“WORLD TELEVISION PREMIERE” was a familiar and sometimes exciting phrase for kids in the early 1980s. It meant that you were going to watch a big budget, smash-hit Hollywood movie at home. Unless you had one of the four – FOUR! – premium stations, there were two ways to watch recent popular movies: You could go to the theater, or you could catch one on sychronous broadcast TV. I have a hazy memory of watching Mark Hamill introduce Star Wars on a little black and white set in my room as a preschooler. At the time it was kind of a big deal.
VCRs became available in affordable consumer models in the mid-1970s, but it took about 10 years for them to catch on. No one we knew had one until my folks bought one in 1985, right smack in the middle of the format war and the golden age of the local video shop. Overnight, it seemed like everyone else got one too.
Rod Serling’s immortal gift to mankind, The Twilight Zone, will forever reign as the king of television horror-SF anthologies. It will never be excelled. Zone had worthy contemporaries, too. The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents rightfully have taken their places among the legendary, One Step Beyond was available on Hulu for a while, and the Boris Karloff-hosted Thriller was, until a couple years ago, airing late at night on one of the OTA subchannels.
That the bar for excellence was set so high so early did not deter later generations of TV producers, directors, showrunners, and writers. Many in the years since have striven to create their own unforgettable horror anthologies, and many indeed have succeeded. Every decade has its own standouts in the genre. Serling himself reloaded in the 1970s with Night Gallery, and people a bit younger than myself still speak affectionately of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? I’m confident that today there are thousands of American and British kids, mostly in their teens but a few maybe a bit younger, who turn off every light in the house before watching Black Mirror in deep, intent silence.
This blog at this stage however is concerned with the 1980s. We had our anthologies then too, and they were nothing to sneeze at. About the same time that I was struggling to find and later enjoying the finer titles in Tyler Elementary School’s library, I was also seeking every opportunity to be terrorized by television.
No, Disney wasn’t always a behemoth. Disney, of course, used to be an actual person, a living, breathing artist who might have had some weird ideas about civil society, but was a bona fide creative genius who on occasion elevated animation to high art. Fantasia is one of those Disney films. Although Walt Disney didn’t direct any of Fantasia‘s eight segments, it was his idea to create a feature-length anthology of non-comedic animated shorts that would depict fantasies inspired by and set to great works of classical music, with the animation accompanying the music – not the other way around. It was like the 1940 equivalent of Heavy Metal or maybe Laser Floyd. My point is, for a variety of reasons, I think it’s safe to say this is a film that would not get made today. Disney used to push artistic and social boundaries.
My parents took me to see Fantasia during its 1982 theatrical run. I was three years old. I don’t remember where we saw it and neither does my Dad, though he suspects it was the then-giant seven-screen cineplex by the freeway. I have a fragmentary memory of passing a building with big, cuckoo-clock style figures over the door, which would indicate a downtown theater somewhere, but I might be conflating my memory of Fantasia with the Festhaus at Kings Island. I do remember the red curtain around the stage and the pink light cast on the screen as we waited and waited and waited for the movie to start. Dad hated to go to anything with a scheduled start time without arriving at least an hour early.