If you were a kid during a certain era — post-Eisenhower, but pre-Clinton — chances are you've seen at least a version of it: cringe-bad horror films, introduced by a ghoulish, wisecracking host who presides over a set that looks like it was made from chicken wire, plaster of Paris and garage-sale cast offs. For many adults, some of their fondest childhood memories are of sitting alone or with friends in the flicker of the television set, laughing at the host's fake Hungarian accent and waiting to get scared out of their wits.
Though most television shows of the Late Nite Horror genre have gone the way of Vincent Price and Ed Wood, drowned out by the unceasing din of 24-hour movie channels and made to look comical by the million-dollar effects seen in most big-budget horror flicks, don't fear, fans. A classic late-night and locally-produced scarefest with a vintage feel is coming soon to a cable-equipped television near you.
Little Rock's Comcast Ch. 98 will begin airing “Night Frights” at 10 p.m. on Saturdays starting Sept. 6. (In Conway, it'll run Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday nights at 11:30 p.m.). Every week, the two-hour show will feature schlock horror like “The Brain That Wouldn't Die” hosted by a vixen/vampire — complete with Bela Lugosi accent — named Evelle. We've seen some episodes, and it's scary good fun.
John Ary is the owner of Natural State Video in Conway, and one of the co-creators of “Night Frights.” A fan of classic movies, Ary got the idea to start his own horror show last year. After running an ad on Craigslist for co-producers, set designers and a host, “Night Frights” was born. Last October, Ary and company ran four episodes of the show on Conway cable, and sold DVD copies at the Full Moon Horror Convention in Little Rock. Response was good enough to the initial run of episodes that Ary is in the process of making 13 more.
“We were real fortunate last year,” Ary said. “We went to Little Rock for the horror festival, and we met a lot of people who watched it and were really excited about it and who were sad that it wasn't running in Little Rock. That's one of the reasons we brought it back this year so people could see it in Little Rock.”
Ary said the format of “Night Frights” is traditional, but with a few twists. Budgetary concerns mean that all the films shown on Night Frights are in the public domain, which means you're not going to see many Academy Award winners there, to say the least. In addition to hostess Evelle's funny commentary during the breaks (we couldn't get Ary to say much about her, but he did let slip that she might have once worked in the legal field in Little Rock), the show features “pop up” trivia about the film and cultural events that were occurring when it was made. In addition, the show periodically takes what Ary calls a snack break, in which they show vintage drive-in commercials for snack bar items (“They're not appetizing at all,” Ary said with a chuckle).
Joe Meils is Ary's partner in chills and the set designer. A fan of late night TV, Meils said that as a boy growing up in Illinois, he used to watch a horror show filmed in Chicago and hosted by a character named Svenghoui. As an employee of AETN, which produces a good bit of its programming in-house, Meils liked the idea of helping bring the genre of the 1950s and '60s back from near-extinction.
Drawing on his experience designing sets for AETN, Meils said he built the Night Fright backdrops primarily from things he found at the Conway city dump, including a truckload of construction foam that became the stone walls of Evelle's dungeon set — after a little finessing with an electrified barbecue lighter and some careful paintwork. Though he's a fan of vintage scary movies, Meils admits that he doesn't like many of today's horror flicks: Too much of a chance to see something that can “screw you up,” he said.
“Personally I can't stand what they call torture porn these days, stuff like ‘Hostel' and ‘Saw.' It's a total turn-off to me. But you get back into the older stuff with vampires and werewolves and invaders from outer space and stuff like that, and it's just good, solid fun.”
Beyond the movies themselves, Meils said that having a spooky/kooky hostess like Mistress Evelle — someone you'd never expect to see on primetime — is part of the fun of watching a show like “Night Frights.” Running at an hour when all the preachers, teachers and would-be censors have long since gone to bed gives shows a great excuse to cut loose and have a good time.
“It's the fun of having an over the top character,” Meils said, “somebody that people can tune into and you just don't know what they're going to be doing next. Good taste usually just goes right out the window.”
For more information, visit the Night Frights website at www.night-frights.com.