“How to be a Monsterkid in the 1970s, or The Fine Art of Blackmailing your Sister”
For those unfamiliar with the term “Monsterkid,” and to be fair, that’s likely to be anyone under the age of fifty, it denotes those of us fortunate enough to have done the following: lived our formative years in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s; spent our disposable income on Famous Monsters magazines, Aurora’s Monster model kits, Horror comic books, and Monster movie matinees; and to have received our education from late-night Creature Features and Drive-In Horror marathons. The first was a matter of fortuitous timing on the part of my Mother and Father. The second may be ascribed to my general lack of thrift and the proximity of the local 7-11, Pic ‘n’ Save, and the Regency Square Twin Theater. The last, however—the last took some work on my part.
Not the Creature Features, thankfully. No, that was easy. Though the local station that had the early ‘70s version of the Shock Theatre package had dispensed with a host for the movies, I didn’t care. I eagerly poured over the TV Guide each week, making note of the Horror films on the schedule—and in the early 1970s, there were plenty. But the week revolved around the Friday night Creature Feature. That’s where I first met Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Mummy Kharis—both Universal and Hammer versions. It’s how I came to love Giant Bugs, Zombies, and Charlie Chan. It was Monsterkid manna from Heaven.
For newer movies however, or movies that couldn’t be aired on television in the early 1970s, there were two options available—the Regency Square Twin Theater, with two, count ‘em, TWO, screens, and the Drive-Ins, of which we had two to choose from, depending on the movies that were playing.
Regency Square was where we went every Wednesday in the summer for the Kiddie Shows. It’s where our parents would take us to see family-friendly, age-appropriate movies—in short, nothing I wanted to see. The Regency was safe, it was supervised, either by our parents, or, if we were dropped off to see a movie on our own, by the theater staff. It was where I had to sit through Herbie the Love Bug, and Pippi Longstocking. It was also where I first saw Star Wars, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it was where, on a July day in 1975, I stood on line for three hours to see the movie that forever ended my love of swimming in the ocean.
The problem with the Regency, however, was that I couldn’t see the movies I really wanted to see there. Even if we went without our parents in attendance, there was always some adult nearby to say, “NO!” “No, that movie is rated R; no, that movie is too scary for kids; no, and do your parents know you’re here?” It doesn’t take a village to raise a child, it just takes a bunch of adults to act like adults, and treat kids like kids.
If the Regency represented structure, and control, and discipline, then the Drive-In represented the polar opposite. The Drive-In was freedom, and chaos, and hedonism—at least, it was to a pre-teen Unimonster. The problem was getting there. It was a Drive-In; we couldn’t simply be dropped off. That was compounded by the fact that one went to the Drive-In at night; even in the far more permissive ‘70s, our parents weren’t going to let us roam free once the sun set. Heathens we may have been, but we weren’t neglected heathens. And our parents did not do the Drive-In.
And so it fell to my eldest sister, Wanda Susan, to facilitate our trips to the Drive-In. Mom would give her money—$10 or so—for our admission and for food from the concession stand for our supper or snacking. It would be Wanda, and I, our younger brother Mark Edward, and usually our cousin Andy. Andy’s mother Dottie would frequently accompany us, as she and Wanda were close in age and often hung out together. At a dollar a head, it didn’t leave much in the way of cash for food, but enough for a hot dog, some popcorn, and a coke for each of us. In theory, and if all went as Mom expected it to. In actual practice, however, that was seldom the case.
As soon as we were out of the driveway, Wanda wasted no time telling us how it would be. Forget the hot dogs and popcorn. We were going to pick up Dottie and Andy, then stop at the closest 7-11 to the Drive-In, where us kids would get a 15¢ bag of chips (always Wise’s Onion and Garlic for me) and a 10¢ Coke. Then it was into the trunk for the three of us for the trip through the Drive-In’s front gate. Once parked, it was out of the trunk and onto a blanket in front of the car; sitting inside was reserved for Wanda, Dottie, and any friends they might meet up with at the Drive-In. Of course, Wanda pocketed the money she saved by not buying our dinner, or paying for us at the gate. To be honest, we really didn’t mind—in our minds it was an adventure, and we were excited at the idea of putting something over on the adults, parents included.
If there was a drawback, at least in the first few such trips, it was that Wanda chose the movie we would see. I found that particularly annoying, as her tastes in movies did not correspond to my own, not to mention the fact that they seldom watched the movie anyway. They were too busy talking, laughing, gossiping, and, being true children of the ‘60s, indulging in a little forbidden weed. It didn’t take too many such excursions for me to recognize the inherent opportunities for some harmless sibling extortion.
And so a deal was struck. We would continue to tolerate the snacks on the cheap and the trunk rides to the Drive-In, and in exchange we would go see whatever movie I wanted to see. Mom and Dad would remain blissfully ignorant of her lack of supervision, her misappropriation of funds, and her “recreational” activities, and I would see the best of ‘70s Horror and Exploitation film. Over the next few years, we would see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blood Feast, Night of the Living Dead, Sugar Hill, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, A Bay of Blood, Blacula, Two Thousand Maniacs—and Naughty Stewardesses. Hey, Man does not live by Horror alone.
I know that I’ve written previously on this topic, of how my sister Dee Karen introduced me to Horror films at a young age, and fostered my growing love for the genre, a love that continues to grow to this day. I’ve related how my sister Wanda Susan did her part to encourage that love, unwittingly and perhaps unwillingly, as the case may be. But I think it bears repeating. No one springs fully formed from the womb; we are all products of our experiences and influences, be they positive or negative. I have been blessed with wonderful siblings, including two older sisters who have had a profound influence on my life. Both of them, each in her own way, played a huge part in their baby brother Johnny growing up to be the Unimonster. And for that, I love them both dearly.
Creature Feature © D. Dyszel 2021
Dick Dyszel - Voice Actor