Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sammy Terry

Sometimes I feel sorry for kids today. Sure they've got phones the size of matchbooks, hyper-realistic video games and blankets with sleeves, but they're missing out on the fun of watching a good local TV horror host.

When I was a kid, a horror host named Sammy Terry was the star of Nightmare Theater on Channel 4 in Indianapolis. We lived 70 miles away from Indy and if I turned the TV antennae just so and all the atmospheric conditions were right, I could pick up a snowy image of Nightmare Theater and see Sammy every Friday night.

Each week Sammy Terry would raise the lid of his coffin, hoist himself out, utter his trademark evil laugh and introduce that week's movie. He had a rubber spider on a string named George, who served as his sidekick and spoke in high-pitched gibberish that only Sammy could understand.

Sammy would interrupt the movie periodically for some truly awful puns and one of his patented scary soliloquies. He'd drone on and on in his drawn out "spooky" voice for what seemed like half an hour, talking about all manner of macabre topics. Due to the late hour I'd sometimes doze off during one of his interludes and when I'd wake up 20 minutes later he'd still be talking!

Despite his penchant for rambling, I loved Sammy and his show and never missed it for years. Back in the pre-home video days, if you wanted to see a particular movie you just had to wait until it showed up on TV. There were no video stores and only 3 major networks. Shows like Sammy's were the only place you could see old horror and sci-fi movies. He introduced me to Frankenstein and Godzilla movies and many others, and for that I am truly grateful to him. I wouldn't be a horror fan today if not for Nightmare Theater.

Even though I loved the films he aired, I rarely managed to see the entire movie. Most of the time I'd fall asleep halfway through the show and wake up on the couch at 3 a.m. with the TV blasting away a blank screen full of snow. It just came on too late for me to make it through all the way.

Sadly, most of Sammy's shows are lost forever. A few years ago I worked with a guy who interned at Channel 4 in the 1970s, and he said back then it was common practice to videotape a show, air it, and then tape the next week's show over the previous one. Apparently videotapes were prohibitively expensive back then and in those pre-home video days no one dreamed there'd ever be a market for old TV shows. It makes my head hurt just thinking about all the hours of Sammy's show (and dozens of other samples of TV history) that are gone forever.

By the way, I watched his show for many, many years before one day I finally got his name. Sometimes I can be a little slow. Sammy's retired now, but still occasionally appears at horror conventions around the Hoosier state.

I wish there were still horror hosts on TV, but in an age in which you can own or download any movie you might ever want to see, there's probably not much point in it. Plus, most local horror shows operated on shoestring budgets. Each week Sammy would rise up out of his plywood coffin and stand in front of a cardboard set. He was literally creating something out of nothing. I'm not sure today's more sophisticated kids would stand for such nonexistent production values. Sadly, horror hosts have gone the way of buggy whips and powdered wigs.

Anyway, here's my version of Sammy Terry and his pal George the spider. I didn't notice it back when I was watching him on a snowy TV set, but in reality Sammy's yellow gloves appeared to be everyday dishwashing gloves, with what looked like "veins" drawn on with a marker (!). No idea why he'd have veins on his gloves, but whatever.

Drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

Here's the original rough sketch of Sammy & George.

And here's a tighter sketch of him.

5 comments:

  1. I feel so close and yet so far away from him. how many conventions have we been to where his booth was all set up and he was no where in sight? i'm starting to wonder if he's been dead all this time and they're milking his legacy for all they can get out of it before someone spills the beans.

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  2. I think we keep missing him because he's in his 80s, so he's probably not up to appearing more than an hour or so at the shows. We're always there too early.

    Maybe it's for the best. It's probably better to remember him as he was in his prime, and not see him all aged and infirm.

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  3. we had ghoulardi here in cleveland-he was the guy who started it all! great blog here, bob...excellent character design and lots of fun.

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  4. Thanks for stopping by my blog, Michael! I appreciate it!

    I think every major city had their own horror host back in the day. And of course, everyone thinks "their" host was the best! ;^) It really is too bad that they don't have shows like that anymore.

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  5. Chicago still has Svengoolie!

    http://www.wciu.com/svengoolie.php

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