Growing up my Saturday afternoons would be spent with creatures, monsters, ghosts, ghouls, murderers, and mad scientists. Beginning around one o’clock I would settle down in front of our 17″ Sony Trinitron (complete with simulated wood grain plastic sides) with a soda (typically Frank’s grape or ginger ale) and a bowl of buttered macaroni noodles (couldn’t get enough buttered macaroni for some reason) and I would watch Creature Double Feature. A double shot of horror I would partake in wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm.
The program ran on channel 48 in Philadelphia and would feature classic horror films. This was in the late 70s and early 80s (yes, I’m old I know) and it introduced me to many of the horror films that I still enjoy today. It played the Hammer Studios movies where I first became aware of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (even before Star Wars if you can believe it) and Roger Corman’s Poe classics with Vincent Price and a very young Jack Nicholson. In addition, the program played the American International movies from the 50s that had every manner of atomic giant bug as well as Toho Studio’s kaiju films with the king of rubber-suited beasts Godzilla. But, far and away my favorite films were the Universal monsters from the 30s and 40s.
I loved the German expressionism style of these films (though I wouldn’t have known that was what it was called back then). I was enthralled by the moody atmosphere, the harsh shadows, and the stylized landscapes and Gothic sets. And the monsters of course. By the late 70s the Universal monsters were icons and pitchmen used to sell breakfast cereals and greeting cards – watered down and cartoonish – but in the original back and white, they still had an impact. They weren’t scary as such, they were just cool. Dracula, Wolf-Man, Frankenstein, the Mummy – they all had a stylized look that made them endlessly fascinating. The way they moved, the way they sounded, it was just a joy to see and to watch and I looked forward to these films every week with macabre excitement. Even the films I didn’t like or thought were a bit silly held a certain fascination I could not turn away from.
One particular week that I still remember vividly and still can’t quite wrap my head around – they played Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare. This is a concert movie and not a horror film per se, but it does have the horror tropes in its production complete with decapitation and a hanging. As a kid, I didn’t know how to put this in context and just remember thinking, ‘this is the weirdest story I have ever seen.’ It did get me to start listening to Alice Cooper though.
So Creature Double Feature was a wonderful program and it wasn’t afraid to aim its focus at kids. It seemed to know we wanted to be scared, we wanted to be on edge. We wanted things hiding in the shadows, in cobwebbed hallways, under creaky stairs. We wanted to be afraid of the dark and the fog, to run from the screams in the distance.
These movies were cool and kids like me enjoyed every moment of them.