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Friday, May 8, 2015

Bay of the Living Dead: Monster Movies Salon

Posted By on Fri, May 8, 2015 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge Doug Ronning - FACEBOOK
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  • Doug Ronning

Welcome to Bay of the Living Dead, a twice a month column about the horror genre.

Doug Ronning was a monster kid. Born in the early 1960s, he came of age during those gloriously innocent years when Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine was the Holy Bible for kids who ran home from school to watch Dark Shadows. Those youngsters made a point to watch Creature Features every Saturday night, and never dared miss the latest movie starring Vincent Price. Monsters were everywhere, and kids of the "monster kid" era, which lasted from roughly 1958 until around the mid-to-late-70s, were mesmerized.

"Monster movies and tales of the macabre nourished me as a kid," Ronning tells SF Weekly, who grew up in a small Wisconsin town in the '60s and '70s. "In grade school I was obsessed with the classic Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc). Globe News was my sanctuary, with its rows of movie magazines, paperback pulps, and horror comics were my sacred texts. These represented a life outside of Wisconsin."

It was an escape the boy needed, growing up as he did in a home with an abusive stepdad. 

click to enlarge Comic books like these can help you get through a rough childhood. - DC COMICS
  • DC Comics
  • Comic books like these can help you get through a rough childhood.

Ronning found not only escape in the monsters, but a bit of himself, especially in the original 1933 King Kong.

"The death of Kong marked the first time I cried at a movie," he recalls. "The giant ape was easily the most likable male figure in the movie. The true villain was the greedy theater producer who sealed the monster's doom. Kong was bigger than life and driven by love, and to a thirteen-year-old gay kid who felt out of place in the world, he was every bit the tragic hero."

King Kong, Ronning feels, is a metaphor for the ills of society. "The rampant racism, sexism and corporate greed that play out in the story make it a perfect myth for the 20th century," he said. "I hope as this century progresses, we will all come to shudder at the monstrous acts of the white men in that picture that are still so manifest in our culture."

Required reading for Monster Kids. - WARREN PUBLISHING
  • Warren Publishing
  • Required reading for Monster Kids.

When he lived in Los Angeles, Ronning actually made a living pursuing his love of the horror genre. As a screenwriter, his credits include episodes of the classic HBO series Tales From the Crypt. He has since become a happily ensconced San Franciscan and currently works as a marriage and family therapist. But his love of monsters never left him, and so he has launched Monster Movies Salon, a series of entertaining and educational talks which combines his love of the genre and his current profession.    

"I created the Monster Movie Salon to explore the personal and cultural meaning of the monster tale in community," Ronning said. "Through these stories we can engage with meaningful material, such as the modern family shadow. corporate personhood, and identity politics in a fun and dynamic way."

Monster Movies Salon, now in its fourth year, go beyond film watching and become interactive events.

"The Salons include engaging dialogue, personal writing, art making and dramatic play," said Ronning.

This latest round of Monster Movies Salon will commence on Saturday, May 9 and continue on June 13, July 11, and August 8. Each event will focus upon a specific theme. The May 9 gathering is titled "Deranged Dads, Maniacal Moms, and Unholy Offspring: Family as Monster." 

"Starting in the 1950s, cinematic monsters went from being an outside force that threatened the family, to being contained within," Ronning explains. "Parents (The Shining, Serial Mom), siblings (Basket Case, Sisters), children (The Bad Seed, The Omen, It's Alive) and entire family systems (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Devil's Rejects) have been depicted as monsters and are among the most popular horror movie themes today. In this three hour event, we explore the shadow archetypes of the modern family." 

click to enlarge Dracula's daughter and dad kept it all in the family. - UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • Universal Pictures
  • Dracula's daughter and dad kept it all in the family.

The following Salon, on June 13, might be the spookiest Pride celebration you ever attend: "Sapphic Vamps, Dangerous Dandies, and Transexual Transylvanians: Queer Identities as Monster." 

You can join Doug Ronning for the Family As Monster event on Saturday May 9 from 1-4 p.m. at 2269 Market St. in San Francisco. Tickets for individual Salons are $40, or you can purchase tickets for this summer's entire series for $150. Ticket purchase details can be found at the Monster Movies Salon website, along with details of this summer's entire series.


On April 2, this column published an essay titled "Why Jonathan Frid's Homosexuality Matters." In that column we discussed the gay appeal of Dark Shadows, the 1960s horror themed soap opera, which retains a strong following among LGBT identified people. Responses to that column, I'm glad to say, were overwhelmingly positive. Many gay Dark Shadows fans were delighted to see their favorite show, and it's star, discussed in a meaningful gay context.

Some of the gay fans expressed weariness with the bullying and threats they've been forced to endure from more the conservative elements in the Dark Shadows fan base, who find honest discussions of homosexuality "distasteful."

One comment posted at the April 2 column stated that it was "disturbing" for us to say that Dark Shadows star Jonathan Frid was gay. We'd like to know why it's "disturbing" to say that a gay man was gay, but not "disturbing" to bully and threaten people. We would also like to know why the organizers of the Dark Shadows Festivals, the annual fan events, and why the moderators of Dark Shadows chatrooms on Facebook are enabling and even supporting the anti-gay bullies who are ruining this fandom for everyone. 

If they think they're honoring Jonathan Frid's memory by engaging in bullying, personal attacks and slander campaigns in his name, they are sadly mistaken. 

To that end, we'd like to introduce you to the Dark Shadows fan fiction of Mad Margaret. She writes delightful back stories about various Dark Shadows characters. In Mad's universe, these characters are allowed to enjoy and celebrate their various sexual identities. Mad Margaret tells us that she has personally been subjected to complaints and smear campaigns for daring to suggest that that, yes, there are LGBT people inhabiting the town of Collinsport (Dark Shadows' fictional setting) and no, they're not celibate.

We salute Mad Margaret and invite you to enjoy her sexy Dark Shadows fan fiction.

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