Monday, June 11, 2012

Chapter Four: Television’s Rise and the Monster’s Demise (or...“We need a bigger boat!”)

(We now resume normal programming.)
In the tumultuous Seventies, Americans needed to watch something scary to take their minds off their woes. The decade was ushered in with terrible images of young American soldiers dying.  Combat footage became a staple of the evening news.  Families such as mine that had once gathered in the glow of the tiny box with our compartmentalized tee-vee dinners were now eating at the table in uncomfortable silence. And the news would not improve. The decade would be punctuated with a presidential resignation, record inflation and unemployment, gas lines, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and the Jonestown Massacre.

The Big Three; ABC, CBS, and NBC would take advantage of the nation’s growing desensitization by delving in the horror genre.  Weekly series such as Circle of Fear hosted by Sebastian Cabot (Family Affair’s Mister French) would try and fail to gain a secure toehold in the Neilson Ratings. Even Frankenstein’s Monster and Count Dracula would receive network make-over’s.  Frankenstein: The True Story would be shown in a two-part, made for television event based much more closely on the Shelley novella than was the iconic Karloff piece. A swarthy Jack Palance would actually succeed in frightening me more than the pale, diminutive Lugosi as Dracula.

It was around this time that a monster was introduced that scared an entire nation.  And it wasn’t even a “real” monster.  Not since Psycho had there been widespread hydrophobia (the fear of water definition…not rabies).  Jaws made everybody afraid to go into the water.  For those of an age to remember its theatrical release, I imagine there are still fleeting moments—or perhaps a sense of lingering dread—when you are in water and your feet can no longer touch the bottom.  For many, the opening scene of the lone swimmer emerges from the depths of the subconscious complete with signature theme music.
“Duh—dunt..duh—dunt...dunt dunt dunt dunt...”.

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