Friday, October 16, 2009

Countdown Day 16: Halloween Memories of JOE MOE

The Drunken Severed Head is very proud to present a Halloween and monster kid reminiscence from JOE MOE. Joe, winner of the 2008 Rondo Award for being the "Monster Kid of the Year," is a singer and a designer of dark-rides for international theme parks, as well as an FX artist and screenwriter. He is the co-writer of the recently released independent horror film Red Velvet, which I recommend! Joe also does a regular column for Dread Central.

Known for many years as a caretaker to Famous Monsters editor, punster, film fan and collector extraordinaire Forrest J Ackerman, Joe is a beloved, friendly figure on the horror film convention circuit.

Visit Joe at his website--but before you do, read the special Halloween and monster craze memories Joe shares here.


Growing up in the exotic paradise of Hawaii was amazing, but it was far removed from the “Hollywood dream” of this monster kid. The easy, slow motion culture of the islands only enhanced the distance that separated me from the stuff I yearned for: monster movies! Anything horror! Naturally, once I discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (in 1968) eight-year-old me clung to it like Moses to his stone tablets. It was my portal to the exciting world of filmmaking.

I didn’t make it to “the Mainland” until 1974. Imagine my very first trip on an airplane rocketing me toward Hollywood, California. I was going to Disneyland on a family vacation. Aside from FM, Disney was another golden ticket that stoked my fantasy of what the big world of show biz was like. Forry Ackerman, Jim Warren (through FM), Thurl Ravenscroft and Paul Frees (through Disney LP records) were my oblivious mentors. And now I was a mere sunrise away from the Haunted Mansion itself! I could barely stand it. Relating this now makes me see just how obsessed I was with the genre back when I wouldn’t know how to pronounce genre much less define it. It would never have occurred to me to try to meet Forry Ackerman on this trip. He was like the President of the United States. I couldn’t imagine he would be accessible to little me. Touring Hollywood and Universal Studios were amazing high points of my trip and landmarks in my development.

I bought a couple of latex, over-the-head Don Post masks to take back to Hawaii. I only ever glimpsed these treasures in the pages of FM. To own a pair (Frankenstein and the Wolf Man) was thrilling. They weren’t the deluxe masks. I couldn’t afford those. But I got a lot of mileage wearing my monster faces back home, all over the neighborhood, under shadow of the coconut palms (and with Halloween nowhere in sight.) My dad used to like to set up a booth at the local swap meet to sell hand painted T-shirts. I got the bright idea that if I sold the two masks I’d brought home, I might make enough money to buy one deluxe mask! I loaded my masks onto their styrofoam wig heads for display and set them out at Dad’s booth. I was deluded. Nobody but me cared about monsters on that balmy May day. I was dumbfounded. You can’t get these anywhere else on this rock! C’mon people!

I was on my way to being demoralized when a blue-eyed kid approached with his dad. From a hundred yards away I could see that he coveted my masks. He walked up and examined them the way I must have when I first saw 'em on the shelf at Universal. We started talking and he told me he had a monster mag collection. So did I! He was a huge horror fan. So was I!
I was stunned to meet another kid who shared my obscure interest. Half of me wanted to do a goofy dance and the other half wanted to shout, “Liar!” Could there actually be another person who loves the stuff that I do? Before I could find out, the kid and his dad walked away down the aisle. I was too young to know how to maintain contact with a new friend. Get a phone number. An address for a pen pal correspondence. So, the only other person in my world who possibly “got me” was fading into the distance. Never to be seen again…

Until three months later when I moved two houses away from him! Sean Fernald and I became instant best friends. The first thing we did was to verify each other’s collections. Neither of us had exaggerated. We had our stacks of FM, black light werewolf posters and built up Aurora models all over our rooms. It was the summer vacation of the monsters. While other kids were surfing the shore break at Kailua beach, Sean and I were conducting our flour paste and red food coloring makeup experiments. While our peers were running around in their O.P. corduroy shorts and Hang Ten tees we were dressing up in long coats and monster masks. In costume was most likely the only time I traded my rubber slippers for shoes until I was grown up! We created a monster club (of two members) and constructed the most elaborate cardboard graveyards in Sean’s front yard at Halloween time. Homemade tombstones among the Birds Of Paradise. Ghosts hanging from the Plumeria tree. Our little bowl of dry ice seemed like such a monumental special effect back then. I don’t think any of the fog was visible. But we knew it was there.

Sean Fernald and Joe Moe in 1974.

Sean’s house was the most elaborate display for miles. Kailua and Kaneohe were military towns as well, so there were some Marines and their families who contributed a few scares in the way of decorations as well. Halloween in the islands was a lot of innocent fun because it was such a small place and kids could run around unsupervised without much fear of predators or razor blades in apples. We heard the cautionary tales, but we knew everyone who tossed a treat in our bag. I mean, we were allowed to go to the beach without adults from the time we could swim. There was always an older cousin or a neighbor looking out for us. Just as we looked out for the younger kids. So, on Halloween nights, the streets were filled with gangs of costumed kids. We never had to contend with anything but mild weather. When we returned to school that September we actually met other like-minded friends. An affable and talented kid named John Goss approached me early on. Apparently, in a conversation with another boy, I’d joked about wishing I lived in a haunted house and described my fantasy bedroom. So, rumor had gotten around school that I was the kid who slept in a coffin! Naturally fellow Monsterkid John had to meet me. With there being three of us, it no longer felt like such an odd juxtaposition of tropical lifestyle with classic horror. We gave each other the confidence to broadcast our point of view without fear of rejection and to love monster movies out loud.

My father, Josefa Moe, was a Samoan knife dancer at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for decades. He was raised in a British boarding school while his parents entertained in vaudeville across Europe and Asia, bringing Hawaiian culture to distant places. Dad was like me. A local guy tied to the Polynesian culture, but with a love of western culture and movies, having had a very worldly upbringing. He encouraged all of us kids and indulged us by taking us to every movie possible. It was before the ratings system, so I can remember seeing a double bill of The Wild Bunch and The Stewardesses at 9 or 10 years old. Dad would take me to the downtown Toho Theater to watch samurai and Godzilla movies, and to the rundown screens off Kalakaua Avenue for Italian and Philipino horror fare. Mom was also a very liberal and creative nurturer. She completely supported my strange hobbies and sacrificed many counters and carpets to my makeup fiascoes. To have parents that see your proclivities as creative and contributing to a kid’s ultimate talents is a treasure. They never made me aware of any odd conflict between our island culture and my spooky interests. They supported and even defended me in my monster obsession.

I feel so lucky to have been born into the family I got and that Sean, John and I found each other. Together we transformed our childhood hobbies into lives full of creativity and purpose. Sean has been an entertainment executive for 20 years. He’s also an official Vampirella historian. John has been a fine artist as well as a commercial one. Together we designed and built dark rides for theme parks internationally. In this way, we introduced elements of the genre to lots of kids around the world. I ended up living with and looking after my hero Forrest J Ackerman for the last couple of decades of his life. Sean, John and I remain best friends today. We live separate lives (Sean with his wife and daughter Mia. John with his partner Niki), but within a mile of each other. We see each other weekly if not daily. Ultimately, John and Sean helped me in caring for our mutual mentor Forry Ackerman. We made our first horror feature, RED VELVET ( together. We plan to make more. From those teenage years on, we ensured that we’d always have comrades in the fantastical genre we loved. We kept our sense of wonder, our sense of Halloween alive together. We’ve enabled each other to fulfill some lofty goals and dreams. Life has come full circle. As kids we found ourselves in Hawaii wishing for a life among the Hollywood monsters. Today we find ourselves immersed in the genre and longing for our Hawaiian home. Whenever any of us go back, we’re always sure to make a trip to the windward side of the island to drive past Pali Drugstore where, as teens, we’d ride our bikes to get the latest issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland. The little old Japanese lady behind the register would smile curiously. Why were three kids each buying a copy of the same magazine?

Mahalo! In our little dark hearts, we knew she was stocking Famous Monsters of Filmland just for us.


Above, a teenage Ray Bradbury (l) and teenage Forry Ackerman (r) pose in masks made by their friend Ray Harryhausen.

Image of FJA and Joe Moe (circa 1999) come from Dread Central.

Image of costumed Bradbury and Ackerman unknown; will post credit if given.

1 comment:

Jim Bertges said...

It's great to get to know something about Joe Moe himself and his childhood. It seems he had similar Monster experiences as a lot of us did growing up. Thanks for letting us in on some of his personal story and giving us a look at Halloween in the exotic, tropical climes of Hawaii.


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