upr-header-1.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Critic Bob Mondello remembers the movie fright-fests he conjured in his youth

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Today's the day - kids getting dressed up for Halloween trick or treating, adults heading out to horror films like "Prey For The Devil" and critic Bob Mondello reminiscing about the simpler frights he helped scare up in his first job.

(SOUNDBITE OF THUNDER CLAPPING)

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Yeah, yeah, it's a dark and stormy night. Road's washed out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hello?

MONDELLO: Phone's gone dead.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE DISCONNECTION TONE)

MONDELLO: The mystic's read her Ouija board.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Can you show us a sign?

MONDELLO: And zombies are popping through doorways left open by a demented Kewpie doll - been there, seen that, got the T-shirt. In fact, I practically designed a T-shirt for this stuff back in the 1970s, before I was a movie critic. My first gig out of college was doing publicity for a theater chain called Roth Theaters, working for Paul Roth, an old-school movie guy who'd probably forgotten more about showmanship by that time than I'll ever know. He had a couple of drive-in theaters, and for them, Halloween was both a challenge and an opportunity - the right place for scares, obviously, but hard to find new movies for when the weather got cold. So Paul dug deep in the B-movie horror vaults and showed me how to sell the sizzle, not the steak - something like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Friday night at the Ranch Drive-In, our dusk to dawn Halloween horror-thon.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Screaming).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: All-night fright fest with five - count 'em (ph) - five full-length features.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Screaming).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Shuddering specters guaranteed to scare you shout-less, films so terrifying we can't even reveal the titles.

MONDELLO: Yeah, couldn't reveal the titles because they were more terrible than terrifying.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We can say this. No one with a heart condition will be admitted. We'll have nurses in attendance and a hearse standing by.

MONDELLO: Man, I used to love writing copy like that. Years later, when John Goodman played a '60s horror guy in the movie "Matinee," wiring theater seats to deliver electric shocks at scary moments...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MATINEE")

JOHN GOODMAN: (As Lawrence Woolsey) The big studios - none of them have anything like it.

MONDELLO: ...I felt like I was watching my boss.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MATINEE")

GOODMAN: (As Lawrence Woolsey) I love this business.

MONDELLO: These days, you go to a scary movie, you see a scary movie. And no question, the scares are scarier now. It's all up there on screen. But the old horror-thons and terror-ramas (ph), which were horror-thons but sexy, had their charms, too. I still remember Paul showing me how a little red food coloring in the popcorn oil could turn a bucket of popcorn into a...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Bucket of blood.

MONDELLO: Kind of gross, right? But the point was to scare the yell out of you, and we mostly did. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MATINEE")

CATHY MORIARTY: (As Ruth Corday) A little question of taste.

JESSE WHITE: (As Mr. Spector) No, no. But your younger patrons - you could have some seat wetness. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.