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Classic thrillers didn't rely on gore

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The news came in the form of a text that said simply, “Sammy Terry died.”

How sad. And how wrong. If you took a look at the World Wide Interweb thingie in the days after the story broke, with comments by the hundreds on Facebook, you would have seen that Sammy Terry was more alive than ever in the memories of all us kids who peeked from behind sofa pillows (or, in the case of my brother, the sofa itself), when “Nightmare Theater” was showing on WTTV (Channel 4).

The death of Bob Carter, who created and played Sammy from 1962 to 1989, brings a couple of ideas to mind.

The first is how much fun it used to be to watch a scary movie. Of course, my definition of scary has little in common with what passes for a scary movie today, unfortunately.

I’m a big fan of the classic monsters — Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy. Why? Because despite the visual impact of the monsters themselves, their movies rely on your mind to do most of the scaring.

Blood and gore — the stock in trade for scary movies for the past three decades or so — aren’t necessary. The sight of the Frankenstein monster coming to life or Dracula’s riveting stare was more than enough to send a kid’s imagination into high gear.

One of the greatest and spookiest shots in any classic monster movie has to be in “The Mummy,” after Im-Ho-Tep comes back to life. As he shuffles away, the camera fixes on a piece of linen trailing after him out of the room, and you just know bad things are going to start happening.

It seems laughable now, but in the Golden Age of Kidhood that was the kind of stuff that made you suddenly remember that you had to go to the bathroom.

Bob’s death (I met him a couple of times so I’m taking the liberty of calling him Bob) also brings to mind how much we’ve lost with the death of local entertainment television. Kiddie shows like “Cowboy Bob’s Corral,” and characters like Janie and Harlow Hickenlooper were just the beginning. Remember Jim Gerard’s interview show? I always thought that was one of the best things about being home from school.

I have a theory about why local TV news can be so … let’s say uneven. And it has to do with the death of local entertainment programming. There are some people who want to tell you the news. But we also have some who just want to be on TV, and since we have no local entertainment shows anymore, news is their only avenue. Therefore, a lot of people are trying to report the news whose talents are really better suited to hosting “Dialing For Dollars” or showing Bugs Bunny cartoons.

But that’s just a theory.

All I know is that given the choice between a show like Jim Gerard’s and one like Jerry Springer’s, I’d go for the kinder, gentler, local show every time, if it still existed.

Oh, well. That’s why we have memories, I guess. Which gets us back to Sammy Terry.

Bob Carter, the man who played spooky ol’ Sammy on Channel 4 during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, might have gone, but Sammy himself? He’ll be around forever, or at least for as long as guys like me remember his spooky laugh, his spider George and the creepy-campy fun of the classic monster movies he loved.

Mike Redmond is an author, journalist, humorist and speaker. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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