“Creature Crypt” is a four part weekly column that spotlights two creatures from our childhood that made us in to rabid horror fans. These are the creatures that scared us, wowed us, made us cry, and made us hope they weren’t under our bed.
I’ve always been somewhat indifferent toward the 1980’s version of “The Twilight Zone.” It comes with its share of tedium and brilliance quite often. You have to love that new version of theme song, but many of the episodes aren’t even remotely science fiction or horror related, and just are melodrama. There’s also the short segments that often feel incomplete and rushed in to a sloppy conclusion. Despite that, I have a lot of fond nostalgia toward it, mainly because it was a television I watched quite often when I was very young, and it’s a valiant attempt at the anthology show.
It’s not as good as “Tales from the Darkside” or “Monsters,” but it can have its merits. One of the best episodes of the series is surely an episode that continues to resonate with me. “The Shadow Man” is definitely the episode that not only continues to restore my faith in the ambition of the series, but really did ask for a follow up episode. “The Shadow Man” basically centers on the monster under the bed concept as we follow young Danny, a thirteen year old boy who is horrified of the dark. He spends his nights in his room with his television and radio on, along with his lamp. The one night his mom decides it’s time to shut off the lights and make sure he sleeps in the dark, he is confronted with the shadow man, a cloaked and cowled figure seemingly composed of shadows who emerges from under his bed. He’s the Shadow man and he will never hurt the person under whose bed he lives.
Danny realizes later on that the shadow man is hurting a bunch of kids in his town, and that the shadow man is basically working under his rule. What’s so interesting about the episode is that Joe Dante really does pose the darkness as something to be horrified of. My favorite scene is the large shot of Danny’s seemingly picturesque small town draped in darkness with brushing leaves along the wind. And the score for the episode is really the icing on the cake for what has to be seen during the Halloween season.
Danny is a rotten character when we first meet him and the episode isn’t so much about his redemption, but how he gets what he deserves. He uses the Shadow man to hurt his enemies, and engineer his social status. The ending is brutally creepy and works on so many levels of ambiguity, as Danny calls on the Shadow Man to hurt Danny’s school tormentors, only for the Shadow Man to turn on Danny. When Danny insists the Shadow Man can’t hurt him, the Shadow Man reveals he’s a Shadow Man from someone else’s Bed. My initial reaction was “Who’s bed?! Who wanted to hurt Danny?! Who is terrorizing this town?! There are other Shadow Men lurking around? It isn’t just one Shadow Man that’s seen walking through town hurting kids?!”
The episode never answers those questions, and ends on a long tracking shot of Danny at the Shadow Man’s mercy. Presumably either badly hurt, or dead. Much of my early knowledge of monsters and introduction to the horror genre was in animation. While I did in fact spend my time in the throes of Disney films, I also tended to gravitate more toward Looney Tunes episodes for my animation fix. I watched so many Looney Tunes it bordered on obsessive, often.
I wasn’t particularly easy to please either. I hated a lot of the early Merrie Melodies, and a lot of Porky Pig shorts. But when the shorts focused on monsters, I found them often entertaining and creative. Surely, Bugs was great at outwitting a hunter, and a cowboy, but could he really outwit Dracula? One of the funnier and more demented shorts involves Bugs dealing with a Gremlin, a small monster that thrives on destroying machinery. The Gremlin doesn’t just take advantage of Bugs’ fear of flying, but he seems to want to cause incomprehensible destruction. In one scene he even begins banging a missile head with a mallot, attempting to blow it up.
I’m also a big fan of Gossamer, the furry red beast with the black nails that is turned on Bugs when he attempts to thwarts the efforts of a mad scientist. Gossamer is often a character I felt deserved more than a few cartoons as a villain, because he works as a valid menace and a hilarious foe. I love how Bugs turns the tables by breaking the fourth wall and making the monster aware that there’s an audience watching them fight, to which the monster screeches “People!” and runs screaming through walls. There are just so many interesting monsters from the Looney Tunes library, from the Abominable Snowman, Marvin the Martian, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I also enjoy how Bugs manages to battle Dracula with a series of incantations that turn on the vampire. Horror themes Looney Tunes shorts really capture that menace without ever stopping the raucous laughter.