Tag Archives: 2000

WBNX TV-55 – The Ghoul’s Presentation of 1940’s “The Devil Bat” (January 28, 2000)

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A promise fulfilled!

Remember a bit over a month ago, when I babbled about my super cool budget Bela Lugosi DVD collection? You dont?! Well, that hurts me deep. Anyway, in that article, I mentioned my desire to review some locally-hosted Bela Lugosi, my attempt at a post regarding Invisible Ghost on The Ghoul, and my eventual termination of the whole project. I also mentioned my initial choice of Invisible Ghost over The Ghoul’s presentation The Devil Bat, which I soon came to regret. (The Invisible Ghost episode just didn’t give me enough to work with, y’see.)

Well, it’s rectification time! I dug out the VHS recording I made of The Devil Bat via WBNX TV-55’s revived The Ghoul Show way back in January of 2000, and needless to say, that’s our subject for today.

Even better, this is our first real episode of The Ghoul seen here at the blog! Oh sure, we saw 1982’s Poltergeist on the program, but that wasn’t really a Ghoul show, not the way it was meant to be, anyway. And yes, we did take a brief look at his 1998 Santa Claus episode, but that article wasn’t dedicated solely to him. Nope, this is our first real foray into the show that made up many, many of my Friday nights.

And no kidding, as soon as that opening montage above popped up on-screen (“IT’S THE GHOUL SHOWWWOW,” as performed by local band Destination), I was right back to almost-14-year-old me, relaxing on the couch on a Friday night at 11:30 PM. Powerful nostalgia, this one is.

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Unlike Invisible Ghost, which had a lot of content but not much I could adequately write about, this episode is an example of The Ghoul Show as I prefer to remember it. There’s a few skits, but most of the host segments are just studio-based screwing around, which, in my opinion, was when The Ghoul was at his best. This is laid-back, fun, Friday-night entertainment, courtesy of Ron Sweed’s legendary horror host.

You know what’s funny? I recall watching this episode as it aired (and as this recorded, obviously), but prior to pulling this tape out, I couldn’t remember nearly anything about it. And to be frank, I am 99.999% positive I never watched it again afterwards. This means that when I sat down to finally convert my VHS recording to DVD for posterity (a conversion that came out beautifully, thanks to my cute lil’ 6-head VCR), all of it was essentially new to me. This is about as close to recreating those Friday nights of my teen years as I can manage in this day and age.

I’m serious. That sense of anticipation for the weekly dose of Ghoul Power, it all came flooding back as I watched this, a feeling I wasn’t expecting to be nearly as powerful as it was. Everything just clicked this episode, making it a terrific example of just what I loved so much about those Friday nights over a decade ago. This isn’t high-art, nor was it supposed to be; this was (is) legit kick-off-the-weekend entertainment, Cleveland-style!

One thing I really liked right off the bat: there was a proper introductory host segment. Y’see, for many episodes, there’d be the opening montage, and then typically, a silly skit, apropos of nothing in particular but fun nonetheless. Why are there streamers and confetti all over The Ghoul in the screenshot above? Because it was his birthday weekend! Needless to say, that sets the tone for the rest of the episode. The show was always fun (well, maybe not always, when you take the “Sunday era” into account), but there’s a real “party” mood permeating this one, for obvious reasons.

We’ll get to all of that in due time, but first, the movie…

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1940’s The Devil Bat, one from Bela Lugosi’s poverty row output, in which he produces giant killer bats to attack his enemies. Less than a decade removed from the release of Dracula, and Bela was (mostly) relegated to doing films like this. On paper, it sounds downright insulting. And yes, it’s the kind of movie that should be so far beneath Bela, the script wouldn’t have been offered to him in the first place. Things didn’t work out that way though; Bela was typecast as Dracula somethin’ awful, and his heavy Hungarian accent didn’t help matters, either. So, as the 1940s dawned, he was increasingly forced to take projects like this one. Befitting a man of his stature? Not really. But, films like this kept his name visible to the public and money in his pockets.

Saying all of that kinda does a disservice to the film and Bela’s acting, however. No, it’s not the most highly-regarded thing he ever put out, but it IS immensely entertaining, and to Bela’s credit, he gave the role his all (he always did, no matter how weak the material). I can’t say this movie wouldn’t have been fun without him, but with him, it is undeniably a blast. But then, anything with Lugosi is worth at least a cursory glance, just because it’s Bela.

This exact broadcast was without a doubt my first time seeing The Devil Bat. The Ghoul had a wide-range of horror and sci-fi films during the “Friday era” of the show. Stuff as old (or older) as this or as recent as the 1990s could and would be shown. Because I was always a “classic movie” buff, flicks like this one were the most up my alley. And yet, as I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, The Devil Bat didn’t really do it for me then. As a result, it left a sour taste in my mouth that lasted for years; it’s only in more recent times that I’ve fallen in love with it. Maybe it just didn’t hit me in the right mood that night. Or maybe it had to do with a couple factors regarding the version aired during this broadcast, which I’ll explain momentarily. I don’t know, but the fact is I didn’t care much about the film then. Luckily, I do now. Better late than never!

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Bela plays Dr. Paul Carruthers (given Bela’s accent, he doesn’t seem like much of a “Carruthers,” but whatever), who is not only the town doctor, but also a chemist for the local cosmetics company (“Heath Cosmetics”). Sounds like a plush gig? Not for Carruthers. Turns out the cosmetic company has made a fortune from Carruthers’ products, and Carruthers, uh, hasn’t. Carruthers himself is really to blame for the situation; when the company was first getting started, he asked for money up front for his concoction(s), rather than a buying a share of stock. This, needless to say, turned out to be a huge mistake, and he’s been salty ever since.

(However, while Carruthers is at fault for the initial decision, the company owners, Heath and Morton, tend to needlessly rub it in – even when they give him a $5000 bonus, it’s a pittance compared to what the company is actually earning.)

Just like any rational person with a grievance against their employers would do, Carruthers has decided the best course of action is revenge, and since he doesn’t seem like the witty-limerick-on-the-bathroom-wall kinda guy, that means the only logical choice left is to create giant killer bats to carry out his revenge. I mean, duh!

Using electronic impulses or something like that, he enlarges one to big honkin’ size, which is in addition to training it to attack upon smelling a certain aftershave lotion, of Carruthers’ own design naturally. A killer bat prepared to tear you up is one thing, but it’s so much worse when it’s the size of a large dog.

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You see where this is going, don’t you? Carruthers tricks members of the Heath and Morton families into wearing his special aftershave lotion (ostensibly as a test before marketing), and then releases the titular creature from his own personal belfry (every mad scientist should have one), which then exacts Carruthers revenge for him.

Naturally, you can’t have a big giant bat flying around killing people for very long before the press starts nosing around. And sure enough, two big city reporters soon waltz in for a scoop, and eventually put a stop to the whole thing. Well, one of them does; the other is basically comic relief.

Before the ordeal is over, you’ll be treated to shots of a rubber bat attacking people, a silly fake photo shoot, a couple of prerequisite love interests, a wildly ineffective (but surprisingly friendly towards the press) police chief, a stereotypically-grumbly newspaper editor, and enough outdated 1940s jargon to make you feel better about life. Plus, you know, Bela Lugosi.

With only a bit over an hour in running time, there’s not much time to screw around, and thus, The Devil Bat moves at a pretty brisk pace. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s charmingly cheap, and it comes highly recommended by your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter. And as we all know, my recommendation is of tantamount importance.

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“W-w-what am I lookin’ at?!”

The Ghoul did not have access to the greatest print of The Devil Bat in the world. Not so hard to understand; nowadays we’ve got a couple really fantastic “official” versions on DVD/Blu-ray, but back then, you were limited to whatever had been making the rounds for decades. The Devil Bat is in the public domain, which means I could project it on the side of my garage while figuratively (literally?) thumbing my nose at Hollywood cause there ain’t no copyright on the film no more.

Beyond the expected scratchy, splicey nature of the print, the picture-quality was also pretty fuzzy – it almost looks like it was sourced from VHS. Which, fine, whatever, public domain and all that. More distressingly, however, is the fact that the picture is often incomprehensibly dark. (See: above.) No joke, there are long stretches of the film that, had I not already been familiar with it, would have left me utterly lost upon this latest viewing. Back in January 2000, this was perhaps one of the reasons the film didn’t endear itself to me.

Also, editing. You didn’t really tune into The Ghoul to watch a movie; the movie was just kinda fodder for humorous sound effects and whatnot. The Ghoul would pack so much into his host segments, that the film often felt like an afterthought, and the editing to make it fit into the timeslot sometimes made that abundantly clear. More often than not, a movie would be so chopped up, following it was all but impossible. The longer the movie, the less it would make sense on the show. Mind you, that’s not a complaint either; that was actually part of the fun.

At only about 68 minutes, The Devil Bat should have fit into the 2-hour timeslot allotted to this episode fairly unscathed. As it turned out, it’s easier to follow than a lot of movies shown by The Ghoul, but there are noticeable chunks missing, and some of them are pretty important. That fake photo shoot I mentioned a bit ago? Yeah, that’s not actually present in this broadcast, which thus renders some of the later actions (that are present in this broadcast) as pretty head-scratching to a first-time viewer. This probably didn’t help endear the film to me back then, either. Or maybe I just didn’t like it, I don’t remember.

What I don’t get is why there needed to be any movie-editing at all. Y’see, this episode runs just under 1 hour 50 minutes (not so unusual; The Ghoul always started on time, but when an episode ended wasn’t always set in stone). They couldn’t have filled out that unused 10 minutes with the rest, or at least more, of the movie? I don’t get it.

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But like I said, when watching The Ghoul, the movie was usually there strictly as fodder. That is, the various video audio drop-ins, the stuff Ghoulardi was doing way back in 1963 basically.

For The Devil Bat, there’s some funny audio bits; the Froggy “hi ya gang! Hi ya hi ya!” used whenever a close-up of a real bat is shown is great, as are the expected burps whenever someone takes a drink, incessant groaning whenever someone is killed, etc. On the video front, during a typical newspaper-headlines montage, clips of Cleveland Browns-related articles are inserted.

My favorite bit of movie-mockery here is something that The Ghoul was fond of using during his WBNX run: the fake-factoid bubbles. Remember Pop-Up Video? It was like that. Two examples of the phenomenon are, needless to say, pictured above. I loved these things back then, and I love them even more now; I had no idea who Dick Feagler was back in 2000, but I sure do now, which of course helps me actually get the gag. These bubbles aren’t as rampant during The Devil Bat as they were in other movies shown on the program, but I did love what was here.

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So, back to the show as a whole. (Well, the bits I feel like pointing out.) As previously mentioned, it was The Ghoul’s birthday weekend, and even though it wasn’t stated during the episode itself, Ron “The Ghoul” Sweed was turning 50 51. The big 5-0 5-1! Of course there was celebration afoot!

This was demonstrated at the end of the introductory host segment; the crew threw The Ghoul a surprise birthday party! (Hence, the streamers and whatnot all over him throughout the show.) I have no idea if this was a real surprise party, or just something cooked up for the cameras, and there’s not a whole lot to the bit other general frivolity. But again, it sets the tone for the rest of the episode.

(I want that 60th anniversary King Kong poster in the background above, by the way.)

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A very funny segment in which, as response to a viewer email stating “Big Chuck sucks,” The Ghoul claims he and Big Chuck are tight, and then pays “tribute” by showing the same two pictures of Chuck over and over while “Wind Beneath My Wings” plays and shots of The Ghoul sobbing uncontrollably are inserted between it all. This all goes on for just a bit too long.

On paper, it’s a bit that may confuse first-time or otherwise not-in-the-know viewers, especially if they happened to tune in while it was already in progress. Some may even claim it to be “stupid.” There’s no doubt it’s of only the thinnest premise. So why can’t I stop laughing at it?

(It’s important to note that The Ghoul and The Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show were scheduled against each other at that time. In the hype leading up to his television return in the Summer of 1998, I recall The Ghoul stating he hoped people would use their VCRs to watch both shows.)

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A “Soul of Ghoul” skit. The premise of these, and there were quite a few of them, was that the Soul of Ghoul, a black guy, was the polar opposite of The Ghoul in every way (“Yo Yo Yo” instead of “Hey Hey Hey,” white beard and mustache, black wig, etc.), and would constantly harass him in a Froggy-like style. In this installment, it’s the classic “shoe polish” trick, in which Soul of Ghoul places the substance on a telephone receiver (remember those?), and gets The Ghoul to answer it, with the expected results.

Somehow, I *think* the real meaning behind these skits went RIGHT over my head back then, though I of course get it now: these were a shot at Son of Ghoul. If the initials didn’t make it clear, The Ghoul’s declaration at the start of each sketch of “Now the brothers are rippin’ me off!” makes the message doubly-obvious. (Nowadays, he’d probably have to word that differently, too.)

At the time, I don’t think I knew about the legal troubles between the two in the years prior. At least, I don’t remember knowing about them then. I’d catch little shots from one against the other on their respective shows, but as I recall it, I never took those as anything more than a friendly rivalry kind of thing. I’d learn the truth later.

My stance on the matter? I grew up as a fan of both hosts, I liked the different comedic styles both brought to the table, and I remain a fan of both today. I wish things had played out differently between them, but that’s all I’m going to (or really, can) say about the situation. At the end of the day, it wasn’t and isn’t my battle to jump into.

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Not so much a segment as a returning-from-commercials bumper, but nevertheless, with Groundhog Day right around the corner, this is a very funny, holiday-appropriate goof on Big Chuck & Lil’ John. Hey, let the screenshot above speak for itself…

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For this host segment, before heading into the real purpose behind it, a quick demonstration of the then-new Ghoul travel mug and Turn Blue Ghoul Brew is given. See, it can hold liquid! (And if it don’t make you burp, “You got a bad one!”)

Turn Blue Ghoul Brew hasn’t been around since, I guess, the early-2000s? Mid-2000s? I sure miss it though. It was blue root beer that turned your tongue the appropriate color upon imbibing. (There was a green, lemon-lime variant called “Froggy Squeezin’s” as well.)

I only tried the Froggy variety once (the nearby DeVitis Italian Foods carried Ghoul drinks), and it was good, but I loved the Ghoul Brew. Very tasty – and it really turned your tongue blue! I’ve still got an unopened bottle (maybe two) floating around here somewhere.

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Immediately following that, it’s time for “Frankenstein Online,” later deemed “Frank-On-Line.” I remember the character, but I had totally forgotten about the early iteration of him. Lemme explain…

The gag was that the Frankenstein monster was real, and his body had been located, reanimated, and kept at the “Brownberry Institute” in Maryland. The torso remained there, but the head was on loan to The Ghoul. Contrary to popular opinion, Frank didn’t get a bad brain, he was just “nurtured badly.” (The Ghoul muses that if political correctness had been around back then, it could have been a whole different scenario.) Turns out, Frank’s very intelligent! And to prove that, viewers were invited to email him from the Ghoul’s website and ask for his advice!

The version of the bit I remembered was Sick Eddie, in green face paint, bolts, the whole deal, his head sticking up out of a table, dispensing advice is a mock-Frankenstein voice that to this day I find gaspingly funny. What I had forgotten, however, is that the character started out as a fake plastic head, and The Ghoul ‘voiced’ him off-screen. As The Ghoul’s intro makes clear, this was a very new addition to the show; it’s funny, but I’m glad they fleshed (Get it? FLESHED! HAW HAW H…aw never mind) the concept out a bit more.

For this installment in the soon-to-be long running segment, a viewer asks what he’s gotta do before asking a girl out on a date. Frank’s response? A series of incomprehensible grunts and yells! It’s not a segment that would have worked for very long doing the same thing every time, but here, it’s very funny.

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The Ghoul had a long-running, good natured “feud” with legendary local anchorwoman Denise Dufala. It was obviously all in jest, but hardly a week went by where a shot (sometimes literally) at her then-recent CD (I’ve got a copy!) wasn’t taken.

This bit was filmed during the holidays (hence the Santa Ghoul sleeves), and repeated endlessly, which was and is fine with me, because I love it. Simply put, The Ghoul was inside the WOIO offices (?), and as a final prank before leaving, he placed his fake beard and mustache on Dufala’s official picture. The screen then froze on the image, while “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” played longer than necessary. Good stuff!

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A short, random segment (I guess a good many of Ghoul segments could be considered random!) in which Froggy shows up without being implored to “plunk his magic twanger.” This clearly displeases The Ghoul, who then tosses some lady fingers at the amphibian, causing him to be duly carted off by some “paramedics.”

When Froggy explains that it’s been awhile since he’s been by (hence the showing up unprovoked), The Ghoul’s almost nonchalant response of “I don’t care!” cracks me up.

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For me, one of the biggest highlights in any episode was “The Ghoul’s Vault of Golden Garbage,” in which a vintage Ghoul skit would be presented. The chance to see material from the 1970s or 1980s, waaaaaaay before my time, it was fantastic.

That’s not quite what this installment was, though. It was an older bit presented, but not a vintage one. Rather, it’s a clip from 1999, and was actually the intro to one of my very favorite episodes (Attack of the Mushroom People). It’s definitely fun, and funny, and a good example of those non sequitur, apropos of nothing intros I mentioned earlier, but still, it wasn’t some new-to-me 1970s sketch, and that was (is) a little disappointing.

One of the crew must have found a busted “self-service” greeting card maker on the curb or something, gutted it, and brought it to the studio for a skit. Here, The Ghoul throws his money in the machine (“$3.95?!”), but when he attempts to make his own card, all he gets is a note stating “Wait a Second.” He soon discovers Froggy is in the back of the machine, which then causes Ghoul to rock the machine back and forth, throw it to the ground, and then tie a chain around it and drag it, via truck, around the parking lot until it falls to pieces!

Random? For sure. But, you know, I really do love it. I guess I can overlook it being of a then-recent vintage…

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Jungle Bob time! JB! My buddy!

Years before he began appearing on The Son of Ghoul Show, this was how I was introduced to Jung, by his appearances on The Ghoul Show.

I learned some great stuff from JB on those shows, including some facts I’ve managed to retain in my memory banks all these years. (At Monsterfestmania, JB confirmed my recollection that if I were to drop a tarantula, it’s abdomen would straight-up ‘splode!)

For his appearance here, JB brought some shrimp (one of which The Ghoul accidentally dropped – it was fine), one of those cool fighting fish PetsMart is always shilling (I taunted one once; it slammed a fist through the glass jar at me*), and some tadpoles, which naturally prompted a return visit by Froggy; The Ghoul proceeded to swing him around, which resulted in his arm accidentally ripping off! (Froggy’s arm I mean, not The Ghoul’s.)

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And that was pretty much it for the episode. (There was an obligatory model car blown up; I didn’t bother grabbing screenshots of that one. Besides, we all know what the best Ghoul blow-up ever** was!)

Before bouncing on out, The Ghoul presents a gift given to him by the crew: a talking Robbie the Robot doll! And then, after a final mention of it being his big birthday weekend (he won’t be able to make the Saturday WNCX 98.5 FM radio show he co-hosted with Mr. Classic at the time because of it), that was it, the last Ghoul Power for a week. It was always bittersweet seeing him bounce out of the studio at the end of each show, because it was over. Until next week, anyway.

I had a LOT of fun revisiting this episode. As I said before, this was basically all new stuff to me; I hadn’t seen this since it initially aired, so not only was it full of constant surprises, but it was just an all-around funny, entertaining show, to boot. Plus, it definitely gave me much more to work with than Invisible Ghost did.


Commercials! Commercials? Yes, commercials! 2000 is still just a bit too new for there to be a whole lot of vested interest in them for me. I mean, they’re a huge nostalgia boost personally when seeing them in action, but as far as writing about them goes, well, I’m not so sure.

Nevertheless, here’s a few (but just a few) I can kinda sorta babble about…

WBNX TV-55 The Lost World Promo

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WBNX excelled in hour-long, syndicated shows. It was like a constant stream of lazy Saturday afternoon fare, but almost all the time (‘cept prime time, that is; that was the WB’s turf). The Lost World was one such series, and despite loving the 1925 silent film, I don’t think I ever took more than a cursory glance at the syndicated series. Good? Bad? The hell if I know. I assume it was about people stuck in a dinosaur-inhabited territory. (Gee, what a guess!)

In all seriousness, nowadays, I probably would give this one more of a shot – maybe.

WBNX TV-55 Total Recall 2070 Promo

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Take everything I said about The Lost World above, ignore the dinosaur reference, and think of Arnold Schwarzenegger but not really. Do that…and you probably still wouldn’t have a clue about Total Recall 2070. I probably watched less of this show than I did The Lost World – and that’s saying something!

You know, I referenced the “Sunday era” of The Ghoul earlier. Some of these shows (Total Recall 2070 and The Lost World) were run after The Ghoul at certain points during that period. In fact, because I let my tapes keep recording loooong after The Ghoul was supposed to be over, I’ve captured examples of both, and probably more. I suppose if I were feeling adventurous enough, I could dig the tapes out and give ’em a try, but, meh.

Ody’s Tailors & Clothiers Ad

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ODY’S! Now this one, I just love it.

Ody’s Tailors was located very, very close to me at the time. Indeed, it was thanks to his commercials during The Ghoul that when it came time for my 8th grade graduation, I insisted, insisted that I get my suit from Ody. And I did, too.

This ad is ostensibly for Ody’s retirement sale, 25% off everything in the store, etc. But truthfully, these “retirement” ads ran for quite awhile; I’m pretty sure I recently saw one on an old tape of mine from 2002 or 2003. That was actually a good thing, since I didn’t graduate until the Spring of 2001 – I’m glad Ody was still around. He was ridiculously friendly. I’m glad we could throw some bidness his way, even if it was just that one time.

The WB Zoe…Promo

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I think I can count on one hand the number of WB shows I regularly watched. I’m not sure there were any, to be honest with you. Well, maybe one or two, tops.

And yet, thanks to promos aired during The Ghoul, I can certainly remember a good number of them. Zoe… is a good example of that. This promo is for the second season premiere of what was originally titled Zoe, Duncan, Jack and Jane. Obviously, they shortened the name to, officially, Zoe… (It’s pronounced, literally, Zoe Dot Dot Dot in the promo). I never watched either iteration, though for whatever reason, the original title made the show strike me as a ‘unique’ sitcom.

Lex Luthor from Smallville was in it, as was Selma Blair. That’s her in the left screenshot above, and it’s only now that I truly realize she was cute as a button.

WBNX TV-55 Unhappily Ever After Promo

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I realize this promo is from after the show ended and was thus in syndicated reruns by that point. Even so, it still counts as a WB series, and one that, even though I didn’t watch it very often, I actually kinda liked whenever I did happen to tune in. I don’t know if it holds up for me; it tends to be compared or related in some way or something to Married…With Children, which I know hasn’t held up for me. Nevertheless, I had more experience with Unhappily than I did poor Zoe… above.

The actual episode this promo is for? Something about each family member having fantasies or living out their dreams or something like that. Look, I’m at over 5000 words for this article now, I’m tired.


 

What a huge, huge shot of nostalgia this recording is! It’s like a nearly-perfect summation of just what I loved staying up late Friday nights to watch The Ghoul. Almost everything about it clicks, from the skits to the movie to even the commercials (yeah, I kinda gave those short-shrift here, I know; they’re fun in action, but there weren’t all that many writable ones – ‘cept Ody, anyway).

The Ghoul wouldn’t remain like this a whole lot longer; that coming fall, he’d be moved to Sunday nights, his movie selections ruined, his skits, host segments and movie drop-ins scaled waaaaay back. The entire show that had been building up since the Summer of 1998 would more or less be totally destroyed in one fell swoop. ‘Course, I didn’t know any of that was ahead. I’d suspect neither The Ghoul nor his crew knew, either.

I can’t really say this Devil Bat episode is my favorite, though I do think I’d put it in my top 10, if I were ever bored enough to make a list such as that (and rest assured, I taped so many Ghoul shows over the years, I could if I wanted). Even though I hadn’t watched it since the initial airing over 16 years ago, boy, I enjoyed nearly every second of it. Consistently entertaining, and a hugely nostalgic presentation; I wish every old recording of mine met those criteria!

 

*Aw, you know it didn’t, I was just kidding, chill out.

**In my humble yet-totally-biased opinion, of course!

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WAOH TV-29/WAX TV-35’s Annual Halloween Broadcast Of The Original Night Of The Living Dead (1999)

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It’s Halloween! It’s Halloween!!! Happy Halloween everybody!

I love this time of year, and I love this holiday! There are great movies on the air, there’s a great feeling in the air! Baby, I loves it!

Despite my mounds of horror-related crap, I initally had a tough time deciding what exactly to write about for the first Halloween post of my silly little blog. What I first had planned was a no go, for no other reason than I just couldn’t think of much to say. And that was for a 30-second commercial! So, at the proverbial last minute (well, two days ago), I decided to write about the original 1968 Night Of The Living Dead. Because Heaven knows what the internet needs right now is article # 5,637,242 on the movie.

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Seriously, has there ever been a more written about movie than the original Night Of The Living Dead? It’s legendary (not to mention public domain) status has ensured that just about everyone has had their say on the movie by now. BUT, the Night Of The Living Dead I’m talking about isn’t just any old version of the move. No, this is one of The Cat’s (WAOH TV-29 in Akron and WAX TV-35 in Cleveland) annual Halloween airings of the film! This was a staple of the station in the late-90’s, and probably up through the 2000’s, too. Unlike other movies on the network (which were syndicated via America One, content from which WAOH regularly carried), The Cat had it’s own print of the film, and they ran it each and every Halloween as their 8 PM movie.

Of course, there are no station I.D.’s during the movie, and most of the commercials were either ones I’ve talked about before or not interesting enough to talk about now, so I can’t prove this is absolutely a genuine WAOH/WAX airing, but I’m nothing if not honest, so let me assure you that it indeed is. Not that anyone besides me really cares one way or the other, but just thought I’d throw that out there. Also, while I’m reasonably sure this is a 1999 airing, it could also conceivably be a 2000 airing; the commercials were of no help whatsoever in determining the exact year, but again, no one besides me really cares. But, I gotta be straight with you, my loyal reader(s).

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Night Of The Living Dead has been public domain forever (basically since it was released), so local stations running it is nothing out of the ordinary. But, one thing I always loved about The Cat’s annual broadcast of the film was that while it was a reasonably sharp print (although my screenshots, taken from my DVD conversion of a now 14 year old VHS copy that was recorded in SLP mode from a local independent station, may not always accurately reflect that), it was also very dark, dusty, dirty and scratchy. Now, most people would want their Night Of The Living Dead to be as clear and clean as possible. Not me, and I’ll tell you why: in regards to this movie, the more worn-out a print is, the more nightmarish the film becomes. It’s already black & white and claustrophobic, and the dirt and scratches only add to the ‘scary’ vibe the film naturally has, in my opinion. it’s almost like looking through a dirty window and seeing something that you shouldn’t.

Honestly, I feel the same way about the 1922 Nosferatu: clean it up as much as you want, add tints, whatever, but leaving it black & white and worn-out gives the film a nightmarish quality that, I feel, no amount of restoration can replicate. Oh, I understand why these films need to be preserved in the finest quality possible, I’m not arguing that at all. Restore ’em, get ’em out there on DVD and/or Blu-Ray, let the people see the flick the way it was meant to be seen. There was an artistic vision that can and often does become obscured under the grime from years of runs through the projector. So yeah, I’ve got no problem with each new, ostensibly better release of Night Of The Living Dead (or Nosferatu). I’m not even sure what I’m really proposing here. What, the latest Blu-Ray is gonna tout “Old & unrestored! Looks like it was dragged around the parking lot 6 or 7 times!” or some such tagline? Alls I’m sayin’ is that fried old Night Of The Living Dead effects me in a way the cleanest print ever couldn’t. I know that won’t be a popular opinion. In fact, I may be the only one that holds it, but I’m fine with that. Yeah, I’m weird (but isn’t Halloween for weirdos?).

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The Cat’s annual broadcast of Night Of The Living Dead wasn’t what introduced me to the film, though. I think I first saw the annual Halloween airing in 1998, but it was a year earlier that I stumbled upon Son Of Ghoul’s showing of the flick. I had seen neither it nor Son Of Ghoul in any real capacity prior, but I was instantly hooked on both. Not only did I immediately become a SOG fan, but I absolutely loved the movie. Having no experience with the show, it took me a minute to realize they were dropping sound effects and whatnot into the movie, and while I found them funny, they didn’t distract from the film, which I quickly became hooked on.

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Upon that viewing, Night Of The Living Dead struck me in a way few, if any, other horror or sci-fi movies had before. It genuinely scared me. Granted, I was 11 years old, and I wasn’t exactly hiding under the covers; it was a good kind of scared, a chilling “can’t stop watching” movie that left a lasting impression on me. It instantly became a favorite film of mine, and beyond that, introduced me to a whole new world of horror movies. This was something more intense, more genuinely frightening than I had ever experienced before. It was great.

(Just like WAOH/WAX used to do, Son of Ghoul still plays Night Of The Living Dead every year for Halloween, including this past weekend.)

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Let me reiterate that that introduction wasn’t this airing, but it’s close, at least as far as evoking personal memories of that era, when I was constantly discovering new old movies. From Night Of The Living Dead, I checked out the other films in George A. Romero’s “Dead” series (at least as many as had been released at that point), other zombie movies, any new-to-me horror or sci-fi movie I could get, even branching out into Italian and Spanish (and beyond) flicks. For awhile, I would have considered the 1978 sequel Dawn Of The Dead the best and my favorite, but over time, I’ve really reverted back to preferring the original; I’ve grown to appreciate the claustrophobic, increasingly intense atmosphere (it all starts out normal enough, and then all hell proceeds to break loose) and black & white cinematography more and more over the years. Not that Dawn is bad in any way, but Night just appeals to me more nowadays.

I should also note that this original Night Of The Living Dead is really the only ‘brutal’ horror film I still retain love for. Not that it’s really as “extreme” as some modern horror films are, of course (though it’s still a very effective film). After a good part of my teen years, when I had “the more gore, the better!” mentality, I eventually developed an aversion to overtly graphic horror or sci-fi movies; anything that realistically depicts people being murdered and such (especially when it’s just for the hell of it), I really don’t care for. Nowadays, I generally prefer the Universal or poverty row films of the 1930’s & 1940’s, and the cheapies of the 1950’s & 1960’s (and even into the 1970’s). I mean, no one in their right mind would ever take The Creeping Terror seriously. Also, you couldn’t pay me to watch some of the Eurotrash I watched back then, today. Night Of The Living Dead, though, still works for me because, yeah, it’s scary, people die horrible deaths, but there’s an underlying air of, I don’t know, something deeper, I guess? George A. Romero wasn’t just feeding people to zombies for the hell of it, is what I’m saying. Rather than repelling me, Night Of The Living Dead hooks me in the same way it did when I was 11 years old and watching it on Son Of Ghoul.

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For those that haven’t seen it (yeah, all four of you), I suppose now is as good a time as any to give a bit of a synopsis, though it should be clear by now that this isn’t really that kind of film review. Night Of The Living Dead is a 1968 film by George A. Romero, the first of what would eventually become a series of “Living Dead” films (as well as the first of many, many knock-offs). The plot, in a nutshell, involves corpses that suddenly spring back to life with a craving for the flesh of the living. Those bitten by said corpses are then destined to become flesh-eating zombies themselves. The normative way of killing a zombie is by setting it on fire or destroying the brain via shooting, bashing, and so on.

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So, it ends up that seven people become stranded in an isolated farmhouse, a farmhouse becoming increasingly surrounded by more and more zombies. The inital idea is to board up the windows and wait for help, but it eventually comes to be decided that they need to get out and find help themselves. I really don’t want to risk spoiling any of the film, because watching it fresh with no idea what’s coming next is an amazing experience. I will say that the ending, which I don’t dare reveal for those that may not have seen it (again, a number that is quite possibly in the single digits), absolutely knocked me out when I first saw it. I mean, it just blew me away.

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Night Of The Living Dead is just about the easiest film in the world to see. Since it’s public domain, you can find it for free and legal download on the internet, or for those less technologically experienced, it can be found on a huge number of DVDs, VHS tapes, and it’s even on Blu-Ray now. Of course, print quality varies from version to version, and as a rule of thumb, the more you pay, the more namebrand the manufacturer, and the better it’ll look. Not always, but often. At least, that’s how it usually played out back in the VHS days.

Which brings me back to this WAOH/WAX airing from 1999, which this article is ostensibly about. It’s that copy that I recorded way back then that means the most to me. Not because I didn’t have ‘official’ copies (I got a cheapo $4 VHS copy from Best Buy relatively soon after my initial viewing in ’97), but because it really does recall my memories of growing up watching The Cat, when I was almost constantly discovering (and taping!) something new and cool. Nowadays, Night Of The Living Dead may no longer be in my top 10 favorite films ever list, but it’s almost certainly in my top 10 horror films list. All of the countless rip-offs, homages, and whatnot that have been released in the years since, and yet, few (none?) can touch the original; the aforementioned Dawn of The Dead, in my opinion, comes closest.

At any rate, Night Of The Living Dead is one of the definitive Halloween movies, one that should be watched if you haven’t seen it, or watched again if you have. I don’t know if I’ll replicate the ’99 WAOH broadcast that this recording comes from, but I’m happy knowing that I can, even if the channel itself isn’t the same nowadays.

Have a great Halloween, everybody!

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