The Giants scoreboard on Creature Features Night at AT&T Park in San Francisco on August 29, 2009.
The San Francisco Giants promotional team has gone nuts with special events this season. There have been Carlos Santana and Manny Pacquiao bobble-head nights, two Irish nights and a singles night. Saturday was Creature Features Night, celebrating a Bay Area monster movie show that hasn’t been on the air in 25 years. From a demographic standpoint, it didn’t make much sense for a major league franchise to open its hallowed outfield to fans of a long-cancelled local TV show. I just turned forty this year, placing me at the younger end of the show’s fans. But despite short attention spans, 500 fans stayed after the game to romp with a guy in a Japanese monster suit, score glow-in-the-dark t-shirts, meet a star of Night of the Living Dead and watch the movie that launched an enduring but gruesome pop cultural mania.
When Wilkins left the show in 1978, KTVU replaced him with San Francisco Chronicle writer and monster movie expert John Stanley. Stanley continued the weirdness and even did interview segments with Penn and Teller and Whoopi Goldberg (take that SNL). He also directed a strange short film where he fought Chuck Norris. Despite Stanley’s zest for the show, the home video market took the starch out of Creature Features’ ratings and KTVU pulled the plug on the show in 1984.
Creature Features nostalgia has been building throughout this decade through appearances at comic conventions, film retrospectives and the release of a documentary titled Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong (named after the kooky motto seen in the background of Wilkins’ set). But I still couldn’t help but feel that Creature Features night at AT&T Park was a final good bye to the old show. Wilkins and Bob Shaw, a CF producer longtime KTVU movie critic, both passed away earlier this year, leaving John Stanley to keep the televised memories alive. While future Creature Features events are planned as well as a DVD release of the public domain Horror Express with Stanley’s segments and wrap-arounds interspersed into the film, how can any of it get any bigger, or more San Francisco, than an event at the Giants’ bayside Ballpark (following a 5-3 Giants victory no less)?
On Saturday, Stanley had help from Judith O’Dea (pronounced O-Day), who played the harried Barbara in Night of the Living Dead. O’Dea looked great but it was hard not think of how together she seemed since my only previous contact with her was through her freaking out for 90-minutes of screen time in a George Romero horror flick. And then there was that high def print of Night shown with the aid of three million LEDs and the atmosphere provided by wisps of fog creeping into the stadium.
Channel 2 was one of the first stations in the country (if not the first) to show the seminal splatter film on broadcast TV. “There’s one scene in there where the little girl hits her mom with a garden tool and I think she does it about 36 times in the movie,” Wilkins said during a video piece that ran before NOTLD on Saturday, “We cut it down to seven times and we’d get complaints. People saying, ‘Hey what are you doing to this film!?!’”
“All we wanted to do was make the best movie with what we had to work with,” she answered with a smile. “We didn’t have the resources but we had a lot of energy.” She then chuckled and told my girlfriend and me to get in out of the cold.
As the atonal music played over the film’s grainy, closing montage, we exited the arena onto Third and King Streets. We started to walk towards downtown San Francisco to catch a train home but the sight of human figures moving on the dimly lit block ahead of us made us think twice. Not knowing if the people slowly ambling towards us were the living or the undead, we decided to take a cab. We were scared.
Creature Features events are coming up including a screening of Watch Horror Films Keep America Strong at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles on October 6 and a showing of The Creature Walks Among Us with Bob Wilkins footage on October 13 at the Balboa in San Francisco. Click here for info.
Bob Calhoun is the author of the bestselling punk-wrestling memoir Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling, which is currently available at Amazon.com and wherever fine paperbacks are sold.