Zombos Says: Excellent
For me, and many like me, the impact of Fright Night has not lessened over time, but the generation that I am part of, the one that can truly appreciate this era, is rapidly aging. It's not difficult to imagine a point in the not too distant future where Fright Night, and all the programs like it, may be lost to fading memories and a society no longer interested in such antiquities. (James Arena)
I'm not as big a fan as James Arena is, but his passion for Fright Night, a horror-hostless, near midnight showcase of the good, the bad, and the ugly in fantastic cinema, that ran on New York's WOR-TV from 1973 to 1987, is well shared in Fright Night on Channel 9 from McFarland Press.
I don't often read McFarland titles because they're awfully expensive and not all of them are well-written or carefully researched. Being a Brooklyn boy growing up watching Channel 11 and Channel 9's sumptuous telecasts of horror and science fiction movies, both foreign and domestic, I couldn't resist Arena's book. If you're familiar with Fright Night, or just love to read about television in the days before anyone could see just about anything they fancied anytime they chose, this book is a gem of interviews, anecdotal nostalgia, and glimpses into how the biz worked to bring packages of movies to affiliate stations on a regular basis. We're talking pre-video and pre-digital here, when stations ran 16 and 35mm prints, spliced up the film reels frame by frame for commercials, and did a little editing to run in allotted times and--more or less--to remove the occassional booby show, or overly nastiness, not fit for young eyes.
Within the two parts of Fright Night on Channel 9, Arena recalls the ritual of watching Fright Night regularly at the late-night hour as well as capturing that unique feeling of excitement of finally getting to see that movie you had heard was so awesome or so awful you just had to see it. Part One: The Story of Fright Night provides the history of the show, enriched by the interviews and the wheeling and dealing work involved to acquire "product" like Universal's horror pictures, Hemisphere's Block of Shock package of movies, and Samuel M. Sherman's Independent-International Pictures Corp. and his Euro-horror movies for the show's run. Part Two: The Films of Fright Night lists all the movies that were shown with airdates. Arena goes further than simply regurgitating plot synopses by adding his personal observations to the various entries, making this part enjoyable reading as well as informative.
Hanging onto the movies once they were contracted for play wasn't always easy. The highlight of the book for me is Samuel M. Sherman's recounting of a run-in with a bankrupt processing lab holding his 16mm prints of his Exorcism at Midnight and House of Doom. The WOR contract stipulated delivery of a specified number of movies and couldn't be fulfilled while the lab held onto them. Elements of the shyster lawyer, the payola-or-kiss-your-prints-goodbye scenario, and the eventual showdown, to strong arm the prints from the lab, is a wild and wooly story.
I read Fright Night on Channel 9 in one night. Half of my effort was made because I remembered the unique experience of watching the show, and others like it, which has shaped my horror habit of today, but the other half is because James Arena kept me up late with his vivid remembrance of a culturally significant "antiquity" that shouldn't be forgotten, nor the people who made it so.
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