The "Hollywood Costume" exhibit opens this month at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and I can't wait.
It's not because I like costumes. It's because it triggers my earliest memories about the monster movies
I watched as a kid.
It all began in front of a black-and-white TV set on a dreary day as I watched The Mummy come to life and kill all of those people back in the '50s. My parents thought the violence would have an effect on me, but it only made me scared of gauze.
I loved what those monsters did to make people wiggle in their seats or scream uncontrollably in the dark. Even today, when I hear someone let out a blood-curdling scream, my first reaction is to think that maybe they saw Dracula. My sisters would sit in front of a movie screen with their hands over their eyes and just enough opening between the fingers to see what was scary. They screamed, too.
When I was 12, I could see five movies for a buck. Every movie seemed to have the word "blood" in the title, and every movie was considered a B movie with B actors. The leading lady always seemed to wear a tight sweater, and then she always died in that sweater. The monsters didn't care much for tight clothing. When I spent all day in a very dark theater with 20 other kids who spent their last dollar to be frightened, we would let everything scare us — noises coming from below the staircase and creaks coming from the floor boards above. There was always a monster lurking, we thought, and there always was something scary in the dark. We yelled at the actors on the screen not to open the door or go down those stairs, but it never helped. Pretty soon, there would be one fewer B actors in the movie, and we couldn't save them.
Many of those movies didn't feature a mummy or a blood-sucking man with an accent. Sometimes there were larger-than-life spiders or lizards that lived in the lake. Even though we knew they existed, nobody would believe us. People still ventured into the lake and were eaten. It was apparent to us kids that, after these monsters would finish off the townsfolk in the movie, they would come after us in the audience. So, I just hunkered down, stopped yelling at the screen and waited for the next movie to start. Perhaps the leading lady would stay alive until the second reel this time.