Think back to the 1990’s; an archaic time that predates the implementation of movie-streaming services and malware-included websites that allow you to download any movie that your pirating heart desires (Disclaimer: never illegally download movies as it is not a victimless crime). It was during this rose-colored time that if you had it in mind to watch a movie, you either went to the video rental store or watched whatever movie happened to be on TV at the time. For me, a trip to the video store was like a trip to Disney World; meaning it took a lot of convincing and I usually didn’t get to leave with what I really wanted, but I still looked forward to going there at any opportunity. On the other hand, my folks did have cable in two rooms of the house and the kids all agreed that what the parents didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.
For some, growing up in a fairly strict household meant that the parents scrutinized what the kids watched pretty closely. Which means that when the kids go running up to the parents at the video store waving around a copy of Hellraiser, mom will probably steer them back over to the safety of the children’s section. However, the folks didn’t have any control over what the fine people at the TV networks chose to air. Personally, I owe my lifelong fandom of horror to network TV and the nights spent staying up late watching movies that I would otherwise not have had access to, praying that my parents wouldn’t walk in and shut the TV off just as Mrs. Voorhees was shoving an arrow through Kevin Bacon’s neck.
What particularly sticks out in my mind as memorable, when it comes to network TV horror movies, are the marathons that used to air every October. To name a few, AMC had Monsterfest, which ran from 1997 to the mid-2000’s and has now been replaced by FearFest. ABC Family, which now goes by the name FreeForm for some reason, has aired the 13 Nights of Halloween every October since 1998. Disney channel has aired Monstober for the past several years for the younger audiences to get some exposure to some SFW horror. Perhaps best of all was TNT’s MonsterVision, which not only had an awesome marathon in October, but also ran weekly horror movie marathons on Friday nights which would run into the wee hours of Saturday morning. This is all listed without mentioning the various Halloween themed specials on channels that range from cooking to travel. Without a doubt, October used to be, and still is to a degree, a great time for network television.
One of the truly great elements, that is sadly no longer present in horror movie marathons, were the hosts that would show up in bumpers that separated the movie from the commercial break. The hosts, who could be a celebrity, an actor or even a cartoon character, would comment on what’s happening in the movie, take phone calls or participate in prize giveaways. TNT’s Monstervision, for instance always had Joe Bob Briggs who maintained a constant presence on the program. Sometimes the host would even interview one of the actors from the movie that was currently being shown. I recall once, during a Hammer marathon on MonsterVision, watching Dracula: Prince of Darkness and seeing the host interview Christopher Lee after I had just watched him ruthlessly sink his fangs into Barbara Shelley. The experience of seeing this horror icon talking like a normal person live on TV was surreal to my young mind. What was best about these segments was that they seemed to be happening live onscreen; and I am sure that they were, at times, while other times they may have been pre-recorded.
Another memorable feature that used to happen during horror movie marathons was that the network would use the opportunity to air material for the very first time. Oftentimes this would be a new Halloween themed episode of whatever shows the network was known for, which were always something to look forward to anyways. Other times, however, the network would air the world premiere of a new horror movie trailer during their marathon which encouraged the viewers to tune in just so they could be among the first people in the world to see this sneak peek at a new movie. Keep in mind that this was long before the time of YouTube where the world premiere of a trailer is hyped up weeks in advance. During MonsterFest, for instance, you might not know that they’re going to air something new until a couple of hours before they do so. This tradition has, in some ways, persisted to this day with new episodes of The Walking Dead airing during AMC’s FearFest; but it is not nearly as prevalent as it used to be.
Modern audiences, with their ability to stream almost any movie that they want with the click of a button, will probably find it hard to relate to searching through the TV guide to see which movies will be on MonsterFest this evening. But for those of you who grew up watching marathons of horror movies late into the night on Fridays or on crisp October evenings, I hope this has stirred up a little nostalgic longing for a simpler time when television movies were an event to be anticipated and celebrated and will forevermore be missed at this time of year.