In Our Opinion

RAISED BY NEW YORK MONSTERS

By • May 25th, 2009 •

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Image courtesy of www.dvddrive-in.com

Back in the 1970’s, if you were growing up within broadcast reach of The Empire State Building, and you loved horror films, then you definitely remember television treats like CHILLER THEATRE and CREATURE FEATURES. These weekly broadcast showcases for horror and science fiction films had many youthful film buffs glued to the family television set. Before the era of Tivo, DVD collections and downloading, broadcast TV was it. This was the only venue one could catch those wonderful horror flicks that budding film fanatics would read about in monster magazines like FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and THE MONSTER TIMES. If the station ran a baseball game instead, or your parents decided this was the weekend to take you to see Colonial Williamsburg, you were out of luck. No monster movie for you!

WPIX, Channel 11 ran CHILLER THEATRE on Saturday nights from 1971 to 1982. Its famous logo featured a six-fingered clay-mation hand oozing from a swamp and forming the words CHILLER. Primitive, eerie electronic music accompanied a spooky moan – “Chillleerrrrrrrrrrrr…..” This little bit of animation would then fade out and up would come the featured movie. CHILLER usually ran AIP horror films (AIP made many of the drive-in shock films), Hammer films, Japanese Toho films, and more. CHILLER was the first place I saw Vincent Price trip out over THE TINGLER, London get smashed to match-sticks by GORGO, and Fay Wray scream in DOCTOR X.

WNEW – Channel 5, which later became Fox, ran CREATURE FEATURES at the same time as CHILLER. Its first logo featured the Frankenstein Monster’s face (as played in the 1940’s by Glenn Strange) in negative, backed by the monster-on-the-march music from IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE. Somewhere in the mid 1970’s, this was replaced by an introduction by a dignified man in tux and sunglasses known as “The Creep”. The Creep told us what movie was in store. He sometimes gave some quick production background, and possibly offered a joke. (I remember his comment about bra sizes for ATTACK OF THE FIFTY FOOT WOMAN) Regardless of how campy the movie was, The Creep never trashed the upcoming film. “The Creep” was actually Channel 5 announcer Lou Steele. The late Mr. Steele was also famous amongst New York parents for his nightly question: “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” CREATURE FEATURES ran the classic Universal Horror Films such as FRANKENSTEIN, THE BLACK CAT, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE WOLF MAN. They also showcased bargain basement Monogram films from the 40’s, and the Allied Artist films. Allied Artist made lower budgeted films than AIP, but they had more imagination. Who can forget Richard Boone in the wonderfully minimalist, but chilling I BURY THE LIVING, or the totally ridiculous but fun walking tree in FROM HELL IT CAME?

Image courtesy of www.dvddrive-in.com

CREATURE FEATURES ceased to be in August 1973, but picked up for a year starting in late 1979, playing triple feature horror films at midnight. Rival station WOR-TV (Channel 9) entered the horror ring in 1973 with FRIGHT NIGHT. Their assortment of films was much wider, and more contemporary, so many of the films they played – like PSYCHOMANIA and INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (both from the early 1970’s) were aired in censored versions. This is where I was able to catch then obscure British horror films like THE MIND OF Mr. SOAMES and Michael Powell’s disturbing PEEPING TOM. FRIGHT NIGHT occasionally played non-horror films with fantasy elements (like the romantic ghost classic HERE COMES Mr. JORDAN) and normal films with horror movie like titles, such as the neglected noir crime drama KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS or the Lon Chaney bio-pic MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES. While home video nailed the coffin shut forever on CHILLER THEATRE and CREATRE FEATURES in the early 1980’s, FRIGHT NIGHT stayed on until 1987.

These weekly horror shows provided so much film knowledge. As a child, I noticed how formulistic most horror films were. The 90-minute horror show started at 8:30 pm. For the next half hour, either the monster would create small introductory damage (like icing the town drunk) or we’d sit and squirm through dull character development or a romantic subplot. The middle third of the movie is when the monster would start causing havoc, and the thrills would abound. The final thirty minutes of the film had our heroes finding a solution to defeat the creatures. Many films became so routine here that you could set your watch to CREATURE FEATURES.

But then the odd film would come through. We are only five minutes into CARNIVAL OF SOULS and the leading lady dies. Or halfway through RODAN you realize that the man-sized insects aren’t the monsters – they’re the little snacks for a really large monster. You noticed that the brazen monster movies tossed the recipe book out.

Many times I pleaded for my parents to get us all home from Saturday evening shopping because THE ISLAND OF LOST SOULS or something started at 8:30. The watch-whenever-you-want luxury of Tivo and DVD today is great, but it does deprive young film goers of movie-watching as an anxiously waited-for event.

If you grew up with CHILLER and CREATURE FEATURES, you really have to visit www.dvddrive-in.com. The web-builders here have created the ultimate reference guide to this long-gone movie-watching venue.

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12 Responses »

  1. Awwwww!!!!! Wonderful memories indeed! Of course, my memories of Chiller Theatre include of course Zacherly (happily smashing brains in) as well as WOR Channel 9’s SUPERNATURAL THEATRE (Friday night), a rich assortmen of the best to be had. In the early 1970’s my family had moved to Middletown NJ and, a few years later, I stumbled upon UHF tv station Channel 48 (The Kaiser Broadcasting System) which presented THE GHOUL SHOW. They ran some great lowbrow stuff while The Ghoul, reaching into a toilet and pulling out dripping unraveled 16mm film (that nights feature), would (and still is to this day) be destroying Froggy The Gremlin (From Andy’s Gang “Hiya Kids-Hiya-Hiya-Hiya”with a baseball bat) .
    Now! Does anyone know anything about Channel 3 Conn. which beat NY to the punch in running those great Hammer Films like “Horror Of Dracula”?

  2. Very nice article, Glenn!

    As a child of the Seventies, I grew up on CHILLER and CREATURE FEATURES and later FRIGHT NIGHT during the ’80s, as well as WPIX’s SCIENCE FICTION THEATER, the horror/sci-fi theme weeks on WABC’s 4:30 MOVIE and WOR’s THRILLER THEATER, SCIENCE FICTION THEATER and CHILLER THRILLER during the ’70s. Wonderful memories!

  3. Oh, Glenn, you’ve opened a floodgate of memories for me with CHILLER and CREATURE FEATURES. I hope you also write about THE MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE over on WOR, Channel 9 back when Chris Steinbrunner was the film programmer. Once again, thanks-a-plenty for your comments on the time before digital and cable tv.

  4. James

    you just opened a floodgate of memories for me mentioning the name of the late great Chris Steinbrunner. I met him through Bill Everson and a mutual friend of our editor here Ray Shitizer both now sadly deceased. Chris was one of the most devoted historians I ever had the pleasure of meeting. He lived in a really dangerious part of Manhatten and always had to take the train to work at the time it was the television station. We went to his home on two occasions late at night to watch films like THE BLACK CAMEL which in those days 1985 were impossible to see anywhere. Ray and I came by car having been warned off the subway and the next day we heard that Chris was stabbed on the train going to work a day or so after we were there. I stayed in touch but I still lived on the West Coast so we never got to really hang out as much as I would have liked. Thank you for mentioning him…now there might be a Camp David in the making because of you.

    Cheers
    David

  5. David,

    Chris Steinbrunner was a personal friend of mine from 1984 until his death in 1989 of a heart attack, and complications from an earlier stroke. He introduced me to many members of the Mystery Writers of America, and had great parties for his friends. Chris grew up and owned a house in Middle Village, Queens, and I remember him telling me about the knife attack, which happened not too long before we had met. I had my Alfred Bester interview published in Starlog because of his friendship with editor David McDonnell. I have many more stories and if you are interested please send me a private email.

    James

  6. James

    email Roy for my private contact info…..would love to chat about Chris….

  7. Yikes, guys:

    The late, great Chris Steinbrunner didn’t pass away until 1993.

    And he lived in a terrific part of Queens!

    (For the uninitiated, Queens is another borough of New York City–depending on which part you live in, roughly ten to forty minutes away from Manhattan.)

    That horrendous stabbing attack came, because…

    Chris would DRIVE to a subway station, and sometimes park on dangerous, secluded side-streets. Coming home late one night, he was walking from the subway stop, to this dark secluded street–a middle-aged, kind of potly guy, with a kind of rambling gait… And that’s when he was attacked. The miracle part of the story is that two GOOD SAMARITANS came driving by, saw Chris laying there, bleeding–

    And immediately stopped to take him to the hospital.

    One of the fellas became lifelong friends with Chris.

    (Coincidentaly, I just wrote a short tribute to Chris, which I’ll post here in moment, to coincide with that VILLAGE VOICE online piece of mine about WOR-TV’s annual KING KONG Thanksgivings… I discovered this lovely article, when Googling if there were any images to include, with the Steinbrunner piece.)

    By the way, one error in the above:

    “The Creep,” on CREATURE FEATURE, actualy began in late l969, or early l970. Lew Steele was a TV executive… And there’s a terrific photo article on him, from one of the then current issues of THE MONSTER TIMES–that late, lamented, terrific and strange newsstand fantasy film mag, which tried to be a more mature alternative to FAMOUS MONSTERS…

    Best,

    Jim Burns (James H. Burns)

  8. Here’s the quick piece, on Chris…

    Chris Steinbrunner was one of those unsung heroes of broadcasting. For years he was responsible for progamming the various movie shows on WOR, Channel 9, and took particular pride in the uniqueness of their Late, Late Show. It would run the gamut from the super-Bs of the ’30s, to horror of the ’70s, to virtual art-house fair. Not particularly noted at the time, Channel 9’s Late, Late Show, by the late ’70s, early ’80s, was almost like having a cool revival theatre, on your TV.

    Steinbruner, born around 1933, was a graduate of Fordham, where he continued to do a radio show for some time. He wrote one of the very last episodes of THE SHADOW radio series, while still in high school (I believe), and then went to work amost imediately, at WOR.

    One of his first fun memories was writing some jokes for John Zacherly, when Zach moved over to Channel 9… (John, like most who met Steinbrunner, wound up becoming lifelong friends with him.)

    (If I remember correctly, Chris also produced Lowel (sp) Thomas’ later series… And, somewhere along the way, there was a special, in the 1960s, on James Bond…)

    But Steinbrunner had a dual career, also writing extensively about fantasy, and horror, and, most notably, mystery. His CINEMA OF THE FANTASTIC was one of the VERY FIRST books about fantasy and science fiction movies… He wrote a monthly column for ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and later won an Edgar, for THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF MYSTERY AND DETECTION. (Chris was also a regional Vice President for the Mystery Writers of America, and edited their monthly newsletter.)

    Behind the scenes, Steinbrunner was also a frequent contributor to Joe Franklin’s shows. (A classy moment by Joe: When he did his last TV show, he ran a long credit roll, thanking folks who had been important to the program. Although Chris had passed away some time ago, Franklin made sure to include his name.)

    (One neat memento in Chris’ office at WOR: the Maltese Falcoln… (A copy, of course.) Jack Haley, Jr., a clasmate from Fordham, had sent it as a thankyou, in the ’70s, when Chris had helped consult on one of his documentary projects.)

    Anything I could write in a bio wouldn’t really do Chris justice, because his greatest asset was his ENTHUSIASM, and his desire to want to SHARE his knowledge, and help folks out.

    Steinbrunner was like an UNCLE to many in the different fields he contributed to.

    Chris passed in 1993, but his influence is still felt.

    …Whenever asked about WOR’s annual KING KONG Thanksgiving broadcasts, Chris would just wink, and say:

    “Who would ever think of such a strange idea…?”

    Jim Burns (James H. Burns)

  9. And, typos aside–

    😉

    I meant to include an email for me with the above:

    shakespeareinthedark@gmail.com

    Thanks.

    Jim Burns

  10. Chris was born in 1934, the same year as my father. By the way, Jim, we did meet at Chris’s house in Middle Village, Queens during one of his many parties. He was instrumental in my freelance career in many ways, and that I will never forget. However, since I was away for military duty for the early part of the 1990’s, I had forgotten the exact date of his death until I received a letter in the mail from his executor and closest friend about the circumstances. One of the greatest fears Chris had after his stroke was being without enough money and I drove him around to various banks so he could cash savings bonds he had put around his house. If anyone would like to privately correspond with me, my email is: japhillips219@msn.com

  11. I remember, James!

    It was around 1985, I believe.

    One of Chris’ eccentricities in his later years, was his fear of running out of dough.

    His best friend had to constantly assure him that–after a life fiscally wisely led!–he was absolutely fine.

    But it was terrific of you to do what you did.

    Many of Chris’ friends, people he had been absolutely great to–some people whose livelihoods he was basically responsible for, did not answer the clarion call…

    But that’s another story.

    And I’m fairly well assured that all these years later, Chris would be abslutely delighted that his books are still read, his friends still talk about him, and all those movies he programmed–and so many other memories he was responsible for, as a broadcaster, and writer, and elsewise–still fire the subconcious of so many in the New York area, and elsewhen…

    Jim Burns (James H. Burns)

  12. Guys, I’ve revised that KING KONG piece, with a far more personal slant–much on what it was like for our fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations, as well as our own, growing up with the movie (as well as WOR-TV’s odd KONG on Thanksgiving tradition!):

    King Kong, and the City

    http://thethunderchild.com/BurnsintheCity/KingKongintheCity.html

    And, also written a tribute, to our friend, Chris, which I hope will simply serve as a beginning to folks remembering him on the web, and elsewhere!

    Chris Steinbrunner, and a Renaissance of Fantasy

    http://thethunderchild.com/BurnsintheCity/ChrisSteinbrunner.html

    Best, Jim

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