Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lurking For Dr. Paul Bearer...My Saturday Writing Influence

Doctor Paul Bearer's Creature Feature Laid The Foundation For My Obsession With Science Fiction And Horror And Was A Huge Part Of My Saturday Television Time.

Saturday.  There was a time when it was a day of special meaning.  Its importance is now pretty much lost to changes in technology and those cultural changes that go hand and hand with it.  For Me growing up, especially in Florida, Saturday meant three things.  First and foremost it was they day that Dr. Paul Bearer's Creature Feature came on WTOG Channel 44.  Later on I discovered My second Saturday television joy, Doctor Who on WEDU PBS Channel 3.  And finally, when I was in middle school, I truly began to embrace pro-wrestling, and NWA Championship Wrestling From Florida (now FCW) came on at 7:00, also on Channel 44, where the greatest commentator in history, the late Gordon Solie, called all the action.

Of course the world moved on.  Saturday began to loose its importance.  It's become just another day within the  last 20 years.  However sometimes things you loose get to come back.  Doctor Who met with cancellation near the end of the 80's and came back stronger than ever in 2005.  Championship Wrestling From Florida was acquired by Jim Crockett Promotions and along with NWA Mid-Atlantic Wrestling and the Universal Wrestling Federation as well as a few other JCP territories were merged to form WCW, however the promotion was revived time and again by various promoters and within the last couple of years now called FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling) it acts as WWE's developmental promotion.

Creature Feature though, despite one attempt at a revival, is unfortunately gone forever.  The host of the show, Dick Bennick, passed away in 1995, not long after I moved to Missouri.  Despite the fact that Channel 44 promised that horror movies would always fill the 12:00 P.M. time slot it was a promise that never materialized, mainly due to the fact that the station had planned to re-run the series, but met with the objection of Bennick's family.  Bennick initially developed the character of  Dr. Paul Bearer in the late 60's while he was hosting another weekly horror movie feature program in North Carolina and long before the former Percival Pringle III, Bill Moody, became Paul Bearer in the WWF.  Initially he played the skull face painted Count Shockula, but decided that he never liked the character, and according to several websites, through the magic of television, he found a way to appear as the ill fated Count and the good Doctor at the same time, Bearer  driving a stake through Shockula's heart and taking over "his" show.

In 1971, the year before I was born, Channel 44's Creature Feature began its run.  I was too young  to remember the program as it began, initially running four features every Saturday in an 8 hour program block.  I am sure I would have been in "hog heaven" if I could remember that time.  However I do remember the show when it presented two of what Dr. Paul Bearer referred to as "horrible old movies", the Saturday double feature format continued on until I was nearly in middle school, and whether I was at home or at Grandma's from 12 to 4 I was glued to the screen.

To say that I was influenced by the movies that appeared on Creature Feature would be an understatement.  And it wasn't just the movies that I looked forward to, but also to the host segments, because it just wasn't a Saturday without Dr. Paul Bearer's mock advertisements, wisecracks and eerie presence.  Even if the movies had been on before, or if they were something that I was not really interested in seeing I wanted to know what Dr. Paul would say or do.  Unlike Elvira or the crew of the Satellite of Love the good Doctor didn't really joke or comment directly on the films, but he did some off the wall stuff like, smoking his coffin nails, or eating Chicken McMaggots, or getting beat with his "Mummy's" purse, and occasional be asked, "Your money or your life," by a burglar, to which he happily gave his life (A copy of Life Magazine that is).  He always presented the films  from the un-living room of his Tenement Castle, and there was always a least a prop or two on the coffin table.  Every now and then he was joined by a static and wisecracking spider known as Spenjamin Bock.  And of course once in a great while he also retreated to the music room where he lip sank such Tom Leher classics as 'Posioning Pigeons In The Park'.

Dr. Paul Bearer and Spenjamin Bock

There were two pictures decorating the walls of the Tenement Castle that will always stick out in My mind, and often shown before the show cut to a commercial.  One was of a cross-stitch that proclaimed Tomb Sweet Tomb.  There happens to be a copy of this in The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, although I am not quite sure if there is any relationship between them, or in fact the origin of the cross-stitch itself.  The other is an illusionary painting I believe it titled Vanity.  It is a picture of a woman at her dressing table that also makes the picture of a skull.  You may already be aware that I have a thing for skulls and skeletons, and I can pretty much assure you that that initially came from watching Creature Feature as well.

A painting I believe called Vanity adorned a wall of Dr. Paul Bearer's Tenement Castle

My Skelaton Belaton icon bares an unintentional and superficial resemblance to the illusionary skull in the painting.
Bennick himself was also a radio personality during the week, and he lived in Winter Haven, which was one of the next towns over from where I lived in Auburndale growing up.  When I was about ten I met  Dr. Paul Bearer for the first time.  He was judging a Halloween costume contest at the Winter Haven Speedway (now the Auburndale Speedway).  I was dressed as a clown, and at the time I had no clue of the possible horror there was at being a clown, or that there were even people who had a fear of clowns.  (I still had not seen Halloween at that time.)  He complimented Me on the costume, and I had asked what movies he was going to be showing the next week, because at the time I believed that it aired live.  He told me I would have to "lurk and see" because it was a secret.  Of course that got to My proto-fan boy heart, because he ended each show by welcoming the viewers back every week for more "horrible old movies" and signing off with the catchphrase "I will be lurking for you."  (Which I did paraphrase as "We will be lurking for you", for the Meet the Author's Chat Night I did with Nicola Matthews).  When I was in high school I would occasionally catch sight of him driving around Winter Haven in his hearse, yes he actually did drive a Cadillac hearse around town, and despite the fact I was nearly an adult it still gave Me a thrill every time I saw him.

Dr. Paul Bearer and Creature Feature were the first things that influenced Me to become a writer.  Every week there were movies from the 30's to the 70's when I was a kid.  I was treated to a share of Universal Classics and Corman  Monsterpieces.  I saw more than a few Hammer Horror films, and was introduced to Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing well before they ever appeared in Star Wars films.  Lugosi, Price, Karloff and the Carridnes were other genre actors I became aware of early on, and I was treated to programmers and drive-in delights from Europe and Asia as well as more home grown Sci-Fi and  B Horror movies.  I saw the original King Kong months before the 1976 remake hit the screens through Creature Feature.  I was also given My introduction to tokusatsu on Saturday mornings, and quite often hoped more than anything that there would be a Godzilla or Gamera movie on.  Even beyond the classic Japanese monsters I saw a couple of the Super-Giant films as well as the Dai-Majin series, and Attack Of The Mushroom People (Matango).  One time, when I was in the sixth grade, I even got to see full frontal, naked, white girl boobies, when apparently a European film with a strip scene had not been edited closely enough.  (Woo-Hoo!)

The Super-Giant Series (A.K.A. Starman in the U.S.) were My first taste of a non-Kaiju toku.

Alien council from the Super-Giant films.
A few years back the return of Creature Feature was announced.  I was pretty jacked, especially since the week after the relaunch I was going to be on vacation and would actually be home to see My Saturday morning writing influence come back.  I was interested to see how the show would fare with its new host, Professor Paul Bearer II and to see what format changes would be done to present the show to a new and more "modern" audience.  Alas it was not to be.  There was no Creature Feature that day, the revival apparently canceled after only a single episode.  So again I floundered without My Saturday fix of "horrible old movies".

Original double feature poster for I Was A Teenage Werewolf and Invasion Of The Saucer Men.  Such creature double features were the fodder for My imagination.
Now seven years have passed, and I am sure that unlike Doctor Who and FCW that Creature Feature will never be back.  Recently I decided to revisit many of the movies that I first through Dr. Paul Bearer's presentation on Saturday afternoons.  True they're not the same without the good Doctor sitting in the un-living room of the Tenement castle, but to some extent I now have that old excitement I used to feel when watching them, which was the best Saturday escape, and the sign that the weekend has truly arrived.  Now My son is a little jaded, weened on CGI and big  time special effects, and the lady vyle prefers to do a little cross-stitching of her own as I watch, but every now and then they do get a little in to the stories.  And I still do have a couple of Creature Features I video taped, such as Diary Of A Madman, and Destroy All Monsters, complete with Dr. Paul "singing" 'Posioning Pigeons In The Park'.

Dr. Paul Bearer and his horrible old movies have been with  Me pretty much from the beginning of My writing hobby.  Corman's Poe films inspired many of My early poems, and Bleeders, which  I consider My first short story, was definitely inspired by Corman's Attack Of The Giant Leeches.  Before beginning work on Whispers Of Darkness I did a couple of dry writing runs, penning updated adaptations of Godzilla King Of The Monsters and Mothra to see if I could write something beyond 50 pages, both movies I developed a love for by seeing them over and over on Creature Feature.

As well as Doctor Who and pro-wrestling there are several references to Doctor Paul Bearer and Creature Feature in My stories, and there will continue to be as long as I write.  King Kong Vs. Godzilla, a movie I was particular jacked to see when I found out that Creature Feature was going to have it on, was referenced  in My first erotic short story, Older Is Bedder.  Dr. Paul has been paid homage to as Colonel Creepy in Fungi and as Count Shockula, named after his former ego and nemisis, in Shadows Of The Night and Story Number Two of the Fungi Collection that I am currently working on.  Dr. Paul and Creature Feature were even directly referenced in the original version of Whispers Of Darkness, although the reference will be changed to Count Shockula to fit into the Shadows Of The Night continuity I am building.  Colonel Creepy will probably have a cameo in Story Three of the Fungi Collection, and Shockula may appear in another of the stories in the collection as well.

Late 70's early 80's title card for Creature Feature.
Will there ever be another Dr. Paul Bearer or Creature Feature?  Alas, no, I don't believe so.  However the influence and impact that Dr. Paul and his horrible old movies had on Me, My writing and My sense of gross humor will never be undone.  It is My greatest hope that somehow, someday, the series will be released on DVD.  It's unlikely, but it is the only way that the good Doctor will ever truly come back from the grave to provide Me with that Saturday writing influeence I still crave.  Until then Dr. Paul Bearer, I will be lurking for you.

Master Vyle

1 comment:

  1. My television horror movie watching started a bit earlier. I was born in 1962, so I would have started watching around 1970. In the early days everything was black and white because we didn't have colour television. We had a horror host called Deadly Earnest who presented a show called Awful Movies with Deadly Earnest. I was a bit too young to see more than the occasional introduction then, but later there was a guy named Russell Starkey who presented horror movies. He didn't play a character, he just sipped his wine and tried to act suave. Initially the movies were made-for-television horror films like "Satan's School for Girls" and "Haunts of the Very Rich". Later, when they gave him movies like "The Giant Claw" and "Godzilla vs. The Seamonster" to introduce he got pissed off and offered prizes for anyone who could prove they stayed awake through them. When he started advising viewers on air to write in and complain about the quality of the movies he got fired. :o) Some of my favourite television horror memories include : "The Blob", "Invasion of the Body Snatchers", "Monolith Monsters", "Homicidal", "The Tingler" and "Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine".