Friday afternoon. Final period of my seventh grade day. I’m watching the clock, waiting not just to get out of the clutches of public education but to get to the calming glow of TV. I’ll be watching several things that evening: Wheel of Fortune, V the Series, The New Twilight Zone, the evening news. But it is all leading up to midnight when Fritz the Nite Owl comes on WBNS 10-TV to host Chiller Theater, a late night movie show featuring films of various qualities. The commercial breaks of these films would feature Fritz, his mustached face obscured by large owl glasses, addressing the audience. Often, Fritz would be superimposed on some background, maybe a scene from the movie or a science fiction setting. On one occasion, Fritz popped out of the open mouth of Marathon Man’s Dustin Hoffman. Fritz would offer up light, humorous banter, usually about the movie itself but sometimes about Columbus happenings or just general knowledge (Fritz once stated that 3 AM, not midnight, was the real witching hour, an idea that still makes me shudder today). Chiller Theater commercial breaks would also feature the Nite Owl illustrations, paintings depicting the Nite Owl (some anonymous owl) engaging in various activities. Over the years I’ve learned that neither Fritz nor Chiller Theater was unique, that there were horror shows and hosts operating in other local markets, and in comparison to most of them, Fritz is not that flamboyant; his garb was not as extensive as theirs nor did his show use as many special effects. I still think we Columbusites were pretty lucky to have him and his show. The weekend’s hosted horror entertainment did not end with Chiller Theater, though. On Saturday afternoons, I rushed over to the USA Network to watch Commander USA’s Groovy Movies. Commander USA was a costumed superhero who would introduce himself as “Legion of Decency; retired”. His base was hidden underneath an unidentified shopping mall and was decorated much like a TGIFriday’s, with all sorts of strange paraphernalia hanging from the walls. He often talked with a moose head (named Monroe, I think), and “Lefty”, a smiley-face he drew on his own hand with the ash from his ever-present cigar. Commander USA’s movies weren’t much better than Chiller Theaters, but his bits were more elaborate than Fritz’s, often involving extras and props. At some point, he switched from horror movies to kung fu films because, as he said, “Kung fu is groovy, too.”
Then came the evening, and with it, a little gal named Moana. When I wasn’t watching USA Saturday Nightmares, I’d watch Moana’s Place, which WTTE showed before they became Fox. Moana was basically an Elvira clone; she wore a long black dress and had long black hair and seemed to be a vampiress of some sort. She was on the air not just in Columbus but in Pittsburg as well. Her showed opened with an animation of a full moon falling from the sky and knocking over a streetlight. She then began to sing her theme:
join me for a taste,
of ghosts and ghouls and scary goblins right here
at Moana’s Place.
To me, these three really were heroes of a sort. Unfortunately, they all disappeared by the 80s and were never replaced. But there is always a chance for a comeback. In fact, this Halloween will see Chiller Theater resurrected at a local movie theater complete with Fritz himself. As I’m now in California, I can’t be there. But I can and will buy the DVD, and I always have the memories, good memories of these horror host heroes.