Influences and Inspirations

I was reading David Gerrold’s “Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy,” and did one of his exercises, which was “Take out a blank piece of paper (or open a new file on your computer), and make a list of your favorite science fiction and fantasy movies.”

I did. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that these movies, and the television shows I also added, most likely had the greatest influence upon my young mind and imagination. These were the images that were most indelibly imprinted upon my subconscious as a writer.

To be honest, I wasn’t much of a reader as a youngster. Sure, I read the usual stuff, “The Song of Roland,” “Alexander the Great,” “The Once and Future King,” and illustrated versions of “The Illiad and the Odyssey,” and the Norse legends. Along with assorted non-fiction books and Hardy Boy mysteries and school assignments. Not to mention a boatload of comic books from “Little Lulu,” to early DC superheroes, such as The Flash, The Atom, Superman, Aquaman, The Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, and Batman. Marvel’s merry mayhem joined into my reading when I was probably nine or 10.

It wasn’t until I was around 13, maybe 14, when my actual science fiction and fantasy literary education finally began, first with Robert E. Howard’s “Conan” and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan,” then later with nearly everything. But in the beginning, in the dim twinkling recesses of my memory, there were the movies that first held greatest sway over my curious beginning writer’s mind.

So now, without further ado, that list of science fiction and fantasy movies that greatly influenced me growing up.

“The Wizard of Oz.” Flying monkeys. Witches. A living strawman and tinman, and a lion that could speak. This movie was shown nearly every spring and in those days, before the invention of recording devices, and I’d watch it every time it aired. In addition, I also read many of the Oz books.

“Forbidden Planet.” Earthmen traveling to a distant planet in a flying saucer. Robby, the robot. An invisible monster that made footprints in the sand.

Invisible monster from “Forbidden Planet”

“Johnny Quest.” The Saturday Morning Cartoon. It had science fiction. Adventure. Lasers. Robots. Futuristic jets, subs, and hover discs. It also had an invisible monster, just like “Forbidden Planet.”

Invisible energy monster from Johnny Quest

“Lost in Space.” Sure, corny by today’s standards, but as a child, all I saw was the Jupiter 2 spaceship. B9 robot. The spacepod. The “chariot.” Laser guns. Force fields. And of course, lots and lots of weird aliens.

In the same vein, “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” The Seaview, then, seemed like such a futuristic submarine to my young mind. Today, I know that such a sub, with those wings and fins would have created such turbulence that even the least technologically advanced nations could track it while underwater. Nor would glass windows in the front be practical if even possible. But still, it had the flying sub. And lots of giant monsters. (Additionally, all the other Irwin Allen shows, such as “Time Tunnel” and “Land of the Giants.”)

“Star Trek.” This had everything the previous shows had, stunning spaceships, rays guns now called “phasers,” along with transporters, food processors, and more alien worlds, but it was more serious and much of it written by some of the big names in science fiction, including David Gerrold.

“The Outer Limits.” It had elements of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and to be honest, probably scared the bejeesus out of me with episodes like “The Zanti Misfits” more than anything else on television or the theater.

The Zanti Misfit still creep me out

I think those had the most influence upon my childhood. But there are more. “King Kong.” “Godzilla.” The giant bug movies: “Them!” which is still one of my all-time favorites. “Tarantula.”

Other 1950s science fiction movies included, “The Thing from Another World.” “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” “The Blob.” “War of the Worlds.” “The Fly,” which our middle school showed over several lunch periods.

Of course the Universal monsters, especially “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” had a big influence, as well as the Hammer horror films. Many of these movies aired on a late night horror show in my hometown on Channel 6. It was “Shock Theater” with Dr. Cadaverino, who was among the great horror hosts of all time.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the movies by special effects giant, Ray Harryhausen: “Mighty Joe Young,” “Jason and the Argonauts,” “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers,” “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” “20 Million Miles to Earth,” and “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” and more. Even today I marvel at his work and probably subconsciously try to recreate his wonderful story-telling ability.

There is one more movie, or show, that has influenced if not my imagination, then my nightmares. I don’t know its name. I was fairly young when I saw it, somewhere between eight and ten I’d guess. I was up late one night when it came on. As I said, I can’t recall its title, but I remember distinctly the beginning. This man was driving down a dark country road in the rain when suddenly something unidentifiable ran in front of his headlights. He struck it, but when he got out to see what it was, he couldn’t find it, however, in the light of a lightning flash, we see that this little clawed hand came up and punctured his tire. He got back into the car and made it to a diner, I believe. At that point, the horror was too much for me, so I went to bed, but not before it left an indelible footprint upon my subconscious. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards and to this day, I still have an urge to rewrite that story, “stealing” that beginning then creating my own horror story from it.

I just haven’t had the nerve to do so yet.

So there you have it. A small look into my mind’s inspirations.

So what sci-fi and fantasy movies do you think have had the most influence upon you?

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