Monster movies are scary.
It’s a lesson I learned early in my journey to becoming a monster kid. How one responds to that fear is what separates monster kids from everybody else. Monster kids love the monsters that scare them.
This is the story of how I learned this lesson and how I responded.
My parents were naively trusting. Either that, or they cunningly knew I wouldn’t make it 5 minutes into the movie. Maybe it was a little of both. Whatever the reason, they agreed to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS on the network Friday Night Movie. It was 1971 and I was 5 years old.
The previous summer, I had seem my first monster movie, King Kong, at the public library and I was hooked. I checked out every library book on movie monsters I could find over the course of that summer and did the same at the school library when summer ended. Books were good, but in the days before streaming and even VHS tapes, actually seeing a monster movie was a big deal. Especially when you were my age.
Each week, I scoured the new issue of TV Guide and circled the movies I wished I could see. I had an early bedtime, so my options were limited. Then I saw it– the ABC Friday Night at the Movies World Premiere Event — WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS.
I found this TV Guide Ad from 1974 on eBay — though not the channel or the year I discovered this movie, it is similar to the ad that captured my imagination in 1971:
I had never heard of this movie before seeing this ad, but I knew about Ringling Brothers’ Gargantua. So I figured, by name and appearance, this movie was going to be like a crazy version of KING KONG with two monsters. I knew had to see this movie, and I carefully prepared my campaign to convince my parents began. To my surprise, they agreed to let me stay up and watch it as soon as I asked. Naive, or wiley…always the question.
I spent the rest of the week in complete anticipation of that night. At last, Friday night arrived and I sat in front of the TV with baited breath.
Fans of this movie know it wastes absolutely no time in getting to the thrills or, in the case of my 5 year-old-self, the terror.
As the eerie sounds of the theremin played over the opening sequence, we see a ship at sea. With lightening crackling overhead, a lone captain mans the ship against the coming storm. Within seconds, an octopus tentacle snakes through an open door of the ship and wraps around the captain’s leg. He fights it off, only to be ensnared again by another tentacle. We then see the massive octopus, larger than the boat, as it begins to pull the helpless sailor toward it. Suddenly, the captain is free and the tentacles gone. The startled and relieved sailor looks out to see an epic battle raging between the giant octopus and something else– a humanoid of massive proportion. This gargantua kills the octopus, but it’s intent was not to save the captain and his ship. He then grabs the vessel and, like a child in the bath tub, rocks the boat violently, trying to get at the tasty human morsels inside.
That was enough for me. I turned off the TV and ran to find my parents. I hadn’t even made it to the opening title of the film.
I have since seen this movie many times. I watched it earlier today as I prepared to write this and, out of curiosity, I timed the opening scene at 3:58. I had convinced my parents to let me stay up late to watch a monster movie and I made it all of 4 minutes.
Where KING KONG made me feel excited and sad, WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS scared me.
This movie taught me an important lesson about monster movies — they were SCARY!
Of course, becoming a monster kid meant facing your fears and watching the movie. For me, this happened incrementally.
PLANET of the APES was my next attempt.
I made it all the way to corn fields before giving in to the my fear. I didn’t even get to see the apes in my first effort. But I made it past the frightening scenes of death in the spaceship and the disturbing, anxiety-provoking music and Taylor’s trek across the Forbidden Zone. Progress.
But that’s a story for another time.
Attempting to watch GARGANTUAS was a critical step for me as a five-year-old. Perhaps more important, I didn’t let my fear stop me. I remained curious about monsters and I kept coming back for more. I was becoming a Monster Kid.
If you haven’t seen WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS in a long time or, Heaven forbid, you’ve never seen it, click on the image below to stream it on Amazon Instant Video. This is a fun 60’s monster movie and, in my opinion, one of the best non-Godzilla kaiju films ever: