Frizzi: Mourning the passing of one scary dude

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This past summer thousands of Midwestern baby boomers mourned the passing of an Indianapolis music store owner named Bob Carter.

Carter, a native of Decatur, IL and a graduate of Millikin University, was at one time a weatherman on Peoria local TV. He later became better known by his alter ego, a creepy TV ghoul named "Sammy Terry".

Every Friday night at 10 p.m., kids would gather around the family Philco or Admiral console TV set, itself the size of a casket, tune in WTTV Channel 4 in Indianapolis, and wait for the creak of Sammy Terry's (Get it? Cem-e-tery?) coffin lid. He would emerge, chuckle a sinister chuckle and tell you all about the movies you would see that night on "Nightmare Theater".

The show was campy. Sammy's makeup was funny and he wore a black windbreaker for a cape. The set was a cheap looking dungeon. The casket initially was a coffee table. You could see Sammy's pet spider George dangling from a string. And they played two movies from a catalog of old black-and-white scary movies from the '30s and '40s, old Vincent Price-Roger Corman movies or really bad monster or sci-fi movies from the '50s. We were glued to them. We'd have sleepovers as the show lasted until 2 in the morning. I remember promising my folks that I would only stay up for the first movie. Then, after the first movie, I'd turn off the lights, turn the volume way down and sit practically on top of the TV to sneak in the second movie. I'd be in bed by 3 a.m., only to be awakened a scant four hours later by my folks who suddenly decided that the yard had to be mowed or the garage had to be cleaned.

Creature Features, as they were known throughout the broadcasting industry, were a staple for TV stations in major metropolitan areas in the 1960s through the 1980s. Back then, cities may have had only five TV stations — three network and one, maybe two independents. In the hours when the networks didn't broadcast programs it was up to the local affiliates to supply programs such as old TV reruns, kids cartoon shows, daytime movies, homemaking shows and syndicated talk shows.

A station would purchase the Creature Feature package and then sell air time for it to local sponsors. Many times, the sales staff would also design the set, get the props and costumes and create the format. With networks airing programs until midnight on Friday, many stations ran their Creature Feature programming on Saturday nights.

These shows would introduce us to a whole new generation to movies that our parents grew up with. I remember my Dad was as excited as a kid when Sammy Terry would run the original Frankenstein, Dracula, Mummy and Wolfman. He had grown up seeing those movies with his buddies at his neighborhood theater, The Plaza, in Bloomfield, PA. To me, even back then, those movies seemed tame. After all, I had sat through the graphic "Mark of the Devil"; you were given your own barf bag before entering the theater.

Pittsburgh also had its own "Chiller Theater" on Saturday nights on the NBC affiliate, WIIC. It was hosted by Bill Cardille, an announcer by day who became "Chilly Billy" on the weekends. Opening to Henry Mancini's (also from Pittsburgh) "Experiment in Terror", "Chiller Theater" had its own cast of characters, such as "Terminal Stare" and "Stefan the Castle Prankster". The show was so popular, that it for years it was aired instead of NBC's Saturday Night Live. Joe Flaherty, a Pittsburgh native who appeared on NBC's SCTV, used Bill Cardille as an influence for his character "Count Floyd" on "Monster Chiller Horror Theater". Cardille also appeared as an announcer for WIIC in George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". The cult classic was filmed just north of Pittsburgh in Evans City, where I still have family.

Peorians were part of the "Chiller Theater" crowd when they would tune into WEEK-TV to watch the "Acri Creature Features". The show was sponsored by Chuck Acri, a local home improvement business owner in the Quad Cities whose wares were advertised between movies by such characters as Vincent Hedges, the vampire, Beauregard the Werewolf and Fang, the Wonderdog.

Local versions of the Creature Feature seemed to fade out by the 1990s. While cable channels such as AMC and TMC will show horror classics, they seem pale without the cheap set or the campy horror host. Nowadays, syndicated shows such as "Creepy KOFY Movie Time" and "Lord Blood-Rah's Nerve Wrackin' Theater" can be seen.

However, the area's best kept secret is on Friday and Saturday nights on East Peoria Community Television (Comcast 22). The show is called "Saturday Fright Special" and airs on Channel 22 Friday nights from 9 to 11 p.m. and Saturday nights from 10 to 11 p.m.. Based out of Keene, NH, the show is a throwback to the local, low-budget creep shows from our youth. The host, Scarewolf, is a guy with a werewolf mask, a top hat and a trench coat. He would parade around the woods or local graveyards until they could afford to build a set.

"Saturday Fright Special" airs a campy horror or sci-fi movie, usually intertwined with old Popeye and Little Audrey cartoons, old commercials, drive-in intermission clips and those old health and safety films we used to see in class. They play the old Roger Corman, Vincent Price", American International, "Bucket of Blood", "Beach Girls and the Monster", "Mothra" movies that I enjoyed back in the good-ol' "Chilly Billy"-"Sammy Terry" days. I sit up and watch them knowing full well that I don't have to mow the yard or clean out the garage until well past noon. ght-television-dies-83-public-viewing-Friday?nclick_check=1

About the Author
Donn Frizzi is a well-traveled man, if you consider Pennsylvania to southern Indiana to Texas and finally Peoria to be the definition of well traveled. But in each of his stops he gained certain insights that make him who he is — including a Pirates and Rangers fan who must travel to St. Louis to watch quality baseball without buying a plane ticket. Poetic justice, perhaps? A talented writer, Donn also can make a good point by putting pencil to paper and drawing with satirical splendor. We’re hoping to persuade him to grace our website with an occasional toon, as well.