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WOR-TV’s Fright Night
For a lot of my youth, my family didn’t have cable TV or a VCR. So if I wanted to watch a movie at home, I needed to catch it when it was on. As my interest in horror and science fiction took hold, one TV show, Fright Night, was must watch TV.
Not be confused with the feature film of the same name from 1985, Fright Night was a horror movie showcase that ran on our local station WOR-TV, Channel 9 from 1973-1987. It was the perfect show for an impressionable kid who was gifted a tiny black & white TV and hated to sleep. Starting after midnight, Fright Night dared you to watch and if you took the challenge odds are you weren’t going get much sleep. If you did, it was going to be filled with nightmares.
The show didn’t have a host, this was straightforward stuff that got down to business. The intro is a series of classic horror monsters and stars set to moody music that builds in intensity until you get a shot of a smoking skull. As the camera tracks into the eye of the skull, the title Fright Night appears. I can still see and hear it when I close my eyes late at night.
For those who have never seen it, here it is in all of its glory.
WOR-TV, as a local station had a solid reputation for showing movies. In fact, the channels were broadcast by cable TV service outside of the NJ/NY area to appeal to people who had gotten accustomed to its quality offering but had moved away. Here you see a cable company pushing WOR-TV in Florida. Notice the mention of Fright Night.
Premiering at Midnight on October 6, 1973, the first film they showed was a Hemisphere Pictures film called, Decoy for Terror (aka The Playgirl Killer). It’s an obscure movie, but a perfect film to kick off the series since it displayed the range of films you would get on Fright Night. That same year they would show Psycho and Universal Monster classics. For many within transmitter range of WOR in Secaucus, NJ, this would be our first exposure to these classic and our ONLY exposure to the more obscure titles. That is what made it so much fun.
During the Eighties, when I was watching Fright Night the most, they had already begun peppering in more “modern” horror films. You would still get films from the Golden and Silver ages of Horror, but joining them were the newer horror films from the Seventies and even the Eighties. Overall the selection of films over the years was dizzying.
Once I did get a VCR, this was my source for recording horror films. These edited and commercial packed tapes stayed with me long after I had made the transition to DVD and eventually Blu-Ray.
I was what I liked to call a horror-lite fan. Horror appealed to me, but when it was too racy or too slasher, I would lose sleep. So Fright Night’s edited for TV versions of films were the perfect entry point for me to see films like Grizzly (1976) or the Wicker Man (1973). Movies that seem rather tame to me now, but I never would have given a shot outside of the format of Fright Night.
Fright Night ended on September 26, 1987, with the broadcast of Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). It was a quiet and appropriate end to an amazing 14-year run. At this point, cable TV and video stores had replaced much of the novelty of this style of broadcasting, but it had made its mark and is well remembered by those of us who watched it. If you are a fan, intros and bumbers from original broadcasts have been posted online.
Someone even posted a fill film complete with bumpers and commercials. The October 10, 1974 broadcast of the 1971 film, Blood and Lace.
If you want a deeper dive, you should check out the book Fright Night on Channel 9: Saturday Night Horror Films on New York’s WOR-TV, 1973-1987 by James Arena. It is jam-packed with details about Fright Night, but also has details about how WOR-TV operated, thanks to great interviews with people who worked behind the scenes.