I find myself annoyingly close to fifty years of age, and the closer I get to that milestone (or millstone, as the case may be) the more I seek the reassurance of the familiar. It’s not just in the world of Horror, Science-Fiction, and Exploitation film that I look for the visual equivalent of ‘Mac & cheese’ or pot roast—good, old-fashioned comfort food—I also find myself drawn to other reminders of the halcyon days of my youth. I’ve recently taken to watching reruns of the ‘60s sitcom Hazel, a show popular in my house (even then in syndication) when I was a child. One of my favorite topics of discussion of late is the world of superhero comic books. Oh, and I love both Mac & cheese and pot roast.
But as is typical for me, most of what gives me solace in the face of my advancing years remains the movies which have filled those years with entertainment. From the Universal monsters of the 1930s and ‘40s, to the Giant Bugs and Alien Invaders of the 1950s, to the blood-soaked Drive-In gorefests of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, nothing washes away the cares and worries of the day as well as these movies. I’ve always turned to these films as my preferred method of relaxation, but lately I’ve rediscovered the joy of seeing them on television—commercials, cuts, and all.
With the additional bandwidth opened up by the recent switch to digital broadcasting in the United States, television stations found themselves with additional channels of which they could make use. Many used those channels to rebroadcast news reports, or as dedicated sports or weather stations. Some however used them to broaden the scope of their entertainment programming. New networks sprang up to provide these stations with content, primarily classic movies and television series. Three in particular have developed into true broadcast networks, with a national presence. Two of these networks are received here in the Crypt, and all three are doing their part to foster a love of classic genre film.
The newcomer on the block is Tribune Broadcasting’s Antenna TV, which debuted on 1 January 2011. Currently carried by more than forty affiliates nationwide, it’s programming is made up of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s library of more than 4,000 movies and nearly 300 television series. Though there are no dedicated blocks of genre programming, it’s not uncommon to find a good Horror or Sci-Fi movie airing on the network’s morning movie, under the Antenna TV Theater banner.
Weigel Broadcasting’s MeTV, which began prior to 2005 on Chicago’s WFBT-23 (now WMME-23) as a three-hour block of programming on weekday afternoons. On 1 January 2005, Weigel changed the station’s call letters to WMME, and launched MeTV full-time. The WFBT brand was transferred to a new low-power outlet belonging to the broadcaster, becoming WFBT-48 (rechristened WMEU-48 in 2008). With the advent of digital broadcasting, both stations air on subchannels of Weigel’s flagship station, WCIU-26.
MeTV went national on 15 December 2010 on Weigel-owned stations, and it’s now seen in 45% of the country. Though it’s programming is almost exclusively vintage sitcoms from the M-G-M library, there is one notable exception. Since April 2011, Berwyn’s own Svengoolie, Chicago’s premier horror-host, airs weekly on the network, Saturday nights at 10pm. The only thing not to like about it is that MeTV doesn’t reach the Crypt.
But by far the most genre-friendly of these new networks is ThisTV, a joint-venture of Weigel Broadcasting and M-G-M. Debuting on 1 November 2008, ThisTV has the largest percentage of feature films as a part of it’s broadcast schedule. Not only does it have frequent month-long festivals dedicated to a particular theme, such as the recent Vincent Price celebration during his birth month of May, but they regularly devote weekly blocks of programming to Drive-in and Exploitation-style films. A quick glance at their schedule for the first two weeks in July bears this out, with the inclusion of films such as ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, THE CRIMSON CULT, STONE COLD DEAD, COMEDY OF TERRORS, AFTER MIDNIGHT, THE BEAST WITHIN, 10 TO MIDNIGHT, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA and THE GIANT GILA MONSTER in the lineup.
The last two films mentioned are another reason that ThisTV has become a favorite here in the Crypt. Both features are presented on Elvira’s Movie Macabre, the latest incarnation of Cassandra Peterson’s iconic horror-host Elvira. Finally there’s a weekly hosted program on a channel available to the Crypt!
Some might wonder why this matters, why should I care if there’s a broadcast network that airs the Abbott & Costello films, or the Charlie Chan movies, or AIP’s fantastic collection of Horror, Science-Fiction, and Exploitation film? Why would it matter, considering that these movies are all readily available on home video; indeed, most are already ensconced in the Crypt’s movie room? The answer is a simple one, and works not just to my benefit, but to the benefit of genre fandom in general.
For most of us, at least those over forty years of age or so, broadcast television was the medium which introduced us to these classic movies. Corman and Castle, Karloff and Lugosi, Lee and Cushing—I first met them all sitting in front of my parents’ 25” RCA console TV. The Unimonster was born by the light of faded, grainy monster movies flickering across a cathode-ray tube, and every classic Horror film that airs over broadcast TV, available to one and all, has the potential of inspiring those who will carry the genre deep into the 21st century. The successor to the Unimonster, not to mention those who actually create the movies we love, might have begun his or her love of genre film last Saturday night watching Svengoolie unspool another classic movie.
Another reason that the airing of these movies matters to me is even simpler—the joy of being surprised, as I flip from station to station, by the sonorous tones of Vincent Price, as he relishes the evilness of Frederick Loren, or the inscrutability of Warner Oland as Charlie Chan. The nostalgic childhood enjoyment of a movie as-is—no rewind or fast-forward, no pause, just sit back and relax, and watch—commercials and all. Maybe the Unimonster has entered his second childhood.
Or maybe I just never completely gave up on the first.