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      I miss Hallowe'en. Maybe it hasn't disappeared completely, but it sure seems to have shrunk over the years. The greedy bastiches running the department stores are in such a hurry to rake in the big Christmas bucks that we're lucky if there's one sorry row of plastic pumpkins and candy corn that hasn't been crowded out by premature holly-jolly stuff.

      Hallowe'en was the great warm-up for the holidays. The UnHoliday. All the fun, none of the "True Meaning" guilt-trip.

      Sure, Thanksgiving had the big feast, but it came with a pious counting of blessings, consideration for the less fortunate, and the obligation to tolerate uncomfortable family events. Christmas had Santa and decorations and carols and the thick elixir of the gods called Nog, but it came with the solemn reminder of the innocent baby destined to die a horrible death for OUR sins. Even New Years, with it's drunken, midnight parties, fireworks, and scoring opportunities came with the baggage of earnest reflection and resolution...

      Not Hallowe'en.

      KIDS: "Oh boy! Costumes and candy corn, parties and bonfires!"

      KILLJOY AUTHORITY FIGURE: "Now kids, remember the True Meaning of the day..."

      KIDS: "You mean worshiping Satan and devoting our immortal souls to Evil?"

      KILLJOY AUTHORITY FIGURE: "Uh... Nevermind! Have fun bag-snatching!"

      One of my favorite things about Hallowe'en has gone completely extinct. Gather 'round kiddies, and I'll tell you about those days of old, before we had hundreds of digital channels running 24-7 on our TVs...

      In those old days, there were only three commercial channels on the air, if you were near a major market. In those days, these channels had little programming other than the network feeds to run, and those feeds had big gaps in them. We old-timers remember staring at static or a (now politically incorrect) black and white test pattern featuring an Indian Chief while waiting for our shows to come on.

      To fill up these gaps, the local channels would run all kinds of bargain-basement programming.

      One of the cheapest time-fillers available to the stations was old horror movies. Zillions had been made for America's drive-ins and bijous. Some had been considered quite scary in their day, but had become dated. Others were low-budget trash from the start.

      Now, these old movies wouldn't draw a lot of viewers on their own in a typical afternoon movie slot. But a formula was developed to make them worth showing.

      You get the weather man, kiddie show host, commercial pitch guy, or whomever you could rope into the job to be the host for the horror movie show. You put him in a dime store Dracula, mad scientist, undertaker, or whatever kind of "spooky" costume and have him come up with a tongue-in-cheek horrific character with a name like Ashley Ghastly. You give the station's interns around $47.68 to spend on creating a "set" and props, which usually consist of cardboard boxes painted to look like stone walls, a can of spray-on cobwebs, and a couple of rubber spiders and bats on strings.

      The interns watch each week's movies take notes for the host. At some time when the station's little sound studio isn't busy with the news, kiddie, afternoon chat shows, or commercials, the interns take over. The host comes in, gets into costume and character, and records an intro for the movie along with bumper comments for the commercial breaks, closing remarks, and maybe a promo or two.

      A little editing, and the local station has a program which cost next to nothing to produce, and was perfect for the late-night, weekend time slot. Adding the host brought the viewers in on the joke and turned dated, silly spook flicks into a campy treat. Teenagers and college kids loved it. Some older viewers enjoyed the movies for the nostalgia.

      Scream Theatre, Shock Theater, Cinema Macabre, or whatever it was called in your market, typically started its season in June when school let out. (Yes, my children, school used to let out the first weekend in June, and stayed out until into September. You are seriously getting cheated out of summer vacation these days!) Each Saturday night would bring another horror show. There was a sort of arc to it... Low-budget, b+w flicks featuring mad scientists turning girls into gorillas or vice-versa, giant radioactive monsters, and people in tin-foil suits with fish bowls over their heads would take us through the heat of summer. Then came October... Double features starring the classic monsters, although not in their best-known forms. The Hammer films, later Universal sequels, or others.

      Halloween would be the big finale. Lugosi as Dracula, Karloff as Frankenstein's monster, Chaney as the Wolf Man... A classic horror marathon, with our host in fine form.

      That was SO cool.

      Alas, it couldn't last forever...

      The old Scream Theatre programs made some money for the local channels, since they cost almost nothing to produce and could sell commercial time at bargain prices to small-time local businesses. But they couldn't compete with damned infomercials, which cost the stations NOTHING and provide a guaranteed pay-off.

      Besides, nationally syndicated versions of Scream Theatre type shows were becoming available. The best-known of them starred Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. It's hard to argue with that much cleavage!
Early Elvira Recent Elvira

      Elvira herself had started as a local Macabre Movie hostess in California, where there was a history of ghoulishly sexy hostesses going back long before her time.

      With cable came Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Joe-Bob Briggs, each with their own take on hosting drive-in grade movie shows. It wasn't quite the same as having your very own, home-town madman host the party every week, but it was something.

      Now Elvira only seems to do occasional projects, Joe-Bob and MST3K have gone away, and the only "horror" flicks anyone runs are recent garbage. Thank goodness for videotapes.


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