The link to this site, found today at Vault of Horror — brought back one of my earliest shocks.
Not long after we moved from Toronto to NJ, I discovered Chiller Theater…Creature Features…my Saturday nights revolved around these shows.
We had an old black & white T.V. in the basement. One side was finished for us kids…our T.V., my drums, our stereo & records were all down there. An open doorway led to the laundry room & Dad’s workshop, dark and creepy, and it was a challenge to walk past the doorway on the way upstairs after a movie, sometimes. At the very back of the laundry room there was a small crawlspace a few feet above the floor, warped doors exposing the darkness within…
The floor of the finished side was green linoleum with a black linoleum square in the middle, with a linoleum laughing clown face, right there on the floor. The face was assembled out of pieces of linoleum like a puzzle. I later covered the clown with the rug that my drum set sat on.
The night Chiller showed HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, there was nothing in the room but a small chair and the lamp on the floor behind me, for my dad had just waxed and polished the floor, and we hadn’t yet moved our stuff back. My shadow loomed on the wall next to the T.V.
WILLIAM CASTLE‘s movies always gave me the creeps and I loved them. The eerie piano music, the ghostly female voices going ah-h-h-h-h, the shadowed b&w photography that had that strange presence; I don’t know how to describe it. Crystal clear but strangely lit. The opening scenes hypnotized me…the cars arriving one by one as each passenger’s story was told…the Frank Lloyd Wright house, which was later used in “Angel”…VINCENT PRICE and the supersexy CAROL OHMART were so lurid…the miniature coffins holding the “party favors”…I was completely absorbed.
Then the attractive young couple, played by RICHARD LONG & CAROLYN CRAIG, hang behind the others in the basement to explore and look for secret compartments where someone playing a trick might hide. Miss CRAIG kneels to listen for hollow areas on the wall while LONG knocks from the room next door. She’s alone in the room…she stands up and sees that face leering over her shoulder!!
My face must have gone white, I felt numb, my eyes must have bulged in their sockets for a second when I saw that old hag! It hovered next to her while she screamed, then floated out of the room, right past her screaming face, its hands clutching the air, scrabbly old claws. I couldn’t stay down there in the basement all by myself. I ran across the room, pounded up the stairs and then up stairs once more to my parent’s bedroom where they were watching CAROL BURNETT. Or was it BOB NEWHART? It was that famous CBS Saturday night lineup.
I tried to casually lean against the door and check out the show but my mom knew something was up…“What’s the matter?” “Oh nothing.” But she knew what I had been watching. Later I felt angry with myself because I knew I’d missed the rest of a really good movie. To this day, whenever I’m creeping around, searching for secret compartments, I can see that scary face in my mind and I nervously look over my shoulder.
UNK SEZ: Rich E., thanks much for this vivid traumafession and for mentioning one of our favorite joints, THE VAULT OF HORROR!!! Anyone out there interested in visiting THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL can do so HERE.