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USA’s Saturday Nightmares:: By John Sullivan

November 27th, 2013 by unkle lancifer · 16 Comments

I was an ‘inside kid’.

Sure, I went to school and rode bikes and journeyed to 7-11 to pick up comic books and Slurpees.

That was my afternoon. But my night?

Movies. Lots and lots of movies.

My parents gave me a TV time limit. I had a few hours a week. It was sort of an allowance. I had to be smart, and budget my presence in front of the tube.
I used all those hours on Saturday. Here’s why:

USA’S SATURDAY NIGHTMARES.

Saturday Nightmares was my youthful gateway into horror films. In an environment where my parents were permissive enough to let me watch some TV, but not permissive enough to let me rent R-rated horror films, Saturday Nightmares provided a mainline fix that my pre-teen (and early teen) self desperately needed.

USA’S Saturday Nightmares was a prime-time (8 PM – East Coast – old school USA network) non-hosted weekly horror movie feature forum that consisted of several elements:

0 – The Intro. As I mentioned, this was an un-hosted venue for horror films but the intros were awesome. In the early days of USA’s Saturday Nightmares, it was a little more commando. They were stark black and white shots of grotesque monster movies. It looked cheap, and felt cheap and that informed the scariness of whatever film the show was threatening to air. After a few years, they amped up the budget and it became an early CGI ‘tour’ through a museum of horror icons. Regardless of which intro or bumper I preferred, they were atmospheric and foreboding. In other words, even if the movie sucked – I was still scared to watch it.

1 – The Horror Movie. This was usually some semi-obscure thriller that was molding in a VHS bin somewhere. I’m not industry adept enough to guess where the USA network programmers got their material, my guess is it was whatever they had access to. I mean, ‘Bloodbath in the House of Death’? ‘Scared to Death’? ‘Devil Times Five’?, ‘Up From the Depths’?, ‘The House Where Evil Dwells’, ‘Spookies’?, ‘The Being’?, – I can go on. And I will. But this show dredged up some of the most lesser-known, cheap thrill horror movies that could ever be IMDB’d. For a kid who was only exposed to ‘Salems Lot’ and ‘Gremlins’, Saturday Nightmares was a goldmine. R-rated horrors edited for television. Therefore, parent-friendly.

2 – The Anthology Shows. It wasn’t just a horror feature showcase. Oh no. It had frosting on the cake. Following the movie, Saturday Nightmares wasn’t done with you. They aired three different syndicated horror anthology shows. Among them: The Ray Bradbury Theater, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Hitchhiker.

The Ray Bradbury Theater’ was more of a slow-burn horror anthology. The stories were generally fantastical and had a more broad nature. Not all of the stories presented were from the mind of the great Ray Bradbury, but many of them kept the tone of some of his earlier works. I remember one called ‘The Playground’ with a young-ish William Shatner that haunts me to this day.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents’ had a more crime-oriented atmosphere and a typical just-desserts twist ending. I’d compare the stories presented akin to EC Comics’ noir books.

The Hitchhiker’ was probably inappropriate for a kid my age. It was a port from an HBO series, and consisted of a lot of sex and murder. A lone, scruffed Hitchiker tells stories of lust and death. It was heavily edited for TV, so the impact was lost on me. I do remember some of the stories were compelling, but they had to cut out all the naughty stuff.

3 – The Short Films. Oftentimes, one of the Saturday Nightmares features would end early, and they would have to stick in a mysterious short film to fill out the run time. Short films are commonplace these days, especially on YouTube – but in 1988, it was rare to see a cool, scary short flick. Somehow, the USA Network was able to find some frightening brief bits to pad out the run-time. I remember one was about a man engineering a gigantic mouse-trap…for himself. It was his method of suicide. Dark, right?

I WAS 10!

The first film I ever saw on USA’s Saturday Nightmares was ‘The Loch Ness Horror’. It involves – you guessed it – a bunch of people running away from a rubberized Loch Ness Monster puppet. It’s…garbage. However, the nostalgia of gunning my BMX bike back from the comic book store to make it home before sundown to watch ‘The Loch Ness Horror’ stays with me.

I think I bought a Hulk comic that day. Memories fade…

My parents had to endure my love of USA’s Saturday Nightmares. We weren’t a rich family. We had a modest house on Long Island with one TV. So, if I watched something – they had to watch that thing. In a strange way, my parents are well-versed in horror movie trivia because of that environment.

-‘Hey Dad, remember ‘Demonwarp’?

-‘Is that the one with the murderous Sasquatch and George Kennedy, and the zombies you made us watch’?

-‘Yup’.

-‘Why couldn’t have you been a doctor’?

I was a weird kid. I lived for Saturday Nightmares. Whenever my parents had a dinner party, they knew I’d be out of their hair watching something like ‘Jaws of Satan’. Just to be clear, that’s a film about a king cobra possessed by the Devil.

My Dad’s buddy, after wandering into the TV room:

‘What are you watching’?

Jaws of Satan. Killer king cobra movie’.

‘What the hell is Fritz Weaver doing in this crap’?

As low-grade as many of the movies shown on Saturday Nightmares were, they did expose me to a world beyond the A-list ‘thrillers’ that masquerade as horror movies.

Later on, as USA became more mass-audience oriented, the films became more commercial. ‘Demons of the Dead’ was replaced by ‘Nightmare on Elm Street 3’. ‘Girls Nite Out’ was replaced by ‘Friday The 13th V’. Not that there’s anything wrong with those particular films, but I could see them anywhere. I respected the unavailability of the unknown titles.

Soon after…

Saturday Nightmares was kicked. USA rolled into original programming, and became the home of ‘Psych’ and ‘Burn Notice’. I’m sure those shows are fine, but I miss the ‘go for broke’ programming of the 80’s. What is ‘Burn Notice’ about, by the way?

I got older and discovered eBay and Amazon and YouTube. I was able to find a lot of my favorite niche horror films on that landscape.

My Saturday nights got booked with grown-up things. Girls, life, girls.

I work as a screenwriter now. I’ve written the (self-proclaimed) B-movie classics ‘Fear of the Dark’, ‘Prophecy: Uprising’, ‘Prophecy: Forsaken’. ‘Recoil’ (not a horror film but Steve Austin is kinda scary).

I’ve got a few new thrillers in the pipeline.

I like to think that USA Saturday Nightmares contributed to my silly career.

I leave you with the Wiki link for USA’s Saturday Nightmares.

Every flick is a classic. Sorta.

Now, I’m off to find a VHS copy of ‘The Loch Ness Horror’…

JOHNNY BLACKOUT (John Sullivan)

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16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    Saturday Nightmares was my gateway into horror in the late 80s. It’s where I saw The Unnamable, The Outing, Girls Nite Out and so many others for the first time.

    It seemed like they hardly edited their content, and I felt like I was getting the real deal every weekend. It also made my pathetic high school life seem almost livable. Miss the old USA Network.

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    This is from “FijiMermaid” but it went in the wrong post…so I’m putting it here where it belongs….

    FijiMermaid // Nov 27, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Good stuff! I was a big fan of the Saturday Nightmares. Sure some of the movies were crap but who cares when it was some horror on the airwaves in the spirit of good fun. Those anthology shows were great too, I really enjoyed when those would come on.

    A big memory I have of the short films USA would show is a short film called “Living Dolls”, even the weird theme attracted me. I wrote about it here.

    http://sideshowcinema.blogspot.com/2011/02/living-dolls-robert-fair.html

  • 3 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    Sadly I missed so much of this show because at the time I had no cable. I only got to catch it when I was visiting my folks.

    But I still really relate to this fantastic post. In fact I think I’m going to return to it whenever I get disgruntled because THIS is what it’s all about!

    Thanks for reminding me John!

  • 4 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    I love my TV horror, but my only truly required weekly viewing was WGBO Chicago’s Super 66 Samurai Sunday:

  • 5 Wednesday's ChildNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    This is a great post. I’m going to seek out some of the B-movies John has written!

  • 6 johnnyblackoutNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Thanks for reading! I miss this show so much. I had piles and piles of VHS tapes of movies recorded from Saturday Nightmares. I was also a huge fan of USA Up All Night, Night Flight and – more obscurely – USA’s Sci-Fi Sci-Fri Theater. Sci-Fri was kind of the science fiction answer to Saturday Nightmares. It wasn’t too popular, but I watched that one too. I recommend ‘Scared To Death’ from 1981. It only aired once on Saturday Nightmares but it’s quite a creepy monster movie.

  • 7 johnnyblackoutNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    The ‘Living Dolls’ short was truly frightening. I also remember seeing C.H.U.D. for the first time on Saturday Nightmares. I believe the ‘mousetrap’ short film was attached to that one.

  • 8 micksterNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Great post!
    I know “Living Dolls” has been mentioned here before. Truly creepy! I hate mannequins!
    I loved Saturday Nightmares as well. I had to watch over at my sister’s house as we did not get cable until the 90s.

  • 9 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    Ah Mickster! You didn’t have cable back then either?

    I have to say there is at least one good thing about not having cable at that time- you really appreciated it!

    Whenever I could get a chance to watch cable it was such a luxury! As soon as I was at my parents or a friends house who had cable I’d make a beeline to the TV!

    I could watch a dozen movies on HBO back to back not caring what it was or just watch MTV for hours.

    It was just the greatest thing in the world when you were used to rabbit ear antennas and tin foil!

    John,

    I found the trailer for Scared to Death on youtube. I wish the whole movie was there!

    I’ve never seen it but I did see the 1990 sequel “Syngenor” a while back on DVD…

  • 10 johnnyblackoutNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    I actually didn’t have proper cable either. I just had stuff like USA and Nickelodeon and MTV. I didn’t have HBO/Showtime/Cinemax until I was an adult and paid my own cable bill. Of course, as soon as I moved out – my parents got the full package.

    Unk – ‘Syngenor’ isn’t bad. They really didn’t connect it to ‘Scared To Death’ other than the awesomely cool creature design. But I like David Gale in that movie. ‘Scared To Death’ is a grimy, gritty horror movie. The atmosphere is so dirty and ominous. The director – William Malone – went on to a pretty decent career.

  • 11 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Yea- David Gale is always good! From the trailer I can see that “Scared to Death” is probably more my thing than Syngenor. love the sewer tunnel location…

    Aw man, it looks like “Scared To death ” is out of print! I’m going to have to keep my eyes out for that one in the used bin or wait for a re- release!

  • 12 wmcampbell13No Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    “I remember one was about a man engineering a gigantic mouse-trap…for himself. It was his method of suicide. Dark, right?”
    I remember seeing that one, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it. Now you can see it at youtube of course. It’s called “The Contraption” and it stars Richard O’Brien, better known as Riff-Raff from Rocky Horror.

  • 13 Drew BluddNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Way to go, John! Great entry.

    I don’t share the same memories (I was a USA Up All Night with Rhonda Shear kid) but reading about yours makes me fondly think of my own.

    Thank you.

  • 14 KarswellNo Gravatar // Nov 27, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    First – great post! Second – well, shoot! I loved USA Saturday Nightmares, and I remember it really well – well enough to have been certain when I saw this post that it’s where I first saw the Edward Woodward movie “The Appointment”, which has one of my favorite horror movie openings ever. But it isn’t on the list at the Wiki link! I wonder where else I could have seen it?

    Great memories, though. USA Saturday Nightmares was early enough in my horror career that just about everything was scary and new, and I couldn’t stop watching, even when I’d be up all night afterwards, too spooked to sleep. Good times, good times…

  • 15 disco.charlieNo Gravatar // Nov 28, 2013 at 12:31 am

    Stellar post!

    USA’s Saturday Nightmares and USA Up All Night are staples of my youth — nothing in my adult life has compared to the thrill and excitement I’d have when I would discover the treasures and awesomeness of the craptastic and amazing movies they’d play weekly.

    I’d never know “Demon Wind”, “Spookies”, “Grotesque”, and so, so many more undiscovered and incredible low-budget gems if it weren’t for this. Not being the kind of kid who got invited out to parties on weekends, it was perfect for me and my awkwardness and starry-eyed enthusiasm for these kinds of films.

    Great memories.

  • 16 piptNo Gravatar // Nov 28, 2013 at 8:03 am

    Fantastic post! The Jaws of Satan story cracked me up!

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