Crawling From the Wreckage: Tape #779

Commander USA's Groovie Movies
Doctor Dracula (1978)
2 hours, 1989, USA Network w/ads

The movie on this tape is not important. In fact, I was seriously toying with just throwing away Tape #779 because I had no interest in keeping Al Adamson's Doctor Dracula in my collection, and absolutely no attempt to even look up the film for potential DVD purchase had been considered on my part. Certainly the film is such a trainwreck that there is a certain fascination regarding it, as there is with most truly pathetic films, and I will own up that this is why it is in my collection. But paying money for it? Unless there were something else built around it to make it worthwhile, like on an Elvira or MST3K disc, I doubt that I would.

But while I was going through my tapes, I started to wonder why I taped Doctor Dracula in the first place. It was so long ago, and such a while since I had watched Tape #779, that I had quite forgotten its origins. And then I started to wonder if perhaps I might have another old Elvira show on my hands, when I thought that I only had one such film in my collection. I popped the tape in for the first time in perhaps fifteen years or so, and was surprised to find out that it was indeed recorded off of a hosted bad-movie series. Just not the one that I expected.

Somewhere in those fifteen-plus years, I had erased all memory of Commander USA's Groovie Movies from my memories. Granted, I only saw the show a couple of times, but I am usually pretty good at recalling these things. I have the sort of mind that allows me to remember networks, air-days and even time slots for shows I didn't even watch growing up. As a kid, I turned into a walking TV Guide (or at least, the Anchorage Times/Daily News version of it, since TV Guide was not sold in Alaska in those days -- they wouldn't produce a version for our time zone, limited in population as it was), and I could recount nearly any time schedule anytime anyone asked. It was a lousy, accidental talent, and it did not make the leap to the cable age. Nowadays, I don't know when anything is on, but I can still remember all the crap from my youth. And from my twenties as well, including watching junk movie shows on basic cable. But, apparently, not Commander USA's Groovie Movies. At least, until last week...

There are places on the 'Nets where you can find more information on the good ol' Commander, but here's the gist: Commander USA was played by Jim Hendricks from 1985 to 1989 on the USA Network, most often on Saturday mornings, and he hosted an unending stream of the type of movies one is used to seeing if one is predisposed to tuning into shows like Commander USA's Groovie Movies. That sort of person would be me, but apparently I didn't watch him enough, because I actually recall very little of the show. Even watching the Doctor Dracula tape only brought back fleeting memories of seeing a couple of other shows, one of which I believed involved some sort of oddball talent contest.

This particular episode involves the Commander coming up against the supposedly stern Civilion (sic) Review Board, or the CRB as the Commander refers to them. A sign on the inside of the door that leads into the Commander's command center, which is supposedly mired in the basement of a shopping mall, reads "CRB Day" (which extends, in a minor and satirical way, the tradition of themed days on special "club" shows, much in the manner of the Mouseketeers and their "Circus Day" on Thursdays, etc...) After a good deal of cigar-chomping and a handful of quick barbs regarding tax deductions in the superhero, Commander USA introduces us to the CRB, a disparate lot, seemingly made up of characters inspired simply from whatever costume (or lack of) the people playing the characters happened to have laying around. Without going into all of their names, in addition to women playing, respectively, a Greenwich Village artist and a soccer coach, we also meet The Black Whip, a black-clad, cowgirl type with, naturally, a whip; the Alligator Man, a normal guy except for sporting a ridiculous plush gator head, probably won at a particularly cheap carnival game; Jack Sajak, host of TV's "Wheel of Wealth"; and finally, Jason -- yes, Jason... a guy in a hockey mask sporting a neat sport jacket and a huge plastic axe, with which he will torment a bowl of chips over and over through the broadcast any time he is called upon to throw in his two cents.

The Commander uses a slide whistle to get his "Tele-Psychotronic Screen Heat Radiation Shield" open, and when it rattles rather shakily to reveal the movie screen, he exclaims "Holy Cats! I'm gonna have get that tubular guidance system greased pretty quick!" The Commander then gives us a quick preview of Doctor Dracula, the best part of which is when he shows the scene of the nightclub dancer dressed as a butterfly, and shouts "Holy Cats! Imagine what she looked like in her pupae stage!" The Commander, New Jersey tough guy all the way, is not one to shy away from a good dirty suggestion. Later on, once the vampiric dealings begin in the film, the Commander will spend his breakaway moments recreating such scenes from the movie with one of his favorite props, a blow-up love doll. Saturday mornings, yes. Silly, kid show-style set-up and superhero antics, yes. Not necessarily kid stuff though.

Still, it's all fairly harmless, and I did sit through Doctor Dracula again, although I mostly ended up waiting impatiently for the Commander to pop up again. When he sometimes wouldn't pop back up going into a commercial, I found myself rather disappointed. While it is in no way a polished entertainment, there was enough of a humorous tinge -- and features a committed, smooth and rather grittily endearing performance by Hendricks as the Commander -- to make me sad that I didn't watch the show more in those late '80s days. Or at least tape a few more episodes for posterity. Who knows, maybe somewhere in this stack of boxes of old videotapes, I have a couple more episodes that I have forgotten to label properly. It happened this time, it could happen again.

[Also on Tape #779: a haggard copy of Hammer's Dracula Has Risen From the Grave with Christopher Lee, which I have since gained on DVD, and a couple hours of old MGM and Warner Bros. cartoons from off of TNT back when they used to run them throughout the night, each and every night. It includes MGM's Abdul the Bulbul Ameer, so now I have that ancient song (with a slightly different title) running through my skull again. Sometimes, looking back is a dangerous thing. You can get earworms...]


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