Chilly Billy button by E-gor Monster Chiller Horror Theater graphic

Growing Up MonsterMad with Pittsburgh's
CHILLY BILLY CARDILLE and CHILLER THEATER

By PAUL RIGGIE, MonsterMad Raving Reporter


(Originally published in MonsterMad # 1, July 1997)

For those of us growing up in the late sixties in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or northern West Virginia, one name was virtually synonymous with late-night horror: "Chilly Billy" Cardille and his program Chiller Theater.

Chiller began in 1963 when Cardille, Pittsburgh TV station WIIC's wrestling announcer and host of the kiddie show Tip Top Time, was approached to host Channel 11's new afternoon horror movie showcase, called Chiller Theater from the beginning. The films Cardille had to choose from were the great bumper crop from Univeral's heyday Screen Gems' famous Shock Theater package plus a few select classics from the Atom Age fifties. The program finally came into its own after a time change to 11:30 p.m. in the mid-sixties.

(See Chiller Theater TV Log for a growing list of films shown during the entire run; help if you can! E-gor)

Each show opened to the spooky strains of guitarist Al Caiola's raunchy arrangement of an unforgettable tune called "Experiment in Terror," from a film score by Pittsburgh's own Henry Mancini a haunting melody loaded with sax appeal.

Cardille, usually clad in a dress suit, a tux or a turtleneck sweater, was a rather restrained host at first. However, as the show's notoriety peaked in the early seventies, he attacked his role with gusto, adding skits, paranormal bits and large doses of good humor.

"Chilly Billy," as Cardille came to be known, also brought along a bizarre continuing cast of supporting characters: "Norman the Castle Keeper" (Norman Elder), "Stephen the Castle Prankster" (Steven Luncinski), statuesque zombie "Terminal Stare" (Donna Rae), and "Georgette the Fudge Maker" (Bonnie Sue Barney) not to mention "Skeets Skeltino the Pizza Man," "Sister Suzie" (Joyce Sterling), "Beauregard C. Beauregard" (Ted James), and occasional celebrity guests like Phyllis Diller, Barbara (Get Smart) Feldon, and wrestler Bruno Sammartino.

During the glory days of the show, Cardille would sometimes show three or more films each show night, challenging the viewer to stay up ever later with the genial host and his friends. Between films he would predict the future, tell horoscopes, and even hawk his own line of tuxedoes!

The final stamp of approval came when Cardille was invited to play himself in Pittsburgh filmmaker George Romero's groundbreaking horror classic Night of the Living Dead (1968). In a very effective (but unusually serious) performance, he appears in the film as Channel 11 reporter Bill Cardille, conducting an on-the-spot interview with Chief of Police McClelland about the progress of the zombie hunt (see sidebar).

I can still remember being about 8 or 9 years old and watching WIIC's afternoon wrestling show on Saturdays, just to see "Chilly Billy" announce the films that would be shown on Chiller Theater later than night. Sometimes he would even show a clip of the Mummy, the Wolf Man, or the Frankenstein Monster.

My own personal initiation into horror fandom was a double-feature of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and House of Frankenstein on Chiller Theater To this day, these are still my favorite horror films.

With the advent of Saturday Night Live in the late seventies, Chiller was moved to a later time slot 1:00 a.m. Still, Bill and his cast soldiered on. During the late seventies and early eighties, Cardille showed several Hammer pictures, independant chillers like Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, and even foreign horrors like Paul Naschy films.

It wasn't until 1983 that the "host" format was dropped and the cast departed. Chiller Theater was replaced for a while by a good syndicated horror movie package called Haunted Hollywood. An off-camera voice-over by the great John Carradine instructed the viewer to "turn down the sound...but don't touch that dial!" It lasted another five years.

The cast of Chiller Theater occasionally reunites for special appearances, notably for a televised show reunion in the early '90's, and at the 1993 "Zombie Jamboree" in Pittsburgh celebrating the 25th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead. Bill Cardille still displays a genuine fondness and no condescension for the program which has given him beloved status among all monster fans in the broadcast area. He currently works as the the morning weatherman for WPXI in Pittsburgh.
(True in July 1997 when Paul's article was published; Bill Cardille now has a radio show playing oldies from 10 a.m - 3 p.m every weekday on WJAS-AM 1320 in Pittsburgh E-gor.)

The influence of Chiller Theater on its legion of fans is incalculable, and Pittsburgh is quite the haven for East Coast monster fandom. Director/makeup artist/actor Tom Savini and fellow makeup man Joe Blasco both started out as young fans of Chiller, often appearing on the show in their own homegrown monster makeups.

Sometimes I catch myself popping one of the old Universal films in the VCR, trying to recreate that initial feeling of terror and dread I felt many years ago, when Chilly Billy introduced me to poor, tormented Lawrence Talbot and the naive, well-meaning scientist who just couldn't resist seeing Frankenstein's monster restored to its full power...


Read a terrific Chilly Billy Interview Paul Riggie co-conducted for Santo Scene, "The MexicanMonsterMovieMag"!

Read more MonsterMad raves!

Visit E-gor's Chamber of TV Horror Hosts or go right to the CHILLY BILLY entry.

Browse the Chiller Theater TV Log, a growing list of movies shown.

Check out Chilly MemoraBillya -- autographs, records and lots of other cool stuff!

Read My Visit to Chilly Billy's Castle, a fan's memories of appearing on the show!

Pittsburgh Chiller Theater cast photo

CHILLER THEATER CAST (l-r):
Terminal Stare, Chilly Billy Cardille,
Norman the Castle Keeper,
Sister Susie,
Stephen the Castle Prankster.
Click for larger view.

Bill Cardille plays himself in Night of the Living Dead

CHILLY NIGHT of the LIVING DEAD

Chilly Billy plays himself,
Pittsburgh Channel 11 ace
reporter Bill Cardille, in
George Romero's 1968
landmark horror classic.

BILL: Chief... Chief McClelland -- how's everything going?

CHIEF: Aw, things aren't goin' too bad. The men are takin' it pretty good.

BILL: Chief, do you think we'll be able to defeat these things?

CHIEF: Well, we killed 19 of 'em today, right in this area... these last three we caught tryin' to claw their way into an abandoned shed. They musta thought somebody was in there... there wasn't, though. We heard 'em makin' all kindsa noise -- we came over, beat 'em off and blasted 'em down.

BILL: Chief, if I were surrounded by 6 or 8 of these things, would I stand a chance with them?

CHIEF: Well, there's no problem -- if you had a gun, shoot 'em in the head, that's a sure way to kill 'em. If you don't, get yourself a club or a torch, beat 'em or burn 'em, they go up pretty easy.

BILL: Well, Chief McClelland, how long do you think it'll take you until you get the situation under control?

CHIEF: Well that's pretty hard to say -- we don't know how many of 'em there are. We know when we find 'em we can kill 'em.

BILL: Are they slow-moving, Chief?

CHIEF: Yeah, they're dead, they're... all messed up.

BILL: Well, with time, would you say you oughtta be able to wrap this up in 24 hours?

CHIEF: Well, we don't really know. We know we'll probably be into it most of the night, probably into the early mornin'. We're workin' our way toward Willard, and we'll team up with the National Guard over there, and then we'll be able to give a more definite view.

BILL: Thank you very much, Chief McClelland. This is Bill Cardille, WIIC-TV 11 News.


Posted March 9, 2005 by George "E-gor" Chastain.   E-mail E-gor!