What’s Under Your Bed?
By Patrick F. Cannon
When I was about four years old, my sister Kathleen (who then would have been 15) took my year-older brother Pete and I to the movies. As I recall, there were three theatres in our hometown of Braddock, PA. The fanciest was the Capitol. That’s where the big productions went after closing in downtown Pittsburgh. The others were the Paramount and Times. We usually ended up at the Paramount, which featured double features of mostly B westerns.
Along with Hopalong Cassidy, Johnny Mack Brown, Gene Autry, and other heroes, you would get a newsreel (dominated by World War II, which was just underway) and a cartoon. On that particular day, the bill of fare instead included two horror movies – The Mummy and The Wolf Man. The latter sometimes appears on old movie channels. The Mummy, originally released in 1931, is generally only available on DVD and maybe streaming services.
In case you’d forgotten, a Mummy is a dead Pharoah embalmed and wrapped in bandages. In this particular movie, he’s played by Boris Karloff, who’s more famous for impersonating Frankenstein’s monster. But you have to start somewhere. It seems this particular Pharoah was dug up by a diligent grave robber (a British archeologist). This is a no-no, so Boris rises from his coffin, staggers haltingly toward the camera (the audience), then unwraps himself and takes off after the grave robber. Needless to say, he looked better wrapped up.
(The discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922 and it’s curse would have been fresh in people’s minds in 1931. Similar stories have been a staple of the movies ever since.)
Lon Cheney, Jr appeared as the title character in 1941s The Wolf Man, which is now considered a classic of the genre. Poor Lon was strolling through the woods one evening when he was confronted by a snarling wolf, played by Mickey Rooney in wolf’s clothing (just kidding). Anyway, the wolf, whose fangs were dripping with goo, bites poor Lon, but doesn’t finish the job. He recovers, but ever after, when the Moon is full, spouts shaggy fur and a mouth full of sharpish teeth in an early classic of special effects. As with the mummy, panic ensues. The supporting cast was somewhat more memorable, and included Bela Lugosi and a real actor, Claude Raines, best remembered as Captain Renault in Casablanca.
On those long ago Saturdays, my sister would often deposit us at the Paramount and go on to the Capitol to see some mushy romance. If her movie finished first, she would be waiting for us; if not, we were instructed to wait for her to take us home.
Why would I remember this day out of hundreds of forgotten childhood days? Simply because I spent a night of pure terror. As it happened, our parents were away, and Pete and I slept in their bed. Every creak and every shadow foretold the imminent arrival of either the mummy or the Wolf Man. What was under the bed? What lurked in that partially open closet! I’m sure we eventually went to sleep out of pure exhaustion, but eighty years later, I still remember that night.
While I have occasionally seen a horror movie, in general I have avoided them ever since. To be frank, I have never understood the public’s demonstrated interest in stories about zombies, vampires and fellows wielding chain saws. If I want to be truly frightened, I need only pay attention to the knuckleheads we keep electing to political office.
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon