The Gonzo Superhero That Made Horror Movies Fun To Watch

By Brian Myers | Published

Commander USA

For decades, horror fans were introduced to older and sometimes obscure genre entries by quirky late-night hosts. Crematia Mortem (Kansas City), Sammy Terry (Indianapolis), and Vampira (Los Angeles) were weekly staples in the horror diets of kids and teens in their respective cities, while Elvira, Svengoolie, and Joe Bob Briggs were able to secure national networks and bring their wit to wider audiences. For a short time in the 1980s, Commander USA brought a new level of awareness and appreciation for films on the Saturday afternoon series Commander USA’s Groovie Movies.

Commander USA’s Groovie Movies

From 1985 until its cancellation in 1989, Commander USA’s Groovie Movies thrilled audiences every Saturday afternoon with a double feature of B-level science fiction, horror, and schlock films from the 1940s through the early 1980s. Viewers could tune in and catch classics like Val Lewton’s Cat People and Todd Browning’s Dracula and newer releases that ranged from the latest Friday the 13th installments to Mausoleum.

The Secret HQ

Located deep underneath a New Jersey shopping mall, Commander USA’s secret headquarters contained a movie vault where he introduced kids of the 80s to some of the best (and a few of the worst) horror, shlock, and science fiction films. Wearing a mask, cape, and the most patriotic set of tights imaginable, Commander USA would blow into a low-pitched whistle that magically opened a wall and revealed the screen that would show that week’s films.


Commander USA usually appeared with his sidekick, “Lefty.” The cigar-smoking movie host would draw a face on his left hand and routinely include his little pal in conversations about the films being aired that day. Occasionally, the Commander’s agent Barry Kluger would join the host for gags and film introductions.

Jim Hendricks

The man behind the mask, Jim Hendricks, began his entertainment career as a Junction City, KS radio DJ in the 1970s. After he moved to New York City in the early 80s, Hendricks auditioned for the USA Network, hoping to land a role as a movie host for a new Saturday afternoon movie block they were toying with. He secured the part and made a weekly transformation from mild-mannered Jim Hendricks to the masked superhero Commander USA.

After the show was canceled in 1989, Hendricks did some stage acting. The man millions of kids knew as Commander USA also earned a few screen acting credits to his name, including co-hosting another series Horrible Night at the Movies. Hendricks also appeared in the films Brutal Fury (1993) and The Hungry Ghosts (2009), and in a 2005 episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

In 2013, Hendricks was honored when Commander USA received a plaque in the Horror Host Hall of Fame.

Commander USA’s Passing

commander usa

Sadly, the man who helped mold the film taste of a generation died on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2018. The 68-year-old actor might have had mainstream success elude him, but managed to earn the admiration of countless kids who grew up eager to see what films Commander USA was going to introduce them to that week.