Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Halloween Memory (Dracula, Renfield, and My Grandfather)

Every Halloween, as the TV networks show some classic horror films out of a sense of duty to the few true fans left out in television's wasteland of watchers, I get a little nostalgic.

And it's only now that I realize what an enormous influence my grandfather was on my movie fandom.

Sure, I would have found my way to the monster movie books and magazines on my own as a kid, but would I have gravitated to the flicks from the 1930s without my grandfather's stories of seeing those titles firsthand when they were new and he was a young man working in Depression-era movie theaters in NYC and DC?

Probably not.

When I was a kid, I had that Dracula (1931) poster up on my bedroom wall. It came from a set of mini-poster reproductions -- more like postcards -- of some Universal Horror films.

I can't help but laugh now when recalling my grandfather doing his Renfield impression from the same film.

There's a memorable scene where the ship is found with the crew either missing or killed, and the guys hear this hysterical cackling and the door swings open to the below-decks area and Renfield (Dwight Frye) peers up grinning like an idiot.

My grandfather would sometimes reference that scene as he ambled up from the basement when I was a kid. I was most likely laughing and a little scared at the same time as I was probably only 7 or 8 when I first saw Dracula (1931) on TV.

He'd also sometimes mention Renfield's little spiel later in the film, the one about eating flies or spiders.

Those are two admittedly silly anecdotes but, every time Dracula is on, I think about Granddad.

My grandfather really fostered a love of films from the 1930s in me and it's very hard for me to enjoy American cinema from the 1950s, say, as it just seems so lifeless compared to that earlier era of Nick and Nora Charles, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, Jimmy Cagney, and the Universal Horror films.

Here I am, spring of 1975, age 8, clutching my action figures -- including an Iron Man one! -- with my grandparents in their front yard.