Late-night monster movies once haunted my childhood
Rick Bragg with Frankenstein
Credit: John Cuneo

As a boy, every October, I used to peek from beneath a 100-year-old quilt and scare myself stupid with late-night monster movies that haunted the airwaves over our house. The antenna picked up only two channels—well, three, if you twisted it toward Red Mountain.

It remains my favorite time of year. The foothills blazed in reds and golds as the cool air nudged an endless summer. County fairs lit up the night in a whirl of neon, and porches glowed orange with pumpkins. Only the monsters on the Philco were in black and white. I still watch them every fall, all relics of the past, like me. Now, I watch and smile.

I mean, what was I thinking?

The Mummy? Boris Karloff, who was swaddled in about 300 miles of gauze, crept across the floor in a kind of inexorable stagger, dragging one foot. One arm, I believe, was bound to his side. The other, he waved stiffly as he moved toward his victims, as fast as a man in a full body cast could go.

"Run!" I would urge his victims, inside my 7-year-old mind. But now I know it was not necessary to even hurry. Just walk away, for heaven's sake. Or saunter, or stroll. Stop and have lunch. And when he catches up, moaning, walk a little bit farther. Do anything but stand there, screaming, and wait…and wait…to be done in. The thing is, they always seemed to be surprised.

Frankenstein? The monster in this movie was a plodder, created without joints. Also, he appeared unable to bend at the waist. How, then, would he get through the doorframe? He would just smack his head over and over again.

The Blob? It moved like Karo syrup. My granny could outrun a blob.

Creature from the Black Lagoon? Not as swift on dry land. But in the movies, people tend to be stupid. And when the victims-to-be did run from a monster, they always fell down. They did not trip on anything. They just fell. Lord.

Dracula? He scared me in 1966. Now, I figure I could wait for him to turn into that bat and take him out with a Swiffer.

The Werewolf? Please. I have hairy kinfolk who howl at the moon and burst out of their pants.

The Invisible Man? He would never make it across the road here. Alabama drivers will run over you even when they see you.

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The old movies that still frighten me are about creatures that grew to insane proportions, like giant ants and spiders and that one about the octopus that rose from the deep and threatened to eat, I believe, San Francisco. I thought I was over that one, too, but I ordered octopus in a Greek restaurant in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and it all came writhing back to me. Nothing, after being boiled, should still be jiggling.

I saw one recently about—I'm not kidding—a giant snail. I'm not exactly a track star, but I think even I can outrun an escargot.