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.
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
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.”