In case you didn't know, tomorrow is National Teacher Day. This may seem like an unusual reminder to post on a blog such as this, but there's a method behind my madness. It's been my experience that public schools and educators are never too far away from the heart of the storm whenever there is some kind of national controversy or public funding crisis, and our country's latest wave of financial woes is no exception to this rule. Thus, in honor of National Teacher Day, I've decided to show my appreciation of public educators in a way that's fitting for a horror movie maniac like me. Read on for why horror fans everywhere should be tipping their hats to the public schools and educators who played a vital role in shaping their damaged and deranged minds.
Each fan has a unique story to tell as to how he or she became a devotee of horror movies. Some may have seen their first horror movie that was broadcast during the weekend on a local TV station during an otherwise routine round of channel surfing. Maybe they picked up a monster magazine or creature comic book during an otherwise ordinary visit to their local newsstand and have never been the same ever since. Others still may have found their curiosity piqued by the weird and lurid box cover art that adorned the selections in the horror section of their local video store. Yet in between these usual suspects of childhood corrupters is the public school--its library selections, its teachers, and its curriculums--that really ties it all together.
Speaking from my own experience, some of my first encounters with classic movie monsters didn't come from TV, comic books or magazines--they came through Crestwood House's series of books about movie monsters that were carried in my elementary school library. (Click here for this particular trip down memory lane.) Crestwood even put together teacher's kits and "Monster Reading Center" displays, complete with read-along audio cassettes and class quizzes, so that schools could use classic movie monsters as a way to encourage kids to read. How awesome is that! (Check out James Burrell’s article about Crestwood House’s movie monster books and teacher kit over at the Rue Morgue site for more details.)
Sure, public libraries carried the same kind of horror literature, but it was in the halls of public schools where budding horror mavens could exchange recommendations as to what to get out of the school library to which everyone had access. Even after my classmates moved past the Crestwood House books yet before they starting getting into the works of Stephen King and Dean Koontz, our school library had on hand a series of Alfred Hitchcock books. They weren't books by Hitchcock himself, or books about Hitchcock and his movies. From what I can remember, they were compilations of short stories in the horror genre and were aimed at my age group--books such as Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful, Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery and Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbinders in Suspense.
There was even a B-movie-esque book from our school library that made its rounds among my classmates called The Plant People by Dale Carson, which was about a town where people who were exposed to a mysterious cloud of gas begin turning into plants. It may not have been the best horror tale that our library had to offer but it contained pictures that looked like stills out of a movie, which left a lasting impression on anyone who saw them. Furthermore, as bizarre stories involving unnatural plants go, The Plant People is still vastly superior to The Happening.
Yet none of these books would have been nearly as enjoyable without the teachers who taught us the literary backgrounds that inspired many of these terrifying tales. Some of the best classes I had were those where we discussed ancient Greek mythology, the literary works of Edgar Allen Poe, and gruesome classics such as William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Shakespeare's own theatrical kill-a-thons such as Macbeth. There were also the occasional creative writing assignments, where we could commit our frightening flights of fancy to paper and submit them for a grade (with varying results, of course, but at least the opportunity was there).
Even when it wasn't part of the curriculum, our teachers would provide us with a few additional terrifying treats during the school year. Every Halloween, one of my English teachers would put up a "Movie Monster Quiz" poster from Scholastic Books, a poster that displayed an impressive selection of both well-known and obscure movie monsters.
Whoever put this poster together really knew his/her movie monster history. Not only does it have both the Universal and Hammer Studios versions of Frankenstein's monster, but it also has B-grade monsters from movies such as The She Creature and Invasion of the Saucer Men.
As part of her homeroom study hall, another teacher would provide a box of books and magazines for students to read if they didn't have any homework to do. Among the reading selections were a few books about horror movies and modern-day monster legends (such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Mothman), as well as a stack of horror comics. These comics were well-read by many previous classes of students--the covers were missing, so I couldn't tell you under which horror titles the comics were published--and they were good, gory ways to pass the time until the next class started. Nevertheless, it's nothing short of a miracle that this box of teacher-owned, student-accessible horror comics evaded the notice of and confiscation by the local self-righteous town busybodies.
These are just my experiences but I’m sure that many of you horror fans who are reading this have similar stories of your own. So the next time you're admiring your favorite horror stories and icons, don't forget the schools and educators who helped to foster your appreciation of all things dark and creepy and be sure to show your support for public education for the sake of the many generations of horror fans yet to come.