Many fans of horror, amateur and professional alike, have devoted themselves to blogging about the thrills, chills, and no-frills side of the genre as seen in cinema and print. In this ongoing series that highlights the writers behind the blogs, we meet the unique personalities and talents that make the online horror scene so engaging. Up close and personal.
In this installment, League of Tana Tea Drinkers' member Bill Courtney of the Uranium Cafe describes the influences, the places, and the challenges for keeping his love of horror and cult movies alive.
As a kid I was lucky enough to have a dad who was not the least bit interested in watching sports on TV over the weekends. He loved movies and comic books. This was in the 60’s and I grew up on a healthy diet of classic films, TV, and Marvel and DC comics. We had a b/w TV set with rabbit ears and basically three channels to choose programs from. Later, PBS would come along but who the hell ever really watched that. I grew up watching a variety of programs that included weekly showings of Sword and Sandal films, serial Westerns, and of course classic horror and sci-fi features.
A couple films I recall as being really shocking to me are actually pretty tame fare by today’s standards. One was The Mummy with Boris Karloff and in particular the scene where he suddenly rises up and peers into the camera. The other film, also with Karloff, was called Die, Monster, Die! And I recall being terrified to death, and dad telling me it was just a movie and it was all make believe. I would soon be saving up my lunch money from school and going to the local grocery stores and buying loads of comics and Warren Magazines. At the most I would save up two or three bucks but back then Famous Monsters of Filmland was .35 or .50 and I could get six or so comics for a dollar. Matinees were cheap and I remember watching more Spaghetti Westerns and B-horror movies than I can recall.
In my teenage years some situations in life changed and I sort of gave up obsessively collecting comics for the most part though I would continue to add to my collection up to the time I left the US for China five years ago. I gave up trying to sell the stuff as I had no patience for comic book dealers who offered me deals like $150 for my entire collection of a couple thousand comic books and film magazines, with some books going back to 1965 (some books alone were worth that price) and eventually would simply give it all away to someone close to me. I never regretted that.
Anyway, back to my formative teen years. I lived then in San Antonio Texas and watched the local creature feature type show called Project Terror. It showed a different style of horror film that I was not used to. I had been natured early on on a steady diet of Universal or AIP fare and these late night shows were strangely different. They had plenty of B-movie shockers like The Hideous Sun Demon or Them, but also mixed in some Hammer classics like Taste the Blood of Dracula or X-The Unknown to further my education. Once in a very blue moon some strange Japanese film like Attack of the Mushroom People would play.
I should mention too that my music tastes were leaning into strange areas as well. Most of the people I knew during my “party years” were pretty content to stick with the mainstream rock fare of the time, which suited me as well. I knew something was different about my wiring when at parties people would flip out if, after the Judas Priest or Lynyrd Skynyrd album was finished, I put on something like Yes’ Relayer or something by Hawkwind. I guess The Cramps or The Deadboys were definitely out of the question. And the fact that I had hair as long and full as Robert Plants, but listened to Elvis and Merle Haggard or Philip Glass as easily as Led Zeppelin or the Scorpions, made me something of a music eccentric in San Antonio. It is cool to either like Johnny Cash OR Black Sabbath there, but not both.
I got my first VCR in San Antonio and would stay a VHS man until I came to China, where there is basically no such thing and pirated DVDs sell for less than one Yankee dollar. I had picked up a damaged copy of Michael J. Weldon’s Psychotronic Video Guide for like one buck at a local bookstore and I think that that, along with my Radio Shack VCR (that would eventually get fried in an electrical spike) were factors in a sort of cult movie renaissance for me. I was soon seeking out films from the film guide, and for the first time in my life was watching all those odd exploitation films that were never shown on TV. I began taking in films at the one “art house’ theater in San Antonio. These films were basically foreign, ergo “art films”. In any case I developed an interest in foreign films at about this time, though ultimately I will always favor American and British cinema with their more linear storylines.
With no real planning and little savings and no job I would pack up everything and leave scorching San Antonio for overcast Seattle. There’s a doomed romance angle to that story, but we’ll let that part go. Sometimes life can play out like one of our weird movies.
Seattle is a beautiful city with a well educated and super liberal population I could never connect with. What I could connect with, though, were the comic stores, the book stores, and the small movies that sat maybe 20 or 30 people, where I saw films like Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill! and Hercules in the Haunted World (ZC Note: One of my guilty pleasures!) on an actual screen. I also became a denizen of the legendary Scarecrow Video when it was ran by the late George, who was a great guy who helped me in finding all sorts of genuinely rare films to rent.
Seattle is certainly a movie lover’s paradise. I never attended any of the film festival shows there, but I saw plenty of movies. My step dad worked for Act III theaters and I would get a regular supply of movies passes. I became a metroplex rat for a long time, often seeing three films on one pass. The time came for something new and extreme and I moved to China where I live, working as an ESL teacher and sharing my days with my fantastic wife, since 2004, without so much as a holiday back to the States. There are no comic books here and I have been to the movies once to see Kung Fu Panda. But there are loads of pirated DVDs to watch, though the selection is usually either the most recent blockbuster or "classics" like Gone With the Wind or Breakfast at Tiffany's. I learned about bittorrents and Rapidshare and soon I was back to psychotronic film fare and reading Warren Magazines and Marvel Comics books again in digital format. I am in the process of making plans to print some of these things out in bound books (cheap here to do) because I cannot stand reading Vampirella or Robert Crumb stories in JPEGs format.
And so, that brings the story to my site, The Uranium Café, and why I do it. The site is named after the restaurant near Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the atom bomb was developed and tested. I drove near that area once and saw a sign and thought ‘what a cool ass name’. Blogging from China is a nightmare and there have been times I wanted to toss it all out and forget it because of problems with bad connections and government controls. But I have stuck it out and the site is now a little over a year old. I think I may be the only expat-blogger in China doing a horror/cult movie blog that focuses on, primarily, Western cult cinema from the 50’s to late 70’s. I think being in such an ethnocentric culture as China pushed me to do something that kept me connected with something from my own world. And what better things to stay connected with than Ted V. Mikels’ films and Jim Steranko comics.