EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE NIGHT I WATCHED THE HORROR SHOW

When I was young, probably between eight and thirteen-years-old, one of my greatest thrills was staying up late (in most cases between midnight and two a.m.) to catch a horror movie that the local ABC affiliate would play on a Friday or Saturday night. As to be expected, these movies were heavily censored because if a child heard “shit” or saw an arrow go in someone’s eye it would give them cancer. I didn’t care, though. Where the hell else was I going to see “Frogs”?

I saw some great movies during those times. I bravely watched “The Exorcist” (and I think the censors even missed a “fuck,” or so I convinced myself) alone in a room with the lights turned off. I pulled a blanket tightly around me for “Night of the Living Dead” in its original black and white. “Tourist Trap” was a staple that gave me the creeps every time. I watched them all … alone and in the dark. I loved it.

Somewhere along the line television stations stopped doing stuff like this. Sure, Philadelphia (which was the biggest market near me) had a couple of horror shows hosted by strange characters on UHF, which I also watched religiously, but even those eventually died out. The films I loved watching faded from television to be replaced by syndicated crap like “Stargate SG-1” and crappy comedies from the ‘80s with Steve Guttenberg. Entire generations are being deprived of the thrills that made my childhood so damn memorable, and it makes me ill.

I can blame cable. I can blame the changing zeitgeist. I can even blame the audience itself. And it’s not like young kids can’t stay up to see an uncensored movie on cable, but it isn’t the same. There was an entire package that created the magic, and cable television doesn’t offer that.

When I watched these movies, I knew that every fifteen minutes or so there would a commercial break, and ads for some crappy used car lot, an art warehouse blowout sale or Brigantine Castle would interrupt the chills. That was part of the fun. The film was broken up (often awkwardly) and suddenly there would be a guy in a chicken suit squawking about “low mileage beauties.” Does that still happen? If it does, I haven’t seen it. (In all fairness, I don’t live in Philly anymore, so maybe that still happens there. And I must also note that Rob Zombie captured that magic dead on with the beginning of “House

of 1,000 Corpses.”)

Now that cable, digital video recorders, satellite and DVDs are as common as microwaves and cordless phones, people can see what they want when they want. They don’t have to stay up until two a.m. on a Friday night watching an edited version of “The Omen.” Granted, not everything has made it to DVD yet, but the television stations aren’t going to show that stuff anyway. The market changed, and it’s never going back to what it was decades ago. We call it progress, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a positive thing.

My daughter won’t have to stay up late to catch the horror show. She won’t know what it’s like to be sitting in a dark room hoping that a commercial for some technical institute is coming on soon because she’s so damn scared … too scared to even get up and go to the bathroom … and she needs a break from the terror. She could hit “Pause” on the DVD player, but it wouldn’t be the same. There’s no guy in a chicken suit letting her know that the world she’s in is sometimes even more terrifying than what’s on the screen.

Progress? No. It’s the triumph of science over magic, and it’s more than a bit depressing.

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Posted on November 17, 2004 in Features by

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