Fan Memories of the Acri Creature Feature!  Page 2

 

 Writer Steven Philip Jones shared with us his fond memories of watching the Acri CF.

 He's written comic books giving a character the last name of Acri!

 

 

The Acri Creature Feature debuted on KCRG-TV 9 in Cedar Rapids one Friday night, arriving without warning.

I do not remember the date for sure, though I am pretty confident it was some time in October 1972.  That would have made me twelve years old at the time.  I am sure that the first film played on the ACF was the 1931 DRACULA, because getting to see that movie was a huge deal to me.  A lifelong fan of Count Dracula, I had never seen the Bela Lugosi film, so when I read in the TV GUIDE that KCRG was going to play it, I circled my calendar and started counting down the days.  My older brother Tom decided to watch DRACULA with me, and we were surprised that Friday night when “Windmills of My Mind” started playing and a guy with a helmet of silver hair welcomed us to The Acri Creature Feature.

I also do not remember when I started taping the ACF on audiocassettes.  (Yes, I actually taped the shows to listen to them.  Over and over again.  More on that in a sec.)  The only thing I am sure about is that I must have started after Bernie the Skull joined the cast.  I do not remember ever listening to Bernie’s debut, but I have never forgotten watching it.  It was classic!

One Friday night Chuck came down the steps to the set to find a box the size of a bowling ball on his table.  (How did the box get there?  I don’t know.  Nobody ever said.)  Something was inside that box, and it talked to Chuck in a weird echo-y voice!  It wanted Chuck to open the two doors on the front of its box, but Chuck refused, which proved he was smarter than a lot of the characters in the horror movies he showed.  Eventually Chuck agreed to open the box the following Friday night.

A teaser!

I have to give props to the ACF for taking the risk of making its fans wait seven days to see what was in the box, because it could have backfired.  After all, this teaser was a variation on the classic “monster behind the door” gimmick, and as any horror movie fan knows, this gimmick is a double-edged sword.  Getting the viewer wondering what shambling nightmare is scratching behind a door never fails to produce goosebumps, but, when the door is opened, anticipation usually leads to disappointment because the monster is rarely as frightening as the ambiguous terror our imaginations have been conjuring.  But what did the ACF give us fans after that week’s wait?  A talking skull!  One with a sense of humor!  Far-freaking-out!

Anyway, about those audiocassettes…

Something else I have managed to forget over the years is just what inspired me to start taping the ACF.  I didn’t even own a cassette recorder!  I had to borrow—okay, confiscate—Tom’s recorder every Friday night.  (He complained for a while, but I eventually wore him down and he ended up giving me the darn thing.)  To tape the show I had to…uh…tape the microphone to our TV’s speaker.  The reproduction quality was not half bad, and after a few weeks I had a nice little collection of programs that I eventually started listening to while I banged out stories and plays on my electric typewriter in my bedroom.  Yes, I estimate that Chuck and the gang kept me company for approximately one zillion hours during those years.

Okay, maybe I’m overestimating a bit, but if you want to be a writer you have to put in the time writing, and I passed a lot of my time also listening to those tapes.  I am grateful to them for that.

I am also grateful to the ACF for showing so many wonderful horror films I might not have seen as a kid.  Horror films, particularly the Universal classic horror films, were and continue to be my biggest influence.  As a kid I owned the entire Aurora monster model line.  Even The Prisoner of Castle Mare!  I collected and read horror comics and FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND.  I wallpapered my bedroom with scary posters (and worried my mom half to death).  And, while other boys were pouring PLAYBOY, I read DRACULA, DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE, and Edgar Allan Poe (which, I suppose, might have also worried my mom).  Today I own virtually every Universal horror film that has been released on VHS—I still need THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, the Spanish DRACULA, and, if it was ever released, the INNER SANCTUM series—but as a kid in the early 1970s, the only place I could count on to the horror films that meant so much to me was on the ACF.

Besides showing these movies, the ACF was a fun show.  The only thing it seemed to take seriously was entertaining its viewers so Chuck could pitch his home siding.  And it worked.  Like thousands of kids in the KCRG viewing area, I knew all about Acri’s exclusive Thermo-Insulation Board®, genuine redwood siding, and how anyone buying siding between Memorial Day and Labor Day received a free trip for four to the Lake of the Ozarks.  By Grabthar’s Hammer, what a deal!

Perhaps more than anything, the ACF is important to me because the show gave me an invaluable boost of encouragement.  Remember the Creep of the Week Award?  If you do not, this was a weekly contest where fans could mail in anything they created, so long as it was spooky.  The best entry won one of two Creep of the Week Awards, one for kids eleven and younger, another for kids twelve and older.  In May 1974 I submitted a play and won.  Two weeks later I submitted another play and a poem.  I won again and Chuck read my poem on the air.  By October of that year I had won five Creep of the Week Awards.  Winning those awards made me a minor celebrity with my eighth-grade peers.  (You know.  The geeky eighth-graders.)   Winning also let me know, “Hey, kid, you can write!”  How do you say thank you for something like that?

But nothing lasts forever, and in November 1974 the ACF vanished the same way it debuted.  Without warning.  I wrote the Acri Company to ask what was up, and a very nice lady whose name escapes me wrote back to explain that the cost of putting on the show had become too expensive, but maybe someday the Acri Creature Feature would return.

It never did.

Like Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr., the ACF was gone, and it was never coming back.

I have other memories about the ACF.  Like how I took my Acri tapes and made a “Best of…” compilation that included Berni the Skull’s famous mile-a-minute carnival barker’s siding pitch.  Or how two friends and I took photos of ourselves as a band called “The Creeps of the Week” and mailed them to the show, hoping Chuck would invite us on to perform.  (He didn’t.)  But enough already.

That was then.  This is now.  Today I have published two novels (so far) and over fifty comic books (so far).  Among those comic books are adaptations of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, the films INVADERS FROM MARS and RE-ANIMATOR, and nine H.P. Lovecraft weird stories.  I also created the original comic book series NIGHTLINGER, about a mysterious masked man who protects people against supernatural threats.  The second issue of NIGHTLINGER was about a creature feature host who is haunted by some of the monsters from the movies he shows.  I dedicated that issue to the whole ACF gang.  And in INVADERS FROM MARS, I renamed the main character Josh Acri.

Yes, the Acri Creature Feature means a lot to me.

If Chuck Acri or anyone who participated on the program happens to read this, please accept this “Thank you!” from a grateful fan.

If, like me, you are a fan of the ACF, let me suggest you get back to perusing Dr. Jitters’ wonderful tribute site to the program.  Get yourselves comfortable, grab yourself some “pine-stingle” from out of the “fridge” that looks like Vincent Hedges’ coffin, and relax.  Thanks for reading, and, like Chuck Acri might say, “God bless you all.”