The legendary Famous Monsters of Filmland will always be with us. Forrest J. Ackerman's creation is a part of the collective memory of people of a certain age who recall hiding the magazine from parents and friends. Geek-like monster fans would read with glee the horrible puns and offbeat humor of what could only be considered as the dark side of the Mad magazine generation.
Strangely, although the articles were loaded with photos and wonderful trivia about such things as The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Lon Chaney's make-up secrets, the back of the magazine was loaded with mail order possibilities for everything from silent, wildly truncated versions in 8m horror for home enjoyment to models, masks and recordings. Nearly a third of the magazine was devoted to such ads, and there is a strong suspicion that such advertisements added greatly to the magazine's revenues, perhaps even more than the newsstand or subscription revenue. And we kids wanted everything advertised there.
And we still do.
And the great news is one of the 1963 recordings has been reissued, Famous Monsters Speak, a legendary hunk of vinyl is now, thanks to Rock Beat Records, available in compact disc format. It runs about 40 minutes, and may bring back childhood memories of an LP played so many times that the grooves creaked more than the door to Dracula's castle.
Listening to it today, it sounds, well, incredibly cheap. There is only one narrator, Gabe Dell, or as he's credited here, Gabriel Dell. Something of a show biz legend, Dell's career covers the Dead End Kids to Sondheim's original Anyone Can Whistle. He was prodigiously talented. The recording was written by Cherney Berg, with sound effects, lots of sound effects, by Hal Johnson. The liner notes are skimpy, but the chance to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear more than make up the charming klunkiness of the recordings.
So, if you want to hear the Frankenstein monster existentially complain about his life or a nifty narration of the basic plot of Dracula, revel in the talent of Gabe Dell, or just relive a misspent youth, this CD certainly belongs in your collection. Before CIG, 4-D and the rest of such hi-tech nonsense, there was The Word, and, at its best, this recording is a celebration of what it must have been like to sit around and just listen.
And be really scared.
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