Saturday Nightmares Memories

saturday nightmares

Oh, the joys of the weekends of my middle school years. I was rarely involved in extracurricular activities and I never did any homework, so when the bell rang on Friday afternoons, I had a whole two and a half days to spend in front of the TV. And that is mostly what I did. There may have been some video games with friends in those early Friday evenings, and some running around the neighborhood on those Saturday mornings, but from 6:00 PM on, it was generally just me basking in the glow of the tube, wide-eyed and hungry. On Fridays, this meant watching the NBC/ABC/CBS action/sci-fi shows and trying to stay up late enough to make it completely through a Chiller Theater with Fritz the Nite Owl. But on Saturdays, this meant getting a glass of soda and plunking down to watch the USA Network’s Saturday Nightmares show.

Like Chiller Theater, Saturday Nightmares was a horror-themed show that included not just a scary movie (like the average hosted horror show) but also a couple of scary half-hour shows and a few scary shorts as well. Unlike Chiller Theater, though, Saturday Nightmares had no host other the unseen announcer (who was the same unseen announcer used for most USA programs). It also came on much earlier than Chiller Theater (it started at either 8 or 9, I believe), which made it easier to see through to the end, and, being a national rather than local production, had much better production values, which made it more appealing. The typical Saturday Nightmares would feature a movie of varying quality (some were legitimately terrifying, while others were just plain laughable). It would also feature an episode or two of The Hitchhiker, The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and/or The Ray Bradbury Theater. And it would further feature a short or two mixed in somewhere. Kicking off all this was a wonderful opening that gave the viewer a first-person perspective walk through a creepy house, and interspersed with all this were some very effective promos and bumpers. Put all that together, and USA had a package that brought me back every Saturday night and that became part of the backdrop of my life.

As I said above, the Saturday Nightmares movies could be quality or at least known films. Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street were both shown on Saturday Nightmares, as were Halloween, House, The Omen, and many others. But these movies could also (and more often than not were) low quality or unknown films, and I often appreciated these even more. Some such films that I saw on Saturday Nightmares and still love include Blood Song, Neon Maniacs, My Bloody Valentine, Alligator, God Told Me To, and, perhaps best of all, Slugs. And some of these movies were really terrifying, at least to a very young me. One that I particularly remember (but can’t name or identify) showed a school girl walking down a lane between two high rows of hedges. As she walked, someone called her name (Jessica, I think, or something ending in “a”). And then she was suddenly and violently yanked off her feet and into the bushes, where some invisible evil ripped her to shreds. Terrifying to a young man watching TV all alone in a dark house indeed.

The TV shows on Saturday Nightmares were for some reason not nearly as memorable to me; I remember that the shows were part of it but, with one exception, don’t really remember what the shows were. That one exception was an episode of The New Alfred Hitchcock presents, an episode called “The Gloating Place” about a killer stalking a girl. What I remember is that at one point in the show, two girls are hiding in a house, and one girl goes outside while the other remains inside. Now this was a super tense situation for me, but it got even worse. A little later, the girl inside the house opened the front door and found the girl who went out hanging on it! Now to me it looked like this girl’s head had been forced through the doorknocker, an extremely gruesome visual (made all the more gruesome by the poor quality of special effects in those days). Terrified, I turned the TV off and wouldn’t turn it back on until I was sure that episode was over. Having seen this episode again recently, I’m not sure that it really played out that way I thought it did (i.e., I’m not sure the girl’s head was forced through the door knocker), but it creeped me out as a kid nonetheless.

It was the shorts on Saturday Nightmares, though, that were the real stars of the show to me and that I remember the fondest. One of these shorts, called “The Contraption”, showed a man very slowly and ominously building something that the viewer couldn’t quite identify until it and its purpose were dramatically revealed at the end. Another, “The Dummy”, showed a woman fighting for her life against an evil ventriloquist’s puppet. There was also “Drip”, which featured a woman investigating a strange noise in her home, and “Living Dolls”, in which a bridal shop janitor runs afoul of some mannequins. On one occasion, a vicious murder scene from Suspiria was shown as a short; you can bet I was describing that one to my buddies as school for days to come. What made these shorts even creepier was that they were never explained or set up by a host; they were simply shown, so that it seemed like little bits of an evil world were intruding into my dark TV room.

I guess I lost interest in Saturday Nightmares as I got older and began working. I don’t remember ever choosing not to watch it, not do I remember it going off the air, but eventually both things happened. And sadly, not only did Saturday Nightmares disappear, but nothing took its place. There is no show like it on TV today that I know of; the closest thing to it is the silly movies The SciFi (excuse me, SyFy) Channel shows at 9:00 PM every Saturday night, which is at best a spiritual successor and a poor one at that. And Saturday Nightmares is not likely to return nor is any DVD collection likely to be offered (I did manage to buy an episode on DVD from a fellow on iOffer, though). But it will always be a part of my childhood; Saturday Nightmares will always be my favorite nightmares.

Doug

Doug is a child of the 80s who was raised in Ohio and is now living the life of oblivion in the bay area of California.

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11 thoughts on “Saturday Nightmares Memories

  1. Nice write up! I was the exact same way in the 80’s. Some of those shows scared the living crap outta me, but I always tuned in every Saturday night for more. Elvira was cool, because if the movie was super freaky, she would pop in right after the weirdest parts and make jokes.. diffusing the scariness a bit.

    “Freddie’s Nightmares” was another series that was okay, but the show which used to have some truly freaky episodes was “Tales from the Darkside”. The music and opening credits to the show alone would freak you out! I thought most episodes were more scary than many of the “Tales from the Crypt” episodes. I’m sure that we both can attest that you don’t need blood and gore to effectively mess with a viewers mind. (especially a young viewer).

  2. Great write up for some wonderful memories!

    I am sure I watched this occasionally, but for me, the big part of my younger years was the late Friday or Saturday night airings of Friday the 13th: The Series. I was glued to the tv late at night, and it became something special to me. Loved it, and wish it had gone on longer. But, like you said, times change, we age, the world goes on.

    Good memories.

  3. @Wings I agree with you about Friday the 13th: The series, I always caught it right after Star Trek: The Next Generation in my neck of the woods. Would not miss it for the world.

    @Retroist Can you remember if they showed two Stephen King shorts on that show? I think it was the Boogeyman and The Woman in the Room?

  4. Doug says:

    Wings,

    Funny, yeah, but as you noted, not quite the same. I think part of the reason that Saturday Nightmares and the things they showed had such an impact on me was that 1) I didn’t know much about the world so couldn’t see the flaws of these films/shows and 2) I didn’t have access to information like I do today (i.e., the Internet). It really was like a porthole to a world of evil, and I don’t think that feeling can be replicated today.

    But it is something. Thank you, MTV.

  5. CJ Wilson says:

    Okay, here’s a Saturday Nightmares movie that I want to find a copy of but have NO idea the name…. See if this rings any bells: Starts off as an average stupid ‘hey lets all get drunk and hang out in the old haunted house’ type plot. But then the big demony thing with glowing red eyes starts killing everyone- except the one guy who gets out and runs away. But then the guy who ran away gets arrested and goes to prison for the murders- and it’s only ten minutes into the movie already! Eventually he gets out (years later) and meets some old private investigator guy who says the kids were killed by a bunch of cultists, who only kill every 20 years- when a certain star is visible in the sky… and if he’ll help him, they’ll track them down and we can clear the young guy’s name’.

    No big-name actors. Don’t ever recall this hitting the theaters (looked to be a 70/80’s vintage film).

    Any guesses?

    CJ Wilson

  6. iconred78 says:

    Loved Basket Case, Forever Evil, the Video Dead and Raiders of the Living Dead…oh Shockwaves and the Devil’s Nightmare…too many to list!

  7. Dave!!! says:

    For me, also, the shorts were the star of the series. It was great being able to see “The Dummy” and “The Contraption” (seemed like these were the ones they would rerun the most) and “The Open Window” on YouTube, but there are a few I’d really love to see again, and I’m hoping people reading this forum can help:

    There was one where this guy picked up a gruff looking and overweight woman hitchiker (same body type as the Mama Fratelli from The Goonies), and after unsuccessfully trying to start conversation with her, started to get the feeling that something was wrong. He made an excuse for her to get out of the car (he asked her to check a tail light or something) and sped off. Later, he noticed she left her bag in the car, which turned out to contain a large shiny meat cleaver! The next scene is a top view of a car pulling up to a blinking red traffic light at a lonely intersection in the middle of the night. The car waits there, and waits there, and then you see the lady get out of the passenger side door, and walk off. The car just idles there as the screen fades to black.

    Another one I’d love to see again is the one where a fisherman finds a shiny red apple on the bank of the lake he is fishing on (his lunch had accidentally gotten soaked earlier). He takes a bite out of it, and then he is dragged into the water, with a hook poking out of his neck. You then see an apple fly out of the water and land on the shore!

    And the last one I remember and the one I want to see again the most is about the guy who is trying to ask directions in a small town. He pulls up in front of the house of an old country dude rocking on the porch. The old man tells him he oughtta slow down and have a cup of coffee at the fork in the road. The guy ignores him and speeds off. He sees the diner, he sees the fork in the road, but he ignores the old man and just drives by it. No matter which road he takes, he keeps ending back up at the diner and the fork in the road. Eventually he goes into the diner to ask for directions, and they insist that he has a cup of coffee. Eventually, he does, and you see the population sign for the town increase by 1!

    Long live the 80’s, fellow travellers!

  8. Don’t remember the first and last, but I remember the fishing one. It was called “A Fishy Tale” (I think; it was something to that effect). It used to be on YouTube but is no more. I ripped it from YT and have it.

  9. Rick Doherty says:

    The other day a short that I remember watching as a kid popped in my head. After doing a lot of Google research I finally was directed to this post because the short Dave last describes is the one I am talking about. Anyway, I decided to look at the apple short story to see if I could find any clues. I researched it and I finally found what the short I wanted is called!! It is called “Coffee Break” and it is from a collection of shorts called Escapes hosted by Vincent Price. I know I am a couple of years late and dollar short but here is a link a page that describes them all in one sentence: http://www.thesoundofvincentprice.com/escapes.html

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