Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!!
by: -RoG-

This is going to be a particularly special article for me, because today we're talking about a classic horror & b-movie host who was a huge part of my childhood: Commander USA! Played by Jim Hendricks, Commander USA was a retired superhero with a secret video vault located under a New Jersey shopping mall. Television on weekend afternoons was never anything special, but when Commander USA's Groovie Movies came around in 1985, that all changed. Every Saturday (and later, Sundays), the Commander would make our afternoons amazing by treating us to a variety of cult flicks and his special blend of humor as he activated his patented "telepsychotronic screen, heat and radiation shield" with a slide-whistle.

Jim Hendricks - host of Commander USA's Groovie Movies!

Hendricks' on-screen charisma for the Commander USA character was absolutely hypnotic. It didn't matter if he was talking about his barber chair, tailoring a suit, or heating up a snack... you simply couldn't take your eyes off the guy, because he made it feel like you were hanging out right there with him in the video vault. Combine that with the fact that he had a sidekick named "Lefty" that he drew onto his right hand with cigar ashes, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a more endearing horror host. And nowhere else on TV could you find amazing movies like A Polish Vampire in Burbank, C.H.U.D., Toxic Zombies, Friday the 13th Part III , and more on a weekend afternoon.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies sidekick - Lefty!

I've mentioned it in the past, but it bears repeating: Doc Mock's Movie Mausoleum would not have existed if it wasn't for influential classic horror & b-movie hosts like Commander USA. I honestly can't reiterate just how much I loved this show and what an impact it made on me. I still long for a complete DVD collection of all his hilarious segments that ran from 1985 to 1989 during the glory days of the USA Network, but at least we still have some good clips & episodes archived on YouTube.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies newspaper clippings and World of Horror magazine!

Pictured here is his one issue of a print magazine called "Commander USA's World of Horror" that sadly never took off. As you can see, I had such good times watching all of his episodes, I also still have some of the original newspaper clippings from when the show was still regularly airing on the USA Network. To me, they're absolute treasures.

Speaking of episodes, given that we're in the midst of our annual "Two Months of Halloween" celebration here on I-Mockery, I thought this would be a perfect time to showcase the Commander USA's Groovie Halloween Special. As the Commander himself would say in those stupendous star-spangled suspenders, "Holy cats!"

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

It all kicks off underground in the Commander's video vault, which he has all decked out with horror decorations for Halloween. As always, he's surprised to find us right there with him as he exclaims, "Holy cats!" and then proceeds to introduce himself: "Commander USA, here. Soaring super hero! Legion of Decency... retired." And we notice quickly that Lefty is dressed up in a Halloween costume already. It's hard to make out, but he's definitely wearing some shades, and a full outfit. Throughout the episode, Lefty goes through different Halloween costume changes until he finds just the right one.

Commander USA is also excited, because Angelina, his mutant alligator pal who looks like a gator-rat hybrid, has decided to stop by and join in all the fun of the Groovie Halloween Special. Angelina doesn't really speak, but she does make guttural noises in response to the Commander's questions. Turns out she even landed a job working for the city in the sewers - obviously making fun of the giant alligators urban legend of NYC.

Being the excellent party host that he is, the Commander has put together a smorgasbord o' scary Halloween treats. First, he showcases green kelp donuts from Duncan Rinaldo - an independent donut shop in the mall, instead of Dunkin' Donuts. He also has Frog Cakes, which according to the Commander, have a side effect of "making you a little jumpy." Gotta love the Commander's dad jokes. Next, he's got a bowl full of fresh prunes, followed by his self-proclaimed pièce de résistance: peanut butter caviar swirls, complete with a big green bug in the middle of the serving dish.

He offers a kelp donut to Angelina, and with the sound of a dying cow noisemaker toy, she apparently turns him down and asks about what movie he's playing instead.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special - Opening the Telepsychotronic Screen, Heat and Radiation Shield!

Commander USA quickly pulls out his trusty slide-whistle and has Lefty help play it to open up the telepsychotronic screen, heat and radiation shield, which is all decked out with Halloween banners and decorations. When it opens, we see the green screen where this week's movie will be displayed. Turns out Angelina decided to visit at the perfect time, because he's screening The Alligator People for his Groovie Halloween Special! Now, I'm not gonna break down that entire movie, as that would be a separate article entirely. Instead, I'll just continue onwards with Commander USA's segments.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

Before the first commercial break, Commander USA helps Lefty calm down by putting him under hypnosis. Apparently, Lefty always gets super stressed out whenever it's time to clip his nails, due to a traumatic experience with a manicurist. Understandable.

Next, a zombie wanders into the video vault from parts unknown, as a trail of smog follows behind him. And just why has he lurched into the Commander's crib? He's there to deliver a doll that looks just like Commander USA to him! I guess the zombie is a fan who wanted to show his appreciation for all the fun episodes. The best thing about it? The doll even has Lefty drawn onto its right hand!

I never knew I needed a Commander USA doll, but damn if my life doesn't feel incomplete now. I need to learn to sew.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

Next, Commander USA kicks back and puts his feet up on a cardboard box labeled "Radioactive Cobalt 60". Sure, that may seem dangerous to you and me, but you gotta remember - he's a superhero. While he's there, a guy dressed up as a pirate with a hook hand delivers a telegram to him, and takes a prune to snack on before leaving. According to the note, Count Phantom of Pennsylvania will be dropping by soon to deliver a surprise.

Soon after, the Commander is cooking up what he calls his "Jambalaya Filet Gumbo" in a big cauldron. He's throwing all kinds of ingredients in it - Gatorade (with "natural gator flavoring"), catfish juice, a dead rat, a tofuwinkie (a tofu Twinkie), and a big crayfish. When he tries to put the crayfish in, it begins to scream in pain, and that's when the Commander realizes that it's Lefty's latest Halloween costume. Yep, Lefty decided to dress as a crayfish.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

Before the next commercial break, Commander USA seems ready to show us another recipe he's been working on, but he's attacked by a flying water moccasin. Not a snake, mind you, but an actual moccasin filled with water. I love it. He then dumps the water out into a container, and what's great is the plastic bag they used to line the shoe so it would hold the water slides out too, and you can hear the other people in the studio laughing in the background. But not Jim... he doesn't break character for a second. What a pro.

The Commander is then visited by a trick-or-treater dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Actually, she says it's not a costume and claims to be Dorothy - so either she's nuts, or deep in character. Either way, she's not a particularly nice Dorothy, as she threatens to sic her ferocious dog, Toto, on the Commander if he doesn't help send her back to Kansas. Not wanting to be devoured by Toto, the Commander makes an adjustment to the telepsychotronic screen, and tells Dorothy to click her heels together and say "There's no place like home." And wouldn't ya know it, it works! After a display of the finest low budget effects the USA Network was willing to pay for, she's sent off to Kansas in the blink of an eye.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

Looks like it was just in time too, because he's then visited by the Wicked Witch, who was chasing after Dorothy. She curses the Commander and Lefty for sending Dorothy back to Kansas before she could capture her. Commander extends an olive branch in the form of a kelp donut. She then begins to melt as soon as she learns she ate kelp.

So there ya go, we learned something new today: Kelp kills witches.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

Count Phantom of Pennsylvania makes good on his promise and shows up in the video vault. Apparently he shipped himself there in a coffin. When the commander opens it up, Count Phantom retreats after being mortified by Lefty's newest costume: a string of garlic. You gotta hand it to Lefty, he's a real original when it comes to costume designs.

After Lefty takes off his garlic costume, the Count comes out and I can see why the Commander likes the guy. He wears cut-off finger gloves and smokes a cigar too. He then tells Commander USA that he's accepting donations for his blood bank today. Before the Commander can make a donation, Count Phantom grabs him by the neck and attempts to make his own bloody withdrawal just as it cuts to commercial.

Fun fact: Count Phantom was played by Rich Hanf of "Hanf's House of Horror", who actually provided all the Halloween props for this special episode.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

Next up, we find Commander USA removing the guts of a big pumpkin he's working on, followed by a promotion for a new product he's testing out. It's called Commander USA's "Groovie Scale Away". Just then, that zombie from earlier shows up and begins to eat a kelp donut (well, he shoves it into his mask as best he can for a few seconds), and quickly becomes the Commander's guinea pig for testing out Scale Away. Once the Scale Away dries, Commander USA starts to chisel it off the side of the zombie's head, and it really doesn't seem to mind at all. I guess that's the price of beauty.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

If you're looking for a new creepy concoction to serve up to your Halloween party guests, the Commander has a recipe to share with you. He's mixing up a "Swamp Water Julep" and the ingredients are as follows:

-Strained Swamp Water (remove all moccasins)
-Fresh Moss (from the north side of a tree)
-Alligator Toenails

Sounds delicious, doesn't it? I'm sure it'll be the talk of any Halloween hootenanny.

Lefty continues testing out costumes too, as he's now dressed as a jack-o-lantern. Sure, it's a paper pumpkin centerpiece, a hand like Lefty can only hold so much weight for a costume. Also, it turns out Lefty is also quite the skilled pumpkin carver!

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special - Lefty Carves A Lefty-O-Lantern!

THAT is a thing of beauty. Yes, it's true that I'm a nostalgic guy in general, but few things in this world will ever endlessly warm my heart as this GIF I just made of Commander USA proudly unveiling his Lefty-O-Lantern. I could watch this forever.

If any of you carve a Lefty pumpkin of your own for Halloween, PLEASE post a photo of it in the comments section below! Honestly, seeing a modern Lefty-O-Lantern would absolutely be one of the greatest treats of the season for me.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

When we return from another commercial break, more and more people are showing up for Commander USA's Groovie Halloween party. People dressed as pigs, hula dancers, grim reapers, fairies, and more. Commander has apparently been working on a new serum that helps regenerate body parts too, and shows off his highly developed nervous system chart.

Speaking of body parts, Lefty is now wearing a "Marie Leftoinette" costume. You know, I never considered wearing 20 different costumes on October 31st, but now I'm giving it some serious consideration. Thanks for the idea, Lefty!

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

Count Phantom shows up again, and he did indeed bring a surprise for Commander USA: a guillotine! I guess the blood he sucked from Commander USA's neck earlier in the show didn't quench his thirst, as he offers to demonstrate it on his head. Commander turns him down, but Lefty volunteers, and Count Phantom says "You've got to hand it to him!", which even causes the Commander to let out an audible groan. Lefty tries it out and soon finds himself lying face down in the guillotine basket. Why neither of them have never seen how a guillotine works before is beyond me. Thankfully, that serum the Commander USA was working on actually works, and Lefty is soon reattached to him.

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special - Microwave Vision!

And here we get to see one of Commander USA's actual super powers in action: Microwave Vision! Yes, the man can heat up a snack without the use of an oven, by merely shooting his microwave eye rays at food. That's one hell of an ability. Just think of how much you'd save on your gas and/or electric bills each month with that kind of power!

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

Being the culinary master that he is, the Commander is now making some little oatmeal cookies with a Georgia red peanut spread. According to him, Lefty likes his peanut butter with cheese, so he makes him a special one by sticking a few cheese balls on it for eyes and a curled Cheeto for a mouth to make a Lefty-style smiley face.

His guests are also having a blast as they're playing games like "Pin the tail on the gator", smacking balloons, playing in the quicksand box, and my personal favorite one, "Bobbing for crabs". That lady with all the leis on her arms already got one! Way to go!

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special!

As the movie draws to a close, Commander USA is surrounded by all his costumed Halloween party pals and they've clearly had a wonderful time with their gracious host. And before the show ends, Lefty has one last Halloween costume to show off: Lefty dressed up as Commander USA! YES! Definitely my favorite costume of the night.

As the credits roll and they all drink, dance, and mingle in celebration of my favorite season, I wish I could've been there. But you know what? I was there. That was the magic of Commander USA. He welcomed you into his video vault every week and made you feel right at home.

I reeeeally wish I had a way to get in touch with him, but Jim Hendricks, if you're still out there and reading this, please know just how truly important and beloved Commander USA's Groovie Movies was to thousands of fans across the country.

And for those of you who'd like to see the episode segments, a fellow Commander USA fan uploaded them to YouTube. You can watch the first of the three separate videos from his Groovie Halloween Special below:

That's all for today, so, as Commander USA would say whenever he signed off:

"Until next time, keep your nose in the wind, and your tail to yourself. See ya later, pilgrim."

Commander USA's Groovie Movies Halloween Special! Happy Halloween!

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