“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.
Folklore and urban legends have a verisimilitude no found footage movie or false document fiction could ever match, because we receive them from real people in the real, everyday world. A novel or film might be a window into another place or time, but the reader or viewer is aware they could close the window whenever they like. Even a true crime book or documentary offers that solace.
But when we’re told a true (or allegedly true) frightening tale in person, we’re not peering at a rectangle of printed words or projected light. We’re surrounded by material things that we can see and hear and touch – often our day-to-day surroundings. You can’t close the book against an escaped madman or vanishing hitchhiker because it “exists” in the real world that we inhabit and is placed in the context of daily life.
I don’t remember how or why I started hanging around with Kevin Tanner, but I remember we bonded over stories of Bigfoot, flying saucers, and psychic premonitions of the Titanic sinking. Kevin and his gift for storytelling are central to one of the most cringe-inducing memories of my childhood.