It ’s late on a Friday n i g ht in 1 9 6 7 . I ’m a s ca red f ive – year-old sitting on my father ’s knee. The room is d a r k except for t h e f lickering light o f a n old black & white television. The scene being played out on the screen is so terrifying that I bury my face in my father ’s shoulder and beg him to tell me when it ’s over. Mario Bava’s immortal monster – Caltiki – is about to break free of it ’s glass prison and I can’t bear to watch.
Even though I’m depending upon my father to tell me when it’s safe to open my eyes, he doesn’t have to, because I suddenly hear the maniacal laugh of a ghoul and I know it ’s all right to peek at the TV screen once more.
Why a m I s o h o r r i b l y af ra i d o f a b l o b – m o n ste r a n d not a graveyard ghoul, you may ask. The answer to that question is simple – the ghoul I speak of is Indi ana’s beloved horror host, Sammy Terry, who, while creepy enough in his own right , always brought much-needed relief from the fearful films being played across my TV screen every Friday night .
Ah, yes, the memories are quite fond ones.
Anticipating the night ’s horrors to come with my father, we would curl up in what seemed to me to be the biggest chair ever made, with a bag of Lay’s potato chips and some RC Cola. As the hour of 11 p.m. approached, I would begin to peek at the TV screen through my fingers, wanting, but yet not wanting, to see the ghoulish character emerge from his coffin with his famous laugh to host that night ’s fright film.
Due in large part to both my father and Sammy Terry, I have become an avid horror fan. Throughout the rest of my childhood, Friday nights would find m e p l a nte d f i r m l y i n f ro nt o f t h e T V, exc i te d l y l o o king forward to the fear¬ filled night to come.
Even though I sort of lost t rack of Sammy and Nightmare Theater during my highschool days, I happily started watching again as an adult in the eighties. W i t h o u t fa i l , S a m my co nt i n u e d to s ate my d e s i re for classic and cult horror films.
S a m my wo u l d wax p h i l o s o p h i ca l a b o u t t h e h o r ro rs he was hosting that night , with his own brand of wit and ghoulish delight. Unlike most other horror hosts, Sammy preferred to play it straight with only a bit of dry humor thrown in to lighten the mood. For the most part, he seemed to genuinely love the fright films he hosted instead of degrading them like many other horror hosts, and would dispense sage advice to the wary viewer regarding how to deal with the various monsters he had the nightmarish pleasure to present to us.
I f i rst re m e m b e r watc h i n g S a m my Te r r y i n 1 9 6 7 , a l though he had been on the air earlier than that . H e f i rst a p p e a re d i n t h e e a r l y s i x t i e s h o st i n g S h o c k Theater on “Indiana’s Own” Channel 4 out of Indianapolis and Bloomington, Indiana.
His show was named for the “Shock Theater” package of horror films that many stations across the country picked up for airing in late night formats. This package included all of the Universal Horror films, and Sammy has said (in the guise of Bob Carter–the man behind the ghoul) that these were some of his favorite films to host .
Universal horrors like Frankenstein, The Mummy (his personal favorite) and The Wolf Man would make the monster-movie revival quite popular in t h e e a r l y- m i d s i x t i e s , a n d S a m my wa s q u i te h a p py to help in that revival.
At f i rst , just a creepy voice for commercial breaks and movie introductions, a character was eventually developed for Mr. Carter, and presto!–Sammy Terry (a pun on “cemetery”) was born. The first set for the show was sparse, with just a table and an old broken lamp shaped like a chicken.
Sammy, draped in a red cape and cowl (which obvi ously looked black on many of the colorless TV’s o f t h e e a r l y S i x t i e s ) w i t h a p a l l o r f ro m b eyo n d t h e grave, replete with haunting dark c i rcles around his eyes, would sit with his legs under the table. He would host the films whilst smoking a cigarette held i n a n e x t re m e l y l o n g a n d t h i n B e tte D a v i s s t y l e – c i g arette holder. Very swank!
H e h a d a b u n g l i n g fe m a l e s e r va nt n a m e d W i l l a m i na, who would make an appearance occasionally to l i ve n t h i n g s u p . L ate r o n i n t h e S i x t i e s , w h e n I h a d started watching the show, it had changed its name from Shock Theater to Nightmare Theater.
The show would open with an eerie painting of a twisted castle set atop a dark crag, and as the production values had gotten a bit better by then, the camera would pan to a nearby coffin. The lid would slowly open, and Sammy would arise from his deathly slumber with his trademark laugh for B I JOU MAGAZ INE 8 9 WWW.THEBI JOUCHANNE L .COM
t h at n i g ht ’s s h ow. By t h i s t i m e – – t h e l ate S i x t i e s a n d early to mid-Seventies–the Shock Theater package had been dropped, and Sammy was hosting what I still believe to this day were some of the scariest classic horror films of all time.
I have dear memories of once again hiding my eyes from the “melting woman” at the end of Roger Corman’s The Terror, during an airing of Nightmare Theater. Sammy also introduced me to the films that still send shivers down my spine to this day. . . films like The Innocents with Deborah Kerr, The Monster That Challenged The World and Theater Of Blood.
Theater Of Blood includes a scene that I st i l l cannot watch and not be severely disturbed afterwards. You all probably know what scene I ’m referring to – the force-fed poodle-pie scene. Blech!
By the mid Seventies, I had stopped watching as much –you know, teenage Friday night hi jinks and all –but I do remember by then Sammy had begun hosting a lot of the Hammer Film greats. I remember catching Dracula, Prince Of Darkness and Horror Of Dracula on the show, and he was also hosting some of the lesser known Hammer horrors like The Gorgon, and the Quartermass films.
S o m et i m e i n 1 9 7 6 , N i g ht m a re T h e ate r a i re d i t ’s l a st show, and Bob Carter retired his Sammy Terry character to start a business of his own, a music store in Indianapolis called Family Music. However, the beloved TV character wouldn’t be gone forever. In the early Eighties, he was back, and the show (now just titled Sammy Terry) would air again on Friday nights –this time with double features!
The show would open with an eerie wind blowing, then a hooded witch would appear bearing a candle and reciting a chant that would awaken Sammy from his sleep of the dead with the entreaty, “arise my love, with tales of woe.” Sammy’s sidekick– George, a huge rubber spider that had been introduced to the show in the Seventies)– would feature a more prominent role (well, as much as a rubber spider can at any rate) and the banter between the two of them regarding that night ’s show was often filled with corny humor. Hey, we are in Indiana, you know.
Another servant , named Ghoulsby, had been introduced, as well as a character named The Boogeyman. A talking plastic skull also made a turn as comic relief on occasion. Sammy would enjoy a “Type O cockta i l ,” often served in one of various cool Universal Monsters coffee mugs, as he rambled almost poetically about the night ’s offering.
I don’t know this for sure, but it ’s my guess that Mr. Carter wrote all of his own monologues for the show, and sometimes one would have to have a We bste r ’s d i c t i o n a r y s i tt i n g c l o s e by j u st to u n d e rsta n d exa c t l y w h at h e wa s s ay i n g . A h , b u t t h at wa s just one of the charms of Sammy’s character. Yes, he was a scary graveyard ghoul, but he was one who could spout Shakespeare and twist it around so that it would apply to whatever horror film happened to be on tap for that night .
Sammy also had an eye for the ladies, and often featured one attractive young woman or another during the skits in the mid-movie breaks.
In the mid-late eighties, Sammy hosted such great h o r ro r c l a s s i c s a s t h e 1 9 5 9 H a m m e r ve rs i o n o f The Mummy, The Devil’s Own (AKA The Witches) , and what is perhaps the cheesiest of all kaiju films, Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster.
It seemed Sammy would be hosting forever–he was one of the undead, so he could have conceivably continued hosting until the end of time– but alas, it was not to be. I suppose it was ratings, or perhaps Mr. Carter had grown tired in his older years. Either way, sadly, Sammy Terry aired his last show on Channel 4 sometime in 1989. He continued to host for a while in the early Nineties in the Marion, Indiana area, but not for long.
So, for a long dry spell in Indiana, there was no more Sammy Terry, and no more horror hosts of any kind on the air in the Indianapolis area. Yes, Sammy still made appearances around Halloween, at the State Fairgrounds, or local Haunted Houses, signing autographs and performing magic tricks and short presentations of his famous show.
We fa n s co u l d st i l l s e e h i m o n t h e T V eve n , a s h e would sometimes do commercials for local car dealerships during the month of October. He would also sometimes do radio presentations and interviews. So, during the nineties, while we were not completely without Sammy, it was always a long wait ‘til October to hear from him again.
That all changed again in the fall of 1999. Channel 4 had been celebrating its Fiftieth on-air anniversary all that year, and that October, we Monster Boomers got a real treat– one we thought we might never see again! Bob Carter reprised his role as the beloved Sammy Terry, and hosted two films for Halloween: Night Of The Living Dead and Fr ight Night 2. I was in horror heaven!
The station really outdid themselves on the set design, Sammy’s makeup and just general showcasing of the legendary horror host. It was truly, horribly beautiful to behold. The set featured a gorgeous backdrop of moonlit dead trees seen through a gothic wrought iron cemetery gate, and Sammy’s dungeon never looked better.
Many VCRs were set that night , I can tell you! You see, since none of the airings of Shock Theater, Nightmare Theater and Sammy Terry had been taped and preserved for syndication, it has been ex t re m e l y h a rd to f i n d a ny o f t h e s h ows o n v i d e o tape. Only the smart people who had the gumption to tape the shows as they aired are the lucky ones who have tapes they can play again and again w h e n ex p e r i e n c i n g a j o n e s fo r S a m my. S o, i n 1 9 9 9 , the show was taped, and is now offered for sale through Channel 4. Smart move!
Sammy Terry has continued to make appearances, and Channel 4 has re¬aired the two fright flicks that he hosted in 1999 the past two Halloweens. I even had the pleasure of seeing Sammy live at my local Sci¬Fi convention, In conjunction, back in 2000, where he performed a lively hour of Q & A for us frightful fans. It was gorily glorious! He then graciously signed autographs and posed for pictures for a couple of hours afterwards, having a great time.
Hopefully, one day Indianapolis will again have i t ’s very own horror host (I think the perfect follow¬ up to Sammy Terry would be Son Of Sammy), and even though one would be warmly welcomed, they would be hard ¬pressed to fill Sammy’s coffin and fulfill his horror ¬host legacy. He has become one of the most beloved and well ¬known personalities in Indiana’s TV history. He’s even gotten a nice website in his honor.
Thank you Sammy, for all those wonderful nights of fright…may you have many pleasant nightmares!