NIGHTMARE THEATER WITH SAMMY TERRY

On Friday nights in Indiana during the 1960’s and 70’s, you invited your best friend over to spend the night (Denny), pleaded with Mom to fix a tray of pizza rolls and, out of courtesy, asked to stay up late for a night of Nightmare Theater with Sammy Terry. Of course, Mom always allowed it, as you knew she would, fixed those pizza rolls, brought in the blankets and left the two of you to your night of magic because she sure as heck was not going to watch those “scary movies’.

The creaking of the coffin filled the house as you watched, transfixed, as Sammy Terry and his spider, George, emerged to host a night of classic horror.  Usually, it was one of the Universal movies starring Karloff, Lugosi, or Chaney, Jr.

Bride of  Frankenstein, Dracula, The Mummy, The Black Room, Werewolf of London, The Invisible Man, The Wolfman, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, and Creature from the Black Lagoon were frequently shown favorites.  Quite a few of the Val Lewton RKOs were shown regularly, as well as the occasional Jack Arnold film, such as Monster on the Campus, Tarantula, or The Incredible Shrinking Man. My own personal favortie was Ulmer’s The Black Cat with Karloff and Lugosi battling out to strains of the Beethoven 7th. If the films shown on Nightmare Theater were  not always approached by the filmmakers as high art (i.e. The Wolfman) , then there was certainly consummate craftsmanship that one always felt Sammy approved of.

In between the features, Sammy Terry would discuss the movies, make jokes with George and other regulars (Ghost Girl, Ghoulsbie) , have an occasional guest, talk about the Pacers, or show off the crayola drawings of Sammy and George that local children would send to WTTV 4.  Sammy had an inimitable laugh that would send shivers down the 8 year old spine.

If you made it to the end of the night (and frequently did not, hence the blankets)  Sammy would retreat to his coffin and bestow his wish of “Many Pleasant Nightmares.”  You knew, with excitement and dread, that he would return the following Friday.

There were lots of local urban myths about Sammy Terry and we were all too happy to spread those myths to fellow classmates since Sammy was a favorite subject.  Of course, this was long before the days of cable TV, VCRs, and even color TV (at least until the mid 70’s at our house) so the local WTTV 4 Station ruled the roost out of the four available TV stations.

Local  WTTV cartoon hosts Janie, Peggy and Cowboy Bob excited too (especially Peggy, whose mini-skirts aroused the young boys and annoyed Mom.  Whatever happened to Peggy?), but it simply got no cooler than Sammy, at least to the boys (most of those silly Janie-loving girls just could not appreciate the Nightmare Theater atmosphere, and they were more than a tad jealous of Peggy).

When color TV finally did grace our homes, we had to adjust to Sammy Terry in color, just as we did seeing George Reeves’ Superman in red and blue rather than black and white.  The magic was present, but a little diminished.  The movies were still in black and white and there remained an inexplicable otherworldliness, but we had no idea that preoccupation with hyper-realism was soon going to render our world as “obsolete and lost.”

When an interview with Karloff aired, the star explained that these films were more akin to Grimm’s Fairy Tales, rather than outright horror in the contemporary view.  He clearly preferred the world of those fairy tales to the cold, brittle modern world.  Why wouldn’t he? Karloff’s monster was only a monster by exterior design.  He suffered misunderstanding and loneliness.  He loved, was  rejected and died in the iciness of that rejecting, real world.   One of Karloff’s last (and better)  films, Targets, was aptly sentimental for those fairy tales.

Towards the end of the 70’s Nightmare Theater was canceled and Sammy was off the air for several years.  He returned in the 80’s, but it was not the same.  He was saddled with more current and, decidedly inferior, horror films.  It was a bit like the Night Gallery letdown after Twilight Zone disappeared.   Bob Carter, the man behind Sammy’s face paint let it be publicly known that he was not altogether pleased with the quality of the newer films being shown.  Still, Sammy had class and mantled the attitude that the show must go on, even if we knew that the outdated fairy tale had gone the way of the dinosaur.

Predictably, Sammy’s return did not last long.  Television and the world had changed. Sammy Terry now seemed like an alien character from a ghostly, dead romantic era.  He was as out of place as Bing Crosby’s depression era man, so he gracefully departed, making occasional appearances at haunted houses and horror conventions.

Sammy Terry has lived long enough to see a local comeback.  In the early 2000’s, he  returned for a few televised specials, such as WTTV 4’s 50th anniversary special, Scary Tales (hosting a special of Indiana ghost stories) and Halloween Night showings of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Tim Burton‘s superb grand guignol Batman Returns.

Last year, Sammy Terry, now approaching 80, made an appearance at the Asylum House. The onslaught of age  has taken it’s deadly toll and Sammy nobly struggled through the night, signing autographs and posing for pictures.  It was difficult to connect his fragility with the vibrant horror host we grew up with 40 years ago, but late in the night, after the crowd had dissipated, Asylum host Trick and myself talked with Sammy about his family music store. Bob Carter seemed please that I remembered his store (about the only local place one used to be able to obtain sheet music of everything from Beethoven to Mahler and onto Xenakis) . Later, as the conversation returned to classic horror, Bob Carter, on cue,morphed  into his classic character, Sammy Terry once more and , briefly,  he was his young horror host self again.

Due to health issues, Sammy Terry is making no more appearances this Halloween and that is a first.  One suspects this is a permanent retirement.

Dedicated in nostalgic honor to that much missed, magical world of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that Sammy Terry brought to us on those Friday Nights, along with Boris Karloff’s monster and Mom’s pizza rolls.

Sammy, the Fairy Tale was so much warmer, and better.

Peace.

Sammy Terry’s website:

http://www.sammyterrynightmares.com/

Sammy Terry’s youtube channel

22 thoughts on “NIGHTMARE THEATER WITH SAMMY TERRY”

  1. I loved ytour article. I can relate so much to everything you said about those wonderful nights with Sammy Terry,that there really is nothing for me to add. My children loved him,and my son posed with in front of Paramount Theater back in 1989 during a Halloween Show. My granddaughter saw him on a tape and puts him right up there with Santa Claus! Sammy is scary in a cool way. Thanks for the memories. Danny Troxel

  2. I can remember staying up late and watching Sammy Terry. I was scared outta my mind. It was so much fun. Great memories.

  3. Can you buy the tv movies , on dvd ? Any collections out there, We love Sammy Terry and watched all the time when we were kids , Go Sammy Terry!!!

  4. The bell tower ringing. The ominous wind blows. A castle appears. A coffin slows creaks open, and an ominous laugh escapes the form rising from the red cloth lined box. “Good evening, I am Sammy Terry….” Magical words to a wondrous audience sitting alone in darkened living rooms all about the central Indiana region. Each Friday, our dear ghoulish friend hosted for us a fun and frightful evening/morning of delightful and delicious horror, humor and film of days gone by. It is sadly an era gone by, gone but not forgotten. I am proud that I was privy to partake in the phenomenon that was presented by our ghoulish beloved fiend of horror, the great “Sammy Terry.” He endeared himself to a genration of viewers, myself included. Bob Carter, his alter ego has retired or old friend, but his son, Mark has now donned the cape cowl and personna to carry on the legacy of our master of ghoulish delight. May we all continue to have fond remembrances and “pleasant nightmares.”

  5. I AM TRYING TO FIGURE OUT THE NAME OF THIS MOVIE I WATCHED AS A LITTLE GIRL ON “SAMMY TERRY”. THE LITTLE GIRL WAS POSSESSED AND SHE HAD LONG BLACK HAIR AND SOME OF THE DARKEST EYES. YOU WOULD BE SO FRIGHTENED BY HER STARE. THE PART I WILL NEVER FORGET IS WHEN HER MOTHER WAS LAYING IN THE BED AND AND SHE HEARD A NOISE. SHE ROSE FROM THE BED LOOKING AROUND THE ROOM AND DIDN’T SEE ANYTHING. THEN ALL OF A SUDDEN YOU SEE THIS FACE ARISE AT THE END OF THE BED AND THE MOTHER SCREAMS FOR HER LIFE. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME REMEMBER THE NAME OF THE MOVIE? I WOULD LOVE TO WATCH IT AGAIN AND EVEN PURCHASE IT. “SAMMY TERRY” AND “ELVIRA” SHOWED SOME OF THE BEST HORROR FILMS EVER. IF ANYONE ELSE FIGURES IT OUT, SEND ME AN EMAIL AT Thechosenone.1973@yahoo.com

  6. Hello Everyone,
    I remember ‘Sammy’ very well. He was the music teacher at my grade school in the 1960’s, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Moreover, in the 1970″s we moved about 2 blocks away from ‘Sammy’s house. I remember he had some form of military armourment in his front yard, it was green and very big, and it rested on 2 big tires. I believe his real name was Bob Carter. He helped me to learn to play the trumpet, as well. We found him to be the opposite of his television character. He was a very funny, patient, warm, loving and caring person. I don’t believe he had an enemy in this whole wide world. He was the type of man that every child had wished that he could be their dad, briefly. He had an assistant music instructor. I can’t remember his name, but he wore glasses, was short and rotund in stature, and not as attentive as Mr. Carter, but he was nice. I remember back in the early 1960’s, before I was of school age, our Aunt Hazel, who worked at the White Castle, would come home just before Nightmare Theater would come on (WTTV Channel 4-it was the only station that broadcast after midnight-at that time)! She would bring home White Castle hamburgers and cola for my brother and I to share as we watched his show. We watched Frankenstein, or Wolfman or some other freightening, yet zany flick like, ‘She Devil’, or some such; then pass out before the ending. I can truely say that ‘Sammy’ brought joy into my childhood and, as you can see, I will always remember and appreciate the man, as well as the legend. We will never forget you Bob ‘Sammy Terry’ Carter, and we love you and miss you and your persona very, very much!!
    Your friend, greatest fan of all time, and former student, Joseph Scott (now 55 years old).
    P.S. Thanks for the ‘Pleasent Nightmares’

  7. Oh man, the memories. Yes, I too would sit up late on Friday nights, with popcorn or potato chips and cokes. I planned it every Friday, and sometimes wondered why I sat up in my Grandmother’s big old house at Shadeland and 21st street….all by myself, and watched Sammy scare the tar out of me. When I ran out of coca-cola, I had to walk through the living room, through the dark dining room and into the dark kitchen for more. Turning on lights was not an option, as the only lights were the living room lamps and the wall switch in the kitchen. The trip to the kitchen was always dark and spooky. The only place I saw “The Screaming Skull” movie was on Sammy Terry’s show. Lots of grade B movies, but entertaining just the same. His sometimes morbid humor kept me scared, and then watching the movies made me even more scared. I would be afraid to get out of my chair and would end up sleeping in it sometimes. And when I slept in the chair, I always had…..”Pleasant Nightmares..Ahumm hmm hmmm hmmmmm” Loved it.

  8. Great article and great replies! I lived in Indy from 1964 to 1974, my elementart through middle school years. We moved to Arizona in 74, and the local TV horror host there was “Dr. Scar”, who, nofortunately, just was not in the same league as Sammy.

    I remember a few Mexican movies (at least I think they were Mexican) that Sammy used to show. One of them was called “The Haunted Hacienda”. I’m sure that some of those films would make me laugh my but off today, but back then they scared the crap out of me and helped to make the world a more magical place. Thanks for the memories.

  9. Just found this stream and it brings back great memories of those days when Sammy was on the air in the 70’s. my dad (Don) was the chief engineer there at WTTV during that time. He helped film and produce quite a number of those old episodes. It was really cool when Dad would take us on set occasionally to see how things were done. To this day I am still a fan of late night horror movie hosts and classic horror movies.

    1. Patrick… Thanks for your posting…i also am such a fan growing up in central indiana in the mid sixties and every friday night without fail watch my favorite entertainer eek havoc w his scare tactics of goulish creep cast of characters. Thank God for those covers lol… I have a question to see if you could ask your father if he would know whatever happened to the commercial tv personality Bob Callahan the cadillac car salesman? When there was a tv commercial break, there was Bob Callahan w his cigar makung his pitch and woukd say “nobody can beat bob callahan price” he woukd take a puff on his cigar and just say “nobody” As a 9-10 yr old kid i thought he sure meant business to sell cars past midnight staying open that late lol Anyway my question is does your father recall this character Bob Callahan doing tv commercials during nightmare theatre?+ And does he know of any archive footage about this funny car salesman? I cannot locate any research on this guy…can you or your father point me in the right direction?. Thanks so much!!

  10. blast from the past im from anderson in and we did exactly what you all said invited a freind over got to stay up late got out blankets got snacks pizza rolls ect and were glued to tv one of the scaryest one to me was every one died in the way they reared most i think it was on sammy terry WAS IT I WOULD LOVE TO SEE IT NOW TO SEE HOW SCARY IT WAS FOR A KID we lived in the country and it was cold out side11111

  11. omg i am 54 yrs and i remember sammy terry i was 8 yrs old when i first saw frankenstein on nightmare theater,my dad was trying to cure me of horror movies and tv series(dark shadows)but it did not wrk,i really wish that wttv channel 4 would bring back the show with the old cheesy and bad black and white horror and scifi movies,and back when i was a kid they made pizza sticks

    1. i was terrified of dark shad quentan in the closet scared of closets loved sammy terry the best best best memeries!

  12. Greg Tennessee, the car salesman’s name was Bob Catterson, not Callahan. “…nobody, but nooobody, beats a Bob Catterson Buick price…noooooobody”.He was all over Indianapolis TV in the 60s, not just Nightmare Theater. There was even a joke about him…”Did you hear that Bob Catterson has been murdered? He was decapitated! They only found his head but (wait for it…)…Nooo Body!”

  13. I always loved watching Sammy Terry when I was growing up. What is cool is my kids grew up hearing about him and now my son dressed up as Sammy Terry for his 35th Halloween/Birthday party this year. I squealed when he walked in the room and yelled Sammy Terry! He knew I’d be tickled to see him dressed like that but what was sad no one else knew what he was! I said OH MY GOSH you guys don’t know Sammy Terry? I thought everyone in my age group (middle 50’s) ought to know Sammy Terry! My son looked IDENTICAL to Sammy Terry in his costume down to the gloves, necklace, etc… We had a fun & “creepy” evening at my sons birthday/halloween party and it was great thinking about the “good ole days” and good ole Sammy! Thanks for the memories Sammy!! You will always live on with me and my family.

  14. Sammy Terry is still one of the most powerful memories from my childhood, especially since my older brother’s name was Terry & back then he thought because of that name that Sammy would get him! I still enjoy telling people that. I can only hope that his legacy will live on & his gift to us will always be appreciated!!! A.V.T.

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