WBNX TV-55 – The Ghoul’s Airing Of 1982’s Poltergeist (2001)

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You can thank my brother for this post.

Y’see, I’ve got a lot of The Ghoul’s later episodes on WBNX TV-55, which I recorded myself back in the day. Recently, my brother and I were discussing movies, and he started talking about how much he enjoyed the 1982 Steven Spielberg horror opus Poltergeist. Using my incredible powers of memory, I recalled that the only version of the film I’ve ever had was the one aired on The Ghoul so many years prior. Much to my surprise, he was quite stoked by this piece of information, and immediately requested that I dig the tape out and convert the episode to DVD for our viewing enjoyment.

Poltergeist, despite the accolades it has garnered over the years, really isn’t my kind of horror film. Not that I have anything against it, it’s just that when it comes to the genre, I really like horror movies of a more vintage variety, particularly the whackadoodle older stuff. Nevertheless, anytime I have an excuse to dig out an old Ghoul episode (beyond the occasional personal whim, I mean) is just fine by me, so if I had to watch Poltergeist, it might as well be along with Ron Sweed’s legendary late night horror host.

Unfortunately, this proved to be a bit easier said than done. Once the process of actually locating the tape (not always an easy task, though relatively pain-free in this instance) was completed, I discovered that, much to my chagrin, I had recorded the episode on a pretty cheap brand of tape, one that my normative playing/converting/whatever VCR wasn’t exactly fond of. When the tracking issues weren’t punching me in the face, the VCR enjoyed a steady diet freezing up and un-spooling the tape inside the deck on me. This isn’t normative behavior for the machine, though I have, rarely, encountered this malady before with other tapes; usually, switching the reels into a new tape shell cures the problem. Not in this case, because I had the same result. Whatever the problem is/was, it was with the actual tape.

Anyway, when all was said and done, an older Sony VCR played the thing back decently enough for me to get a conversion out of it. But by the time this was all over, I was irritated enough to decide that I was getting a post out of the whole thing no matter how much or how little I had to work with. I have a very unnatural sense of personal ethics, so if this article dissolves into incoherent babbling, that’s why. My pride.

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30 years! Yep, The Ghoul began on Cleveland’s WKBF TV-61 waaaaaay back in 1971. He wasn’t on a continuous 30 years all in a row, nor were the years he was on the air always spent in Cleveland, but nevertheless, 2001 was the big 3-0, so it’s cool to see an episode partaking in that. The screencap above may give the impression that this was specifically a special 30th anniversary episode. It wasn’t. Rather, it was just a quick blurb from the then-current opening credits. I’m not sure if there even was a specific 30th anniversary episode.

I tend to think of this as the “In Mono Where Available” era of The Ghoul, thanks to what you saw as the header of this post; that was the first image of the opening theme, accompanied by the sound effect of sirens blaring. It’s a pretty memorable start, though it belies the sad state of the actual show at the time: this wasn’t just the “In Mono Where Available” era of The Ghoul, this was the Sunday night-era of The Ghoul.

I went into further detail about this here, but a streamlined account of what happened is this: The Ghoul started on WBNX TV-55 in the summer of 1998 in a Friday 11:30 PM time slot, running numerous cheesy (i.e., bad in a good way) horror and sci-fi flicks with the expected humorous audio and video drop-ins, all interspersed with the prerequisite skits and host segments. It was a lot of fun, and I never missed it.

The Ghoul stayed that way until the fall of 2000, when the station moved him to Sunday nights, first at 12 AM and then later at 1 AM (yes, yes, technically that’s Monday morning, I know). For obvious reasons, this was a less desirable time slot, and even worse, The Ghoul’s segments were cut back AND the film selections were changed to a more general range of movies, which meant the audio/video drop-ins were more-or-less eliminated completely, except for select ‘old style’ flicks that were pretty few and far between. It basically destroyed everything that had been building since 1998 in one fell swoop, and naturally The Ghoul was vocal about his displeasure on the air.

The show was later moved to a late, late Friday night/early Saturday time slot sometime in 2002, but the other problems weren’t really fixed, and the show kind of just faded off-the-air that way around 2003/2004.

This 2001 airing of Poltergeist was right smack dab in that “new era” of The Ghoul. In other words, a relatively uncut movie, no drop-ins, etc. It’s a good flick but, for reasons I’ll get to in a bit, a rather disappointing show overall. And the unfortunate fact of the matter is that while the broadcast may not be representative of every episode at the time, it is emblematic of the problems that, as far as I’m concerned, helped eventually destroy the program.

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(You’ve probably noticed by this point the antenna reception issues in these screencaps. That’s because we were using gol’ derned rabbit ears at the time. And the sad fact of the matter is there are infinitely worse examples of this occurrence found on several of my other recordings!)

Because of my inherent problems with the Sunday night time slot (namely, I had school the next day and couldn’t stay up to watch without some serious draggin’ come Monday morning), I naturally wound up taping these episodes. And taping, and taping, and taping. The problem was, it became increasingly hard to find the time to sit down and actually watch them. Eventually, it got to the point where I had boxes of tapes with The Ghoul on them, most of them either unmarked or with a vague “Ghoul” scrawled on the sleeve. It’s kind of the same sort of thing with the DVR nowadays; I’ll have stuff I fully intend to get on tape sit there for months at a time, simply because I can’t find a moment to sit down and watch them. And when I do have time, I’m usually going through thousand-year-old videotapes or writing for my stupid dumb blog.

Around 2011, I made a concerted effort to dig out all of these Ghoul tapes and duly notate them. As far as I can remember, that’s when I first actually discovered he ran Poltergeist, though my mind is playing games with me; maybe this was one of the few I labeled correctly back then. Not that this matters to anyone but me, of course.

Anyway, Poltergeist is one of the better features run during those later years on 55. Not only because it’s such an acclaimed horror film, but also because it actually fits within the genre so widely (and understandably) associated with The Ghoul. Horror and sci-fi, it’s what horror hosts are made of, man! Action movies, comedies, dramas, even animated films were ran during the Sunday-era, and given the loose horror motif of the rest of the show and the general absence of the audio/video drop-ins, well, it made for the occasional awkward broadcast. Trading Places and Cocktail hosted by The Ghoul, they happened and they were strange (and not in a good way).

Luckily, Poltergeist is so good that the lack of drop-ins doesn’t really hurt the movie; people probably would have been angry had they been used, I imagine.

That’s the title screen up above, by the way.

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I think most everyone has seen Poltergeist by this point. It’s one of those horror movies that have wound up pretty much beyond reproach. The whole “They’re heeeere!” quote is even known by people that haven’t seen the film (all 8 of ’em). Generally considered a legitimate classic, it really is one of the more famous films run during that later era of The Ghoul on WBNX. Deliverance is another, though I’d easily take Poltergeist over that one.

I’m tempted to describe Poltergeist as “Coach fights ghosts!” even though that really, really does the movie a disservice (and isn’t all that accurate, either). Starring Craig T. “Hayden Fox” Nelson and JoBeth “Frasier’s girlfriend that one time” Williams (I, of course, am being a cad; both Nelson and Williams are accomplished actors with a ton of great stuff to their credit), Poltergeist, for those that don’t know (again, all 8 of ’em), details a California family beset by problems of a supernatural nature. The end!

Actually, that description also does the movie a disservice. Since the danger of spoilers is even more of an issue here than it usually is with these posts (since, unlike what I usually talk about, people will actually want to watch this one!), let me see how much I can and can’t get away with. Yes, it’s a household under attack by the titular character(s), but it’s quite a bit more than that. In this unfortunate house, weird spooky occurrences start out small, but soon turn deadly dangerous, including a killer tree and the youngest daughter being straight-up kidnapped by the ghostly forces. Building a house over a cemetery usually yields these results, and that’s exactly the reason this all happens here. This is a poor synopsis of the movie, isn’t it? Stop relying on me and just go watch it, already!

Being a PG-rated film, no one should go in expecting a gore-fest, which is fine by me since I don’t go for those kinda flicks anyway. And with this being a big budget Steven Spielberg film (directed by Tobe Hooper, no less), it stands to reason that this is going to be a cut-above the rest, and well, it is. And even with the editing for television (as was especially par for the course with films shown by The Ghoul), it’s an entertaining watch. I dig it!

Even though, as previously stated, this isn’t the kind of horror movie I usually watch, I actually wound up liking what I saw. I can’t promise that I’d ever watch Poltergeist again or in any other format, but at least I now ‘get’ why so many people are so wild about it.

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Unfortunately, for as good as the movie is, The Ghoul segments are the area that turns the overall episode into a disappointment. Simply put, they’re almost non-existent. Granted, the switch from Fridays to Sundays brought a lessening of Ghoul bits, but rarely were they this sparse. Maybe it was done to keep as much of Poltergeist intact as possible, but the bottom line is this barely qualifies as an episode of The Ghoul. Honestly, if it weren’t for the intro, no one would really know what was going on. Usually, for a ‘normal’ episode, I’d pick-and-choose which segments I wanted to spotlight, but in this case, there are so few and the ones that are here are pretty short, I might as well take a quick look at each of them.

There is no introductory segment or skit following the opening theme; the show goes directly into the movie. Indeed, at no point does The Ghoul ever mention the movie, have a mail-reading segment, or even talk to the viewer one-on one as he usually did. Rather, the first we actually see of him in action is during the first commercial break: As per the screencaps above, he’s visiting Fresh Hair at Great Lakes Mall. It’s a short bit, in which he enters the establishment, and smells everyone’s hair to make sure it is indeed “fresh.” Simple, but kinda funny.

Looks like Fresh Hair is still up and running at Great Lakes Mall, too! Thanks, Ghoul…?

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You best believe there was at least one Ghoul-style blow-up in the episode; there almost has to be! It’s practically a prerequisite of the show! In this “installment” (ha!), a little car of some sort is blowed up. The firecracker used is kinda wimpy, and thus the explosion is relatively subdued (though any destruction is always fun, of course). Also, The Ghoul seems to have a hard time finding a working lighter prior to said explosion, which points to the general off-the-cuff, improvised nature of the show (which was always a lot of fun).

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A return to Fresh Hair. In this one, The Ghoul sits down for a trim, which is amusing because, obviously, hey, fright wig, fake beard and mustache. Still, there’s not a whole lot to the bit beyond that, which makes it the weakest of the four (!!!) Ghoul segments in this episode.

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The last bit of the night. The Ghoul is at a carnival/fair/something somewhere, and instead of throwing darts at the normal targets that would usually garner a cheap prize, he is instead wingin’ ’em at Froggy! After a miss or two, he finally hits a bullseye…in Froggy’s “lower extremities!” Funniest moment in the episode!

And…that’s it. Those are the only Ghoul bits of the night.

Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if all of these bits were taken from older shows, and made up to look like a “new” episode, as that had been done in the past (The Curse, during the Friday night run, is the one I remember most; I was taping that night, but was so disappointed with the result that I wound up taping over it). Even so, the segments presented here are short, random, and not at all representative of the show as it could be (to be fair, even during the Sunday years there were episodes that were more ‘complete’ with mail segments and whatnot, so I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s all Poltergeist‘s fault).

Nevertheless, it’s not an ideal way to celebrate a 30th anniversary year, is it?

It’s at this point that I usually look at the old commercials aired during a respective broadcast. While the original ads were included on this recording (I never cut them during The Ghoul, or for that matter, 99.9% of my other recordings either), truth be told, there just weren’t any good ones. There’s some okay ads that are a neat blast from the past during the actual viewing, but nothing interesting enough for the purposes of this post. So, the heck with it, I’m skippin’ that feature this time around. It would have just been filler in this case, anyway. Even more so than usual, I mean.

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This is the final image of the episode, show immediately after Poltergeist‘s end credits. No Ghoul outro, nothing. It’s just over. The ending “Runaway Production” card was always a melancholy moment anyway, since you knew The Ghoul was all done for the week, but in this case, it leaves an especially bitter taste in your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s mouth. Figuratively, I mean; it’d be kinda weird if it were in a literal sense.

And yet, a part of me is still glad I have this recording. It’s not representative of The Ghoul at his best on WBNX, but still, if I have to watch a movie, I’d rather it be with one of our local late night legends than not. Even in this diminished a form, I still get the old thrill of staying up late and watching a horror/sci-fi flick. The Ghoul may have been buried on Sunday nights and cut waaaay back in every way possible, but yet, some of that old magic still remained. That’s what’s so amazing about our Northeast Ohio horror hosts; you just can’t keep ’em down! It’s a thing of beauty!

Oh, and thanks, Northeast Ohio Video Hunter Brother, for making me convert this to DVD! You gave me the post for this week, and that’s also a thing of beauty!

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