Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Mystery of the Muhlenberg County Masks!

Like just about any kid obsessed with the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland in the sixties or seventies, the ads for Warren Publication’s merchandising arm, the Captain Company, held about an equal attraction to me as the articles and photos in each issue. The Captain Company sold everything the well-heeled monster kid could want and certainly far more than one could afford on an allowance of two bucks every two weeks.

Many an issue of Famous Monsters would fall into my hands, and before long I’d be filling out the order form in the back for books, back issues, monster models, Super 8 horror films, and more.  And just as often those order forms would never get mailed, since my wants always exceeded my budget even after making carefully considered choices in an attempt to narrow it down to just those items that “I had to have.”

Quite certainly the holy grail of Captain Company merchandise had to be the deluxe Don Post Masks. Not only did these masks of Frankenstein!, The Creature from the Black Lagoon!, The Mole People!, The Werewolf!, and others look to be the best from their pictures and descriptions, but they even sold monster hands, and in some cases feet (!), to go with the masks. And with an astronomical price tag of $39.95 each for the masks and $19.95 for hands or feet the quality of said masks could not be doubted. In fact, while I can’t remember consciously thinking this, I’m pretty sure my assumption was that say, the Creature from the Black Lagoon mask would be virtually indistinguishable from the version in the movies. I mean, technology had advanced since the fifties, and it was forty dollars for gosh sakes!

The ads that caused thousands of kids to annoy the crap out their parents!

But while actually owning a Don Post mask remained an unattainable dream, dreaming of what I would do with them was another matter. I spent many an hour at school, home, and during church services daydreaming up ways to produce my own 8mm epic monster rallies with a legion of latex-masked monsters enacting tales of melodramatic fury.

By the late seventies, I was drifting away from reading Famous Monsters. In the wake of Star Wars, the magazine had lost its way, and a new generation of fantasy film magazines like Starlog, Fantastic Films, and then Fangoria had stolen its thunder. While the Captain Company may have been a thing of the past, Starlog knew a good idea when they saw it and started their own merchandise company that carried the Don Post Masks. Even though their ads may have lacked the superlative hyperbole of the Captain Company, they did have really nice color printing in most of their ads which showed off the masks really well. Especially the awesome new Human Fly mask and claw that Don Post introduced in the late seventies and which immediately caught my fancy in a big way.

Don Post in Color!

The masks were still tempting, and there was the fact that I was gradually coming into more income, especially when I started working part time after school at the IGA in the fall of 1978. But becoming a teenager also meant there were more varied interests and places to spend my money. So while the idea of owning a phalanx of Don Post masks, all arranged in rows on styrofoam heads in my bedroom, may have still had its appeal, it was not a  dream that I spent any real time pursuing. I mean, I had never even seen one these masks.

And then came Halloween of 1979.

The last half of 1979 was a really good time for me. I had turned sixteen in May, gotten my driver’s license as soon as possible after my birthday, and with a used 1976 Pinto in my possession, I had freedom of movement for the first time in my life. That October, word got out that the Central City Fire Department was running a really good haunted house. So one night, probably a Friday or Saturday, I and a bunch of friends headed out to see it.

Now, I had never been to a haunted house attraction before. Perhaps there had been some in Central City previously, but since it was 17 miles down the road from me, I had no easy way to go until I had my own means to get there. And that year, it was a very good haunted house. Someone with a knowledge of horror movies had obviously put a great deal of thought into its production. It was held in an old funeral home and each room presented a tableau drawn from one horror movie, including all the standards by that point – Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and more. 

But the first thing that caught my eye was the Don Post Masks. They were everywhere!  After years of lusting after tiny black & white photos, there were all the masks, right in my face – and worn by someone screaming their lungs out at me. Including the capper -- the awesome fly mask and claw that showed up in the last room of the tour.

"Help me!!!"
While my friends were all impressed with the haunted house experience, I was even more impressed with the masks, and I remember saying as we left, “Someone spent a LOT of money on this!”

The next year, when October rolled around I made sure to hightail to the Central City Haunted House as soon as it opened, mainly because I really wanted to see those masks again. But I was in for a big disappointment. Not only were Don Post masks nowhere to be seen, but the haunted house was a pale shadow of what it had been the year before. The planning and staging just wasn’t there. The mastermind behind the 1979 haunted house was obviously not involved in the 1980 offering.

I’ve often wondered just where all those Don Post masks came from. Who in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky could have had such an incredible collection? Perhaps they were rented, but from where?  I suppose if I had followed up at the time I may have found out, but it was awfully hard to stay obsessed about one thing for very long (excluding girls and being generally pissed off at the world) at the age of sixteen.

Whatever the answer to the mystery, I do know that a bunch of latex rubber and fake hair made one Halloween very special for me.

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