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It's a Chiller, Thriller Night

By Tater Barley Banks | Comment Diversions | March 13, 2010 | Comments ()

By Tater Barley Banks | Comment Diversions | March 13, 2010 |


michael-jackson-thriller.jpg

I have no life and I work a weird shift, so unless 85 Flood is playing somewhere, I'm usually home at midnight on Saturdays.

I know it's a terrible TV night ("SNL"? Is THAT still on?) but occasionally I take the remote for a spin anyway and a few months ago stumbled upon "The It's Alive! Show," on a near-public-access station out of Pittsburgh that usually tries to sell me stuff I don't need.

It's an extremely-no-frills monster movie show, of the kind that everyone seemed to have when I was growing up (as long as everyone lived in Pittsburgh or Cleveland). Somewhere around midnight there'd be a low-low-budget monster movie interspersed with alleged comedy vignettes by the host and a motley crew of sidekicks and buxom babes.

In Pittsburgh, this guygave 20 years to hosting "Chiller Theater" and doing other newscasting and host jobs, plus the occasional bit part in movies (you might vaguely recognize him; he had a micro role in the original "Night of the Living Dead," more or less playing himself. Without checking, he might well be the guy to whom the sheriff utters the immortal words, "Yeah, they're dead, they're ... all messed up").

In Cleveland, it was this guy, which, when I was maybe 12, was one of the most whacked-out things I'd ever seen (not saying a lot, true, except it's STILL one of the most whacked-out things I've ever seen). Ghoul seemed certifiably insane.

"The It's Alive! Show" seeks to capture some of that vibe. The host, who goes by Prof. Emcee Square, gets up in vampire garb (no sparkles, thank goodness, he's the real deal) and he pals around mostly with Stiffy the Dead Clown, taking mundane road trips to the likes of breweries and flea markets or simply standing around trading one-liners that are not particularly funny. Often the ads are funnier, for places like Ralph's Army Surplus. They have all the appearance of being home made.

(With one exception: Straub beer is a sponsor, and their micro-mini horror movie ads are cheesy brilliance; don't blink or you'll miss them.)

And then there are the movies. Hoo boy, do we have some cheese here. 1950s-60s era junk like "Horror of Spider Island" and "Gamera the Invincible." Some of them are laughable, in a "Plan 9" way, some of them are bizarre (a silent Danish "history" of witchcraft called "Haxan") and some are just boring ("Night Tide," with a very young Dennis Hopper and something about a mermaid), and I'm in bed well before they're over.

(And some of them are educational in a culturally anthropological kind of way. For one thing, in these cheesy '50s movies, everybody smokes. All the time. Everywhere. Everybody. And, the cars are the size of aircraft carriers. You can find "Horror of Spider Island" online. Check the Detroit muscle at about the 1 minute mark.)

And then, once in a great while, there's something like "I Bury the Living," with Richard Boone (who would later gain a measure of cultural immortality in "Have Gun Will Travel"). Boone plays a businessman who reluctantly becomes the proprietor of a cemetery. In his office there's a big map of the plots on the wall, with black pins showing graves that have been filled and white pins signifying those awaiting occupancy. He accidentally discovers that if he sticks a black pin where a white pin should be, that person will die that day. In his own and others' efforts to prove this is nonsense, they stick a lot of black pins in the board and eventually kill like seven people.

After about an hour of this, it occurs to Boone what probably occurred to you three sentences ago: If black pins kill the living, would white pins bring the dead to life?

Now what we have is a movie length version of a pretty good "Twilight Zone" episode, aided by some wonderfully bizarre cinematography, and I stuck with this one to its terrible conclusion. SPOILERS! Supposedly the original ending would have had all the people he killed come back to zombie life and surround his little cemetery office. This was in 1958, a decade before "Night of the Living Dead" popularized zombies, and who knows what would have happened? But somebody chickened out and stuck on an ending that makes zero sense.

Anyway, this got me to wondering if your town still has a station showing monster movies on Saturday nights, or if you have memories of similar shows from your misspent youth? Or maybe you'd just like to riff about bad monster movies you've seen.

Have at it.



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