Vintage movie monsters maintain spooky appeal

Universal monsters
Dracula, Wolfman, The Phantom, Frankenstein's Monster, the creature from the Black Lagoon; Universal Pictures created some of the most memorable monsters of all time.
Image from Universal Monster's Army Web site

Dracula, the Wolfman, Frankenstein's Monster, Phantom of the Opera, the Mummy . . . these ghouls seem like they've been creeping us out forever. But our vision of these monsters comes from a very specific time and place in film history.

Not many kids today could quote you a line or name you a character from other classic movies from the 1930's and 40's, but they know all the black and white baddies made famous by Universal Studios.

Take those kids and fast forward 40 years and you've got someone Terry Beatty, part of a club called the Universal Monster's Army. His basement contains a prized collection of monster memorabilia.

"My wife has pretty much made it clear that she's trying to confine me and my obsession to this one room," he says.

Terry Ingram
Terry Ingram has been a fan of monsters since childhood. He started the Universal Monster's Army as a website for other serious fans to share their obsession.
MPR Photo/Sanden Totten

Hand painted models, card games, vintage magazines, life-sized figures and even a Creature from the Black Lagoon pinball machine fill this tiny space. It's all owned by another Terry - Terry Ingram. He started the Universal Monsters Army a few years back as a website for horror heads. His obsession runs deep, much to the chagrin of his wife.

"She's not with it man, she's not with it," he says." She says, 'it takes up too much of your time! If I am talking to you about anything that isn't Wolfman or Frankenstein your eyes just gloss over and you fall asleep.'"

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More monsters
Terry Ingram's basement room is a tribute to the Universal Monsters. He has toys, cards, magazines and life sized replicas of the classic horror figures.
MPR Photo/Sanden Totten

When Beatty and Ingram were growing up, the late night creature feature was king. And the Universal Monsters were the best of the beasts. They were like the rat pack of horror. They had a ton of movies. They had sequels to those movies. They were in cartoons, comics and they were all over merchandise.

But for Ingram, these monsters were about more than just thrills and chills.

Monster collection
Terry Ingram has a monster collection of monster memorabilia. His wife has kept his obsession confined to one tightly packed room.
MPR Photo/Sanden Totten

"I think what keeps these films timeless is that they are kind of like fairy tales," he says. "With Frankenstein, you know there is this fear of rejection. And I think we all share that fear inside of us. Wolfman is just the savage beast ravaging. It's all these kind of themes of misfits."

Aviva Briefel, who teaches horror at Bowdoin College, says the Universal characters stood out because deep down they were human and vulnerable.

"They are terrifying, but they are also sympathetic," she says.

Mini Mummy
Kids know the classic monsters from Universal Studios but they are sometimes fuzzy on the details.
MPR Photo/Sanden Totten

Take Frankenstein. He just was just a lonely guy with poor social skills. He tried to make a friend but ended up being chased down by an angry mob who didn't understand him. Who hasn't had a day like that?

In a way these monsters are like us, and Aviva says that makes them especially creepy.

"It's really uncomfortable for an audience member to not be able to just push the monsters away and just think of that monster as utterly different," she says. "But instead to have to recognize that the monster reflects them in some way."

Little Dracula
Decades after Bela Lugosi made Dracula famous, children still dress up in his image for Halloween.
MPR Photo/Sanden Totten

Today's horror movies harp on a different theme. They are about things like torture and senseless gut churning violence. But that doesn't mean monsters have left pop culture - think "Twilight" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Aviva says nowadays were just as likely to fall in love with a monster as we are to fear them.

"We've some how have learned to tame them by embracing them," she says. "We are very willing to recognize ourselves in these monsters, perhaps because they present such innocent images of humanity."

Back in the basement though, Terry Ingram says for him today's horror films don't measure up.

"I am not into it at all," he says. "I'm sorry, I'm old school all they way. It just lacks, I think, the magic that the old black and white films had."