regret is being too shy to ask Mr Gifford to sign my copy, when I saw him at a talk at London's National Film Theatre...

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  2. I also liked the photo of Mr. Gifford.

    I saw the last of the films in Gifford's book, "Horrors of Malformed Men", just a year ago. It sounds like we have had parallel endeavors.

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