In the summer of ’69 I was not buying my very first six string at a five-and-dime, as the song goes. Far from. My 8 year old feet were pedaling my bicycle all around the neighborhood trying to work up the courage to see Vincent Price and Christopher Lee in “The Oblong Box” with my dad at the movie theatre that night. But after several minutes into the film I ran off into the lobby and spent the rest of the film’s run time there, chatting with the theatre’s manager, and nursing a box of wild cherry drops and a container of popcorn…and hiding from Edward, the horrible killer in the crimson velvet mask.
My dad knew I was a blossoming monster fan, and he thought this would be a great experience for he and I to enjoy together. He had witnessed my choice of Halloween costumes veering away from Mickey Mouse, and progressing into the more frightening fare of a bug-eyed alien with an exposed brain. Plus, as a teenager in the Midwest, he himself had been witness to the Frankenstein monster lumbering and lurching down the aisle during a screening he attended with friends. He always talked about how great it was to see a real LIVE monster during the presentation, adding a chilling, interactive and realistic effect to the movie going experience.
After doing research in my later years I heard that Glenn Strange had done a tour of live appearances where he performed as the monster in movie theatres. Could Glenn’s tour have possibly taken him through the Midwest, and had dad actually seen the REAL Frankenstein monster in person?! WOW!
I had always been intrigued by the Frankenstein monster, and was particularly enamored with the craggy face of Glenn Strange as the monster. This frightening visage was plastered on everything from candy to Halloween costumes. Unlike Boris’ portrayal, where he seemed like a scared, lost child, Glenn played him with raw power and brute strength. This was just the ticket for a growing pre-adolescent boy who wanted to bend the world to his will.
I still remember that day at Four Brothers market in Aberdeen, South Dakota. My 13 year old eyes spotted a magazine on the rack which featured a beautiful painting of Bela Lugosi as Dracula on the cover. I paged through the magazine and was transported into a world far away from the snowy, cold days that were typical of a brutal Midwestern winter. Unlike some of the other magazines I had seen that featured only illustrations of monsters, these had REAL pictures! Of REAL MONSTERS! Real pictures of the movies I wasn’t getting to see on TV in my town. That was the day I adopted a new uncle, Uncle Forry, and purchased my very first “Famous Monsters” magazine. (I STILL have that issue in my collection!)
Every year as Halloween rolled around I took my paperboy earnings and headed to the local Woolworth’s on Main Street. I bought all of the Scar Stuff, plastic fangs, and Halloween wigs I could afford. I was determined to BECOME some of the monsters I enjoyed seeing in the pages of “FM!” And with a greenish gray rubber swim cap, a lid from a coffee can, and a black Halloween wig, I built my very own Frankenstein monster head piece.
Luckily, my parents were VERY supportive of my burgeoning interest in special effects make-up and character performing. By the time I was 13 I had already established a repertoire of characters that were well-known (and sometimes eschewed) around our simple and humble neighborhood. While other boys my age were engaged in various forms of games involving some sort of a ball, I was donning plastic fangs, wearing capes, finding suitable tree twigs to represent the shape of a silver wolf’s head cane, and chasing down the neighborhood girls to put the bite of “Barnabas Collins” upon their necks!
I always enjoyed playing with Silly Putty as a kid, but after I saw “The Planet Of The Apes” I started to ponder new uses for the flexible, fleshy fare. If I could just form it into the muzzle of an ape, and stick on some hair from a Halloween wig, I could become an ape; at least for a brief period of time before the Silly Putty started to sag and fall off my face. But thank God I had a mom who brandished an available Instamatic camera and possessed a fast trigger finger!
Viewed through the prism of the pages of “Famous Monsters” magazine, my 13 year old brain became familiar with the names Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Basis Gogos, Bela Lugosi…and of course, the great Lon Chaneys (both Sr. and Jr.!). Many a cold, snowy afternoon were whiled away in my bedroom eating a box of Red Hots, listening to the song “Brandy” on my transistor radio, and perusing the pulpy pages of the latest “FM” issue.
The “Dark Shadows” board game, a Mattel Thing-Maker, and yes, MORE Silly Putty were always items that ranked high on my Christmas wish list. If you would have asked me what my favorite horror movie was at that point in my life I would have given you several, as each one of my favorites appealed to a different part of my growing monster fascination. It could have been a monster classic, or a Hammer film, or possibly even “House of Dark Shadows;” depending on which horrifying monster personality I had decided to embody that day. In the easily distractible, hummingbird brain of a pre-adolescent, favorites were a very fluid thing.
In the 80’s my reading of choice had matured from “Famous Monsters” to “Fangoria.” Before the word cosplay had even been coined, I was busily constructing home-made versions of a Michael Myers and a Leatherface costume to wear at various events. My childlike monster obsession had given way to an undying love of the films “Halloween,” “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Dawn of the Dead,” and the “NEW” luxury of being able to watch movies at home on something called a VHS player! Those films were the trifecta of terror in my life at the time.
But imagine my thrill when, decades later, I was playing monster characters for real! And best of all, making money doing it! I had moved to Los Angeles to make the leap into professional acting, and the first film I ever participated in was “Return of the Living Dead 2.” I was an atmospheric zombie we affectionately called Burt the Zombie; for his resemblance to a half-decayed Burt Reynolds. It was a wonderful headpiece created by make-up/effects legend Kenny Myers. A decade later I’d get made up as another zombie by another make-up effects legend Rob Hall for “The Bogus Witch Project.”
In the late 80’s I had been cast to play Freddy Krueger from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” in two national TV commercials promoting a 1-900 phone line. This involved flying to New York with make-up/effects maestro David Miller, and being made up in the famous foam latex prosthetics that had been created for Robert Englund. On the plane trip back to L.A. I remember telling David my assertion that he, in creating Freddy’s signature look, was responsible for creating ‘the Frankenstein monster of our generation.’ The expression on his face conveyed a thankfulness for what was probably the best compliment a successful monster kid like David had ever heard!
A short few years later, I found myself at the world-famous Universal Studios theme park making myself up as Beetlejuice to perform in a slate of daily live shows in “The Beetlejuice Rockin’ Graveyard Revue!” (The experience of making myself up as monsters in my basement all those years had paid finally off!) Here I was, drawing a paycheck from the very studio that was responsible for creating most of the favorite monster fare I enjoyed as a kid! That magical fact was never lost on me during the four years I worked at the park. Many times I was called down to the “lower lot” to make publicity appearances at the famous “Frankenstein arch,” where they filmed numerous scenes in the classic films I loved! I still get goosebumps thinking about it!
Soon my career veered away from performing on-camera, and into the wonderful world of Voice Acting, which was very much like discovering my true love. Now I could give voice to a varied collection of fantastical animated creature characters without any regard for how I looked physically. I could add screeching mumblings to the Green-Eyed Skeleton Man in “Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed.” I could voice demon, zombie and monster characters for all sorts of movies and TV shows like “Power Rangers,” as well as for the burgeoning field of “video games” that was just starting to grow!
When I met Daniel Roebuck at Rob Zombie’s birthday party, where I was performing as Beetlejuice, we exchanged numbers and stayed in touch. He was like a brother-from-another-mother, with an origin story very similar to my own. By then I had designated one of the rooms in my house as The Chaney Room, which was a fully functional make-up studio and costume room. And like Daniel, I had also become a voracious collector of high-end, life size “wax museum” quality figures.
When I was given the opportunity to produce the DVD boxed set release of “The Groovie Goolies” in the mid 2000’s, I knew this was something Dan and I would both enjoy doing together. “The Groovie Goolies” represented everything I loved about entertainment; animation, monsters, and rock and roll. I vowed to someday create a property that was the culmination of my diverse interests. Like maybe…monsters, Dr. Seuss, Halloween and Christmas?
After noticing a woeful lack of monster-themed Christmas items in the marketplace, I decided to create prototypes of my own line of monster Christmas stockings back in 2018. And when I showed them to a buddy who’s a marketing genius and an author, he suggested that I write stories about how each of the monster stockings were created and pitch them as book-and-toy sets. That’s all I needed to hear. I was off and running with a series of short stories, all revolving around the growing line of monster stockings.
Since I was a regular attendee and participant at many of the monster conventions, I started noticing a growing interest in the hybridization of Halloween and Christmas. They were calling it “dark Christmas.” This was due in part to the popularity of Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” But aside from that film, which was already decades-old, there wasn’t a goodly amount of readily available horror-themed Christmas items in the marketplace. And I was seeing many ‘monster families’ enjoying these conventions together as a familial unit – with the entire family dressed in cosplay as their favorite monsters! (Where oh WHERE were these conventions when I was a kid?!)
It was for these adult monster kids who celebrate Christmas in their own unique way, that I “creep-ated” the fictional observance of “Christoween.” The 13 short story series features an odd young boy obsessed with monsters, Halloween and Christmas, and his consequential creation of the Christoween Monster “Stalking!” Being a life-long fan of Dr. Seuss books, particularly “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” I composed the stories in “Seussian” rhyme scheme to give adult monster kids a tinge of nostalgic whimsy as they shared the stories with their own monsteriffic menagerie.
After over two decades in the Voice Over industry, I knew the perfect studio who could take my narrations of the stories and professionally sound-design them for release. To increase familiarity with this new franchise, I’m posting a new free audible story every Saturday from early October through Christmas Day on my website Christoween.net. It’s my hope that the property will garner enough interest among adult monster kids to attract the attention of a publisher, toy manufacturer and animation studio seeking to become a strategic partner.
Coming full circle in 2021, I’ve rediscovered my roots and am enjoying the classic monster films on TV shows like “Svengoolie.” (Blu ray is nice, but there’s nothing quite like settling in on a Saturday night and watching old monster films on the tube!) And I’ve since watched “The Oblong Box” on DVD and now find it goofy fun; still quite uncertain as to which exact scene propelled my 9 year old self into the theatre’s lobby in such a state of fear! Is it a favorite horror movie of mine? Absolutely. But for reasons far beyond just being a goofy, enjoyable film. It’s a favorite of mine for providing a nucleus for what was to come.
At this point in my life and career, it was a dream come true “creep-ating” and writing the Christoween short stories, and reimagining Frankenstein and his Bride in a dark Christmas setting. Or turning the Mummy into a wrapped, gift-wrapping rapper. And mixing the lore of the werewolf with one of Santa’s reindeer and concocting a Were-Deer. And even addressing the issues of bullying, loneliness, sacrifice, compassion, courage, jealousy, and yes…even love. Like the kind of love I’ve carried through my life for monster and horror movies. And for all those, like me, who enjoy them.
It’s my humble wish that adult monster kids will share the “Donnie Druthers’ Christoween Capers” stories with their various offspring, curled up by the fireplace on a cold, crisp Christoween night! That would make me one HAPPY little monster!
“Scary Christoween to all…and to all a good fright!”