Happy Anniversary to The Texas Twenty-Seven Film Vault, one of the pre-MST3K Movie Host shows. Yes it was Saturday night February 9th, 1985 that this program debuted in Dallas, Texas, in the same studio that would later be used for Joe Bob’s Drive-In. Here is an encore presentation of my EXCLUSIVE 2011 interview with Randy Clower, one of The Texas Twenty-Seven Film Vault‘s co-creators and co-hosts.
Before MST3K there was THE TEXAS 27 FILM VAULT! Before Joel and Mike lovers of bad movies had Randy and Richard! Before Pearl there was Laurie Savino! Before Devil Dogs, Observers and Deep 13 there came Cellumites, giant rats and Level 31.
In the mid 1980s The Texas 27 Film Vault was the show to watch on Saturday nights for wry mockery of Golden Turkeys preceded by episodes of vintage Republic Serials like Radar Men From The Moon and Canadian Mounties vs Atomic Invaders.
The Texas 27 Film Vault is one of the great unsung Movie Host shows of the 1980s and I was thrilled to get this exclusive interview with Randy Clower, co-star and co-creator of this legendary cult show from the Dallas/ Fort Worth area. “The Film Vault Guys” as they were often called by us fans, or “Vaulties”, established the pattern that a few other Movie Hosts have since followed.
Clower, Richard Malmos and their friend Ken Miller put together a Public Access television show called The Trivia Guys and in a classic story of talent over budget the trio crafted the program with such care and detail it became a minor hit. The program had a very professional look for a Public Access production and its success prompted a PM Magazine feature on The Trivia Guys.
Management at Dallas television station KDFI, Channel 27 ( the “27” in The Texas 27 Film Vault ) saw the PM Magazine feature and were impressed with the high- dollar look that Clower, Malmos and Miller had put together on a flyweight budget. They approached the trio about hosting a late-night B-Movie show since the Dallas/ Ft Worth area had been without its own home- grown version of that local tv staple since the days of Greg Bransom’s show Professor Cerberus and the Museum of Horrors.
Warming to the idea, the soon-to-be Film Vault Guys decided that vampires, mad scientists and creepy castles had been done ad nauseum in Movie Host shows by then and ingeniously went in a different direction. Thus was born the Film Vault Corps, a fictional quasi- military organization that protected America’s schlock- culture heritage by safeguarding the bad, campy but loveable cinematic turkeys of the past. The men and women of the FVC carried out this task in various Film Vaults under every major city in the United States.
These vaults were each the size of aircraft carriers and stored all the super- annuated movies that the local channels filled their late-night hours with. Randy, Richard, Ken ( who was the show’s production designer and who played the character “Tex” on the show) and their brethren risked their lives fighting off giant rats, worm-like cellumites and other menaces that lurked beneath America’s unsuspecting cities.
Of course, all of this backstory was just the excuse to show various Golden Turkeys from the past, with commentary by Randy and Richard, who also had comedic sci-fi adventures before and after commercial breaks or conducted interviews with figures like Vincent Price, George “Commando Cody” Wallace and others. The genius of the Film Vault premise permitted the Film Vault Technicians First Class to air several films outside of the usual “horror and sci fi” boundaries of many other Movie Host shows.
Randy, Richard and Ken were joined by blossoming special effects man Joe Riley (later famous for the cult tv show titled The Hypnotic Eye) and later by Greg Bransom, Professor Cerberus himself, who was still working in Dallas television and became the producer for The Texas 27 Film Vault (hereafter T27FV). The Film Vault Guys owned part of Texas and Oklahoma in the mid-1980’s and built a very devoted fan following, many of whom swamped Randy and Richard when the duo appeared in their usual Film Vault Corps jumpsuits and hardhats (Years before MST3K!) at a promotional screening of the 1986 remake of The Fly.
Clower and his colleagues rode the success of T27FV for awhile, often flirting with syndication deals that always fell through for one reason or another, and finally, flooded with job offers in their respective fields of entertainment, they all shut down the Film Vault (or at least the one underneath Dallas) and went their separate ways. The T27FV magic was broadcast for the last time with an airing of Ghoulies, which was the final episode of this very inventive program that pioneered a new approach to Movie Hosting.
Special thanks to the late Elena Watson’s excellent 1991 book Television Horror Hosts and to Randy Clower’s own comments at E-Gors site horrorhosts.com for assistance with some of that background info. While other Movie Hosts of the past from around the country have gotten smothered in attention I’ve been waiting patiently for more stories on T27FV to emerge.
Finally tired of waiting I decided to just do it myself, so, considering myself an Honorary Film Vault Technician (I also consider myself the Fifth Beatle, the Second Gunman and The Son Martin Sheen Never Talks About ) I sought out Randy Clower for this interview. Randy was very cooperative and seems to have the same weird sense of humor I do, so I was tempted to title this piece Randy Clower: The Playboy Interview but decided against it.
BONUS TRIVIA NOTE: Joe Bob Briggs (John Bloom) himself has informed me that his 1980’s cable show Joe Bob’s Drive-In originated from the same studio where Randy and Richard did T27FV.
Randy and I sipped from snifters of brandy while our supermodel girlfriends sunbathed on the spacious patio of my villa in Rio, and thus the interview began with the kind of detail questions that dorks like myself obsess over:
Balladeer’s Blog: What exact night and time did T27FV air each week?
Randy Clower: Saturdays at 10:30pm. I can’t forget that. I remember shooting a promo for the movie we were doing that week and when I gave the day and time I shot Richard in the ear with my industrial Windex bottle. Might’ve punctured his eardrum, I dunno.
BB: And to settle this question once and for all what years was the program on?
RC: 1985 to 1987.
BB: Was the show two hours or two and a half with sketches?
RC: Two and a half.
BB: Do you remember the very first movie you showed on T27FV?
RC: I think we shot a pilot episode with an Audie Murphy movie! Forgot the name! It wasn’t always horror movies. In fact I think about half of the movies we showed were something other than horror yet we are thought of as “horror hosts”.
BB: For what it’s worth Balladeer’s Blog always uses the term Movie Hosts instead. Any stories to share on the origin of the enormous rat-like creatures the Film Vault Corps fought with machine guns and other weapons?
RC: Giant rats and such were from a deep, lifetime love of special effects, magic and stage effects. Ken and I were huge FX fans and wannabes. Ken was already working steadily in that field at the time. When a very young Joe Riley showed up things really got fun. We all were pretty well-versed in effects/ miniature prop work by then anyway. On almost every show you had at least four or five guys who could do some kind of effects or special prop work and do it very well! And we could do it with a hot glue gun and trash around the warehouse. It’s the main reason the show had the look it did for zero budget.
BB: Is the name “cellumites” for one of the species of monster the Film Vault Corps fought correct?
RC: Cellumites. Yep. That’s a real thing. A worm- like parasite that eats celluloid. Nasty looking puppet. Joe made that and we just stood there and looked at it with our mouths open. We knew we were in the presence of a Rob Botin or Stan Winston. Man, he was great!
BB: Outside of the Ghoulies finale, what were some of the other “final” movies you and Richard and the others showed on the program?
RC: Oh no! Early dementia! I don’t have any idea! It’s bad enough forgetting girlfriends from the past, but losing good ol’ Film Vault memories? Wotta drag!
BB: What is your favorite “Richard shows up a little tipsy” story?
RC: Damn! Every show! Just kidding! Richard’s “tipsy” is unlike all others. It was hilarious and fully functional. It was “Dean Martin” hip tipsy. I do remember a few shows where we both showed up after a substantial cocktail hour and spent the first hour basically blowing takes from laughing. There was a ton of laughter on that show. I think I had to wear a Conquistador outfit that same night for some crazy reason. Who knows?
BB: Could you give us a synopsis of one full week in T27FV production, from deciding which movie to run, sketches for the show, potential interviews, all the way up to broadcast?
RC: On Mondays or Tuesdays we would go to Channel 27 to watch the film and decide if we were going to do a simple “talk about and make fun of the movie” show or a “plot” show i.e. Richard quits and I talk him out of it or Randy ages or … well, you get the idea. Sitting and just ad- libbing about the movie was fun and easy but we usually saved that for the non- ratings periods. We liked to get as good a movie as possible and full plot for sweeps.
There was always a list of basic ideas that I kept in hand for the plots or one would present itself after watching the film for that week. Then, we’d go get whatever we needed as far as new props or materials to construct stuff if the idea called for it. The more complicated things like rat attacks were, of course, prepared weeks in advance. Rat puppets and flame-throwers took time even for meatball filmmakers. After all that, we’d get with our Channel 27 crew-buds and talk it out and finally just go for it. It truly was one of those rare projects where people were so in sync that it just seemed to magically come together effortlessly … for the most part.
BB: Aside from Vincent Price and George Wallace (Commando Cody) any other memorable interviews from the show?
RC: Ben Johnson. True cowboy. We also went out to his rodeo and interviewed a ton of people there, from Bob Eubanks to Denver Pyle. We went there to try and get Sam Elliott but I don’t remember if we ever did. That day is a blur.
BB: On a typical night, approximately how many viewers did T27FV have?
RC: I have no idea. Since it went all over north Texas and into Oklahoma it’s anyone’s guess.
BB: Approximately how many episodes did you do?
RC: Wow … Good question. 70? 80?
BB: Any outstanding anecdotes about your Film Vault days?
RC: Some episodes would be spurred by a single effect or prop we wanted to try. Squibs, for example. I just had to play with bullet hits that Ken now had access to because of his effects work. So, how do we work in squibs? Shooting us seemed a bit too serious in a normal comedy show. Hmmm … What to do? Easy! The ol’ dream sequence! Richard has a mid-life crisis of sorts thinking his life in the Vault has been a waste and we are being executed for wasting our lives.
We debated whether or not to have Richard wake up just as we “die” or to have us react to the sting of the squibs by complaining to the off-camera effects guys. We opted for the latter because dying ala Sam Peckinpah without a punch line seemed way too heavy. Same with one of my favorite shows, (featuring) It! The Terror From Beyond Space. I really wanted to try an Alien chest buster recreation, so when we were told we would be showing the original “alien loose on a spaceship” movie and partial inspiration for Alien we tried to find a way to work that in. The result was the Leadville Colorado Film Vault Academy Little Theatre Group, acting out scenes from famous alien movies. We had to run a disclaimer for that one because it did get bloody.
BB: In an appendix to the interview I would be happy to run a list of any of the other movies you remember showing.
RC: Whew! I’d have to look through the files and take some Ginkoba.
BB: What’s your favorite “Tex (Ken Miller) to the rescue” story?
RC: Easy. The one where my real life son, Jaron, plays me after I’m “youthened” Is that a word? – by Multiquixiphilene. My little boy is hanging out with his dad on a tv show set! One of the happiest moments of my life! Basically, Tex drives somewhere to get an antidote for MQ poisoning. Rexall, I guess.
BB: Every fan of your show is familiar with Ken Miller’s tragic suicide in 1988. Did any new information ever come to light on that?
RC: Nothing .Terrible, terrible day. A mystery and one of those things you keep thinking you should have seen coming. But twenty-four hours before he died he left a note on my door at home that was filled with upbeat, “today is the first day of the rest of my life” stuff. How would anyone get warning signs from such a positive display as that? I miss Ken every day.
BB: Any thoughts on Joe Riley’s post- Film Vault venture The Hypnotic Eye (television series) and the cult following it has garnered?
RC: I think this is the first I’ve heard of it … but remember, early dementia. (Balladeer’s Note: The Hypnotic Eye was a television show loaded with kitsch culture images and old tv commercials that bombarded the viewer in a seemingly random way that took on an artistic “Andy Warhol meets David Lynch” feel the longer you watched)
BB: How do you think the lives of the T27FV creative team would have been different if you had hooked up with more aggressive syndicators who had gotten you exposure outside of Texas and Oklahoma?
RC: We would’ve gotten rich, then blown it all spectacularly from riotous living.
BB: Care to end fan speculation on the identity of the radio host you mentioned in your comments at horrorhosts.com – the one who gave the Film Vault valuable publicity but whom you indicated you and Richard had a strained relationship with?
RC: Jim Zippo. Nice guy and his show DID have a huge impact on viewership for which I was grateful, but he just didn’t take the FV universe as seriously as I wanted. See, as silly as a huge aircraft- carrier sized film vault under each major American city is, we insisted on playing it as straight as possible. You don’t “wink wink” at the audience with your voice or mannerisms basically letting them know you think the proceedings are silly or fake … no matter how ludicrous it might have been! Basic Theater 101.
Jim helped the show, no doubt, I just wish he had agreed to wear Vault garb and play it up more. You know, we never actually appeared on camera with him either. If you watch the show, his segment was always shot solo. I don’t know why he wouldn’t appear with us.
BB: How much time passed between all of you deciding to end T27FV and the airing of the final episode?
RC: A few months I guess. My marriage was almost done and Richard was getting a lot of radio and voice work. Ken’s career was taking off in a big way. I was stuck in the job from hell. It’s weird but everybody was on the same page when it came to shutting it down. There was no discussion or controversy. We just knew we’d gone as far as we wanted to with the Film Vault for awhile.
We fully intended though, to bring it back and Richard really led the charge on trying to syndicate, etc. But by that time I had already started a great job, the one I still have as a matter of fact, and I didn’t really care one way or the other. Hey, I would’ve done it again in a heartbeat but nobody really lost any sleep over letting it go. But one thing I could never get enough of was working with “Ricardo” and I miss that all the time. As a bud and a performer we could just read each other perfectly. Every time we shot that show, between takes or in scenes, I would end up at least once choking and red-faced from laughter because of Richard. The guy is just good.
BB: What are you, Richard and Joe Riley doing these days?
RC: Richard is a voice talent in Los Angeles and I have been a video producer/ director for a Community College district since the show. Joe, I’m sorry to say, died from a heart attack in 2005 0r 2006. Not sure of the date, sorry. That was another tragic day. Joe was only in his early forties! The last project I worked with him on was a stage version of The Thing that I adapted. He designed a wonderful John Carpenteresque crab head that was waaaay better than the original. Sad …
BB: Is there anyone out there who is “the great forgotten figure” in T27FV history?
RC: GREG!! (Bransom, mentioned above) Without a doubt. I wish I could find him and thank him. Also Karl Newman, who edited the show. His ending credits are funny and laced with clues about all kinds of FV related shenanigans.Mark Lamberti and Jocelyn White, of course. They took a chance on three guys who walked in off the street. That always blows me away!
BB: Have you ever met Rich Koz (Son of Svengoolie) or Cassandra Peterson (Elvira) or any other Movie Hosts from the 1980’s?
RC: No, I’d remember Cassandra, that’s for sure!
Thanks again to Randy Clower for helping to fill in some of the details about a wonderful show that deserves a special place in Movie Host history. Special thanks also to my sister Rosemary for her vital contributions to making this interview happen! And most especially, thank you to the members of the Film Vault Corps – “the few … the proud … the sarcastic” and the last line of defense for the kind of movies I review on my Bad Movie page.
FOR “RECREATIONS” OF TEXAS 27 FILM VAULT EPISODES, INCLUDING BOTH THE MOVIES AND THE SERIALS SHOWN, MY RESEARCH HAS ENABLED QUITE A FEW OF THOSE. CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/texas-27-film-vault/
FOR MORE TEXAS 27 FILM VAULT ARTICLES CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/texas-27-film-vault/
FOR MORE MOVIE HOSTS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/movie-hosts/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.