Friday, January 17, 2014

Geek Memories #1: Nightmare Theater!

Geek Memories #1: Nightmare Theater!

Growing up in Tacoma, Washington, it was always a treat when I'd be able to stay up late on Friday night to watch Nightmare Theater, which aired on the local CBS station, KIRO Channel 7. It would air after the news, and for the longest time, I'd only be able to watch it if I was spending the night at a friend's house, because my parents didn't want me staying up late, much less watching monster movies. Eventually, they would relent, as I got a bit older (probably about 9 or 10), so I could watch it at home.

The show was hosted by the Count, who was portrayed by Joe Towey. As with many horror movie hosts in other cities, Joe had other duties at KIRO, such as directing the legendary J.P. Patches program, which aired weekday mornings, and featured J.P., a hobo clown living at a city dump, along with his friends and foes, providing skits and fun between airings of old cartoons. Joe also had on-screen appearances, playing the on-screen director “Sam Gefeltafish,” handyman “Mal Content,” and J.P.'s evil brother “I.M. Rags.” Joe died at the age of 55 in 1989. He worked for KIRO for 30 years, directed J.P. Patches for 22 of those years, and played the Count from 1968 to 1977. According to an article published in The Spokesman-Review upon his death, Joe's wife say he first donned his cape and fangs for a 1964 Marine Corps Halloween Party, while she dressed as Morticia from The Addams Family. They won all the best-dressed prizes, and when KIRO decided to do Nightmare Theater, they remembered him, and eventually had him host the show in 1968 (the show went on the air in 1964). His original fangs didn't allow him to speak clearly on TV, so he had a custom set made by a dentist that worked much better.

Like most of the horror hosts, the Count had his opening sequence, as the camera came into his crypt, and his coffin would open slowly before he emerged from it. He would talk directly to us at home (often mentioning “the kid on the couch” – he knew his main audience was children!), and would joke about the movie being shown if it was a stinker.

But not all of the movies were stinkers... many of the classic Universal monster films were shown for the first time (for me) on Nightmare Theater, and I specifically recall seeing House of Frankenstein on that program. I also remember a movie I could've sworn was called The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant, but what I've seen of posters for that movie indicates that the movie I saw was a different one (I know there were at least two movies with a person's head transplanted to another person's body, while the original head remained). The theme song was from a 1966 movie called Lord Love a Duck, while sound effects were cribbed from a record album called Walt Disney's Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House.

A postcard, this might have been what I got from the Count.
The Count, like all of the local TV kids show hosts (like the forementioned J.P. Patches, as well as Brakeman Bill and others) would make local appearances, usually to celebrate store openings and the like. I remember seeing the Count in person but once, at the opening of a store whose name escapes me (the building's been many different things since then... at that time it was a variety store, it's currently a Michaels). He was there in all his glory, signing printed photos of himself. I vaguely remember asking him how a vampire could be out during the daylight, but I don't recall his answer (it could've been something like, “Sunblock,” but as I said, I don't recall. Sadly, I no longer have that photo, having been lost many moves ago).

But like many of the other shows I grew up with, Nightmare Theater holds a special place in my heart. When that show ended in 1977, the only other outlet on TV for monster movies was on Channel 11, which started showing those on Sundays at noon (I forget what they called their show, but there was no host, and it gave way to “Sci-Fi Theater,” which itself would show Godzilla and other monster movies, too).

Sadly, there is very little video footage preserved of this wonderful show. There are a few clips on YouTube... this is probably the best one available, as it has the opening sequence, as well as a bit from the middle of an episode, and the closing sequence.

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