Television has been the focus of way, way too many hours of my life, especially given how little of that time I was actually happy. But I do recall a few times that I got something memorable out of watching TV.
One of those times was when I was probably 11 or 12 years old, and I sneaked out of my basement bedroom on a Friday night to watch “Shock Theater” on the tube. “Shock Theater” was the kind of weekly horror movie feature that apparently doesn’t exist on local stations anymore. I regularly broke my parents’ bedtime rules to watch it (they were upstairs and couldn’t hear me), and enjoyed a variety of flicks ranging from cheesy to mildly creepy. I saw the original “King Kong” on “Shock Theater”, “The Creeping Flesh”, “Trog” and many others.
It was all free, not even a monthly cable bill. We got our TV signal through an antenna on the roof and a slim wire carried it down to the basement. On the night I remember most clearly, the movie was “Night of the Living Dead”, released in 1968.
My “Shock Theater” history did not prepare me for what I was about to see. The films I’d watched Friday nights up to that point, by and large, were pretty mild, really. Lots of creepiness and effectively scary moments, but nothing over the top. I suspect that “Shock Theater” added “Night” to its rotation of movies despite its more gruesome content because it could do so for free. Even though it was less than 10 years old at that point, “Night of the Living Dead” had moved into the public domain because of the failure to include a copyright notice on the first prints of the film.
Anyway, the movie started. Black and white but not too old, which I initially took as kind of a bad sign. Jerk mocking his sister in a cemetery. “They’re coming to get you, Barbra. There’s one of them now!” Hm. OK.
But holy crap, the shambling dude with the white hair and black suit really was coming to get her.
My heart started racing about the time Bill Hinzman’s Cemetery Zombie attacked, and throttled up when he killed Johnny and chased Barbra to the isolated countryside house.
What? Why was he doing this? What did he want?
So, for the next couple hours or so, I was absorbed in the movie for a few minutes at a time. In between, I turned off the TV and went to bed, shaken. Then I’d be back five or 10 minutes later, wanting more even though I was afraid of it. “Night of the Living Dead” was unlike anything I’d ever seen, scary beyond anything I’d experienced in a film.… Read the rest