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.