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Me-TV’s Svengoolie Brings Back Happy Memories of Saturday Night Horrors
February 10, 2014  | By Ed Martin  | 7 comments
 

Those of us who were fortunate enough to grow up as members of the television generation fondly remember the monster movie shows run by our local independent stations. Most of them had spooky-kooky hosts of some kind with names like Zacherley, Vampira and Ghoulardi. They introduced weekly horror and science-fiction movies, usually of the low-budget variety commonly seen as the second or third flick in a drive-in triple bill.

I grew up in the Tri-State area around New York, so the channels that came in clearest in our house (via rooftop antenna) originated in New York City. They included WNEW-Ch. 5 and WPIX-Ch. 11. (The former is now known as WNYW, Fox’s official NYC affiliate. The latter is still WPIX, but has long been a network affiliate, first for the WB and now for CW.)

In the Sixties and Seventies, WNEW ran a relatively upscale Saturday night monster movie show titled Creature Features, that kept flicks featuring the Universal monsters in heavy rotation. WPIX offered Saturday night monster movies as well, mostly cheesy science-fiction stuff. The WPIX franchise was known as Chiller Theatre. It had perhaps the most famous animated opening of any monster movie show ever, that featured a six-fingered hand that rose out of a swamp, snatched up each letter of the word “Chiller” and then slid back into the ooze as an eerie voice spoke the word "Chil-l-l-l-l-er."

A Google search reveals that Creature Features was hosted by a man named Lou Steele. I don’t know why, but I don’t remember him at all. Perhaps I was too fixated on the monsters of the week. Horror hosts, in fact, were largely unknown to me until I recently became acquainted with Svengoolie on the classic television network Me-TV. This nutty character has been a well-known horror host in the Chicago area since 1970. He was played, at first, by Jerry G. Bishop, but in 1979 Rich Koz took over the role, and has kept Svengoolie and his Saturday night monster showcase alive ever since.

In 2011 Svengoolie’s monster mash was made available to a national audience on Me-TV, fittingly on Saturday nights at 10 p.m. ET. I hadn’t been aware of this, because up until recently Me-TV didn’t play after 10 on my cable system. When I stumbled upon him a few weeks ago I had an instant nostalgia rush back to the Saturday night movie watching of my youth.

I’ll admit I’m not all that enchanted by Svengoolie himself, his jokes or his sidekicks (which include a disembodied skull named Zalman T. Tombstone and a rubber chicken known as Kerwyn), but the movies they celebrate are as enjoyable as ever. They include such sub-budget camp classics as Tarantula, Mole People and The Invisible Ray, along with those great Universal monster movies I still adore. I was so excited to discover that Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolf Man and the rest still have a home on Saturday night television that I’ll happily forgive Svengoolie his punishingly juvenile humor.

Since becoming acquainted with Svengoolie, I’ve been thinking a lot about my long-ago fondness for Saturday night monster movie viewing.

I’ll never forget the time Creature Features invited viewers to send in humorous quotes about their favorite monsters, with the promise that the best entries would appear on screen during ad breaks in Creature telecasts. After weeks of seeing clever quips about Frankenstein, Dracula and the like, I decided to enter a humorous comment of my own. I wrote “The Werewolf of London gets lost in the fog,” along with my name and address on the back of a postcard, and mailed it to WNEW.

Several weeks later, when The Werewolf of London cycled through Creature Features, I assembled my friends in front of our old black and white TV to watch and see if my quote was selected. (There was no advance notice given by WNEW. Anyone who entered had to patiently wait to see if his or her quote was used during movies that featured the monster he or she had sent in a joke about.)

I remember the thrill of seeing my joke appear on screen that Saturday night with my name and hometown underneath. I couldn’t have known it at the time, but this was my first experience with interactive television, albeit in its innocent infancy.

Similarly, I didn’t realize at the time that my friends and I (and who knows how many other people) were being compelled to sit through commercial breaks during the movies and pay close attention. When The Werewolf of London was on, we watched each and every commercial during each and every break for fear that we might miss my quote. In fact, we watched every commercial in every week’s movie just to read the two or three jokes that were scattered throughout each telecast.

I later received a card from the “creatures” at WNEW (pictured above) and a complimentary Aurora monster-model kit of The Wolf Man. Aurora kits were the prize WNEW sent if one’s quote was selected. The company did not make a kit for The Werewolf of London, so The Wolf Man was substituted. It didn’t matter at all. I was thrilled. In fact, I still have that model today.

By the way, this Saturday at 10 p.m. ET, Svengoolie will present the 1946 thriller She-Wolf of London (starring classic TV favorite June Lockhart as the title character). Like the creature quote contest on WNEW forty-plus years ago, Svengoolie invites fans to come up with funny lines that might be read on his Web site (by Kerwyn the rubber chicken). It's certainly not the same, but I can't resist.

Say it with me: "The She-Wolf of London gets lost in the fog."

 





 
 
 
 
 
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7 Comments
 
 
lois
at the end of the show who say see you in staint louie
Mar 31, 2019   |  Reply
 
 
Jay
Hi all, I was born in 61 & grew up in NE Philly and
we always had a real good roof antenna. So we got
2,3,5,6,7,9,10,11,12 and local UHF. Doctor Shock was
our local guy in Philly but he passed away young,
he was only 42. I remember when he passed cause I
watched him every Saturday pretty much the whole time he was
on the air. Between NYC & Philly monster markets, I got to see about 6 Sci/fi monster flicks a week. This was b4 internet or even VCRs so you would read the TV
GUIDE and plan around it. Anyway Sven is setup on the DVR and I may hook up
a VCR and start saving episodes. Thanks for the site and the firing up the memories and a few good laughs too.
Jul 17, 2018   |  Reply
 
 
Jean B. Johnson
I just found the channel METV about a month ago and that is the only one that I have been watching. I must say, along with others, we are very unhappy with the changes it made after PERRY MANSON at night. Just love svengoolie. He is alot of fun and we just LOVE him. Thank you
Feb 24, 2016   |  Reply
 
 
Kat
Aw, man. I love Svengoolie, bad jokes and all. I moved to Chicago 15 years ago and was delighted to see a show like this still on the air-no pretense at all. I grew up in Dayton, Oh. and we had Dr. Creep on late night Saturdays. Svengoolie takes me back and at the same time, I get to see some great spooky classics.
Mar 11, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
Steve L.
Great column. Thanks for posting. I also grew up in the NYC media market and it really brought back memories of watching Creature Features as a kid.
Feb 19, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
Neil
You mention Zacherley. John Zacherley was (last I heard a few months back) still alive and kicking, in his 90's, and living in Manhattan. He transitioned from hosting the horror movies on TV to doing rock radio in New York, and had been on such illustrious stations as WNEW-FM, WPLJ and WCBS-FM. In fact, CBS-FM used to have him guest host their Halloween evening show until just a few years ago.
Feb 10, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
Mac
Future Pinhead Bill O'Reill languished in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for a few years on WNEP and did some writing for Uncle Ted's Ghoul School.Ted used magic as part of the schtick,bartering time on the show for his magic stuff store.A brief online remembrance includes a Halloween contest where the winner had to bring lunch to the crew.
Feb 10, 2014   |  Reply
 
 
 
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