What time is it? It's Rondos time!
Once again, classic horror is celebrated with the likeness of that ugly, but lovable, bald guy — with the huge, misshapen head, and massive hands. Rondo "The Creeper" Hatton thrilled me as he tried to twist Basil Rathbone, as Sherlock Holmes, into a pretzel in Pearl of Death, and chilled me as he murdered off a bunch of annoying critics in House of Horrors.
His unmistakable visage graces the Classic Horror Awards, affectionately known as the Rondos, which are given in recognition of outstanding achievements in the classic horror genre.
Being a member of the super secret Universal Monster Army has its perks. I keep meeting rabid fans of the horror genre. One such person is David Colton, one of the instigators of the Rondos. He was kind enough to talk about the award that everyone in classic horror craves.
What are the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, and how did they come about?
The Rondos are a fan-based awards program designed to honor the fans and pros who work hard year after year, through writing, through research, through illustration, or through any form of creativity to keep the classic monsters of the last century alive and well.
The Rondos are not about favorite monster, or even favorite horror movie, but about picking the best book about classic monsters, the smartest piece of research that reveals something new, or the strongest or most fun works that capture the spirit of being a monster kid.
By "monster kid," I mean the generation of baby boomers who discovered the classic films of Universal, AIP, Hammer and Japanese giants in the '50s and '60s through Shock Theater on TV, Famous Monsters of Filmland at the newsstand, and Christopher Lee and Vincent Price at the movies. Monster kids can be of any age, but the distinction with modern horror fans is that we embrace Frankenstein, Dracula and Godzilla over the more gory films of today. This is not to say we don't enjoy Jason or Saw, but our hearts lie in Transylvania.
As for the awards themselves, like many lapsed monster fans, I rediscovered the genre in the mid-'80s with the birth of home video. A new breed of monster magazines such as Filmfax and Cinefantastique had emerged. In addition, writers such as David J. Skal, Greg Mank, Tom Weaver, Gary Don Rhodes, Don Glut, Bill Warren, Paul Jensen, and many more were revealing new truths about the monsters in books, in magazine articles, and in videos and, later, DVD commentaries.
There was little recognition anywhere for their work, however, which was as strong as any mainstream research or scholarship except it existed in the genre ghetto of vampires and B-movies. Enter the Rondos.
I remembered that in the '90s, the folks at Midnight Marquee had presented a series of awards at their Fanex Convention called the Laemmles, named after the family that ran Universal in the '20s and '30s. The awards only lasted a few years. But a community of fans at the Classic Horror Film Board (a discussion group once at AOL), decided to inaugurate our own awards. We started in 2002, and the awards have grown and prospered ever since.
Why use actor Rondo Hatton as the award image?
We discussed a variety of names — the Clives, the Ygors, the Whales — but someone, I forget who (it might have been me but I'm not sure), suggested Rondo Hatton. The Rondos SOUNDED perfect.
Still, it was all just fanboy talk until Kerry Gammill, a brilliant artist who once drew Superman, and is one of the genre's top illustrators, sent me a sketch of what a Rondo statuette could actually look like, based on the giant bust of Hatton used in Universal's House of Horrors in 1946. Once I saw the sketch, I said yes, of course.
Kerry sculpted the bust to perfection, and then Tim Lindsey, a top model-maker and designer, offered to make the casts for the individual busts.
I still remember the gasps and applause when we gave out the first awards at the Old Dark Clubhouse hotel room at the 2003 Monster Bash in Pittsburgh. "Our first winner is Bob Burns," I said, "and THIS is a Rondo." Everyone fell in love with the little guy immediately.
Even though they are painstaking to make — each one is cast and painted individually — we've now given out almost 50 busts over the past four years. Everyone who gets one loves it. Haven't seen one on eBay yet, they are so precious to the winners.
Looking over the ballot for this year, I'm excited to see Smallville (one of my favorite TV shows), Dr. Who (ditto), and Battlestar Galactica listed (ditto again). How are nominees selected?
We try to go a bit beyond just classic monsters, so current films and TV are included. "Classic" is a state of mind more than a time period, and it's easy to see why Smallville or Battlestar Galactica or Dr. Who, as modernized as they are, still retain that
"classic" feel. Lost and Heroes, too.
Nominees are solicited all year at the Classic Horror Film Board or through emails. At the end of the year, I start going over everything, and about 20 CHFB members email one another, argue things out, make suggestions and deletions. In the end, though, I make the final call on what makes it and what doesn't. Send those complaints to me!
The ballot is very long — some say too long — but we want the Rondos to not only be about the year's best work, but to show everyone how much really cool work is being done out there. A book or DVD commenatry might not win, but those who see it on the ballot may be intrigued enough to buy it and check it out. If that happens, Rondo has done its job, no matter who ends up winning.
Who does the voting?
Voting is by email to firstname.lastname@example.org (that's me). We have discussed using voting software that allows clicking on categories, but the personal nature of having to copy the ballot into an email, or type out your selections, helps ensure the voting is by fans and not some mass voting drive. It's for sure okay to ask for votes or urge friends to vote, but we draw the line at duplicate votes already filled in, which in past years got sent around. That happily hasn't happened yet this year.
The first year we were thrilled to have 198 people vote! The next year we topped 600, then 1,600 (!), and last year 1,200. The voting so far this year is at a pace to top 1,000 again and that's fine with me since I have to hand count every vote. Friends come over and say, "Where's David?" and my wife says, "He's downstairs counting votes.'' They laugh.
Also, Rondo has his first MySpace page this year, so it will be interesting to see if that affects the voting.
Finally, what's your impression of the current crop of horror films?
The world of modern horror, scifi, and fantasy is very schizophrenic. On the one hand you have the CGI world of Star Wars and Peter Jackson, wonderful visions of fantasy that, overblown or not, recreate '30s New York for King Kong, energize Star Wars and make anything possible on-screen. And these films have good hearts, just as afternoon kid-friendly in many ways as the Harryhausens and George Pals of the '60s.
But then there's the gruesome new trend of torture films — Saw, Hostel, Turista and the like — which have no real monsters except human cruelty. These films make millions, and obviously are a form of release perhaps in this 9/11 mindset, but still leave me repelled and quite cold. An ax through the head in Friday the 13th somehow was okay, and you could tell it was fake; these new ones are too real, the blood too dark, the screams too affecting. I'll take Karloff anytime. [ZC: I would just add the monsters are there. They just happen to be us.]
Do you think Zombos Closet of Horror will ever have a chance at getting a Rondo?
I want to thank David Colton for stepping into the closet to tell us about the Rondos. Zombos insisted I keep him locked in until he gave us a Rondo, but someday we'll win one of those little buggers on our own; or just steal one if we have to.
To vote, go here. My procedure for voting is: I copy and paste the entire nominee list into an email, then delete those nominees I am not selecting. It's easy. So get out your email and vote. Keep David in the basement. His wife won't mind. You have until March 10 to make your voice heard!