A Look Back: Monster Movie Mayhem in Midtown El Paso!

I was young, and didn’t care about going to the movies by myself, especially if it was a monster movie. If my friends weren’t around I would just catch the bus from the intersection of Paisano and Hammett.

Part of the thrill was the bragging rights – and the wait for Monday morning to tell friends at school all about it.

I saw weird B-movies like The Flesh Eaters (1964), The Crawling Hand (1963), The Gorgon (1964). Goofy sub-par films that still caught a young audience’s eyes.

I once walked into the Palace Theater and saw a double feature: Mondo Cane and Macabro. I had no idea I was going to sit through two documentaries about strange third world ceremonies and weird foods from countries seldom visited. I recall sitting there wondering what on earth was I watching…transfixed at very strange images of people’s rites and traditions from the oddest places on earth.

It wasn’t your typical afternoon matinee.

One highlight back then was the hype and chatter generated by many kids around the neighborhoods and in school. It was a key match-up between two king-sized monsters: King Kong vs. Godzilla (Japan release: 1962). It played at the historic Plaza Theater around 1965, and there was quite a turn-out from the peanut gallery. I’d never seen so many kids in a theater before.

The story took a while to get going and I recall the restlessness of the audience during the first twenty minutes. The set up paid off…sort of. I giggled to myself when Godzilla first appeared on screen – he was booed loudly by the kids. Then, King Kong’s first appearance was received with screams of approvals and clapping hands in “admiration” of the hero of the story.

Then we got to see a good look at King Kong. Yikes! Was the make-up man myopic? I thought to myself, yuk…Kong is ugly…he had the face that only a mother gorilla could love.

Time went by and I got hooked on Hammer films series like Horror of Dracula (1958), Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966), and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968). Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing became household names. Christopher Lee’s roles as the evil nosferatu scared the daylights out of me. Yet I kept going for more.

An intimidating figure at 6’ 4”, Lee went on to become very popular in later roles. In 1974 as the villain in the James Bond film, The Man With The Golden Gun, as Count Dooku in Star Wars’ Attack of the Clones film (2008) and as Saruman in The Lord of the Rings (2001).

Fast-forward to today…now the movie world has gone full circle. In April of 2021, we all have the chance to see Godzilla and King Kong battle it out again. This is gonna bigger than Ali vs Frazier. Literally. The pair meet again after 59 years…which makes me want to say they’re both gonna be very cranky.

Oh, btw, Kong is now handsome as ever!

Author: Jose Rico – El Paso Herald Post Contributing Writer