Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Night Frights

Back in the late 1950s, Universal Studios began packaging their library of Horror films under the title Shock Theater and marketing them to Local Television stations. The stations would supply a "horror host" usually some employee of the station in a fright wig who would come out and introduce the movies. Later, other stations would have their own horror shows and horror hosts not connected to the original Shock Theater package. These shows had names like Chiller Theater, Creature Features, and House of Horror. Some of the hosts became celebrities in their own right, including Zacherley, Vampira, Elvira, and my personal favorite, Rico Mortis.
In the Atlanta area in the 1970s we had Friday Night Frights on Channel 17. (This was Ted Turner's station way before it became the Super Station WTBS) While the show did have a host for a while, a fellow named Dead Earnest, I don't really remember him. By the time I started watching Friday Night Frights regularly, he was gone and the show was introduced by an off screen announcer.
Friday Night Frights often showed science fiction movies as opposed to horror films. Of course there's a lot of overlap between the two genres. In those pre-VCR days, the only way to catch classic SF movies was to find them on obscure TV stations and for some reason most stations tended to show SF movies in the middle of the night. The Late Late show if you will. So the only way that I could see such classics as Forbidden Planet, The Time Machine, and various Ray Harryhausen films was to sit up late and watch them.
Friday Night Frights, on the other hand, began at 7:30 on Fridays and usually ran a double feature. So I could catch Them! or The Day the Earth Stood Still or This Island Earth without having to put my sleeping bag down in the living room. (Not that that wasn't fun.) I remember one night, Friday Night Frights showed The Time Machine and King Kong. Now THAT was a double feature!
Oddly enough, I saw most of the classic (and not so classic) horror movies not on Friday nights, but on weekday afternoons on another local show called Dialing For Dollars. They would rerun the Universal Horror films endlessly as well as pretty much every giant monster movie ever made in Japan. So one week it night be Frankenstein, the Wolfman, and the Mummy and the next week it would be Godzilla, Mothra, and Gamera.
I don't know exactly when Friday Night Frights went off the air. A quick internet search suggests 1975. I suppose the need for such niche shows died out with the coming of the VCR. I mean, why watch Friday Night Frights when you can simply buy videos and have your own monster fest. Still, in some ways I miss the days when trying to catch a showing of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad of Godzilla Versus King Kong took some effort. The movies seemed more rare and special then. But that may simply be because I was just a kid. As the old saw goes, What was the Golden Age of Science Fiction? Twelve.


Lanny said...

Great post! Who is this Rico fellow?

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Rico Mortis was, as far as I know, television's first Latino (or seemingly Latino) Horror host. His show was short lived, but well remembered by aficionados for its quirky humor.