Sammy Terry*

October 25, 2012

The other night, the cable offerings were rather uninspiring, but, as it was after dark, I stopped on the remake of The Hills Have Eyes.

The flick wasted little time getting to the carnage, opening with a group of scientists clad in protective gear being torn apart by some savage creature. It was gruesome but hardly shocking.

What has stuck in my head is a scene that came later, after the vacationing family had broken down taking a shortcut through the same remote stretch of desert.

It wasn’t the family dog getting gutted or the patriarch being beaten to a pulp then set aflame. No, it was a scene in which one daughter in the family gave the finger to her sister.

The defiant digit was blurred out.

Pondering the interesting choices in censorship aside, the movie made me miss the horror flicks on which I had grown up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

I’m not referring to the movies of that time but rather the late-night television fare in a world without cable on our local independent station (usually the only one still on air after midnight).

These were mostly B-movies from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and early ‘70s and often in black and white. Sometimes they were surprisingly eerie, rising above their budgetary limitations, but, often, they were laughably shoddy or dated – bobble-headed alien invaders, puppet creatures and hippie vampires.

It was the latter which held the most entertainment value for me and and my buddy Will who lived a few houses down. Not yet old enough for cars, girls, or guns, we’d hang out in his living room on Saturday nights for appointment television.

Saturday night was the night for Nightmare Theater, hosted by the ghoul/zombie Sammy Terry (pictured above), who would add his commentary during commercial breaks or banter with a fake spider named George who “spoke” in squeaks.

We’d howl with amusement at every bad pun Sammy would deliver and yell, “George!” in unison the first time that rubber spider would descend into the scene.

As we reached high school, life was suddenly about cars and girls. There weren’t as many viewings of Sammy, but it was always fun to catch the show on occasion.

Years later, crashing out and watching Nightmare Theater was an incentive to make the trek home from college.

(I hadn’t seen the show for twenty years until discovering a trove of clips here)

Here are four songs for Halloween that Sammy might have enjoyed…

The Ramones – Pet Sematary
from Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology (1999)

Not long ago, a client was giving me his last name. “Ramone,” he said. “Like the band. Do you know who I’m talking about?”

He was surprised and duly impressed as I explained that I not only knew his reference, but that Paloma has a framed poster autographed by Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky hanging in our treehouse which she had received from the seminal punk rockers.

The Hooters – All You Zombies
from Nervous Night (1985)

All You Zombies, with its reggae hitch and portentous lyrics, hooked me first time I heard it in late winter/early spring of 1985. Though Nervous Night left me mostly underwhelmed, the Philadelphia band’s debut had several hits over the next year or so.

Their second record came and went pretty quickly (though I thought it had a couple of decent tracks), but main lyricists Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian have certainly received some nice royalty checks over the years for penning Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.

Oingo Boingo – Dead Man’s Party
from Dead Man’s Party (1985)

Though apparently having quite a following in Hollywood, Oingo Boingo was nothing more than a band with a cool name to me in the early ’80s. The one time I ever heard a song by the band was hearing Dr. Demento play their song Insects on his radio show.

Then Oingo Boingo notched a near hit in 1985 with their title song for Weird Science. I don’t recall hearing Weird Science on the radio, the flick was a cable staple for me and my buddies, so I was well acquainted with the song.

Back To School, with Rodney Dangerfield and Sam Kinison, was a staple for us a year later during our last summer before we headed off for college.

And there was Oingo Boingo performing the übercool Dead Man’s Party at a Halloween party in the movie.

The Shaggs – It’s Halloween
from Philosophy of the World (1969)

The tale of The Shaggs is quite a ripping good yarn, beginning in the hinterlands of New Hampshire in the late ’60s and seeing the Wiggins sisters become cult heroes, lauded by Frank Zappa and Kurt Cobain decades later.

Hearing The Shaggs for the first time is a memorable musical experience. At one large record store where I worked, it was tradition to play The Shaggs at some point during the closing shift on Halloween.

(thus exposing hundreds of people to the charms of It’s Halloween and The Shaggs)

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“It’s not every day that you get to see a monster piñata killing teens on a paradise island…”*

October 19, 2011

Oh how true that statement is and, thanks to a bout of insomnia and Piñata: Survival Island, I can now rebuff anyone that uses that line as a selling point.

(the titular quote was from a long-lost review of this cinematic tour de force)

If you’re a piñata enthusiast – and, really, who isn’t? – or simply have an interest in really bad movies, Piñata: Survival Island might just be for you.

I cannot recommend it as “so bad it’s good” as I only caught the last ten minutes and that brief glimpse led me to believe that it’s so bad, it’s just bad.

(it’s the kind of movie where you mumble to yourself, “Someone actually believed this needed to be written down?”)

I was channel-surfing, minding my own business, when I was confronted with…well…it appeared to be the little tiki idol that caused so much mayhem when the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii.

This tiki idol, though, was much larger, breathing fire, and rampaging through the jungle wielding a battle axe.

Understandably, my hand froze on the remote as I watched, boggle-eyed.

Piñata: Survival Island is not without star power. There is, of course, the tiki which had burst forth from a piñata.

And, one of the survivors of the piñata creature run amok is Jaime Pressly formerly of My Name Is Earl and currently shilling for the restaurant chain Zaxby’s.

(home of the most sodium-laden chicken in the Western world)

In fact, it is Pressly who dispatches the evil spirit by quickly and deftly assembling a Molotov cocktail and handcuffing it to the creature’s ceremonial headdress.

It also stars Aeryk Egan who seemingly put more thought into making his stage name a bastardization of Eric than in choosing his roles.

(or perhaps in choosing an agent)

The fact that the film was showing on AMC, which allegedly stands for American Movie Classics, is another kettle of fish altogether.

I do feel enriched and enlightened for the experience. It’s not often that I will have the opportunity to write about piñatas and, for that, I am grateful.

And, if any of you are now filled with a sense of urgency to seek out this film and are unable to find Piñata: Survival Island, try Demon Island.

(a cinematic endeavor of such magnitude could not be constrained to merely having one title)

Sadly, my music collection is sorely lacking in piñata songs. So, here are four island songs…

Sting – Island Of Souls
from The Soul Cages (1991)

To a lot of young music fans who came of age during the mania surrounding The Police and their album Synchronicity, Sting was the paragon of cool.

(of course, there were a lot of folks who also consider(ed) him to be an insufferable, pretentious twat)

The moody Island Of Souls came from Sting’s third solo album, The Soul Cages, and, even though I own several of his albums released since, it was really the last one which I awaited eagerly and listened to devotedly.

(though our paths would kind of cross years later)

Blondie – Island Of Lost Souls
from The Hunter (1982)

Island Of Lost Souls…nothing more than a wholly transparent attempt by Blondie to duplicate the success of The Tide Is High from their previous album, Autoamerican. There are a handful of good songs on The Hunter, the trainwreck of a follow-up to Autoamerican, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of them.

However, it is always amusing to hear Debbie Harry sing the line, “Hey buccaneer, can you help me put my trunk in gear?” and, personally, even bad Blondie is something for which I have a weakness.

Japan – Taking Islands In Africa
from Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

I snagged a copy of Gentlemen Take Polaroids on a whim, having read acclaim for the band from critics and praise from a couple of friends (both of whom, as I recall, actually preferred the band’s Tin Drum).

I liked the chilly, electronic music and on tracks like Taking Islands In Africa it’s not difficult to hear Duran Duran’s claim of Japan as an influence.

Megadeth – Devil’s Island
from Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986)

I’ve noted that I never truly went through a metal phase as a high school kid (though I have long dug Iron Maiden), so I vividly recall seeing Peace Sells… in the record bins and being immediately dismissive and disinterested.

Oddly, over the past twenty-five years, I’ve become a fan of Megadeth’s thrash metal and gained an appreciation for their groundbreaking sound. It’s not something I listen to often, but there are times when a track like the galloping Devil’s Island is just what’s needed.


And Then, There’s A Giant Turtle Hurtling Through Space

June 12, 2011

Searching for late-night movie fare, I still find myself harboring hope that I might stumble upon some sci-fi, B-movie from the ’60s.

It’s something deeply ingrained from childhood. Living within spitting distance of the border of three states, we were within broadcast range of the television stations of two large cities and, as a result, we had a cornucopia of seven or eight channels at a time when most pre-cable viewers had half the choice.

(of course, reception was often determined by the time of day and meteorological conditions)

Late at night, there was often the opportunity to bask in the soft glow of fare that would someday provide reason for Mystery Science Theater 3000 to exist.

Sadly, sleepy-eyed kids of the 21st century escaping the bonds of bedtime for the first time won’t be dazzled by the spectacle of men dressed as prehistoric and futuristic creatures engaged in combat as buildings and cities crumble under the carnage of the combatitants.

(arigatou gozaimasu, Japan)

Instead, pint-sized people huddled under a blanket late in the evening are more likely to find little but hucksters pitching programs to help them lose weight, grow hair, or accumulate riches in real estate.

(arigatou gozaimasu, capitalism)

Pulling up the menu of free movies offered by our cable provider one night, my pulse quickened as I reached those filed under the letter G and a dozen or so flicks with Godzilla in the title appeared.

Unbridled joy turned into disappointment as I pulled up the synopsis of the first one and noted the date – 2000. Scrolling through the rest, each one was a product of the past decade and each had running times in excess of 100 minutes.

It’s Godzilla not The Shawshank Redemption. It’s understandable that two and a half hours would be required to tell the tale of Andy DuFresne and have him tunnel out of Shawshank, but if you can’t destroy Tokyo and have the good monster defeat the bad monster in under 75 minutes…

Of course, coming across a classic Godzilla flick as a kid was like hitting three cherries. More often than not, I’d have to settle for Gamera, the giant, rocket-propelled turtle.

With a nudge from nostalgia, I did a search for Gamera on YouTube and the first result was too intriguing to not click.

I recognized the footage immediately even if I didn’t recall the name of the flick (which happened to be Attack Of The Monsters). I should have remembered the name as I swear it seemed to air once a month or so on Science Fiction Theater, one of our independent station’s Saturday night offerings, in the late ’70s.

The plot, such as it was, revolved around two small boys getting whisked away to another planet by the lone survivors of an alien race – two Japanese women clad in futuristic garb – who intended two eat their brains like pudding.

The lure, of course, was Gamera as he battled some giant, bipedal pteradactyl and another rubbery beast with a ginsi knife for a head to save the day and the cranial contents of the young whippersnappers.

And, in the clip, the heroic battles were set to the music of Men Without Hats’ The Safety Dance.

While Godzilla has been, quite deservedly, celebrated in song, if there is a musical tribute to Gamera aside from those conjured by the obviously twisted mind of a YouTube poster, this office has not been notified.

Instead, here are four songs from the Billboard charts for this week in 1978 when I was ten and about a year or two away from music holding my attention as much as a turtle jetting through the cosmos…

Patti Smith Group – Because The Night
from Easter

I don’t know when I first heard the great Patti Smith’s lone radio hit. It certainly wasn’t in ’78 and I can’t really recall hearing it on the radio at all, ever.

I suspect that I heard Because The Night in college when, having heard a number of acts I loved mention Patti and/or cover her songs, I delved into her (then) relatively scant catelog and was smitten.

Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street
from Right Down The Line – The Best Of Gerry Rafferty

From the opening notes, Baker Street makes me think of the pool as I was often there that summer and the song was always blaring from the radio or a car stereo.

Frankie Valli – Grease
from The Very Best Of Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

Grease was the movie of the summer in ’78 and the music was everywhere. I doubt that I knew who Frankie Valli was or that Barry Gibb wrote the title song, but I liked it and, like Baker Street, it immediately conjures up summer for me.

Genesis – Follow You Follow Me
from …And Then There Were Three…

The first Top 40 hit for Genesis in the States, Follow You Follow Me came after the reduction of the band to a trio and its incarnation that would have considerable commercial success in the ensuing decade. I imagine it caused considerable angst for the long-time fans of the progressive act.

I had a college roommate who tried to indoctrinate me into Peter Gabriel-era Genesis as have several friends over the years. As much as I love Gabriel’s solo work, I’ve yet to really take to early Genesis, though.

Follow You Follow Me is a song that I’ve always adored. It’s mysterious, distinctive, and hypnotic.