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David Burke

For once, it was Chuck Acri's turn to be frightened.

Cameras were about ready to roll for the taping of this weekend's first episode in the revival of the "Acri Creature Feature," a mainstay on Quad-City television from 1968 to 1980. And Acri, the show's host and namesake, was nervous about going in front of the cameras again.

"I haven't done this in 25 years. I've just gotta get myself back into it," Acri, 66, said. "It's kind of like riding a bicycle, you know?"

At midnight Saturday — his time slot for a dozen years on WQAD-TV — Acri returns, but this time on KLJB-TV. Now, as then, the show combines an old horror movie ("Devil Bat," a 1940 thriller with Bela Lugosi, will be shown this weekend) with slapstick from a ghoulish cast of characters and pitches by Acri for his Milan, Ill.-based siding, window and door business. Although the first 13 weeks will feature clips from the old "Creature Feature" days, one thing is changing: Acri's also added remodeling services and sunroom construction.

Bringing back "Creature Feature" was a good way to sell those, said Acri, who retired from the company last year but is still involved in its operations.

"Many of my sales reps have been told by their prospects, ‘Is he still alive?' " Acri said with a chuckle. "So I thought I'd use the line from Mark Twain … ‘Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.' "

The notoriety of the "Acri Creature Feature" spread well beyond the Quad-Cities. During its run, it also was seen in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Peoria, Rockford and Springfield, Ill.

"We were about as well-known in those markets as we were here," he said. "I had ‘Creature Feature' fan clubs all over, at the University of Iowa and all the universities. It was a big thing with the college kids."

Acri and his cast — Vincent the vampire, Emmett the hunchback, Beauregard the werewolf, Bertie the maid and a caveman called the Missing Link — were regulars in the area, riding their hot rod in parades and playing charity softball games.

John Bain, program manager at KLJB, fondly remembers the excitement of seeing the characters at personal appearances as well as late Saturday nights in front of the TV.

"When our parents and grandparents would be off playing cards on Saturday night, we'd be watching ‘Creature Feature,' " he said.

After Acri's supply of vintage clips runs out in about 13 weeks, he'll be looking for new talent to fill the roles. WQAD camera operators doubled as the cast during the show's early days, with others easily recruited for the job, Acri said.

Acri hopes to attract a new generation to the horror movies, as well as bringing back the people who remember "Creature Feature" as part of their childhood, squarely targeting the baby boomers.

"Those were kids at the time I was doing this show," he said. "Now, they're homeowners. They've got their own kids and they've got some money to spend.

"These people are all in their 40s and 50s now. Maybe I'll give a bottle of Geritol away."

Acri calls the revival of "Creature Feature" an anomoly, and Bain agreed.

"In this day when there's so much of television that's the same, this has got some local orientation to it," Bain said. "This is a way of doing something that's not the same as you'll find on 50 other channels."

Acri — who remembers his only on-air controversy as getting letters from irate Sunday school teachers saying their young students were falling asleep in class — acknowledged major changes in entertainment, technology and his audience since he last signed off on "Creature Feature."

"It was a gentler time in our society. I don't know if this is going to be entertaining enough to hold them," he said. "I was on before cable television. It was either me or nothing. Everybody else was off the air at that time of day."

David Burke can be contacted at (563) 383-2400 or dburke@qctimes.com.

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