Saturday, August 9, 2008

USA Saturday Nightmares



The USA Network might be known as the home of eccentric detectives these days with the likes of Monk, Psych, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent but during my teen years, they were the most horror-friendly of basic cable channels with their USA Saturday Nightmares block of programming that aired in the mid-to-late '80s every Saturday at 8 o'clock starting with a feature film and then continuing on with an hour-long episode of The Hitchhiker and another hour of the new Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It wasn't the edgiest four hours on television (although the movies were often very cool - with cult gems like The Brood, Shock Waves and Let's Scare Jessica To Death being spotlighted) but even when it was a dud night (Island Claws? Ah, shit!), I still loved being able to count on that block of horror every Saturday 'cause the only watchable alternatives on the networks were Spenser: For Hire or Hunter.



It's hard now to remember a time before VHS and DVD allowed me to stop caring what was on TV or before DVR made it no longer necessary to be home when a movie or show was airing (I seldom ever bothered to pop in a blank tape to record a program unless it was something really vital, like the season finale of a TV show, but now I'll record practically anything on DVR - I can't tell you how many times I've taped Timecop). But Saturday Nightmares started airing before my parents bought our first VCR so for me it really was a matter of being at the mercy of station programming as to when I'd get to see any horror on TV (and even after they got a VCR, it wasn't always easy for me to rent the kind of movies I wanted to, much less watch them whenever I pleased).



Nowadays I'll scan the cable schedule and see a few films that look interesting - like the latest 'original' offerings from the Sci-Fi Channel - but typically I'll set something to record, start to watch it a few days after the fact, get through about five minutes or so, then decide I should just clear the space for something else and hit 'erase' (sorry, Basilisk: The Serpent King - nothing personal!). I take it all for granted now. But when Saturday Nightmares' opening kicked in each week, with that camera prowling through the house with the paintings on the wall shifting from one iconic image to the next (Frankenstein's Monster! The Wolfman! Freddy! Jason!), no matter what was scheduled to air that night I felt like I was in for a treat.

It's funny how having a room (or two) of shelves and boxes full of movies on disc and tape from every era of horror makes me less excited than random programming and watching edited films with commercial interruptions ever did but I guess those Saturdays were just something special.

5 comments:

knobgobbler said...

I know what you mean about the excitement of the days when we had to search out horror films on TV vs. our modern ability to see pretty much whatever/whenever (reminds me of Daniel Stern talking about his post marriage sex life in 'Diner').

For me it was the old 'Fright Night' shows... usually on a Friday... with some sort of horror host.
Like you say, it didn't matter much what they were showing... it was just great to have that reliable horror show each week.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah, there's something about those days where everything wasn't immediately accessible. You had to really work to find the movies you wanted to see and hope for lots of lucky breaks.

Amanda By Night said...

Wow, I also have such fond memories of Saturday Nightmares. I remember seeing The Outing for the first time on there (OK, it's no Let's Scare Jessica to Death, but I still love it!) and a lot of the gore remained intact. It was quite the night for me.

Being the uber-nerdy-wallflower I was (OK, still am!), it's not like I had anywhere to be on Saturdays and this was a great alternative for me.

I too miss the days of discovery and of course, the hunt. I remember I looked everywhere for Schitzoid (seriously!), even making sure to hit all the mom and pop stores of whatever towns I visited in the hopes someone was selling it and didn't realize what a treasure they had. I KNOW! Told you I was a nerd!

Jeff Allard said...

Well, I'm a bonafide, card-carrying nerd myself so sitting home on Saturday nights watching movies and trekking from one video store to another hunting down obscure titles was always my idea of fun!

Richard N Euranus said...

"It's funny how having a room (or two) of shelves and boxes full of movies on disc and tape from every era of horror makes me less excited than random programming and watching edited films with commercial interruptions ever did but I guess those Saturdays were just something special."

You hit the nail on the head there, no matter what I try I've caan't seem to recreate that excitement...