Monday, March 24, 2008

Chiller Theatre (The TV show, not the convention)

Watching Night of the Lepus reminded me of one of my favorite TV shows as a child, the horror anthology on WPIX called Chiller Theatre. Nowadays it's easy to laugh at old horror movies, but when you're seven years old, the Wolfman is a terrifying creature, Dracula is a creepy old pedo and Frankenstein reminds you of your uncle Fiore stomping around in the cellar as he has his morning stogie. It is the stuff of nightmares.

Speaking of nightmares, I had one recently where me and some friends were hiking in a swamp, when a Giant Fucking Hand came out of the bog and grabbed somebody. Now where would imagery like that come from? Chiller Theatre, that's where. The show opened with a creepy claymation hand coming out of a well near a house, and as a kid it obviously burned its way into my brain:


Admit it, that is one creepy friggin' hand.

They mostly played movies with effects by Ray Harryhausen, the king of stop-motion animation. Classics such as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which is about a dinosaur attacking New York City. It gleefully tromps down Broadway stomping people flat and eating them. We reenacted this numerous times with a plastic dinosaur and Star Wars figures. Lando never got a break. Everyone knows in the movies the Brother Always Dies First. One of my recurring nightmares as a child was of a T. Rex chasing me down East Centre Street, into a neighbor's yard where I cleverly jumped over a picket fence and hid.
Based on a Ray Bradbury story, the beast was released by an atomic bomb test, and predates Godzilla (even the awesome original Japanese version without Raymond Burr). Thus began a love for Harryhausen's work, especially Mighty Joe Young, which was usually shown on Sunday mornings because a helpful giant ape doesn't belong on Chiller Theatre.
They Hoover out your humerus in Island of Terror.

My all-time favorite stupid movie is 1966's Island of Terror, starring Peter Cushing. This one had a scientist on a remote Irish island trying to cure cancer. He inadvertently creates monsters called "silicates" that look like armored blobs full of spaghetti, with a vacuum hose trunk that sucks your skeleton out. It's actually better in many ways than your typical drive-in horror, as not all the characters are stupid. Except this guy, who tries to off one with an axe and gets too close.


I love how his friends don't even try to help.


The monsters make a delightful noise as they suck out your bones, with accompanying screams. We had loads of childhood fun chasing each other with the vacuum attachments with a sock on the end. Which in another kind of blog, might be a teenage masturbation aid. There's a full review of the movie over at Stomp Tokyo. It's not on DVD, so I'll spare you my musings on it. For now!

Another great favorite was Curse of the Mushroom People. The movie is actually quite good and has deeper meanings about survival, but as kids, who cares about that? We were scared shitless that our face was going to mutate like the poor bastards in this film. A group of Japanese tourists are shipwrecked on an island, on which there is very little to eat. Except mushrooms, which are everywhere. Soon those who eat them begin to show startling changes...
Aggh! Mushroom man!!

The story is told by a man in a mental institution, one of the survivors of the wreck, and of course when he's done with his tale that no one believes, he turns around and has a portobello-like growth coming out of his face. I wish I had a screenshot of that. His nose was all distorted up like a pig snout and me and my sister made that face at each other a lot. Thankfully our grandmother was lying when she said our face would get stuck that way. This seems to be on DVD, so you'll suffer through a full review sometime soon.

There's also a Chiller Theatre horror convention every year in NJ, and I think I'll join Darth Milk this year when he goes. Lou Ferrigno and Ernest Borgnine are going to be there. I need to get my photo taken with the Hulk, and well, Ernest Borgnine. Maybe I'll dress up like Marty.

Look out, ladies.

3 comments:

Rob L. said...

Not everyone in the universe had WPIX. The local TV station where I grew up had Sammy Terry, who showed the midnight monster movies. He was married to Jaynie, the host of the afternoon kids show that I had instead of The Magic Garden.
In high school, it was Count Gore DeValle, in the DC area, who was the Channel 20 Local weatherman during the day. My lovely wife has trouble believing that the TV shows were different where I came from, but that's a common NY/NJ tri-state attitude, I've noticed.

Tommy Salami said...

I know that local channels are different :)

Chiller was also in Pittsburgh, and some local stuff traveled around. For example that kid's program Gigglesnort Hotel is a Chicago program that got shown here too. I'm surprised about The Magic Garden, since I thought that was PBS; but PBS isn't as universal as I thought either. My friend in Texas can't watch Frontline. Which explains a lot about Texas politics.

Count Gore sounds interesting. Reminds me of director Paul Anderson's Dad who played "Ghoulardi" on late night ABC; seems like every local area had their own.

Nowadays it seems like we only have our local newscasters, and then only until they hit the big time.

Rob L. said...

blame Ronald Reagan, who deregulated late night TV programming so that all the local channels could run infomercials instead of semi-public domain late, late movies.

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