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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Pretty In Pink And The Ghost Of Iona

November 6, 2010

Paloma and I watched about an hour of that wretched flick Mannequin in which Andrew McCarthy plays a window dresser who becomes amorous with a mannequin…it’s dreadful.

We happened across it, several months ago, while channel-surfing one morning, and we stopped. It was as though the universe had thrown down the gauntlet and we felt compelled to push ourselves to watch as much as possible.

(twisted, yes, but hasn’t everyone done this?)

But, I’ve hit Pretty In Pink tonight and I realize that it’s difficult for me not to think of the movie Mannequin each and every time that Andrew McCarthy appears onscreen

As Blaine, the romantic interest of Molly Ringwald, McCarthy has the charisma of tepid soup.

I first saw Pretty In Pink at a midnight showing in the autumn of 1986 and McCarthy’s uninspired performance bothered me then. Now – post-Mannequin – I keep hoping that this is an alternate version and the movie ends with Blaine’s head on a stick.

Pretty In Pink is a John Hughes classic and a defining ’80s flick, but it wasn’t burned into my consciousness like the late writer/director’s The Breakfast Club, from the year before, had been.

That movie’s dialogue had become central to the syntax spoken amongst me and my friends when it was released during our junior year of high school.

But, as I was of a certain age at the time, I still watch Pretty In Pink if we cross paths.

Molly Ringwald is still endearing, but it’s Annie Potts as Ringwald’s best friend Iona that has always been far more interesting to me.

She’s aesthetically pleasing, owns a record store, wields a staple gun like a gunslinger, and is named Iona.

Neat.

It’s that record store, though, that increasingly stirred my imagination as I continued to watch. It was like seeing an old home movie.

In college, there were half a dozen record stores within mere blocks of one another. It would have been unthinkable at the time had I been told that they all would be gone less than two decades after I’d graduate.

I’d like to think that Iona still has her shop, staple gun still blazing, but I know that’s unlikely.

(at least Andrew McCarthy seems to have vanished, too)

Pretty In Pink‘s soundtrack brought wider exposure to acts like New Order, Echo & The Bunnymen, and – with the title song – The Psychedelic Furs. Though I was in college, our school’s radio station was all duct tape and chicken wire with a range of three blocks.

Ironically, I had had more opportunity to hear the music of the nascent college rock scene during my last couple years of high school despite living in a small town in the hinterlands as I was within range and listening to 97X.

So, here are four random songs from a playlist that I put together duplicating that of the late, great 97X…

Real Life – Send Me An Angel
from Heartland

When 97X went on the air in the autumn of ’83, the station not only exposed me to acts that I would never hear on the mainstream stations to which I was listening, I also heard songs that, months later, would become mainstream hits.

(Nena’s 99 Luftballoons, Peter Schilling’s Major Tom, and Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun immediately come to mind)

The ethereal synth-pop track Send Me An Angel by Australians Real Life was another song that I heard for months on 97X before being surprised to hear it on Top 40 stations in early ’84.

Oingo Boingo – Just Another Day
from Dead Man’s Party

It wasn’t 97X, MTV, or the movie Weird Science – for which the band provided the title song – that offered me my first opportunity to hear Oingo Boingo.

It was Dr. Demento airing the Hollywood band’s song Insects on his weekly show a couple years before 97X even existed.

Of course, lead singer Danny Elfman has gone on to great success scoring films, but Oingo Boingo had quite a cult following in Southern California and the group managed to notch a couple minor hits along the way including the twitchy, darkly-tinged Just Another Day.

Stan Ridgway – Drive She Said
from The Big Heat

You might not know the name, but, if you’re familiar with ’80s music, the adenoidal vocals of Stan Ridgway might sound familiar. A founding member of the band Wall Of Voodoo, he sang lead on a trio of albums including Call Of The West, which spawned the iconic Mexican Radio.

(and I still think Wall Of Voodoo is one of the coolest band names ever)

Following Call Of The West, Ridgway opted for a solo career. He’s never recaptured the audience that discovered Mexican Radio, but he’s produced some engaging, offbeat music often with a strongly cinematic vibe such as the film noirish Drive She Said.

The Alarm – Sixty-Eight Guns
from Declaration

Earnest and idealistic, The Alarm had a lot in common with U2 when both bands emerged as part of the post-punk scene in the early ’80s. In fact, The Alarm served as a support act for U2 as the latter was breaking in the States with War in ’83, but as U2 marched onward to superstardom, The Alarm remained a fringe act.

But The Alarm was a contender for a time and, though their albums were inconsistent and their sonic range somewhat limited, the Welsh quartet proved more than capable of delivering some stellar moments such as the bracing anthem Sixty-Eight Guns.


The Headless Maiden

October 31, 2009

moonGrowing up, there was no house in my hometown that the kids passed warily, whispering amongst themselves as they eyed the dilapidated structure and weed-riddled, overgrown yard reined in by nothing more than a decaying wrought iron fence.

However, I know from the television and movies I’ve consumed over my life, that everyone else had such a landmark in their life.

In fact, I can think of nothing in my small hometown that had a paranormal bent to it – no legends, no lore, no creatures lurking in the woods. There was simply no sinister goings on and never had been in my hometown.

(perhaps the townsfolk lacked imagination)

The closest thing to the macabre I recall was one grave.

On the southwest edge of town, one street led to a small, non-descript bridge which sped travellers into a vast stretch of sparsely populated farmland. There were fewer homes as you approached the bridge, even though it was no more than a twenty-minute walk from the center of town.

It was dark out that way at night.

A classmate lived in a large two-story house which was one of the last homes before reaching the bridge. Running past their home, off that main street, was a tree-lined lane which led to,a half-mile or so from the street, a cemetary.

The trees grew more dense as you walked deeper into the grounds, culminating in a woods, separated from the cemetary by a small ravine. There, under a canopy of thick trees, was a rectangular, stone slab, with weather-worn scripture quotes and no name. At one end of the slab was a small stone lamb with no head.

The story our classmate had told us was that, a hundred years or more earlier, the property had been owned by a vicious racist. One day, as he was hunting in those woods, he spotted a young Native American girl on the far side of the ravine.

Then, like Roland did to Van Owen in Warren Zevon’s Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner, the racist land owner raised his gun and blew off the Native American girl’s head. I remember our classmate saying, “Her head popped off and rolled into the ravine.”

It was the Native American girl supposedly buried beneath that slab.

It would make the tale more eerie I suppose if I could tell you that townsfolk had claimed to have seen a headless spirit or heard mournful wails from those woods. But, as far as I know, there no such stories.

There was little reason to go back there. There were a number of places for the high school kids to escape from supervision, so that cemetary wasn’t even a gathering place where minors might smoke or drink.

I might have to trek back there the next time I visit.

I truly wish I had a copy of The Shagg’s song It’s Halloween (It’s time for games/It’s time for fun/Not just for one but for everyone). Here are some other songs instead…

Oingo Boingo – Dead Man’s Party
from Dead Man’s Party

Bow Wow Wow – I Want Candy
from I Want Candy

David Bowie- Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
from Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

The Ramones- Pet Sematary
from Brain Drain