Saturday Night Grindhouse Chapter 5: Creating the Monster

Hey horror freaks! If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice that we’ve skipped over chapter 4 — this is intentional as our friendly fiend and favorite horror host is still having some technical issues that are preventing us from completing the chapter. In the interest of keeping this spookshow on the road, however, I’m presenting to you Chapter 5: Creating the Monster. Enjoy!

Small-town Tennessee is not the place to be if you’re hoping to be exposed to music that is innovative or provocative in any way. Growing up, I remember the only radio stations we had were soft rock (98.5 WTFM), classic rock (101.5 WQUT), oldies (93.7 WETB) and country (96.9 WXBQ). When I was in the sixth grade, we got an upgrade in the form of Electric 94.9. This was Top-40 radio in 1996 when chart-toppers included Mariah Carey with Boyz II Men’s One Sweet Day, Bone Thugs N Harmony’s Tha Crossroads and the infamous Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix) by Los Del Rio. Top 40 radio is not something that pushed me or inspired me but it was at least something a little different from the Kenny G, Bob Seger and Alan Jackson that was all over Kingsport radio in the 90s. 

We finally got a modern-rock radio station when I was in high school with 95.9 WRZK, but it was horrible as well. Creed, 3 Doors Down, Nickelback, Godsmack, Disturbed and Puddle of Mudd topped the charts – it was the era of rock radio where the phrase Butt Rock was created. Still, it was better than what we had.

Live music was also a joke in the Tri-Cities during this time. My mother tells me stories about going to see big arena rock shows in Bristol and Johnson City when she was younger. She got to see Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, Foreigner, Brian Adams, Heart, Tina Turner, Loverboy, Journey and AC/DC locally but her stories seemed like mad fiction to me, someone who grew up during the Tri-Cities’ dry season for live music. Rock and metal shows were a staple in the area until they came to a screeching halt in the 90s thanks to a show by Megadeth at Bristol’s Viking Hall.

OG Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine’s Megadeth was poised to take the stage that night after their opening act warmed up the crowd – but this wasn’t just any opening act. Jackyl is a rock band from Kennesaw, Georgia, that started up in the early 90s. They were up-and-comers when they landed the opening slot for the Big Four member and warming up an audience for such a metal powerhouse would take some serious cajones. 

The cajones came out in the form of a dangerous stunt that involved a circular saw and a half-naked woman sporting a steel chastity belt. I’ve seen the stunt performed by many side-show performers over the years so it’s not special or particularly innovative but it blew some minds that night in Bristol – so much so that local leaders raised concern over the inappropriate nature of metal shows, rendering rock concerts all but extinct for nearly two decades. 

If you wanted to be exposed to new music via live concerts, it was going to either be country or bluegrass – nothing else.

Record stores were a decent way to be introduced to new music but even then, growing up the record stores in Kingsport were overwhelmingly corporate. One could buy top-40 hits from Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Hills. Cat’s CDs was off Eastman Rd. but I didn’t get taken there very often and when I did, I was put off by how expensive their music was and the pretentiousness of their staff. The Fort Henry Mall was once home to Blockbuster Music, which was mildly corporate compared to its replacement – FYE. They had most of the music you were looking for, but even at a young age I was interested in finding music from a source that had credibility. Where was a kid like me supposed to turn?

In 1994, Kingsport got a branch of Steve Dorsey’s Dad’s CDs chain. The shop was a hole-in-the-wall nestled in a Stone Drive shopping center and it was a true gem. The walls were lined with posters and racks-on-racks of new and used CDs, DVDs, t-shirts, patches, stickers and pins. It had sections for the lowest-common-denominator music fan but also for the adventurous souls who had a lot to learn and wanted to find something that would move them. I picked up my first grindcore, black metal and death metal CDs there and was able to track down some obscure gold that changed my life musically.

The two things I loved the most about the place were the staff and the local music section. While the majority of the store was lined with CDs by world-renowned acts in a variety of genres, there was a small rack in the back of the store dedicated to the local music scene, especially artists from Chaotic Underworld. This is where I picked up nearly everything from those artists and this is how I became friends with Patrik Dougherty, who at the time performed his noise act as Mannequin Hollowcaust. Patrik helped run Chaotic Underworld and I always appreciated his friendly conversation when I’d hang out at the shop.

Chaotic Underworld was a two-man operation ran by Patrik and Dustin Gingrow whose mission was to seek out, produce and distribute independent artists all over the southeast. Many of the artists were noise or noise-related but other genres including psychedelic, doom, grindcore, ambient and even folk.

I was usually at the record store in the middle of the day on weekdays, which is when Patrik was most likely to be found there. There was another guy – Shannon Wallen – who was there in the evenings and my first conversation with him was a doozy. I had picked up a handful of CDs, a few used DVDs and a promo poster for Rob Zombie’s 2006 album Educated Horses. Under normal circumstances, checkout for these few items would have taken 2-3 minutes tops, but Shannon was a man of many words when it came to music and movies. He proceeded to give me his unsolicited and very biased opinions of everything I was trying to purchase. I remember the Rob Zombie poster particularly because I was personally offended that Shannon referred to him as “Slob Zombie” while both ridiculing and praising House of 1000 Corpses. It took me nearly 30 minutes to checkout that night and I wasn’t so sure I ever wanted to see the guy again.

But I did. And I saw him often. We’d have conversations about his troubles with a venue in Johnson City getting upset with him for throwing chicken livers at the audience during a performance as the infamous Ass Maggot as well as our mutual love and respect for horror films, Troma, the Dead Kennedys and John Waters.

Up until this point, my relationship with Shannon was merely one where I’d visit him at Dad’s and chat for as much as an hour about movies and punk rock. I didn’t know if he’d be down to host a television show, especially one ran on government access, but in my mind he might dig the idea that the government was paying to put him, of all people, on TV. What I thought I knew about Shannon just from our conversations at the record store was that he would like the idea, being one of the few people I’ve ever known to never waiver in their beliefs and passion for extreme art, of being broadcast into homes all over the Kingsport area on the government dime — an entity that had no idea what all he stood for. 

I don’t remember how the meeting went but I do remember approaching the topic one afternoon in the record store by asking him if he’d ever consider hosting a horror show a la Vampira. Something along the lines of “It would be a dream!” was his response so I told him I was putting one together and I wanted him to be the face of it. He immediately accepted the gig and without knowing anything about the show, where it was airing, how it was shot or how much of an audience we’d get, he was already incredibly appreciative of the consideration and was 100% behind the project. 

In fact, he was so much behind the project that he was willing and able to come by the studio that night to start chatting about the concept more. That was cool, but I didn’t have much more of it fleshed out so that’s how I spent my afternoon. During this time I hung out in the studio between shoots for the day determining what the format of the show would be, what films we had to show, how we’d premiere it and what music we’d use. Things were already moving super fast and while I was enjoying every second of it, I was nervous I would miss something and I had to make this look good since it was my first independent project with MyTownTV. 

Where we would differ the most from other famous Creature Feature shows is that we rarely ever ran any commercials. It wasn’t frowned upon to sell ads on the government channel because we sometimes did sell them for our more popular shows like Culinary View, which we were able to syndicate to the WB Network. For the most part, though, nobody wanted to buy ads for the other shows we ran. And we were getting paid anyway so selling them wasn’t necessary — it was just nice to occasionally get an extra bump to help with production – it certainly didn’t land in any of our pockets. 

With our lack of advertising in mind, I quickly realized there was no real reason to cut away from the movie being aired so the format of the show was ironed out quickly: The intro sequence and show title would be followed by Shannon introducing himself and the first movie. We’d hit the one hour mark while the first film aired, so I’d find a spot in the movie that could dip to black, cut back to Shannon who would make a snotty comment about what we’d just seen, then bow out for station identification. After our MyTown graphic faded out, we’d see Shannon again, he’d say a few words, then the first movie would play to completion. At that point we’d be back to Shannon again, doing something relevant but comical before introducing the second film. We’d once again pause for station identification then finish the film before Shannon gave an outro monologue. Finally, we’d fade out into the credits. 

Holy shit. We had a format. 

I wasn’t super concerned about how we would shoot the show. We had a pretty nice green screen in our studio and I intended to do all of it there rather than build a set or find a location where we could shoot. My next concern, then, was the soundtrack. While we had a seemingly endless supply of music we could use for our projects, it was all very dull, very boring royalty-free music that was extremely generic. The “horror” sounding music was too cheesy and while our show was also cheesy, I wanted to present it as authentic horror. We would never be taken seriously if we had cartoon horror music introducing our show!

Thankfully I had already been given a verbal go-ahead by Patrik (Mannequin Hollowcaust) to use any of his work as well as anything released by Chaotic Underworld recordings. I had been collecting Chaotic Underworld recording artists’ work for a few years at that point since Patrik had given me permission to use them for my college projects, so it was thanks to him that I would have artists such as Aghast, Aorta Journal, Killbot, Panzer, Pilgrim, the Witch is Watching and the Sugary Sweet Machines to act as my soundtrack. 

How cool? Not only were we going to be putting horror on TV in Kingsport, Tennessee, but I was going to be able to use local talent that represented artforms most in the area were ignorant of. We may not get but just a few viewers but what an unprecedented platform! We were in a pretty good place at this point: I knew who was hosting, I knew what the format was going to be, I knew what it would look like and I knew what it was going to sound like – all revelations I was hoping to have before Shannon came by that evening. 

###

When Shannon stopped by the studio that night I went over everything I had thought about, and while I didn’t present it as “this is how it is” I don’t remember him having any objections to anything I proposed. At some point during the conversation we decided it would be cool to put a teaser online to go ahead and start gaining some hype while I wrote the scripts, built the website, started the social presence and attempted to sell us to potential advertisers. We ran over to the studio, I moved Shannon in front of the green screen, set the lights up, set the camera up, focused and…

…realized we didn’t have a name for the show yet. We didn’t even have a name for Shannon’s character. So there in the studio, lights on, camera focused, we started brainstorming ideas. We couldn’t think of anything cool for Shannon’s name that wasn’t stupid but I remembered that Shannon’s screen name on Myspace (if that doesn’t date us, nothing does) was Shannon “The Cinema Warrior”, which I thought was pretty cool already. Since he was sort-of a local celebrity just because he was a distinctive character in the best record store in town, why not capitalize on that? And as for the character — why not just play himself? Shannon was already a freak for all things horror and he had an endless supply of witty comments and puns to throw at seemingly any film you could ever think of. Shannon The Cinema Warrior was our host now for a show that still didn’t have a name. 

Mid-brainstorm I heard our door slam shut, which was odd because it was very late and we were the only ones there that night, followed by a grizzly shout of IS THAT GILBERT GODDAMNED GOTTFRIED ON SET? Patrik had come to visit us, bringing some CDs and a t-shirt I had ordered a few weeks prior. We told him what we were doing and he immediately started helping us come up with a name. In the end, as lame as it sounds, we landed on Saturday Night Grindhouse simply because I said out loud that it was going to be a double-feature horror show, kind of like an old grindhouse feature, and answered “Saturday night,” in response to a question about when we were planning to air our show weekly. It worked, so it stuck. 

With a name and a show title, but no script, I hit the record button and told Shannon to go for it.

WHOOO! Do you like science fiction? Do you like horror movies? Tune in, Saturday nights! Nine o’clock!  Saturday Night Grindhouse! Science fiction, madmen, horrors, cannibals, zombies, cemeteries, space madmen! Tune in and lose your mind!

I’m pretty sure we called it a wrap after Shannon’s first take, Ed Wood style. We made up that last line while trying to think of a cool catchphrase that could be ours and when I watched Shannon through my viewfinder with his arms out growling those six words through gritted teeth, I knew we had something special. 

Tune in … and lose your mind! I still get goosebumps!

Immediately after wrapping, Shannon and I went to the edit bay and captured our footage into Final Cut and began cutting the first promo. We decided to desaturate everything and make the whole show monochrome since everything we’d be airing would be, too. This worked out to our advantage for a few reasons:

First of all, at the time, when I was doing a chroma key in Final Cut, I would sometimes drop an image onto my timeline that I potentially didn’t even plan on using just so I could tell how my key was working on my green screen footage. I picked a random photo of some trees near the lake that was on our desktop and once desaturated, it appeared foggy and quiet – menacingly so. I did the main key on Shannon and he looked great on that background so we decided to keep it. 

Another way the desaturation helped: one of my favorite parts of our look was how scratchy the footage looks around the edges. There’s a hint of a twitchy vignette that surrounds Shannon that’s almost unnerving. We played it off as something that was done intentionally to give us another level of creepiness, but the reality is that it was just a bad key. My lights weren’t set up correctly in the studio so there were quite a few shadows on the green screen. While I was able to key most of it out, there were several problematic areas that remained and I was too lazy to clean them up properly in post. Thankfully they looked as cool as they did in black and white because in color it looked amateur and half-assed. You can really see the difference when I fade out Shannon’s part and leave the background for the logo and time slot.

I pulled a fairly calm track off of one of the albums Patrik brought — Mannequin Hollowcaust’s The Word Made Flesh – and let it be the soundtrack. I needed a logo to go at the tail and I would create that the next day. “Starting in March on Mytown Channel 16” read the bottom of the screen. It was less than a week later before we were airing our promo throughout the day and night. I think this was close to a month before we were ever actually planning to air anything. 

With the show having a promo on the air and a tentative date being broadcast to televisions all over town, we were both very excited but I was already starting to get overwhelmed with all the work that still needed to be done. In the next few weeks I would spend every minute of my free time writing out two scripts, ripping movies to air, creating on-screen graphics, building a website, giving us a YouTube channel and MySpace presence and thinking of creative marketing ideas.

Easy. Right?

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