The Great Horror Craze
Back in the 1960s America and Britain went through a massive passion for all things horrific. In fact, it lasted from around 1957 to 1972, according to the new book ‘Monster Mash’ by Mark Voger. It started in America with midnight movie hosts like Zacherley and Vampira (which we didn’t get in the UK) and ended when horror burned itself out after going mainstream.
Pre-internet, it’s interesting how much of the craze was interactive. There were horror sound effects albums and projectors with 8mm films, masks, outfits, playing cards, toys, posters, soap operas, hot-rod paint jobs and best of all, customisable model kits from Aurora (I had every single one and still have the fully working guillotine – download slo-mo here!).
Horror comics weren’t just about the notorious EC comics, which brought Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe to many children for the first time, along with the ire of the idiotic Dr Fredric Wertham, who protested the purportedly harmful effects of violent imagery in mass media and comic books on the development of children. The social panic he created in middle America resulted in the censorship of these wonderful, lunatic comics.
The comics were lurid, but told their tales using classic forms of revenge and retribution. They even retold traditional horror tales, bringing back interest in Victorian writers. Then into the craze for monsters came ‘Godzilla’, a Japanese film with a clear anti-nuclear message about the devastating act of war perpetrated on its country – the message was excised, replaced with footage of an American, Raymond ‘Perry Mason’ Burr, and released in the US. Fear of radiation was everywhere…
The success of ‘Godzilla’ created many imitations. Artist Jack Kirby came up with a host of ridiculous giant creatures including Grogg, Orrgo and Gorgilla, suggesting he was only working with part of the alphabet, and comic books Eerie and Creepy took over from the job EC Comics had started, telling horror stories in cartoon form for a new generation. TV shows ‘The Munsters’ and ‘The Addams Family’ were unfunny and unscary, but there was something charming about them.
By the time breakfast cereals included Count Chocula and Franken Berry the craze was over. Voger’s book and others, notably ‘The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read’ by Jim Trombetta and R. Spiel recapture those strange days when children’s minds were filled with gruesome images, to no discernibly harmful effect whatsoever. If anything, they inspired a new generation of writers and artists.