Cinebeats is celebrating its one year anniversary this month so I thought I would write about two men who changed my life and got me hooked on movies, my dad and the Bay Area horror host Bob Wilkins.
If you’ve read my brief About Me bio, you may have noticed that I talk about my father a lot. My dad is responsible for turning me into a cinema junkie. He loved movies and passed that love on to me when I was just a very young and impressionable kid. What I haven’t mentioned is that my dad and I didn’t have much time together because his life was cut short by a drunk driver when I was only eight years old.
Eight years may not seem very long, but by the time I was eight I already knew most of names of the major stars in Universal and Hammer horror films thanks to my dad. He also taught me to appreciate great TV shows like The Avengers, the original Star Trek and The Wild Wild West, which he watched religiously. We saw many classic monster movies, disaster flicks and low-budget science fiction films together at the local drive-in and on our tiny black & white TV at home.
After my dad was killed unexpectedly my world turned upside down. My mom moved my younger brother and myself to the San Francisco Bay Area to be near her family and I didn’t have anyone to watch horror movies with me anymore. I desperately missed having my dad sitting next to me on our couch in front of the TV every Saturday. He used to be able to answer any question I had about how to kill a vampire or a werewolf, and he loved making jokes while the movies were on so we would laugh together a lot at the bad makeup or terrible acting found in some low-budget films. He was also there to hold my hand if I got too frightened by a movie and tell me everything would be fine and that the horror on the screen was all just “movie magic.”
After my father died, the films I loved watching took on new meaning for me and for a short while I was too frightened by the very real horrors I had experienced to enjoy the scary movies I had grown to love.
That all changed when I discovered Bob Wilkins’ fantastic Creature Features show on television. Bob Wilkins was the Bay Area’s premiere horror host in the seventies and he had a great sense of humor about the movies he showed. He played lots of terrific films, but he also played lots of terribly fun B-movies and he often opened his show by reminding viewers that there were probably better movies being shown on other channels.
In some ways watching movies with Bob Wilkins was almost like watching them with my dad. Unlike many other horror hosts Bob didn’t dress-up in any costumes and he would casually sit in his rocking chair smoking a huge cigar while cracking lots of jokes about the movies he was playing. Bob couldn’t hold my hand when the movies got really scary, but I could rely on him to make me giggle during the next commercial break and remind me that I was only watching “movie magic.”
Bob’s Creature Feature show had one of the best theme songs ever that ended with the great line, “The creature’s gonna get ya tonight!” which somehow manged to scare me silly when I was a kid. The song was really funky and very ’70s, and you can enjoy it yourself by checking out the original Creature Features opening, which Bob posted himself on Youtube:
With Bob wilkins as my guide I was introduced to some terrific films and low-budget B-movies. Some of the movies shown on Creature Features included Night of the Living Dead (1968), Godzilla vs. Mothra (1964), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Homicidal (1961), The Amazing Colossal Man (1957), Village of the Giants (1965), Mark of the Devil (1970), She (1965) and lots of other Hammer and Universal horror films.
Bob Wilkins taught me that no matter how bad a movie was, you could still find things to enjoy about it. At the very least, the worst movies he showed were often filled with lots of unintentional laughs that he seemed to enjoy pointing out. His way of looking at low-budget films helped shape the way I saw them and he made me appreciate movies that most film critics would probably find intolerable.
On Creature Features Bob often interviewed great celebrity guests like Christopher Lee, Ray Harryhausen, George Romero, Leonard Nimoy and Forest J. Ackerman. These interesting interviews with the people behind the movies and TV shows I loved gave me a whole new appreciation for what I was watching. Thanks to Bob’s show I started understanding what directors did and how special effects worked. Creature Features was always lots of fun to watch, but I almost always learned something new from watching the show as well.
After the huge success of Star Wars, Bob Wilkins created the fantastic Captain Cosmic show in 1977, which I also watched regularly when I was a kid. On Captain Cosmic Bob would dress up in a poorly fitting superhero costume and introduce a parade of Japanese science fiction movies and television shows with his trusty Wonder Robot 2T2. Thanks to Captain Cosmic I was shown great shows like Ultraman, Johnny Sokko & His Flying Robot, Starblazers and Thunderbirds. You can watch the original opening of the Captain Cosmic show on YouTube which Bob has also posted:
Sadly for Bob Wilkins’ Bay Area fans, he decided to retire early and he left Creature Features and Captain Cosmic in 1979. The Captain Cosmic show came to an abrupt end, but John Stanley took over hosting duties for Creature Features until the show was finally canceled in 1984. I also really liked John Stanley and appreciated his own take on movies even though it was probably hard trying to fill Bob Wilkins’ big shoes. I continued to enjoy many great movies with John Stanley as my host.
The golden age of horror hosts may be over but they are remembered fondly by fans like myself who grew up with them and were introduced to countless movies thanks to their entertaining shows.
While Cinebeats will be celebrating its first birthday this month, Bob Wilkins will be celebrating his 75th Birthday On April 11th and his family and friends are asking for his fans to send in their Birthday Wishes. Bob’s health has deteriorated due to Alzheimer’s disease, but he still attends fan gatherings whenever he can.
It’s safe to say that without Bob Wilkins and his terrific shows Creature Features and Captain Cosmic, I may have forgotten what movie magic was all about and Cinebeats would have never have been created. In some ways Bob unknowingly helped me work through my dad’s sudden death and he taught me to enjoy spooky movies all over again. Happy Birthday Bob!