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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“I Don’t Think I Was Speeding, Officer, Was I Weaving Or Something?”

March 7, 2012

Paloma shook her head at the commercial which promised three nights airing National Lampoon’s Vacation to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Clark Griswald’s trek to California.

She knew that I – having not seen it in glorious HD – would be unable to resist the sirens’ song.

She has often heard me echo the query of Imogene Coca’s deranged Aunt Edna – “Am I gonna eat? Or am I gonna starve to death?” and is good natured enough to have not brained me.

There was a time that I could have recited damned near every line of dialogue from Vacation as could most of my buddies. Chevy Chase had been one of our favorites in Caddyshack a few years earlier but, in that movie, he had been a memorable charcter in a large ensemble.

In Vacation, he was The Man, an outlaw on the road, skinny-dippin’ with Christie Brinkley, who had brightened our winter days for several years in the early ’80s in Sports Illustrated‘s annual swimsuit issue.

(Clark Griswald could have been in the Olympics, man)

If lab animals were subjected to as many viewings of one movie as my buddies and I had watched Vacation, PETA would rightfully raise a ruckus.

It was not difficult to exhaust the possibilities for fun in our small town before the late news aired. At that point, there wasn’t much to do other than acts of vandalism involving produce and/or fireworks.

(it was a town of three thousand people in the middle of a lot of corn in the Midwest)

Often, a bunch of us would end up encamped in Kirk The Pyro’s den watching Vacation on late-night cable or VHS.

(his family had a spacious house and cable and VCR before most of us did)

We were beginning to get our driver’s licenses – Vacation had been in theaters the summer we took Driver’s Ed – and, like Chevy, we yearned for the open road and dipping skinnies with Christie Brinkley.

The farthest we usually got was Indianapolis or, more often, Cincinnati and there were no “pool waitress” supermodels frolicking in the coin fountain at the mall.

But we did make good use of numerous quotes – travel-related or not – from the movie and, at some point, usually when it was suggested that we call it a night and head home, someone would rally the troops with words of wisdom from Chevy.

(the more delicate amongst you might want to cover your eyes)

“I think you’re all fucked in the head. We’re ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. I’m gonna have fun and you’re gonna have fun. We’re all gonna have so much fucking fun we’ll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamned smiles. You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ out of you’re assholes!”

Here are four songs from the soundtrack…

Lindsey Buckingham – Holiday Road
from Words & Music: A Retrospective (1992)

I can’t hear Holiday Road and not want to cruise through a desert of the American Southwest in a station wagon with a dead aunt strapped to the roof on the way to a theme park thousands of miles from home.

The Ramones – Blitzkreig Bop
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.

The Pointer Sisters – I’m So Excited
from Greatest Hits (1989)

During the first few years of the ’80s, when I was really listening to the radio for the first time, The Pointer Sisters were inescapable. A lot of those hits still charm me when I hear them on shuffle.

But sometimes, the manic I’m So Excited is just a bit too perky.

Vangelis – Titles
from Chariots Of Fire (1982)

As part of the last week of school in eighth grade, our class took a trip to a multi-plex in Cincinnati to see Chariots Of Fire. The movie might have just won the Academy Award for Best Picture, but a slow-moving, British, period piece on distance running and religion surprisingly proved to be a buzzkill for us kids.

(I’ve meant to watch it again as an adult but…)

Vacation arrived just a year after Chariots Of Fire, so the spoof of Chariots Of Fire hadn’t yet become cliche.


On The Road To Somewhere

September 3, 2011

Paloma got up, less than ten minutes into The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, to go read.

She muttered something about thinking Jackie Earle Haley was cute in the first movie and walked out before Kelly Leak arriving on his motorcycle kickstarted its sequel.

“It’s one of the greatest movies of all time,” I countered, but she was unswayed and headed off with Kindle in hand.

I don’t think I’d seen Breaking Training since 1977, but that review was the consensus of me and my friends leaving the theater.

(we were mostly nine or ten-years old, thus, our standards for such acclaim were the same as more noted critics)

We were growing up in a small town in John Mellencamp’s country and, at least at our age, playing baseball consumed much of our summer days.

We had embraced the ragtag collection of Bears with first movie. These kids looked like kids we knew and not kids in a movie.

And there was Jackie Earle Haley who, as Kelly was not only the best player on the team, but he was angry, long-haired, smoking cigarettes and hooking up with Tatum O’Neal.

He was as badass as a thirteen year-old could be in the mid-’70s.

The sequel lost the wonderful Walter Matthau and O’Neal, but gained a road trip.

Through the clever use of a dim-witted groundskeeper, the team manages to head from California to Texas in a stolen (and very ’70s-styled) van with Kelly Leak behind the wheel.

These were kids, more or less like us, unsupervised and mobile.

And Kelly Leak had the vision to make it happen.

The setting for their game against the Texas champions was the Astrodome, a stadium that was a favorite amongst us kids as the most spectacular of sporting venues on the planet.

(it was like something from some other futuristic world)

There was also a new kid playing Englebert the burly catcher. Not only was he now supersized, he was pivitol in the scene that elicited the biggest laughs from us.

During a brawl in the team’s hotel room, the bathroom door is knocked open to reveal Englebert, sitting on the can, trousers around his ankles, plowing through a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken while he answers nature’s call.

(high hilarity for nine year-olds and an act of multi-tasking that present-day corporate America would encourage)

Thirty-four years ago, it all made for a most excellent cinematic experience. Here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart for this week in 1977 that, had we been in that van, my friends and I might have heard…

Fleetwood Mac – Don’t Stop
from 25 Years: The Chain

In 1977, there was plenty Fleetwood Mac on the radio as their Rumours was in the midst of a run that would see it become one of the most commercially successful albums of all time.

The group had already had hits with Go Your Own Way and Dreams when the jaunty Don’t Stop became the third of Rumours‘ eventual four Top 40 singles.

Ram Jam – Black Betty
from Ram Jam

Paloma gets a bit giddy when she hears Black Betty and the lone hit by Ram Jam does grab one’s attention from the opening guitar riff.

I can’t hear Black Betty and not think of junior high when the song would invariably be blaring from the jukebox of the pizza place where most of our football team would gather to eat before home games.

The song made guitarist Bill Bartlett a two-time member of one-hit wonders as he had previously been lead guitarist for The Lemon Pipers who had topped the charts in the late ’60s with the bubblegum of Green Tambourine.

Paul Davis – I Go Crazy
from Sweet Life: His Greatest Hit Singles

Singer/songwriter Paul Davis’ I Go Crazy was in its second week on the charts thirty-four years ago. The song wouldn’t reach the Top Ten, though, until late February of the following year as it spent a then-record 40 weeks on the Hot 100.

Though I Go Crazy was melancholic light rock at its most mellow, I’ve often wondered if Davis was ever mistaken for a member of the Allman Brothers.

The Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
from Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology

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.