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The family of Watson Davis sent the sad news that he passed away on Wednesday, March 23, 2005.
Sivad's family sends their sincere thanks for the cards and concerns from friends and fans.
Sivad and Fantastic Features!
Fantastic Feature Contribution by Harris Lentz
"Gooooood eeevening. I am Sivad."
Most long-time residents of Memphis and the Mid-South remember fondly the Saturday evening in late-September of 1962 when those words were first heard on the premiere of Fantastic Features. The caped and fanged figure on the television screen soon became one of Memphis' most familiar and best loved faces. Besides hosting the weekly (later twice weekly) horror films on Channel 13, WHBQ, he drew large crowds at fairs and parades, hosted film premieres at theaters, and even recorded several songs that became local hits.
Beneath the vampire make-up and the top hat and tails was Watson Davis, the advertising director for the local Malco Theaters. Shortly after making his debut as Sivad, Davis was honored as showman of the year by the United Theater Owners for his promotion of horror films. He also served as President of the Tri-State Theater Owners in 1967. While working for the Malco Theaters, Davis orchestrated numerous events coinciding with the opening of horror films in Memphis.
In an interview with the local newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, following his award, Davis recounted some of his promotions. "For Brides of Dracula we presented a processional inside the theater. An Alpine-costumed band accompanied Dracula's bride down the aisle, Dracula arose from an onstage coffin and a wedding was performed" Davis recalled. For the premiere of Mysterious Island, 150 winners of a coloring contest were given a boat trip to Goat Island. "We had to use a transportation company's barge to transport our paraphernalia out there, including hot dogs, soft drinks and all our monster materials," Watson said. "The first thing the visitors saw was a huge animal looming up out of the middle of the island as the boat approached. Paul Schaefer (operations manager of the Malco chain) dressed as a hunter, bravely shot a gun and the beast crawled off." The event continued with ushers portraying banshees who welcomed guests with screams before a treasure hunt and a pirate-type hot dog roast.
Watson recalled one of the props was a "chicken-of-a-thing, 30 feet high, with (Malco manager) Elton Holland and me inside, trying not to fall over. But the funniest part came when they were leaving. Elton and I staged a big ax fight on the beach. He accidentally backed over a log and fell down and some kid came along with a club and really whacked him." Watson also created a 20-foot-high tyrannosaurus for the Malco's lobby for the premiere of Dinosaurus in 1960.
Sivad was a major television figure in Memphis during the 1960s and was responsible for giving many of us in the area the opportunity to see first hand the numerous horror films we had only read about in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Fantastic Features first aired at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, September 29, 1962, with a showing of The Giant Behemoth. The program opened with Sivad emerging from a fog-enshrouded hearse to the strains of Leigh Stevens' score from the 1950 science-fiction film Destination Moon. The opening footage was filmed in Memphis' Overton Park near the Brooks Art Gallery.
I remember the second week to be a disappointing espionage film, Spy in the Sky, with little if any sci-fi thrills. On week three the show was back on track with World Without End, following in order with Queen of Outer Space, The Cosmic Man, Frankenstein 1970, House on Haunted Hill, The Cyclops, Caltiki, the Immortal Monster, The Bat and The Hypnotic Eye. The show continued in this vein until July of 1963, when it aired The Invisible Man, the first in a series of classic Universal horrors. Over the next several months we were treated to the original Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Mummy and their many sequels.
During the first several years of the show Fantastic Features was preceded by an episode of the 1950s television series Science Fiction Theater. Viewers were later treated to the Sons of Hercules or re-runs of The Twilight Zone before our weekly horror fix.
In September of 1965 Sivad hosted a half-hour show consisting of previews from up-coming films from a new package the station had acquired. Memphis viewers now had the opportunity to see such 1950s classics as Macabre, The Brain Eaters, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, How to Make a Monster, It Conquered the World, The Giant Gila Monster, The Killer Shrews, The Wasp Woman and The She Creature.
Once he became Sivad, Davis often personally hosted the premieres of new films in character. He was also a local fixture at state fairs, carnivals, and parades throughout the Mid-South. On Fantastic Features and at personal appearances Sivad played several musical instruments including the ghoulaphone and the coffinola -- instruments that Davis concocted. Davis described the coffinola as a "reproduction of an old style coffin with one string, and I played it with a bow and it's amplified. Sometimes when I played with a rock band, I had to turn the amplifier up mighty high and it's risky because my bow might squeak." He insisted he really played tunes on the contraption. He also recorded the record "Sivad Buries Rock and Roll," which featured "Dickey Drakeller" on its flip side. The record is now a valuable collectors item.
The show continued to air on Saturday evenings until September 3, 1966, when, after a showing of The Pharoah's Curse, Fantastic Features was transformed into Fantastic Double Feature at 10:30 p.m. on Fridays with The Lodger and Fire Maidens from Outer Space.
In September of the following year another episode was aired on Saturday evening at 11:30 p.m., giving fans three movies per week. The Friday night show was cancelled in June of 1970, but Fantastic Features limped on as a double feature on Saturday nights for the next several years — mainly airing reruns until its ultimate cancellation on February 5, 1972.
Davis, in a 1986 interview, recounted the reasons for Fantastic Features ultimate cancellation: "We were running out of pictures. All the horror-pictures we were getting were sexy and wild. And we really were a family show. I was just repeating pictures."
Following the cancellation of the show in the early 1970s Davis continued to wear the Sivad outfit at local events. He retired to a mobile home near a lake in Arkansas to fish and relax.
END of "Sivad and Fantastic Features"