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 several friends from the neighborhood when we’d hang out on Saturday nights in the early ‘80s. Not yet old enough for cars, girls, or guns, we’d be sprawled out on bean bag chairs in the dark basement of our friend Willie.
(as it was his basement, he had right of first refusal on the ancient couch)
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.
For a couple years, ours was a ritual gathering most summer nights on Saturdays – Chris would be wired on Mountain Dew, Kurt would be obsessing over the dollar he’d loaned to Chris for the drink. Sometimes there would be a half dozen of us hanging out in that panel-walled womb.
We’d howl in amusement with every bad pun Sammy would deliver and yell, “George!” in unison the first time that rubber spider would descend into the scene.
By ’83, we had access to cars and had begun the pursuit of 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.
In 1982, the last year my friends and I regularly tuned into Nightmare Theater, I was still coming to the realization that I quite liked music – to an almost obsessive degree. It was still mostly Top 40, but I was venturing to some album rock, too. Some of the songs I remember from that spring…
Hall & Oates – Did It In A Minute
from Private Eyes
Hall & Oates were such a constant presence on radio and MTV in the ’80s, there are songs of theirs which I really wouldn’t miss if I never heard them again (I Can’t Go For That and Out Of Touch come to mind).
Then, there some of their lesser hits from that time – songs like How Does It Feel To Be Back, Wait For Me, Family Man – which are pleasant surprises when they pop up. The breezy Did It In A Minute is in the under appreciated category.
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts – Crimson And Clover
from I Love Rock N’ Roll
Joan Jett’s I Love Rock N’ Roll was a monster in early 1982 and I imagine she could have belched the alphabet and had a follow-up hit. Instead, she opted for a cover of Tommy James’ Crimson And Clover.
Of course, my schoolmates and I had no idea who Tommy James was. It was one of our “hip” teachers who played the original for us in homeroom one afternoon.
We much preferred Joan.
Van Halen – (Oh) Pretty Woman
from Diver Down
Diver Down might have been Van Halen’s fifth album, but as the first four were released when I had little interest in music, it was my first exposure to Eddie and Diamond Dave.
Their take on the Roy Orbison classic isn’t bad, but I wouldn’t even offer it up as the best cover song on Diver Down (and there are several). Instead, I’d go with their version of Dancing In The Street.
John Cougar – Hurts So Good
from American Fool
American Fool was the album that would make Johnny Hoosier (as my friend Bosco called him) a household name. Growing up in Indiana, Hurts So Good was on every radio station from the moment it was released and the rest of the country soon joined us.
I was fairly ambivalent about Hurts So Good at the time. I had no idea that its success would, by the time Johnny Hoosier had become John Mellencamp, literally change the course of my life in ways I could have never imagined as a kid in junior high.