Thursday, October 28, 2004

Cincinnatian's DVD gathers kids' monsters

By Lance Moody / Enquirer contributor

A flickering image plays upon the screen. It's a familiar one: Dracula, his cape raised like bat wings, closing in on a victim. There are screams, flashing fangs and terror.

But there's something decidedly different about this Dracula. How can he leave his coffin on a bright summer day? Why is his cape such a pale shade of lavender? And why does he appear to be about 10 years old?

This is a Monster Kid movie. These charming and sometimes scary films were created by kids in the 1960s and '70s to honor their heroes, the Universal Pictures monsters like Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein.

A local Monster Kid is working to preserve these rare films for monster fans to enjoy in the future. Joe Busam, an animator with the Cincinnati-based PPS Group, has collected some of the best work from across the country for a DVD celebrating these forgotten mini-masterpieces.

Beginning in the late 1950s, movie studios reluctantly released old films to television. Collections of old horror movies were packaged and sold to TV stations, which created horror movie programs like Shock Theater.

Unexpectedly, these movies found a fanatical following among kids seeing them for the first time, creating a huge demand for anything monster-related. Local TV horror hosts like Cincinnati's Cool Ghoul got in on the act, spoofing the films between commercials.

"There were no DVDs back then," Busam said. "You might have waited a year to see a particular film on TV. We were so passionate about the monster movies that we were desperately grasping for anything we could get our hands on."

Some of the most enthusiastic young fans decided to make their own 8mm monster movies to enjoy with their friends and families. Backyards became Transylvania. Garages became laboratories. And the Monster Kids relived the stories they had seen played out by Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi.

These fragile reels are an almost lost document of a cultural phenomenon. Undoubtedly many of them were thrown out as the kids got older.

Preparing the DVD has shown Busam that many Monster Kids still have the same childlike enthusiasm and spirit of sharing.

"Everyone wanted to contribute to this project for the sheer love of it," said Busam.

The children featured on the DVD grew up, of course, and became adults with families and careers: a former Disney animator, an editor at USA Today, a Superman comic book artist. But they never lost their love of movie monsters, gathering at annual conventions like Pittsburgh's Monster Bash where the idea for the DVD collection began to form five years ago.

The creativity displayed in the films is often startling and amusing. In one film the kids have fashioned a dragon-like monster of painted boxes. In another, tufts of their pet collie's hair help make a Wolf Man mask, with some of the makeup designs remarkably accomplished.

The $15 DVD will be available early next year through a dedicated Web site ( and ads in genre movie magazines.

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