HERE COME THE MONSTERS
In the American television programs of the 1950’s the neighbors were always friendly. By the mid-1960’s, something strange started happening. Monstrously creepy neighbors suddenly started appearing everywhere. From the undead vampires and ghosts of ABC’s DARK SHADOWS to the matter-of-fact Gothic horror style of the ghoul/witch/vampire-inspired THE ADDAMS FAMILY and THE MUNSTERS.
Even kids cartoons felt the influence. In 1964, Hanna-Barbera added the creepy neighbor to their HONEYMOONERS inspired prime-time family cartoon, THE FLINTSTONES when they introduced the Gruesomes. Bushy-haired, green-skinned Weirdly and Creepella Grusome and their son Goblin—“Gobby” for short—move into “repulsively attractive” Tombstone Manor, next door to Fred, Wilma, Pebbles & Bam Bam. Even their pets are gruesome—including a vulture, a gila monster, bats, several alligators, a giant, purple, crudely-drawn spider, named Schnieder, a giant blue grasshopper, and Occy, an octopus.
THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Weirdly gets excited when he learns that the tall grass surrounding Tombstone Manor comes complete with “real crabs!” When it comes to meeting the neighbor, instead of coming over to borrow a cup of sugar, Weirdly comes to borrow a cup of red ants. And instead of a sandbox, little Gobby plays in a quicksand box.
IF YOU CAN'T BEAT 'EM, JOIN 'EM
Later there’s the episode where the Flintstones, Rubbles and Gruesomes all get together to play Beatlesque rock-and-roll (aka “Bug Music”) in order to run the hillbilly Hatrocks out of town.
EMBRACING THE FREAKY
It’s refreshing to see the marriage of 1950’s conventionalism with the macabre influences that were emerging along with progressive attitudes permeating American society at the time. Cultural theorists might argue that the monsters infiltrating all-American culture reflected a societal disfunction, but I would suggest that shows like the Munsters and The Addams Family—and even more so with the Gruesomes aimed specifically at children—the introduction of monsters to the hegemony was the beginning of recognizing and accepting the more freaky parts of our culture. If the Gruesomes could be all-American neighbors then Americans could look like ANYTHING! It was shocking when the Gruesome Family station wagon turned out to be a Hearse—today they’d just be considered a little bit Goth.
MONSTERS, MONSTERS EVERYWHERE
Interestingly, the strange purr-rattle noise that Schneider the Spider makes is nearly identical to the peculiar murmurings of Perry the Platypus on Disney’s now popular PHINEAS & FERB. We still love our monsters.
- David Sanger