The Night Blogger
Childhood, Saturday night. Sure, other nights too, as they kept moving the _____ Night Movie of the Week around as they were ABC and only had Monday Night Football doing them any ratings good in those days. But this was what made weekends great when you were a kid and couldn't do anything else. Ah, television. Go look at the list of ABC Movies of the Week at Wikipedia and tell me you don't get back most of your childhood memories. Admit it, they aren't of playing catch with dad who was too busy working his ass off and avoiding home. They were of Karen Black turning into a Zuni devil doll, Dennis Weaver being terrorized (in a Plymouth Valiant, no less, what would be the very first car you "owned" as a hand-me-down, if a later model) by a hyper-malicious truck driver, and Kim Darby finding a horrible fate with the fireplace people in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. OK, you might not remember that last one, as it's not as iconic as the first two, but if you saw it, you completely remember. It's part of your horror film DNA in a way that The Exorcist or Friday the 13th can't be as it was shown right in that little box in your own damn home. And wasn't really violent or gross. It just was intense enough to scare the bejeebers out of you. And you didn't even know you had bejeebers till they were gone.
Of course, who am I really trying to kid with the second person here--I'm writing about myself, perhaps to myself, but no doubt there was a Movie of the Week that dealt with a situation like that. But what a wonderful way to twist a kid's imagination, a series of films with titles like Dying Room Only and The Missing Are Deadly and The Legend of Lizzie Borden, with Elizabeth Montgomery bewitching in the title role. But in some ways I most remember the ones that are almost generic in their titles and promise and delivery, and still so so good, films like Skyway to Death and The Elevator and Trapped (guy gets mugged, left in department store men's room, wakes up after hours to find he's in the store with six vicious doberman guard dogs).
For, of course, child of the '70s I am, nothing beats disaster films, and while the big screen ones were fun, nothing beat the regularlity of one in your home each Saturday. Did I then realize they mimicked where the U.S. felt it was, post-Vietnam, post-hippie-60s euphoria, careening toward Carter's be-sweatered malaise? Did I realize they made grand my own feelings any teen has, the world so much possibility, so much to desire, so much that would say no and reject? Did I realize it was a large scale mirror for my family splitting in two?
Nah, I just liked cool, scary stuff. You can't beat Killdozer, say, the giant machine so brilliant and malignant, and me too young to quite catch camp yet even when a massive bulldozer, even if possessed by an alien force, can somehow sneak up on someone. Perhaps you have to save that knowledge for when what's scary in the world no longer seems supernatural, just mundane.
Instead we would create our own disaster films in our basements, an elaborate form of play when toy train set power boxes doubled as cockpit controls, crawlspace areas were just tight enough to creep through as varied scary passageways, and somehow we often prefered to kill our selves off rather than survive that final reel, death seemed so synthetic, filmic, dramatic, ick when ick was good.