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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At This Time Of The Night…*

October 21, 2012

Maybe it’s the quiet and the rustling of the leaves outside the open windows of our treehouse living room.

(the temperature is surprisingly mild)

Maybe it’s having spent some time checking out blogs counting down to Halloween.

But it’s just past midnight on a Saturday night and the hour is perfect for the glow eminating from the television screen to be from some old horror movie or sci-fi flick.

On such a night – and at such a time in the night – thirty-years or so ago, the channel would be turned to Sammy Terry. Sammy was a ghoul who hosted such movies on an independent television station from Indianapolis.

The movies were rarely great works of cinema, but Sammy was there to empathize, make banter with a rubber spider named George, and crack bad jokes during commercial breaks for Don’s Guns and a used car dealer who would admit that “Old Dave needs the cash.”

Now and then, though, there would be a movie that was genuinely eerie.

(of course, I was a kid, so I recall finding portions of movies like The Deathmaster – some hippie/vampire/biker flick from the early ’70s – to be creepy)

Sammy has been retired since the late ’80s and, though I now have twenty times the viewing options, surfing through those options yields nothing.

There’s no Japanese man-in-a-suit movie or giant, radioactive ants rampaging through the desert to be found.

Apparently it’s too much to ask that one of the stations available be airing an old classic in glorious black and white like a Boris Karloff movie from the ’30s or something starring Vincent Price from the ’60s.

I’d dig finding a ’70s drive-in flick like The Legend Of Boggy Creek or The Boy Who Cried Werewolf or, perhaps, something from Chuck Heston’s oeuvre from that period – The Omega Man, Soylent Green – but no such luck.

Syfy Channel is airing some movie about bird flu that meets that station’s usual standards of excellence.

(the maddening thing about the bad movies that Syfy airs is that they aren’t even entertainingly bad)

It’s ten days before Halloween, but the late-night landscape is littered with little more than infomercials, some reality shows, and reruns of Roseanne and The Nanny.

(all frightening in their own ways, but…)

Sure, there’s DVDs, Netflix, and a number of other options for a fright fix, but there’s something about stumbling upon an old horror movie on television, late at night, that, I suppose, harkens back to childhood.

Here are four songs that will have to substitute for a midnight feature…

The Judybats – Witches’ Night
from Down In The Shacks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow (1992)

The Judybats came together as students at the University of Tennessee and released a handful of albums in the late ’80s/early ’90s, but I don’t believe that I ever heard them on radio or even happened across a video on MTV.

I did get a couple of their albums as promos and hearing them again after so many years makes me curious to go back and relisten to them.

Witches’ Night, about a Halloween party, is engaging, jangly, folk-tinged alternative pop that certainly would have fit well on college radio in 1990.

Ozzy Osbourne – Bark At The Moon
from The Ozzman Cometh (1997)

At the risk of being accused of blasphemy – possibly by Paloma – I’ve never thought much of Black Sabbath. Sure, they might have been influential, but, aside from a handful of songs, their appeal has been lost on me.

And, even twenty-five years ago, I found Ozzy’s Prince of Darkness schtick to be laughable. Would the Prince of Darkness have a paunch?

Seriously?

But I do dig some of Ozzy’s catalog and Bark At The Moon is good fun.

Mazzy Star – Ghost Highway
from She Hangs Brightly (1990)

Mazzy Star rose from the ashes of the band Opal and consisted of the duo of singer Hope Sandoval and guitarist David Roback (who, in the ’80s, had been a member of paisley-tinged rockers The Rain Parade). She Hangs Brightly was the twosome’s debut effort, arriving in 1990.

With Sandoval’s aloof vocals and a sound that was atmospheric and dreamy, Mazzy Star’s artistic slant on psychedelic rock earned comparison to acts like The Velvet Underground and The Doors. The group would navigate a record label bankruptcy to notch a hit with the wispy Fade Into You three years later.

R.E.M. – I Walked With A Zombie
from Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye: A Tribute To Roky Erickson (1990)

It was Paloma who turned me on to the eccentric brilliance of Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators with their album Easter Everywhere.

That was four or five years after acts ranging from ZZ Top and T-Bone Burnett to The Butthole Surfers and Bongwater paid tribute to the legendary Austin cult musician, covering his songs on 1990’s Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye.

(The Judybats had actually made their debut on the compilation)


“I Don’t Want To Make Money, Folks…I Just Love To Sell Guns”*

March 1, 2012

Recently, Paloma and I caught a late-night showing of a movie called Equinox, a sci-fi flick from the early ’70s which has a cult following due to the fact that it began as a student film by Dennis Muren

(Muren would earn acclaim for his special effects work on numerous films, including the Star Wars series)

Equinox was a familiar feature from my childhood as it seemed to be shown every other week on WTTV’s Science Fiction Theater. Seeing it again also brought back vivid memories of a personal bogeyman spawned by consumerism run rampant…

…Don, erstwhile proprietor and namesake of Don’s Guns.

Don was a regional phenomenon, his advertising reach relegated to central Indiana where his lone storefront/armory was located. His budget allotment for marketing apparently only great enough to purchase face-time in the wee hours on an independent television station, but his leering mug made quite an impression as I have learned from fellow Hoosiers, few of whom seemed to have escaped seeing Don hawking his wares.

His commercials were like an ambush. One minute, I’d be sitting there, a nine-year old in pajamas, huddled under a blanket, watching Channel 4 only to have Don practically burst from the screen and into the living room. If Equinox or Night Of The Lepus wasn’t frightening enough, there was Don.

Don epitomized snake-oil salesman, approaching a level of smarm that would be the envy of any elected official and doing it so effortlessly.

Perhaps it was his resemblance to an extremely dodgy Kenny Rogers.

Possibly, it was the sheer, unadulterated glee with which he made his pitch.

Most likely it was the manner in which he closed every commercial – Don gazing maniacally from the screen, toothy grin flashing as he delivered his mantra, “I don’t want to make money, folks. I just love to sell guns.”

(this clip is of more recent vintage)

And then he’d be gone.

DeForest Kelly would return – battling the bunnies in Night Of The Lepus – but somehow it lacked the punch to follow-up the spectacle of Don.

And where is Don now?

Googling him, my computer screen was filled with results, most of which sullied my fond memories of Don as many alluded to numerous alleged improprieties involving his business. One item feted him as “the nation’s sixth-worst dealer” based on the number of firearms sold that were used in criminal activity.

And all the daffy bastard wanted to do was sell guns.

Thirty-five years ago, I was a third-grader and far more interested in late-night horror flicks than music. And I was certainly already well acquainted with Don and steeling myself for him popping up onscreen.

(I’m not sure if Don listened to music or not)

Here are four songs that were on Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 this week in 1977…

ABBA – Dancing Queen
from Thank You For The Music (1994)

I stumbled upon an unopened copy of ABBA’s four-disc box set for six dollars and couldn’t pass it up. Not that I really need that much ABBA.

(few people do other than a buddy who was fanatical about the band long before revisionism and a hit Broadway show made such adoration socially acceptable)

I enjoy the hits from the bell-bottomed, sequined Swedes more dispassionately, but I’d have to offer up S.O.S., The Winner Takes It All, and Dancing Queen as transcendent.

Eagles – New Kid In Town
from Eagles Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (1982)

My relationship with the Eagles is complicated, but even with little interest in music in 1977, I was familiar with the group. The radio station in our small town was light rock with a bit of pop-leaning country thrown in and the wistful New Kid In Town was a perfect fit.

10cc- The Things We Do For Love
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day, Volume 19 (1993)

I know little more of 10cc’s catalog other than a handful or so of songs, but those I do know have impressed me with their musicianship, craftsmanship and quirkiness.

The Things We Do For Love is a breezy and flawless pop song.

Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle
from Greatest Hits 1974–78 (1978)

I seem to recall hearing Fly Like An Eagle constantly blaring from radios at the pool during the summer of ’77. It struck me as a bit strange and unsettling.

The song still has a trippy vibe though it’s no longer strange and/or unsettling, but I’d have to think the stoners of 1977 were digging the song’s groove.