It was often horrifying to visit my grandma’s house. Not in the sense that I didn’t want to be there. I enjoyed visiting very much. It’s where I got to see and play outside with my cousins, eat tasty food — including homemade tortillas, and learn a little Spanish.
My parents, and the other adults spent most of their time in the kitchen, or in an adjoining dining room, talking to my grandparents. Once boredom or hunger interrupted our play, my cousins and I would join our parents inside at the dining table.
I’d like to think that it was the safest room in the house; it’s where a photo of Jesus hung on the wall. Yes, the one whose eyes follow you ‘round the room.
Inevitably, someone would go to the back of the house to retrieve the 1973 edition of Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, and all of us would gather around it to flip through and fixate on the images on each page.
The book is a greenish, large-format hardcover with pretty fascinating, memorable, and iconic photos — many of which are in black and white. Bela Lugosi is in it, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Phantom of the Opera, and so on.
Incidentally, if not for a recent Facebook post by an incredibly gifted — Louisiana-born LA-based — actress, Jesse Meriwether, and her lovely and extremely curious and talented daughter, Bela, I would still be in search of this book.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the picture featured here is a photo from a 1932 film titled Freaks. An overly exploitative, highly controversial film played by characters who had real deformities. Even after heavy editing, it was too much for audiences to bear. MGM pulled the film during its domestic release; Britain banned it; and as a result, it was a commercial failure.
After tremendous success with other films, it’s director, Charles Albert Browning, Jr., would suffer the consequences and quickly endure a failed career.
Upon reaching this page, one of my uncles would invariably point to the two young people (see red square), and say, “Hey, there’s Joey and Rigo! So handsome!” Everyone at the table would laugh at my brother’s and my expense. Of course, we were naive, and didn’t know that these were real people with real deformities.
Because I know how much my parents and grandparents exercised compassion and empathy for others, it would have been a pretty scary thought to learn that we were laughing at these people.
It certainly would have added new meaning to the horror of visiting grandma’s house.