On a rainy Saturday afternoon recently, I surfed through my 200+ television channels. Click, click, click. Imagine my surprise to find nothing on. After settling on an infomercial for some exercise contraption named after something on the endangered species list, I tuned in for a full 20 minutes – 20 minutes of “I now wear a size – 5!”; 20 minutes of “you, too, can be an emaciated flake!”; 20 minutes of my life I can never recover. I finally gave up and did the laundry. Whatever happened to good TV?
Remember when you were a kid? Close your eyes and think back. It’s Saturday afternoon and too wet and cold to go outside and play. Cartoons are over and “rastlin’” just left you with some big masked lummox warning you to tune in next week. Your mom has called you to a creamy, steaming bowl of tomato soup and saltines when what to your wondering ears does appear? Why, it’s the Saturday Monster Matinee! You slurp up the soup, scalding two layers off you tongue, and set the world’s record for number of saltines inhaled in 30 seconds. You dash back to your TV perch with an oatmeal pie meant for your lunch box. On a staticy station out of Asheville, the trailer starts. The foreboding music invades your mind. The wavy, jagged letters appear in neon green on the screen and slowly spell out, “Saturday Monster Matinee”. Your pulse quickens. You lift your legs into Indian style under your cozy quilt in case any creepy crawlies or marauding little sisters decide to scare you by grabbing your ankles under your chair. The studio credits begin and then……oh, joy of joys! It’s The Mummy! It’s Boris Karloff! You’ve just hit the Saturday afternoon jackpot! You peer through the reception snow and wait, white-knuckled, as the creature encroaches, stiff-legged, ever closer. His bandaged claws reach out in crypt-like anticipation. The sarcophagus closes and another Saturday afternoon well-spent is under your belt.
As if monster matinees weren’t enough to satisfy your childhood appetite for the frightening and bizarre, Friday nights harvested their own little gems of the macabre and off-beat. If you weren’t sitting up red-eyed and hidden from your sleeping parents waiting, just waiting, for Friday Night Videos to show Michael Jackson’s Thriller at midnight, then perhaps you were tuned into PBS. PBS? Yes, PBS. Ahhhhh, I can picture it now; batgirl underoos, grandmother’s old quilt, your ear glued to the low volume on the TV so your parents won’t know you snuck down to watch “that show”. After all, that one episode gave you nightmares and you had to sleep on the couch in your parents’ room for a whole week. The screen goes black. Starlight appears and that voice comes across while the twirling black and white swirls captivate your mind. “There’s a sign post up head…..you’ve just entered…..the Twilight Zone.” You turn up the volume, ever so slightly, so you can sit back a bit. You need to make sure you can make a fast getaway in case there’s a really scary monster or alien on this episode. Wait for it, wait for it – a-ha! It’s the heat wave episode! No monsters in that one, so you’re safe. The sun blares through the window into the little TV apartment. Sweat covers the temples and forearms of all the characters. The painting melts, leaving long, sagging droops of what must be greens and blues and grays. She screams; delirious from the heat……viola! There it is, that infamous twist – it’s a blizzard, not a heat wave! Oh, boy, how did you not see that one comin’?
Remembering those afternoon matinees and late-night TV thrills always gives me a bittersweet smile. Things just seemed simpler then. No one had done the slasher film to death. Everyone knew who Karloff, Chaney and Cushing were. The Ouija board was still just a parlor game. Everyone tried to laugh like Vincent Price and you actually used your TV guide to plan for scary movie watching. Thomas Wolfe once said, you can’t go home again, but I believe you can. Now, if you would like to join me, there is a Twilight Zone marathon on channel 244 and I hear they are showing the heat wave episode.
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