For those who weren't around or don't remember, SHOCK THEATRE was a locally produced weekly horror movie show of the type that abounded throughout the midwest and parts beyond through the '60s, '70s, and just into the '80s. Such programs usually aired over the weekend, sometimes latenight, sometimes in the afternoon -- generally, whenever the station figured that most normal folks were either sleeping or out in the sun doing the kind of happy fun things that ordinary social types with jobs and lives do. But as anyone working in television will tell you, somebody is always watching.
I, of course, was one of those people, and so were a lot of other future Dayton indie rockers. I find it nearly impossible to believe, for example, that little Jamie Holliday (HAUNTING SOULS, LUXURY PUSHERS -- Monster Hop founder) didn't have his eyeballs glued to the set every minute that SHOCK THEATRE was on. And no way you can convince me that every goth kid who hung out on Courthouse Square in 1987 hadn't taken one gander at DR. CREEP's black hat and black cape when they were kids and said, "I'm gonna dress like that when I grow up!"
SHOCK THEATRE aired from 1972 to 1985. I don't know when it aired in the beginning. I do know that in the '80s it was shifted to late Saturday after Saturday Night Live and died a slow, ignoble death in a Reagan-era world that had grown tired of low-budget camp and traditional horror aesthetics like dungeons and shadows in favor of young killers stalking hot chicks with butcher knives and chainsaws. But I most closely identify the show with the Sunday afternoon time slot it occupied in the late '70s.
Sundays in my family were generally lazy days during which we kids were left to do whatever came to mind while my mom cleaned the house and my dad performed complex mathematical calculations on the mail-order computer he had built. Many Sunday mornings, we would all pile in the car and head out to the Dixie Flea Market, but by early afternoon, we were usually back at the old house. Maybe I had a stack of beat-up comics or a tape recorder (seems we had an endless supply of tape recorders that were always breaking) or some action figures or a shitty board game with half the pieces missing. Maybe I had nothing. Maybe I was running through the yard and the house and up and down the driveway with a stick that looked vaguely like a Star Wars blaster shooting at imaginary stormtroopers. But whatever I ended up doing, my older brother usually made sure we had SHOCK THEATRE on in the background. Back then DR. CREEP would host a double feature that seemed to run for hours. The last half hour or so of the second movie would usually be on just as we were sitting down to dinner. I remember eating beef-n-noodles and homemade bread with my back turned to the little black and white TV we had in the kitchen, just a little scared to turn around but still doing so anyway to catch the final fate of the vampire known as Blackula!
Yeah, that was SHOCK THEATRE. One of the great things about it was that in those days local producers had access to any number of foreign (usually British or Italian) and independently produced drive-in films that had never had a nationwide release and never been shown on television. DVDs and even VHS didn't exist yet (I'm pretty sure the first widely available VCRs didn't come until about 1978, and even then the VHS rental market didn't really exist until the early '80s (before that, VCRs seemed mostly used to "time-shift" baseball games and such)).
I suspect that for anyone over thirty today, his or her first exposure to independent film had to have been at the drive-in or on a program like SHOCK THEATRE. Sure, with a few rare exceptions (Carnival of Souls, maybe? some of the early British Hammer films?), they all sucked. But for the most part, they weren't made in Hollywood. They could still scare the shit out of little kids like me, and the cheap special effects, second-rate dialogue, and non-existent plots could still please any adult with a sense of humor. Today, film technology has become so cheap that any aspiring filmmaker with an ounce of initiative can throw something together. And although 99% of all films (indie or Hollywood) still suck, indie filmmaking in general has become more respectable. Perhaps it was Clerks (or one of those other mid-'90s groundbreaking indie efforts like Spanking the Monkey or Jesus of Montreal) that really turned the tide and suddenly made independent film an accepted medium for producing high art. But all that rests firmly on a foundation of cheap drive-in throwdowns like The Undertaker and His Pals, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, and Manos: The Hands of Fate. SHOCK THEATRE had a hand in that.
But to be perfectly honest, the movies were not the best things about SHOCK THEATRE. The real fun (and the crux of the social phenomenon that went along with locally produced horror shows) lay in the dopey bits of stuff that the host and crew would throw in to pad the old double feature to four or five hours of content. Okay, I don't have much of a frame of reference, but I suspect DR. CREEP and Co. were at least above average among the scads of horror hosts operating at the time. There were better ones, of course: Vampira, Elvira, Joe Zacherle (New York City's "Cool Ghoul")... they achieved a sort of nationwide success that DR. CREEP would never have. And a few hosts like Indianapolis' Sammy Terry and St. Petersburg's Shock Armstrong were just so bizarre that they've developed a far-reaching cult status and even inspired legends.
But CREEP & Co. were pretty good, and I'll still say better than average. Anyone who was watching Miami Valley broadcasting in the late '70s no doubt remembers CREEP's distinctive "HOO-HA-HAAAAAAA!" cackle -- whether it be from SHOCK THEATRE, his recurring guest spots on the old CLUBHOUSE 22 show (alongside Duffy the Dog and host Joe Smith), or one of his seemingly endless public appearances (which he still makes today, though on a more limited basis -- no doubt you'll at least be able to catch him this Halloween at both Foy's Halloween Store and Horrorama at the Englewood Cinema). That laugh would later be immortalized on THE LAWN JOCKEYS' seminal Amazing Sounds of Shock Theatre CD. Of course, the various homegrown intros and outros to SHOCK THEATRE and skits that would run before commercial breaks were hardly the stuff of genius. Truth be told, they were pretty stupid, and when they weren't stupid, they were just cheap. But we all loved 'em -- still do.
When I used to work out at London Prison, the closed-circuit TV system in the prison used to air a horror marathon every Halloween. One of the inmates who used to work in the TV system let me have a hand in picking the movies one year. I swear to god it was nearly impossible to resist the urge to find some way to sit in the dorm with those inmates for the entire marathon and kibbutz through all those shitty movies. The next year the same inmate got me as a guest on one of the between-movie spots they would tape. That was a great Halloween. I felt just like DR. CREEP.
And that leads us to the media content for this post. No, it's not me on London Prison TV (though I'm pretty sure I have a video tape of that somewhere). It's a bevy of SHOCK THEATRE clips posted over at YouTube, vintage stuff from the show. We'll start with this intro clip from 1977. This is the one I remember best and the one I most closely identify with the SHOCK THEATRE phenomenon. For those who don't recognize the inspiration, it's supposed to parodying the intro to the '50s television series The Outer Limits. Check it out (it's only a minute):
There are 18 other clips too. Go here to view the selection.
And that's it.
This is all just some shit I found that I wanted to stick up here. I Remember Dayton will be back more regularly on August 1. Until then...