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Friday, September 24, 2021

AMC’s “Monster Mania” Celebrated Halloween in the Late ’90s With Three Horror Documentaries [TV Terrors]

Horror and science fiction have always been a part of the television canvas, and constant attempts have been made over the years to produce classic entertainment. Some have fallen by the wayside, while others became mainstream phenomena. With “TV Terrors,” we take a look back at the many genre efforts from the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, exploring some shows that became cult classics, and others that sank into obscurity.

This month we celebrate Halloweens past with AMC’s “Monster Mania.”

  • Aired on AMC Network
  • Aired from 1997-2000

It feels like such a long time ago, but before AMC became a channel for general programming and original series, it was primarily a classic movie network. They played mostly American movies (or American “Classics”) going back as far as the thirties; in October, their line up changed to mostly American horror movies that went as far back as the early 1900s from the Universal catalogue, and even silent films were featured. One of the highlights of AMC’s original Halloween programming line up was their annual horror documentary series, “Monster Mania.”

For three years, AMC gave us three exhaustive, insightful, and charming documentaries that, by all accounts, have been and continue to be celebrated by the horror community. What made “Monster Mania” stand out among the other more random glimpses into horror films and productions was the sheer aesthetic, and joyous celebration of various facets of horror cinema and what made horror movies so much fun. Even in the age of streaming, horror fans still talk about the series. “Monster Mania” had the benefit of being produced by the late Kevin Burns, the man behind great TV genre fare like “The Alien Saga,” “Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest,” and (previously covered on “TV Terrors”) Monsters HD’s “Monsterama.”

Airing in 1997, “Monster Mania” was narrated and hosted by Jack Palance and oversaw a gamut of horror movies that set the template for future films, and changed the tone of cinema as a whole. Palance enthusiastically takes us through the evolution of the horror film, from the early 1900s including Paul Wegener’s “Der Golem,” and Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” et al., right in to the late nineties analyzing the big change in story dynamic and sexual politics. Much of “Monster Mania” touches on how horror movies delved into our deepest societal fears like werewolves and vampires, the real life horrors of war and disease, and how their themes changed the mold for horror.

Horror has and will always reflect the societal anxiety and fear, and “Monster Mania” covers the canvas beautifully. 1999 saw the follow up “Attack of the 50 Foot Monster Mania,” which covered the massive library of giant monster movies. Hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and narrated by “Lost in Space” alum Bill Mumy, “Attack of the 50 Foot Monster Mania” covered pretty much everything within the sub-genre from sea monsters, giant kaiju, giant lizards, and flying saucers. The producers trace the origin of the monster movie as far as George Méliès’s 1912 silent short “Conquest of the Pole,” and even to “Gertie the Dinosaur.” 

From there producer Burns dissects the origins of Godzilla and his evolution, with a look at the random assortment of knock offs, and the inevitable diversion of the sub-genre into mythological behemoths. Of course Ray Harryhausen is discussed, with clips from his large array of giant monster and epic adventure films. There’s also looks at the Atomic age, and how they gave a face to our anxiety over potential nuclear war with giant monsters (“It Came from Outer Space,” and “The Giant Claw,” to name a few). They also would eventually represent our fear of science gone awry, and destruction of domesticity, along with the threat of man’s penchant for corruption, and thirst for absolute power. The fantastic aspect of “Attack of the 50 Foot Monster Mania” is that the producers also delve into the more personal twists on the sub-genre like “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and “Attack of the 50ft Woman.”

In 2000, AMC aired what would be the final installment and the natural progression of the documentary series, entitled “Bride of Monster Mania.” This chapter, rather than cover the broader scope of horror, tackled the changing face of women in the genre. The sequel is hosted again by (your favorite ghoul friend and mine), Elvira. This time the producers explore the feminine presence within the genre with even better insight and some very engrossing interviews. 

“Bride of Monster Mania” goes back all the way to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and covers the canvas of horror cinema that includes women in the vampire sub-genre, and their role in possession films. As well we look into their changing power dynamic during the feminist era with movies like “The Stepford Wives” and the Hammer library. There are also looks at women as vampires and how their talent for seduction led them to become one of the most powerful foes in the genre (with films like “Twins of Evil” and “Black Sunday”).

There’s also a very good, extensive look at how an inexplicable script change turned “Dracula’s Daughter” from a Dracula sequel into a movie that made Gloria Holden one of the very first central female vampire villains. I wish there were more focus on the slasher boom of the eighties, but at an hour in length, there is at least a strong emphasis on Ellen Ripley and how she influenced the way female protagonists were approached.

AMC sadly never continued the “Monster Mania” documentary series, a bummer considering they could have covered so many more topics within the genre. However they did re-air the trio of documentaries over the years during their Halloween marathons, to much fanfare. True they are a tad dated today, but their charm and enthusiasm for horror cinema is still a great experience and perfect viewing for the Halloween season. Seeing as AMC has invested a ton in horror over the last twenty years, these documentaries deserve to be re-discovered by a new generation of horror geeks. Especially on their streaming service Shudder.

Is It On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming? The trio of specials can still be bought on various online outlets on DVD, but they go for a pretty hefty price these days. They can also be bought as reprints on various OOP online shops. Thankfully they can also be seen on YouTube in their complete form.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3684387/amcs-monster-mania-celebrated-horror-three-made-tv-documentaries-tv-terrors/

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