Thursday, 22 October 2015

Countdown to Halloween: Terror Towers

I seem to have accidentally turned my 2015 Countdown to Halloween into 'Halloween in the U.K.' so in keeping with that, here's something else UK-centric related to horror. 

I should think I can go out on a limb here and say that Fun House is one for the most fondly remembered… things for my generation of Limey children, even though the presenter (Pat Sharp) needed a good square kicking. Fun House ran for an amazing 11 seasons from 1989 to 1999 and was CiTV viewing gold (I always liked the game where they tore apart a large bedroom looking for stuff) BUT did you know that for three years of its run (1994-1996 respectively) there was a far better alternative to Fun House on a Wednesday afternoon (Fun House was on…Fridays I think)? At least it was better if you liked horror-themed crap and references to The Who – and you know what, I really fucking do – so are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s enter Terror Towers.

TT is similar to another superb game show The Crystal Maze (and thus, I guess, it’s spiritual successor Fort Boyard, which isn’t re-run anymore because Dirty Den was doing live sex shows or some shit, like what ancient soap stars do on the internet is relevant to anything). All of the games the kids had to win/endure were set in one location (a haunted house) and were, thematically, meant to be rooms within it, just like the Crystal Maze and less so, the Fun House (which was obviously on-set and not supposed to be a real place, unlike Terror Towers or The Crystal Maze, or Fort Boyard - which IS a real place). The whole thing was hosted by a Blackula-in-training played by some bloke called Steve Johnson and his obvious puppet Boris the Spider who was awesome, a working class gruff-voiced arachnid who did not two fucks give, both of whom hammed it up like all hell (apparently Kimberley Frickleton co-hosted during the show’s final year, and is, going by her name, either a porn star or an elderly amateur sleuth, but I have no recollection of ever seeing her). The teams played for eyeballs (just like the Crystal Maze teams played for Crystals), I so wanted the eyeballs - in fact I wanted the whole Boris Bag (imagine if that came on eBay!) which was the runners up prize and included eyeballs. Two teams of two kids (presumably) volunteered to be on the show  and pretended to play along while sniggering under their breath and possibly whispering ‘he thinks it’s real’ when Steve’s back was turned – fuck you children, I thought it was real, of course I was 7.

First things first, the theme tune, which mercifully is an instrumental but a weird one – there’s striking cords, a kind of wind noise running through but with this toe tapping, hand clapping thing that makes being trapped forever in a haunted mansion sound like a bit like a jolly square dance with Ronald McDonald, or like the Addams Family tune – yeah. That said I like it, it feels like it’s building as you ‘approach’ the towers, you could certainly play it at a Halloween party (in fact I just may next time I host one) and is matched well by the intro visuals – oh yeah can we just shit our knickers a little over those for a sec? Effective (or affective) does not cover it, there’s old women ghosts, a tree that comes alive, an angel statute that becomes a demon (you know I always thought it was supposed to be Steve the Vampire, maybe it IS his face, anyone know?) and finally the house itself becomes a face ready to eat you pathetic children in what I’m loathe to call stop-frame animation (if it just has two frames, does it still count?), this shit was on at tea-time (well a bit before I think, about 4:30). So the intro gets a pass, onto the show itself.

This was just a part of the opening credits
On at tea time on Wednesdays...
I really wanted to go on Terror Tower as a 7-year old, I wanted to go on Fun House my entire childhood yes, mostly so I could drive one of them sweet go-carts, but I’ve never wanted to go on a programme as much as I wanted to go on Terror Towers. Never applied, never even knew how to, anyway I was a fat little ball of social awkwardness and they do not make good Stinky Sink divers, watching this episode again though…I still really want a go! Oh, the observational quizzes, I’d forgotten about these; those I don’t want to have a go of. The teams had to remember facts about some random shit, some of which were horror themed, but not enough (this episode includes a scrubbing brush made in Lancashire and a bicycle repair kit, maybe it’s for repairing, I dunno, Stay Puft Tires?). They’re harmless enough and I like the incidental music but they always felt like they were just preventing me from that I really wanted to watch – horror themed Fun House. Cos the Haunted Rooms (for that is the proper name for the games) were all pretty slick. The episode I stole off YouTube has five ‘Rooms in the following order – The Shrinking Room, Boris’ Tower, Creepy Corridors, The Nightmare Room and the Stinky Sink (the finale) representing a library, tower, basement, master bedroom and bathroom respectively.

You can get a pretty good run-down of how the games work at the programme’s page at but if you can’t be arsed to load another page; access to three of the Rooms (Shrinking Room, Tower & Nightmare Room in this episode) is determined by the observational quizzes, the team who won that round could choose to go in themselves or send in the opposite team, the Creepy Corridors is mandatory for both teams and theoretically can allow the loosing duo to catch up or even take the lead eyeballs-wise. The Stinky Sink was the final game for the winners where a pair of eyes meant a prize (you had to fish 8 eyeballs out of a gunge bowl shaped like a sink, for every matching pair of eye colours you won something). All the games boil down to having to complete something (a puzzle, a maze, a set of eyeballs…) while environmental hazards (moving walls, wind, gunge…), oh and usually the room’s resident spirit (or Boris) has laid the first piece already. The Shrinking Room has walls that will shoot in to bollocks up whatever the kids have to do, it’s my favourite room - I could just sit in it watching the walls go back and forth. Boris’ Tower (which I’d forgotten all about but remembered instantly and had a nostalgic sensory overload, I could taste Birdseye Potato Waffles and Tesco’s Own red sauce) was just those rope nets you get at soft play areas, but web shaped. Originally there was also a big fan blowing shit everywhere but tells me that this was removed after the first season (health and safety no doubt, can’t have the kids being chopped into bits, that’d be…horrific) which means I’m watching a season 1 episode – cool; The Nightmare Room is probably the worst looking in terms of set/atmosphere and shook like one of those Earthquake simulator things, knocking whatever the kids were doing over, BUT  had a cool gimmick of not just being set on a ceiling (so the chandelier ‘hangs’ upwards etc) but the first few seconds were filmed the right way up, so it looked like the kids entered onto the roof. Creep Corridors meanwhile would probably be the most frightening to actually partake in (unless you have an irrational fear of plastic eyeballs), it involved a maze barely a child wide that had to be navigated blindfolded via the shouts of your comrade (how did they choose who went down there? Hair pulling I’d assume), I would have had a panic attack in seconds, one of the many reasons my desire to go on the show was pointless but still! There, consider yourself informed.

I cannot stress enough, not enough, never enough, do you get it? Not enough - The set, design and lighting really make/made this show, imagine if Fritz Lang designed a soft play area for Disneyland, everything is off kilter, all the backgrounds are at angles, everything is lit in greens and purples or lost in shadow, smoke machines are on and everything is just so damned atmospheric – creepy but not uninviting, the sort of place you’d want to go to and enjoy being scared in, not fear being locked in forever - a lot of this effort goes into the ‘rest of the house’ where the between game scenes took place but the Shrinking Room, Stinky Sink and the Creepy Corridors all stand up well in terms of set design, the Stinky Sink used to fuck me up as a kid and now I’ve figure out why – the set goes all the way off camera, giving the impression of this huge sink in room that goes up and down forever, endless rooms panic me, I still want a go though.

The kids in this episode do pretty well, they get three out of four sets of eyeballs (look, by the way, at the SIZE of those eyeballs they fish out, why don’t they make eyeballs that size for sale in shops? I would buy multiples, stupid everyone) but the prizes are pretty pedestrian mid-90’s crap – in-line skates *yawn*, a keyboard *urgh*, a Sega Game Gear with Ecco the Dolphin…wait, what? These little bastards won a Game Gear? With Ecco? I could have gone on the coolest game show of the decade and won a fucking Game Gear? But…but…but that just makes me even sadder that I never applied for it, and never knew how to, and wouldn’t have stood a chance of getting on, and could only watch in envious glee as annoyingly nondescript children got to play in the big cool scary fun house – you’re all dick; apparently Art Attack’s Neil Buchanan was one of the brains behind this show, he’s a dick too, and so is his dickish red jumper, I want a time machine and a shitload of Slim Fast, stop being a dick and give them to me Buchanan, surely you can make a Time Machine out of papier-mâché and poster paint, you used to make giant pictures out of electric cables and shit.

So yes, Terror Tower – a great memory, and a pretty snazzy show still – some of Steve the Vampire’s lines can be a little teeth grinding (none of Boris’ are though, I’d like to add, because Boris is the shit) and the kids have the personality of dishcloths, but I’d rather a dishcloth than Honey Boo-Boo (and what was up with all the brackets in this post?).  

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