My friend Paul from the new and improved Wrestlecrap shot me a tip about this one. Thank you, Paul! You made my week.
I’m not going to dig up the half-broken old article, but back in 2005, I wrote about my experiences with the Freddy Krueger hotline. It was just one of the many 900 numbers from the late ’80s that had something to do with scaring children. I wasn’t seriously into Freddy at that point, and dialing his number was mostly a case of my curiosity getting the better of me.
I can’t remember the exact details of Freddy’s message, but I clearly remember the details of that night.
I was young. My parents were out of town. My sister was supposed to be watching me, but she’d gotten into a tremendous battle with her then-boyfriend, and spent the evening hours locked in her bedroom.
Left to my own devices, I made the huge mistake of calling Freddy Krueger. The damn commercial kept coming on, and I just couldn’t resist forever. I doubt I allowed myself more than five minutes before hanging up, but that was all it took to make it “that kind” of a night. Suddenly, I was petrified of everything. Every creak, every shadow. Of course, it didn’t help that there was a television special about the Elm Street movies on at the time. I would’ve turned it off, but God knows what sorts of monsters might’ve grabbed me as I walked across the living room to fetch the remote.
The night ended with me falling asleep under a crude blanket tent. It sounds miserable, but it was actually kind of exciting. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but the fear was exhilarating, and at core, perfectly safe. The thrill of horror movies works similarly to roller coasters, and I got the same jollies from listening to Freddy Krueger babble on at 35 cents a minute.
But Freddy wasn’t the only one with a spooky hotline back then…
I don’t recall seeing this Creep Phone ad back in 1988, but man, I can so imagine what my reaction would’ve been. Absolute motherfucking FEAR.
Look, Freddy was one thing. I hadn’t fully embraced him, but I’d been through enough shoddy Halloween makeup kits to know that he was “scary with an asterisk.” This Creep Phone thing was something far, far different.
Some of you will immediately recognize the clips used in the ad, but let’s put that aside for a minute. In 1988, I would’ve had no idea what those clips were from. I would’ve assumed that the people behind the hotline built ugly puppets for a custom shoot. For unknown reasons, that makes the visuals a thousand times scarier.
Watch the ad through the eyes of a nine-year-old, and take it at face value. OH GOD, THE MONSTERS. Cheesy as they seem now, those demons would’ve left me more than a little unsettled. They look like blackly religious devil paintings come to life. It’s like we went to Hell but didn’t yet know it was Hell, and blindly followed the “MUPPETS THIS WAY” sign.
All of the clips are from Troll, but I wouldn’t have known that in 1988. Some things aren’t scary so much for what they are, but for the mood they set. Even if you don’t find these creatures particularly fear-inducing, they still would’ve put baaad things in my head.
What was that noise? Was it the dog nosing through our trash, or was it an impish fish monster gathering our biggest steak knives?
It’s all about setting the scene. Had I seen this commercial in the daytime, it might’ve rolled off my back. But I’m picturing it more as a “two in the morning” thing. I’m in bed. The lights are off. Everyone else is sleeping. I should be, too. Instead, I’m watching bad television with the volume down. In that version of the story, seeing this Creep Phone ad would’ve killed me. I’d fake a fever just for the excuse to wake everyone up.
There were many 900 numbers with flavors similar to Creep Phone. Since I only ever called one of them, most of my screwy memories only have to do with their TV commercials. They were so creepy. Even the ones that weren’t supposed to be creepy were creepy. It was the unholy threesome of ominous voiceovers, low grade special effects, and background drones that seemed to hint at approaching wraiths. These ads got me every time.
Strangely enough, I miss them.
900 numbers aren’t yet things of the past , but they’re getting there. It was always a silly concept, but these hotlines are a pretty tough sell in today’s world, where so much constant (and free) entertainment is served up on devices of all shapes and sizes.
With that in mind, it occurred to me that I might have some readers too young to even wrap their heads around the concept. This next thing is for them:
If you can’t grasp how these hotlines worked, I dummied one up for you. I’m generally numb to the stupid things I create for this website, but this time, even I can’t believe I did this.
Dinosaur Dracula’s Scary Mary Hotline!
Give it a listen below, and you best believe that those spooky old 900 numbers sounded nearly exactly like this. I don’t think I need hard evidence or even adequate personal experience to say that this is true.
I had a ridiculous amount of fun building that MP3. May it be another of the exhibits paraded in court when it comes time to have me forcibly committed.